Sunday, July 26

so I went on a trip.

So, by both popular request and fear for my life, I am updating on my trip abroad. This trip set a few records for me. And you know what they say about records...

1-It was by far the longest vacation (by name) I have ever taken
2- I took an unprecedented 2,578 pictures
3-I hiked 115 kilometers (just over 70 miles) in 5 days (not to mention the biking, and other walking)
4- Visited 11 cities, 6 countries, in 7 days, and then did the el camino. I am my father's daughter.

I landed in London around 7:30 in the morning after being delayed 2 hours out of NYC. I tried to sleep on the plane but they had so many free in-flight films that could be comfortably accessed through the touchscreen on the seat in front of me it was hard to close my eyes. Once I landed I had to wait in line for an hour, then use every last bit of brain matter in my head to convince the immigration officer that I was not, in fact, intending on staying in the country more than 4 days. It took far longer than it should have, with him cross checking ever reservation I made for the entire trip. He was treating me like I was a penguin applying to stay in the elephant pen. Which, drawing on past experience, says he wasn't far off...but this time, I really was leaving. Finally I did get my stamp and headed to Trafalgar Square to meet Sarah where we would continue back to Sevenoaks. Much to my delight, there was a tube strike during that blessed hour that I decided to travel, so a regular 20 minute tube journey took me 3 hours by bus. It was just so much fun, I'm going to skip telling you about it--re-living it might make my heart stop, and besides, you'd just be too jealous.

I did finally make it to Sevenoaks, and when we arrived we headed straight to Callum's cricket match--where I slept on the grass, only waking up to pokes in the back telling me that Callum was up to bat, at which point I would lift my 70 pound head off the grass, squint my eyes at the sun (yes...the SUN. in ENGLAND) and watch Cal take a swing. Then it was straight back down, eyes closed, sleeping before I could count down from 2.

I had so much fun with the family while I was there, I miss them so much. We went down to Hastings to visit the coast. A trip that, without fail, always consists of the following:

1- putting our feet in the freezing water of the English channel

2- Riding rides on the pier

Abby (the current au pair/nanny) Gems, and Myself riding a suprisingly scary flippy-turny ride
3- Fish and chips (the best you'll ever have)

One thing the kids loved to do was jump on the trampoline. Gemma started practicing her tricks as soon as she found out I was coming so she could impress me with her skils--which she did beautifully. So here's a couple of us playing on the tramp:

I could have stayed in England and hung out with the kids for another week (or month or...) and been just fine. But I was excited to continue on to Italy. Next stop: Venice. 6:30 am flight means leaving the house at 3:30, waiting in long lines at the airport, convincing security that my way-too-big and way-too-heavy carry-on actually does comply with the standards (which it does not), and finally being packed into the plane like a sardine. (I think the proper term is "A** to Ankles") And the flight is so quick, by the time you close your eyes you're being tapped by the flight attendant and told to take your earphones out of your ears, even though they weren't playing any music to begin with because you didn't actually have a chance to push the 'play' button between the designated times. So sleep was impossible, and I was starting another day on just 3 hours of z's. But how can you complain when you're in Venice? Answer: You cant.


Venice We started out the day finding the hostel, sightseeing, eating gelato, getting lost, getting found, and just enjoying our time wandering around the watery city. About half way through the day, we both agreed that hitting the beach was a great idea, so we hoped a water bus to the island of Lido and to ocean. Now we don't have pictures of this little outing, because I thought bringing my camera to the beach and leaving it on my towel was only fractionally less conspicuous than putting up a flag and a sign that said: "free camera". We played in the water for about an hour, swimming alongside the spedo-loving Venicians, and took the next hour to "dry off" (or nap...) on the beach. It was a slice of paradise.

On top of Rialto bridge

Sitting on the edge of the grand canal eating gelato

Our day in Venice concluded with what could quite possibly be my favorite activity of all time: Standing in St Marks Square listening to the orchestra play. It sounds so simple, but I can promise you this one thing-- that nothing compares to this seemingly minor event, and at that moment there was no happier person than myself upon the face of the whole planet.

FLORENCE Our journey took us on to our next destination all to quickly, and seeing the cathedral in Florence never fails to take my breath away.

Inside the Cathedral

Florence is so beautiful, and in my opinion, there is no better way to soak it all in than to watch the sun set over the city from the Piazza de Michelangelo.

And of course, live music on the Pont de Vecchio was a highlight for me

Heidelberg The first real bump in our journey was hit in Germany, we were supposed to make it to Rothenburg the first night, and found out once we were there that, unfortunately, that was not going to be a possibility. So, with big bright smiles we re-routed to Heidelberg--but not before I called my dad and asked for help finding a hostel in our new destination. Of course, he was nothing but helpful in finding a pleasent place called Steffi's Hostel. As we boarded the coach from the airport the sun was setting--and it was one of the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen! (I also dare anyone to go through my blog and see how many times I have used that phrase)

It was actually really nice to sit on a comfy bus and cruise the German countryside. When we got to Heidelberg we had no idea where the Hostel was, or where anything was for that matter, and my German is enough to barely order a cheeseburger. So, after walking for literally 20 seconds this man came up and asked Sam something almost unintelligible in Gerenglish (which is what I call English subtly mixed with German, spoken in such a heavy accent that you can't really understand it) I wasn't really paying attention for a minute, because I just thought he was trying to sell us something. Sam just said "no" and he started walking away, when it suddenly clicked that he had said my name, and I caught him before he went away. He said that he had come looking for us because a) it was late and b) he figured we were lost. Which was correct. It really was amazing that he would just come out on his own search and recovery mission to find two American girls looking for a hostel.

Sam and I spent the remainder of the night walking around the altstadt or the "old city" of Heidelberg, and it really was beautiful. It never ceases to amaze me how so many places can have such contrasting differences and surprising similarities all at the same time. I love it. In the morning we started off early so we could see the town in the daylight before we went to Rothenburg...and besides...I wanted to hike up to the castle :)
Steffi's hostel--which was actually located on the 2nd floor of a supermarket, and was an old tobacco factory. Charming.

Heidelberg streets about 7am
Heidelberg Castle
Rothenburg A three hour hop, skip, jump, (and $70 cab ride) later, we finally made it to Rothenburg--A place that was the inspiration for the village in Walt Disney's Pinocchio, and also where they filmed parts of Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang. Rothenburg is great, because even though it started in about 950 AD, it has never really been damaged or ravaged by war , so all the houses and buildings are authentic and original. It kind of feels like you are stepping back in time, especially since a significant portion of the walled city is car-free.

Sam and I started off the afternoon with some lunch, where I indulged in the ever-so-delicious platter of Bratwurst and Sauerkraut (thus reiterating my self-made horrible-pun slogan of: "Germany, it's the Wurst!")

One of the cool things about Rothenburg is the year-round Christmas shops. It gives you that delightful Christmas giddy feeling mixed with the glow of summer...its absolutely superb. However, the kid inside me gets a little confused and disappointed when the adult reminds me that it is only June.

For me, a highlight of the day was visiting the Medieval Crime and Punishment museum. It's not something that I can really explain, so I think it's best I just show you some pictures of the memorable things I learned about the subject.

This is actually a lot more comfortable than it looks.

...and this one is probably not as comfortable as it looks...

Variations of this "mask of shame" were worn as a public display of a person's "crimes" such as: gossiping and being nosy, treating women poorly (as the mask above was used for), as well as other things.

If you can read this one, it's pretty good!

Now this one is my very favorite...

Now wasn't that fun? It gives you a little insight into the way of thinking and the way of life way back when. Now, the other major highlight was going on the night watchman's tour of Rothenburg--this guy was legit.

Me looking especially grotesque, outside the city wall of Rothenburg.

This is the view from the spot where Sam and I sat in the Martktplatz watching the night talking about everything: life, love, and laundry.

Alsace is a region in France right on the boarder of Germany. It's known primarily for it's fine wine, picturesque villages, and it's famous "Route Du Vin". We started out in Colmar, which was our home base for exploring the region. Colmar was a good place to start, and I loved it there, but it seemed like every village we went to got better and better!
In Petite Venice, Colmar

Our lovely hotel...without hesitation the worst place I have ever stayed.
Mediocre picture of Petite Venice at night

We rented bikes at a little bike shack, 6 euros for an entire day, and biked the Route Du Vin. It was so incredible! The landscape was so beautiful, vineyard after vineyard on the rolling hills with church steeples peering through the green. It was perfect!

We started out with a moderate ride to Kayersberg, where we stopped to have the region specialty meal, baeckeoffe.

Me next to my favorite spot on the bridge in Kaysersberg.

The best Eclair ever!
We hiked up to the castle/fortress in Kaysersberg, and the views were great. From here you could also see a hill appropriately named "bloody hill" after a great battle that took place here during WWII. There is also a memorial in the distance waving an American flag in honor of the troops that helped liberate the Alsace region.

On top of the tower
Coming down the tower steps

Our trusty travel guide: Bleeders (blog and readers--that's you) meet Rick Steves.
We're Buddies.
We continued on the Route Du Vin to Eguisheim, which was my favorite out of all the villages. I didn't know I could love a place more than Colmar until I saw Kaysersberg, and didn't know there was a spot more beautiful than Kaysersberg until I saw Eguisheim. It's one of the smaller wine villages, but I think that's part of its charm. We didn't have much time there, but I was literally snapping away on my camera around every bend. This is the perfect escape from the modern world. Walking through you have little vendors poking their heads through shutters in the buildings with fresh Macaroons and Sausages. So perfect.

Sam looking chipper riding her bike on the cobblestone streets of Eguisheim.
We loved these bikes because they had a basket and a bell.

Basel From Colmar we trained down to Basel, Switzerland...a completely unexpected detour in our trip, but I love doing things spur-of-the-moment like. Since it was Sunday, we decided to take things sort of easy. This included sitting on the bank of the Rhine river catching up on our journaling, feeding the birds, and walking around the empty streets (everything is closed on Sunday).

The beautiful Rhine River!
I have waited so long to see this river, I walked eyes closed to the center of the bridge before looking out on it. The moment had to be perfect.
I just have to throw this in here, it's the most amazing guitar I have ever seen.

Basel, in all honesty, is not the most exciting place to plant yourself on a Eurotrip. Fortunately for us, the YMCA Hostel we stayed at gave us free public transportation passes so we could ride any of the the trains for free. I met a couple girls at our hostel who were feeling the boredom sink in, and we decided to pick a train, and ride it to the end of the line and see where we wound up. In this case, it was a charming little spot-on-the-map called Fluh. We stopped to talk to a local, and he told us that about 20 yards from where we were was the French boarder. So we actually walked from Switzerland over to France.

This is me with Rona and Pauline, our travel buddies

Sam and the France sign, believe it.

From Basel we took a flight to Madrid, where we would spend a day and then go up to start the El Camino de Santiago--a portion of the trip that deserves it's own post entirely, because not only is it the best part of the trip, but it is also one of the coolest things I have ever experienced in my life thus far. I'll write about it when I get time again, which will hopefully be soon!