Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Christmas in the Bavarian Alps

Lance and I just got back from spending our Christmas holiday in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, which is the largest resort area in the Bavarian Alps, and site of the 1936 Winter Olympic Games. Garmisch and Partenkirchen are separate towns that were joined together by the Olympics...the Partnach River serves as the boundary between the two towns. We stayed in Garmisch, right by the train station, which is very close to the river, so we were in good proximity to both towns - easy walking distance.

There's been a snow shortage in Germany, and from what we heard, the Alpine region was no exception. But there was enough snow in the Alps to satisfy us, and it was a nearly perfect holiday in one of the most beautiful areas we've ever seen.

Friday, December 22

The day started out well enough. We had three trains to ride - from Geilenkirchen to Dusseldorf, then the ICE (high-speed train) from Dusseldorf to Munich, then another train from Munich to Garmisch-Partenkirchen. It was during the Dusseldorf to Munich leg that we ran into a problem. A conductor came by…the third to check our tickets since we boarded that train. He asked to see my BahnCard, since I had a 25% BahnCard discount on the ticket. Even though we paid our BahnCard dues for this year, we never got renewal cards…so far, this hadn't been a problem…nobody ever questioned it. But he told me that my BahnCard account was not valid (even though it was) and he charged us $200 on the spot. He also confiscated my BahnCard. (We're going to start the process of filing a complaint and a claim to get our $200 back…we're in their computer system as valid BahnCard holders…we checked before we left to come home.)

Anyway, we arrived in Garmisch around 3 pm or so, checked into our hotel by the train station…and we weren't exactly sure how to spend what was left of the day. Lance thought we should walk to the American resort (Edelweiss Lodge…a military facility), just to see how far it was from our hotel. It was a 35 minute walk. We got there around dinner time, so we decided to just eat there. They have 3 restaurants…we chose Zuggy's Base Camp, which is a hamburger and pizza joint. So we both got the base camp burger (quarter pound burger) with fries, cheesecake for dessert.

After that, there wasn't much left for us to do there, so we decided to go back to our hotel. We had received visitor's cards when we checked into our hotel that allowed us various freebies and discounts around town, including free unlimited use of public transportation, so we took the bus back to the train station and retired to our hotel room for the night, where we found German musical variety shows on TV. One of them we watched for 45 minutes, and they were singing the same song for the entire time we were watching it (something like 156 verses…it lasted FOREVER!). We just laughed and laughed, because it was like a German version of something you would see at the Grand Ole Opry, and the audience was looking half dead by the time the song ended. It was hilarious.

Saturday, December 23

After the generous buffet breakfast at the hotel, we decided to spend the day at the Zugspitze, which is the tallest mountain in Germany (almost 10,000 feet). To get there, we had to take a cogwheel train called the Zugspitzbahn, and it takes about an hour to reach the top of the Zugspitze. It was a really nice trip…the train makes several stops on the way up in villages that are at higher elevations, and there is some gorgeous scenery, particularly going past the scenic lake at the foot of the Zugspitze - the Eibsee. Once the train ended, we were not yet at the summit of the Zugspitze…we were at the area where the skiers take the slopes. From that station, we took a cable car up to the observation deck at the top of the Zugspitze. We spent a bit of time up there, but it was colder and windy…it was a clear day, so we could see Italy, Switzerland, and Austria, although I didn't know exactly what we were looking at…all the Alps look the same. Then Lance discovered an area of the observation deck that said "Welcome to Tirol" and had a little walkway…this took us to the Austrian side of the Zugspitze, so we were able to visit Austria! We spent maybe 5 minutes in Tirol, and then went back to the Bavarian side of the Zugspitze. We took the cable car back down to the first station, and Lance decided we should get something to eat.

But before we did that, there was a little chapel up there (the Maria Himmelfahrt Chapel - the highest chapel in Germany)…not sure why…perhaps the skiers stop there beforehand to say a little prayer against injury or avalanches or something. But it was a cute little chapel and I wanted to explore that before we did anything else. Once that was done, we headed inside to the cafeteria to get a light lunch - some potato soup for me, and some French fries for Lance.

But it wasn't meant to be. As Lance was carrying our tray to a table, his camera bag came off his shoulder and collided with the tray, sending its contents to the floor and breaking the plate with the French fries on it. So he cleaned up what he could, we put the tray and the broken dish on the tray return, and left as quickly as possible. Problem was, the cogwheel train leaves once an hour on the half hour, so we had to wait about 45 minutes for it to come and pick us up. Finally it arrived, and we spent the next hour descending the mountain (I should note that we also had the option of taking a cable car from the top of the Zugspitze down to the Eibsee, but since it is winter, I couldn't imagine there would be anything to do down at the lake, so we decided against it).

We got back to Garmisch mid-afternoon…I was pretty hungry by that point, but it was only a couple of hours until dinner. We stopped at a grocery store by the Zugspitzbahn and got some snacks to keep in our room, then went back to the hotel for a bit. I ate a little something to tide me over until dinner, and we just hung out a bit until we felt ready to go out in search of dinner.

The night before, on the bus, we had passed the area (I guess you could consider it to be "downtown" Garmisch, for all the downtown that a small town has) where the Christmas market was being held. So before we ate, we stopped by there to check it out. It was tiny and not worth our time, so we moved on. We walked for awhile until we found the restaurant where we wanted to eat. I've heard from more than one person that Renzo's (Italian) was good, so that's where we went. I had bowtie pasta with salmon in a creamy tomato sauce…Lance had this absolutely monstrous 4 cheese pizza. The food was really good.

After that, we walked back to our hotel and were done for the night.

Sunday, December 24

If you could consider any day to be absolute perfection, this would probably be it. Again, we had a nice breakfast at our hotel. We decided that we would try ice skating at the Olympic ice stadium, which was only open for public skating until noon. The ice skating, unfortunately, didn't last long. My rental skates were painful. Lance's were too loose around the ankles. And the ice was pretty choppy. Lance is a much more experienced skater than I am, but even he was having trouble. I did two laps around the rink and couldn't do any more…he did 4. We spent maybe a half hour there and gave up.

Those were not our only plans for the day, and the plans we had for after skating ended up turning out better than I could have ever anticipated.

There's this area known as Partnach Gorge - one of the most beautiful sights in the area, particularly in the winter. There are various ways of getting there, and I was a bit confused by the tourist information as to the best way to go about it. I know we had to go to the Olympic Ski Stadium…we took the bus through Partenkirchen to get there. Once there, we can either go to the right, and walk to Partnach Gorge (I had no idea how long we would have to walk), or we could take this old, rickety chairlift called the Eckbauerbahn. I asked the guy at the Eckbauerbahn station, and didn't quite understand what he said…but we grabbed a brochure and figured out that the Eckbauerbahn takes us up to the top of this mountain. From there, we hike 45 minutes to this remote mountain inn, and from there, we take another chairlift down to Partnach Gorge. When we're done with Partnach Gorge, we either walk back to the ski stadium, or take a horse and carriage back. Sounded good to us. So we bought our tickets.

The Eckbauerbahn was kind of scary. Like I said, it was old and rickety…it made a lot of noise. It was very high. That was a bit nerve-racking…but we got to the top, and all was well. We began our descent down the mountain. The sun was out and it actually felt quite balmy at the top…there was hardly any wind, and there was a bit of snow and ice, but the path was sometimes clear. There was an estimated 45 minute hike…probably more of a summer estimate than a winter estimate, since we had to navigate slippery trails at times…but we were there in about an hour, anyway. The hotel where we ended up was called Forsthaus Graseck, and this place is so remote that you can't even drive there. You have to park at the base of the mountain and take their cable car up to the hotel. Anyway, it was a lovely hotel…and it was about lunch time, as it happened, so we decided to eat lunch there before moving on. The food was great. Lance had a huge meal of schnitzel cordon bleu with fries and creamed peas and carrots. I wasn't very hungry, so I had a bowl of pumpkin cream soup topped with croutons and pumpkin seed oil, served with a side of bread. Very very good. Lance had me help him with the fries and he didn't want the peas, so I had a few bites of his food. It was all tasty. I got some apple strudel with ice cream for dessert (Lance was stuffed, so he didn't have anything), and then we took the Graseckbahn (named after the hotel) down to the area where Partnach Gorge is located.

Once there, we had a bit of walking still to do to get to the gorge. Not too much though. Believe me, it was worth it. I've never seen anything like this in my life…simply breathtaking. In the summer, I imagine that the gorge has waterfalls everywhere, but they are all frozen over in the winter, and the ice formations are just spectacular. We had to hurry through it a bit…it takes about 15 minutes to get from one end to the other, and then you have to turn around and walk through it again to get back to where you started…and we would have to worry about the waning daylight soon. So I didn't spend as much time there as I wanted, but we got pictures and some video. Once we got back to where we started, we looked for a horse and carriage (there was one waiting there when we started the gorge), but there wasn't one available, so we walked back to the ski stadium so we could make sure to catch the last bus of the day. It took about half an hour to walk back…the day would've only been made better by having that horse and buggy ride.

We went back to the hotel for awhile after that. I wanted to warm up a bit…it got colder the further down the mountain we went because we were in the shade. So we warmed up, only to have to bundle up again later and go out in search of dinner (but we spent a couple of hours first watching the German versions of funniest home videos and planet's funniest animals). Christmas Eve is actually the big holiday in Germany…bigger than Christmas. Many of the restaurants had special menus that required reservations, and we didn't want any part of that. Luckily, the Greek restaurant around the corner from our hotel (El Greco) was open, so we had dinner there - baked feta for Lance, and stuffed cabbage rolls for me (stuffed with rice and ground beef and smothered in a lemon sauce…Mmmmmmm good!). It was a nice end to a pretty darn good day.

Oh, and I almost forgot…when the room attendant cleaned our room that morning, she left us a bottle of honey liquor (compliments of hotel management) that is made at Ettal Monastery not far from Garmisch - 40% alcohol by volume (no, we haven't tried it yet).

Christmas Day

Not much to do on Christmas Day in Garmisch or Partenkirchen, unless you're a skier. The souvenir shops and some restaurants were open, and the ice stadium was offering a performance of Moscow Circus on Ice (it was a running joke between us for the entire trip that I was going to make Lance take me to that or die of boredom). We had the breakfast buffet as usual in the hotel restaurant, and they put out some special stuff for Christmas - white sausages (which I didn't eat), and Belgian waffles with real maple syrup (which I did). Since we figured there would be little to do in town, we came back upstairs and flipped through the TV channels. Lance actually found an episode of "The Joy of Painting" on a German channel, but in English (they usually dub over EVERYTHING), so we watched that for an hour…they actually showed TWO episodes…wheeeee! We could've made a drinking game of it and took a swig every time Bob Ross mentioned "Van Dyke brown," but we didn't want to get wasted that early in the morning.

We wandered out briefly to see what was open…I was surprised that I could buy a bottle of Cola Light in the bakery inside the train station…everything was open there. So I got my Coke and we hung out in the room some more. I read a bit. Lance watched various things on television. When we got really bored…around 1:30 or so…we took a walk. I decided that I wanted to go to "downtown" Partenkirchen, which is a bit different from Garmisch. We went through it on the bus out to the ski stadium, and I wanted to take a closer look. So we walked out there, and then decided to see if the bowling center was open so we could perhaps play a couple of games. But the bowling center (called kugelbahn in Germany) was closed, after we took the bus pretty far to check it out. So we waited for another bus to come and went back to the hotel. We had some munchies in our room, and then made a couple of phone calls home, until Lance's calling card ran out. More reading, more television…around 7 pm, we went around the corner to Asia City (which is next to the Greek place where we ate the night before) and had Chinese for dinner. Lance ordered sweet and sour chicken, and I ordered sweet and sour crispy duck, which was a bit more sour than sweet, and I would assume Lance's was as well (I personally like the sweet better than the sour). Still, it was okay.

I actually went to bed early…I was pretty tired. Neither of us slept well on that hotel bed…the mattress was really hard and the pillow way too soft and squishy (all German hotel pillows are that way…they do not support your head AT ALL) and the down comforter on the bed (which was the only covering we had) was way too hot. So we were both pretty exhausted, actually, although our last night there was just as fitfully slept as the other three nights.

Tuesday, December 26 - Going Home

We left the hotel about an hour before our train was scheduled to leave. We wanted to talk to someone at the Deutsche Bahn office about what happened to us on the way there. The guy didn't speak English very well, but he was at least able to show us that our BahnCards were indeed valid, and that we should not have been fined, nor should I have had my card confiscated. He promised us that we would not be fined again on the return trip, and indeed, we weren't. He gave us a number to call, so hopefully we can get our money back and I can get a new BahnCard.

The trip back was the opposite of the way there…and decidedly more crowded and noisier. But it was rather uneventful, and we're glad to be home.

I'm anxious to go back to Garmisch before we leave here next December. There is so much more to do there than what we had the chance to do (Innsbruck, Austria is a stone's throw from there…the world famous Neuschwanstein Castle is also in the area)…there is also really good summer hiking and white water rafting and all kinds of fun stuff in the warmer months. Lance and I hope to go back in September or thereabouts.

Besides, we still need to get Lance some lederhosen.


For those of you who plan to go…helpful links:
Garmisch-Partenkirchen Tourism
Garmisch-Partenkirchen Travel Guide
Eckbauerbahn/Forsthaus Graseck

Finally, an interesting link about Garmisch and the Third Reich -

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Oberwesel Rhine in Flames

Last week, I attended a Mosel Wine Festival and fireworks at Bernkastel-Kues. This week, it was a Rhine wine market and the latest Rhine in Flames show in Oberwesel. Overall, I think Bernkastel-Kues is a better time. But Oberwesel has the better fireworks. I mean, seriously...they were the most INSANE fireworks Lance and I have ever seen, and he comes from a small town, I from a large town with huge fireworks every year around Independence Day. This display made that one look small time. I kid thee not.

Anyhoo...on with the report. It won't be that long, I promise.

We left Schinnen around 11 am with 2 busses, such was the popularity of this trip. Lance and I were one row in front of the very back. The women sitting in the back row brought a bottle of wine and proceeded to get wasted. Lance and I were trying to nap, and we ended up dealing with boisterous laughter and a lot of talk about unpleasant bodily functions. Yay.

But finally, we arrived in Oberwesel around 2 pm, and we had the entire day to ourselves. So Lance and I took off and just meandered. We decided against going to the castle...neither of us felt up to the hike, and besides, it probably wasn't anything we haven't seen before (yes, I know...SHUT UP!), so we just decided to stick to wandering around town.

Unfortunately, Oberwesel was dead dead dead. All the shops were closed. The only thing going on in town was the wein markt, which is not a wine festival, per se. The entire point is to get you to sample and buy. I'll get to that in a minute.

We first stopped at Liebfrauenkirche, which is Oberwesel's bright red brick church, attached to a very old little chapel, which I believe was the first church built at that location. I'm just assuming, though. It's 1600 years old, so it's a logical assumption. The church was very pretty inside, a pleasant surprise, since I've visited many underwhelming places of worship.

After that, we just kind of continued our wandering, even paying our admission to the wein markt (we pretty much had to gain admission to get from one side of town to the other) and our tickets allowed us to come and go as we pleased, so we just kept poking around and seeing what we could see, which unfortunately, wasn't much. In the meantime, passing through the wine market, I sampled a glass here or there.

Lance thought it might be nice to take a river cruise, so we went down to the riverbanks, only to discover that the boats there didn't really do pleasure cruises, or if they did, they were several hours long and rather expensive. So we scrapped that idea.

At around 5:30, we decided to have dinner at this little Italian place that we scoped out earlier. So we found a seat on the patio, which was right next to the wine market entrance, so we could people watch (well, I could...Lance sat with his back to it). We were at a table that seated 4 people, so eventually, this old guy came and sat with us, which is customary in Germany but weird for Americans to sit with total strangers. We did our best to ignore him and carry on with dinner and conversation.

After that, we went to the riverbank and waited for the fireworks. And waited. And waited. We ran into people from our group, so at least we could talk to other people. We had more than 2 hours to kill.

Finally, at 9, the procession of lighted boats came down the river.

Then at 9:30, the town of Oberwesel glowed red...everything from the castle on one end to the city gate on the other took on a bright red appearance. Smoke rose up. Flames were shooting out the front of one of the buildings. It was supposed to resemble the night back in the Middle Ages when Oberwesel went up in flames.

And then the fireworks started. They were perfectly choreographed to a variety of classical music. Breathtaking. Amazing. Just completely magical and awe-inspiring.

When those ended, we high-tailed it back to our bus, as the scheduled departure time was 10:15. Everyone made it back, but two women from the second bus, who we had to leave behind. Oh well. No sympathy for them. If they couldn't follow the rules, that is their problem.

On the way home, we had to stop abruptly at a rest stop. The second bus had a bit of a puke fest going on, so the bus had to be cleaned and fumigated before we could hit the road again. I'm just glad it wasn't our bus.

And in conclusion, drunk people on busses are annoying. The guy directly in front of me kept swilling the beer, and he got louder and more obnoxious with each sip. I couldn't sleep on the trip home, but at least Lance was able to a bit.

And None of the fireworks though, sorry.

Sunday, September 3, 2006

Cochem and Bernkastel-Kues, Germany

Thursday night, my friend Corry called me out of the blue to ask me what I was doing on Saturday. "Running tedious errands with Lance," I replied.

"Well, get out of it!" (I don’t think this is exactly what she said, but the gist of it anyway).

She went on to invite me to Bernkastel-Kues, two villages across the Mosel River from each other, connected by a bridge. She said she was going with a Canadian group to the wine festival and fireworks, and she wanted me to come as her guest.

Anyway, I talked to Lance, and he insisted that I go.

So yesterday morning at 9 am, I met up with the bus and the other merry travelers, and we set out for the Mosel. I don't think Corry mentioned that we were stopping in Cochem first. But that was explained on the bus…we would arrive in Cochem around 11:30 and have two hours to spend there before moving on to Bernkastel-Kues.

We passed the time well enough. Corry brought her PDA loaded with Monopoly, so we played that for a bit until we both got sick of it.

At 11:30, we arrived in Cochem. I got off the bus and was instantly amazed. Burg Cochem, which I had only heard about but had never seen pictures of, was beautiful and huge…the obvious highlight of the town. Since we only had two hours, we debated walking up to the castle…I didn't really want to. I just wanted to spend time walking around town, but I was convinced otherwise. So we began our huge ascent up the hill to the castle, which was more tiresome than I imagined. Once there, we asked for general admission tickets, but ended up getting on the guided tour instead, which is only conducted in German. They gave us a sheet in English explaining everything, but it was still a bit confusing. It was cool to see the inside of the castle though.

Once we finished the tour, we had about 40 minutes to get back to the bus. So we walked back into the center of town, which takes about 25 minutes (or at least it did going up…I think it was less going down). I was looking for a quick bite to grab for lunch, and happened upon a bratwurst stand. So bratwurst in hand, I got back to the bus and the rest of our group, and we were on our way to Bernkastel-Kues.

The drive there was pretty…going through all the small towns dotting the river. There aren't as many castles on the Mosel as there are on the Rhine, but the ones that are there are just as impressive, if not more so. I saw mostly quaint guesthouses and wineries during the drive, which took a little over an hour. The hills were completely covered in vines.

We finally arrived at Bernkastel around 3…the bus parked there. Our first stop was actually in Kues, at a wine cellar where we were going to a wine tasting. So we took a short walk across the river to the cellar, where we got one glass and 150 varieties of wine (mostly Rieslings) to taste. I drank a total of maybe 3 glasses while I was there. Some people just proceeded to get completely plastered. I gravitated to what I knew I liked, and tried a few other kinds. I ended up walking away with two bottles: a semi-dry Riesling Kabinett and a sweet Riesling. I waited outside for a bit until Corry came out. She's not much of a wine drinker, so she was choosing bottles to give as gifts. She bought a case, and we walked back to the bus with our purchases, then back to the wine cellar so Corry could meet up with her friends that were wandering around with us. They said they would join us shortly, so we walked back to Bernkastel to wait for them.

After we all met up, we decided to go for dinner. Corry and I wanted to sit down somewhere. The 3 others in our small group eventually decided they wanted to grab food to go, so we split up and Corry and I went to a nice restaurant where we sat out on the balcony with the view of the wine festival below. I had a nice dinner of pork steak smothered in sautéed onions with fried potatoes on the side. It was served with horseradish, which Corry ended up eating because I didn't really like it. Corry had something pretty similar, except she also had green bean bundles wrapped in bacon.

After dinner, we went to one of the areas of town where the festival-goers were congregating. We met up with some Americans there who had come from nearby military bases, and talked to them for a bit, and then we started running into people in our group. So we hung out in this area for awhile. I saw a booth selling Federweisser, which is essentially young wine (Junger Wein). It only comes out this time of year. It's produced the same year you are supposed to drink it. It's best described as half grape juice, half wine, and it only has about 4% alcohol in it. The Germans love the stuff (it traditionally accompanies onion cake). I bought some in Luxembourg a couple years ago, but it had already fermented and tasted nasty, so I ended up pouring it out. I decided to give it another try. It has to be consumed immediately and they don't cork it…they just put the foil seal over the bottle and leave it at that (this is because it builds up carbonic acid, and the bottle will explode if sealed). Anyway, I bought a glass and it was good. So I ended up purchasing a bottle of that.

Around 8:15, we had to leave to meet up with the rest of our group at the river cruise. By the time Corry and I got on the boat, it was pretty full. We wanted to sit out on the open deck, so she asked some nice (somewhat drunk) old ladies if we could sit with them. They said it was fine. They were a riot. There were 4 German ladies, and only one of them spoke any English, and only limited. Nevertheless, we were able to have a conversation with them, and they were just hilarious. We all had a lot of laughs together.

Even though we were outside, we were still sitting under an awning, so once the fireworks started, Corry and I left our new friends and found a spot that was more suitable for seeing the show. I videotaped the first 10 minutes of it with my digital camera. It was honestly one of the better fireworks displays I've seen. It simulated a battle between marauders on the river and the castle up on the hill, so there were fireworks going back and forth between the two locations, and then simultaneously at both. It was awesome.

After that, we headed back home. It was an amazing day, and the weather was absolute perfection. Lance and I are going to a Rhine wine festival this coming weekend in Oberwesel, which will no doubt be similar, so I'm really looking forward to that.


Tuesday, August 15, 2006

England, Part 4 - North Yorkshire/York

Friday morning, we woke up pretty early, ate breakfast, and gathered together our things. Time to leave the campground. Gina's parents were coming back to pick up the caravan. So we hit the road and decided that we would stop at the halfway point toward Retford, which just happened to be York.

On the way, we drove through part of North Yorkshire Moors National Park. Of course, we drove through it going there as well. But we stopped this time to take a few pictures, of Beck Hole, specifically, which is just a fairly large crater in the ground. I joked that it was the "Grand Canyon of Britain" because it's not even remotely close in scale and size.

After only an hour or so…maybe slightly more, we arrived in York. We found public parking near the Minster, which is the largest cathedral north of the Alps (making it even larger than the Cologne Dom, which is hard to imagine, if you've been there). So we spent some time walking around in there. Most of my pictures were taken inside the Minster. The outside was half covered in scaffolding, which didn't provide good photography opportunities.

After the Minster, we went to lunch at some cafeteria-type place in the shopping district. The shopping district was really nice. I was lured by a bookstore in particular that had really carefully preserved antique volumes. But we didn't stay in that area long. We wanted to see the Jorvik Viking Centre, which was on the other side of town, so we hopped back in the car and drove toward York Castle, where we could park for the Jorvik Viking Centre. On the way, I saw lots of amazing things, but being in the car, could not photograph any of it. *sigh*

So we got to Jorvik Viking Centre, which was in the middle of a posh shopping center, oddly enough, although Mike told me that the Viking Centre was there first. We had to wait in line for a long time. Finally, we got in.

The verdict: cheesy. I thought it was a waste of money. We were put in these little suspended cars that took us through a Viking village that was based on actual archaeological finds in York. There were fake animatronic Vikings all over this little village, and at one point, we got to see one grunting and moaning in a public latrine. Classy. I laughed most of the way through it, because it was so utterly ridiculous. Then we got out of our little cars and went into a room that had actual bones and stuff in it. That was pretty interesting, I must say. After that, we went up the stairs into the gift shop, where they sold plenty of cheesy Viking souvenirs. When we left, I was tempted to tell everyone standing in line to get in that they shouldn't waste their money.

We decided to go home at that point, so I stopped long enough to get pictures of York Castle and then we were on our way.


Saturday was another day off for me. Melissa, her neighbor Jennie, and I went to Sheffield to a huge shopping mall there called Meadowhall. So we spent a few hours there.

And then Sunday, I came home. Lots of drama at the airport, as you can imagine. My lip balm, throat drops, plastic comb, and plastic bandage were confiscated.


England, Part 3 - Whitby, Robin Hood's Bay and Fylingthorpe

I suppose I can say very quickly what happened on Monday, but it's barely worth noting. No sightseeing that day. Instead, Melissa drove me to an outlet mall in Doncaster, where I bought some adorable shoes at the Clarks outlet and got a few other things. On the way home from there, we stopped in the charming town of Bawtry and had lunch at a pub. Then we went home, dropped off our purchases, grabbed laundry, and went to the laundromat in Gainsborough, where I ran into a young woman who thought that the United States used Euros as their currency. Apparently, she is a scholar of geography. *smirk*

Fylingthorpe, Robin Hood's Bay, Whitby

We were supposed to find a caravan park outside of Fylingthorpe where the parents of Melissa's friend (Gina) were supposed to be staying. They had been staying in the caravan for a few days already, and they were going to abandon it and let us have it for a few days. We had a nice drive through North Yorkshire, past the moors, which were covered in fields of heather. Then we found ourselves driving through Whitby, and on the bridge going over the harbor, I got to gaze on the most spectacular site - the whole of the harbor with the ruined abbey above it. It was breathtaking, but unfortunately, I wasn't able to get to the bridge again on foot to take pictures.

A short while later, we found ourselves in the tiny village of Fylingthorpe, and followed the signs to our caravan park. We found the caravan pretty easily, and since we were the first ones there, Gina's parents came out to greet us and fussed over us ever so slightly. Gina's mum put the tea kettle on and proceeded to make us sandwiches (she made me a lovely sandwich of herbed cheddar, tomato, lettuce, and salad cream on brown bread) and tea, and she showed us where everything was in the caravan. She kept calling me "Petal". I truly loved it. Gina showed up a short while later. After they were satisfied that we had eaten and that we knew what to do, they left us. We got settled in…the caravan only sleeps two, and Gina and Carol (who would be joining us later) were sleeping in it. There was a tent that comes out from the caravan…generally used as an enclosed eating space, but a small tent was set up in it for Mike and Melissa to sleep in, and then I was sleeping in that space as well (just outside of their tent). After we figured things out, we decided to walk to the beach. To get there, we had to walk through several cow pastures (avoiding cow pats along the way), climb over fences, and take a walk in the woods. But we made it in about 15 minutes and found ourselves in Robin Hood's Bay, so named because Robin Hood apparently kept a fleet of boats here to make a quick escape.

Once we got there, it was too windy to really do much of anything. We just spent a small amount of time looking at the beach and poking into a bookstore. Then we walked back to the caravan, where we met Carol, who was driving in. Once we got her settled, we walked into Flyingthorpe to the little grocers, where we got provisions for dinner that night - two frozen pizzas and some garlic bread. We spent the rest of the evening eating, having some drinks, and watching television.

It was quite cold when we went to bed that night, and since I had started developing a sinus infection and a cough at that point, sleeping outdoors really didn't help me too much. I woke up the following morning to light frost on the car windows.


Wednesday was the day we were to spend in Whitby. Melissa and Carol were hoping to actually swim, although since I thought it was quite cool and windy (but at least it was sunny), I was less than interested. But we piled into the car after breakfast (Sally Lunn Buns with jam) and drove into Whitby, where we stopped first at the large grocery store to get me some medicine and tissues, and then went to the visitor's center. After that, we began our walk toward the beach, stopping to look at anything that captured our interest. We finally made our way to the beach, where Mike proceeded to build a sand castle (Castle Every) and Gina and I stretched out on a blanket. Melissa and Carol ran off…later, they rang Mike's mobile and told him that we needed to meet them at another location on the beach. So Mike finished Castle Every and we walked…and walked…and walked, until we located them. We set up the blanket in the new spot, and Melissa and Carol went swimming. Gina and I put our shoes on and went up in search of food…seafood, as you can imagine, is prevalent there. I got cod and chips, and we got something for Mike, and Gina got some food for herself, and we made our way back down to the beach, where we spent a bit more time.

After Melissa and Carol were finished swimming, we packed up everything and went back up into town, where we stopped for ice cream and to get some candy at the confectionary…Whitby has all the typical seaside things near the beach: candy shops, restaurants, arcades, cheesy museums. Then we crossed the bridge over into the old part of town where the shops were - Gina wanted to look for jet jewelry, which is a specialty in Whitby. Jet washes up on the beach (I found some) and is made into really pretty brooches, necklaces, and rings. So we did that for awhile, and then headed back to the campground for dinner, where Melissa made a cheesy pasta bake thing. Our evening was again spent as the evening before…sitting around the telly, drinking, and eating Pringles.


Thursday was the day we decided to spend exploring Whitby Abbey. So after breakfast, we headed out there and spent a couple of hours. The Abbey was just beautiful…I think it will be fairly obvious when you see the pictures, because I think I photographed every square inch of it.

After that, we drove back toward Fylingthorpe, found a pub called The Hare and Hounds, and had a very nice lunch there. It was superb. I got ratatouille with goat cheese, which may seem like weird pub food, but it was really good. I had crusty bread and boiled, buttered potatoes with it. It was a huge meal and I was stuffed. Despite that, I noticed that they had Sticky Toffee Pudding on their dessert menu, which is my favorite British dessert (it's like a butterscotch cake with hot butterscotch sauce and custard), so I had to order some. We all had dessert. It was fantastic.

After that, we drove back into Whitby to go to the store for a few things, then went back to the campground. We sat around the caravan for awhile, but Melissa, Mike, and I were a bit restless, so the three of us went to Robin Hood's Bay again. We drove this time, because it was raining, but the rain only picked up once we got there, plus all the shops were closed, so we didn't stay long. We just went into a pub to get some shelter for awhile, and Melissa and I had some juice while Mike had a beer, and then we left. I also popped into a tiny internet kiosk and checked my email - bad news: my cousin Tami passed away. We weren't terribly close though, so it didn't ruin my trip. But it seems that every time I'm in England, something bad happens (my grandfather passed away during my study abroad program). It's a wonder I love England so.

I made dinner that night…used up the rest of the pasta with some tomato and mascarpone cheese sauce, crunchy breadsticks, olives, and cheese. Mike broiled some sausages too. Again, that night was the same as the previous nights…television, junk food, drinks.


Monday, August 14, 2006

England, Part 2 - Revisiting Bath

Note (July 15, 2007): I did my summer study abroad program in Bath in 1999 - one of the greatest experiences of my life. I was an undergraduate in the Department of English at Ohio State University, and it was their annual summer program in partnership with Bath Spa University College. Sadly, the program ended last year, and Ohio State is now doing a program with the University of Greenwich. I can't imagine a better place than Bath to spend a summer studying Renaissance and contemporary British & Irish literature. Bath will always hold a very special place in my heart.



Sunday, August 6 ended up being the warmest and sunniest day of my entire time in England. Melissa and I got up early…we had a 3.5 hour drive to Bath, and we were supposed to meet my friends Corry and Ronda there at around noon. Getting there was not a problem at all. Other than there being a lot of traffic, the drive was relatively smooth and uneventful. Corry texted Melissa's mobile at one point to tell us that they were running a bit late, but we weren't expecting to get there right at noon anyway.

Once we arrived in Bath proper, we had to find a place to park. The Sports Centre was the first place we found with public parking, so we grabbed a spot in their parking garage and then I had to get my bearings. Of course, I did my study abroad program in Bath 7 summers ago, and got intimately acquainted with the city. Would I remember my way around after all these years?

Miraculously, I did. We found our way to the Tourist Information Center without any problem at all, and proceeded to get a map of the city and then wait for Corry and Ronda to show up. They eventually did, and we made our way to Sally Lunn's for lunch. That was absolutely non-negotiable for me…we WERE eating lunch there. Fortunately, everyone else could see why I was so insistent on this point. Their bread is just awesome. I had Scottish smoked salmon, cream cheese, lemon, and dill on a toasted Sally Lunn Bun. It was so good. But of course…I waited 7 years for this. Corry ate my chips, since I didn't want them (crisps…not French fries). I also had fizzy lemonade, which was refreshing on such a hot day. Anyway, Sally Lunn's is housed in the oldest building in Bath, and there is a small museum in the basement with Sally Lunn's original kitchen (circa 1680) and the older foundations of the house. So we went down there and decided to come back later to get Sally Lunn Buns to take away.

Next stop: Bath Abbey. I had been in the abbey before, of course, but I was afraid to take pictures then. I'm not sure why. I thought I would be disrespectful somehow. But I had my camera poised to take photos this time and capture all that I didn't seven years ago. The sun was shining brightly in all the stained glass windows, and a choir was practicing for the upcoming service, so I was deeply moved. I took a video of the choir performing, but it's really terrible, so I'm not sure I'm going to upload it.

After being in the abbey for a little while, we decided to do a city tour of Bath, since none of my friends would be able to spend longer than a day there. The City Tour bus was just loading up, so we paid our admission and hopped on. It was nice to see some of the places I frequented 7 years ago. After the City Tour ended, our ticket got us on the Skyline Tour, which took us in the hills above Bath. That was also very nice.

After that tour, Melissa, Ronda, and Corry decided that they wanted to see the Roman Baths. I had already been there 7 years ago and didn't see the need to do it again, so I waited for them in the Abbey Square while they were inside. I enjoyed some nice music that was being performed in the square and I browsed some of the shops. After about 45 minutes or so, they came back out, and Melissa and I decided that it was time to head back to Retford. We said goodbye to Corry and Ronda, grabbed a bite to go at Burger King, and headed off toward home. Only, we didn't exactly. Melissa got on the motorway heading in the right direction, but we actually had to head in the wrong direction for a bit to get the motorway that we needed to get home. So our 3.5 hour return trip ended up being 5 hours. Oh well. We got acquainted with more of England…what we could see from the motorway, anyway.

After we finally got home, we met up with Melissa's husband, Mike, and a couple of her friends, at a local pub, where everyone but me proceeded to do karaoke. Yes, I'm a wimp. But I didn't feel like making people suffer that night.

Pictures of my beloved Bath

England, Part 1 - Warwick & Lincoln (Aug. 4 & 5, 2006)

Yes, so my last post was about the ghost hunt at Warwick Castle. Obviously, I will not go on about that here. This is everything else but that, and photos.

First, a crazy photo I took at Warwick. It was dark, and the original photo is mostly black, except for the faint outline of the castle. I played with the "Auto Smart Fix" and the "Auto Contrast" features in PhotoShop Elements, and got these two interesting results:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket (Auto Smart Fix)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket (Auto Contrast)

Anyway, Melissa (my friend who lives near Lincoln, England) and I left Friday morning for Warwick. We arrived around lunchtime. I had reservations at the Days Inn somewhere in Warwick, and as we discovered, it was located at a Welcome Break, which is one of those massive roadside rests boasting several eating establishments, a gas station, a hotel, and shops. It was too early to check-in, as it was about 1 pm, so we ate lunch at the Welcome Break - Kentucky Fried Chicken. Then we wandered over to the Days Inn to check in, only to find out that the one where we had reservations was actually on the other side of the motorway. Ah well. We went up to the next exit and turned around and went to the other (identical) Welcome Break, and checked into our hotel. I wanted to get some sleep, since I was going to be up all night. Melissa went to the castle, where they are having their medieval days demonstrations everyday this summer. She got to see jousting, hand to hand combat, trebuchet, and other things. I figured that since I had just recently been to a similar event in Germany, I wasn't going to miss much anyway. I gave her my camera, and she took pictures (which are included in the link below).

Melissa came back to the room about 6…I had about 3.5 hours of sleep, more or less. I had showered and changed, so we drove back into Warwick in search of dinner. It's a rather small town, so it wasn't particularly hard to find the main drag. We decided on an Indian restaurant, since I haven't had much experience with Indian food. I ordered chicken korma, since it's a mild dish, and it was very good. I had rice on the side. Melissa had chicken tikka masala with garlic naan on the side, so we shared the rice and the naan. We had poppadams as an appetizer with mango chutney, onion relish, and a garlic yogurt spread. Tasty.

After dinner, Melissa and I had to run back to the hotel, since I realized that I forgot my flashlight for the ghost hunt. Then she dropped me off. If you haven't read about what happened after that, see the post below this one.

The following morning, at 5 am, Melissa picked me up from the castle and we went back to the hotel. I slept a little, but I was too wired from the events overnight. Melissa did a much better job of sleeping than I did. Melissa woke up about 10:30. By that time, I had already written out notes about the ghost hunt, and had moved on to a book. We checked out of our hotel at 11 and then had breakfast at the coffee shop inside the Welcome Break. I had a croissant and tea.

Then the trip back to Retford. It took a little over 2 hours. We went into the market square, where the Saturday market was being held. Melissa bought some marinated olives for our dinner that night. Mike (Melissa's husband) met up with us there and we went out to lunch somewhere locally…I forget the name of the place. Then we went back to Melissa's place and she headed off to the store to buy some cheese, crackers, strawberries, and wine for our dinner that night.

Melissa and I planned to attend the Lincoln Shakespeare Company's production of A Midsummer Night's Dream that night, which was performed outdoors at the medieval Bishop's Palace, right in the shadow of the cathedral. We packed up our picnic beforehand of all the foodstuffs mentioned previously, and enjoyed a "dead posh" meal out on the grass before the show ("dead posh" is Melissa's term...gotta love that English slang!). The play was wonderful. It was so hilarious and the setting could not have been more beautiful. The only problem I had was that a wedding was going on nearby and the music was very loud - jazz music - which didn't quite go with the ambience of the play. But otherwise, it was an amazing time. Afterwards, we walked down (aptly named) Steep Hill, back to Melissa's car, which was parked in a garage by the riverfront…a pretty good distance away. It was a nice walk though. A beautiful evening, and everything lit up all over Lincoln. Lovely.

Pictures (all mine, except where noted)

Monday, August 7, 2006

Ghost Hunting at Warwick Castle

Note (July 15, 2007): I used to be the English Culture editor at BellaOnline, a position I held from Feb. 2006 to April 2007, and then left when I was offered a steady and challenging long-term writing project. Although being an editor there is mostly a labor of love (and hence, another reason why I left...I'm actually making money now), it did have some perks. I was invited to preview a ghost hunt at Warwick Castle, which was hosted by Fright Nights, a paranormal tour company in the UK. It was their first hunt in Warwick Castle, and I was among a team of journalists who attended. I was the only American there, and I was welcomed with open arms and some curiosity.

I felt that since this experience was such a departure from anything else I have ever done, it deserved its own post. I wrote about it for BellaOnline, as that was my "payment" for the free ticket (something that usually costs around $200, by the way), but that article was very condensed, since my limit was 400-600 words. The post I made below was transcribed from the rough notes I took at my hotel immediately after the experience. I believe that I remembered everything, even though I was trying to recall the entire night without having any sleep.

Fright Nights – Warwick Castle
August 4/5 2006 9 pm – 5am

The small group participating in the ghost hunts met in the castle’s cafeteria. We were introduced to the Fright Nights team and got an explanation of what they do, and what we should expect from the ghost hunt.

After this brief introduction, we got a tour of Warwick Castle – the grounds, Gate House, Dungeon, and the Ghost Tower. During this tour, the history of the castle was explained to us. At certain points, the Fright Nights guides paused to tell us that they were feeling certain spirits around, but most of the participants couldn’t see/feel/hear anything, except for one particular person in the group who had a very strong sense of the ghosts that were in each room.

After the initial orientation of the castle, we met back at our base of operations – the café. The tour leaders pass out ghost hunting equipment: various thermometers and electro-magnetic field detectors, and give us all a brief tutorial on how to use them. Then we are allowed to go off on our own private tour of the castle. Being reluctant to do this on my own, I paired up with another woman who was also there on her own. I had a thermometer and she had an electro-magnetic reader. We decided to explore the Gate House, but our equipment detected nothing. Supposedly, the Gate House contains the spirits of dead soldiers who tried to invade the castle, as well as a witch, and various other spirits.

After this, we all reconvened at the café to meet up with our medium, Michael. We all start introducing ourselves to each other, and two men (a gay couple…this will be important later, which is why I’m mentioning it) strike up a conversation with me, and I pretty much stick with them the rest of the evening.

As a group, we go out with Michael to tour the castle again. Immediately, he picked up the presence of ghosts: Roman soldiers marching in the courtyard, a man who had been trampled after being pushed to the ground, a drummer boy standing by a doorway who was sad because he lost his drum, a mother carrying a baby who is standing outside the castle gates, begging to be let in. Inside the dungeon, he sees the torture master, who doesn’t want us there. On the ceiling hangs an Iron Maiden. He sees a woman hanging in it. In the Gate House, he sees various other ghosts. At one point, he sees a ghost named Guy, a member of the Knights Templar, who was standing right next to me. The room was hot and stuffy, but my right side, next to where he is standing, is freezing cold.

In various rooms, depending on how spirits had died in them, people were complaining of correlating body aches: terrible headaches if the person died of a stroke, stomach aches if the ghost died from being stabbed in the stomach, etc. There was one room in particular where the air kept getting sucked out of my lungs and I was gasping for breath, and it happened to other people at the same time. There were also a few rooms where we smelled random scents like lavender or mint, when there was nothing in the room that should have been causing that scent.

In the Ghost Tower, which was left pretty much the way it was when its resident, Sir Greville, lived there, Michael picks up on a ghost in the first room named Brooke (last name), who tells him that he’s Sir G’s servant. Michael starts feeling a heavy pressure in his body, and he said it was due to the pervasive sadness in the room. Brooke was not just Sir G’s servant, but also his lover, and he stabbed Sir G. to death in a fit of passion, and then killed himself. Michael was relating all this to us, as he was communicating with Brooke, and it was consistent with the history of the castle, which Michael said he did not study prior to coming.

In Sir G’s bedroom, Michael describes Sir G’s ghost, and then begins to feel very uneasy. The other men in the room note some odd sensations, but the women didn’t feel anything. We were all standing in the dark, and we were told beforehand that if we felt like we were in imminent danger, we should turn on our flashlights and run. Well, one of the men did…he suddenly panicked, the flashlight came on, and he ran down the stairs out of Sir G’s room, followed by one of the paranormal experts who was leading the tour. They were down there for several minutes (they apparently picked up on another ghost at the bottom of the stairs) and those of us remaining in Sir G’s bedroom stood very still and quiet, and we heard footsteps actually walking around in the middle of the room. The men downstairs also heard them.

We eventually followed the men that were already downstairs, which led into a very narrow room. This is where the medium started panicking and freaking out. There was the presence of what is called an elemental, or animal spirit, and several people picked up on it being a wolf or a dog. At any rate, Michael, who has had contact with ghosts his entire life, told us that he had never felt more scared and freaked out in his life, and we had to strongly convince him not to flee from the building. At this point, for me personally, I had heard the footsteps, but besides that, had no convincing case that ghosts existed. I didn’t feel this panicky/dangerous vibe that several other people were picking up on.

After this intense scene in the Ghost Tower, we head back to the café, where we are split up into two teams. One team went with Michael to the Gate House and Dungeon to do a vigil for ghosts. My team joined the two other guides to go into the Ghost Tower. We started out on the first floor…one of the ladies in the group said that she felt a very playful spirit in the room, something akin to a court jester. We stood in a circle, holding hands. People were saying that they could feel the presence of the ghost behind them as it was walking around the room…it would lightly touch people. One of the guides said that she’s feeling that the ghost was walking in a very comical manner. One lady in the room gets a random fit of the giggles. I still feel/hear/see nothing.

We go up one floor, back to Sir G’s bedroom. All flashlights off, and we stand in a circle holding hands. Suddenly, we hear hissing sounds coming from various parts of the room. Some people say that the hissing is directly in their ears. Then we hear screaming and flashlights come on. Several women, particularly the ones standing by the stairs, were being shoved around very hard. The ones who felt this ended up moving to another point of the circle. Once we calmed down, we rejoined hands and the flashlights all went out again. The guides were asking, “If you’re here, give us a sign. Make a noise. Touch someone. Let us know you’re here” (they repeated this several times throughout the night). There is more pushing, screaming, flashlights coming on…people in abject terror. Lights go out again, holding hands again…I hear a shout coming from one of the men in the group. It is one of the gay guys that I was hanging out with, and he said that someone was trying to pull up the back of his shirt (remember, Sir G. was homosexual)…he explained that he was gay, so perhaps the ghost could sense that. We got settled back into our circle, lights out…one of the guides had gone and sat on Sir G’s bed. One woman suddenly exclaims that she sees a bright flash of light moving onto the bed. The guide announces that Sir G. is sitting next to him on the bed. We hear a sudden sound coming from downstairs. The guide on the bed shouts, “We know you’re down there, come up and join us.” In a minute, he tells us, “the elemental has joined me on the bed.” Despite all this going on, I still hear/see/feel nothing. Just about everyone else in the room is panicky and scared and nearly crying with absolute horror, and I was feeling a bit disappointed because I wasn’t experiencing anything.

At this point, we trade places…and our group joins Michael in the Gate House and the dungeon. Michael should have gone to the Ghost Tower, but he refused to step foot back in there again. We went to the dungeon first, which was, in my opinion, the creepiest room in the entire castle. All lights out. Instead of standing in a circle and holding hands, we just sat around the room very quietly. I was sitting off in a little alcove in the room, next to a trapdoor that led to a hole where they would throw some of the prisoners. I figured that surely I would feel something there, but I felt absolutely nothing. We sat there in silence for awhile, and the medium finally announced that nothing was there, so we moved on to the Gate House.

At the Gate House, nothing seemed to be going on there either. In one of the rooms, Michael said that he could see ghosts moving in and out, but none of them were staying. He said he would let us know if anything started to happen. Well, nothing did. We sat there for a really long time. My legs were starting to fall asleep. One of the guys in our group fell asleep and actually started snoring. Two of the women in the group finally got up, announcing that they had to go to the restroom, so I followed them out. We went to the restroom and then sat in the café for a bit, talking about how disappointing this was. Nothing we had seen had truly convinced us.

After a short while, everyone else joined us in the café. Michael arrived first, a minute or two before the others, and he was shaking and telling us that he was absolutely terrified of going back in the Ghost Tower. But he had to go, so he was fortifying himself with coffee. The rest of the group joined us, and we went back into the Ghost Tower and got into a circle, holding hands. All flashlights off, and the only light in the room was a tiny red dot coming from the tape recorder. Michael is sitting apart from us in a corner. I got a very odd sensation at this moment…the hairs on the back of my neck stood on end and I got this hot flash. One of our guides announced that Michael was currently in a trance. He is a transmedium, and ghosts can enter his body and speak through him. At that moment, we felt a whoosh of cold air, and Michael’s breathing became really shallow. He started moaning. So the guides begin asking him questions, and slowly he starts to talk. He says that his name is Guy, and that he lived right after the Crusades, in a place not far from the castle. He told us that he didn’t want us in the room, but he agreed to answer some questions on the condition that we promised to leave. He said that his wife lived in the castle…she was the daughter of an earl, and that she jumped into the Avon River and drowned at the age of 25 because she was possessed by demons. He explained that he lived his life as a recluse until he died at age 50. We felt another burst of air as he was talking about his wife, and he said, “She’s here.” The guides determined that his wife had entered the room. In a minute, we felt another rush of air and heard footsteps leaving the room, and the spirits were gone. Michael was sputtering and choking on the floor, and had to be helped out by one of the guides.

After that, a large chair was brought out and placed in the middle of the room, a wine glass placed upside down on top of it. Three people volunteer to place their fingers lightly on the base of the glass (like an Ouija board). One of them asked questions:

“If there is a spirit in the room, please move the glass.”

The glass moved, just a bit.

Through a series of other questions, we determined that the ghost moving the glass was once again, Sir G. Suddenly, the guides started suggesting questions for the volunteer to ask the ghost, but the ghost began responding directly to the guides instead.

“Do you know there is an elemental in the room?”

The glass moved so hard and fast that it nearly crashed off the chair.

“Can you move the glass in the direction where the elemental is located?”

The glass moved toward the stairway, where this wolf/dog spirit was first encountered.

A series of other questions were asked, and then the wine glass just stopped moving. After several minutes, we concluded that Sir G. was tired of playing with us, and he left. And so concluded our ghost hunt.

Back at the café for closing remarks, Michael is slumped in a chair, complaining that his body is burning. One woman touches his arm, and says that that his skin is boiling hot. It looked like blisters/boils were popping up on his skin, although I can’t be sure of that…I did see some wounds though and he was pointing them out.

The last hour was perhaps the most convincing for me, but I still haven’t quite wrapped my brain around it. Whether it was a bunch of smoke and mirrors, or whether it was real, it was a very cool experience, and I was happy to have access to the castle at night, which few people before me have ever had the chance to do.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Shakespeare Festival in Neuss

Somehow, a year or so ago, I accidentally stumbled upon some exciting news. Neuss, Germany hosts a Shakespeare festival every year! And Neuss isn't far from here! Less than an hour by train.

So I've been scheming for quite some time to go. Lance, of course, not being a fan of literature in general, showed no interest in going.

So I gathered up a couple of interested friends, and we trekked to Neuss yesterday to see the Aquila Theatre Company's fantastic production of A Comedy of Errors.

I'm not going to waste my time writing about it here. I already wrote about it at the Shakespeare Revue.

Anyway, a couple of photos:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Aside from this, Neuss has very little going for it. It wasn't in either of my German travel guides, and now I understand why. There really isn't anything there. They have a pretty church in the center of town, but as it was Sunday, we could not get in.

It's a shame, because we arrived there super early, giving ourselves enough time to get our bearings and then hopefully walk around a bit. I took my camera, but had nothing to photograph, except for this:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Yeah...I know, right? I only photographed it because it was weird.

Anyway, because it's not a touristy town, we were hard pressed to find anyone that spoke English. So I was called upon to activate my extremely terrible German, and we still managed to figure things out, but not without making fools of ourselves time and time again.

First, the tram. We wanted to take it to the Centrum. But the list of destinations at the ticket machine were all out of town. What about taking the tram INTO town...was that allowed? After standing at the ticket machine for 10 minutes, pressing random buttons and looking frustrated, an elderly woman approached us. She, of course, spoke to us in German. I responded "mein Deutsch ist nicht so gut" (a sentence I learned very quickly to say). I showed her our "Happy Weekend" train ticket, pointed to the tram ticket machine and asked "Ok?" She examined the train ticket and said it was okay, so hopefully she understood our meaning...we wanted to know if our train ticket would allow us passage on the tram. Sometimes train tickets include public transportation, and sometimes not.

After that, I asked, "Centrum?"

She responded, "Duesseldorf Centrum?"

"Nein. Neuss Centrum."

She looked confused (why in the hell would anyone want to go into Neuss, when they are all trying to escape from it)...

Finally, I said, "Shakespeare Festival."

"Ach!" She pointed to the opposite track.

So we got on the tram, still not sure we were allowed to use our train ticket. But nobody busted us. We got off at the Centrum stop and proceeded to find lunch...a Turkish place. Had lamachun (Turkish pizza), which was tasty, but very oily.

Then we proceeded to get lost. But we still had several hours. And a really crappy map I printed off the Neuss website.

We finally figured out that we were walking the opposite direction of the Globe. Turned ourselves around and walked back, and ended up at the Globe, only to discover that it was a stone's throw from the Centrum. HAHAHA. We suck.

Once we figured out its location, we went back to the Centrum, sat ourselves down at a gelaterie with some ice cream, and chilled out for about an hour.

Around 2, we got up to walk to the Globe (the play started at 3). On the way, we were distracted by a Jack Russell terrier playing in a fountain. The fountain shot out streams of water in various places at intervals, and the Jack Russell was running around chasing the streams of water, sopping wet and looking like she was having the time of her life. It was hilarious. I should have gotten a picture of that (or even video of it).

So then...the play.

Then back to the Centrum for dinner at Cafe Extrablatt (this is a German chain restaurant, which is why I'm linking to it. For God's sake...go to one somewhere else, but it's not a reason to go to Neuss). It was tasty. First time I had ever been there. I was just looking for something light, since the day was hot. My Greek salad fit the bill.

We decided to walk back to the train station by following the tram tracks. It took 10 minutes. Gee, we would've saved ourselves a lot of time in the first place if we had just done that.

Figured out the train schedule...or so we thought. Wanted the train to Aachen (since it stopped in Geilenkirchen on the way there). That train goes through Monchengladbach. So we got to the track, and the sign at the track announced that the next train is going to Monengladbach. We figured that was our train. It wasn't. As we soon found out. We hopped on the train. It stopped at Monchengladbach. Then it started going the way that we came. WTF?

So we got off at the next stop. Took the next train back to Monchengladbach. Got off there, and then got on a train going to Aachen.

(Note to self: Monchengladbach looks more interesting than Neuss. Perhaps a trip there for kicks sometime).

That was a swanky train, at least. Air conditioned. Very comfortable seats. Relaxing. It was a pretty short ride from there to GK.

So our day was full of misadventures. But we still had fun. We got to see great Shakespeare. And I didn't get the cheesy t-shirt I was hoping to buy (they only sold one t-shirt, and it wasn't cheesy), but otherwise, it was fun. That's the only thing that would get me back to Neuss again though.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

Birthday Trip Around the World in Two Hours

Today is my birthday, and originally, Lance and I planned to be in Luxembourg for their annual Army March, which is a pretty big deal, from what I understand.

But our walking club decided to do a different walk instead (in the local area), so we were left without plans for today.

I decided yesterday that I wanted to check out Mondo Verde, a theme park in Landgraaf, Netherlands, about half an hour from where we live.

Mondo Verde is a large park full of gardens that are supposed to represent every part of the world (except, it didn't, but it had a lot of different gardens).

We were there for a couple of hours, and we managed to see everything. We even ate there, although I wouldn't recommend it. The food isn't very good and it's expensive.

Click here for pictures.

Monday, June 5, 2006

Karyn Goes Medieval

Yesterday, Tina from the Family Support Center headed a group to go first to Kommern (a little over an hour away) to see the Freilichtmuseum, a Rhenish open-air museum that covers German history from medieval times to present, followed by a medieval festival and jousting tournament at Satzvey Castle, only 10 minutes from Kommern. Lance was supposed to go, but he bailed out on me at the last minute, but gave me a large amount of spending money to get myself something nice for my birthday. I met up with the group and rode with Tina in her car to the museum.

I don't think the museum attracts a lot of people besides Germans, because they had no visitor's guides in English or anything that explained to us what the buildings were for and when they were built. Some were obvious and we were able to figure them out on our own. Mostly, we just enjoyed the feeling of walking through all the old villages, which looked like something out of Shakespeare.

We arrived at the museum around lunchtime, and Tina and I were starting to feel hungry. There was a long line outside of a building marked "Handlung," so we stopped to see what the fuss was about. As we were getting there, we saw a man carting a big basket of bread to the building…we realized then that it was a bake shop (the breads are baked down the street and carted here for sale). So we got in line and got ourselves some hot, fresh butter streusel. Mmmmmmmmmmm.

We spent a few hours there poking around. I don't have much to write about it, since the pictures do a better job of describing what it's like than I could. We went to this really modern looking part of the museum (it's rather large and spread out) and went inside this building that looked like an IMAX theater or something…only it was an enclosed village, with each street representing a different time in German history. So we started in what looked like 18th century and worked our way through the building, ending at post WWII. Inside the windows were various scenes - domestic scenes with families of very realistic looking mannequins sitting around the dinner table, or scenes of people conducting business or civic duties, and even a scene in a bar with a prostitute sitting in some guy's lap. Then came the WWI scenes and after that WWII, with the Jews standing behind barbed wire fence, with a Nazi flag hanging over them and a poster of Hitler.

Anyway, around 3 pm, Tina and I met up with the rest of the group at our designated meeting point, and we got in our cars and moved on to Burg Satzvey, which is located in the town of Satzvey just a short drive away. It's an area with several castles, but Burg Satzvey is one of the best preserved moated castles in North Rhine-Westphalia (the German state in which Lance and I live). Burg Satzvey itself is not a tourist attraction, since it's a residence. A count and countess live there, and the rest of the castle is divided into apartments. But the countess loves medieval history, and since 1981, she has hosted various events on the castle grounds, the highlight of which is a medieval festival and jousting tournament held for one weekend every June. There are also other events such as Irish night (with Irish dancing and music), Halloween night, Christmas, etc. All of these events generally have a medieval theme attached to them, and there are some permanent fixtures on the castle grounds, like medieval-themed shops and restaurants, that people can visit year-round.

Anyway, we showed up at the castle with a little time to spare before the jousting tournament, so we all split up. Tina and I went to search for some actual food, since at that point, I only had cereal at breakfast and then the piece of streusel. I ordered what I thought was a meat kabob (that's what Tina told me it was) with a side of kraut and fries. What I actually got was a pork chop smothered in caramelized onions. That's okay. It was soooooooooo good. Everything was good. Tina had the same thing and we were just so happy. We got a picnic table by the stage, where a medieval music group was performing. They were fantastic. The music had a great beat.

Once we were done eating, it was nearly time for the joust. So we made our way to the jousting grounds and stopped at the drink counter to order drinks (since the place where we got our food didn't serve drinks for some reason). They took a two euro deposit from each of us and served us our drinks in souvenir Burg Satzvey glass mugs, but we let them keep our 2 euros each and kept the mugs. :)

Anyway, we found our seats in the covered pavilion and we were in the SECOND ROW! And I had little kids sitting in front of me, so I had a virtually unobstructed view of the show (except for when the one little girl in front of me put on a knight's helmet with a huge blue feather sticking out of it).

The joust was narrated in Old German, but we got the gist. It was a pretty cliché story. A woman comes out and talks about how her beloved brother was killed by an evil knight. The village gathers together to avenge his death, but the black knight's minions sweep into town, nearly killing everyone. They take the sister hostage…she is claimed as a bride by the black knight. One of the surviving villagers, a good knight (go figure), gathers up some men and challenges the bad guys to a joust. A mysterious man in a black mask joins them…together they all vanquish evil, and the mysterious masked knight turns out to be the king. The sister is saved from having to marry Sir Evil, and everyone, except the bad guys, lives happily ever after.

Or something like that.

It was great fun anyway. And except for an accident at the end where the actor playing the evil knight fell from his horse and the horse fell on top of him (from the way it looked, it was NOT planned…it was after the show when they were coming out to take their final bows), it seemed to go pretty well. There was no stage blood shed, but it looked like some of these actors really got hurt, that's how well everything was acted. And the horses had to jump through flames, which I thought was amazing, especially since Tina told me that it's against their nature to do something like that (she used to have horses and knows a bit about horse training).

Anyway, the show was good. And Tina checked with everyone else in the group and they decided to go home on their own time…we wouldn't caravan back. So Tina and I could stay as long as we liked. We did some shopping (I spent the money Lance gave me on two blouses and a decorative ceramic thing to hang up somewhere in the house). We had some Belgian cherry beer (which was delicious, but didn't taste a thing like beer). We had mead (and I bought a bottle to take home). We also visited the tent village where the actors live during the weekend that they're at the castle. It's really cool. No modern conveniences for them (except canned food). They sleep on sheep's wool rugs (which actually look very comfortable). Several tents are set up around a communal table, where they all eat together (whilst still in costume, I might add). Even the family pets are there. They even play medieval games. It actually all looked quite bohemian and cozy. I wouldn't want to live that way indefinitely, but it would be fun for a few nights.


Freilichtmuseum Homepage (in English)

Burg Satzvey Homepage (in English)

Sunday, May 7, 2006

Bonn and Rhein in Flammen

My friend Andrea, her husband Jeff, and I decided to go to the opening weekend for Rhein in Flammen (Rhine in Flames) yesterday. Rhine in Flames is a yearly event that takes place several times over the course of the summer - beginning generally in the towns along the Northern end of the Rhine and then moving down the river, generally ending somewhere around Bingen each year (usually in conjunction with a wine festival).

Since yesterday's event took place around the area of Bonn/Königswinter, we decided to leave early in the afternoon to spend a few hours sightseeing in Bonn, drive across the river to Königswinter, and then watch the fireworks from there.

It was a beautiful day for sightseeing…low 70s, sunny, just a bit of a breeze, but not enough to be uncomfortable. We had a nice drive to Bonn…it takes a little over an hour to get there. But wouldn't you know, we had no sooner arrived in Bonn, waiting at a traffic light at an intersection, when Jeff's car died. He pushed it to the side of the road and attempted to figure out what was wrong with it. He guessed that the fuel pump went out (an accurate assessment, as we later discovered), and then commenced to calling ADAC (the German auto club). He told Andrea and I to go ahead and get out of the car and do our sightseeing. We weren't far from the main train station anyway, which is where we had planned to park and begin our walking tour. So Andrea and I left him to deal with the car and we went ahead to begin our sightseeing.

We stayed in the general area of the Markt. There were lots of interesting things to see, not the least of which was a beach volleyball tournament right in the cathedral square. Rather odd, but interesting. We wanted to visit the cathedral, but it was closed. It was completely covered in scaffolding too, so I couldn't even photograph it. We had no particular destination in mind, other than the Beethoven Haus, so we just meandered along the shopping district, making note of potential places to have dinner. We eventually found ourselves a bit lost, as the signs for Beethoven Haus came to an end and we couldn't find it. So Andrea consulted her map, realized we were about a block from where we should be, and we backtracked and found it.

So we paid the admission and went in for about an hour. It's a good sized house, but with small rooms. No pictures allowed inside. Beethoven's viola, organ, and his various woodwind instruments were on display. His hearing instruments (ear trumpets and whatnot) were also there, as was his life mask and death mask. It was interesting. The room in which he was born is completely empty, except for a bust of him sitting in the center of the room. It was an interesting way to kill some time, and the gardens outside were pretty. The gift shop was nice too. I picked up a couple of Andy Warhol's Beethoven paintings in postcard form to send to some friends, and I got a magnet that has his sheet music printed on it.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Andy Warhol's Beethoven

After the Beethoven Haus, we were starving. Andrea had already talked to Jeff a few times, and he was in the process of having the car towed to the shop and getting a rental car (all of which is covered by ADAC), so he told us to go ahead and eat. I remembered seeing a tapas bar just a couple of blocks from the Beethoven Haus, so I asked Andrea if tapas sounded good, and she agreed. So we sat outside at the tapas bar, happily nibbling away at our mixed tapas platters, when Jeff called. He had the rental car, he was parked at the train station, and he wanted to know where we were. So we told him the street name (we were sitting across from a big church…I think it was, in fact, the one in which Beethoven was baptized). He took his GPS unit and plugged in the coordinates, and several moments later, we saw him coming down the street. So he joined us, shared our tapas, got a bit more for himself, and we had a nice dinner.

After dinner, it was going on 8, so we decided it was time to leave Bonn. We made our way to the train station and picked up the rental car (emblazoned on all sides with the ADAC logo…AWESOME! :P) and we drove to Königswinter. I should mention that this town's claim to fame is Castle Drachenfels, a ruin at the top of this absolutely massive hill that you can see for miles around. Drachenfels is apparently "the world's most popular hill." There's a funicular that goes to the top to the Drachenfels visitor center, stopping halfway up for people who want to visit Schloss Drachenburg, which is a large Rococo palace. We weren't sure we would be able to visit Drachenfels, since we read that the funicular only operates until 7 pm. But we were in luck, because of Rhine of Flames, they were open until 11:30, and they were taking people up to the top to watch the fireworks. From up there, you can see all the fireworks displays, which started at Linz at 9:50 and ended at Bonn past 11. So we paid our 8 euros round trip, and took the funicular to the top just as dusk was settling in. The views were AMAZING. It was incredible to watch the lights come up on all the towns around the Rhine.

The ruins themselves were closed off by that time, but they don't look that big anyway, so I was content to just hang around the visitor center. Large crowds had already staked out spots, particularly on the side that looks out over both sides of the Rhine. We got there too late…we could only see the river from Linz to Königswater. We wouldn't be able to see the fireworks show in Bonn. But we held on to the spot we could get…fortunately, it was along a wall so I could set up my tripod, and we waited for the fireworks to begin.

Once they began in Linz, we could barely see them…but they were there, at a distance. Ten minutes later, fireworks started going off at a location nearer to us…we could actually hear them this time. At the same time, we started to see the fleet of lighted barges snaking its way down the river toward Bonn. Some barges that were lit up all in red were floating close to the banks, giving off a reddish glow that really did look like flames. Ten minutes later, an island just below us started shooting off their fireworks. That’s when I got most of the photos.

The Königswinter fireworks began, but on the other side of the visitor center from where we were. But we found a spot where we could see most of them. At the same time, the Drachenfels ruins were lit up a bright red.

Then, the Bonn fireworks were to begin. There was no spot we could find where we would have a good view, so we decided to just get on the funicular and beat the crowds. We sat on the train for a good long time, waiting for the fireworks to end. We could see the sky lighting up, but that was about it. Finally, the hordes were coming, and we were grateful that we had seats.

So we came down, found the car, and then headed home. I got in at around 1:15, exhausted and with a splitting headache, but very very happy. It was a fun day, despite the car mishap, and we all had a wonderful time.


Saturday, April 1, 2006

Tiptoe Through the Tulips: A Walk in Keukenhof

Rather than doing a trip report and post, I'll just let the pictures speak for themselves.

Just a quick note - Keukenhof just opened last week, and because of the late winter, most of the outdoor gardens are not blooming yet - mainly just daffodils, crocuses, and hyacinths. The indoor gardens were beautiful. And we got to listen to a nice swing band playing inside. Most of the flower photos were taken in the indoor pavilions.

The weather was nice today. Very windy, but sunny all day with mild temperatures.


Monday, March 6, 2006

Viva Veneto! Karina's Italian Adventure, The Exciting Conclusion

Friday, March 3, Day 4 - Venice again

Friday was our last day…at least for me, Emily, and Tracey. Stephanie's husband was coming down to Pisa, so she was taking the train down there to meet him. Her train was scheduled to leave at 8:20.

So we quickly ate breakfast and at 7:20, I got us checked out of the hotel and asked that a cab be called for us. Typically, it only takes a couple of minutes for the cab to arrive. The first place he contacted couldn't send out any cabs. So he called the second place and the phone was busy. He tried for 20 minutes. After being unable to get through, he advised us to go to the tobacco shop across the street and buy bus tickets. So we did that and waited for the 8:05 bus, which didn't come until 8:15. It was really cold and it started snowing while we were standing there. Finally, the bus came, but by the time we got to the train station, Stephanie had missed her train. She was able to get on another one that got her down to Pisa a half hour later. We got our train tickets to Venice, which ended up being on the EuroStar, the high speed luxury train. They cost a bit more, but it was Emily's birthday, so we figured it was worth the splurge.

Ironically, the high speed train was 20 minutes late. And when it arrived, it came in on a different track. Fortunately, it was the track next to us, so we didn't need to rush to get to it.

We arrived in Venice, checked our luggage at the left luggage counter, and then set out. This time, we stopped in many souvenir shops on the way. I got a Murano glass pendant with my initial on it, and a ceramic handpainted mask, as well as a Murano snowman ornament. We slowly made our way toward Piazza San Marco, since our goal was to actually see the inside of the basilica and the Doge's palace. Instead of lunch, we grabbed some ice cream cake at a gelato stand. When we stopped at McDonald's to use the restroom, Emily and Tracey had decided that some protein might be nice, so they each got a hamburger. When I saw them eating, I caved and got one too. Yes, I understand the irony and the sacrilege of eating McDonald's in Italy. But I had to say, it hit the spot.

Finally, we arrived again at San Marco, which was not nearly as crowded as it had been 3 days before. We went into the basilica, and I immediately got a sense of déjà vu. It reminded me of the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. Turns out, it was modeled after the Hagia Sophia, so it's no wonder I made the connection (I actually read this in The Historian later that day - a novel that has nothing to do with Italy, really, but it was mentioned. I thought that was pretty cool. And the novel is based on fact, so I assume that the San Marco/Hagia Sophia connection is true). We weren't allowed to take pictures inside, which is a shame, since it's gorgeous. But I managed to take some pictures right outside the entrance. You can take a virtual tour here:

After touring the basilica, we went next door to the Doge's palace, but not before I had a sudden impulse to feed the pigeons. I hate them, so I'm not sure what compelled me to do it, except that Emily videotaped it and she thought it was funny. I asked her for some crackers and she gave me some butter cookies out of her purse. Within a minute or two, I had pigeons all over me. I got smacked in the face with their wings and everything. But I didn't get pooped on. Miraculous.

Okay, so Doge's Palace…we could only take pictures in the courtyard, but the inside was very impressive. The prisons were a bit cramped though, and my slight claustrophobia made me somewhat uncomfortable.

Once we toured the palace, we figured we'd call it a day, since we needed to start moving toward the train station to work on getting home. We wanted to eat first though. Emily found this restaurant that seemed a bit high priced to me, but she really wanted to eat there, so I agreed and we went inside.

It was disappointing. I had minestrone soup. At least, that's what I ordered. What I got was vegetable soup with microscopic bits of chicken in it. There were no beans, which is what I thought made minestrone minestrone. I complained to the waitress and she was really snotty with me. Emily and Tracey ordered shrimp scampi, which was a bit charred. The bill for the 3 of us was 81 euros. My soup alone was 9 euros - an outrageous price. In fact, I'm pretty sure the prices inside were higher than what was posted outside. And the food was terrible. At least mine was. We were angry and we felt we got ripped off.

So unfortunately, that was my last meal in Italy. It left A LOT to be desired.

We got to the train station, got our luggage, and got our train tickets to Treviso. There was some confusion. We looked at the arriving trains schedule instead of the departure schedule, so we were waiting at the wrong place and the wrong time. When we finally realized it, we had been sitting for quite awhile. So Emily asked at the information counter which train we should be on, and we got straightened out.

We had some time to kill, so Emily went to the restroom, and I just happened to glance at the train ticket, realizing that it was only for one person! The entire time, all our fares had been printed on one ticket. So I pointed this out to Emily, and in a huff, she got in line at the ticket counter again and waited for the same person from whom we bought the tickets. She was prepared to yell at him, but when he saw her, he said he was glad that we came back, because he had our two tickets still with him. So he gave them to her, she blew him a kiss and thanked him, and we found our platform.

Got to Treviso and needed to take the bus to the airport. There was some confusion as to where we caught the bus. There were about 10 different bus stops. The very last one we checked was the one we needed. So we waited. And then our bus arrived.

It took us through a different part of Treviso than what we saw the first day - right in the center of town. Treviso looked very nice and seemed to be quite a happening place on a Friday night. It's only about 15 km. outside of Venice, yet it looked like the place to be.

So we got to the airport for our 9:20 flight, which left a bit late since somebody checked on their luggage and never boarded the plane. When we got back to Charleroi, it was 11 pm and Emily had mistakenly told her husband that we were getting in at midnight, so we had to wait almost an hour for him to arrive. It was freezing out, and one of the night workers tried to kick us out. But we refused to leave. Finally, he arrived and we headed home. I walked in my own door shortly before 2 am, exhausted.

Ciao, Italy. It was nice knowing you, if only for a few days.

Last day photos

Viva Veneto! Karina's Italian Adventure, parts 2 & 3

Day 2 - Nove (March 1)

Nove is a small town outside of Vicenza, in fact, you go through Padua to get there. Unfortunately, I was unable to see much of Padua, which looks like another amazing place to sightsee.

Anyway, we started our morning with breakfast at the hotel. There is nothing like a fresh baked croissant with cream cheese and jam. They had other things too, but if I see that on the breakfast buffet, that's the only thing I want.

After breakfast, we called a cab to take us to the Army base. There is a small military installation in Vicenza. I shouldn't really say that it's small - it's larger than the Army garrison we have here. This seemed quite large by comparison. But it's considered small.

Anyway, we needed to pick up a rental car, so we asked around and finally got directions to the Europcar office on base. The cars were parked on a lot about 7 km outside of the base though, so we couldn't pick up the car right away. We had a little over an hour until the shuttle would come get us to take us to the lot, so we stopped at the commissary and bought some more snacks and water and we stopped a few other places in an effort to kill time.

At 11, this blue school bus came and got us. The guy spoke no English, so he had trouble understanding where we were trying to go. Finally, he picked up another passenger and that person explained to him where we were trying to go. So he dropped us off there and we located the Mercedes that we reserved. That was the one thing we spared no expense on during this trip. We wanted a good sized car with a roomy trunk and an automatic transmission. Split 4 ways, the cost per day wasn't bad.

After figuring out all the bells and whistles and plugging our destination into Emily's GPS system, we were on our way to Nove. It didn't take us too long to get there…maybe half an hour, slightly longer. Nove isn't a spectacular town or anything. They have a nice bell tower in the center of town and a pretty impressive school building, but there is nothing striking beyond that. You can see the mountains in the distance though, which is cool. Nove's claim to fame is its dozens of ceramics shops, and ceramic shopping was our order for the day.

Well, I should say it was THEIR order for the day. I didn't particularly care to go shopping, but since I'm writing an article about Nove ceramics for a magazine, I had to go. If I didn't have to go, I would've gone off to Verona for the day.

I bought a few things. The mosaic pottery was beautiful, so I bought a piece for myself. I got some gifts. The pottery is really cheap. You can get Lenox or Tiffany china there for a fraction of what you pay in the States. But it was mostly white stuff, and all white stuff bores me. I like color. And the pottery I bought was colorful.

So the entire day was spent shopping. My companions bought A LOT of pottery. I was mostly interested in getting pictures for the magazine. We visited some shops that had pretty handpainted things, but as I was not in the market for any pottery, I didn't see the point in buying it.

Nove is so small that there weren't many places to eat. We stopped at a place that had sandwiches, and I got some kind of wrap with thin sliced beef and cheese. Also, Nove is off the tourist radar enough that they still have squat toilets in most public restrooms. We only found one regular toilet the entire time we were there. Believe me, I was thrilled.

While we were shopping, we ran into two people from here at our base. Small world, after all. And we ran into a lady who is trying to start her own business selling Italian pottery. I think she spent about 15,000 euros...she spent 8,000 just in one store. Anyway, she seemed really nice, and her name was Karen. She is the one who called me "Karina" and told me that it means pretty in Italian.

Once everyone was satisfied with the shopping (actually, it was time for the shops to close), we headed back to Vicenza, stopping at the base to get some cash out of the ATM machine. We asked a nice couple to recommend a restaurant for us, and they told us about this place called Giada's and gave us directions to it.

So, bellies grumbling, we set off for Giada's. The restaurant is located inside an elegant looking 3 star hotel. We ordered 2 appetizers to share: fried stuffed olives and fried mozzarella. I had a nice fruity white wine which reminded me of Riesling. We had a basket of mixed breads AND bruschetta brought to our table. The bruschetta was delicious, as were the appetizers. For the main course, I ordered angel hair pasta with crab legs. They didn't bring me a little fork to get the meat out, so I had some trouble, but what I was able to eat was excellent. Finally, we ordered dessert. I got a lemon sponge cake that was absolutely delicious. Total cost for 2 appetizers, 4 main courses, a side dish, 1 liter of wine, a Diet Coke, and 4 desserts - 69 euros. Astonishingly cheap. We were very pleased and it was the best meal we had on the entire trip.

After our wonderful meal, we headed back to the hotel for night #2.

Day 3 - Vicenza (March 2, if you're not keeping track)

After breakfast, we headed back to the base. We had an appointment with the post office to ship all the pottery. The pottery shop where we purchased the most stuff was delivering it to the base for us. We had to wait awhile for them to show up, but they finally did, we helped unload the boxes, and then we labeled everything and slapped on the customs forms and shipped them back here. (And in case you were wondering, the shipping doesn't cost us anything).

After that was done, we drove into Vicenza for a day of sightseeing there. We found a place to park next to a really pretty park with a beautiful church. So we walked through there first and then headed toward the market square, where a flea market takes place every Thursday.

We got there and perused the flea market for a bit. There was nothing different there from what we usually see in the local markets here. So we gave up on that. We stopped at a place for lunch and ordered pizzas. Mine was vegetarian and came with giant strips of zucchini on it and large pieces of pepper and eggplant. It was a very odd looking pizza and honestly, it wasn't very good. I had a nice rose wine with it though. I don't know what it's called, but it was good. As we left the restaurant, I saw a small dog walking around inside, collecting sugar packets off the floor. His owner, an elderly gentleman, seemed pretty distressed about it, so I called the dog over to me and plucked the sugar packets out of his mouth. As I was leaving, the man stopped me and said "Thank you" in English and then wished me goodbye.

Our car was paid up to park until 2, so after walking around a bit and exploring various streets and alleys, we headed toward the car so we wouldn't get a parking ticket. Tracey was getting tired and wanted to go back to the hotel to nap. So we dropped her off and then drove to a better parking spot closer to what we wanted to see: the Teatro Olimpico, Europe's oldest operating theatre, built by the famous Italian architect Palladio in 1580. The theatre was breathtaking. And we found out that they were performing Romeo and Juliet there only 2 days later - the day after we left Italy. Oh, the heartbreak! Especially since Vicenza is Romeo and Giulietta country (so is Verona, but the original author is buried in Vicenza).

There was an art museum across the street, and our Teatro Olimpico tickets admitted us into that museum as well, so we decided to check it out. We didn't spend much time there. It was mostly religious art, but nothing really famous. Some of it looked familiar though.

After the art museum, we wanted to stop and sit awhile, so we found a coffee shop and got some ciacolatta calda (hot chocolate).

The church were Luigi Da Porto is buried (the aforementioned author of the original Romeo and Juliet) was close by, so we decided to go there to see if we could find his grave. Supposedly, the church also houses a thorn from Christ's crown of thorns. We saw neither. The church was pretty though. It's the Church of Santa Corona.

After the church, we pretty much had enough sightseeing. We were near a pastry/gelato shop that I had seen earlier in the day that had really cute heart-shaped pastries and other lovely delights, so I wanted to take Emily and Stephanie there to show them. We decided to have some gelato, since how can you go to Italy and not have some? So we went inside and they ordered tiramisu and chocolate, I ordered strawberry.

After our treat, we headed back toward the car, but not before a cosmetics/candle store caught my eye. I went in and bought some bath stuff and then hopped in the car and we went back to the hotel.

Stephanie and Emily decided to return the rental car. They left me with the task of picking up something for dinner. So they took off to get rid of the Mercedes and I stayed in the hotel room for awhile to read, since I knew they would take awhile. Tracey was also in the room with me, working on puzzles. It was the first real moment of quiet I had the entire trip, other than when we slept.

An hour after they left, I figured it was time to pick up dinner. We actually wanted to avoid Italian this time…Chinese sounded good to all of us. But when I asked at the front desk, they indicated that the nearest Chinese place was quite a distance from the hotel. I wasn't comfortable being out after dark, alone, in a strange city. So I decided to just get food at the closest place I could find, which ended up being a gelato/snack shop about half a block from the hotel. The guy working there spoke no English at all, so with my very limited Italian, I was able to order 2 pizziola sandwiches and 2 ham and fontina cheese on foccacia. While he was toasting my sandwiches, he was talking with a guy who had a beagle. The beagle kept looking at me and then jumping up to hump the guy's leg. It was hilarious. But I pretended not to see. After what seemed like ages, my sandwiches were toasted, he wrapped them up to go, and I went back to the hotel. I divided each sandwich in half so we could each try a bit of both. They were delicious.

After the sandwiches had gone cold, Stephanie and Emily returned. They had some problems with the car rental return, but it got sorted out, and they came up to the room with 2 glasses of red wine for themselves and a glass of champagne for me (they had no white wine at the bar). They ate and told us about their car rental return adventure. Since Emily's birthday was the next day, we surprised her with a card and a tiny gift - a silver violin that was purchased earlier that day. Emily is an accomplished violinist.

And thus ended day 3. One more day to go.

I published an article about Nove in the
Stars & Stripes, European Edition in October 2006. My photos are included too.

Days 2 & 3 photos