A Travellerspoint blog

Swiss Miss.

France to Switzerland to Austria.

sunny 35 °C

It's pretty interesting but I am finding it much more difficult in Europe vs. India to access a computer or sometimes even wifi. India was so easy!

Where did I leave off... oh yes! Buxy.

So we left our little piece of heaven, Buxy, after saying goodbye to our host. I had another 'awkward European kiss' encounter and forgot they kissed both cheeks when saying hello and goodbye. Let's just say I might have lingered on one cheek and kissed the other earlobe. Awkward. Anyway! We jumped on a train to Lyon (apparently the city of amazing chefs and food). We rented a room out of an apartment and we shared it with the tenant, a really nice woman in her 30's who does freelance market research. The plus of this spot, it's literally right in the middle of the city 2 minutes from the train station on one of the most popular streets - Rue Victor Hugo which is a pedestrian street with cafes, stores, restaurants, etc. We arrived, got settled and went for a walk. Alright so I said it has the reputation for amazing food... I didn't say it was inexpensive. Quite the opposite actually. We wanted something other than pasta or sandwiches so found a Chinese restaurant for lunch and after sharing 2 tiny courses with a side of rice (smallest bowl ever) that we thought was included, we get our bill. 27 euros... Yes. About $40. And the rice was NOT included. It cost $9. We didn't eat out in Lyon for the rest of our time there. Shocking, I know.Anyway, we head to get groceries and then to the apartment and call it an early night after making a cheap dinner.

The next day our hostess had a huge breakfast ready for us - cereal, milk, toast, ham, Nutella, peanut butter, jams, chocolate breakfast cookies (ok they were just chocolate cookies but we classified them as breakfast), tea, coffee, the works! I sure didn't eat all that but let's just say Derek... Indulged. We went to get ready and I'm looking for my SLR camera. I can't find it. I ask Derek, he doesn't know. Then we realize Derek left it at the Chinese restaurant the day before. I almost freaked (ok I did a bit) and made him RUN there. Luckily, it was still there and I didn't hurt Derek. We did some sightseeing and spent the day by the river under the shade, it was over 30 degrees!

On a side note, we are having India flashbacks from the heat and are started to 'ugly sweat'. It's so hot here. Over 30 degrees most days for the past week or so. Plus I have 5lbs of hair on my head that makes it feel like I'm wearing a winter scarf and hat combo. I need some cheap clothing to supplement my wardrobe. Otherwise it'll look like every photo taken is from the same day because we are wearing the same outfits. That's the end of my complaining. First world problems to an extreme.

Anyway, back to Lyon. Our last day we walked across the river to a used book store for Derek to buy French books and for me to buy anything in english. Such a cool store, like a maze with books everywhere - upstairs and downstairs. Afterwards, we walked about 4km to Tete d'Or park which is on a lake and just massive. They even had a zoo within the grounds but neither of us are keen on seeing zoos... I don't like how the animals have such little room and within an unnatural habitat. Once we saw the giraffe, it was just weird. Overall, we had a great time in Lyon, it's a really neat city with great people!

From there we headed east towards the Swiss/French border and stayed at a house in Annemasse (France) which is about a 5 minute drive to the border and 20 minutes to Geneva, Switzerland. We rented a room out of the house from a really nice man who works in Geneva and also has an apartment there. He is originally from Haiti but has lived and worked in Geneva for over 25 years with a background in International Relations. We arrive and he tells us there are 2 others renting a room, one from the Ukraine and the other from Canada - both doing PhD research in Geneva for a few weeks. When we meet the man from Canada we find out he is from PEI ( can't even believe it!) and we realize Derek went through school with his brother in law. Talk about a small world! That's the island for you in a nutshell. The next day we hung out around the house and got a few essential things done for the fall and that evening Derek and Mark (the guy from PEI) went to a discussion our host was a speaker on a panel nearby about Haiti and the amount of corruption surrounding the earthquake relief. I didn't go because it was in French and my grasp isn't so great with fluent speakers. Derek gave me the rundown on the discussion. Apparently 94% of fundraiser money pledged by other countries went back into those countries, meaning for example (this was used at the discussion), the US pledges 50 million dollars and the US navy is sent down for 3 weeks and it costs 30 million dollars. It doesn't actually go into Haiti but to pay salaries of those working because it was not volunteer based. One of the only countries that actually fulfilled its pledge promise was Venezuela. Most other countries didn't fulfill their pledge promises at all (including Canada). Very sad... Also, the fact that the big international aid organizations were handling the money was not a good thing... the United Nations and other huge organizations that we trust to handle the money to ensure it makes it into the right hands ended up in the pockets of many people working for the organization. Derek also mentioned that our host was explaining how NGO's working there can also be a huge issue because 1) they are unorganized 2) there are usually 6 NGO's who are doing the same thing which is a waste of resources 3) they attract the brightest people from Haiti away from government work so no one is working to rebuild at a government level. Basically the generalizations of the discussion were that other countries won't rebuild Haiti, it's the people in Haiti who will rebuild it. Interestingly enough, 25% of Haiti's GDP came from Haitians working abroad and would send money home (similar to the Phillipines).

The following day our host drive us into Geneva to walk around. He was going for a leisurely 12 km run (runs in 12 marathons per year around the world). No big deal. We walked around the incredible lake all the way to the United Nations headquarters and about 10 other HQ's. These buildings are just massive... makes you a little frustrated that all this money goes into the insane salaries of the workers, huge expensive dinners out, etc... who are we to trust when making donations? Unfortunately, if an organization advertises huge salaries, are you really attracting the right people?

Geneva is just oozing money... you can see it everywhere. There are a lot of celebrities that live there because of the low tax bracket. The prices of everything are ridiculous. The Swiss Franc is about the same as the Canadian dollar but the prices or things are at least 2-3 times the price of anything at home. For example, we walked by a restaurant and the menu indicated the soup cost $22 Canadian. AH. We were walking along the boardwalk and there was a little truck stand sandwich shop, 1 sandwich cost $16 Canadian. Double AH! Our host had warned us about this and recommended we pack a lunch, which we did and it was great. Nothing is worth those prices! Early afternoon we met up with Mark and spent the rest of the day in a park by the river with a couple frosty beverages under the shade (oh did I mention it was over 30 degrees?). That night our host had a BBQ for us and we had such a great time! The next morning, Mark, Derek and I walked 10 minutes to this huge outdoor market and Mark bought us pain de chocolat (chocolate bread) - yummmmm. Then it was off to our next spot outside Zurich!

We trained it to Zurich and then caught a bus to a smaller town just outside of the city where we rented a room from a couple with 2 small children, it was really nice and totally accessible by bus and train to head anywhere. We only had 1 full day there so took a train to Lucerne and bought tickets (thanks to mom!) to take an hour boat up the river where we caught the cable car to the top of Mount Pilatus for the afternoon, then a gondola ride back down to Lucerne and went to a nearby lake so Derek could get in a quick swim. The next day it was off yet again to our next spot. So that brings me to now! We are in Innsbruck, Austria and this small city has just wowed us. We realize more and more that this size of place is perfect... the mountains go all the way around the city and we are staying about a 20 minute walk outside of the downtown in Innsbruck Hoetting with a very nice older woman. She is just the sweetest! That's the other thing so far, everyone in every country we have been to is just so helpful and nice... yesterday we walked along the river to downtown (if there's a river in Europe, there's a city built around it) to the old historic center and came across the police band playing in the middle of a small square. Next to us 2 women were laughing and dancing around with each other, just having such a great time. It was very euphoric. People are just amazing beings. We went to go get a drink at a cafe by the band and that turned into a full fledged Austrian lunch of 5 wurstlteller (5 different amazing homemade sausages with fries and glorious mustard) & Kasspatzle (cheesy noodle dish native to Austria). Topped off with local beer (Derek) and local wine (me) it was amazing. We look behind us to see the huge mountains setting the backdrop... sigh... I love it here!

We walked back to our place and on the way saw something that is a little foreign to us but very normal here - a 3 year old boy riding a 2 wheeled bicycle (no training wheels!) up and down hills in a park with his father... was I even walking then? haha Yes... but here it's so normal for kids to be hiking, biking, skating, skiing circles around everyone else. Later yesterday afternoon, we took the train about 20 minutes away to Rum where there is a gorgeous manmade lake called 'Baggersee Rossau'. It looks like a natural lake and they have volleyball nets, basketball courts, ping pong tables, etc back in another little park area. Just amazing and it was packed. It cost about $8 total for us to spend the afternoon there. The water was cold but so refreshing with the 35 degree whether. Such a great idea!

Here we are today, at an internet cafe trying to get a few things done (because it can't be ALL fun and games!). Heading to an Austrian restaurant which is a traditional hall for lunch, should be really neat!

Until next time!

Laurie

Posted by lcmichael 03:10 Archived in Austria Comments (2)

At home in the country.

I received very sad news yesterday that my grandmother passed away suddenly... Derek and I spent today doing things that she loved - we went for a bike ride, had a glass of wine at our amazing lunch in Givry, had apple pie with cheese (she always said 'apple pie/muffin without the cheese, is like a hug without the squeeze!) and visited a local garden as she was an amazing gardener. It's been a very sad couple of days but I know she is with the love of her life, my grandfather. I wish I could be in London with mom and Tracy but I know I had the best gift of spending a year and a half with her while we lived in London...

I still want to update everyone with my blog as grandma would want me to!

So. Last I left off, we were in Lucca. This was a highlight for us. Lucca used to be the capital of Italy and is a small walled city with the walls towering at over 20 feet. It's incredible, the top of the wall is paved with benches on either side like a circular park! It's 4km long and you can walk, run, bike, rollerblade, etc. we even walked by a firefighter fundraiser held on one section. Definitely worth looking up for the pictures! Inside the walls there are about 10,000 people and about 90,000 outside the walls so 100,000 in the whole province. Our apartment was beautiful with a kitchen and right beside the back wall. It's an adorable city and we ended up walking the wall twice! Also the very center of the walled city is a circular section of buildings that house apartments up top and cafes and stores down below. Just gorgeous.

I don't think I mentioned but we have been carrying around a market bag of groceries... Haha. But really, it's so great to rent spots with kitchens - we love to cook and holy smokes we are saving so much money. When you're traveling long periods of time in a place like Europe, you have to treat it like you're at home. We sure don't eat out 3 times a day! We are trying to keep eating out to once/week if possible. Our grocery bag has all the essentials - tea, coffee, cereal, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic... You know. Normal things people travel with.

We stayed in Lucca for 3 nights and then had a long 9 hour day of train travel north to Torino for the night. We arrived and took the metro to the area of our hostel, found it and got settled. We grabbed dinner across the street at this great restaurant! Owned by an adorable couple, we had a set menu with amazing homemade pasta! Such a great way to end our time in Italy.

The next day we were up early for an even longer travel day than the day before. We took the train to the Italian border where we had to wait for an hour for a bus to take us to the French side (thank goodness we made it when we did because the bus only runs at noon and once in the evening!). We didn't have such a rough time though... The mountains in the background were enough to distract us. At the train station in Modane, we waited another hour with our new French pal who now lives in Thailand (think older creepy French guy) and were on the train for another 4 hours with a couple transfers until we arrived at Chalon Sur Saone. The woman that we were staying with picked us up at the train station to drive us to her house about 20 minutes away in this adorable town, Buxy (pronounced like 'Booksy'). It's a town of about 2000 people with only 1 restaurant and most businesses are closed certain hours. It's historic and beautiful and right in the middle of the Burgundy wine region. Tranquility now!

Our hostess, Laurence, is a teacher in Buxy and just an amazing woman. So nice and hospitable. The first day we were here, we walked around Buxy, grabbed a Croque Monsieur (ham and cheese sandwich) and wine from the region at this little pub. So good. So cheap! Then we walked to the grocery store for dinner supplies and stopped in at the tourist information center to find about more spots to check out. After making a fajita feast, we hung out with Laurence and headed to bed for our next day of adventures!

Laurence was heading to Lyon for the weekend so dropped us off in Cluney (pronounced 'Clooney' as in George) for the afternoon. It's about 40 minutes from Buxy and yet again, a beautiful town. We were walking around and noticed tons of horses at an arena, turns out the national female championships for a sport called 'horse ball' were happening. Have never in my life heard of this sport but it gets solid props. Holy jeez those girls and their horses are intense. Imagine basketball on horses but you don't bounce the ball. After watching for a while we had to get out of the 30+ degree heat (I have a great sunglasses tan to prove it) and went to a restaurant for a drink and cheese plate. Or so we thought. They don't serve food mid afternoon here like I mentioned, with the exception of ham and cheese sandwiches of course! We found a spot mid afternoon and the owner told us they are only serving cheese crepes at this time. Derek asked if it was possible to just get a cheese plate and wine and so the man goes seems to confirm this... 20 minutes later he comes out with a plate containing a massive cheese crepe with salad and says he'll be back with the second crepe... Ah! Poor guy, totally misunderstood. Anyway, the crepe was delicious and filled with a mozzarella type cheese in half and goat cheese in the other half. All in all, delicious mistake! I think I can almost see where the crepe went... Building up that spare tire! Haha. We ended up catching a bus later to come back to Buxy and made hamburgers with unidentified ground meat that Derek didn't ask what it was at the store. Just pointed. Almost like ground pork sausage... Not very good and note to self - BBQ'ing on a charcoal grill sucks.

The next day we walked to the next town, Montagny, to do a walking wine tour. This town is even smaller than Buxy with no stores or restaurants, just houses and several vineyards. The walk there was incredible... Walking through the countryside literally through acres and acres of vineyards. Sigh. We found this winery and started talking to the owner, this woman who is the daughter of a famous wine maker in France. We did a wine tasting in the cellar of a very old building and learned all about wine making. She even made us a reservation at her friend's restaurant in Chivry (where we were going the next day). We bought some wine and walked home. Our legs were killing us, total of 8km walked! When I got home, we found out my grandma passed away so stayed in for the night so I could talk to family and friends.

That brings me to this morning. We got up and wanted to honor grandma in a special way. We biked 10km on their 'green trails' (like rails to trails) to another close town through farms, under bridges, to Chivry, and went to the restaurant. Oh. My. It was one of the best dining experiences I've ever had. The chef/owner is such an amazing woman. The restaurant is small but so full of character and the cellar was built in the 8th century. France = love! We ordered wine from Chivry, chose the set menu which was start to finish - amazing. Appetizers were terrin du chef (meat pâté with salad) and oeufs de meurette (poached eggs in a red wine sauce with kidney beans and onions), then our main was pork tenderloin wrapped in a slightly doughy pastry with a cream sauce, mashed potatoes in a tiny mason jar and vegetables. Dessert was apple pie with raisin ice cream (mine!) and Derek got a cheese plate with three different cheeses from the region. The other chef came out in the middle of the meal which was neat! At the end, the owner came around with some brandy for us (Derek had mine, too strong!). All in all, amazing. We don't have those experiences often!

We walked around Chivry, checked out a gRden/park area and jumped back on our bikes to start back to Buxy. Lots if photos later we made it back here and are now just relaxing before we leave for Lyon in the morning!

Good night!

Laurie

Posted by lcmichael 13:38 Comments (3)

All roads lead to...

overcast 20 °C

The last week has been so great! M&T leave tomorrow to head to Barcelona for a couple days before heading back to NS.

Last time I left off, we were waiting for the rain to stop in Venice at our apartment. It did shortly after I finished writing and turned out to be a gorgeous day! We headed to the dock and caught our boat to the Rialto Bridge. We arrived with sandwiches packed (the perks of having a kitchen at our spot!) and did some walking around before heading to St. Marc's square. I can't believe how these tiny islands can hold up massive buildings of epic proportions. Trevin did some research and apparently there are thousands of trees that were harvested to create 'piles' under the foundations in the water. Also, apparently the city has issues with rising waters so there is lots of flooding. We heard that when it floods, tourists think it's great and will swim in it in the center of the squares. Gross. The sewage system doesn't treat all the waste so some ends up in the sea... Which ends up all over tourists when they swim in floodwaters. Ugh.

Anyway. Venice was still great minus the crazy amount of tourists. Day trips, tours, etc just pack the streets and then by early evening it's pretty quiet! We found a restaurant down a small alley, ordered some pasta/pizza and wine and had another fantastic evening. We noticed in the menu that this restaurant only hires staff diagnosed with rare conditions to give them equal opportunities in the community. After dinner we had gelato (obviously... Right?), did done grocery shopping and grabbed our boat back to our island! The next morning we caught our boat to the train station and headed to our next stop, the beautiful and equally fattening, Cinque Terre. Sorry hips, chins and stomach. Apparently I'm on a food tour?

We arrived in Vernazza and met our host, 'Josephine', who was a woman in her early 70's, spoke no English, and was just amazing! She met us in the square and after some hand gestures we figured out she was the one we were supposed to meet. She brought us down a windy alley to an adorable guest room. It was an apartment/house feel with 2 stories (upper was a loft) and both levels exposed when you walk in. We had a little kitchen and fridge which was great news. We do enjoy our food. Upstairs was the bathroom off the loft bedroom and it was... Interesting. The tub was another 1/2 size tub with no curtain and a shower nozzle (typical European style). There was a hot water heater that provided us with either icy or scalding showers. Let's just say the sponge bath came back into fashion. Crouching in a tiny tub giving yourself a sponge bath from water you had to boil on the stove and let cool to warm before using... I'm pretty sure I won't ever take the luxury of a hot, roomy shower or bath at home. Man we are spoiled! Things are so easy for us. Here, they regularly think if space efficiency and efficient usage of resources (food, energy, water, etc). Groceries are bought daily with minimal packaging, cooked at home from scratch, limited processed foods, they ride bicycles as daily transportation or walk, sometimes the power goes out because of too many electrical things running at one time (makes you aware of the energy wasted!), oh the list goes on. I'm not saying everyone lives in this way but generally speaking, it's true. I love it.

Anyway. Tangent.

So Vernazza was unbelievably gorgeous. A little town built on the ocean into the cliffs (really - search it online). It's been 7 years since I've been back and was such a great time revisiting. We went to this delicious restaurant by the water and had pasta and wine. I remember walking by and the gust of fresh baked pizza dough lured us in. So worth it.

The next day we took the 3 minute train to the next town in Cinque Terre, Monterosso. This is where MC, Maria and I stayed 7 years ago and we hit up the beach in the same secluded cove us girls did years ago! The town seemed to have a lemon festival going on because there were tons of stands selling lemonade, lemon baked goods, sangria, there were mini Christmas trees decorated with lemons, so neat! We grabbed some lunch (amazing salad with lettuce, tuna, mozzarella, shredded carrots, peppers, corn with balsamic vinegar and olive oil for the dressing, so delicious!). The only thing I was disappointed with was the amount of tourists around here... there seemed to be hundreds dropped off on the pier either by day boats or just day tours. That made it less enticing... but oh well! After heading back to Vernazza, we grabbed take out pizza at the place we went the first night and ate outside with a bottle of (very cheap) wine on the pier with the waves crashing behind us on the rocks... sigh...

We were lucky we had the beach day when we did because the next morning was cloudy and looked like it might rain. It held off for us to do the hike from Monorola to Monterosso (took about 3 hours total) and was SO beautiful. We did the coastal hike and were treated to the extreme sights of this part of Italy. There was a lot of hiking uphill and on very narrow footpaths but it was worth it. There's something about the ocean that is very difficult to describe... we are so lucky to have grown up surrounded by the ocean and have the luxury of driving minutes to a secluded area that eases all stress of any day. Plus Derek looks really good in a bathing suit. Haha. Kidding! (But not really...)

With the hike wrapped up we were in Monterosso and had a quick dinner and then took the train back to Vernazza for our last night in Cinque Terre! Hard to believe that this time was coming to an end. But next up was Pisa and Florence (in the Tuscany region) so had lots to keep our attention and looking forward.

Our first stop the next day was to Pisa to see the leaning tower, it's definitely a neat sight to check off your list but it is, yet again, very touristy. The town itself is adorable! It's all contained with walls which is neat and there are tons of cafes, shops, gorgeous town squares. I would go back just to spend some time there to explore some more. After taking the very cliched photos with the tower, we took the train to Florence (Firenze in Italian) and made our way to our hostel which was across the river and about 30-40 minutes walk away from the main city sights. It was fantastic... Florence was everything I remembered and more. The first night we got there, we got take out pizza as per my cousin's suggestion and sat on the steps of a church overlooking a square, then we went out at night and walked around. Everything was lit up, the streets were filled with cafes and people sitting outside, there was a carousel in one of the squares which was all lit up. Just gorgeous! Let alone the architecture... one of my favorite things about Italy is Florence and one of my favorite things about Florence is the 'duomo' which most people don't think about or even know about when it comes to this region. It is mind boggling. Derek, Monique and Trevin were blown away by the size and intricate nature of the outside design. After getting some much needed gelato (seriously... we were low on fuel... gelato is the only solution!), we headed back to our hostel to rest up for the next full day in Florence. The next day we set out for sightseeing and it is just crazy how different cities are night versus day. The night has been much more quiet and beautiful than during the day in most of the cities we have visited. Plus the tourists aren't out in full force! Yah! Trevin ended up buying a piece of art - a watercolor by a local artist and it was gorgeous. Lunchtime was fantastic, went to a restaurant down a tiny alley and had the 4.50 euro pastas off the menu (homemade pasta mind you!). That night we had dinner at a restaurant which was way too expensive but we still had fun. Just goes to show you that although a place might be more expensive, it doesn't mean they have better food! The rest of the night took a bit of a detour than what we planned... we were going to walk to this hill area to overlook the city but instead found our way into an Irish bar... the rest is history. We had headaches the next day let's just say. Haha.

Unfortunately our time had to end at some point in Florence so the next morning we jumped on another train to Rome. All roads lead to Rome as they say! Our first 10 minutes in Rome was horrible actually. We bought bus tickets at the train station and got on our bus... 100 meters after we were on the bus, the bus officers jump on and ask for our tickets and then our passports, then order us to get off the bus at the next stop. This poor man was trying to help us that was also on the bus but he got yelled at by the officers! Apparently we had to validate (stamp) our bus tickets in the machine on the bus when we got on... we didn't think to ask and had no idea but he wouldn't cut us a break so he told us that we can be fined between 100 and 500 euros or if we pay now we can pay him 50 euros each, then that was dropped to 50 euros per couple. His coworker pulled off 2 couples and a baby from Argentina but of course asked no locals on the bus who also didn't validate. We were easy targets. We were SO angry. So basically, we paid the 50 euros per couple ($75) and went on our way, just fuming. We totally thought this was a scam... then we looked it up when got to our apartment and apparently it's legit. Just frustrating, but totally our fault... we didn't ask how the system worked and the officers kept saying 'know your information!'. Oops. Hey, it could have been worse!

Our time in Rome made up for this unfortunate event. We arrived at our apartment that we rented from a local man and he was so nice! The apartment was tiny but gorgeous and he bought us groceries, had DVD's, wifi and wine with 4 glasses waiting for us! Goes to show we spend too much time wasted on negative events and not enough on the things people do that go above and beyond. All the officer was doing was his job but we expect him to cut us a break... why do we do that? I realize it's human nature to be forgiving but why did we get so upset when we were in the wrong? Anyway, we were over it with a glass of wine! We walked out into our tiny alley street and into this square with a whole market set up and shops encircling it. We picked up some ground beef at the butcher shop, vegetables at the market, bread at the bakery and made pasta. Our evening was pretty low key to prepare for our big day of sightseeing the next day.

Rome is a great city but it's like any big city. Lots of people, can be dirty, not the same charm you see in smaller places... BUT it's Rome for a reason. The sights are worth it. The history is amazing and I wish I knew more about it. It was my third time here and the first time was definitely the best but can't complain about going back one bit! We found our own little piece of Rome with the neighborhood we stayed at and that made it so nice. We walked. A lot. Probably 6 kms in one day... whew! Our feet were pretty weary but we have to work off all that food somehow!

Unfortunately this was the last stop we had with Monique and Trevin, we had such a great two weeks with them and felt like they were just part of the mix so it was sad to see them leave. They left early the next day to fly to Barcelona and Derek and I hopped on another train to Lucca, Italy which is close to Pisa. I will leave that for my next blog entry!

Laurie

Posted by lcmichael 11:50 Archived in Italy Comments (0)

To Europe, with love.

Forgive me and my typing - it is painful on keyboards in France. The letters are in different places and it takes me forever to type! (Correction - I gave up after the next paragraph because it took too long so now I'm typing on the tiny iPod screen which is faster!).

Cologne was just fantastic. We took the train from Breda (the romantic notion of the trains here never get old). After arriving at the beautiful and giant train station, we walked outside to see an amazing church right beside us. It had an almost gothic feel - dark, unconventional design and monsterous. After a 30 minute walk, we met up with our friends at MTZ (the bar they played at) and while they were doing soundcheck for their show, Derek and I went to a nearby cafe for a drink. They sold beer and wine in Germany and other countries differently than North America - you can buy different quantities i.e. 200/300/400 mL of alcohol so you don't need to commit to huge amounts. Random observation. So we went back to the bar where the fellas were wrapping up and we all ventured across the street to a restaurant called 'Mango' or something along those lines. Great Italian food - pasta, pizza, etc but the waiter took the cake for ensuring we had a strange experience. He called one of the guys 'lady' when it came to take his order (he looks nothing like a woman by the way). Then Derek and I split a pizza and he kept coming back to the table and stooping over our pizza to see if he gave us the right one (which we were already eating). Oh the food service industry!

After killing some time before the show, we had a drink at MTZ and settled in to see the performance. It was awesome! Their new album sounds incredible and there were even some other Canadians there! After the show we made our way back to their hotel for some snacks and drinks in the hotel lobby. Then it was time for bed... Derek and I lucked out that the boys offered us the bed in the back if their (massive) VW van. Yes please! Anything to save money! So here we are... In the back of this van in the middle of a parking lot, downtown Cologne. Thank goodness for tinted windows - in the back at least. So it's 3:30am... Derek needs to get outside to use the bathroom and as soon as he pulls the door open the sirens and lights go off. Sigh... I mean it's a good thing it's so secure but a bit too secure for our needs. Let's just say at least there were empty cups in the van... Haha. We slept well and woke up at around 10am, went to the hotel for a tea and coffee, woke up the guys and they walked us to the train station. We had lunch together on the steps of the massive church and we were in our way!

Back to Breda we went and had dinner with Miriam and her step children. The next day Miriam took Derek and I to the province's capital, Hertogenbosch, for the day where we went on a really neat boat tour which took us under buildings and through neighborhoods. It rained but still was great! The rest of the day we walked around the city and got to have the traditional pastry which is a cream puff covered in chocolate. Why did I think I'd lose weight coming to Europe? I guess if there's one way to go, I don't mind cheese, chocolate, bread and wine! Hey, don't judge me. I'm a Dietitian but I like to indulge sometimes! Moderation is my middle name.

The next day Derek and I left early and caught a train to start the trip to Paris. We arrived around 2:30pm and easily found the apartment we rented for the next few days. It's so easy to get around in Europe. Efficiency is at its best here. We had 2 hours until we met up with the apartment owner so hung out at a cafe at the corner where we had our first glass of wine and cheese plate in France! We got the keys to our apartment and settled in for the night. The apartment was small but had everything we needed! Kitchen, bathroom, 2 beds (2 feet away from each other mind you), tv, Internet, computer - it was great. The only thing that was an adjustment was the shower. It was at least half the size of a regular tub and it was like a step so at the lowest part, I could hardly fit my feet in one direction (which isn't saying much because I have giant feet). When Derek showered he looked like a giant and could hardly lather up - it was hilarious. Arms and legs everywhere! We were so lucky with a grocery store a few doors down and made an awesome pasta dinner with a baguette and wine! Groceries cost much less here than at home and I love that you get groceries daily instead of bulk buying weekly or biweekly. Plus the bread is so much better than the loaves we eat at home... (Drooling).

The next morning we took the metro to the airport to pick up Monique and Trevin (our friends from NS that are traveling with us for 2 weeks). This was their first time to Europe so we were pretty excited for them to get here! We took them to our apartment and after they settled in, (not before Trevin wiped out in the shower!), we started walking around the city towards the river. We walked along and checked out the amazing city - the parks, streets, architecture - it's just beyond words! Then we got to the Louvre, kept walking to the Arc de Triomphe where Monique and Trevin (M&T) paid to go to the top (we are too cheap) to check out the view of the city. Then it started to rain... Naturally... So we took the metro back to our apartment and made dinner while it poured outside. M&T were so exhausted and crashed early, I can't believe they did such a full day their first day in Europe! Such troopers.

The next morning we got up, made lunch to take with us (sandwiches of course) and because it was still raining we took the metro the the Louvre. It took about an hour to get in (happened to also be a national holiday so was insanely busy) but was worth it. It's funny how it was my 3rd time in Paris doing all these things but it didn't feel that way at all! Also, I keep forgetting its Derek's first time here, after all this travel together sometimes I assume he was on trips with me that he wasn't. Oops! From the Louvre we went to the Eiffel Tower. It was just a little miserable out... Cold, raining. M&T decided to take the elevator to the top while Derek and I waited at the bottom. Yet again much too expensive for us with no jobs and 2.5 months left! What we thought would be a 30 minute wait turned into an hour and 20 minutes. We had to meet Rosie (our friend from the UK we met in India) at stop about 20 minutes away so Derek left to meet her and I stayed. Finally M&T came down - they said it was crazy, you took the elevator to the 2nd level and had to wait in another line to go up! Same coming down. They were only on top for 5 minutes because it was so stormy! Anyway, I didn't lose any toes so all was well. We jumped on the metro and met Derek and Rosie, grabbed dinner at a donair stand, visited for a while and parted ways. Then I took the crew to see the Eiffel Tower at night, which is my favorite part of Paris at this point. We were early so had some wine and beer waiting in the metro hallway (classy I know). Starting at 9pm, the tower is lit up for 5 minutes at the start of each hour. It's amazing... It's like a light show and the lights just go crazy! On holidays, they have all different colors and patterns. Derek, M&T loved it... Even regardless of the rain. We headed back to the apartment and packed up to leave the next day to Nice in the south of France.

Our train to Nice was a breeze, we didn't get to sit together but spent a lot of time sleeping anyway. We passed through Cannes where the film festival was actually happening and made it to Nice. Our apartment was only a 5 minute walk from the train station and was gorgeous. It had a loft bedroom, futon, full kitchen and bathroom (regular sized!). We stayed in the first night as the travelling was exhausting. The next day, The weather was amazing. Over 25 degrees and sunny with blue skies. Perfection! We walked the few blocks to the beach and soaked up our time there. They have an awesome boardwalk which we took advantage of, walked to one if the coastal points and up 90m to an old fortress area from the 1700's. The view from the top was indescribable... Blue water, blue skies, mountains, sailboats. Just wow. There was a full functioning park at the top as well where lots of school children were playing on the park equipment.

After walking down to the beach, we went to the local market parallel to the beach and had open faced sandwiches at this little stand. The owner was thus woman with huge personality - she obviously knows her stuff because her stand was really busy. They have a local specialty called 'socca' which is a crepe made on top of a fire put in a metal drum on a huge pizza pan. Then it's drizzled with olive oil and scraped off into pieces where it's rolled up into a wax paper cone and you eat it out of that. The market itself was incredible. Think of a pedestrian road with Cade's and restaurants lining either side but a road in between for the market. They sold meat, seafood, fruit and veg, bread, candy, olives (yes, there was an entire olive stand with tons if varieties from all over the world), olive oils, soaps, crafts, jams, flowers, etc. I could've stayed all day. I LOVE markets, they show you so much about locals and their culture.

We took another walk back to the waterfront and sat for a bit looking at the ocean and boats... Rough life I tell you! Then we walked back to the market/cafe area and found a cafe with gelato, M&T went for a walk to check out some shopping nearby while Derek and I read our books. Love the cafe living. We all started heading back to our place, bought some groceries and made dinner - fajitas, very French haha. For dessert we went to a creperie next door and had Nutella/banana crepes which were delicious. How could they not be?

We left the next morning at 6:55am to head to Venice so it was an early night. The trains were a breeze yet again and after an 8 hour day of travel, we made it to Venice! That was yesterday so we are here now! When we got in, we took the vaparato (boat bus) from the train station to our apartment which is on a completely different island than the main group of islands. It's called 'Giudecca' and has about 7000-8000 people living here. Our apartment is the best yet, costs $30/night each and has a huge lift bedroom, incredible kitchen, tv and private courtyard area. We walked along the water - keep in mind the buildings are only about 10 feet from the ocean. Google it, it's so strange! When the tide comes in, the waves crash onto the walkway... There's no shore, just ocean that drops right down. We found a great restaurant on the water and had wine, pizza and pasta finished with tiramisu and it was all made in house. So good!

Then we walked to the other side of the island and saw all the lights from other islands, I didn't realize that Venice is made up about 120 islands with a total population of 220,000! There are parts that are sinking and apparently not all the sewage is treated do flows into the ocean. I guess when it floods here, tourist swim in the streets but they are really swimming in disgusting water with sewage. EW.

Today it's pouring outside... It's also cold and windy so we aren't going out yet. The other 3 are playing cards while I take forever to write this with one finger on the iPod. We are hoping it clears up tonight as the boat bus runs until 4am so we could head over in the evening and we also have most of tomorrow before we leave.

Ok, I need a break! That's all for now :)

Laurie

Posted by lcmichael 04:27 Comments (3)

On the road again.

Europe.

What a whirlwind these past few weeks have been since returning home from India. We've seen family, friends (eaten out too much!) and squeezed in an amazing Dominican vacation for our friends' wedding. To top it off, on the way back from Dominican, we were able to spend the weekend in Nova Scotia and ended up doing a loop of south western Nova Scotia to see our old stomping grounds.

Here I sit at a computer at Derek's aunt's house in Breda, Holland. It's so good to be back! I can't believe it's been 2 years since we were here last, the time continues to speed up (does it ever slow down?). We left yesterday from PEI where we flew to Montreal and jumped on a flight to Paris. Unfortunately it was only 6 hours long so not long enough to get a good sleep in and the time change did a number on us. We ended up getting 1 hour of sleep last night, landed in Paris where we took a train to Brussels (~2 hours), then connected to Rotterdam (~1.5 hours) and finally to Breda (~45 minutes) where we were picked up by the lovely Miriam (Derek's aunt)! Despite our exhaustion, we were so happy to sit and catch up with Miriam and Jurgen (her boyfriend) and then treated to an amazing homemade meal of pasta with feta, sundried tomatoes, peppers along with asparagus and roasted chicken (oh and some wine...).

Leaving PEI was just as surreal as starting our trip to India. It didn't feel like it was happening at all and even when we landed, we didn't feel like we were actually here. Such a strange feeling. I'm not sure if it's because we're so busy leading up to the trips or maybe we're 'too' well seasoned for travel and now it's just not a big deal. I do think it's a plus that we do feel like we can handle these trips without feeling anxious because we get to experience our trip so much more. It all takes time though!

We have almost 11 weeks in Europe and and are so excited to be here. Travel is such a good investment, I feel that it's very important to figure out how I want to spend my time in a career and how I can make the most impact on my community and others around me. Not saying I'm going to save the world but everyone wants to feel like they contribute positively in their lifetime to something greater than themselves.

Tomorrow we take off for Cologne, Germany to see our friend's band play so looking forward to a relaxing getaway... I mean... it's tough... but someone has to do it. Haha.

Will write more later!

Laurie

Posted by lcmichael 13:00 Archived in Netherlands Comments (2)

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