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Friday, July 1, 2011

Auf wedersein

We ended last night at a beach party at the university. Our driver picked us up at 10 pm promptly and we started the arduous process of packing. We got a few hours of sleep and our dependable driver was there bright and early ( actually it wasn't even bright yet. It was the middle of the night). The driver even asked Holly if she had her passport. I guess he has her pegged already too. We are back in US territory waiting on our layover to DC. I hope that when the world gets crazy and we are both running the rat race again we can reflect on this trip and remember to slow down, let the small things go, laugh, and enjoy the journey. " Too often we are so preoccupied with the destination that we forget the journey"

Thursday, June 30, 2011

The "Holly leg" of the trip

Today's destination: Bern, Switzerland.   Since it is soooooo far away... we took a car from the hotel to the train station.  We met a smelly, but friendly world traveler who kindly informed us that we were headed on a train in the opposite direction of Bern.  Just fyi, Im calling this the "Holly leg" of the trip (which totally infuriates her, but I have been hands off letting her plan the Bern part of the trip since we are here for her conference).  Naturally she gets blamed for the "Holly leg" mistakes.  Back to the train ride:  we got off at the next stop and headed to the vending machine for breakfast (since we weren't sure when/if we would actually make it to Bern... and walking these mountains here really burns the calories and causes us to feel famished).   Suddenly we were surround by armed military... not quite sure what was going on but we definitely hopped the next train out of there and into Bern... and yes... we made it.  We walked around the streets and visited the markets.  We saw the bears of Bern, which is a zoo-type enclosure of bears, since they are the symbol of the city.  Then we headed to the airport because our mission for the day was to get a rental car since we have a 6 am flight and our hotel is so far away.  We arrived to the car rental area just as the guy set up his sign and booked it out of there... before we could even stop him.  We pleaded with the airport workers and they agreed to rent us a car... even though Holly didnt have her passport.  However they wanted to put a $1200 franc hold on our credit card in case of damages.  First... we are grad students... second... what the heck is that????? What happened to a $200 deposit.  We decided that we couldnt part with a $1200franc hold on a credit card and after a small airport meltdown from Holly.. we went out front.  I suggested that we hire a cabbie for the day, until we left in the morning.  I thought Holly might pummel me.  Her response was... "You knew we could do this all along... you made me struggle".  Hahaha.  It was just an idea... an idea that worked.  Now we have a personal driver for the remainder of our trip.  He is kind, patient, and even follows our directions to drive down really small, windy roads that are definitely not made for cars.  He questions us when we tell him to drive the wrong way up one way streets and laughs, thinks about it, and then finds a safer route.  He even reminded Holly that we need to get some sleep tonight and suggested that we set an earlier bedtime than my nocturnal travel partner had previously suggested.  He is great. We are now at the poster presentation... yes we made it... slightly wrinkled... no blow dryer at the hotel because Holly burned it up (that is hair dryer #2 that Holly killed) but we have the poster and we were on time.  Holly is doing great, despite her anxiety at the start.  Her poster looks as professional as she does.  She is meeting psychologists from all over the world and talking to them about her research.  Another amazing day in Switzerland.   The "Holly leg" has been perfectly imperfect.  "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail"-Ralph Waldo Emerson

No map, no travel book, no problem (most of the time)

This trip has been about relaxing and giving up control (well for me at least... Holly is better at this than myself). I have not so much as cracked open my Rick Steve's travel guide. We tried using a map, but ended up traveling in circles and frustrated. We threw it away and followed our gut. Most of the time we were wrong. Holly has a video of us from the vespa. She asks me which way to go. I say one direction, she says the other. Turns our we were both wrong. So we circle back to the starting point and she says "Should we try that way again" (yes... the location we just came from... no.. we dont learn from our mistakes). But we laughed until our stomach hurt and eventually found what we were looking for and even more than we had imagined that we would see.

Yesterday we awoke early and packed up the tent. We headed to the piers to catch the boat to Thun, Switzerland and planned to take the train to Bern, Switzerland.

So... Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale,
A tale of a fateful trip
That started from this tropic port
Aboard this tiny ship.

Okay... so it wasn't a tropic port... it was mountainous... and the boat didn't capsize.... but it was a blustery, stormy journey. We sat outside, under the overhang and enjoyed lunch as we traveled. Well... I enjoyed lunch. In the words of Holly... ordering food here is like throwing a dart...sometimes you score... sometimes you miss. I scored big. Hers ended up being a dried up sandwich in plastic wrap. We arrived in Thun, then caught the first train to Bern. We had planned to end the trip in a plush hotel... with a pool... hot showers... tv. When we got in the taxi, the guy freaked. He said our hotel was 20 km away.... which to him was worlds away. $100 francs later and after a lot of complaining from our driver... we arrived in our village. And yes.... it was a village. Complete with goats, cows, and sheep. No town... no tv... a leaky shower.. no pool. But it was beautiful.. and the hosts were very friendly. We walked around the local farms. We ate fresh cherries off a cherry tree, strolled the winding stone roads.

Then we went back to the hotel to eat at the restaurant there. It was such a small village.. Im convinced they spoke their own dialect. It was a mix between French and German, but not really either. The waitress was a sweetheart, but we were lost in translation. Our ice cream came out before dinner... we told her we would eat in the room because we thought she had said the restaurant was closing at 5:30pm. In the end we ate what she brought us on the sun deck and it was delicious. We used a lot of gestures and each spoke to one another in our native languages. We nodded , but had no clue what we were agreeing to and laughed and all had a great time. When the storms came through we took wine to our room and played gin rummy on the balcony and watched the rain. We went to bed with the doors open, feeling the fresh breeze, listening to the rain and the cow bells in the field across the way. Its not the 5 star hotels... the technology.. the pool... the comfort that makes a trip worthwhile all the time... sometimes its simplicity and the journey that you took to get there. In the end "life is not a destination... its a journey".

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Best 2 francs I spent

June 28:  Today we woke up and went to shower.  The water was freezing.  After 20 minutes and some help from a local, I realized that you have to pay a franc for 4 minutes of hot water. Apparently they enjoy quick showers here.  Not me.  Even 8 minutes was quick, but it was definitely the best investment I made all day.  This blog is going to be short.  I am typing on a European keyboard and the letters are all mixed up.  Anyways... we spent the entire day on vespa, exploring the Berner Oberland.  The sights were breathtaking and the pictures that we took were amazing.  It was definitely the way to travel the area.  We saw everything... and then some more.  We went to the top of mountains, the valley of the waterfalls, and swam in the clear blue lakes.  We traveled in 90 degree weather in the valley to freezing cold temps in the top of the mountains (that were lined with snow caps).  Our amazing neighbors even threw our packs and all of our stuff in our tent when the storms came through (we were still out exploring).  Then we came back to the campground and slept under the stars and watched the storms blow through the area this morning.  I <3 Switzerland.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dinner for France

You never know where life will take you.  We woke early on the 26th and took the tram to a Sunday brunch in downtown Basel.  It is so funny how the brunch buffet in Europe occupies a 4x4 table; whereas in America everything is so big.  No wonder we are such an overweight nation, where our options are limitless.  After breakfast we toured the entire city on foot.  Actually it was more like a real-life game of Frogger; dodging trams, buses, cars, scooters, bikes, etc.   Somehow we survived and even found Holly's ancestor's house.  She had letters from the 70's from a famous artist whom she is related to that lived in Basel.  We visited the address on the letters and had our hostel host translate the letter for her.  In our travels we also found Holbeinstrasse (Holbein street). I haven't had the chance to research my ancestry but I do know that I am part German and Basel is so close to Germany, I am eager to learn more about the probable relation.  We walked for hours and hours and then came home for a power nap.  While I was sleeping Holly discovered that France was only 25 mins away.  Needless to say we hopped the next tram, then a bus.  The only bump in the road was purchasing the ticket.  The bus driver had us open our wallets and was picking through US coins and euros to find franc coins and was very patient.  We arrived in the French countryside just in time for a "summer festival".  They pointed us where to go and we started up the hill.  After walking for a bit we were getting further and further into the forest on a paved road.  We decided we must have gone the wrong way, so we walked back down, looked at the sign and walked back up again.  By the time we finally decided which direction we were headed in the festival was over.  Instead, we took a walk though the small neighborhood of Leyman and had dinner at a French chateau.  It was gorgeous and the food was amazing.  I have to admit that I did have a minor panic attack in the restroom after we ordered an extravagant dinner and I realized that we had no euros (we turned them into francs) and the credit cards don't work at most places here.  In the end it all worked out the meal was paid for and we made it back to Switzerland safely.

June 27:  This morning we rose bright and early to head to Interlaken, Switzerland (the dramatic mountainous area).  I had a bad head cold and had a hard time getting started today.  After breakfast we headed to the train station.       We missed the first train by 1 minute.  Literally.  We saw it pull away.  The next train was in an hour, so I leaned against my pack and rested because I was feverish at this point.  Holly asked around a bit and when the train came at the scheduled time, we found out that our train had moved to another track.  We missed the train again by 1 minute.  Literally.  We saw it pull away (again).  We finally moved to a third track and Holly navigated us to Interlaken while I slept in a feverish fit.  We arrived at the train station in the middle of town.  Our first priority was to secure a horse and carriage ride to a camping site.  I was dressed in a summer dress (yes one of the 10 or so that I packed) and pearls. (how else are you supposed to dress to camp in Europe? My prince was awaiting me.... he just hasn't found me.. yet).  Im off on a tangent.  Yes we really did take a buggy to a camping ground.  We set up and then set off to take on the town (and find some Advil).  We had a salad buffet lunch in Interlaken then walked the town in search of a "scooter" (Holly said her friends wouldn't know what a "vespa" was).    Several kilometers later and too many degrees Celsius to count we arrived at the vespa shop (after Holly signed up for canyon jumping tomorrow).  Next was  swimming in the crystal clear water, which Holly promptly gulped down, being that there is no fresh water (aside from mineral water) anywhere in Europe.  Apparently the Speedo-wearing old men of Europe find this to be an attractive quality because we got invited to the museum by the director tomorrow for a personal tour of a nearby cavern.  After narrowly escaping his several attempts to secure a date with us tomorrow, we headed off into the sunset (no actually the sun doesn't set until 10 pm.. we just headed off to dinner).  We found an amazing restaurant on the lake, complete with sheepskin pads on the chairs and a deck overlooking the water and mountains.  The special was a Swiss fish and when I asked for a vegetarian dish, the owner invited me to speak with the chef personally to create a vegetarian dish.  He was a wonderful food artist and the dinner plates came out perfect.  They were gracious hosts and after long conversations and too many photos later, they are our new facebook friends.  After dinner, we geared up for the cooler weather and rode on our vespa into the mountains, like Jim Carrey in Dumb & Dumber.  We toured several small towns and the countryside.  We went as high as the vespa would go and when the road got too steep, we pushed it.  On the way home we ended the night by taking a brief tour of the highway (sorry rental lady who warned us not to... those green signs came out of nowhere), but we found our way in the end (and no small children or animals were injured in the process).    We are retiring tonight in our tent, with our new Swiss neighbors beside us, and lots of memories and photos from the day.  

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Where's Waldo (and Holly and Lindsay)?

After exiting the last hostel in a fury I forgot to mention that Holly had a slight incident yesterday. Let's just say it involved a hair dryer, electrical outlet, and phone call from the local fire department. Anyways we left Amsterdam and once we arrived at the train station ended up rolling the dice and heading to Basel Switzerland. In the end we decided too many countries in a brief stay would end up being a lot of running around but not enough time to get a taste of the local culture. We successfully navigated the train system and after two quick transfers we arrived at our destination just after midnight. We quickly found a backpackers hostel and got the top bunks in a dorm room, waking the whole room in the process. We showered (finally) and are heading to bed so we can explore Holly's local ancestors in the morning ( or afternoon, whenever we wake up).

Day1- Amsterdam

We arrived successfully and I was happy and relieved that Holly actually remembered to bring her passport ( I think we were all a little worried so thanks to her friends and family who along with me gave her umpteen reminders). We took the train to Amsterdam central and I was amazed how much I remembered about how to navigate the streets from my last trip here. We decided to camp until those black clouds rolled in about an hr after our arrival and the bad storms started. Instead, we did a quick tour of several hostels in the area and finally ended up paying way too much just so we could shower and regroup. After a quick nap ( uh. 5 hrs is quick right?) we were feeling refreshed and ready to take on the city. For those of you that doubt my navigational abilities I must say I was impressive on our walking tour here. I dragged Holly all over the subsections of Amsterdam, parks, etc. And even found our way back several hours later. We ended the evening with a delicious dinner at wok to walk (stirfry) and a pub crawl through the neighborhood that is known for housing the worlds oldest profession. We made it to the first three of the six pubs before we got distracted talking to locals and lost our group. After roaming around with several other that got left behind we settled on a fun bar with good music and fun travelers. After being invited to a wedding in new Zealand, dancing, and meeting tons of new friends we braved the storm and walked home. Fast forward to our start of day 2- woken at 11 am local time (5am EST) and given 10 mins to leave hotel or we would have to pay a ridiculous amount for a late checkout. Holly has her stuff throwwn in the hall and we are " packing" here. Talk about a rude awakening. With all the storms today we are likely going to take the trains to Berlin. Guten tag!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Flight to Europe

We arrived at DCA with a few minutes to spare. However the attendant warned us that we would miss our Newark connection because of storms. After disclosing that he had always wanted to go to Amsterdam he rerouted us on a direct flight leaving from dulles at no extra charge. 30 min taxi ride later we were on our way (again). It was an easy 7 hour flight during which holly kindly helped the flight attendant and we were rewarded with a complimentary glass of wine. Which I promptly spilled. All over holly. 10 minutes later she stepped on her full can of soda. After turning the plane into a river I caught some zzzzz's and we are off on our adventure.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Backpacking in Western Europe

The packs are packed... the camping gear is in line.  We are set to go tomorrow early afternoon.  We fly into Amsterdam and out of Switzerland.  Follow along as we make our way across Western Europe in a short backpacking trip.