Monday, January 30, 2006

Talia and I are greatly enjoying our relaxation time - movies, lots of food, quality time with my dog, etc. etc.

haven't gotten around to photos yet, that'll happen soon though.

Looks like we'll be heading back to Oberlin this Friday. Packing up will be interesting, and then we get to move into our 2nd apartment of the year. First in Barcelona, Spain, and the second in Firelands Oberlin :) Thanks to Mike for tipping us off about the availability - we're very excited to have our own apartment....again. I'm not sure what I would have done if I'd been put in a dorm room after having my own place. How quickly we get spoiled with independence.

My room is an absolute pit, strewn with bits of various countries and the refuse of weeks of dirty laundry. We're slowly getting the loads done. My poor parent's washing machine, it never saw us coming.

Its proving quite difficult to re-enter the world of every-day worries and stresses. I'm getting re-acquainted with my computer and the leprechauns that have come back out to play just on schedule (for those who don't know, any electronic device I touch becomes very quickly infested with leprechauns, which wreak havoc on the innards of said electronic device, and quickly render it inoperable. Being an RCC [computer consultant] this can be quite inconvenient). Not to mention having to worry about my car again, and the insurance, driving, yada yada. a week ago I was worrying about how to fit the Alhambra and the Alcazar into the same day, as well as whether or not Talia and I would even be able to find our hostel in a city we had been walking in for maybe 10 minutes. Now classes start in 7 days and I find myself needing to adjust back very quickly. I'll probably switch back on habit and then let it all sink in slowly and subconsciously - that seems the safest route to me, I'm not sure what might happen if I confronted it all head on.

One good thing at least is my seeming immunity to East-West jet lag. I've had no trouble switching back to this time zone. Talia on the other hand...well let's say she goes to sleep hours before me and I often wake up to her poking me asking if I'm awake yet because she's bored.

ok, jet lag or no, I'm tired. goodnight.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

We're home! We're tired! Goodnight.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Switzerland into Germany

Helllloooooo. Long time no type. Sorry for the long delay - when we left Prague and entered switzerland we also left behind affordable internet, and as Switzerland is incrediblz expensive already, I chose to wait until Germany to recount our adventures.

So yes, we are now in Munich, at a wonderful hostel in the heart of the city. But I will start when we left Prague...

From Prague we took a plane to Geneva. This was the flight we were most worried about in our trip in terms of legitimacy, as the name of the company was "Flybaboo.com". Our fears were reinforced just a bit when we took our shuttle bus out the airplane (with the 12 other people on the flight) and discovered that not only was this small group on a small DC-Boston type jet, but our plane had PROPELLERS. I'm sure my dad is laughing at my incredulity, but the fact of the matter is I have not flown in a propeller plane since I was 5 and my dad took me up in the Cesna 150 he owned with a friend (is that the right model, dad?). I was a little worried, but the trip went smoothlz (take off and landing were actually much smoother, I thought, than with a jet engine plane).

Anyway, we landed in Geneva in the evening, and crashed at our very efficient city run hostel. The next day we spent looking around Geneva, noticing the 300 watch shops per block. In what we soon discovered to be typical Swiss fashion, nothing was open - ever. The swiss seem, in the winter at least, to pride themselves on being closed as much as possible (or so it seemed to us at least). Geneva was OK - pretty lake and a cool clock made out of a flower garden. We were anxious to move on, however, as our next stop took us into the heart of Oberland and the central Swiss Alps. We took a train from Geneva to Bern, and from there to Interlaken, where we changed for the last time and arrived in Lauterbrunnen. The train ride itself was a treat, as the Swiss trains are by far the nicest we have ever encountered. They move almost silently, with none of the track noise or rattle you find on most trains. Additionally, the seats are comfertable, there are often bench seats with big tables, big windows to take in the spectacular view as you pass through the mountains, etc. However, as with everything else in Switzerland, you pay for it. The tickets were obnoxiously expensive. We learned here one of the value-centers for Eurail passes. Anyway, we arrived in Lauterbrunnen as the sun was just beginning to set. This town, which is primarily a base for skiiers or hikers, depending on the season, is located in a gorge cut through the alps by a glacier who knows how long ago. On either side of the basin sheer cliffs rise up, many of the walls coated with frozen waterfalls that spill outward in great arcs, now giant icicles.

Our room was great. We were staying at a camp site that has a number of cabins. We had reserved a double room, to take a break from the 10 bed-dorm rooms we usually have, and when we opened our door we realized that the room had 6 beds in it - but it was all for us. so we had a plethora of space, and it was all comfy and warm. The campsite also had its own grocery store, atm, resteraunt, etc. All appropriately overpriced (by that I mean the Switzerland surcharge and the mark up for the microcosmic community).

the next day we embarked on what turned out to be one of the most amazing experiences of our entire trip (at least I think so). We took a furnicular from Lauterbrunnen up those sheer cliff walls I mentioned earlier, to a town called Murren. It rests on a cliff on the side of a huge mountain, overlooking Lauterbrunnen by a few hundred feet. From Murren we took a few cable cars to the top of the peak known as the Schilthorn. The top of this peak is more than 10,000 feet up, in the center of an incredible vista of other peaks. From the top, which is comprised of an observation deck and a resteraunt known as the Piz Gloria (it has all glass walls and rotates very slowlz so as you eat you get a full panorama of the view), we could see into the Black forest of Germany, as well as the mountains of Italy and France. We were so high, in fact, that along one stretch of the view that had few mountains, we could actually see the curve of the earth. It was incredible - we were surrounded by snow covered mountains, far above the tree line, in bitingly cold air, stairing down on hawks and other birds, as well as the tracks of Ibex's (a kind of mountaing goat in Switzerland). We went up to the mountain in the companz of mostlz skiiers, and while we stopped to admire the view, they mostlz just hopped the rails and jumped off the edge of cliff our deck was constructed on. Some less insane people took the actual ski path, but not without a bit of shame I imagine. Crazy skiers. You may know this resteraunt and peak actually, if you've seen the James Bond movie "In Her Majesties Secret Service", about 15 minutes were filmed at the site.

There's not much more I can saz about this place without pictures, so I'll let it rest for now, though, if I have any luck in my aging process, this will go down as one of those truly unforgettable experiences.

The next day we layed low in Lauterbrunnen, as I had gotten a nasty cold. We went for walks and suffered horribly in our seclusion. Yeah right. And I'm almost all better now, so one day's rest was exactly what I needed.

From Lauterbrunnen we went to Lucern, where we spent a night and a daz, wandering around the city, which is quite beautiful, with its old covered wooden bridges, gothic spires, lake and river, etc. The dying Lion of Lucern, a statue cut into a solid rock wall to commemorate some Swiss soldiers that died in a French war, was particularly stunning.

From there we went to Zurich, and from there to Munich where we are now. Our first night we checked into our room, and met 3 other travellers about our age, who invited us out to a Beer garden with them. After grabbing some dinner and wandering around the city center a bit (wow, the town hall here certainly beats the one from Amherst, New Hampshire) we met up with them at the HofbrÀuhaus. Its a brewery and beer hall, I think a fairly touristy one, as im not sure I saw any actual germans inside or not. But it had an oompah band that was great, and beer mugs the size of your face. Not really liking beer very much, I shared one with Talia that was a lemonade-beer mixture thing. It actually wasn't half bad.

Then today we went to Dachau. It was as solemn as you might expect, stark and cold. We wandered around, visiting the museum with its strangely old but not innapropriate documentary. Most of the camp has been left intact, except for most of the dormitories, of which only the foundations remain. It was a very sobering day. Much of this trip has been spent wandering around history - the Colloseum, the Parthenon, the streets of old Prague, even the near-by townhall in Munich. Dachau, with its intense sense of nearness, was a whole new experience. I can walk the streets of Pompeii, or the fields of Marathon, and I can know all about the tragedies that took place in each spot, the lives that were lost for whatever reason - but its distance in history seperates it in some way from my own emotional reaction. Dachau bridged that gap, and it was a very intense experience.

Tomorrow I think Talia and I are going to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle, a fairy-tale style castle built by Ludwig II.

Then we catch a SUPER early flight from Munich airport to Sevilla (like 7am, which results in having to get up by about 3am), spend three nights in Sevilla and Granada, then back to Barcelona for a night and then, magically, HOME. Travelling has been amazing, and while I wish to do loads more of it in my life, at the moment, I am very ready to go home.

So thats what we've been up to, under a week to go, but with all the travelling we'll be doing in that time it feels like a month.

More later,
cheers,
jaimie

Thursday, January 12, 2006

and the mist

Oh ya, one other thing. Prague is bathed in this very ethereal mist. I can't get my finger on what it is - its not like Fog, and its not like pollution either...its just...like the distance doesn't show up as well here for some reason.

The only way I can think to explain it is in terms of video games. When you have a 3d game there is a point where the game stops rendering the landscape and the view ahead of you and it turns into a gray mist. This is called the clipping plane. It seems to me that Prague has a very short clipping plane. Anyone know anything about this?

Prague

We've been here two days now. It's a beautiful city - definitely lives up to all the hype we've heard from various people.

Yesterday we wandered around Stare Mesto (old town) and the area around Prague Castle known as Hradcany and Mala Strana. All beautiful, full of a range of archiecture, from Baroque churches to soaring gothic spires to much more modern stuff. Astronomical clocks, giant ramparts, vaulted celings, ancient libraries, and mroe cobblestones than I could count if I tried.

Today we took to Josefov, the old Jewish quarter of the city, seeing a number of Synagogues and Jewish exhibits (including a synagogue whose interior walls were completely filled with names of Czech jews killed during the Holocaust, as well as a collection of children's drawings from a near-by concentration camp). The jewish cemetary here was very moving, thousands of hebrew-laden gravestones all crowded together, falling over, crumbled, etc. With the snow lightly falling around us coating the ground it couldn't have been more serene.

Unfortunately, while it was a bit warmer today due to the cloud cover, it also got darker much sooner. Its about 4:30 here right now and almost dark. Yay europe in the winter!! :) But one thing I will say - the lack of tourists we've experienced on our travels is marvelous.

Tomorrow brings more Prague and the day after we leave for Switzerland!

Cheers,
Jaimie

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Greece to Prague

so, last we met Talia and I were in Meteora, enjoying some great organic wine brewed by the owner of an adorable hostel where they made our dinner over the fire in the common room where we all warmed ourselves at night. We met a wonderful Aussie named Sam with whom we became fast friends. I feel certain we'll see Sam again at some point, should we ever make it out to Australia. Another trip I guess.

From Meteora we went to Nafplio, which is in the south of Greece in the Peloponese. It is an adorable town, very sleepy at this time of year, and nothing opens until at least noon. My kind of place.

Nafplio taught us alot about Greek food. The amount of Souvlaki I had was dangerous. This is bascially just cubes of various meat grilled with spices and served with lemon juice. its delicious. I also tried some Mousaka, which is a minced meat thing with egg plant and some other things I can't quite place. I didnt care for it much. Rabbit stifado was very good (sorry thumper), as was some fish I had. Talia grew very fond of the Dolmas from a particular resteraunt (a very particularly spiced rice wrapped in wine leaves). Minus the wine leaves I liked it as well.

But there is one food that surpasses them all.

I have tasted Truth, and it tastes like Baklava.

Now, the place I grew up was small, and we certainly had no large number of greek/middle eastern/jewish bakeries, so my experience with Baklava is limited and probably unfair, but Talia has had much more than I and was equally awed by what we tasted in Nafplio. We got the baklava from a bakery that served things made exclusively of philo-dough. The baklava was flaky, many-layered, fiiillllleeeeddd with a pistachio nut mixture, and then absolutely soaked in honey. sweet sweet greek honey. It was unbeatable.

Also the greek yogurt was amazing. This aint your diet yogurt. it was really yogurt-flavored cream, served drizzled with honey.

So I guess I'm just wild about Greek honey. Mmmmm....


After nafplio we went to Athens for a night and then had an easy travel day to Prague, where we are now. we saw a bit tonight, the main bridge and such, but we got in a bit late, and so now its bed time, and we need to bundle up a bit more tomorrow, as it is absolutely FREEZING here. frightfully cold. So out come the long-johns.

The trip continues - how are you all doing!?? Comment and tell us you're all well and healthy and all that.

cheers,
jaimie

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Meteora

Dont have much time - Talia and I are in a small town called Kalambaka near a sight called Meteora, a series of monostaries built on the top of these very vertical projections of rock. It is raining here, and a 10k hike we took today was completely shrouded in mist and fog that made it incredible, and very ethereal.

We've met some great friends here - a Sam from Austrailia, and a Melissa and Ross from Vasser - all of us are thoroughly enjoying the organic home made wine from this adorable hotel we're staying at (run by an old Greek mother and her son who continue to force food down our throats and harass Talia about being a vegetarian).

Having a blast. From here its off to Nafplio for three days, then to Prague!

Gotta run,
Cheers,
jaimie

Monday, January 02, 2006

From Venice to Athens

Talia and I are now in a very fun hostel in Athens, right at the foot of the Acropolis. But first I'll just briefly go over the last days in Venice.

After our tour of the islands the first day we spent the next day walking around and, yet agian, getting delightfully lost amid the labrynthine passages and streets that meander around and over the myriad canals. I affirm that it is probably impossible to not get lost in Venice - the city is a maze, and the streets are so small that no map can label them all. We saw various things, sought out churches and bridges of note, and enjoyed finding random things tucked away in watery corners. It continued to be beautiful in a light rain that fell throughout the day. The only problem was the cold, which was bone-numbing. I dont know if the temperature was actually that low, as the rain never turned to snow, but the wetness combined with a small breeze and the intense humidity of the lagoon produced an incredible chill. We all had two layers of pants on, three shirts, and out warmest jackets, plus hats scarves and gloves, and we still had to find a place to warm up every two hours or so (an italian hot chocolate can cure just about any ailment. I thought spanish hot chocolate was thick!).

As night approached we realized that it was in fact New Years Eve. We picked up some pastries and a few bottles of Proseco (italian sparkling white wine, which is delicious, and by far outstrips the cava we had in Spain...at least from what we tasted). For the celebration we wound our way back to San Marco's square, the largest in Venice, where thousands of people gathered for a very surreal New Years celebration. Why surreal? Well first of all, in what Margrit affirmed is typical Italian fashion, there was no central timer or ball dropping, and so in the entire crowd no one really knew when midnight officially came. Everyone sort of looked at their watches and cell phones, some people mumbling (its already 12:01 on my clock!). Eventually someone started a yell that caught on, and soon everyone was screaming Bon ano! (or however you spell it), uncorking their champagne and passing bottles around.
Then people started setting off fireworks. In the crowd. Some shot up about twenty feet, some shot sideways into the museum windows, some just sent barrages of sparks into the crowd. On top of that, a few people thought lighting up some cherry bombs would be a good idea, and quickly a large circle was cleared where they kept tossing these small explosives that actually created a force wind from thirty feet away. Everyone threw their champagne bottles into the center of the circle, creating a very dangerous field of broken glass on which small bombs were exploding.
It was certainly interesting, and very fun as we somehow felt perfectly safe amid this chaos. There wasn't any ill will, just a different kind of merrymaking than we're used to in the US, thats for sure.
And so the next day we left venice after long and leisurely breakfast. It was a magical city, and I am certainly glad we went. But like Paris, I get very upset when cities are too expensive for anyone on a modest budget to afford. With certain necessities like bathrooms and heat, it is hard to accept having to go to a cafe and order a 3 euro hot chocolate just for the privlage of using their grime-encrusted toilet without a lid. Also, when three poeple sit down in a cafe and order some french fries, a beer, a hot chocolate, and a shot of baileys, and end up paying almost 25 euros...something is amiss.

The travel from Venice to Athens was pleasently uneventful (we got there VERY early, as we plan on continuing to do for plane travel). We found our hostel, which is a very friendly place, with lots of travelers around our own age (maybe a bit older), all with their own stories.

Today we left our hostel and went all over the Acropolis, seeing the various Theaters, the Parthenon, and other temples on top of the giant rock face. We saw the Agorra, Hadrian's arch, the temple of Zeus Olympiad, and other things I'm forgetting. We also amde our way through the National Archaeological Museum, a treasure trove of old artifacts from as far back as 9 thousand years ago.

One amazing thing we found - since Talia and I have student IDs from our Spanish university we can get into everything we've seen so far absolutely free. The acropolis, the museum, etc, which would have been almost 20 euros together, was totally free. Also, Greece is very cheap with food - lunch cost us about 3 euros combined, versus at LEAST `15 in venice, and thats if we just got some pizza. but i liked venice, really.

I'm getting a very good vibe from Athens, I'm not sure why. Maybe its the weather, which today was amazing. Almots 60 degrees and sunny all day. I think its going to cloud over and maybe rain tomorrow, but at least today was good.

And tonight I think we are going to try and find a Greek folkdance show that Talia heard about. Tomorrow I think we'll get up early and catch a bus to Delphi to see the ancient site, then the day after we make our way to Meteora up north for 2 days. After that we make our way back to Athens, then two hours south to Nafpoli where we stay for 3 days. After that its back to Athens for our flight to Prague.

Who knows what internet will be like in the Meteora and Nafpoli hostels, so this might be it for a time, we'll see.

Cheers to all,
Jaimie