Thursday, July 20, 2006

In an overview

Oh my goodness! It's a blog entry!!
First, let me say that the spell check isn't working. I also can't check it in word because that program, on this computer, spell checks for spanish words. I apologize.
Did you know, I actually did start an entry ages ago about Austria and Venice but then we ran out of computers and time. It has just been crazy crazy fun, and so nice and hot and sunny out that it is hard to sit down and type anything out. There is the swimming and the hot sun and the cool drinks and all the good food to tell you about... however, we decided it might be nice to save some stories to tell when we return. And man, they are good ones too! So much has happened. But Maggie convinced me that since we have a few spare hours we should drag our sleep deprived bodies to the internet and write a brief overview.

Now, really, I should start at where we left you and bring everyone up to the present. But I'm so gittery from how amazing Barcelona is that I really have to start there.

Barcelona has been just fabelous. We played it true backpacker style, refusing to pay for the outrageously overpriced hostel and just staying out all night. It was AWESOME! So yes, we did not sleep at all last night. Well, we did catch an hour or so on a park bench this morning at ten. We're still going strong (though Maggie slept for about an hour and a half in the station today and as of right now, Laurel is sleeping at the next computer terminal while Maggie edits and adds). It is wonderful to be young (yea, our bodies can take the amazing pain that comes from sleeping craned sideways in ones seat SO much easier. If you listen really hard you can hear my neck cracking - Maggie). So, right, overview of last night/this morning, maybe Maggie will add more for you (she did, it's everything in italics)
: The looking for the western union (because, didn't we tell you? Maggie's wallet was stolen. But it's all good, those good for nothings got away with a grand total of $15 and about 3 Euros and Maggie's driver's liscence) the enormous amounts of walking in the oppressive heat, the Starbucks names/ our official fake names, the three course, three hour meal and the sangria, the more walking, the falling off the dock (not us, don't worry), the clubbing, the full out conversation in spanish (not even kidding you, we actually did learn spanish in school. This conversation was like a FULL ON conversation about, like, history and stuff), the gallant cute spanish guy who saved me at the club (everyone go "AWW!"), Maggie breaking her ankle twice (and had two quite miraculous recoveries), the cheesy romantic Greek guys, the awesome funny Irish guy and his friends who we ended up going with for a swim at the beach in the morning and a wave at the smiling lobster. We got a picture in front of it but unfortunately Phelim took the picture so you won't get to see him.
And that was Barcelona.

Before Barcelona was a loooooong train ride (as in like, 18 hours, most of those in a sleeper where NO ONE got any sleep. grumble grumble stupid preteens grumble) and before that was Switzerland. It was fun. We stayed with Maggie's cool friend Jeff, and went swiming in the river almost every night (the river Aare, in Bern, is amazing. It has such a strong current, you let go of the side and 30 seconds later, you are like 12 or 13 meters down the river. Awesome) We also took the train to interlaken and went canyoning (which, if you've never heard of it, is basically rappelling down rock cliffs, slogging through glacier run off, jumping off mini cliffs, ziplining around and sliding down natural rock slides). It was great, and Maggie and I still break into fangirl giggles whenever we think of handsome, manly Duncan-the-tour-guide. And the other tour guide also, very good looking. They were from New Zealand and thus had very cool accents. Le Sigh.

Before Switzerland was Italy. I loved swiming at night under the stars more than anything, although every day was noteworthily great. I'll let Maggie detail more about this country. I am, by the way, in love with Italy. (My turn: I felt called to Italy for most of the trip. I couldn't wait. We'd be planning or sitting on the train and I'd go "Laurel! Guess how many more days until ITALY?!?!" We started in Venice, or should I say Venezia. I'm sure you can imagine the canals and the gondoliers and the water and everything like that. It was definitley one of those cities where getting lost is relazing. We sat on some steps leading into one of the canals and watched the gondoliers go by, occasionally exchanging a friendly "ciao" with them. Then we headed to Milan and met up with a friend of mine who I'd met last summer. I actually loved Milan, though many people say it's just a big city. Two words: Drum circle. We spend the night chilling in a huge square and listening to these guys jam on drums. Carla joined us for the remainder of our trip and was FORCED to try and teach us Italian. My vocabulary has quite increased though I am not going to attempt to spell any of it... We stayed in Perugia, typical gorgeous patchword Italian farmland of vineyards, corn fields and sunflowers. We ended up doing a lot of walking there, unintentionally, but it was worth it. Then it was off to Firenze (Florence) for a night and then we stopped in Lucca for lunch before staying in Cinque Terre for two nights. Cinque Terre was exactly what you'd expect form a tiny beach town. The same striped umbrellas and everyone in their bathing suits. The same brightly colored buildings and quiet, community feel. We stayed up all night to watch the sunrise (and failed) and then hiked the paths connecting the five villages in Cinque Terre (Lesson 3 in Italian: Cinque = Five). It was like a dream. I was sad to leave, but I know I'll be back. I'm already scheming... But the food is something I will always miss. Pasta, Pizza and Gelato anywhere else in the world will forever pale in comparison to the mere memory of Italian food. ohh... how we mourn the loss of the Gelato. Have you ever tried Cinnamon (cannella) flavored Gelato? it is heavenly. and Frutti di Bosco (fruit of the forest)? amazing.)

Before Italy was Austria. The train ride from Innsbruck to Venice was the most beautiful we have been on yet. I just looked out the window and stared and stared as the mountains and beautiful buildings rolled by. In Autria we went climbing in the Alps with Joesph. Well, it was more extreme hiking that real climbing (I'm such a snob) but it still was wonderful to be out on the rock again. In Austria. By the cave of the great emperor Maxamillian (actually he got stuck there while goat hunting and an angel had to go rescue him)with the mountains towering around us. We could see the little villages lodged in the hills and the winding river below...

There it is. A brief summary. Sorry it is kind of rushed and whatnot. Sorry it is so bady writen, but it's better than nothing, right? If you wish, Maggie and I will gladly relate our tales in more detail at home (Oh man, you all know me, all you have to do is say "Maggie, tell us about..." and you won't be able to shut me up! But honestly, we encourage you to prod us to tell you the stories that we DIDN'T write about in this blog...) With proper story telling prose and all that good stuff.
(We have to apologize again for the lack of...accurate spelling, but I'm sure you understand that what with the tiredness and the Spanish computer, it is really out of our grasp. I tried to catch some of the mistakes, but the rest is going to be blamed on exhaustion. and we also apologize for the fact that we too so long to post and that we've been so vague in this one. That we can blame on the AMAZING time we've been having: there are just too many stories to tell them all. Or even just the PG13 ones! It's wierd to think of coming home, but we'll discuss that in our wrap up post, which I promise we'll do. Until then...)
Ciao everyone!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Pictures

There, it's done. all 527 photos from our trip so far organized all nice and neat into one photo album. And most of them have captions too!

Hit view slideshow to see the comments!

cheers, now as my reward: sleep!

Saturday, July 15, 2006

I am also lucky that you ate my ice cream cone.

We're still alive, don't worry. It's taken us quite a while to recover from Amsterdam... No, just kidding, we've just been doing too much (i.e. all those postcards... which are also late) to want to sit down and write about it.

mmm... lessee... I seem to recall Laurel leaving you with the knowledge that we'd arrived in Berlin to a most welcoming hostess and a most fabulous dinner and a peaceful night's sleep.
The next day, bright eyed and bushy tailed, we prepared for a excursion into the center of Berlin. Our hosts had plenty of suggestions of where to go and we finally decided on Mitten area. Well, we arrived where we were supposed to (often an impressive feat for us) 'ready' to explore the city. I'll put it down to exhaustion caused by our incredibly long train ride the previous day and the fact that we weren't used to the heat. Whatever the cause, we... well, we didn't last long. I think we made it to a restaurant and ate lunch and then dragged our feet up and down the street once or twice before deciding to give up. Three hours we made it. Three hours.
Actually, no. I lie. We didn't arrive back at the house for about 6 and a half hours. But that was more a direct result of our train-taking skillz.
We were much more sucessful the following day, with a good plan of attack and everything. We saw some of the 'must-see' stuff (Checkpoint Charlie museum, Reichstag, Oranienburger Straße area, other monuments with German names that I cannot spell) and walked all the way through the Tiergarten to the Zoo. Yay Zoo!
Hmm, the next day we went shopping with Thalia (one of our hosts just back from her first year at University of Chicago) and a friend of hers. (Yes we did. No judging because frankly, both Laurel and I needed clothes. We have the whole frumpy-backpacker thing going on but it's starting to get warmer and warmer so layering is no longer going to help regulate body heat. We had to do something drastic.) And that night they took us bar-hopping with some other friends of theirs. We ended up at this place that was right on the edge of the canal. It had a patio but also had a boat and two large rafts moored to the shore. We sat cross-legged on the raft and chilled. Unfortunately, our large group (in NUMBERS) caused the raft to sink a few times and Laurel and I narrowly avoided getting sopping wet. Then it was on to another place where the walls were lined with string hangings and the seats were large beanbag chairs. Then finally to their favorite cafe for late night eats. (and by late I mean the place was half full at 1 in the morning and by eats I mean cake) It was truly fun and Thalia tried many times to convince us to stay another night, but we had to get ourselves to Austria and keep moving. ("just keep on keepin' on, like the bird that flew...")

The train to Austria was quite epic the next day was quite epic. 7 hours to Munich and then 2 and a half hours to Innsbruck. Oh man oh man! I think we both read the whole way and didn't do the postcards that we'd been putting off since Amsterdam. (but don't worry! we finished them today so, it's all good!) The train from Munich to Innsbruck was one with compartments. Imagine our glee! I think Laurel has been wondering the whole time when we are going to get to ride in compartments like in Harry Potter. Well, we did. We did NOT, however, look at the sign to see if the compartment was smoking or non-smoking. (so much for Laurel's "I will read the signs!" resolution) Our enthusiasm for compartments soon died away. A rather morbid death I may say, and it lay cold in it's grave not 10 minutes out of the station.

We actually cheered out loud when the other people in our compartment left the train and we realized that we could spend the rest of the trip enjoying the view of the Alps in fresh(er) air.

(My god! It's been so long and there's so much to write! I'm sorry that I have to gloss over the boring details. I know how much everyone likes terribly flowery and unnessecary prose...)

The Alps are amazing. But then again, what else would you expect me to say? There is a reason they are so famous for their beauty. Yesterday we took our first hike in the Alps. Our host is working on restoring some old castle ruins about a 30 minute walk up the mountain from his house (which, by the way, is the oldest house in the village. We are staying in the oldest house in the village! It's so cool! Especially considering how into history we both are.) We started out after a fabulous breakfast. We wound our way through the streets lined with crisp white and wood houses with their bright pink and purple flowers. When we got out of the village, we rounded a large green field before climbing up into more forested paths dotted with little miniature religious alters and the like. It took us a bit longer than it was supposed to because we kept stopping and turning around to admire the view. The higher we got, the more we could see. The little village of Thaur sitting at the foot of the mountain, the green, green valley spreading out to all corners our vision upon which sat other little towns with their church steeples rising jauntily to the sky as if mimicking the jagged, haze shrouded Alps that looked down, the main object and the background. The castle itself was enchanting. To imagine the castle as it was in it's golden age (somewhere roughly in the 1400's I think it was, though construction started sometime in the 1200's) was made even easier by the descriptions readily supplied by our host. And though it was once great and impoising, now the remnants of importance sink back into the earth where they came from. The crumbled walls are slowly hidden by thick ivy and lush grass and bright wildflowers cover everything else. It is truly breathtaking.
When we finally had to tear ourselves away, we sauntered back down the trail towards the village. At one point, we stopped at a bench under a spreading tree to admire the view. Suddenly, as aparently it is wont to do, it started raining! The sudden shower lasted only a few minutes before it cleared, but there was something wonderful about sitting under the tree in the Alps completely safe from the rain. We cut through the field which turned out to be lucky because as soon as we arrived back on the road, it started raining again! We ran to the nearest tree and sat there, somewhat less protected than we had been until the rain stopped. It took ages! And it kept intensifying too! Finally it let up and we made it back.

We then spent some time in the town of Innsbruck, eating, shopping, being generally awesome people. We were walking around and came across some clothing stalls, you know the ones, the clothing is all really cheap because they are selling 'brand name' stuff on the streets and more often then not you can bargin your way down. Well, um, I think you all should just know, that I am a fantastic bargainer. I am, like, a professional barginer. If bargaining was an Olympic sport, I SO would win a gold. And I think I can prove it to you: So the first thing we see on the first table is a bunch of leather belts. Now, I've been wanting a nice tooled leather belt for some time. Like the ones I always see in the vintage clothing stores but never buy because I'm rather cheap. I've also been complaining for the past month that my ONLY pair of jeans doesn't fit. I mean I can literally pull them on with out undoing them. So we look at the belts. I'd gotten a cheap one in Berlin, just for the sake of having a belt if I needed one, but the habit was still there. Neither of us was in the mood to spend money (are we ever?) so we were prepared to just glance and then walk on by. But the owner had different plans. He swooped in on us, Laurel just barely escaped, but I, alas failed. He started talking in fast German about the quality of the belts and such but I just shook my head and said 'they're lovely!' and tried to walk away. He kept pushing belts into my hand and insisting that I find one my size. Finally we do and he tell me a quick price. A bit taken aback, I ask what he said and he repeats '20 euro'. I start the old routine 'oh, they are really so lovely, but I just can't! I don't have that much on me' as I start to back away smiling. However I didn't get away quickly enough. I really didn't want to buy any thing, but he asked how much I had and I said sadly 'only 5 Euro' (the truth! I had a 5 in my pocket completley by coincidence as we knew we were going out so I'd left my bag back at the house.) He goes '10' I said, 'no really, I only have 5!' and pull it out of my back pocket. He thrusts the rolled up belt into my hand and says 'Fine!' Stunned, I had him the five and walk away, staring at the belt in my hand. What just happened? 'Look Laurel! I think I just bought a belt...' She grinned at me after I told her the story (twice, I had to recap) 'Did you know you were barganing?' I turned the belt over in my hands, it was nice leather with tooled designs. 'Heck no! I didn't even want it! I was just trying to get away!' She smiled a little sadly 'Well, at least you stayed to the front, I went further into the row of stalls and was surrounded by people speaking in German and trying to get me to buy jeans with swear words written on the butt...'
And that my friends, is the proof of my superior barganing powers.

New purchase in hand (well, around waist is more like it) we set off to find dinner. Which turned out to be rather cheap pizza. We sat down outside to enjoy the sun and the food. Then it started raining. It was a light drizzle at first, like the one in the morning. We laughed at the lady at the table next to us who complained and forced her husband inside. Then it started raining harder. Some tables were not as well covered and one by one the parties retreated inside. Although we were on the edge of the table area, we were right under the umbrella. We outlasted everyone else, partly because we were in a good spot, but partly because we didn't care about a little water, even when the cold wind blew it onto our tank-topped backs. The waiters absolutely loved us, they dubbed us 'Bravehearts' for sitting there and laughing in the rain. We finished up and then sprinted across the square, through the rain to almost certain dessert.

The dicotemy of our day and our night is almost comical. Come down off the mountain through preserved history through to the city and into a nightclub. We went out with Maria and Heidi to what we were informed was the best nightclub in Innsbruck. We got past the bouncers easily, though both of us were wearing flip-flops because our hostesses knew them. They are also friends with the DJ so we spent most of the night (when we weren't dancing) up there, chatting it up. Best place in the house. At around 2 we left as a group, but as Maria, Laurel and I are the only one's staying with their father up in Thaur (Heidi has a flat in Innsbruck with another sister, Eva, who was away) we split up. Maria took us to another club, much different style, different music, but just as much fun for another hour and we returned, grinning sleepily at 4 am. Another late night for the two of us.

We awoke this morning early so that we could bike down to the farmer's market in a nearby village. I'd forgotten how much I love biking and the fact that we were surrounded by beautiful farms and houses and then those ever-present mountains reaching up into the blue ether...
Good food, good scenery and good company have made these past few days the stuff from stories. I hate to leave you like this, but Laurel's sitting curled on the seat between the stove and the window reading Gone With The Wind, and I'm hungry!

P.S. I apologize for any spelling errors, it's a different keyboard and I'm not used to it. Plus, I'm distracted by the fact that I've been putting photos up at the same time. It's taking a bit so it won't be done when this is posted, but it'll be a new Album titled 'Europe 2006 II' and it's all the pictures so far, organized nicely. Just sort it by 'date submitted' and there you go! I'll put comments on them later so you can see where they are all from, but it takes a while and I just want to get them up on the internet first!

I am also lucky that you ate my ice cream cone.

We're still alive, don't worry. It's taken us quite a while to recover from Amsterdam... No, just kidding, we've just been doing too much (i.e. all those postcards... which are also late) to want to sit down and write about it.

mmm... lessee... I seem to recall Laurel leaving you with the knowledge that we'd arrived in Berlin to a most welcoming hostess and a most fabulous dinner and a peaceful night's sleep.
The next day, bright eyed and bushy tailed, we prepared for a excursion into the center of Berlin. Our hosts had plenty of suggestions of where to go and we finally decided on Mitten area. Well, we arrived where we were supposed to (often an impressive feat for us) 'ready' to explore the city. I'll put it down to exhaustion caused by our incredibly long train ride the previous day and the fact that we weren't used to the heat. Whatever the cause, we... well, we didn't last long. I think we made it to a restaurant and ate lunch and then dragged our feet up and down the street once or twice before deciding to give up. Three hours we made it. Three hours.
Actually, no. I lie. We didn't arrive back at the house for about 6 and a half hours. But that was more a direct result of our train-taking skillz.
We were much more sucessful the following day, with a good plan of attack and everything. We saw some of the 'must-see' stuff (Checkpoint Charlie museum, Reichstag, Oranienburger Straße area, other monuments with German names that I cannot spell) and walked all the way through the Tiergarten to the Zoo. Yay Zoo!
Hmm, the next day we went shopping with Thalia (one of our hosts just back from her first year at University of Chicago) and a friend of hers. (Yes we did. No judging because frankly, both Laurel and I needed clothes. We have the whole frumpy-backpacker thing going on but it's starting to get warmer and warmer so layering is no longer going to help regulate body heat. We had to do something drastic.) And that night they took us bar-hopping with some other friends of theirs. We ended up at this place that was right on the edge of the canal. It had a patio but also had a boat and two large rafts moored to the shore. We sat cross-legged on the raft and chilled. Unfortunately, our large group (in NUMBERS) caused the raft to sink a few times and Laurel and I narrowly avoided getting sopping wet. Then it was on to another place where the walls were lined with string hangings and the seats were large beanbag chairs. Then finally to their favorite cafe for late night eats. (and by late I mean the place was half full at 1 in the morning and by eats I mean cake) It was truly fun and Thalia tried many times to convince us to stay another night, but we had to get ourselves to Austria and keep moving. ("just keep on keepin' on, like the bird that flew...")

The train to Austria was quite epic the next day was quite epic. 7 hours to Munich and then 2 and a half hours to Innsbruck. Oh man oh man! I think we both read the whole way and didn't do the postcards that we'd been putting off since Amsterdam. (but don't worry! we finished them today so, it's all good!) The train from Munich to Innsbruck was one with compartments. Imagine our glee! I think Laurel has been wondering the whole time when we are going to get to ride in compartments like in Harry Potter. Well, we did. We did NOT, however, look at the sign to see if the compartment was smoking or non-smoking. (so much for Laurel's "I will read the signs!" resolution) Our enthusiasm for compartments soon died away. A rather morbid death I may say, and it lay cold in it's grave not 10 minutes out of the station.

We actually cheered out loud when the other people in our compartment left the train and we realized that we could spend the rest of the trip enjoying the view of the Alps in fresh(er) air.

(My god! It's been so long and there's so much to write! I'm sorry that I have to gloss over the boring details. I know how much everyone likes terribly flowery and unnessecary prose...)

The Alps are amazing. But then again, what else would you expect me to say? There is a reason they are so famous for their beauty. Yesterday we took our first hike in the Alps. Our host is working on restoring some old castle ruins about a 30 minute walk up the mountain from his house (which, by the way, is the oldest house in the village. We are staying in the oldest house in the village! It's so cool! Especially considering how into history we both are.) We started out after a fabulous breakfast. We wound our way through the streets lined with crisp white and wood houses with their bright pink and purple flowers. When we got out of the village, we rounded a large green field before climbing up into more forested paths dotted with little miniature religious alters and the like. It took us a bit longer than it was supposed to because we kept stopping and turning around to admire the view. The higher we got, the more we could see. The little village of Thaur sitting at the foot of the mountain, the green, green valley spreading out to all corners our vision upon which sat other little towns with their church steeples rising jauntily to the sky as if mimicking the jagged, haze shrouded Alps that looked down, the main object and the background. The castle itself was enchanting. To imagine the castle as it was in it's golden age (somewhere roughly in the 1400's I think it was, though construction started sometime in the 1200's) was made even easier by the descriptions readily supplied by our host. And though it was once great and impoising, now the remnants of importance sink back into the earth where they came from. The crumbled walls are slowly hidden by thick ivy and lush grass and bright wildflowers cover everything else. It is truly breathtaking.
When we finally had to tear ourselves away, we sauntered back down the trail towards the village. At one point, we stopped at a bench under a spreading tree to admire the view. Suddenly, as aparently it is wont to do, it started raining! The sudden shower lasted only a few minutes before it cleared, but there was something wonderful about sitting under the tree in the Alps completely safe from the rain. We cut through the field which turned out to be lucky because as soon as we arrived back on the road, it started raining again! We ran to the nearest tree and sat there, somewhat less protected than we had been until the rain stopped. It took ages! And it kept intensifying too! Finally it let up and we made it back.

We then spent some time in the town of Innsbruck, eating, shopping, being generally awesome people. We were walking around and came across some clothing stalls, you know the ones, the clothing is all really cheap because they are selling 'brand name' stuff on the streets and more often then not you can bargin your way down. Well, um, I think you all should just know, that I am a fantastic bargainer. I am, like, a professional barginer. If bargaining was an Olympic sport, I SO would win a gold. And I think I can prove it to you: So the first thing we see on the first table is a bunch of leather belts. Now, I've been wanting a nice tooled leather belt for some time. Like the ones I always see in the vintage clothing stores but never buy because I'm rather cheap. I've also been complaining for the past month that my ONLY pair of jeans doesn't fit. I mean I can literally pull them on with out undoing them. So we look at the belts. I'd gotten a cheap one in Berlin, just for the sake of having a belt if I needed one, but the habit was still there. Neither of us was in the mood to spend money (are we ever?) so we were prepared to just glance and then walk on by. But the owner had different plans. He swooped in on us, Laurel just barely escaped, but I, alas failed. He started talking in fast German about the quality of the belts and such but I just shook my head and said 'they're lovely!' and tried to walk away. He kept pushing belts into my hand and insisting that I find one my size. Finally we do and he tell me a quick price. A bit taken aback, I ask what he said and he repeats '20 euro'. I start the old routine 'oh, they are really so lovely, but I just can't! I don't have that much on me' as I start to back away smiling. However I didn't get away quickly enough. I really didn't want to buy any thing, but he asked how much I had and I said sadly 'only 5 Euro' (the truth! I had a 5 in my pocket completley by coincidence as we knew we were going out so I'd left my bag back at the house.) He goes '10' I said, 'no really, I only have 5!' and pull it out of my back pocket. He thrusts the rolled up belt into my hand and says 'Fine!' Stunned, I had him the five and walk away, staring at the belt in my hand. What just happened? 'Look Laurel! I think I just bought a belt...' She grinned at me after I told her the story (twice, I had to recap) 'Did you know you were barganing?' I turned the belt over in my hands, it was nice leather with tooled designs. 'Heck no! I didn't even want it! I was just trying to get away!' She smiled a little sadly 'Well, at least you stayed to the front, I went further into the row of stalls and was surrounded by people speaking in German and trying to get me to buy jeans with swear words written on the butt...'
And that my friends, is the proof of my superior barganing powers.

New purchase in hand (well, around waist is more like it) we set off to find dinner. Which turned out to be rather cheap pizza. We sat down outside to enjoy the sun and the food. Then it started raining. It was a light drizzle at first, like the one in the morning. We laughed at the lady at the table next to us who complained and forced her husband inside. Then it started raining harder. Some tables were not as well covered and one by one the parties retreated inside. Although we were on the edge of the table area, we were right under the umbrella. We outlasted everyone else, partly because we were in a good spot, but partly because we didn't care about a little water, even when the cold wind blew it onto our tank-topped backs. The waiters absolutely loved us, they dubbed us 'Bravehearts' for sitting there and laughing in the rain. We finished up and then sprinted across the square, through the rain to almost certain dessert.

The dicotemy of our day and our night is almost comical. Come down off the mountain through preserved history through to the city and into a nightclub. We went out with Maria and Heidi to what we were informed was the best nightclub in Innsbruck. We got past the bouncers easily, though both of us were wearing flip-flops because our hostesses knew them. They are also friends with the DJ so we spent most of the night (when we weren't dancing) up there, chatting it up. Best place in the house. At around 2 we left as a group, but as Maria, Laurel and I are the only one's staying with their father up in Thaur (Heidi has a flat in Innsbruck with another sister, Eva, who was away) we split up. Maria took us to another club, much different style, different music, but just as much fun for another hour and we returned, grinning sleepily at 4 am. Another late night for the two of us.

We awoke this morning early so that we could bike down to the farmer's market in a nearby village. I'd forgotten how much I love biking and the fact that we were surrounded by beautiful farms and houses and then those ever-present mountains reaching up into the blue ether...
Good food, good scenery and good company have made these past few days the stuff from stories. I hate to leave you like this, but Laurel's sitting curled on the seat between the stove and the window reading Gone With The Wind, and I'm hungry!

P.S. I apologize for any spelling errors, it's a different keyboard and I'm not used to it. Plus, I'm distracted by the fact that I've been putting photos up at the same time. It's taking a bit so it won't be done when this is posted, but it'll be a new Album titled 'Europe 2006 II' and it's all the pictures so far, organized nicely. Just sort it by 'date submitted' and there you go! I'll put comments on them later so you can see where they are all from, but it takes a while and I just want to get them up on the internet first!

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Yay Amsterdam!

Hi everyone!
Amsterdam was a lot of fun. I must say.
There was a lot of new things to be done in that gorgeous city. And as an answer to your question: come on guys, it's us.

For the first time ever we...
...stayed in an apartment with three guys. That was awesome. Bas was nice enough to pick us up at the Amsterdam Centraal station. It was kind of amazing that we found him because the place is huge and we had no idea what he looked like or where to meet him. And when I tried the number he had given us, I got this angry Dutch lady on the line who yelled at me when I called her a second time. But we tend to have fantastic luck and somehow found him anyway.
His apartment, where he lives with the also-very-cool Paul and Phillip (who they called Flip, one of my favorite ever nicknames) was huge! It looked very much like a guy's apartment: dirty dishes in the sink, crumbs on the floor, pot plants on the windowsill, a refrigerator stocked with beer, soda, and the occasional pack of lunch meat, big comfortable couches, a large screen TV, and a dart board (two actually). Maggie and I both agree that living with guys is the way to go, just because they are so chill and fun to be around. Anyway,

for the second time ever we...
...went to a club. I really wanted to count this as the first time, but I guess that stuffy techno-ridden place in Galway would technically be considered a club. Anyway, the Amsterdam club was great. There was an eight euro cover, but Paul wisely rationalized that, when one thought about it, eight euros was nothing since it was really worth only four or five beers.
When we got there at 11:30 there wasn't a large crowd. However, in the next few hours tons of young, beautiful people streamed into the old church. I don't think that I have ever seen so many handsome guys in one place in all my life. The place was filled with fog, and the colorful flashing of lights in the dark room was only interrupted by the occasional orange flame as someone lit up to smoke. The best part? It was all about simply enjoying dancing to the music. We finally stumbled out around five, said goodbye to Mike and Leiman (friends of Paul, Bas, and Flip) and crashed in the apartment around 5:30.

I must say, it was odd waking up at two the next afternoon. Maggie and I wandered Amsterdam thinking it was morning until we sat down for breakfast and got a lunch menu instead. Amsterdam is a beautiful city! I may even go so far as to say that it is my favorite so far. The are winding canals and the architecture of the houses kept me staring during our time there. In true fashion, Maggie and I, instead of going somewhere specific, simply wandered around. We went to not one, not two, but three different restaurants (one for dinner and two for dessert/drinks.) Of course, we passes tons of those ever-so-famous (or is it infamous? Guess it depends on who you talk to) coffee shops, and at one point wandered into the Red light district... which was pretty scary now that I think back on it.

When we got to the apartment around 11 Paul still hadn't moved (though he had put on clothes by that point) and was playing cards on the computer and watching TV like he had been when we left. Gotta love summer. Bas and Flip were out working, but Leiman came over and we all watched The Devil's Advocate on TV, then played cards and this dice game until late when we all, once again, crashed and slept until the afternoon.
Oh! I also decided that Dutch is a strange language, although cool in its own way. If you know anyone who speaks Dutch, ask them the word for 'sheep' and be prepared to understand a small part of the struggle I went though trying to pronounce it... maybe that warrants explanation? As a part of the card game the players sometimes have to make up rules, so at one point Paul made it so everyone had to say a phrase in Dutch on their turn. I countered with a English tongue twister, but that was more to my detriment that anyone else's, because I've always been horrible at them anyway.

Right then. The next afternoon we hung out and watched Le Tour de France and Wimbleton narrated in Dutch, and finally headed for the train station around 6:30 thinking (foolishly that we could catch a train to Hamburg.) Well, to make a long story really, really short, we ended up in a great hostel in Utrecht that took us in despite there being no rooms. And... they had FREE food. I almost died. And the people we met there made me remember why I love hostels so much.

Now we're in Berlin. I'll let Maggie fill you all in from here.

Also, I think it important to mention that I actually bought something to take home from the Netherlands. The guys had it at their apartment and I had never really seen it available anywhere else, so I bought a box for myself. That's right. Chocolate sprinkles. Specifically made to be put on toast. Who but the Dutch could be so brilliant? I just hope that they won't melt in Italy. It's supposed to be pretty hot there. Well, I guess that there is always the off chance that they do have them in other parts of Europe and I can pick up a replacement box...
And while we are on the subject of chocolate, I have to say that Belgium chocolate rocks my world. I was sad to leave Brussels and Brugge for the simple reason that there was a chocolate shop on nearly every block. And that chocolate is good. Did I already mention that?
Well, cheers everyone!
Laurel

*I can just see Laurel's reaction to a box of melted chocolate sprinkles: "AWWW MAN! Now I'll have to find another one... ...mmm, chocolate..." - Maggie*

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

addendum

So I started the Ireland post before the picture post so it appears before it. Check it out (two below this one titled "Ireland!")

have fun!

Monday, July 03, 2006

I've got an Ireland post on it's way, but seeing as time is running out on this computer and I don't want to spend all night here, be satisfied with photos! (I got halfway through the Edinburgh photos.)

http://www.jessewagstaff.com/finallyflyfreephotos/

Ireland!

Let me just begin by saying that we dumped Dublin as soon as we could. We took the train out to Galway and it was like coming out from under a grey bridge. Except instead of a bridge that shielded one from rain, it was MADE of solid drizzle. But Galway was beautiful. It lived up to it's reputation beautifully. It's this tiny little seaside town full of color and friendly people.
I think that we are finding that the hostel really makes the town. Barnacles in Galway was fun and full of young people. As soon as one wave left, another wave came in. I keep trying to explain everything we did and everyone we met, but I can't really put it into words. We met kids from Arizona all the way up the coast to Sacramento. And they were awesome kids. We partied late at night in the cobblestone pedestrian-only streets that were more filled with locals than any club I've ever seen. (And I must say, we certainly know how to take care of ourselves!) But I can't really explain the experiences and the connections and the little incidents that seem stupid, but really cement that tentative friendship one forms with the people one meets along the journey.
We day-tripped out to the Aran Islands and I have to say that for the first time ever, W.B. Yeats' words found substance. I've always loved his poems, but I found, for the first time, a connection between the poems and reality. Imagine standing on a cliff, the water in the breakers is almost as blue as the bits of sky peeping through the clouds, the grey of the sky and the navy of the water and the black of the rocks has never seemed so brilliant. And not only are there amazing seascapes, but the minute you turn around, you are in an ancient field that time has forgot, where brilliant green grass and purple and yellow wildflowers flow over and around wind-smoothed rocks. Every so often there is an old ruin with intricate rock walls that don't seem to have a purpose other than to give you that feeling of awe. There were vast expanses of rock graveyards created by strong winds blowing large, thin, flat stones into cracks in the ground so they stand up, scraggly and crooked. But then you turn around again and there are farms walled off by short stone walls where farmers are pitching hay like they've been doing for the last 100 years, faithful old dog sleepily keeping guard to the side and the cows avoiding the lines of freshly drying clothes. It was awesome in the very truest sense of the word (as in awe-inspiring, not as in "awesome dude!")
But then we had to tear our selves away and journey to Cork via Dublin. A painfully long day of traveling. The hostel in Cork was just as cool as the hostel in Galway, though we didn't feel as though we got to stay very long or meet many people aside from the guy at the reception and his friend who was doing the graffiti mural out on the wall at the entrance. That's right, and of course, those of you who know me probably can see me staring in fascination and joy at the partially finished mural, and almost literally tripping over it's creator. That was less than graceful of me, but hey, it started a conversation. It was here that we realized the downside to early planning and booking. We couldn't stay until Wednesday night to go party to good music because we had to find a plane. (Sadly, as we also had to leave before the mural was finished, to my VAST disappointment.) That first night I ended up eating at a Chinese Restaurant while I waited for Laurel to arrive (which ended up being at 11... I was too hungry to wait). It's really cool how serendipity works. Because I was sitting there alone, the waitress took pity on me and was very nice and chatted with me. She kept saying "now dear," through her thick Irish accent and ended up giving me a list of every place we should go in Cork and Belgium. It is because of her that we are now sitting in the picturesque and fantastic Brugge instead of the every-city of Brussels. (I could start here about Brugge, but it would take to long and I would end up way overusing flowery prose. I think I've already used up my quota on this post...)
That's pretty much it for Ireland, I mean we visited the cute seaside town of Kinsale the next day, but nothing eventful happened (except that our last Guinnesses were at a little pub called Charlie's where there was live music. Mostly country, but quite a bit of folk. And their last song? Friend of the Devil. AHHH! I almost died. Actually Laurel almost died because I hugged her so hard in an attempt to keep from fangirl screaming. It was wonderful to get such an amazing break from Techno. techno...techno...techno everywhere...)
So then we took our plane to Belgium and that was that. Got in at 1 in the more... oh wait! Maybe you want to hear a little bit about our fourth of July. It wasn't much, but hey, we did a few celebratory toasts to the good ole' US of A.
Alright, so here's how it all went down:
We had scheduled a plane flight for 14:40 from Dublin Airport. It takes an hour to get from the train station in Dublin to the Airport and about three hours to get from the train station in Cork to the train station in Dublin. Laurel, being the fabulously responsible person she is, thought it would be good if we caught the 7:00 train. I wanted to catch the 7:55 and sleep in... Unfortunately, I got my wish. Our 6:30 alarm failed us (Laurel swears that alarm clock is like the Watch of Power, it enjoys taunting us: it never works when we really need it to, and only works when we don't really want it to...) So 7:48 rolls around and I hear "MAGGIE! THE ALARM DIDN'T GO OFF! IT'S 7:48!!!" so we literally tumble out of bed and shoved our stuff into our packs and took off running, amid mildly harsh language of course... So we're running down the streets of Cork (fine, I'm shorter so I was running. Laurel was "walking briskly") at 8 in the morning. I vaguely remember thinking "we already missed the train, and there are no buses, why are we going so fast? It's not like we are going to miss the train that we already missed..." Thankfully there was a train at 9:30. That brings us in to Dublin at 12:30. The bus brings us to the airport at 1:30 and we're onetime, but cutting it close. That is, if everything goes to plan. See, the train isn't exactly on time, and the bus doesn't leave right when we get on it and there's terrible traffic. We we arrive at the airport at 2:00. 40 minutes before our plane is supposed to leave. We find out later that Ryanair closes check in 40 minutes before takeoff. This is where it gets good. (I get a lot of grief from my mom for being so lucky, but this is going to kill her.) The bus is sitting there in traffic and people start to just get off to start walking to the airport instead of waiting. Well, we did too. For a while we were confused about the large group of people apparently just hanging out around the bus stop and outer airport. It wasn't until we pushed our way to the very front that we found out why. Seeing our way blocked by various barriers, we turned to the nearest airport official to ask if "this is the way in?" and he promptly told us that "you don't want to go in. The bomb's in there." Now pause for a moment and try to imagine our confused reactions. Is our plane still going to take off? Did we miss it? Is this guy for real? a bomb? Okay, cool, I guess. But we still don't know where that leaves us. Apparently, for the next 2 and a half hours it left us sitting on the curb ("kerb") outside the airport, chillin' (literally, it was really cold and rainy) with our new friend from Oregon/Texas. We celebrated the fourth of July by receiving a gift of chocolate from our new friend and sharing peanut butter spoons. So American. So college student. So cool.
Throughout this whole ordeal, we still don't know if we technically missed check in for our plane or not. They had evacuated the building before we got there, but in true Irish fashion, the bomb squad still hadn't shown up when they'd gotten the "bomb" out of the building and arrested the idiot who joked about it being in his backpack (I mean seriously man, it's almost exactly the year anniversary of the London Underground Bombings which took place on July 7th. Who would actually be so stupid to joke about something like that? Laurel holds that he was probably drunk.) When they finally let us in again, it was mad chaos. Like Dublin had been thrown back into the pre-Christian land wars. There were little old ladies pushing trolleys into our knees and rather large and smelly old men invading everyone's personal space in an attempt to reach the head of the queue and highly distressed mothers trying to keep their children in line. In our attempt to queue our way to safety we had to thwart those savage line-jumpers (who frankly, should have been ejected from the amusement park. Line-jumping is against the rules, but then again, at such a wild, chaotic time as this was, there are no rules.) I like to remember this whole scene with mean cranky looks on the little old ladies' faces and evil, malicious grins on those of the old smelly men. It just makes it that much more amusing. Laurel doesn't seem to remember the cannibalistic feel about the whole thing, but then again, she had a book to keep her interested. I only had my imagination, and that my friends, can be a dangerous thing.
Back to the point: our flight to Brussels. At some point some one got their hands on a list of the flights that had been cancelled because of the bomb threat and would allow passengers to reschedule with no extra cost. The first one on the list? You guessed it! The 14:40 to Brussels Charleroi. That means that we just SO BARELY made it. If there had been no bomb scare, we would have missed our flight. If said bomb scare had happened, like, 10 minutes later, we would have missed our flight. But it didn't. Who ever thought that we'd come to think of a bomb scare as a lucky thing?
Anyhoo. We were rescheduled for the 20:20 flight to Charleroi and everything went pretty smoothly from there. We got in at 22:50 (due to the time change) and promptly hopped on a bus to the city center. (that was the only unlucky part of our day: the trains (which we could have used our Eurail passes for and therefore traveled free) had stopped at 22:00. So we had to pay for the bus.) We ended up at the city center at 23:50 and I insisted we take a taxi to our hostel. It was late and I felt I needed to break our creed of "spend no more than you have to" to keep us from being raped or mugged. We packed like sardines into a tiny cab with 2 other people (excluding the driver) and wound our way through the still-lively streets. Italy had won in the semi-finals and people were still celebrating. (actually the second unlucky thing: we didn't get to watch the game. *sad face*) We hopped out right infront of the hostel at 1:15 in the morning and proceeded to use the whole "pathetic exhausted backpacker" shpeil to secure the TWO REMAINING BEDS in the whole hostel. (and let me tell you, that hostel was huge! It spanned like 3 buildings.) so to recap: alarm didn't go off and we left 2 and a half hours late to our plane. Still made it. The one night we don't make hostel reservations and arrive to a full hostel? Two girls couldn't stand their beds and were moved to sleep on the floor elsewhere, leaving us a place to crash. Not that it was the best sleep we'd ever had, even after such an eventful day. It was getting up towards 30 degrees Celsius (which is about 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit.) though, apparently it felt hotter. Neither of us slept well. But that's all good. We're in Brugge now and headed to Amsterdam tomorrow. YAY BACKPACKING!

whew! That should keep all y'all happy for a few days, huh?
p.s. as to photos, I think I'll try to get the remaining ones up when we are in Amsterdam. I keep forgetting to rename the files so that you can see immediately where/what they are. BUT! If you sort the pictures by "Date Submitted" and "Descending" at the bottom right and start midway through page two and work backwards you'll see all the ones I recently updated. And if you hit "view as a slide show" in the bottom left, you can see a backwards slideshow with all the captions I created. I'll work on organizing them better if I have time in Amsterdam.

Until later? Cheers!

Friday, June 30, 2006

Publin

Now, before I even begin to write anything of consequence, I want any and all of you who read this blog to send warm happy feelings toward Maggie, who is truly the driving force, the goddess of light, the guru behind the writing. If it weren't for her, I would be eating now instead of updating. (mmm muffins. scones. a sandwich!)

But now, back to the main point. Dublin. Ah, happy memories (well, for the most part. Except the boring ones. And the disillusioning moments. And the things we can't remember for one reason or another)
To be honest though, not a lot happened.
We stayed at the Abbey court hostel, a large multi-story place with cheerfuly yellow narrow rooms and free "breakfast." This word is in quotes at Maggie's request. She asserts that cereal and toast that one can only gain by waking up at the ungodly hour of 8:30 is more of a "pre-morning meal" than a real breakfast.
I rather enjoyed it myself, and even tried to drink coffee. Three times I tried, and three times I failed both at drinking it and managing to keep it in the cup and off the table.
Anyway, to the important events.
We went on a total of three tours in Dublin. The Guinness factory, the Jameson whiskey distillery, and a historical walking tour.
After we finished the Jameson tour on Thursday, I was fully prepared to tell you all the details of all the tours. But then I had something to eat, drank some cold water, took a nap at the hostel and thought better of it.
The process of making alcohol is quite interesting. On the Guinness tour we walked up seven stories devoted to the life and times of the drink. We tasted the barley (which they roast) and gazed at the past advertising campains and other general history. At the top Maggie and I learned how to pour the perfect pint of Guinness. Our futures as baristas await!
Irish whiskey, did you know, is distilled a total of three times! Compare this to the far inferior Scotch (which is distilled two times and has that smokey flavor) and American whiskey (distilled only once.) Yeah, so the tour guide sold me on his product.

Maggie would like to mention that these tours catered both to those who like learning about alcohol and those who like drinking it.

Being history geeks, Maggie and I loved the walking tour.

What else? We went to a few pubs, which was entertaining to a point. I never did work out what these three young Irish guys were saying to us in one bar, because the music was so loud and their accents were thick. I think that they were trying to tell me their names in Irish. Who knows.
So, although Dublin was interesting, Maggie and I are glad to be in the beautiful, sunny town of Galway.
I have done it. Now I'm going to find something to eat.
Cheers everyone!
Laurel