Saturday, June 13, 2009

Trip Conclusion

We have had a great time together this past month. It’s been fun to pal around, and really nice to explore so much of Europe. We have seen firsthand that people in Europe are not much different than we are. It has been wonderful to see all of their cultural treasures and learn a little about their histories.

One month is quite a long time to be on the road. At one point, I began to measure our time out based on our consumable supplies. Things such as clean clothing, trial size bottles of contact lense solution and deodorant. For example – I knew we had been out two weeks because we had used ½ of our contact solution up.

We now know how to pack for a one month journey. We each packed one medium suitcase and a backpack. If we could do it again – we would have packed small suitcases instead and planned time to do laundry each week. We have managed getting our luggage around just fine – but being just a little lighter would be more desirable.

As for being gone an entire month . . . it seems the amount of time has been just right. We are ready to go home – we wouldn’t want to be out another month. But . . . we also don’t think the trip could have been any shorter.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Final Days: England

We arrived in Liverpool on Friday night and Rob was there waiting for us! He has been a great host for the past 5 days and we’ve had an excellent time with him.

On Saturday we slept in and didn’t do much. It was nice to have a down day. Rob needed to take his car to the shop for a test so we went to town with him and had some lunch and did some grocery shopping. It was so great to have skim milk again – We’ve gone through an entire gallon while we’ve been here. I also purchased some Cadbury’s digestive biscuits and have been enjoying them as a snack every night. We also made plans to go to the movies and ended up at Pizza Hut for dinner by default! It was right next to the movie theatre and we had only enough time to go there. We saw Angels and Demons – I haven’t read the book but I guessed the ending in the first 30-45 minutes and got positive affirmation that I was correct from Kristy. It was a well done movie and I may even read the book…maybe. Mom realized that she hadn’t seen everything when she saw the interior of the Sistine chapel in that movie. We know it wasn’t the real chapel –but still. Italy is on the horizon now – it looks like we need to plan at least a week there for all the amazing sights. Still – we have some time to plan for it – a trip to Italy is on a 2years from now tentative plan.

On Sunday we went on a country walk to Beeston Castle. It had been a rainy weekend and today promised nothing different. Rob apologized for the rain, but Mom said there was no need as this made our experience truly authentic. Beeston is mostly ruins of a castle near Rob’s house. We saw all the old walls and walked around the old fortress. It was quite a windy morning at the top of this hill, but it was nice. It was easy to see why that spot was selected as a Castle though - the fortress had a great view of all the surrounding countryside and that made it easy to scout out possible threats. For lunch, we made our own salad and cheese toast – made with no cheese other than Double Gloucester – delicious!!

Rob and Kristy had done a little internet research on churches and found a place for us to go that Sunday. We found a nearby chapel and meeting times and had a planned time to go. We arrived in plenty of time and noticed that the chapel parking lot was completely empty. EMPTY. Even the building doors were locked. Our only conclusion was that it must be Stake Conference (a regional conference for LDS congregations in the area) and that it was either at a different building or that it had been in the morning. One exciting thing about it though was that I got to visit Wales for about 10 minutes! The church was just on the Wales/England border and the sign on the church was in Welsh! Had we gone to a church meeting, we may not have even been able to understand what they were saying. Oh well, at least we TRIED to go to church…

The English rain was pouring down and so we went back to Rob’s house and played scrabble. Rob’s son Harry also came over to spend the afternoon with us. I can’t say that I enjoy scrabble very much – I don’t usually create very intelligent words so it can be discouraging. We started to play with the dictionary though – no challenging and just looking up words in the dictionary (presumably to help grow our vocabularies and improve our spelling skills). I definitely prefer this version of scrabble, I seem much smarter.

We found a great Thai place for dinner that night and then we went to a classical music concert. It was a tribute concert for an artist (Dorothy Bradford) who had died the previous year and was from this particular town. It was a nice concert but the church the concert was in apparently decided that keeping the paying customers warm was not a priority. It was FREEZING inside. There were radiators and everything but no heat coming from anywhere. It was a nice concert but we were ready to get into a warm car once it was over.

On Monday, we drove to Chatsworth, the residence of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire, to meet up with Ralph and Yvonne. Ralph is Rob and Kristy’s Uncle and Yvonne his wife. We had “tea” at a nearby cafe and then ventured toward the land. We spent the next few hours wandering the incredible gardens with them. We are kicking ourselves for forgetting the camera! The gardens were beautiful. We had lunch; Kristy and I tried meat pies. I thought they were OK, if I’m going to have a savory pie, I think I will stick to Chicken Pot. We then went into Chatsworth itself. It was really nice inside, but it blows my mind that people actually lived in a place as grand as that back in the 16-1700s. The class disparities were just phenomenal back then. The movies “Pride and Prejudice” and “The Duchess” – both starring Keira Knightley were filmed on location at Chatsworth House. The character in the Duchess actually was the Duchess of Devonshire and would have live in the house.

Tuesday, we went to Chester. It was a nice little town situated on a river, with an old Medieval Wall surrounding the town and then Roman ruins nearby. We walked the Medieval Wall and got a good look around. We had a delicious lunch at a Spanish Tapas restaurant and then we window shopped for a bit. Rob is in the market for a new phone and was debating an iphone. We had been talking about it over the past couple of days and decided to look at one in a phone shop in Chester. I think he’s convinced that he needs an iPhone now. I think I’ve convinced myself that I need one too.



Tuesday night, we took it easy. We made some delicious ravioli at Rob’s house and played Scrabble once again. This time, the stakes were much higher – we pulled out the dictionary left and right coming up with the most ridiculous words! We had some pretty high scores and had a good time.

Wednesday we went to Liverpool! We took the train After grabbing lunch, we went to the Beatles Museum! It was an interesting exhibit, but I kind of wished that I could just have read the stuff on the walls and had the audio guide play Beatles music the whole time. Either way, I enjoyed it and I’m glad we went! We got a good idea about the history of the Beatles and we able to piece together in our minds a little better the timeline of how it all happened. The exhibit also hilited what each beatle had done with their careers and lives since the breakup. There was also an exhibit of photos on Yoko and Paul Lennon – doing their Bed-in for peace.



That night, we stopped at a place near Rob’s house and got fish and chips! Despite what Rob thought, I really did like them, I just filled up really quickly for some reason! (And I really wanted fry sauce with my chips). Either way, it was good and we’re glad we didn’t pick a sketchy place in London. Rob said it was one of the best place for fish and chips he knew of. A lot of Chinese food restaurants have bought up the fish ad chip shops and they sell Chinese food now with fish and chips as a side item. He says they are never very good. The restaurant we went to – just sold fish and chips and did it well. That was our last authentically British experience before we headed to the airport the next day . . . or so we thought.

Our final authentic experience was a tube strike in London. Our flight is early tomorrow morning and so we traveled back to London today. We had heard that there was a strike but we thought it was going to be over today. We took the train from near Rob’s house in Runcorn to Euston Station in London. Instead of being able to take the tube to our hotel which is near the airport, we had to take a bus to Paddington Train Station and then take a train to Heathrow Airport. The first bus that came to our stop was full and wouldn’t let any additional passengers on. The second bus that came let us on, but we barely fit! Mom’s backpack even got closed in the door. Fortunately, she was on the inside with part of her backpack stuck outside! It was the most miserable bus ride. From Paddington station we had to take another train to Heathrow. A journey that should have only taken about an hour, took 2.5 hours. Luckily for us, we don’t have to deal with the tube anymore since we’re situated so close to the airport. We are glad we came into London a day early as we would certainly have missed our flight otherwise due to the metro delays.

Days 21-23: Amsterdam

Sorry that there are no pictures and for the late post. We were very busy in England! Our hotel in London has THE slowest internet and so the pictures just won't load. They'll be up in 24 hours or so!



We started out to Amsterdam on Wednesday on a train from Bruges. We had to change trains in Antwerp. The train was very full, compared to other trains we’ve been on (well, our night train to Prague was a little cramped…). Amsterdam is the place to be! On our train was a large, asian man who had a bit of a problem…Kristy couldn’t even concentrate with him around and so she moved. I was fortunate to get a video of it though. I was worried he wasn’t going to perform for the camera, but he put on a great show.
video
Imagine this for 2 hours!!

Our time in Amsterdam could be described as cold. We had great weather in Bruges and the weather in Amsterdam was not so great. Our hotel room was also very small. We watched The Pianist on Wednesday and Thursday night and we felt much like we were in the small apartment hiding out from the Nazis when we went to bed on Wednesday night. It was quaint but easily the smallest room we’ve stayed in (although, again, the night train was definitely the smallest).

Our first night we didn’t do much. We walked around a little bit and decided to try Turkish food for dinner. It was ok. We started out with five appetizers which were all very good: Tzatziki sauce, hummus, spring rolls, grilled eggplant, and mini meatballs. My favorite was the tzatziki sauce. We enjoyed so we decided to split a main dish – a lamb and vegetable casserole. I couldn’t get over the fact that it was lamb that I was eating and so I didn’t eat too much. Overall, we felt it was over-cooked. We’re glad we tried it and now I can just eat Tzatziki sauce for the rest of my life.

On Thursday we spent our day at the museums. First, we visited the Rijksmuseum. This is the museum of all the Dutch treasures and art. Only part of the museum is open for now, while they renovate the other half, but they put all the best stuff in one exhibit. It was a great exhibit. Following that, we were instantly chilled by the Amsterdam air so we stopped for some hot chocolate.



We were re-energized and warmed for the Van Gogh Museum. The Van Gogh Museum was incredible. They have an exhibit there now that emphasizes Van Gogh study of the colors of the evening and the night. It travels through his career and culminates with Starry Night (on loan from the MOMA in New York). There were many other paintings on loan there as well. We were so lucky to have been there during this exhibit! We both walked out with a much better appreciation of Van Gogh.

All alone in the Cinema at the Van Gogh Museum



That night we took a touristy-boat ride through the canals. We were the only people on our boat and so it was slightly awkward with our boat driver and the pre-recorded tour. We got a nice view of all of Amsterdam and quick Architectural tutorial. Here are some of our photos from the ride…












Friday we started out at the Anne Frank House. It was a really neat experience to walk through the Warehouse and then the Secret Annex. I thought mine and Aaron’s Wymount Apartment was bad – I can’t even imagine living in a space that tiny with eight other people for two solid years. It really made me count my blessings.
We then went on a city walk from the Anne Frank House to the Dutch Resistance Museum. We stopped at various historical sites from WWII on the way and got a little slice of what happened here during World War II. The Dutch Resistance Museum was very interesting – Kristy thought it should have gotten 3 triangles (out of 3) instead of 2 from Rick Steves. Often we think of WWII as strictly a resistance from the Jewish population and nobody else. I don’t mean often, but we do regularly assume WWII = Holocaust. It was very interesting to see how the Dutch people resisted the Nazi Occupation. By the time we had finished our walking tour and arrived at the museum there was about an hour before closing. We really wished we had gotten there earlier so we could have spent more time there. It was really an interesting museum and movement.

After that we had some time to kill before we needed to get to the airport so walked back to our hotel and then found a place to eat around there. We found a restaurant called Burger Meester. It was definitely interesting – at first there was only Dutch menu, but after we ordered we discovered there was an English menu. We ordered a typical cheeseburger but the meat had something “strange” in it. I can’t really describe what it was but it seemed to be some sort of protein/vegetable stuff. It was alright.

We arrived at the Amsterdam airport 2.5 hours early. We made sure were always at airport or train station early so we could get our bearings and find our way around. This time we thought we could while the time away by watching a movie on Mom’s laptop. That is until we discovered that you needed the internet to activate the movies we had just rented on iTunes. The internet was not free and to pay 6 euros for a movie we’ve already paid for seemed a little ridiculous.

We didn’t even set foot in to the Red Light District, but we got a bit of a taste of that part of town all over Amsterdam (I’m slightly regretting the fact that we didn’t just go to the Red Light District to just peek and say we’d been there but also glad that we didn’t bother with it). There were some explicit sex shops that we passed by with images you’d never see on display in the States. We also caught the smell of Marijuana (Cannabis as the Dutch say) quite a bit. I had gotten somewhat used to the smell of cigarette smoke (ok, not really, but it was at least expected) and smelling pot on every street corner was a different experience.

Overall, Amsterdam was great and I would love to return here. I think there is a lot more of Holland/Netherlands to explore too. I really appreciated the laid-back nature of the Dutch – I operate in a similar way so it was a nice place to be.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Days 19-20: Bruges, Belgium

So we finished our two day excursion to Bruges, Belgium. We didn’t blog at all while we were there because we “discovered” (I already knew about this, Kristy did not) that we could rent movies on iTunes and watch them. We have had some fun evening activities such as concerts . . but we aren't pub crawlers - so we usually end up in our rooms by 8 or 9 at night. Monday night we watched Bride Wars and last night we watched Doubt. It’s pretty cool for traveling purposes but I don’t think I would regularly rent a movie on iTunes. We had planned on watching some movies that you could “view instantly” on Netflix, but Netflix knew we were out of the country and wouldn’t allow it. We found a much better option anyways (we finished Doubt on the train this morning) and since Colby’s debit card is the card that shows on our itunes account, he is footing the bill! Thanks Colby!

We started late on Monday and first thing we did was get more waffles! We went to a place on the Main Market Square and had the most delicious banana chocolate waffles. They were even better than the strawberry ones we had the night before.


We spent the rest of the day exploring Bruges. We just wandered up and down the streets. Bruges is a beautiful, well-preserved gothic city. In fact, Bruges has been described as even more gothic than gothic. This means that when buildings are restored they add extra gothic embellishment than might have been there originally. After walking around for awhile, we decided to rent bikes and explore the city. We biked through the parks and around the canals and it was very enjoyable. Mom went crazy over the architecture. She pointed out how the windows all shared the cross motif. Look at our pics below and see if you can see it too. Unfortunately, the bike seat was very uncomfortable for me so I have had a sore bum the whole time we have been in Bruges. I still really enjoyed the bike ride and I wish it hadn’t been so painful. Most everything was closed on Monday, even shops, so we called it an early night. We’re not sure if Monday is just the dead day in Bruges (many museum and sights are closed on Mondays) or if it was the Pentecost holiday. That night we picked up some take-out Chinese food, skyped the guys, and watched Bride Wars in our hotel room.











Tuesday we decided to visit some of the museums in Bruges. We started first by climbing the Bell Tower in the Main Square. It felt a little bit like we were climbing the Eiffel Tower again. We climbed all the way to the top (366 steps). We were even up there when it played a song. The Bell Tower is pretty incredible and we had a nice view from the top but the line and traffic to get up and down was a little ridiculous. This was because the stairwell was so narrow and there were people going both up and down at the same time. There wasn't room for two people wide - so you had to wait your turn much of the way.





Following our climb at the Bell Tower we walked to Burg Square where we viewed many different types of architecture – from the 12th century to modern day. The Bruges Town Hall had an incredible gothic hall – no pictures allowed of course – with beautiful murals and decorations. Kristy didn’t see the sign and so she took a video of the inside of city hall. She didn’t get caught so maybe I should have just taken some pictures.
After that we got a lunch at place recommended by Rick Steves – we were more confident in him as he had recommended the waffle place the day before. It was a tiny restaurant called Bistro den Amand. Kristy had Shrimp with vegetables and rice. She prefers not to have her shrimp served with the heads on and the beady little eyes staring at her. Not only did she get 7 shrimp staring at her throughout the meal - but she had to push the shrimp whiskers away to get a forkful of rice. Good thing it was delicious. I had spring “rolls” (more like little packages) filled with chicken and vegetables and rice and paprika sauce. It was very good.




After that we visited the Groeninge Museum, which instead of its typical art exhibit, had a special exhibit on Charles the Bold. Charles the Bold was the Duke of Burgundy during the 15th Century and the museum was filled with artifacts from this time. It was a neat exhibit and there was still some of the art from the museum peppered throughout. No pictures allowed, of course.

We popped in the Church of our Lady (upon editing the second word in this sentence discovered that I had typed a double o and a single p – hah! Can you imagine??) before it closed. This cathedral seemed more real to me. It had all of the same gothic architecture like every other cathedral we’ve been to, but there were displays on the current ministry of the church and the local activities that were going on. I liked that. It made the catholic church seem not so ancient and distant to me. There was also a Madonna and Child statue by Michelangelo there, which was nice to see. The expression on the Madonna's face was so peaceful.

We window shopped for awhile before purchasing a quick take-out dinner at a grocery store. We skyped with the guys again and started Doubt.

Sorry for the lack of detail in this entry. Kristy is the master of the pen. She could describe all of the gothic architecture much better than I could.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Day 18: Last Day In Wien and Travel to Belgium

First, a side note. For those of you who aren't "registered users" and have wanted to comment on the blog, the setting has now been changed so that you can comment "anonymously,". Lauren didn't realize this setting wss turned off until now. If you do comment anonymously - could you type your name at the end of the post so we know who you are (unless of course you really prefer to be anonymous). Sorry to those of you who have tried it in frustration!

This morning we checked out of our Hotel in Vienna. We left our bags at the hotel front desk so we could spend the afternoon at the Kunsthistorisches Museum. That is Kunst (“koohnst”) for short. This museum was opened in 1891. The building itself is museum worthy. Just when you thought a building interior could not be more opulent . . . you encounter another European country needing a place to store their treasures and needing something that can enable them to continue playing the game of one-upsmanship with the other european powers. For this museum they spared no expense and pulled out all the stops! The entry of this museum has a dome in it – through which you can look through to see another dome. The walls and ceilings are lavishly decorated in hard surfaces such as marble or granite, wood carvings, paintings etc. I can imagine what the blueprints for this building must have been like. I’m not referring to the structural pages –because that is beyond my comprehension. I am referring to the finish pages; the pages which demonstrate what the walls and floors and ceilings are to be covered with. The blueprints which detail the materials the balusters and handrail are to be made of. The pages which show the placement of the Hapsburg stone lions on the end of the banisters. There must have been hundreds of pages of architectural detail. The walls were covered in hard surfaces – not just at chair rail height – but all the way to the ceiling. I’m guessing the ceilings don’t end at the 20’ point – but much higher. The ceilings were frescoed. The frescoes were then framed by the most detailed crown molding. Every transition of space was embellished. Every area of architectural interest was turned into a focal point. There were niches where unexpected things like ivory busts were placed high above doorways. The use of color from the black granite door surrounds to the pink stone stair balustrades was so artistic. The mixture of the natural marbles or granites was amazing. This place was incredible. The planning of the finish work alone must have taken years. My limited experience in decorating interiors tells me this was a monumental accomplishment. As I have designed spaces I focus on a particular feeling I want the space to evoke upon completion. Then, every item that goes into that space is analyzed so that it will contribute to the overall feel desired. This takes effort, talent and an aesthetic sense. I can’t really see the finished product in my mind, I can’t just imagine pieces of it all put together. This place was so complex that I cannot imagine anyone could have envisioned it without completely committing it to paper first. The aesthetic sense of the architect who designed the interior of the Kunst was well developed. I would like to know much, much more about the history of this building. I find it phenomenal that something demonstrating this much wealth was built as late as 1891 and when the Austrian empire was virtually bankrupt. I paid 10 Euros entry fee into this museum and 7.50 euros for Lauren. I got my money’s worth just looking at the museum before I ever walked into a picture gallery. The pictures we took can never begin to show the splendor of this place – but here goes. The museum website is www.khm.at.



Let's play a game of Where's Kristy. Can you find her in the picture shown above?



The picture collection contained over 8,000 paintings. You don’t have to be an art expert or a student of art to recognize the masters on display. They have main works by Rubens, Vermeer, Rembrandt, Titian, Raphael, Tintoretto, Veronese, Caravaggio, Velazquez and Durer. We have spent a couple of hours in the Italian, Spanish and French galleries before I looked at my wristwatch. I couldn’t believe the time had flown. We had only an hour left before we needed to migrate to the airport and we hadn’t even started in the Northern Galleries. We breezed through them, grateful that we would get a more in depth look in Amsterdam at the best works of these artists. We also found Pinocchio's death mask - here it is.



Our cuisine today was not worth writing about. It has been more difficult to find good food here. We do not like the regional fare – goulash, wiener schnitzel, bratwurst etc. It’s too rich and too heavy.

We flew to Brussels in the early evening, and have taken an express train from the airport to the Brussels train station. We then transferred to the train we are on now which is headed for Brugge. Catching this train was crazy. When we arrived at the station – we looked for our departure train info on the bulletin board. They have a series of bulletin boards with the train schedule written on them. We found the correct train and platform#. We arrived at platform#15. The train would be there in a few minutes according to the schedule. The electronic arrival board for the platform was blank. Usually it will display the train arriving in a couple of minutes. Lauren was on her toes and told me she’d be back in a minute. She went down the escalator to the underground terminal and looked at the electronic departure screen there. She discovered that our train had actually been transferred to platform 19. We tried to rush to the new platform – but had to get down stairs across and then back up to that platform - with luggage. We didn’t make it. We were frustrated that this platform change had not been published on the board where the train was expected to be. We went back down to the terminal and checked the electronic departure screen for the next train, it displayed a departure time 25 minutes later leaving from platform 15. So we headed back to our original platform. We felt pretty good when the platform board showed the train was coming at a certain time and other people were gathering waiting for the train. We waited around 20 minutes when Lauren noticed that the electronic platform sign had gone blank again. She ran back down to check the electronic departure terminal and sure enough the train had changed to platform 19, So . . . helter-skelter we repeated the same process we had just done and caught the train. It was added proof to me of Lauren’s ability to navigate. Everyone at the old platform had to hustle to the next one to make the train . . . but Lauren was the leader of the pack. Once we arrive in Bruges about 11pm we will take a cab straight to our hotel.

Since we are arriving after 10pm we had to have a code to get in to our hotel. We forgot to get the code ahead of time and weren’t sure how to handle it as we don’t have a cell phone. So we used our technological resources as best we could to solve the problem. We had wireless internet access at the Vienna airport. We wrote Ron and email telling him we needed his help and asked him to call the hotel in Belgium to get the code. We then navigated to Verizonwireless .com and sent Ron a text message to his cell phone that we needed his help and to check his email. We instructed him to email us the code once he got it. We thought this was pretty resourceful. It did have one flaw – in that it relied on us being able to access the internet in the Brussels airport. We could not access it there – but we did find pay phones , something we have not found in Europe yet. I was able to make a collect phone call to Ron and he gave us the information we needed. Thanks Ron for rescuing us!

When we arrived in Bruges we were starving. So we walked to the Main Square (not far from our hotel) and started our trip out with some delicious Belgian Waffles with Strawberries! They were pretty good and we can't wait to have more! (no pictures - we forgot the camera for this little late-night excursion)