Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Top 5 Things I Miss & Learned!

Peace. Love. Hugs. Cupcakes. (hand from the Cannes Film Festival Walk)
We had a whirlwind day in Amsterdam- Van Gogh museum and lots of walking in the rain. As we're settling in for the night, I'm writing my last blog post for this journey.

I thought I'd do the Top 5 things I've missed about home. And, the Top 5 Things I've Learned on this trip.
Why I Love Home
5. Ice. Cold. Water. Europe does not give free ice-water at meals. Any water is requested, and paid for by the bottle. It is also not very cold. Seems like a small thing, but after many days of walking around hot, sweaty, and dehydrated, there's nothing I desire more than ICE - filled water. 

Triumphantly throwing away the t-shirts I've worn
EVERY day on this trip.
4. My clothes at home! I have not enjoyed living out of our suitcase for the past 34 days. I have not enjoyed recycling through the same 5 shirts every week, not having any cute accessories or shoes. Slightly materialistic? Yes, but I just can't help myself. I am a girl.

3. My bed. My home. My couch. My shower. My home. My home. My home.

2. My family and friends. Colette has been a wonderful travel partner, but I've missed my parents and staying at the lake house. I've missed all the time to catch up with friends I always seem to neglect during the school year. I miss my Pickles!!! My sweet baby bird.

1. Ryan. Please allow me a few written lines of sappiness. I miss my boy. He's wonderful and sweet, and I couldn't be happier with him in my life. I've never missed someone like this before, and these 35 days have been tough without him. I can't wait to be with him again.

What I've Learned This Trip
Eiffel Tower at midnight
5. I have an awesome camera. Seriously. The moments my camera has been able to capture have been amazing! Whether it's rainy or late at night, my camera can get shots that Colette's legit Olympus can't. Awesome Christmas gift- thanks Mom and Dad!

4. I like nature and silence. Don't get me wrong- I love music, and I love talking with friends. But, sometimes, there is nothing more peaceful to me than being surrounded by nature and silence. I am relaxed when I am in nature and there are no other sounds. Whether I'm on the beach and can only hear the wind lapping on the shore or in the mountains picnicking with the sound of the wind, I feel so at peace.

3. I'm excited to begin teaching again next month! I have loved my vacation, and it was well needed. Having done work for my new Course Leader position on and off throughout my trip and reading professional development books, I couldn't be more excited to begin the new school year. I am ready to be an even better teacher and continue to professionally grow!

Ready to Travel!
2. I've got the bug. The Travel Bug. I love exploring so many different countries, so many different kinds of cities, villages, and towns. Meeting new people and seeing how others live. Making new, wonderful friends along the way. I can appreciate so much more about the world I live in, about my own world. I learn more tolerance and patience. I learn more acceptance of others. I love learning about new cultures and the history of the places I visit. It's a constant learning opportunity, and I relish every minute of it.

1. I am so blessed. Time and time again, I have felt so reminded of all of the blessings I have. Great family. Great pet Pickles. Great boyfriend. Great friends. I've got my own home and a wonderful job that I love. I have the stability and security to stave my travel bug's needs. I have the support and friendship in my life to make me happy. I have everything wonderful in life right at my fingertips, and I do my best to appreciate every second of it.

My cousin, Lisa, in the Antibes market
Brad and Sheri, Tour Buddies, enjoying Swiss fondue
Frolicking in the Alps

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

French Riviera's Top 6!

For the past ten days, I have been spoiled under my cousin and her husband’s hospitality. Technically, I think Lisa is my 1st cousin twice removed or 2nd cousin once removed? Oh, who knows! She’s family. And, she has been a spectacular host. Colette and I get to snuggle up on their Murphy bed each night in the midst of their living room, enjoy her fresh and healthy home-cooking, get escorted to some of the finest towns along the coast, and get free laundry (complete with hang-drying our clothes on their terrace).

Colette and I with Lisa

This entry summarizes the past 10 days that I have soaked up the coast of the French Riviera (excluding the 2.5 days we were in Prague). So prepare yourself; it’s a long one.

Fun Fact #1: In Southern France, we traveled to: Antibes (where my cousin lives), Nice, Monaco (& specifically Monte Carlo), Juan des Pins, and Tourrettes Sur Loup, the mountainside village where Marc (Lisa’s husband) works.

Fun Fact #2: There is something more delicious than a chocolate-filled croissant. It is a chocolate AND almond filled croissant. Ooooh. These creations must be in heaven; I will request a transfer if they’re not.

Presenting… chronological order…

The French Riviera’s Top 6

6. Nice. Because we were flying out of Nice to get to Prague, we spent the afternoon in the coastal town. We had fresh mussels for lunch, wandered the antique market, purchased vintage art prints, and climbed the 200-some-odd steps up to the Chateau. It was hot and beachy, but the chateau and other 13th century architecture made it lovely. Despite being juxtaposed by the tall rectangular eye-sores from the 70’s, the city’s old-town charm and French market place made it inviting.
You only live once!

5. Topless sunbathing on the pebble beach in Antibes. Well, you only live once! The French beaches are filled with topless women, of all ages, enjoying smooth tan-line free chests; there is no gawking from men or others, not even teenage boys. It is not shameful. It is natural. So naturally, Colette and I had to partake in this cultural habit. Though I’m still a little burned (literally sun-burnt) from the event, there is nothing more liberating than lying on a pebble beach without any self-consciousness. The sea is a brilliant greenish-blue and calmly laps up on the shore. To the right is the curving coast of Antibes’ old town. To the left are the Alps. In front is nothing but bright blue sea and a handful of sailboats. We were lucky to find a more secluded beach; let’s be honest- Colette and I were still initially apprehensive to shed our tops. We listened to the coastal wind that kept us cool and sound of the water rushing onto the rocks. Peace.

4. Because of the intense winds on Saturday, July 14th, Bastille Day, all fireworks were cancelled—much to our dismay. Never ones to sit and mope, Colette, Lisa and I ventured to Juan les Pins, another coastal port near Antibes. Marc was working the Bastille Day Dance in the village where he is a cop, so he was unable to join us.
Now, when I say we ventured, we definitely ventured. We walked down the coast of Antibes and up the cobbled slope to the lighthouse, where we saw breathtaking views of the coast- nearing sunset. We then peeked through the gates of the nearby Caps de Antibes, where the rich and not-so-famous lavishly live. We finally made it to Juan les Pins 2 & ½ hours later. A quick jaunt, really.
Our delicious drinks
After a delicious and well-earned dinner, we decided to go for a drink. Juan les Pins is the ‘happening’ city with all-night clubs and bars. We passed by a Brazilian inspired bar, Pam Pam, and were hooked by the dancers parading in feathers. Despite the line of people waiting in front of us, our magic number of ‘3’ got us seated immediately and right up front to the show. Completely touristy, over-the-top, and commercialized. But fun, delicious, and amazing nonetheless. Colette’s cocktail was served in a monkey, mine had a cute bird and fruit on the rim (of course, I kept the bird. Did you really think I wouldn’t? I miss my baby Pickles), and Lisa’s four shots of whisky came on a fat bamboo log. The dancers shook their hips in sequined, feathered outfits, the singer sang in Portuguese, and the drummer—well, he was just pretty damn good looking. It was a perfect girls night, and just what Colette and I needed. So close to the end of our trip and no longer busy every minute of the day like we were on our tour, we were starting to feel a little homesick. But nothing a monkey drink, Brazilian music, and dancers couldn’t cure.
Papou and Toucan became close friends
3. Sunday, we drove up to meet Marc for a picnic lunch in the mountains. What? Mountains right next to the sea? Yes. I know. It’s just not fair.
Our drive up the winding mountains of Antibes was incredible.
Having experienced it, now twice, there is nothing I found more amazing and puzzling than the following: Finding home, feeling at home, somewhere that is thousands of miles away from your real home. This was the more-or-less thesis of my final paper in a Creative Nonfiction class I took in college, where I wrote about my experiences traveling abroad during Semester at Sea. I had found my first home-away-from-home in Japan, which is a long, separate story. In the mountains of Southern France, I have now found my second.
It wasn’t France though, it was the mountains. It wasn’t like the lush Swiss Alps we had been to. It was the dryer, desert-y mountains with fresh pine air. With the car window down, wind rushing across my face as we sped around the curves (no really, Marc is like a race-car driver on those curves), I was able to reflect. This feeling, surge of emotion and longing and peace, happens every time I am in the mountains in the Western U.S. –Colorado or California. I just feel that I am meant to be there. I’m sure my experiences at Idyllwild my senior year in high school help attribute to it, as well as my dude ranch vacations in Colorado, but I just can’t accurately describe it. Maybe it’s a former reincarnation of myself that used to live or pioneer in the mountains. I just know that in 10, or 20, or even 30 years, I will have to move to the mountains and live out the rest of my life there.
Picnicking on the side of a mountain was heavenly. I have felt peace many times on my journey, but this was the first peace where I felt at home.
Wild lavendar

Southern French mountainside
Beautiful views!
2. Later that evening, we drove back down the mountain and onto Monaco. This happened after detouring in Marc’s village, Tourettes Sur Loup, another beautiful medieval town in the mountains. It is called the City of Violets, so Colette and I just had to sample the local specialty, violet ice cream. Mmm. Mmm. Mmm.
Open Air cinema in front of the prison walls
An hour drive later and we were back along the coast in Monaco, specifically Monte Carlo. We went to the Open-Air Cinema. A large screen sits in front of Monaco’s prison walls. Movie seats are rows of empty white lawn chairs. When you look up, there is nothing but sky and stars. The faint sound of the sea is miles below you. We watched The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (renamed Indian Palace in France). It was a wonderful feel-good movie with Judi Dench and Maggie Smith: the story of eight older English people who travel to a run-down (unbeknownst to them) hotel for the elderly in Jaipur, India. What is more perfect than a story about the beauty of traveling, finding a new home away from home, at this point in my trip? And with the wit of Maggie Smith? That’s just fantastic.
At one point in the movie, a stork flies up in the sky; at the same time, a white bird flew over the movie screen. Colette and I synced eyes and giggled. It was perfect.

1. After a lazy Monday on the beach and pizza in the evening, Tuesday was our last full day to soak up the French Riviera. So we traveled to Cannes. We went to the theatre that hosts the Cannes Film Festival. A 2 hour tour in French? Not such a piece of cake. Even with Lisa's basic translation, it got pretty boring pretty quickly. The highlight of the day, however, was on our journey back to Antibes at the Sainte Croix winery. Marc and Lisa know the owners, so we were definitely taken care of. I sampled every type of wine they had- multiple Roses, Blancs & Rouges. Twas delicious, to say the least. Between the French men's conversations and banter, Lisa's talk with one of the woman, and one of the men's attempt to communicate with Colette in Spanish, it was a whirlwind of language and cultures. And it really showed me how much I will miss being drowned in a foreign culture and the language. Having no idea what is going on around me, yet loving every minute of it.
Sunset by the lighthouse

Near Juan les Pins

Picnic in the mountains

We've become quite close!
Now, onto Amsterdam for one last full day before I return home. To my real, current home that is. I haven’t moved to the mountains…yet.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Prague Blog!

Armed with backpacks, money belts securely fastened to our waists, and the Rick Steves guide in our hands, Colette and I took our first solo adventure, all the way to Eastern Europe. Prague, pronounced 'Praha' by locals, is considered to be the 'gateway to Eastern Europe,' and I must say that it's a beautiful gateway!

Cinderella's Castle (sorta!)
Fun Fact #1: Rick Steve's guidebook said that visitors called Prague's Old Town Square at twilight like, "Disneyworld, but better." I didn't quite understand until I was there. The Tyn Church's spires are lit up in blue and white, certainly reminiscent of Cinderella's castle. And equally breathtaking. Just like Disneyworld.

Fun Fact #2: I got some amazing original artwork on the St. Charles Bridge. There were tons of vendors, but I had never seen anything like his work before. It is whimsical and will always be a reminder of my magical time in Prague.

Presenting: Prague's Top 5 Highlights!
(Chronologically listed)
Jan Hus Memorial in Old Town Square
Astronomical Clock Tower at night
5. The Astronomical Clock in the middle of Old Town Square is a work of art. Built in the 12th century, it's similar to a complicated Cuckoo clock. On the hour, the Death skeleton rings the bell and summons the 12 apostles to consecutively stick their heads out of the windows. The rooster crows, and a guard (dressed in traditional garb) from the top of the tall tower plays the trumpet three times. It was fascinating to watch, and I think it shows how much tradition and classic architecture reign supreme in the heart of Prague.

4. Though it was hot, we ventured the long walk up to Prague's Castle quarters. It is one of the largest castle grounds in the world, and like Buckingham Palace, stoic guards protect its entrance. On the hour, a traditional ceremony occurs for the changing of the guards. In the courtyard, the guards assemble and march in formation to the tune of the bugle horn and drums being played out the window of the palace. Inside the castle, we explored the St. Vincent Chapel with its massive stained-glass windows, the Golden Lane of knight uniforms and swords, and the Royal Palace. The castle matches the charm of Prague's old town: cobbled streets, beautiful and pastel painted buildings, and gothic statues that reach out to you from the tops of the churches.
The Changing of the Guards
Taking a well-deserved bow after the performance

3. After an American meal- yes, we caved and had tuna melts on bagels at Bohemia Bagel- we got cheap tickets to one of the many classical concerts that play nightly in the city's many churches and halls. In the Moorish Spanish synogague in the Jewish quarter, we listened to an orchestral quintet and guest Opera singer perform a medley: including George Gershwin, Orff, Hava Negila, and my favorite, Carmina Burana. I was so blown away by the quality and beauty, I teared up. It was one of those moments when I remember exactly why I travel and why I love to do this. That experience was by far one of the best on my trips. The singer's notes were perfect, the violinists flawless. It was a small venue, with 8 rows of foldable chairs, was definitely not highly recommended or advertised, and yet it was still the most spectacular experience. 

2. Our second day, we traveled to Prague's Art Nouveau New Town. Home of the Bohemian Art Nouveau movement, New Town is a hodge podge of modern, communist era, and Nouveau architecture. We went to the Alfons Mucha museum: the most famous artist of Art Nouveau. His work is truly beautiful, and he is most well known for his posters advertising Sarah Bernhardt's plays. I was luckily able to purchase prints of my favorite set: the Four Arts. Colette and I both love his style, so we leisurely enjoyed a good hour and half in the small museum.
The Four Arts: Dance, Music, Painting, & Poetry
1. The rest of our day in Prague was spent back in the Old Town square in a restaurant's outdoor seating, where we enjoyed a free jazz concert. This leads to my favorite highlight of Prague: its overflowing love of music. Trumpets blared at the Changing of the Guards and clock tower, dozens of classical musicians loitered the streets with beautiful sounds, and jazz music poured out of the large concert in the middle of the square. We saw a quintet of 5 young students play in a street. We peeked in the National Theatre where opera and ballet performances are nightly. We were serenaded on the St. Charles Bridge by a small group classical musicians. We chuckled at the classic Czech music being played by a ridiculously mustached man in the castle quarters. Music is celebrated and appreciated. Prague is a magical, musical wonderland. 
Hanging with the Castle Guard

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Tour's Top 5

With my guided tour at an end, Colette and I are off traveling solo and with my cousin, Lisa, who lives in Southern France. So, I thought a proper send-off to my tour group would be a tribute:

Top 5 Things I Will Miss About My Tour Group

The whole group with lighted sparklers in Beaune's gazebo for the 4th of July
5. Having everything pre-planned, transportation taken care of, tickets purchased, and navigation via our tour guide. Yes, I am very excited to do some solo traveling, which is why we planned to stay an extra 2 weeks. Yes, I enjoy the planning, but I have gotten a little spoiled at not having to lift a finger. It’s also been nice having native guides give us walking tours and tours of museums.
Linda's grandsons: Alex, Peter, and Jack-a-roni
The Pollard Boys and Austin
4. How adventurous, intelligent, and friendly every one on my trip members has been. They have made this trip amazing. Whether I was chatting with some of the older couples, like Joyce and Steve; drinking beer with our travel buddies, Sheri and Brad; keeping up with kids, like Derek, Lexi, and Lawrence; chilling with the Texan Pollard boys, Marc and David; or talking sci-fi with Linda and her grandsons- everyone has been awesome! It’s been wonderful getting to meet so many well-traveled and SMART people. It’s definitely my kind of crew.

3. Richard! Our Dutch Coach driver, Richard had his dapper suits, spiffy jackets, and put-together outfits. He would spend nights with the girls out on the porches talking girl talk. He introduced us to Martini Biancos. He took us out to a local pub. He was friendly, nice, and a GREAT driver. Driving a huge coach bus up the winding Swiss Alps is no walk in the park. He was the epitome of European and everything that’s dapper and refined.
Richard and Lisa by our Coach!

2. Lisa, our wonderful tour guide! Sir, yes sir, Mamma Lisa, as she began to be called. She was our go-to travel advice, fearless leader, and hug-lover. Naturally, you’d think she’d be hired as a tour guide since she’s so awesome, but you never know who you’ll get. And she was perfection.

Wine tasting in Beaune
1. Being an untouristy tourist. Sounds like a contradiction, but this tour group did such a good job of balancing touristy attractions and smaller places off the beaten path. The small group of 27 never made us feel like one of the massive groups we saw filling up the squares in Rome and Paris. The fact that Lisa never held up a stupid colored umbrella or dorky bright hat, made us feel like real people. The balance of planned activities with free time to explore and travel on our own was perfect. It was the best way to travel- to experience historical sights with native guides, to taste local delicacies and favorites, and to unobtrusively seep into the beautiful European landscapes. 
Derek, chillaxing on the Luge
The Pollard Boys: Marc and David

Properly enjoying the 4th of July
The Mighty 10 and a 1/2 year old Lawrence

Derek, Me, Kiah (covered), and Kevin

Top 5 for Paris and Beaune!

Beaune and Paris, France

We spent one quick night in Beaune, so I am adding the highlight of Beaune into my Paris highlights. These highlights are done in chronological order, because I really can’t say one was better than another.

Also, there is SO much to see in Paris. There is SO much I didn’t get to see; there just wasn’t enough time in 2 days. I missed the Musee D’Orsay, Versailles, the Champs Elysse, and many more. I guess this just means I will have to come back!

The Top 5!
Looking at the skyline from the Eiffel Tower
5. Our wine-tasting dinner in Beaune. Being a few hours from Dijon, Beaune is a quaint, classic town. It is small and homey, and the cobbled streets wind around a small, central park (complete with a merry-go-round). They are in the heart of wine-making country. For our dinner, we ventured into a 12th century Abbey, now a restaurant. The gothic stone arches of the small room make it feel like a medieval dungeon, a catacomb, or a deep cavern. Around candlelight, our host entreated us to sample four different French wines. The ’05 was my favorite; most others were a bit younger, and a bit more tart. After wine, we sat down to eat. And boy, did we eat. I think my stomach nearly exploded after that meal. I started with poached eggs on a soft bread, smothered and drowning in a thick, creamy bacon broth. Oh god. It was like a meal within itself. Then the main course? Wow. The waitress brought out a small dutch-oven type pot. Inside was roasted chicken and potatoes soaked in a creamy Dijon mustard sauce. Oh. My. God. It was so delicious. Words cannot even describe how amazing this was. And if that wasn’t enough, we ended with dessert. I got an apple tart. Mmm. Fresh apples on top. Warm cinnamon. Fresh French breaded crust. My mouth is still watering recapping this. Mmmm.

Lit up at night
4. Our first night in Paris, we went to the Eiffel Tower. (I hope you are pronouncing Paris the same way I am: Pair- ee; it just sounds so much better that way.) We met one of Colette’s friends who was traveling with someone throughout Europe, and we went to dinner at a nearby café. It was especially nearby and overpriced because Colette and I were freezing: we had been out in the afternoon for our walking tour of Notre Dame and the St. Chapelle, when it was sunny. We didn’t have jackets or umbrellas. And then, as we were walking to the Eiffel Tower it got very cold and very rainy. We were freezing and a little miserable. Though a quick hot cup of coffee and a cute umbrella from underneath the Eiffel Tower certainly helped pick us up! A long dinner of escargot and steak and chocolate mousse and wine helped pick us up even more, especially with the company of Colette’s friends. We ventured back to the tower after dinner, hoping the line had died down. The line was much shorter, so we hopped on. Now, about 5 minutes before we got to the ticket booth, they announced they had closed the top! When I asked the man at the booth, he said it had become too overcrowded. Since it was so late, they were not going to re-open it. No wonder the line was shorter…people probably knew that would happen. The 2nd floor of the tower was still open, however. We took a jam-packed elevator up to the 2nd floor, and it was magnificent. Looking out at Paris’s lighted skyline was spectacular, even in the chilly wind. (The rain had finally stopped!)
The tower twinkles and lights up at 10, 11, and midnight. (It closes at 12:45am.) We got to watch it light up twice: once right underneath it, and once from the lawn in front of it. It’s like watching diamonds run up and down the Eiffel Tower. Amazing. I still can’t get over it: I went to the Eiffel Tower! I saw it with my own eyes!
Venus de Milo

3. The next morning, we went to the Louvre! I was so excited for this part of our trip, and it definitely lived up to its hype. The building itself is awe-some: an old palace, it still has the massive stone walls, the decorative gold trim and paintings on the ceilings, and part of Napoleon’s old living quarters. Mona Lisa? Check. Venus de Milo? Check. Winged Victory of Samophrace? Check. Ancient Roman and Greek sculptures? Check. Medieval paintings? Check. Marie Antoinette’s jewelry collection? Check. Picture at the glass pyramid? Check.
Our guide told us we walked about 9 miles of the Louvre by the time our tour was done, but it was the best 9 mile museum hike I’ve ever taken. I can take one more thing off my bucket list now. Again, this just reminds me how blessed I am to be on this trip. To have someone to go on this trip with. To have found such a wonderful tour group to have this journey with. To have the job security and financial stability to enjoy this trip and everything it has to offer. To have the family and friends and boyfriend to support my travel bug. To feel so blessed!
Winged Victory of Samophrace
2. We were a little museumed-out after the Louvre, so Colette and I took to our favorite pastime- wandering the streets. We walked up and down, peeked in and out of stores, found a café to dine at, and then decided to venture back to the metro. We figured out how to get on the subways to The Opera and Galleries Lafayette. We didn’t pay to view the Opera, but we enjoyed looking at it. Two golden, winged statues frame the rounded building. Around the corner is the Galleries Lafeyette, two domed buildings that are now home to many department stores. The inside of the dome is brightly and vividly painted. It reminded me of the inside of the Moulin Rouge (which we didn’t have time to go visit). It was beautiful and fun to walk around in.

1. I couldn’t end a post about Paris without proper homage to the food. Oh, the food. Salmon, steak and French fries. Mmm. Spinach quiche. French onion soup. Chocolate mousse. Crème brulee. Bread. Bread. Fresh French bread. Every café or patesserie or brasserie you walk by smells heavenly. The aroma seeps out into the street. Merde (excuse my French), it’s just fantastic. My last taste of Paris before heading down to Southern France, Antibes, to stay with my cousin for a week, was a chocolate éclair. Divine. Simply divine.
I've got the Louvre at my fingertips!

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Switerland's Top 4!

Swiss Alps, Switzerland

Fun Fact #1: We had to drive through 112 tunnels and two countries.

Fun Fact #2: Americans, and other non-natives, can only stay in the country 90 days without a visa.

Not-So-Fun-Fact #1: Flies. Everywhere. They invade your table. They follow you while you hike. They constantly land on you. Probably the only reason why I wouldn’t want to have a nice summer home here.

And now…                           
4 for Swiss!

4. Hiking in the Swiss Alps. I think the Swiss Alps are one of the most beautiful places we have been to. We stayed in the valley of Stechelberg, which is home to our hotel and about 5 houses. No joke- it’s called a hamlet. From Stechelberg, you can take the gondola up to the other towns. Most of us from our group to the gondola up to Murren and Lisa led us on a hike down from the mountaintop back to a larger town, Lauterbrunnen. Of course, the rain had followed us to Switzerland. So while it had cleared up that morning, it was still very misty and cloudy. Despite the heavy mist and fog, it was beautiful winding down the muddy path of the mountain. The fields were brilliant green. The cows were belled and meandering in the fields. The wildflowers were plentiful and colorful. It was the definition of serenity.

3. Sleeping in the Swiss Alps. The first night in the Alps, Colette, in a fit of whimsy, whipped her mattress out onto the balcony to sleep in the cool Swiss air. I, a little more weary of the rain that had just lightened up, stayed in. The second night, however, after an increasingly clearer day, I decided to join her. Bundled up in a few extra clothes to keep off the cold, night air, I took my mattress onto our balcony and snuggled up for the night. While it wasn’t my best night’s sleep, it was pretty wonderful sleeping in the cool air. And now I can say that I’ve slept out in the Alps.

2. Frolicking in the Swiss Alps. Yes, you read that correctly. Frolicking. Inspired from the pictures of Brad and Sherri after their hike, Colette and I knew we had to do it. So we found an open field, with a beautiful background of the Alps, and we twirled and frolicked. We spun and laughed, and I felt a bit like Julie Andews in the Sound of Music. I would burst into song more often if I was around those hills. Twas’ magical.
Frolicking in the meadows of the Alps
1. Waterfalls in the Swiss Alps. By far, this experience has been one of my best highlights of the entire trip. The Trummelbache Falls are a series of 10 waterfalls within one mountain, supplied by glacial water. They are truly ah-mazing, awe-inspiring. Pictures do not do it justice. You have to experience it. Now, I have been to Iguacu Falls in Brazil, and while those are far larger, I still find every waterfall equally amazing, in its own way. At Trummelbache, it was more compact, but the force of the water as it gushes down the mountain is immense. It weaves and corkscrews throughout the mountain as it cascades down into an eventual brook. I could have spent hours mesmerized by its power and beauty. The falls were a definite #1 highlight for Switzerland, and a definite #3 highlight for the entire trip. Ah, the hills are alive with music...and frolicking, and hiking, and wonderfulness.   
Does. Not. Do. Justice.

Monterosso's Top 3!

Cinque Terre, (Island of Monterosso), Italy

Fun Fact #1: Along the Northern coast of Italy rests the Cinque Terre, pronounced ‘chink-wa tare- ra’. It consists of five islands; our hotel was located on Monterosso.

Not-So-Fun-Fact #1: Last year, the islands were flooded. Most of our island had to be rebuilt, the flood level destroying many first floors of buildings. Though much of the city has been renovated, you can still see the remnants of destruction in various closed buildings, battered front doors and broken steps.

We spent one night and one day in Cinque Terre. So, I present to you…

Cinque Terre’s Top 3!

3. After a long, almost seven hour drive, we finally made it to our beachy town. For dinner we walked the main strip of the island, along a cliff overlooking the beach, to a small seafood restaurant. I can’t remember the exact name of our dish, but it was quite the experience. The ‘brave’ seafood eaters were seated at two long tables. After appetizers and salad, the waiters brought out two monstrous-sized bowls for each of our tables. They were massive pots filled to the brim with mussels, clams, full-bodied shrimp (with eyes!), and a large, tentacled octopus. Though a little hesitant, we all manned up to taste the tentacle strips floating in the reddish, garlic broth. It was delicious! We all chowed down on that octopus like it was nobody’s business. Our table was full of laughter and talking as we scarfed down one of the best group-meals I’ve had so far. By the end of the evening, when most tables had dissipated for the night, our table was still going strong with wine, seafood, and great stories. Did I mention we were on a covered-patio that offered a stunning view of the moon glistening on the sea?
The aftermath
2. It had been a busy week for us, so the thought of hiking between all of the different islands didn’t hold the same appeal as just relaxing on the beach two blocks from our hotel all day. So that’s exactly what we did. Colette, David, Kiah (found out I’ve been misspelling her name this whole time, oops!), Mark (who joined us later in the day after sleeping in), and I spent a good 8 hours on that beach. We chatted, floated in tubes we’d bought for 3 Euro, and laid out on the umbrella’ed beach chairs we’d purchased. The water was cold. The water was greenish-blue. The water was calm. To the right, we could see the rock cliff jutting out. To the left water lapped against large, smooth rocks that ran into the pebbled shore. We were warm under the sun but cool in the salt-water. Thanks to the beach being completely pebbled, we didn’t have to worry about sandy suits. And thanks to our avid reapplication of sunscreen, not one of us came out of there burned! Chalk it all up to a beautiful way to spend a summer day in the Italian sun.

1. 2012 Euro Cup. Spain versus Italy. The main square in Monterosso was packed with face-painted, jersey-wearing, hooting and hollering Italians. They crammed the bars, had additional patio chairs put out, and a few big-screen TV’s set up. There was raucous cheering and blow-horns, beer chugging and pizza eating. Now, unfortunately, timing worked out that we were at dinner for the entirety of the game. (I always forget how leisurely Europeans are with dinner…sitting down to dine at 8 when a game starts at 8:45 was not the best timing.) However, because of our outdoor seating, and only being a block away from the square, we got to hear everything. Though even more unfortunately, Italy lost 4-0. However, unlike Americans who either drink in celebration or in depression, Italians sulk in silence. Game over; everybody goes home. We commiserated the loss over one last scoop of Gelato (it being our last night in Italy on the tour). I had Crema de Limone (Cream of Lemon), and it was like Lemon Cream cake. Ohhh, and it was divine. [Now, I have sort of learned that I’m slightly lactose-intolerant on this trip: any ice-cream, gelato, or heavy creamed food really upsets my stomach. And even though I felt that gelato the next day, it was totally worth it.] The evening was a perfect way to end our time in Italy. A BEAUTIFUL LIFE.
Relaxing on the beach