Switzerland

Posted by on July 15, 2012

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Oh Switzerland, you are a siren to my soul.  This place was simply beautiful. The scenery seemed to get more breath-taking with each country we visit.

Gimmelwald: Buns of Steel and Teddy Roosevelt

On a train toward Gimmelwald, I was reading through one of our information packets about the town and nearly fell out of my chair. Have you ever had that feeling of impending doom awaiting you and there was really nothing you could do about it? Well, that was me. I had just read a statement indicating that the only thing to do in Gimmelwald was sit on a bench and wonder why you were sitting on a bench (or something like that). I asked Kathy if she had planned something else for me to do on this trip other than sit and her response was “You need to learn to just slow down and sit and you should have read the packet earlier when I gave it to you”.  Sit in the middle of nowhere staring at a bench…for 2 DAYS!  Me?  I’d rather be sitting at the table in Italy trying to fight off Paulo’s advances.  Talk about having a near hissy fit, Switzerland was definitely going to experience its first.  But to go ahead and spoil the ending, no sitting nor hissy fits were to be had.  Walking through the doors of our hostile, my prayers were answered. It was full of lively hikers, friendly and engaging.  Petra, out host, was pouring drinks and serving pizza while fellow residents created quite the clamor.  This was not what Kathy had imagined (another spoiler alert: she later enjoyed the place, too).

How we actually got to our hostel is another tale in itself.  The connections were tight since we had stayed the morning in the Cinque Terre and we had made each connection until the last train. 11:00 at night and we were stuck in the middle of nowhere in a train station with a couple engaging on what I think was either a make-out session or mortal combat, two “little old men”, and your stereotypical ragamuffins. One option was to wait for the bus which would make us miss the cable car to our hostel, and the other option was a taxi.  I approached the taxi driver (this is not where the buns of steel comes into play).  Having just lit his cigarette, the driver was ready for his stranded prey.  A few exchanges resulted in the knowledge that a) the only way to our hostel was by a cable car because no regular vehicle could make the trek, b) he could get us to Stechelberg, the town below Gimmelwald, and c) it would cost us approximately $80.  Kathy and I exchanged glances.  After pouring on the southern charm and being damsels in distress (we really were!), he would take us there and ensure that we made it before the last cable car. And boy was he serious!  He grabbed our packs, threw them in the trunk (no, we weren’t thrown in the trunk along with them), and he drove 100km/hour around curves and within the towns where 40 km was the evident limit. He drove, I asked him questions about his life (we even talked briefly about politics), and Kathy prayed for our lives.  Turns out his name was Walter, he had been a night taxi driver for 8 years, spoke German and a little English, and was quickly liking us.  He was a jolly man and stuck to his word, only charging us $60 for what would have been a $95 trip.  At the cable car, we gave him hugs and he planted the biggest kisses on our foreheads.  Alas, we had to part ways.  The hat never made it to the cable car…a casualty of travel, it has become.

Segue back to the Mountain hostel. 

The residents were such a welcomed change from the typical tourist scene.  They were adventurers who didn’t want for much but to hike the Alps and recooperate with a low key evening.  I met so many different people and the initial ice breaker was never “What’s your name?” but rather “Where are you coming from?” or “Where have you been?”  Both of our nights there were spent in conversations over food, self-prepared in the community kitchen or pizza from the bar.  The closest grocery store was a 50 min hike away in the next town.  While the hostel was full of hikers, it was also full of flies (the title of this post should be “Lord of the Flies”).  They were everywhere!  Eventually, by the second day, you just let them land and stay on you. It was a losing battle.  We shared a room with 14 other girls and a bathroom with all the hikers. It was a bit weird at first sharing a shower and toilet with guys but after a couple rounds of teeth brushing, near nakedness (not on my part), and never having to put the seat down (aren’t these guys great!), I got used to it. 

For the two days we were in Gimmelwald, we hiked (Daddy, you would have loved it).  It’s still surreal to have actually hiked through the Alps.  The only sounds to be heard were the rocks and sticks crunching beneath our feet, the sweet song of cow bells, and the rush of waterfalls.  Occasionally, birds or bugs would make their contribution. 

Our first hike was about 5-6 miles and took us through relatively even terrain.  I felt like I was in “The Sound of Music” (of course we ran through the mountains, arms in the air, singing “the hills are alive”).  Since the hikers have the right of way, we passed through people’s pastures which housed the local cows. You would have thought we had never seen cows before!  I thought they were beautiful (until I managed to swipe dung on my ankle–my smelly companion for the rest of the hike). We traipsed through a flower trail, stopped for hot chocolate, and experienced the pain of an electric fence.  Initially, Kathy grazed the fence with her sleeve and felt a surge. I touched a portion with my finger and after having felt a jolt, I grab the bloody thing because only God knows why. Thank goodness I was grounded (physically and obviously not mentally). I felt the current from my fingertip through my neck vein across my chest to my leg and ending through my ankle vein (and I’d absolutely do it again).  Towards the latter part of the trail, we crossed under a waterfall where we set up shop for lunch. We bought our groceries early that morning and since that town was the starting point for our hike, we just took our groceries with us.  Having carried our groceries and lunch while hiking allowed for some almost disturbing photos later on.  There are several post-Gimmelwald shots where I look like I’ve taken steroids.  My arms are quite jacked.  Necessary to fight off the mountain lions and fellow hostel dwellers. 

Our hike on the last day was mostly uphill and took us to the top of a mountain, down through the valley, and across the edge.  It was an 11 mile hike  with a break mid-trek for a lunch of Rosti (basically a Swiss version of hash browns), a warm cup of coffee complete with Toblerone chocolate, and a table overlooking the valley with the snow capped mountains high above us. We hiked with one of the girls from our hostel who was a Christian from NC and had traveled several places in her lifetime. She was a joy to have along with us. The trail took us through some of the most enchanting parts of the mountains. The nature was so plush and green, you’d think you were in a movie. There were a few “scary” parts of the trail, made so by the lack of hiking boots and poles. It was a near straight drop down to the valley with only a foot diameter path to maneuver and nothing to grab onto. The hike was difficult and Teddy Roosevelt’s “Speak softly and carry a big stick” was my battle cry (who knows why I couldn’t have had something more “Braveheart”- or “Lord of the Rings”-esque running through my head.  It was better than Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” from the previous day’s hike, I guess).  By the end of our two days here, we had quite the workout which manifested in me with what I call “Crispin leg”.  Crispin is the dog of the couple who hosts our Bible study.  His back leg just starts a jumpin’ and shakin’ when he’s still.  I was surprised at how much energy I had after the hike.  If I were staying another day, I would hike to the top of Schilthorn where a portion of the James Bond movie “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” was filmed.  It’s supposed to be beautiful and, based on our views, I can certainly believe it.

A side note: For those shoe-shopping, I highly recommend Clark’s. I am going to write the company and tell them how awesome their shoes are. These babies have been everywhere and even kept me stable while hiking the Alps.  

Lausanne

We arrived into Lausanne via bus and were supposed to meet Marie at the platform.  For those of you who may not be familiar with Marie, she interned this past spring at the FSU Career Center where Kathy works, and she invited us to stay with her family on the last leg of our trip.  I can’t stress how amazing she was to us.

We missed each other at the the train platform somehow, so Kathy and I slipped into a cafe above the station to use their wifi to connect with Marie. When Marie arrived in the cafe, it was such a blessing. Kathy and I had managed through the previous countries but we were experiencing some difficulty with the French language.  Switzerland has three regions where German, French, or Italian is spoken. Lausanne is in the French speaking region.  Marie would be our translator throughout the entire trip ranging from ordering foods to asking and giving directions.  

From the train station, Marie took us to her flat. It was absolutely precious! I am now calling my town home in Tallahassee my “flat in the city”.  She let me hang my soaking wet clothes ALL over her bathroom (my clothes did not dry overnight and had managed to soak the entire contents of my bag).  She also gave us some time to gather our wits before showing us her home of Lausanne. 

Lausanne is the capital of its canton.  A canton is similar to a state in the US and Lausanne is in the Vaud canton.  The city was preparing for a music festival so it was a bit busier than usual.  

Marie was a wonderful host. After navigating and planning the past two weeks of traveling, we were treated to the most special two days full of authentic and tourist experiences.  She made us feel at home and like part of her family.  We visited the church and the town center, Olympic park, the lake (Lake Geneva if you’re from France and Lake Lemon of you’re from Switzerland), and went shopping.  We had lunch at the top of a department-like store where the food was much like a buffet or cafeteria style service. My favorite part was the dessert Marie ordered which was this creamy chocolate filled tart. Basically I was biting into a better-than-Nutella filled baby pie.  Give me a moment for my insulin levels to return to normal after that thought.  Ok.  We also learned that the last portion of the wine in the bottle is called “the love” so whoever has the last bit gets the love.  Oh and the bottom of the bottle must be kissed.  I’m definitely bringing this tradition back home with me.  Another kissing tradition is the three cheek kisses given to friends as a greeting. Women kiss both men and women, but men only kiss women. Also, the French do 2 or 4 kisses. I’m not sure the states are ready for me to bring this tradition back. I might get myself in more trouble than I’m willing to bargain for if I start puckering up to some Tallahassee folks. 

We walked along the lake on our way to Olympic Park. The view of the lake was sensational (basically every sight in Switzerland is sensational) and there must have been at least 2 dozen swans paddling near the shore. Needless to say, there were many pictures and much high pitched squeals. 

Switzerland is like the administration ring leader of the Olympics and there is a park with statues, plaques, and banners commemorating the games. The actual building was closed for renovations until 2013 but we were able to tour the grounds.

Following the Olympic park, we stopped by a fancy chocolatier and Kathy treated us each to a truffle.  Marie promised us that we could find quality chocolate for much cheaper elsewhere. You’ll see she was SO right later on.

We dressed for dinner and picked up Marie’s boyfriend Kader from work and headed to the house where we would meet her family and spend the night.  Her family does not speak English and we do not speak French, so Kader and Marie translated for us.  They were so gracious translating our questions and  comments.  They both must have been exhausted making the French-English and English-French switch but neither complained nor made it seem like a fuss. 

Her family took us to a restaurant where we had traditional fondue. This was my first experience with fondue and I loved it!  Our meal was entirely cheese-soaked bread washed down with white wine.  Again, Kader and Marie were great translators for Kathy and I and for her parents. We truly were able to communicate and the evening was simply marvelous.  We shared stories about our trip and ourselves and we learned about her family and their lives. Marie’s father is a farmer who raises cows for their meat. We had the best time showing him pictures of the cows we saw in the Alps (he was such a good sport looking through the photos.  It never crossed our minds that he sees cows everyday).  We learned about the significance of the different sized bells, how his farming schedule works, and learned more about Marie through their interactions. They are a lovely family.  (Susan, next time I am in SC, I’d like a tour of your’s and Doug’s farm!)

The next morning, Marie’s mother fixed a beautiful spread of bread and croissants, jams and honey, cheese and butter, milk, juice, and coffee. We then ventured out to explore the City of Gruyere (yep, just like the cheese). The town is picturesque with stone walkways, old doors dating back to the 1600s, and with a castle.  We had lunch at a local restaurant where we tried the cheese and a dessert that Marie quoted as being authentic Swiss. Basically it’s meringue cookies with a really thick cream (like the consistency of honey) that is spread over the cookies.

Also in Gruyere, there was a museum dedicated to the works of H.R. Giger, the designer of the movie “Alien”. It was so weird (and awesome) walking through this Medieval castle and finding an “Alien” museum complete with alien vertebrae chairs, weapons, models, and a cafe complete with “Alien”-themed food. 

We next toured the chocolate factory which brought us through the history of chocolate in Europe and finished with a bar of all the free chocolates one’s sweet little soul wanted.  Words escape me.  I sinned to the hilt having indulged in such gluttony.  They seduced me with their Venus drink and I spent all my money on boxed chocolates and chocolate gustatory pleasures!!  I need to go to confession after that experience…I ate 20 pieces of chocolate. I also had my chocolate personality checked and I am a “ChoCocooning”.  Don’t ask me what it means just know that I had to suffer through a grueling 5-piece chocolate assessment to receive that classification. 

We slipped into the mall which is quite similar to those in the states with the exception that the local grocery is located in the Swiss mall.  We grabbed some chocolates (I know what you’re thinking) and some wine for Marie’s family.  

We spent the evening with Marie’s family enjoying Racelette, an authentic Swiss dish of cheese melted in an iron griddle then slid onto your plate to cover potatoes and pickled vegetables. This was my favorite meal mostly for the fellowship we had.  We sat for a couple hours which was highly needed as the “go getter” inside me was and is in need of a good long rest. 

Prior to dinner, Marie showed us the farm, equipment, stables, and we even tasted some of the apples from one of their fruit trees.  They had 2 cows that were 2 weeks shy of being taken to the bigger farm, so we got to pet them!  I would also like to add that I successfully dodged the cow-pies this time.  Her das so had 3 hens for their provision of eggs and a couple of cats who took a real affinity to Kathy. 

It’s hard to believe we’re headed home now and the only desire not fulfilled is to put on my highest heels and my brightest dress.  Living out of a bag for three weeks with the only alternative to black is white clothing has become a little depressing. Perhaps I’ll go downtown, look at the 2000 photos from the trip, reflect, and pretend In in Europe again.  Or more realistically, I’ll throw on my lab coat, check on my mice, write, and wish I was in Europe again.  It’s been such an amazing time, full of opportunities for growth and change. I certainly have done both. 

Lastly, thanks for following along with us as we toured Europe. We’ll post some of our favorite photos periodically but I’d love the opportunity to chat about our travels with you in person. Looking forward to it!

Much love and triple cheek kisses,
Kimberly

Florence and Cinque Terre

Posted by on July 11, 2012

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Whereas Venice is in pastels, Florence is in browns (and sadly quite a bit of graffiti) and the Cinque Terre in vibrant bolds.  Since I previously wrote about Venice, I’ll stick to Florence and the Cinque Terre. 

Florence

Florence possessed more of a modern feel than Venice. Kathy booked us a B&B just around the corner from the train station which suited us well when we needed to catch the 6:30 a.m. train for the Cinque Terre. 

Our host at the B&B was so kind and also took a liking to my hat, mentioning that I looked like Madonna. I was going for more of an Audrey Hepburn vibe but Madonna’s got some great muscles and a nice set of pipes (neither of which entail a hat) so I’ll take it as a compliment.  Or maybe she was saying I looked angelic like the paintings of the Madonna and child…

Neither our host nor her husband spoke much English so gestures again were a predominant form of communication. 

We grabbed lunch at a place recommended by one of the locals who had set up shop in the market located on the next street over from our B&B.  The pizza was delicious and the best I’ve tasted ever! It was simple and fresh–mozzarella, 2 artichokes, a handful of whole olives, and a couple slices of ham per half. After this gustatory rendezvous, my poor taste buds are going to have withdrawals the next time I sink my teeth into a Dominoe’s. 

We next toured the Accademia where Michelangelo’s David is housed.  One walks into the museum, turns left, and there he is under his dome throne.  And he is absolutely breathtaking.  David, as in David and Goliath in the Bible, is described as the total Renaissance man and I couldn’t agree more. From the front he looks like a capable and powerful future king.  From the side, however, looking into his eyes one catches a glimpse of the young shepherd boy.  Michelangelo’s interest in anatomy and physiology was evident in the incredible depiction and attention to detail in David’s form, especially his muscle fibers and veins.  As a fellow student of the subjects, I couldn’t have better appreciated it. The fact that Michelangelo worked free-hand makes David even more stunning.  Now finding a souvenir that didn’t make me look juvenile to an outsider proved a bit more difficult.  The focus of such retail focused predominantly on other parts of David and Kathy and I had a time trying to search among the various postcards for an appropriate one.  Breathe easy.  We were successful. 

After the Accademia, we took a little siesta before dinner.  My sleep has been great throughout Italy. The air is hot but the breeze from God and the portable fans along with the white noise from the latter creates a feeling of coziness. Compounded with the music from the artists on the street and you’ve got one happy girl. 

We went to dinner at a restaurant Kathy’s boyfriend suggested after having studied abroad in Florence.  It was warm, in the inviting sort of way, and the tables were set very close to one another.  We found out how close toward the end of our main course.  An Italian gentleman was seated next to us, practically sitting on Kathy’s lap.  Upon ordering dessert, our neighbor suggested the creme brûlée (fabulous, by the way; best I have ever had) and seized this opportunity to befriend us. He knew little English and us knowing even less Italian made the phrase book that I had brought with me another companion at the table. We were having a good time with introductions and small talk and he was equally engaging both of us until Kathy picked up on the “interested” vibe and mentioned her having a boyfriend (repeatedly I might add).  He took that information and laid all his flattery on me. It was all downhill from there.  Now to preface the rest of our evening, its been a common joke between Kathy and I (and several friends and family back home) that I was going to wreak havoc on the Italian men.  And of course I teased and played along.  That’s what I do.  But the moment this was a possibility, did I bat my lashes or stare deep into his eyes or smile coquetishly? Of course not.  I stuck my nose in that book as far as it could go, flipping through pages and pretending I was looking for phrases that I just desperatley wanted to share with him (I’d be surprised if I even had the book rightside up).  And yes, I was a horrible friend, leaving Kathy to perfect the art of uncomfortable silence.  I did interject every now and then and offer bits of interest on certain topics, but whenever he would ask our plans for the night, where we were staying, and if I had Facebook, back into the book I went.  I could pull off my “nose in a book” act until he said Facebook.  I looked at him like I didn’t understand, hoping he thought Facebook was called something else in the states.  Oh, it was horrible.  I thought Kathy did a great job though and I will commend her if I ever stop hearing about the evening, how flustered i was, and yada yada yada…

We did make it out of the restaurant and did so without giving out any information.  On our way home, we slipped through some streets and stumbled across a band playing a lively tune on one of the city squares.  Two toddlers who couldn’t have been over 3 years old were dancing in the middle of the circle the crowd had formed around the musicians. It was the most precious site I had seen. The little girl with her brown curls was jumping with fingers spread and the little boy was rolling on the ground, all to the beat.

The following day, we spent walking all over and sightseeing Florence–the pontevecchio, the Bargello dedicated to Florentine sculptures, porcelain, and glassware, and the Uffizi which houses paintings as early as the 13th century.  We attempted tours of a few other monuments, but they were closed. 

On art and culture–there is a plaza in Florence where statues adorn nearly every border. It’s quite a sight to see these large towering figures in various poses.  If one doesn’t feel somewhat humbled standing there, then I don’t know if one ever will.  Other works I enjoyed were those depicting Adam and Eve.  There is something intriguing to me about the versions from the different artists presenting their perspective of the first man and woman.  Also, David was a prominent character in Florentine art, showing up in every museum we toured. I’m interested in knowing whether it was because he was viewed as the Renaissance man or perhaps because he is a prolific biblical character.  Any thoughts or point of views are welcomed. Lastly, the theme song to “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” just kept running through my mind every time I saw a piece of art completed by the ninjas’ namesakes.  And people say I’m not cultured.  

After the Uffizi we tried to find a restaurant on Rick’s suggestion list and after having walked a mile (literally) and saw the “closed” sign we opted for our next choice. When we couldn’t find the next one, we opted for the third and, by chance, stumbled into it after having retraced our steps (Rick mislabeled the address in his book).  We arrived just in time.  Five minutes later and the staff was turning people away due to overflow. We dined on bruschetta, Milanese chicken, gnocchi, and bread.  We asked the waiter what his favorite dessert was between two of the options and he told us that we would have both.  Finishing off that meal with a chocolate cake and a chocolate and pear pie made our bellies full and our spirits happy.

Cinque Terre

In the Cinque Terre, we basically spent our first day at the beach, initiated by the comment of our hotel’s owner to Kathy, “Why shower? Go swimming”.  There are 5 towns (and the reason for the name Cinque Terre) and we stayed in the fourth, Vernazza.  Vernazza has a population of about 500 and caters to its tourists with its beautiful scenery.  As soon as we arrived, we slipped on our swimsuits and headed for the beach. Rather than sand, the floor of the Cinque Terre beaches is smooth stone. Huge rocks jutted out from the water near the bank waiting to be claimed by our day bags and mini towels. The water was a bit cold and intensely salty. I’d guess twice the salinity of our ocean water. Mountains were to our right, the town to our left, and nothing but crystal clear blue-green water as far forward as our eyes could see. We grabbed lunch and sat on the terrace overhanging and overlooking the water.  Here was served the best bread I’ve tasted in Italy. We feasted on pasta and lots of water before hiking a portion of the Cinque Terre trail. The trail runs from one town to another totaling a 7-mile span across the five towns.  The air was hot but the lack of humidity made it bearable.  If/when I train for an Ironman competition, I’ll use this trail.   We were dripping with sweat from the high inclines and steep steps.  The gelato we bought was a welcomed relief from the heat.  

We were heading to the second town, Manorola, because I wanted to do some cliff diving. There, the water was cool but refreshing after the hike and people were already making their way up the jagged rock jutting from the water near the lagoon.  I started the ascent and Kathy soaked up some rays in the cove.  The rock was fairly easy to climb since most of its ledges we’re jagged for good grip. It was a little disconcerting that I could see the sea floor but if one person jumped off a cliff, would I do it too? Absolutely! 

The first cliff was ~18 ft high and entertained a few jumps from me. As always, the first jump was intimidating but one just has to go for it at times like these.  I was content until I saw some guys jumping from the highest cliff.  Then my competitive nature kicked in and up I climbed.  Perhaps it was 25-30 ft high (by the end of the trip, it will have been 100 ft high) and with the guys in front giving me a countdown, and therefore no backing down, off I went.  Exhilarating.  Although there are no regrets and no broken bones to be had from the Cinque Terre, waking up the next morning feeling the previous day’s adventure made me partially regret my many days diving off a lifeguard platform and the muscle memory of how to land.  It wasn’t suitable for jumping from higher platforms (either that or my body is aging quicker than my mind and sense of adventure/ stupidity).  

For dinner we met up with one of our new friends from a previous encounter on a train to Germany.  We had pesto and seafood, two of the specialties of the Cinque Terre. We stayed a couple of hours talking (highly accepted and welcomed in Italy), and received some Lemoncello on the house from the owner.  I was expecting ice cream, so you can imagine my surprise when he brought out three tiny stemwares of liquor. Refreshing and strong, that stuff had to be diesel grade and a far cry from ice cream.  The rest of the night was spent on the rocks overlooking the sea.  

We had to catch our train in the afternoon, so this morning was spent shopping and people-watching. We had breakfast at the Pirate Cafe where we tasted the best pastries of our time yet. Kathy loved the cafe. It was a bit more modern than we expected but had enough pirate in it to please Kathy.  We found out that the cafe had only been re-open for four days.  In 2011, a flood demolished a good bit of the five towns including the trails and businesses.  Even during our stay, reconstruction was going on in some of the buildings while others were completely closed.  Seeing the before and after photos and the amount of work these people put forth to get their town back to running order was evident.  We took lots of photos, bought some remembrances and some gelato, and took one last look at the scenery before catching our train.

Before signing off, a common theme I’ve noticed is the “freeness” in Europe.  Evidently, Kathy and I didn’t pack the right clothes because we still have portions of our bodies covered. The cutest dresses seen from a store front window will catch my eye, but a closer look reveals that the material is sheer and the reminder that I would be arrested for indecent exposure back in the states prevents me from making a purchase.  In the Cinque Terre beaches, people change right there by the closest rock.  After viewing the nude paintings in Florence, I thought I was prepared for anything.  These bodies weren’t quite as priceless as those hanging in the Uffizi though.  I give them credit for their carefree-ness and wish I possessed that confidence. Maybe a few more weeks in Italy would do it but since Switzerland is on the books for today, looks like modesty still requests a bit more time with me. 

So far, we’ve met lots of interesting people and seen every beautiful sight you can imagine (to be honest, I’m good if I don’t see another marble statue or 13th century old painting for a good long while).  It’s been fun and it’s hard to believe we have only one country left.  Surprisingly, I haven’t been homesick.  Once however, when a street cellist was playing “It is well with my soul”, I longed to hear my mother sing right then and there.  I think blogging as a way of sharing has tempered any homesickness or perhaps the circulating American music from the restaurants or from a stranger’s headphones keeps it at bay.  Maybe its because I feel like I’ve found my niche in Italy.  Kathy said it best one night over dinner, “There’s food, there’s music, and there’s expressiveness”.  The people come to life when telling a story and seem to savor everything.  The food is fresh and there is music everywhere, from an accordion on a street corner or a cello on the steps of a vacant building or grand monument.  It’s the best of passion, art, food, and expression all combined in this country shaped like a high heel boot.  What more could a girl want?!

Venice

Posted by on July 9, 2012

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Our night train to Venice from Munich was quite an experience. Neither Kathy nor I had taken one before so we felt the need to document this special occasion with a homemade video.  Kathy will post it soon along with pictures.  She booked us first class throughout our trip and it has been well worth it.  We have had guaranteed seats which have progressed the trip along as planned.

As for Italy, it’s been simply enchanting. If I ever fall for a man like I have for Italy, bless his heart!  I was captivated when we arrived but the love affair began on our first night in Venice and has just continued to grow with each day.

We took the public transit boat to the closest square near our hotel.  Venice is an island with canals serving as the roads so transport is done by public or private boats, water taxis, or gondoliers. Throughout the island bridges connect alleyways that open into large squares or plazas guarded by monuments and/or dominated by merchants setting up shop for the feasting of tourists.  Venice has the capacity to lose its guests. 

Because of the conferences I have attended for my work, I had accrued enough nights at other hotels to earn us a stay at ALMOST any place of our choosing (the €430/night places kicked me off quicker than I could click my voucher button).  We chose a hotel about a block from the main square, St. Mark’s.  We dropped our stuff off at the front desk (the rooms weren’t quite ready) and grabbed a bite to eat from the hotel’s complimentary breakfast.  My first experience with Italian food and it was so disheartening. I grabbed a pancake from the hotel’s buffet and nearly died at the first bite.  Italian food was supposed to be amazing and this pancake tasted dreadful!  I found out the next morning from Kathy that what I thought was a pancake was actually an omelette and it tasted quite good with ham and cheese rather than Nutella.  Expectations can certainly change one’s perception. 

After breakfast, we headed out the door for St. Mark’s to see the Doge’s palace.  The palace was ornate with marble and stone fixtures and its walls and ceilings were dressed in scarlet, navy, evergreen, and golds.  The rooms were predominantly empty but the feeling of government, power, and prestige could still be felt centuries later.  Kathy and I have started taking the museums at our on paces and meeting up at the end (mainly because I am slow as Christmas).  It’s been fun to share our perspectives and (dis)likes afterwards. Here, both of us wound up getting lost in the Doge’s prison (there were no maps in those days and where’s the fun in following the big green glowing “Exit” signs?). 

After the palace, we did some shopping on the way to our lunch place. We chose a small restaurant with perhaps four tables and a small bar ledge on the side wall. In Italy, there is a cover charge for sitting at a table, approximately €2-11 depending on the place.  Kathy and I grabbed the end of the bar ledge which gave us plenty of room to observe the locals and tourists.  The restaurant served plates similar to a tapas bar in the states.  One bite into my calamari and I was in heaven.  It was light with a hint of lemon zest.  I even had three whole squid on my plate and not just the tentacles–my favorite!

After lunch, we toured the Correr museum dedicated to Venetian history.  While good, it was probably my least favorite of the museums visited thus far. Hot and quite sticky, we grabbed some gelato. I’m about to blaspheme but I just wasn’t taken with the gelato. Perhaps it’s because I don’t have a feisty sweet tooth, but I’d take a dark chocolate filled European croissant over gelato any day!  Kathy loved it though and I think she could eat gelato for every meal. 

We then toured St. Mark’s Basillica where entry was prohibited if one’s knees and shoulders were not covered.  I want to think its out of reverence for the church that the practice is enforced. All the more reason to love Italy. 

The day had been busy and it was beginning to show on us.  We were tired and headed to the hotel to freshen up, but only for a few moments.  I was insistent on us not missing an ounce of what Venice would give us.  We arrived back at the hotel and were informed that there was a mistake in the bookings and our room had been given up.  They had another room for us, however, and the bell boy was happy to take us there.  The attendant also informed us that one of Kathy’s purchases had been broken (Kathy handled this very well and was quite gracious).  The bell boy grabbed our bags and headed out the door.  My first thought was that the entrance to the rooms was at an adjacent building to the front desk.  Not quite.  We headed out over a bridge, around a corner, and down the street to address 5011 (my next thought was “you have got to be kidding me” but then again this WAS an adventure and HE was carrying our bags).  He opened the front door which led into a corridor and our room was the first on the right. We had just been upgraded to an apartment in Venice! Can you even imagine our faces when we opened the door to find a full size kitchen and bathroom!?!  We thanked the bell boy, Kathy grabbed a shower, and I started opening up any and every cabinet and drawer available.  I heard a very excited “we have a hair dryer” from the next room and a few minutes later all the lights and power went out. We had blown a fuse. Now remember that it had already been a log day and we hadn’t eaten for a few hours (this is a horrible combination for me), and I personally smelled worse than a pole cat.  I checked the fuse box in our room. Nothing there. We choose not to mess with anything, alert the hotel at the end of the day, and head out for the night. Halfway down the street we decided that we might want to journal at the square so we turned around and headed back the apartment. I stuck the key in, turned the lock, and the door didn’t budge. I tried again and again, each time twisting the key harder and harder.  At this point I couldn’t pull the key out, my fingers ached, and my frustration was beyond measurable limits.  I yanked as hard as I could and managed to free the key but break the keychain which sent this bane of my existence flying into the canal.  I was no longer on an adventure.  Kathy headed into the canal, almost busting it on the steps, but managed to save the key from the crab guarding his new found territory.  All the while a gondolier was expressing his concern for her safety (and probably wondering why these crazy Americans wanted to play in the canal…and why one of them looked like she could kill him with a glance if he even suggested asking such a question).  Key in Kathy’s hand, we decided it was time to go see the front desk. So there we went, down the street, around the corner and over the bridge. The desk attendant sent the bell boy to help us, and over the bridge, around the corner, and down the street to address 5011 we went.  Again.  He turned the key and the door opened immediately.  I don’t even want to write what was going through my head.  He looked at me and said  “gently turn” and then “patient”.  Since when have I lacked patience (no comments on that)!  For the next few minutes, both Kathy and I practice turning the lock and opening the door (with pictures to document this all). I asked him to show me the fuse box and appropriate switch for potential future outages (like we were actually going to use that dryer again) and then he left.  At this point, we were laughing about it on the way to dinner, her with wet hair and mine looking like a Gerri curl gone wrong.

We ate dinner at a local place where I was again in gastronomic heaven.  The caprese salad and the crab pasta dish were so fresh.  The house wine is cheap and delicious in Italy and the fact that it is served in a pitcher-like carafe made it even better. The staff appreciated that we attempted to speak the language and engaged us with lots of smiles.  We also got to meet the owner, Loris. 

Afterward, we finally arrived at the square.  It was simply magical!  Atop these beautiful old buildings were lights casting off a golden hue, like fireflies lighting the night.  The lanterns lining the sidewalks burned a hazy pink glow.  The great clocks chimed in the hours and string quartets dispersed throughout the plaza played the songs of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Ray Charles.  You could feel the cool breeze from the canal kissing your skin and hear the quiet murmurings of the waning crowd.  Occasional interruptions of applause for the musicians filled the air.  O how I wanted to dance on the square to the music of the violin. It was romance at its best.  We stayed for a few hours and as we were leaving, the band played “I’ve got you under my skin”.  And yes, Venice, I certainly did.

The following morning we prepared for our trip to Florence and having a full length fluffy towel was a great way to start the day.  I dont think I’ve gotten that excited about a towel before in my life.  Since I’ve been living out of a backpack for 2 weeks, a picture seemed appropriate. 

We took a boat that traveled through Venice’s canals toward the train station. It was like candy to this water baby.  As much a part of the city as the monuments was the water.  We passed several boats that would have serviced great for skiing and wake-boarding as well as those that were perfect for lulling through the water.  If I haven’t already said it, I like Venice. 

We are now on a train to the Cinque Terre having just left Florence.  Two weeks into traveling and my journal is falling apart, held together by a large paper clamp. Let’s pray it makes it through the rest of Italy and Switzerland.  Until next time, Ciao!

Germany: Munich & Dacau

Posted by on July 5, 2012

6 Comments

Our days in Munich have come to an end, and whereas I enjoyed it’s history, I’m glad to leave.  Here’s a small recap of our time in Munich.

Munich: Day 1

Our hostel was pretty awesome. It had an open commons area complete with hammocks that wrapped you up in a little cocoon.  That’s some good sleepin’!  Our room was big compared to our room at the Amsterdam hostel and the lockers, once we figured out how to use them, were perfect for leaving our bags unattended for a day of sight-seeing.  We were blessed with some really nice roommates–one Australian,  three Asians, and all were on holiday and happy to share their travels and advice.

We started out taking a tour of Munich but halfway through, we were exhausted and barely retaining any information about these historical places.  We opted to go to the Haufbrauhaus, a beer garden frequented by many locals and visitors.  We walked inside a colossal restaurant perhaps 3 rooms wide and 3 rooms deep, and each one was packed with tables upon tables lined with chairs filled with very satisfied, very tipsy clients.  We could barely find a seat but I was determined to get a table close to the German band.  Yep, they had a full 7-piece German band!  Can you picture the smile on my face at this point?!  I knew I was going to like this place.  We grabbed a great spot, ordered a lager (here, no one is served less than a liter), and relaxed. The tuba player (see Kathy’s previous post) took a liking to me, but let’s be honest, I think he took a liking to every woman, especially those tapping there feet and beaming as much as I was.  Kathy and I stayed for a good two hours eating and mingling with two groups of people that came and went from our table.  This was probably my favorite “fun event” thus far. 

Fun fact: Hitler used to hold his speeches at this beer hall

Dacau: Day 2

Sobering is the only word I can find for Dacau at the moment.  A step onto the grounds and the air changed.  My first thought was how peaceful it was.  The only sounds to be heard were birds chirping.  The buildings preceding the actual memorial were made of stone, colored grey, and contained large glass panes and stone columns. The Germans have made it a priority to maintain the memory and seriousness of what occurred at Dacau but are intentional about deeming Dacau as a memorial site and not a concentration camp. You can sense their shame that accompanies this place from their past but they choose to see this as an opportunity to honor those persecuted and teach others.  German children are required to visit at least one concentration camp during their education.  How much more could we Americans glean and appreciate if our children must do the same?

Our first stop on the tour was at the courtyard where the prisoners were delivered. Many had no idea what terror waited for them inside mainly because the Nazi’s were careful with how they portrayed the camps and themselves to the media. Propaganda was a major player in keeping the camps open and keeping society blind.

Adorning the wrought iron gate entering the camp were the words “work will set you free”. Imagine what the thoughts were in the prisoners minds when they saw that!  Hope? Potential freedom? Determination?

Once inside, the torture began at every stop.  The prisoners were registered which required giving up all personal possessions including their name.  They were now just a number.  The prisoners were showered (usually with too hot or too cold water), shaved from head to toe (usually by another prisoner who was forced by beatings to do it speedily), and given a thin garment for clothing.  No identity, no belongings, nicked and cut from head to toe, and entering a type of hell. 

We next stood in the courtyard where roll call occurred. Prisoners were sometimes forced to stand for hours.  The first few years of the camp, only political prisoners were kept there. Eventually the prisoners included beggars, prostitutes, immigrants, Jews, etc. All people we as Christians are called to care for and love. God was reaching deep into my heart. 

All of the buildings with the exclusion of the barracks were original, complete with the dull grey walls and holes for torture at the top of the columns.  Punishment was rampant there. Men were beaten, hung, and tortured right where I was standing.   

The crematorium held similar horrifying stories. The prisoners were told to strip and enter through rooms to “shower”. There, they were gassed to a slow death (~20 min). Other prisoners were sent in to retrieve and burn the bodies. At what point do humans become mere flesh to a Nazi or even to a fellow prisoner? What would steal one’s soul quicker, the psychological or physical torture?

There were 3 obstacles preventing escape from the camp if one could get away. The first was a deep ditch. The second was barbed wire. The third was an electrical fence that contained enough voltage to kill immediately.  Before these three deterrents was the green space. This was the grass located between the barracks and the fence and was known as the dead zone. Nazis were allowed to shoot anyone on the green space at any time. Sometimes soldiers would throw a prisoner’s cap into the area. The prisoners had to be in uniform so the choice was either torture for not being fully dressed or bullets for retrieving the cap.

We walked through every square inch of the place and having stepped on that ground and heard the story from our German tour guide, to hear his reverence and respect and what happened between the gates…it was more than perspective changing to say the least. 

At the end of the tour, we were directed to a monument erected by the efforts of the survivors with the words “Never Again”.  I’m looking forward to sharing photos and thoughts. 

Munich: Day 3

My dear friend Mary Beth and her friend Alex joined us for a day of sightseeing.  It was so good to see Mary Beth.  We go way back, beginning with meeting at an international Junior Civitan convention in high school. We also went to Wofford College where our friendship flourished.  She is teaching in Salzburg, Germany and came to Munich to spend a few hours together.  Since Kathy and I did the main drag earlier, we ventured out a little further and explored the Residenz (the king’s old stomping grounds), the English Gardens, and the Viktualien Market.  

Both the Residenz and the English Garden were beautiful.  Definitely the ritzy part of Munich.  We walked along paths of flowers, trees, waterways, and water falls.  At one of the “waterfalls”, people were surfing along the current. It was fantastic to watch and I was utterly jealous that I could not join.  Another addition to the next “travels abroad” list.  There were also lots of sun bathers, and we successfully managed to avoid the Fra korperkulture (that’s German for openly naked people…or something like that). 

We ate lunch at the Chinese tower located in the English Gardens. It was an interesting experience.  Kathy and I entered the food line, I ordered for Kathy and upon doing so for myself, the man refused to take my order. I assumed it was because we only had one tray so I went back to the beginning of the line, grabbed a tray, and ordered again.  The man refused again!!  He just outright said “no!”.  So I changed my order to something else. “No!”.  Thankfully a kind gentlemen was watching and ordered for me and the server was happy to oblige him. I have no idea what happened but this was a first for me.  Was it some type of discrimination?  I don’t know and I don’t  like it, especially when it comes to me and my food. 

Lastly, I’ve noticed many Turkish people in Munich and Mary Beth was able to fill me in on why.  When Germany was trying to rebuild after the war, they invited people from other countries to do work. Most immigrants went back to their home country afterwards but the Turks, because many had agricultural jobs, stayed and maintained the industry offered in Germany.  

It’s turning out that I might just like this whole history business after all…

As for now, we’re hitting a train for Venice. I’ve been eagerly waiting for Italy! I don’t know what to be more exited about–the sights or the food!

Next post, ITALY!! 

Happy Fourth of July family and friends!  I hope you are enjoying a nice cook-out complete with fireworks and relaxation (or whatever your sweet little hearts desire).  We are celebrating our fourth by blogging to you in an Internet cafe in Munich!  Here is a quick recap of the past few days spent along the Rhine River.

 

Bacharach

The train ride from Amsterdam to Germany was like water to a thirsty soul.   Beautiful waterways, green pastures, and little farmhouses paved out initial route.  I felt like I was finally escaping the madness of Amsterdam.  I enjoyed the city but three days in a place where much of what I value is abused had been enough.  When the only song going through one’s head is “One night in Bangkok”, it’s time to part ways.  I was ready for some serenity.

Our train took us to a station where we had to wait an hour before grabbing the next connection. We met two law students studying in Haag for the term, one of whom was from NC and approached us after hearing my accent.  A fellow Carolinian all the way in Germany!  They were going to run with the bulls in Barcelona.  That’s DEFINITELY going on my “travels abroad” list.

We made the connection and the ride to Bacharach brought us through hills and mountains that housed castles overlooking the Rhine River.  Sleeping on the trains was the plan but with scenery like that, getting some much needed shut-eye was out of the question.

We arrived in Bacharach and it was nice to set foot on solid cobblestone ground.  I was looking forward to hiking the trails, touring the ruins, and exploring the castles.  Our B&B was right off the path from our train stop and Irmgard, our host, greeted us with the biggest smile.  She was an older petite woman, knew very little English, and was simply charming.  She showed us to our room and immediately picked up my large hat with excitement.  I tried it on for her and she did likewise.  I knew we would be friends right then.  She, like me, is a very affectionate woman.  Each time we interacted someone was holding the other’s arm.  That afternoon, she asked me if I was Christian.  Another connection.

There are two things about our B&B other than Irmgard that I will not forget–the key to our room and the shower.  The key was a long silver skeleton key and every time I turned the lock, I felt like Cinderella’s stepmother  locking Cinderella away in her room.  Don’t worry.  I haven’t locked up Kathy, although after the mine tunnel explorations…I’ll discuss that later.
The shower on the other hand was ridiculously small. It was 3×3 and perfect if you didn’t want to actually take a shower.  I was blessed with lots of curls and trying to wash them was near impossible!  Elbows were banging against the doors, water was blasting in my eyes…don’t even think about trying to shave in there!  The French look it was!
We spent the afternoon touring Bacharach.  It’s been my favorite town thus far.  Kathy and I walked all over, all up, and all inside. Bacharach was prominent in the wine trade and is still reminiscent of this time with vineyards coating the land.  We climbed along one of the hills of the vineyard and into the wine tower that overlooked the Rhine.  Only pictures can truly portray the scene but imagine green grass like the color of highly manicured golf courses, complete quietness of a country night, a castle sitting just to the right of old church ruins, and a sun setting just in time to sparkle the Rhine and to cast great shadows across the vineyards and houses.
At the end of the day, we swung into the local pub and watched the Euro cup (the final soccer match played between Italy and Spain for my non-sports friends).  Much like my time in Sweden, all of the pubs here have been packed with the locals vying for a glimpse of the game with drinking the local brew.  In Bacharach, however, ‘packed’ meant 15 people.
St. Goar
The following day we took a Rhine River cruise to St. Goar, another town built on the wine trade.  Our attraction to St. Goar was Rheinfels castle, the most formidable and imposing castle on the Rhine.  We explored slaughterhouses, cellars, pantries, archer’s quarters, courtyards, the pharmacy…Everything of a town was once wrapped up in this castle.  At the end of the castle tour, we made our way to the mine tunnels.
To tell this story, I am taking you back to the moments that felt like hours in which it happened.  Just imagine us, the little explorers we are, all suited up to charge the mine tunnels in our black skirts and intimidating glares.
Kathy grabs the candle and wants to lead the way. The first two steps go great. We’re officially in the tunnel.  Kathy doesn’t realize the light from the candle could only be seen by the person actually holding the candle and begins blazing the trail.  Three seconds later, I bust tail on the rocks, literally.  I call out for Kathy between laughs and groans (I am still sore today).  We start again and all goes well…until we came across the infamous “t”.  Now I have to admit that Rick Steves was growing on me since we had experienced a lot of great times per his book suggestions, but he lost me here.  His ‘directions’ through the mine tunnels were clearly wrong AND he mentioned that the wrong passageways contain gun powder AND to be careful not to misstep or you will burst into a firey death…Needless to say, Rick better bring his A-game for the rest of the trip.  Anyways, back at the ‘t’.  Rick said to turn right, but that was a deadend.  Kathy wants to continue forward with the candle and I think we turn.  By this time, with my bruised bum and inability to see anything not even my own body, I’m ready to pull out some battery-powered artillery.  She continues on with the candle.  I’m fumbling through my bag in pitch black darkness trying to find my phone and some crazy man is moaning in the distance behind me.  Logically, there is nothing this man could have done.  It’s a 3 ft high, 2 ft wide tunnel and it would be difficult for even a Chinese acrobat to drag my dead body through the passageway much less pillage and kill me.  But logic isn’t present (I am in a castle with explosive mines for crying out loud!).  Having the “authentic experience” was over for me.  I yell out to Kathy and she comes back to me with the light until I find my own–God bless Apple products and their flashlight applications!  Now Kathy and I, lights in hand, are crouched at this blasted ‘t’ with the moaning man a  few yards behind us and we still don’t know where to go.  I enter ‘survival mode’ and start heading down other tunnels for an exit.  All the while, Kathy is yelling out Marco Polo.  Do I answer her?  No!  I am in survival mode!  [In retrospect, the idea of Marco Polo was a good idea on Kathy's part but survival mode does not entail playing games.]  So now Kathy and I are separated but with her yelling and me continuously finding dead-ends, we are back at the ‘t’ together.  Finally, another family enters through our exit route and relays the way out.  As we are leaving,  I happen to shine my light on the walls of the tunnel.  They are covered in this viscous, mucousy matter and I’d been groping those walls the entire time.  Never again, Rick Steves, NEVER AGAIN.
But as you can read, we made it out and are on schedule for the rest of our European travels.
Munich
The route to Munich was initially lined with vineyards.  Vineyards became crops and crops became rows of rusty, mustard, or beige colored houses.  The houses changed to a bustling city upon reaching our destination.  When we arrived in Munich, I had to readjust from the tranquility of Bacharach (minus said mine tunnels) to the quick pace of Munich.  We were greeted by city buildings, crowds of diverse people, and traffic.  Munich is much like a big city in the states with the exception of centuries old church spires peaking between the modern businesses.  More on Munich in the next post.
Lastly, thanks for your prayers.  My camera works pretty decently if given the right amount of TLC, rest, and not being too aggressive with the zoom.  That kind of ruins my plans for documenting the Italian men (educational purposes, of course)…I guess the Lord has different plans.
Hi All,
Hallo from Munich! I’m currently typing furiously (a whopping 20 words per minute, haha) at an Internet cafe down the street from our hostel. It’s been a little more challenging to find places to download photos than we anticipated, which has limited us a bit with posting pictures and the like, but we’re hoping that will we continue to find ways to stay connected. We’ve had a fantastic week in Amsterdam, Bacharach, St. Goar and Munich. Here’s a quick picture recap:
Amsterdam:
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Land of many bikes and tiny cars.
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“Your friend is in the cafe” are perhaps the best words I’ve heard in a while!
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Dutch pancakes at Sarah’s Pancake House (Thanks, Jo, for the suggestion, they were delicious!)
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Bikes! We’ve almost been run over by a few. Saw one Amsterdamer biking full speed around a corner, smoking a cigarette, and talking on the phone at the same time. Couples hold hands and bike together.
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The “I AM AMSTERDAM” sign in MuseumPlein provided us with much amusement. I wished that I picked an easier letter to get down from.
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The Anne Frank Musuem walks you through the warehouse and the Secret Annex itself, where Anne and 7 others hid for two years (from 1942-1944). The rooms themselves are tiny and the exhibit is gutwrenching in it’s spareness and simplicity. The furntiture was removed soon after the Nazi raid. In 1960, when the house was became a museum, Otto Frank asked that the room be forever empty in memory of those who will never return. A postcard showing the walls of Anne’s room, where she pasted her favorite photos of movie stars, art, and history in an effort to make things more cheerful. You can still see them there.
Bacharach and St. Goar
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I’ve been trying very hard to get Kimberly to “forget” her hat on a train. Irmgard at our Bacharach B & B loved it!
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View from the Bacharach Tower.
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Bacharach Vineyards.
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The Mighty Reinfels Castle in St. Goar.
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Reinfels Castle mine tunnels. The only Rick Steves suggestion I’ve ever disliked.
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The famous Haufbrauhaus in Munich. Oompa bands and room for 3,500 beer drinking, happy folk!
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Kimberly makes friends with the oompa band!
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Kimberly and I spent almost the entire day at Dachau. Both of us came away deeply impacted by the experience.
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We have one more day to see beautiful Munich sights like the one above. Kimberly’s friend Mary Beth is meeting us in Munich tomorrow to show us around before we catch our train to Venice. Thanks for your continued support, prayers and encouragment on our travels!

Amsterdamaged

Posted by on July 2, 2012

6 Comments

We are safe and sound in Germany.  There is little to no internet here but we stumbled upon a place for us to book our hotel in Venice and send out ‘I promise that I am not dead’ e-mails.  This part of Germany is beautiful and is my favorite part of the trip thus far.  I wrote my blog for Amsterdam a couple days ago and have posted it here.  Germany tales will have to come in a package deal later this week.  I also promise that Kathy is going to blog as well.  Here is a bit about our days together in Amsterdam.
Day 1
Touring the Town
Kathy arrived at the hostel a little after 9/9:30 and we were off to Sarah’s Pancakes for breakfast.  It was fun to catch up and have my friend in the city.  Sara’s Pancakes is a Rick Steves recommended place, so I’m sure you will hear about that from Kathy.  Next, we sought out to rent bikes and after about an hour of searching for the right bike rental location, I didn’t want to even see a bike.  Good luck with that happening here.
We forwent the bikes and started to tour the city.  A number of memorable little surprises happened along the way but you’ll have to wait until our return.  Stay tuned!
The Rijksmuseum

The Rijksmuseum was an unexpected treasure.  The bottom floor was dedicated to the battles of the Dutch fleet and the contents of the top floor were priceless paintings.  I am going to sound completely unlearned and “country comes to town” when I say this, but Rembrandt was a pretty awesome painter!  I couldn’t believe how realistic his artwork was; they looked like real portraits!  To give me a little credit, I have never seen an original, only copies and what’s shown on the internet.  I was in awe of the beauty of his work and his use of subtle contrasts of light and dark throughout the paintings.  The intricacy and attention to detail with which he painted folds and wrinkles of the skin of a woman’s hand was brilliant, for instance.  Rembrandt produced what is known as “history paintings”, and a praise unique to him was that he chose a crucial part of a story and painted every possible feeling of that moment.  One day, I’d like to visit a museum with stories upon stories of his work.
Also, I was fascinated by the work of the Dutch engraver Hendrick Goltzius.  While his work is very graphic, its remarkable nonetheless.
Albert Cuyp Market

We walked through the Albert Cuyp market on the way to dinner.  Here, the merchants expand their stores out into the streets.  It looks like a giant flea market.  At dinner, Abby, a friend from Tallahassee, joined us.  It was fantastic to see her!  She is nannying in Holland and taught us a few words in Dutch.  We finally know how to pronounce the amazing little pancake donut hole thingies that practically melt in your mouth.  The restaraunt where we dined is called Bazaar and was converted from a church.  There are a few mediterranean foods that aren’t my choice of fare, but everything was great here.  Again, thanks to Kathy with another great find.
Vondel Park

After dinner we headed to Vondel Park, this massive green space where all the locals gather to skate, smoke, and hang-out.  We went to skate ourselves but the rent shop had jumped ship and never told Rick Steves.  We ended up walking around Amsterdam, touring all sorts of new places (no stone left unturned).  I was bound and determined to wear poor jet-kagged Kathy out!
Day 2
This morning, we sought to find a breakfast place where the locals dined.  After asking directions and getting lost (I am blaming this not on navigational skills but a lack of a similiar definition of “street”), we walked toward the Ten Kate market and found a little cafe that had no English on the menu.  Kathy ordered an omelette and I ordered “I’ll have whatever is your specialty”…which turned out to be tuna salad.  Now, I love tuna and I love salad and I can eat pretty much anything at anytime during the day, but with coffee?!  The sandwich was great (even for breakfast) and the coffee was good afterwards.
We shopped and ate and then toured a quaint little courtyard and church that Kathy really loved.  I think it was one of her favorite places thus far.  We grabbed some Indonesian food to go and sat in the middle of Spui Square and people-watched.  You know, I was really expecting people in Amsterdam to be wild and crazy and smoking weed all of the time and yada yada yada, but…they seem like normal people in the USA just a lot more mellow (for obvious reasons).
Anne Frank

Blogging after having just toured the Anne Frank house might not be the wisest because the emotions are running rampant.  The museum placed quotes from Anne´s diary throughout.  Her words and what she thought created a connection with me that impacted the rest of the tour.  The museum´s contents made the Frank family come to life and become more than a history lesson.  It made them breathe.  On display were pencil marks written on the wall indicating the children´s growth during their time in hiding (this started the never ending flow of tears).  Also displayed were Otto Frank´s (Anne´s father) Dickens book, her mother´s prayer book, Margot´s (Anne´s sister) latin lessons, and letters.  There also were the transport papers from each family member, the diary itself, and one of the most touching photos of Otto Frank standing in the attic, where his family hid, 15 years after he was liberated from the concetration camp.  Perhaps I´ll blog about the Corrie Ten Boom and Anne Frank houses in more detail later once I have had time to process everything.
Before I go, I’d appreciate your prayers.  It seems so silly to ask this after the Anne Frank House but I need it.  My camera broke this afternoon and I’ve struggled to stay positive.  Photographing through my travels has become one of the more special parts mainly because I get excited about sharing the stories and feelings behind the photos with you.  Now that that has been somewhat prevented, my spirit has suffered a bit of a blow.  Hopefully, I can find a repair an camera shop soon.

Welcome to Amsterdam

Posted by on June 29, 2012

6 Comments

Good morning.  I apologize for not posting yesterday. I was going to wait until I found a computer because i’m unable to upload photos with my phone.  Typing isn’t the easiest thing using this key screen and autocorrect is quickly turning innocent blog words like “post” into “pot”.  How appropriate.  Could possibly make for a fun read.  I’m not sure if paragraphs and spacing are working write either via this method, but bear with me.

Well I made it to Amsterdam alright. The flight was easy but that was about it.  I wonder if these things I am about to share with you only happen to me…

**Cue flash back music**

My plane lands and, since there are both English and Dutch signs, navigating the airport was easy.  The plan was to head to the center of Amsterdam and go from there.  Also, I wanted to ride the train into town rather than the bus because it takes half the amount of travel time.  I attempt to get a ticket. The automatic machine won’t take my cards…several times.  I feel a twinge of panic but resist.  I see a “train traffic and info” desk and wait in line.  The lady can’t help me so she directs  me to an ATM.  I insert my card, punch in the information, it processes, and nothing…nothing. Now I’m freaking out on the inside because (I think) the ATM made a transaction. The bank desk is beside the ATM, so here I am blocking use of my machine and waving around to get the desk attendant’s attention.   Haven’t even left the airport and  I’m acting like a crazy fool.  The manager, finally, comes around and works with the machine, calls the guy who handles transactions and relays that none was made.  Now, most managers would have high-tailed it away from me,  but this gem of a man took me across the airport to another bank’s ATM and waited to be sure that I was taken care of.

With my money in hand, I go back for the train line and am told that no trains are running due to malfunctions (another malfunction on this trip?!).  I’d have to take the bus.  It was a mob at the bus stop.  Everyone wanted out. I found the right terminal and was near the front when the bus stops prematurely. The mob starts running.  (Sometimes I wish I were a big burly guy…though I don’t think I would have had the same help from the ATM manager.  Eh, you win some and you use lose sone.  there are pro and ins). Anyway so I make it to the front of the new bus line and the driver closes the doors.

I grab the next bus, make  my (wrong) stop, and try to pay the driver for my ticket (after the fact) and he just shook my hand and with a big smile said “have a good day”.  For an hour and a half I am touring around Amsterdam looking for my hostel.   For those who like your city laid out in a grid, Amsterdam would be your kryptonite.  Amsterdam is a circle where the streets follow the canals and haphazardly change names. The street to get to my hostel changes 3 times at least.

**Cue flash forward music**

In retrospect, I’m thankful I got lost because I now know the main streets and general directin of all the places Kathy and I want to go.  Locating something has been a breeze.  God has a plan for everything.

The hostel is cute, quaint really. I feel like I’m at summer camp again. I share a room with 8 girls and have a top bunk which takes much maneuvering to get into since I am using my ladder as a drying rack.

After finding my hostel, I hopped on a train to Haarlem to see the Corrie ten Boom house.  It was magnificent and so was the guide.  I teared up several times being in the house of this family.  They were godly folk and the guide used this platform as a way to share the gospel.  My heart and tired soul were refreshed after hearing this  passionate woman speak.  If you do not know the Ten Boom story, I want to share it and it’s impact with you  but you must wait until I can post pictures.

After the house tour, I went to Grote park which is at the center of Haarlem and had a nice long dinner.

Fun fact: New York’s Harlem derived its name from Amsterdam’s Haarlem.

I made it back in Amsterdam by 6:30 and had some quiet time in the garden of our hostel just journaling through the day and relaxing. Our hostel also has a cafe which buttresses the garden and since it’s the Euro Cup, every guest was in there, hunkered around the television  watching the game. This was also the case in Stockholm. They put us football fans to shame. It’s pretty neat to watch.

A couple observations before Kathy and I hit up the town.

  1. Bikes are everywhere! I swear the ratio must be 3:1 bikes to people. The bicyclists ring the handle bar bells to warn pedestrians they are coming ( I heard MANY bells).
  2. Amsterdam is also called the Venice of the north due to its canals and waters. I’m beginning to think  every place is called the Venice of the North. It’s very beautiful and in a different kind from Stockholm.

Skansen

Posted by on June 27, 2012

7 Comments

Last Day in Stockholm

Rather than touring the Nobel Museum, I went to the 75-acre open-air museum called Skansen.  Skansen is an area of Stockholm where traditional buildings and farmsteads from all over Sweden were moved to preserve and share a part of Sweden’s history prior to the industrial age.  It is much like Williamsburg, VA where people are in character, living and working in the trades of that era, ready to share a story with an inquisitive visitor.  Like these ladies here:

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In mid-west Sweden, a farmhouse served as a summer cottage for two women who watched over the farm. One woman would tend to the cows and the other would prepare the butter, milk, and cheese.  The cows were much smaller than typical ones and they also produced less milk, but the milk was more fatty.  The objective for mid-west farms was to maximize pasture space.  Since there were so many farmers competing for land (and livelihood), many of the farmers and workers down-sized their living quarters to make room for the needs of their livestock.

In addition to farmhouses representative of areas all over Sweden, Skansen contains a post office, church, gardens, and a “zoo”!  Other buildings around the area ranged in looks such as these:

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Allottment Houses

There was even a children’s area where I got to pretend that I was a rabbit popping out of my lil hole to say “hello”!

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One particular building of interest to me was the Smedjan, also known as “The Smithy”!  And no, that is not a suitable nickname for me so go ahead and throw that disaster of a notion away.

Smedjan, or The Smithy, came from a farm in Uppland and was used for making locks and metal works and repairing any farm equipment.  The Smithy was located away from the farm because of fire risks.  There were so many neat farm tools (like those seen here) around each of the buildings.  Johnny, you would have loved it!  I took so many pictures of the different types of equipment that I can’t hardly wait to show you!  It reminded me so much of “the old house” back in Newberry.

Skansen’s beauty was simply breath-taking and just fed my fascination with farming.  I could have toured all day but after 5 hours of exploration, we headed back home.  We stopped at a local coffee shop and picked up a few little treats.  The three desserts on your far left are authentic Swedish sweets: the “Choklatball”, the “Vacuum Cleaner” (which gets its name from being composed off all the leftover cake trimmings in the bakery that is then coated with marzipan; this is the green and brown item), and a cinnamon bun like muffin.

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The cinnamon bun was simply divine!  Hearing the bakery employee suggest items and explain to customers how certain items were made brought back wonderful memories of working at Cathy’s Cakery.  I can just smell all of those years right now.

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We passed several souvenir shops on our return, too.  I have been on the hunt for a charm from Stockholm for the bracelet that my mom gave me when I started graduate school.  Each charm represents a place that I have traveled since my start at Florida State.  I didn’t find a charm, but boy did I find a prince charming!

Heaven on the eyes and hell on the heart

Last Night in Stockholm

Skol!  This is swedish for “good health” or “cheers”.  We arrived at the Ice Bar and presented our names which gave us access for 45 minutes.  The attendant handed us our parkas and gloves, and we passed through two different doors into a room of ice walls and a steel floor.  The chairs were ice, the ledges were ice, and even the drinks were served in cups made of ice!  I had such a great time taking pictures and playing…for the first ten minutes.  After that, my buck fifteen frame (on a muscular day) was freezing, my teeth were chattering, and I couldn’t take a still picture to save my frozen soul!  The room was 23 degrees and perhaps if you got toasted there, you didn’t care what temperature it was.  As for me, I had the experience, checked it off my list, and was ready to peace out!  But don’t get me wrong, I would absolutely do it again in a heartbeat.

Morning of Amsterdam

I am packed and headed out the door to catch my 7:30 flight to Amsterdam.  The plan is to visit Harleem but, as you know, my plans thus far for this trip have rarely made it to the execution stage.  Please pray for a safe flight and an extra dose of navigation skills (I have to make the treck from the airport to the hostel).

Kathy should be boarding a plane today, too, to join me tomorrow morning.  Call her and wish her a “Happy Birthday”!

Until next time…Goodbye Stockholm.

 

Mamma Mia!

Posted by on June 26, 2012

9 Comments

It is my last day in Sweden so I want to make this blog significant.  Therefore, since the pop group ABBA is from Sweden, all the headings will be titles of their songs.

Dancing Queen

Sadly there was no dancing tonight/last night at the banquet.  Well there might have been, but when the accordion was brought out, my pals high-tailed it out of there (and therefore I had to as well).  This was after dinner, but before, we had a good amount of time to tour the Vasa Museum.  The ambiance of the Vasa and the story behind this great ship was awe-inspiring.  I can’t ever remember being a history buff but seeing this grandious ship and reading about its demise and revival aroused within me great interest.  I found myself taking pictures of every nook and cranny of the museum for an hour before joining my fellow scientists.  I must have taken over 100 of the museum and its contents.  The Vasa was truly magnificent and I can’t wait to share my pictures with you!

The Vasa was built in the 1600s and sank on her maiden voyage on August 10, 1628 (due to insufficient ballasts) after sailing approximately one mile.  The ship was built for warfare and therefore was a very heavy ship, approximately 700 tons.  For years, the Vasa lay undiscovered, forgotten.  Due to the properties of the Baltic sea and the depth at which the ship lied, minimal decay and destruction occurred.  Divers had petitioned to blow up the wreck and salvage timber from the ship but a researcher, Anders Franzen, prevented the demolition.  Recovery of the Vasa from the sea floor began.

The Vasa was a large ship bult in the 1600 for warfare

The Vasa was a large ship built in the 1600s for warfare.  Here are my roommates and I posing at the rear of the ship.  The lighting was a bit dark for these photos but the others turned out really nice.

After our self-guided tours, we dined on herring, beef, and other Swedish foods.  The tables lined the corridors surrounding the ship.  Food and beverage was plentiful and conversation was lively.  We arrived at 7:00 p.m. and had a champagne reception followed by a three course meal,  After the banquet, my friends and I toured the local streets of Stockholm.  We plan to do this again tonight after the concluding lecture.  Also on my agenda for tomorrow is a tour of the Nobel museum.

 

Does Your Mother Know

Mom, go ahead and skip over this section and assume that after the conference, I went to my hotel room and took a nap with the security latch locking the door.

For everyone else, I had an hour and a half before my next afternoon lecture, so I decided to explore Stockholm.  Originally, I was just going to peruse the shelves and racks of a department store.  Instead, I saw true non-tourist Stockholm.  I took the street adjacent to the store and rather than entering the building, I just went straight.  This section of town was obviously not one frequented by many tourists as everything was written in Swedish.  I, however, totally and completely looked like a tourist with my camera around my neck, wide-eyed window shopping, and walking 2 miles an hour.  It was fantastic.  I had no idea where I was going but wherever it was, not a single word in English was found (excluding things such as “American”, “7-eleven”, etc).  My only guide home was “Centralstation” which is the Central Station near my hotel.  I passed several (what I would call) parks that were so green and beautiful that I, myself, even felt lovely and a part of it all.  Having no agenda or direction and being left to my own “survival” skills seemed to wake up some dormant part deep inside of me.  I’m in love with travel.

There were several monument-like buildings of which I have absolutely no idea what I was photographing nor what the signs read indicating what I was photographing.  These could have been relics of an earlier age or contemporary office buildings with employees staring out the window at my crazy self taking pictures of their place of business.  Regardless, I am prepared in case I hit on something good.  I even took pictures of the signs for future internet exploration of Stockholm.  Crazy tourists.

For all of you who have never traveled before, I highly recommend trying out new accents.  Sweden seems like a melting pot of languages so why not make up my own?  So, I did.  I’d meet someone on the street and babble some nonsense in a foreign tone as I passed them by.  They acknowledged me (which only fed this ridiculous practice) and I continued on.  I was even mistaken for a local…twice!

 

Gimme, Gimme, Gimme (A Man After Midnight)

Just kidding.

 

Slipping Through My Fingers

I can’t believe my time in Stockholm is almost over.  Today, I plan to check out a few museums, the local fare, and this fabulous restaurant/bar where the inside is made of ice and you have to where a parka and gloves for the evening.  It’s a total novelty and I plan to be a total sucker.  My flight to Amsterdam leaves at 7:30 tomorrow (Thursday) morning, unless we have a repeat of this past weekend.

Obviously the jet-lag hasn’t worn off and my circadian clock has not transitioned into European time.  It’s 4:00 in the morning and I am wide awake.  Although it’s “light” outside, the howling people and lack of male protection/intimidation keeps me locked inside my hotel room and not heading to another island..ugh, you’re welcome.  Inconveniently, I get terribly sleepy around noon and don’t truly get hungry until 3 p.m.  Don’t worry, I am “suffering” through eating the meals the hotel provides.

Last but absolutely not least, before I leave, I want to enthusiastically thank you for your comments.  I can not express to you how much I love receiving them, each and every one!  Blogging creates a great deal of vulnerability for me, like I am living in a glass house.  Your encouragement and affirmations make me want to share and continue to be open about my experiences.  I feel as if you are traveling right along with me and I remember little things to share with you that might normally pass me by.  Thank you for fostering a connection from so many miles away.  Oh, and if you have any suggestions for pictures or activities, please feel free to share.

Much love and hugs to you all.

And let us now begin…

**The Grand Tour 2012**