I’m not sure if irony is the right label for it, but it’s amusing that during the school year, even when football is in full swing, I update much more readily. It is when I’ve been blessed with free time that this here site grinds to a halt.
We made a brief stop over in Paris, for about a day and a half. Nothing against Paris or France but we had already made other plans with Germany; namely, to take a train to Munich. We bummed about Munich for about five days enjoying the sights, culinary offerings, and of course, their national beverages.
One of the things we gave the highest priority was visiting the former concentration of Dachau. While there was always a feeling of reverence and of being on hallowed ground, the overall thing that I took away from the exhibit was that it was cleansed. Not necessarily done intentionally but I think that that suffering of humans and the ultimate cruelty of other humans was slightly filled in. Buildings had been destroyed, a few rebuilt to show “what it had been like” which didn’t sit well with me. If we are meant to never forget, things like this should be brutally honest, as ugly as it was.
But all things in Germany weren’t bent on the sad parts of history. One of the best days, at least in my opinion, was when we hiked into a monastery outside of Munich. While we were initially expecting a hike of three kilometers it turned out being three miles. Not that the distance was a crucial component but it actually worked up our appetites for the beer garden that awaited us atop the hill. Although we feasted on various pork products and quaffed our pilsners… we were left monk-less. Apparently, the cloister doesn’t mix in with the locals nor the visiting American vagabonds. The hike was amazingly beautiful and the view from the monastery was spectacular which paid us in full for our hike and refueled us for our trek back to the train down the hill, through the forest and back through the brick-laden village.
From Munich, a second train took us onto Prague, Czech Republic. Prague was going to be my wildcard of the trip. This was a country I had never been to and a language I couldn’t make heads or tails of except to say “please”. But please doesn’t help you find a bathroom or consulate. I was equally prepared to be out of my element or be completely awestruck with the country. Thankfully, the second was true. Prague was a snapshot in time, nearly every building was at least represented as it would have in another era.
For us, Prague wasn’t necessarily about seeing certain things or doing certain activities beyond walking about the city. Prague is meant to be traversed one step at a time. Over the hand placed two inch sidewalk stones and across the bridges. There were many times we would just walk in a direction and see where it took us and try to find our way back. As long as we were able to find the river, we could find home.
We left Prague for a stay in London that was counted in hours rather than days. I briefly broke off from my travel companions to meet up with my friend from college, Monica. We met up and made good use of a pub which was fashioned out of an old firehouse. Many hours later, I wandered back amongst all of the major stopping points of London: Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, etc. Don’t be wrong, but London was not my place. The people were amazingly nice but I think I’m starting to approach the end of my stays in cosmopolitan areas. Maybe it goes back to the summers in Newfoundland but there is a lot to be said for experiencing a country without seeing other people. I’ll confess, I’m more awestruck my natural wonders than those that are man-made. That aside, the next morning we made it to King’s Cross station and onto our train to Edinburgh, Scotland.
At this point, may I diverge for a second and speak to the wonders of European train travel. It’s timely, it’s efficent, it’s fast, it’s comfortable and once in a while, it has internet. To sum it up: me like.
Scotland was a good change of pace. The first two days we spent hanging about Edinburgh proper. We took in the castle, walked past the palace down the Royal Mile. My favorite thing in Edinburgh wasn’t one of those, it was a big hill that loomed over the city. King Arthur’s Seat was a quick hike to the base of the hill and then a steep climb to the top over the stone steps. Once at the top, if you’d positioned yourself against the wind, you’d have an unbelievable chance to witness the city and its run toward the English Channel from above. Jess and I sat on the hillside for nearly an hour enjoying the warmth of the sun and view below.
Scotland only got better once we got a car. We became more mobile and the things we saw rewarded us. I’ll admit it for her; Jess is a castleophile. She loves castles and any chance that we were near one we would take it, which was more than ok by me. Luckily, our GPS was stocked full of fancy-named castles galore.
Hands down, everyone found the best castle to be Tantallon Castle. This massive structure stood at least five stories (figuring the time it was made, it’s a comparative skyscraper) with major portions still intact. You would hope that castles would be cavernous sending you up one stairwell out a new door into an unknown room with the occasional dungeon; Tantallon didn’t disappoint, especially when you consider that it leaned gracefully toward the ocean waves below it.
As all vacations should have, we intermingled some beach time into the agenda as well. We parked our car on a little lane just before it became an even littler dirt road and hiked down two miles to Yellow Craig Beach. Just to verify, the ocean water in Scotland is cold too.
In search of more castles, we came upon St. Andrews. Even though that town’s name is synonymous with golf, I didn’t golf, see a golf course nor ever a golf ball. We did, however, happen upon the ruins of a cathedral that stood near the cliff’s edge. Among the bases of where pillars formerly rose up and the walls that somehow still stand, were the countless grave markers and headstones for many people who had been thrown from the mortal coil. There is a magnetism that exists for me and the ruins of buildings, especially ones that were the keystone of community, but that comes into further play in another paragraph.
The highlight of our trip could have easily been our day trip across Scotland onto a ferry and onto the Isle of Bute. On this little island was a forgotten church that was nameless with its roof long collapsed inside of its walls. We would have nearly passed the grounds had I not seen out of the corner of my eye the blue sky where the roof should have been. We loitered inside the church (which probably wasn’t something we were supposed to do) for a long time. Looking at the little details that made up this church, which now laid in a heap where the pews once were or scattered outside of its walls. We were able to wander up the stairs, still intact, and look up into the rotting wooden floor boards that housed a church bell at one time. The door lock mechanism was tossed in the pile of wood and glass just beyond the entrance of the church. The church had long been forgotten or abandoned but that only made it more beautiful, more memorable. It had all the reverence and pious beauty of its kind but laid about haphazardly into the jagged piles.
To cap off our adventure in Scotland and on the Isle of Bute, we finally came across one of those stereotypical Scottish scenes. Highland cattle in a field. As expected as it is supposed to be, I still think that they are extremely interesting looking and was excited when I finally got to snap off some pictures.
From Scotland, another quick plan ride took us into Northern Ireland. The consistent question I get from people is about the driving. What everyone already knows is that it is on the opposite of the road from our American roads. However, what isn’t widely known is that the roads are wide as ours and without a shoulder. You would have about five feet in your lane, and err in depth perception would have you running your rental car along a rock wall. Err to the other side, at best toy’ll lose your mirror. Now imagine this with people parking where ever their Irish hearts please. Now, you have to deal with multiple cars taking up at least your miniscule lane with traffic coming toward you… and it’s a giant truck, or give it the cute British name, a “lorry”. I didn’t care if it has a cute name, it still out weighted me by multiple tons and it was bearing down as I dodge three parked cars in my lane. That aside…
Northern Ireland was beautiful. Jess and I made good use of our rental car there, despite said road conditions. We stayed on the Antrim Coast, in the north. Our first stop was Dunluce Castle, yet another castle that was perched precariously above a churning ocean. Even though I really like seeing the castle, I snapped my favorite picture there of a sparrow, as you can see:
We also rambled about at the Carrick-a-Rede Bridge and the Giant’s Causeway. The Carrick-a-Rede Bridge is an old rope bridge that spans over the water to a little island where fishermen would throw out nets to make their livings. The Giant’s Causeway is a natural formation of rocks that are all shaped as pentagons that rise up at varying heights. As someone else once coined, it looks as if someone is offering god thousands of cigarettes.
One day, we drove out to a little coastal community that wasn’t much more than a couple of blocks wide. We then hopped onto a ferry to Rathlin Island which is only a minute piece of land. Once our boat docked, people walked off and went to the left… with that in mind, Jess and I started hiking to the right, down to the southern tip of the island. As we approached the south lighthouse both Jess and I heard a strange sound. As we crept closer to the water, the noise became louder. Jess then asked if I saw the seals. I said that I didn’t, but what she was pointing was a log. Lo and behold, that log was a seal, as well as were the fourteen other seals around it. We must have sat there for near two hours just taking in our solitude with the seals. It was quite a remarkable moment to be there when we could have easily walked on by never noticing the fifteen slumbering bodies on tossed about on the rocks.
After our time on the north coast, Jess and I drove back to Belfast and used that day as a great opportunity to rest up. We hung about the downtown of the city and then spent a handful of hours in the pub below our hotel, both of which were called Benedict’s. We sat there, sipping our pints, listening to an Irish rock band and before we knew it it was approaching time for dinner. I had a classic Irish Sunday roast dinner and then we headed back to the room because in the morning we hopped yet another flight but this time back to Amsterdam.
I had never been in Amsterdam before, save for its airport but the city quickly became one of my favorites in all of I’ve been to. I would classify it as a city as beautiful as Paris, yet without the rigid attention to fashion or social rules. To hedge off any questions: Yes, we did go to the Red Light District but it wasn’t like I had imagined it. Of course, there was the ‘industry’ present but it is only a small portion of the district. Truthfully, some of the best restaurants and shopswere tucked into the streets.
An obligatory stop was, of course, the Anne Frank House. It was a very sober exhibit. I thought it was done well, fairly minimal with a lot of information. I twas strange being able to touch the bookcase that hid the family’s refuge. To stand in the room of Anne Frank and see the pictures of stars and the future queen of England on her walls. With all of the windows darkened out, I could easily place myself in what her thoughts could have been.
We were lucky to get a chance to also go up the tallest point in Amsterdam, the Westkirk, which was a church just steps from Anne Frank’s house. From the tower we had a picturesque view of the city. Through the journey to the top on almost vertical steps, we could see the old wooden structure that was just behind the stone, as well as bells that boomed from behind the church facade.
Sadly, this was our last stop on our trip. From Amsterdam, we caught our direct flight back to Portland. Both Jess and I were sad to come to the end of the trip. We had spent so many months in waiting for its arrival and yet when we were in the midst of it, it was but a flash. We only scratched the surfaces of the places we saw. Even after four flights and the train treks, we have both agreed that there is much of Scotland and Ireland we would like to come back to, but that’s another post all together.
After 21 days of being abroad, Jess and I have finally returned to the States and sleeply little Cottage Grove. We had an amazing trip, it was truly a nonstop sensation of awe. Time seemed to meander before the trip started but sprinted throughout the entire trip, before we knew it we were in our car on I-5, Grove-bound.
So here’s the recap, the wrap up, the final analysis:
We really didn’t find any snags on getting over to Vienna, Austria. The only issue we had was the 11 hour layover in Los Angeles, but we were aware of that when we booked. Miles had been cashed in for our tickets, so when that happens the scheduling of the flights is loose, at best. I read most of a novel in LAX in between in the times that I was sleeping where ever I could stretch out. Here I am at our gate:
Despite the long ours in the airport, it wasn’t that bad. I’m not sure if it was the energy and enthusiasim of the trip or what, but the 11 hours really didn’t feel any longer than 10.5 hours.
Our flights were good, especially from LAX to London. I slept like a rock in between the times when they fed us and I watched the occasional movie or did the occasional crossword. We ended up getting into Vienna at about ten at night which was perfect because we went to our hotel and slept. The timing of our arrival helped both us have minimal effects of the nine hours of timezone chaning.
Honeslty, I was a little overwhelmed at first when we left our hotel room the first morning. Vienna, by any means, is not a small city. However, once we walked around, got our feel of what we could see things started to feel a little more natural. The city is consitantly beautiful, the bulidings are old and there were a lot of artful touches to their design. Luckily, we had come in a day or two after the EuroCup, supposedly a big to-do for the soccer fans in Europe. Apparently, Spain had just beaten Germany. The day before we arrived, the city was clogged up with soccer fans and all of their insanity. Sorry we missed it.
We saw some sights while in Vienna, most notably would be the Schonnbrunn Palace, which was the childhood palace of Marie Antoinette, before she moved to France and before she was dispatched minus her head. It was a very ornate palace, as well as very crowded. See below:
After a couple of days we departed for Salzburg, Austria which turned out to be one of our favorites. Salzburg is situated kind of in a valley. Looming overhead of the city is the Festung Hohensalzburg, which is a fortress. It is a quick walk up to the fortress or an even quicker funicular ride, we opted for the walk:
There was a lot to do in Salzburg, as well as around it. We went into every cathedral in Salzburg as well as each of their crypts. Nothing like being surrounded by a lot of dead archbishops to help you get a feel for a country. Each of the catherdals had their own feel, while some were incrediable decorated with gold and paintings, some were less ornate and were more simple. One of the favorite things to do was to get pictures of the candles that people light in rememberance of a loved-one, for a tribute to a saint, whatever the reason, I took far too many pictures of the candles. Jess said that if she couldn’t find me in the cathedral, she was knew that I was crouched over a row of lit candles; here’s one of the products of said crouching:
Overall, the Austrians were so warm and inviting. I used a little bit of my two years of German from college, but many people were happy to speak English. I did throw in some comments in German when I could, but there is only so many times you can ask where the bathroom is. Jess and I both had wienerschnitzel, nothing like stuffing pork with cheese, onions, bacon, and then breading it and frying it. And yet people were so thin, it must be the smoking.
From Salzburg, Jess and I took an overnight train to Zurich, Switzerland and then hopped a subway train to the airport to meet my folks. The overnight train was fun, especially the part where we shared a compartment with four other people and it smelled like their breath, that coupled with the warmth ensured that I didn’t sleep at all. But it was fun to watch a young Japenese couple, or at least watch the wife (or girlfriend) pamper her significant other. She fanned his face as he slept, held his feet for him, gathered a towel and set it under his head. I informed Jess that this was how a husband was to be treated and that she should get her act in order. She had a good laugh about that one.
Once we met up with my parents we hopped a quick train to Luzern, Switzerland. Sadly, when we got there we were not able to check into our rooms, so we had to raom for four hours which was miserable (although pretty) because I hadn’t had an ounce of sleep. Eventually I did get a nap and everything was well after that. Everyone agreed that Luzern was one of the best places, the slower pace, the attitudes of people, the constant stunning scenery. Luzern is especially known for its Chapel Bridge, which is an old bridge (well, actually, it is the rebuilt replica of the old bridge that burned down in the 90’s) that crosses the water that splits the town. One night, we had just gotten up from our dinner when we witnessed a double rainbow over the lake and thus over the bridge. take a gander:
One of our favorite places outside of Luzern was Mt. Pilatus. There were several ways to get to the top of Mt. Pilatus, take the five hour walk up, take the cog train or take the tram. After the boat ride across the lake we took the cog train up the mountain. Sadly, it was so cloudy that you could see about 200 feet ahead of you during a good moment. We didn’t let that stop us, we went and did all of the different trails and hikes that were at the top of the mountain. About thirty minutes before we had to leave the mountain, right as the final realization that we weren’t going to be able to see much, the clouds evaporated within minutes and left us in awe at what we would see. You could see the lake and far beyond, as well as down into Luzern. One of the most remarkable things to see was the little chapel perched on the edge of one of the outcroppings on Pilatus:
We actually came back to Mt. Pilatus the next day, mostly for the summer tobaggin runs (which were too fun). After we had all tobaggin-ed, we decided to hike down the mountain. On our way down, we came across the most laid-back cows you had ever met. They didn’t even really get up when we approached, they enjoyed being scratched and petted. They also posed for many pictures, the camera loved them:
Another thing we did while in Luzern was a glacier museum (which contained only about 20% glacier). Some how, the designers of the museum thought that a hall of mirrors fit the decorum of a glacier museum, so we went through. To be truthful, I was reluctant but since everyone else wanted to go through it I tagged along, thankfully so. The hall was very well done (and 100 years old), we had such a good time in it that we went through twice:
The hall of mirrors was also next to one of the other famous sights in Luzern, the Lion Monument was was erected by the French in rememberance of the Swiss troops who were slaughtered while helping France:
Well, to be more honest, it was just Paris. Paris was just as wonderful as it was the last time we were there. There is always so much to do and see that you always run out of time. How ever, I am diligent about seeing the other parts of France, especially the portions that are rife with World War II history (yes, I know Paris was a very big par tof WWII). We had come into Paris a couple of days before Bastille Day, so the city was in a frenzy over that. There were countless numbers of police and military every where. On Bastille Day (July 14th) we were lucky enough to see the military aircraft make a slow, low pass over the Champs Elyesse as part of the huge parade (oddly, they didn’t throw candy). Because of the holiday, the Eiffel Tower was cast in a constant blue light at night, which was unusual but actually quite pretty:
While in Paris, we took my parents around to many of the usual stops and sights. Although for some reason, my mom didn’t want to go through the Catacombs, so we took my dad to see the countless pieces of human remains:
On our last night in Paris, we crowded in with the thousands upon thousands of people to see the Bastille Day fireworks which went on for a half an hour straight, as well as set to five or six different opera peices which were performed live:
We actually took a day trip to Luxembourg while we were staying in Paris. Luxembourg is to the north of France is a teeny country. It took us all of thiry minutes to walk across their capital which was also their largest city. It was a beautiful city which had many of its old fortified walls up which we wandered:
After my parents caught their taxi to the airport, Jess and flew down to Barcelona, Spain to cap off our trip. Barcelona was very much like I expected: warm, sunny, crowded, and tons of beaches. Although, one of my favorite parts of Barcelona was the Tapas. From what I understand, it is typical to go out to a restuant around 6 or 7 get something to drink and some Tapas which are like appitizers. They had Tapas made out of just about everything. My favorite were the peppers which where coated in olive oil, salted heavily and then roasted. It went really well with humus. Jess and I saw the Sagrada Familia, a catherdral that is still under construction despite being built in the 1880’s:
While in Barcelona, Jess and I stayed in the Gothic Quarter, which is an area of the city that is a patchwork of narrow, winding streets that interlace around the entire quarter. Many of these buildings had been around for a very long time, which cast the area in a dark, yet beautiful light:
On our final day of Barecola and our trip, we wanted to end with the utmost relaxation, so we headed to the beach for the majority of the day. We laid on the lounge chairs and just enjoyed the sun and the warm water. We had realized that in European style, there could be some less-than-clothed people at the beach, but at one point we found ourselves amoung many different people (almost all men) who were wearing absolutely nothing. Which started our discussion on some very uncomfortable areas to be sunburned… sorry, no pictures of the people but here are some shots of the beaches:
Although we absolutely loved our trip we were ready to come back to the States and the Grove. Flying from Barcelona wasn’t a problem but things got sticky in New York City once we arrived. We had managed to get a flight home to Portland on the same day (we were originally scheduled to come home the next day), th eonly thing was that we had to be in LA by a certain time but we had a couple hours of buffer, just in case. Our flight to LA was delayed slightly and by a lot due to the mechanics on board. Finally, they said that they were bring us a different plane. I jokingly said to Jess that it would be funny if they said this new plane couldn’t leave on time either beause of a mechanical problem. Lo’ and behold, I had cursed ourselves. The second flight was grossly delayed because of a mechanical issue. Eventually, Jess and I hopped a flight home direct from New York to Portland and landed just before midnight, still getting in almost 10 hours ahead of schedule.
We were happy to be home, to sleep in our bed, and to especially to see our big goofball of a dog.