Friday, April 29, 2011

Thursday, April 28, 2011


Can I just tell you how glad I am to be HOME?

We all know that I am
when all I can think about during my last week of 4 weeks in Europe is,
When can I just see Adam again? These old towns are starting to get boring...

I wish I was kidding. But I choose honesty.

It was a trip of a lifetime and I have learned SO much. So so much learning and seeing and loving. 
I watched the movie Country Strong on my flight home, and Paltrow said something I loved:
Fall in love with as many things as you can.
And that's exactly what I did.
I fell in love over and over and over again. And then some more.
With the beauty of it all.
But still, home is home and my number love is, and always will be, my Adam.

And I'm certainly not through with sharing it all with you folks. And now that I am home, I can even share some photos. Enough to make your eyes droop to your stomach. So, just be prepared.
I'm so fortunate, so blessed - I know I am. I hope I don't offend anyone with my honesty on this post or any of the ones to come, because I'm going to be straight with you on it all. My spoiled and selfish thoughts will not and cannot be hidden. 

I cannot express enough: God hears you. 
This trip would have been a complete failure, dangerous to my safety at times, even, without Him.
He heard me. He heard YOU praying for ME.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. 

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Lessons learned in Germany

Every country is different. The biggest lesson I learned in Germany?
Dont let this country slip by you, its the biggest surprise Ive had so far.

- Germany is clean, cute, neat, perfect, healthy. I was never more surprised on this whole trip so far than I was with Germany. When I was planning this trip, Germany wasnt even on my mind until my bro said he wanted to come. Then I thought, ok what the heck, it would be fun to see where my brother served his mission. Im so glad I made it here. It was astonishingly, heart stoppingly beautiful on the Romantic Road (southern Germany). We stayed in Rothenburg, a small town still alive purely due to tourism. It was simply wonderful there.
-Germans speak way better English than Italians. And they drive way better, too (meaning, they actually follow the rules, stay in the lines, and stop for pedestrians).
-Germany is much cheaper than Italy - almost half the price for souvenirs and meals!

-Try a Doner Kabob - they are kind of like gyros, made with lamb, yogurt sauce, tomatoes, and lettuce wrapped up in a pita pocket type of bread - it is so delicious!

-Ritter Sport chocolate is to die for and its way cheaper in grocery stores - there are like 20 different flavors; something for everyone!
- Night trains aren't as fun as they may seem. Sure, they sound like a great deal: sleep the night away while you travel hundreds of miles. No wasting day time to travel! You wake up and you're there! Well, I use the term "wake up" lightly; that is, you can only wake up if you ever fall asleep! The train is constantly grinding and groaning, swinging around corners, derailing at impossible speeds, the conductor slamming on the breaks only to stop for what seems like hours while you're left lying in a too small bed, steaming up but unable to open a window due to said noises, lights flashing by you until the train starts up again and your body rolls to the other side of your tiny bed, slamming into the hard metal railing - the only thing keeping you from hitting the floor - though it obviously doesn't keep random other objects from projecting off the top bunk and clanking onto the floor or the closet door. Plus! You don't want to get woken up by the harsh, loud Austrian demanding for "passports!" and cranking open the door you thought you locked, but somehow he manages to break the door off the hinges (or so it seems), so instead you wake up every hour on the hour, checking your tiny travel alarm clock.
*sigh* I repeat, though they seem like a fun camping-like experience, dont expect to get much sleep. When all 4 of us were in one compartment, we knew all of us were awake at any given point in the middle of the night and would just laugh. And that's my thoughts on night trains. :)
-Don't let a grey and bleak morning fool you; it most likely will turn sunny by the afternoon. We have had such wonderful luck with weather lately. It's been stunning.

-The neuschwanstein castle, which is what the disney parks' castle is modeled after, is much more impressive on the outside than the inside. The most exciting part about the half-hour  tour we took of the inside was the view you got of the mountains and lake below you out the window. So, even then we were still looking on the outside more than the inside.

-If you're going to Rothenburg, please stay at the Spitzweig hotel. The owner is an older German man, the closest thing I'd ever find to a grandpa in Germany. At breakfast, he would come and sit down right next to us at the table and sip his coffee with us, asking what we wanted to do for the day and suggesting terrific restaurants and sites.

-Everyone in Germany seems so healthy. There are parks and bike paths and walking paths and people outside everywhere all the time. And less people smoke, it seemed.

- Two weeks at a time in Europe is plenty for me.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Lessons learned in Italy

I don't know about you guys, but this is my first ever time traveling outside of the North American continent (Hawaii doesn't count). I am learning so much - about people, traveling, communicating w/o knowing the language, myself, history, buses, backpacks, timing, God, my husband. Can I share some lessons with you?

-Even though I am eating croissants smothered in nutella for breakfast, chunks of salomi and cheese for lunch, pasta and pizza for dinner, and gelatto for dessert (, I still think I'm going to lose weight on this trip, rather than gain it due to the enormous amounts of walking we do everyday (like, miiiiles).
- Meals are an entire even in Italy. You are expected to buy a first course before the pasta - an antipasta. This is typically a plate of fried vegetables or even ham and cheese. Then the meat comes after the pasta - the 3rd course. But that is not as expected as the first and second course. The waiters will not bother you once you get your food unless you ask for them - they want you to enjoy your meal. Same goes with the check - they will not both you with it until you ask for it. Usually the tip is included in the meal. Tips are not as expected/normal in Italy as they are in the States. If you are unsure if it's included or not, 10% is customary. 
- Everything is expensive. Like more than the US. If they can charge you for it, they will. Water, the bathroom, a reservation (which means having a Eurail pass doesn't automatically get you on the trains for free. Many trains require a reservation, which costs anywhere from 3-10 euros and some local trains don't except a Eurail pass as a ticket), a congestion fee on the road, etc.  
- Not every train runs everyday. You need to double check if its Monday-Friday or just Saturday/Sunday. Learned this one the hard way.
- Italy is extremely crowded. It's about the size of Arizonia, and it is second only to China as the most densely populated country. I'm here before tourist season starts and it is crazy crowded.

-This is the perfect time of year to be traveling. The weather in Italy is amazing right now - sunny with a nice breeze; summers are way too hot and even more busy than it already is.

-Even though its crowded, Italy has a pretty relaxed attitude - kind of like Hawaii. When I went through their border patrol, they didn't even look at me as they barely glanced at my passport, smoked a cigarette, and chatted with their neighbor. You can't always count on things arriving on time or starting on time or opening on time. They have a 3 to 5 hour break in the middle of the day where everything shuts down for siesta time. The piaza's (plazas) were built specifically for people to just hang out and chat at the end of the day - talk story together, relaxing in the evening. Italians know how to "do nothing," 

il dolce far niente - "the sweetness of doing nothing"

-Because of this, everyone has a different story. Ask multiple sources if you aren't positive.

-Everyone smokes here.

- If I would do this again, I would pack even lighter than I did. Adam bought me a side-slinging camera bag and that is soo perfect for a day pack. The train stations have a "left baggage" department where you can keep your bag there for the day - it's pretty safe, they take your passport and give you a ticket to pick up your bag so no one else can get it from them, and they charge you about 4 euros for half the day. Or, if you have a hotel room, obviously you can keep your backpack in the room and only take a smaller day pack.
-The differences between 1st and 2nd class on the trains are this (as far as I can tell): 2nd class seats are little narrower, there is no air conditioning (which could be a bother in the summer but is fine now), and sometimes (only sometimes) 1st class gets complimentary beverages and snacks (like airplane snacks is all). No biggie.
-This was a big one for me: dealing with people in the cities. I'm pretty paranoid - thanks to my mom - every guy I encounter is a potential rapist (I know thats terrible but it's true) or thief (a little more probable but still kinda crazy) and every woman is trying to con me into buying something. The buses are the most cramped area of space I have ever squeezed into (especially in Rome); it's impossible to know if someone just stole something out of your bag or if they just bumped into on accident. For this reason, I have locks on my zippers. It gives me a lot more comfort than trying to swing my bag around to the front when I'm crowded on all sides. 
And people do have a lot of tricky tactics to get you to pay them: they will hand the lady a rose, telling them how beautiful they are, no charge for them, have it, and then they rush to the man they are traveling with and demand money from him (happened to me; I was standing there looking pathetic with a wilting rose in my hand as the little man followed my dad down an entire block. I was trying to say take it back, and he just kept saying no, you so beautiful. Liar.) Or, they will see you looking confused and trying to figure something out and they will say, Let me help. They will look at your ticket and your map with you and will either snatch something from you while you are distracted, or expect money for helping you. I just had to learn to walk away from anyone approaching me pretty much and say no, grazie. I felt so rude at first, but then I had to remind myself that I am one tourist in millions and they pull this on everyone so don't feel bad. 

-The biggest lesson I've learned in the first week?

I'm never traveling without my husband again. <3