31-Day Challenge 2018: Day 12

I was just about finishing packing up for our trip when it occurred to me that I also needed to squeeze in the day’s writing before we go to friends for dinner. I also had one more task to do, which was to empty the card of the DSLR a bit, as I always forget that, and then end up trying to walk and delete things at the same time. Not great, especially as the card is 32Gb, which is not exactly small.

Short on time, I took a quick look at how many pictures were on the camera, and told BV to pick a number before 1 and 2800-somethingish. He opted for 2244, so here it goes.

Alsace, you are pretty.

After Christmas, we packed up and drove to the Alsace for a few days with my parents and sister, who were visiting. We spent most of the time in Colmar, but made day trips to Strasbourg and Kaysersberg. BV and I had been to Strasbourg before, but Colmar and Kaysersberg were new to everyone.

I took this while standing over the village of Kaysersberg, just outside its ruined castle. Like any good, old, European town, the castle sits on top of a hill, and looks out over vineyards on one side, and towards rolling green hills on the other.

It’s rather appropriate actually that he picked this picture, because we *almost* went back to France for his birthday trip. We celebrated in Strasbourg a few years back, and this trip just solidified my love of all the colorful little towns tucked under hills rolling with vines. In the end, we couldn’t decide exactly where in France to go, and opted for heading south again, but we will certainly be returning here in the future.

Kaysersberg is one of several towns in the Alsace that claims to be the inspiration for Beauty and the Beast, and it was easy to see why. Narrow streets, crooked houses, half-timbering galore, mulled local wine on every corner… that last part isn’t specifically Beauty and the Beast related, just a nice perk in this wine-growing region… it was beautiful.

There is a strong case for a future summer trip where we hike village to village, eating, drinking, and hopefully walking  most of it off before the next stop to eat and drink some more. I’m not sure what more one could want from a vacation, honestly.

Speaking of vacation, we’re off tomorrow and I’m going to try to continue the daily posts while we’re away. It worked for a few days last year until we got an epic storm that knocked out the internet for the duration of our visit. The forecast is pretty much rain every day, which means we’re 1) over packing like crazy and 2) not optimistic about the internet service. But if it doesn’t work, I’ll go analog and update when we get back. TBD, for those of you kindly following along. 🙂

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.

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Five Thoughts From London

Last month, BV and I popped to London for a short city break. I’ve been dying to do a quick trip somewhere that involved just a backpack, as opposed to our usual “everything but the kitchen sink” packing trips, and this was perfect. We had a great time and my enthusiasm for the city remains. This post is a collection of my various thoughts on our short and sweet visit. Read on!

L.O.V.E.

Thought 1: This is a City

Nürnberg is a city. It is Stadt Nürnberg, not Dorf or Markt Nürnberg. But arriving at London’s Liverpool Street station at 9 o’clock on a Wednesday morning made me want to pat the “city” of Nürnberg  on the head like a small child. “Oh yes, you’re getting to be such a big boy!”

Why? Well, not wanting to be those jerks with backpacks trying to make our way through the Tube, we took advantage of the sunny day and walked through the city. People in suits hustled pasts us left and right. They clutched travel mugs and to-go cups, most of them speaking authoritatively into their phones about Very Important Business.

Via Giphy. I think about this scene a LOT. While working. And discussing BUSINESS.

Or if you prefer…

Via Giphy.

Even when we reached the more tourist-filled areas, it was still easy to see the locals. More men in suits boldly crossed the street at a red light, as a group of tourists waited patiently curbside behind their guide and his flag. Joggers wove in and out of people with iPhones and selfie sticks clustered around a red phone booth. It was truly, most excellent and varied people-watching. A sure sign of a City, capital C intended.

Trafalgar Square, with the crowds behind us.

Thought 2: It’s an Oddly Familiar Place

I have only spent 8 total days in London between this visit and my last one in 2012. I have, like most Americans, a drop of two of blood from some long-gone UK relation, but I can’t say for certain if they were English or Scottish or what else. However, a lifetime of reading, and a particular love of historical fiction revolving around the British monarchy, meant that nearly every turn showed me a name or a place that I already vaguely knew. Movies and TV contribute to this too, as if there are enough British accents in something, I will watch it.

A glance at the map in Hyde Park led to us making a quick detour on our route through Kensington Gardens to see the Peter Pan statue where Lady Mary dumped Lord Gillingham on Downton Abbey.

Sorry, Tony.

Shortly after that, we spotted and swung past the nearby Albert Memorial, though sadly there was no picnicking Dowager Countess of Grantham in sight.

Albert Memorial.

As far as ACTUAL history goes, I would’ve been perfectly happy to tour the Tower of London on this trip, even if I already did it. BV and I are currently watching (rewatching for me) The Tudors, though we’re only in Season 1 and shit hasn’t really hit the fan yet. Since there’s no way he’s going to read all the books I’ve read on the subject, maybe after we finish the series (before the next trip hopefully), he’ll appreciate the creep factor of the Tower properly!

Thought 3: Look What You Did

The history of colonialism is everywhere in London from monuments of various wars to the elephants and camels around the aforementioned Albert Memorial. The oddest reminder of it, however, we happened upon by accident. My friend A used to play darts at a Mayflower Pub in San Rafael, CA. While in London, one of the few things he really wanted to do was to go visit their sister pub and so off we went. A few steps away is this statue which, since it dates from 1991, seems shockingly appropriate to the current state of affairs. Though, if the artist wanted to update the statue, he would probably have to give the figures smartphones in lieu of the magazine. Lord knows, I’ve opened Twitter and had that similar expression on my face fairly often recently. Turn back while you still can, pilgrim!

Thought 4: So Many Pubs, So Little Time

We didn’t necessarily set out to do a pub crawl on our visit, and yet we managed to hit eight of them, plus a bar and cafe with outdoor seating, aka a beer garden if you drink a beer. Which we did. I wonder if any intrepid Londoner has taken on the task of visiting all of them, which ought to earn you some sort of award from the Queen.

Keeping in mind that we live in the customer service wasteland that is Franconia, it was shocking how friendly most people were. Bartenders, patrons, the whole lot of them… it was definitely not what we are used to. From the bartender(s, it happened multiple times) who let BV sample the various choices on tap so that he could make an informed decision, to the couple who chased me outside so that they could give us their cozy nook booth when they saw us searching for a spot, it was an excellent breath of fresh air.

The Mayflower.

If you’re curious about our favorite pubs of the trip, look out for a post on that subject coming in the next few days. 🙂 Update: here!

Thought 5: The Joys of Easy-Going Friends

As alluded to earlier, we weren’t entirely on our own for this trip. We arrived on Wednesday, and on Thursday evening we met up with my old college pal A, and his lovely wife, J. We hadn’t seen them since they made their way around Germany back in 2014, and it was great to catch up. They’re fairly frequent travelers, so when they saw a good deal to London, they jumped on it and happily it worked out for us to fly up and meet them.

A and BV checking out the view from above Tower Bridge.

Anyone who has tried to travel with friends will tell you that travel style differences can be a major challenge, but this felt fairly simpatico. We stayed in different hotels (frankly, we couldn’t afford their place but its lobby was gorgeous), and met and separated as it suited us. We all had a few ideas about things we’d like to do, but no one had a checklist or a do-or-die schedule. Everyone seemed content to hang out, eat good food, see a sight or two (also from above), and wander around as long as the weather was good enough to do so. Hence our pub -> short walk to Buckingham Palace -> back to another pub on the last day. Darn you drastic temperature drop and snow!

The Tower and Tower Bridge from the Shard. A most excellent view.

All in all, it was a great, short city break. We could’ve had more time (so many more free museums filled with treasures!), but since Ryanair can get us there from Nürnberg for a reasonable price, hopefully we’ll get around to it again sometime.

Snowshoeing Inzell

Since last year’s attempt at snowshoeing was in March and basically a very wet and muddy bust, we were extra determined this year. That determination did not, however, mean that we reserved a place way in advance, which meant that we ended up going to Inzell, a place we knew nothing about. Why Inzell? Well, there was an AirBnb available and it was not as insanely expensive as the rest of the options in the area. It turned out to be an excellent location though, with piles of fresh, fluffy snow everywhere.

We were joined on this excursion by my sister, fresh off her 6-week European Grand Tour. She only had a few weeks left on her tourist visa, but luckily we were able to squeeze this little extra trip in.

After a loooong drive through the Bavarian countryside, in which we turned approximately 300 times without finding a bakery*, we arrived at our destination. We weren’t staying directly in Inzell, but in a village about a kilometer away. The village was entirely compromised of these grand old Bavarian farmhouses, and we were delighted to find that ours was particularly cozy (not to mention, nearly 600 years old).

Our host was kind enough to provide us with a map after we told him of our snowshoeing plans, and assured us that we’d find more than enough possibilities nearby.

Car unloaded and nerves calmed, it was time to get our bearings. We had spotted a path and the yellow signs for hiking paths at the end of the village, and decided a walk was in order…

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Norway Road Trip 2017: Tindevegen, Our Road to Spiterstulen

Toll Road. What picture do those words conjure in your mind? For me, it’s the Illinois Tollway between Milwaukee and Chicago. If you haven’t driven it, it’s a thoroughly unscenic stretch of multi-lane highway. It’s nothing but office buildings, strip malls, and the occasional cheese shop near the border. Not really anything to write home about, in my opinion.

Today though, we’re going to take a look at another kind of toll road. The kind of road that would help us get from Bergen to the Spiterstulen Turisthytte. But unbeknownst to us, the kind of toll road that took more than two hours to drive its 32-kilometer length. This was down to the speed limit, the sharp curves up and down, and the incredible beauty of the landscape that called for many a photo stop. It’s called Tindevegen, and it is epic. Before that though, we had to drive through a little bit of this…

Just waterfalls everywhere.

followed by the 24.5-kilometer long (longest road tunnel in the world, Wikipedia tells me), Lærdal Tunnel, complete with light show.

Lærdal Tunnel

It even includes caverns to pull over, take photos and stretch your legs, at least for these bikers. Back in the light, more scenic kilometers rolled by outside of our windows, and eventually we reached the town of Øvre Årdal, which is where things got interesting. Click on for the usual photo overload because I cannot help myself…

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Norway Road Trip 2017: Bergen in Color

Over hills and across water, another epic drive led BV and I into Bergen for our third road trip stop. We had booked a very sweet condo on Airbnb, which, while lacking a primo location (20-minute bus ride to the center and overlooking a fairly industrial area), it compensated with a real bed (not bunk beds), and a washer/dryer. This was a strategic choice on our part.

We figured on having two nights to explore the city, but after our morning in Vik and the long drive that followed, we were too wiped to do much on our first night besides enjoy some home comforts, do laundry, and watch bad movies on Norwegian cable. No regrets there.

Refreshed and relaxed the next morning we watched the bus to the city appear promptly at the bus stop visible from the apartment every 10 minutes without fail. Our hosts had left us tips on what ticket to buy, as well as a few sights to check out in the city, and armed with that information we were off.

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Norway Road Trip 2017: Vikøyri

The second stop of our Norwegian trip was a short but sweet night in and around Vikøyri, a village on Sognefjorden. The main reason for our visit was sheer logistics, as my original plan to drive to Bergen went out the window when we saw that the short distance on the map would take us nearly nine hours. Instead, we opted for a projected four and a half hour drive from Sæbø, which ended up being closer to eight in reality.

Why so long? Because driving in Norway is winding, twisting, up, down, and SO RIDICULOUSLY PRETTY THAT YOU WILL STOP FOR PHOTOS CONSTANTLY.

Don’t believe me? Click on to continue the tour!

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Norway Road Trip 2017: Sæbø on Hjørundfjorden

The first stop on our Norwegian adventure was in Sæbø, a small village about an hour away from Ålesund in western Norway. The Storfjord is the main fjord in the area, and many people pass through here on their way to and from the Instagram/Pinterest-perfect UNESCO Wold Heritage Site that is the Geirangerfjord, which branches off of the Storfjord. However, that was not on our list. We were invited to a wedding in Sæbø, which is located on Hjørundfjorden, another branch. Got all that? If not, check a map because I can’t say fjord that many more times without hitting myself. But there are pictures, so click on!

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5 Things I Loved About Norway

BV and I returned from our Norwegian adventure last week Friday, and I’m still riding high (apart from that whole “work” thing) from it. This was an absolutely incredible trip, and luckily I’ve got about 4,000 photos to flip through whenever I want to relive a piece of it. In the interest of preserving my memory, and friends/family just being able to scroll through a post rather than listen to either of us wax poetic about it for several hours, I do want to get a few posts organized on here, but no promises on when that might happen.*

In order to get my thought process flowing, and *perhaps* to whet the appetite of the lovely readers of this blog, I thought I’d start off with listing just a few of the things that made me go all heart-eyes-emoji for two straight weeks. To the list!

1. Friendly locals

“Chin scratches!”

Say hi to (not sure how this was spelled, but I’ll go with) Miku! This sweet pup lived at one of the places we stayed, and in between checking in on the cows and sheep, would wander past our terrace for a pet or two. Anyone who knows me knows that I lose my mind at the sight of most dogs, so nothing makes me happier than a furry friend coming around to join me for my morning coffee. But this wasn’t the only friendly local we met. Click away for the one with the best view in town…

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Sunday Snapshots: By Land and By Sea

Wisconsin Dells, 2013

If it’s hot today as it was on this day, then I am supremely jealous of my past self. Nothing feels quite like some Wisconsin lake spray on your face when the humidity is through the roof. Most Wisconsinites would probably live directly on a lake in summer, given half the chance.

On the other hand, taking a tour on the Original Wisconsin Ducks is hardly an every day occurrence.  But when taking your German boyfriend to visit the tourist trap capital of the state, it’s a must. Everything is a little cheesy (WI pun intended), but it’s pretty fun either way.

 

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31-Day Challenge: Day 24

Write about the places featured on postcards you’ve received in the mail.

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We have a little shelf space in front of our stereo where we always put the postcards we’ve gotten recently in the mail. I’m a big fan of both sending and getting postcards, although sometimes I am much better at writing them, than actually getting them in the mail. BV on the other hand, is extremely organized, with an excel spreadsheet of addresses for just such an occasion. The only flaw in the plan is that sometimes those addresses are not correct. We discovered this when once again, his mom did not receive the postcard we sent her from Ireland, and he learned that he was about three numbers off on the address. In a small town it would probably slide by and end up in the right place (my parents have a notoriously tricky address to spell), but her street is apartment block after apartment block.

I think my fascination with postcards goes back a long ways, as I remember my great-grandma Merry (of the aforementioned Norwegian heritage) having a whole photo album filled with postcards that she’d received over the years. Some were from nearby, some where from much more far-flung places, but they had all found their way to her, and to this little album. One of these days I might do the same thing, and start filing ours away.

My grandparents also sent postcards from their vacations almost religiously. The messages were mostly about what they did that day, and always included the weather. Not that there was much variation in Florida temperatures, but it was good to have the reassurance that everything was in order.

At our house the moment there’s a bit of a mix on display, as well as stacked up on top of the stereo. There are two wedding invitations, one that has passed, and one that is yet to come. There are two thank-you cards from last year’s wedding celebrations. There’s a birth announcement as well as a photo Christmas card.

There’s a blank postcard from Salzburg, which was hand-delivered by a friend of mine who knows of my eternal love for the most perfect city on the river. Another postcard comes from Reit im Winkl, from our Airbnb host that we’ve visited a few times now. Apparently once you’ve passed a certain visit number, you get a Christmas card as well as a summer favor. Can’t go wrong there.

Another postcard celebrates the German-Austrian border, and came from BV’s parents last summer. Yet another shows a cairn, and came from not so far away in the Oberpfalz. That one came from the Gardeners, who know of BV’s enthusiasm for stones. Our postcard from them last year was from somewhere around the Baltic Sea, and simply showed the smooth stones found on the beaches there.

Somewhere in the office, hastily moved away in the last rounds of pre-Christmas cleaning, are postcards from Africa, from the Mediterranean, from Asia. We have some well-traveled friends. I also tend to collect postcards from places, sometimes just to get those shots that it’s nearly impossible to get yourself. I’ve bought postcards from the Trinity College Library, and other places where taking pictures are prohibited.

Two of the best things that I’ve acquired in my years abroad are two vintage postcards. On a long, long, walk around the enormous Vienna flea market where my friend Cassie was hunting for gifts for her sprawling family, I happened to find these two beauties. Printed on heavy board and dating from the turn of the century, one pictures the Powder Tower in Prague, and one pictures the Opera House. Though I was still living in the Golden City at that time, I knew that these would be treasures to me long after I had moved on. On my list of things to do this year is to get them in frames. Practically speaking, vintage postcards do not fit in any off-the-shelf frames, so that’s a project to figure out exactly how to display them.

Postcards are incredibly simple, but such a bright light sometimes. There’s nothing cheerier than opening the mailbox to find a quick note from a far away place. When cleaning through my childhood bedroom over Christmas, I found quite a few that had made their way into the folds of books and corners of drawers. Most of them were ones from my grandparents on those frequent trips to Florida. I was okay with saying goodbye to a lot of things from that old room, but many of those postcards went into the boxes of things that are to be kept. For what, I’m not sure. But, for now it doesn’t matter.

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Editor’s Note: This is part of a 31-day challenge series for the month of May, in which I aim to spend at least 15 minutes writing about whatever strikes my fancy. Results may vary.