the end of one adventure

Well, it’s been a few months since we finished our trip and you may have noticed a lack of updates on our travels. We got so busy and involved in experiencing our trip that blog-writing fell by the wayside…so I’ll give a quick overview of our last few weeks of the trip.

After our wonderful time in Sweden, we spent about a week in Cologne, Germany. My good friend Peter lives in this city, and it was great to see his life there, experience the city, and meet his girlfriend. We also met up with our friend Matt, who had been in Berlin for a conference and came and spent a night at our AirBnB with us.

 You may have heard that the Kölner Dom is large : you have been misinformed. It’s impossibly large.

Germany was, as always, a fun opportunity to brush up on our German skills. We’re always rusty, but it’s always fun to practice.

We were good guests and ate all of the delicacy that Peter ordered for us in a restaurant one evening — Mettbrötchen. This consists of…raw ground pork on top of some bread, with raw chopped onions on top of it. It was a deeply challenging food to eat, but Peter and his girlfriend raved about how delicious and beloved this food is.

After another visit to Cipressa — documented in a previous post — we went back to the U.K. Our first stop was a London suburb where we stayed with an online friend of mine, Katharine, at her family home. Internet friends are not (always) serial killers, guys!! Katharine is super nice and not ONCE did she or her parents attempt to kill us. In fact, it was relaxing and fun and delightful to get to know Katharine “IRL,” meet her lovely parents, stay in their beautiful house, and explore their town. Said town happens to be the site of a, er, famous agricultural experiment. What famous agricultural experiment? Well, if you knew as much about the history of statistics as David did, you’d know. 😉

David and I dipped down to Alfriston, England, for a two-day trip. Why Alfriston? Well, we knew we wanted to spend some time in small-town/rural England, but we didn’t know where to go. So we spent one long evening in Cologne choosing. I set up a complex system involving each of us choosing three possibilities from a list, researching one another’s choices, and presenting the options before having a final vote. My goal was that this way, neither of us would feel bad that the town “we” wanted to visit won. In the end, we both felt guilty : David initially chose the town, but I researched it, so we both felt like we were getting our way while denying each other their choice. But we got over that pretty fast once we got to Alfriston and both fell head-over-heels for the town. We stayed in a 13th-century inn…

which provided hiking trail directions & sack lunches for folks wanting to explore the South Downs trail. There were two hike options : one was a 1.5 mile hike of the town, the other was a 13 mile hike to the ocean and back.

We took the 1.5 mile hike the evening we arrived, after visiting the Clergy House, the first property ever purchased by the National Trust. It dates back to around 1350! It was amazing to visit.IMG_3411

We took the other hike the following day. The long hike ended up being more like 15 miles because we occasionally strayed from the path, either on purpose or because we were confused.

And it…was…AMAZING! David had the map, and I had the directions, and together we followed this beautiful hike that took us up into the hills, through pastures of sheep and fields, into forests straight out of the Shire, through little towns, and to the Seven Sisters cliffs on the coast. The entire day was like a dream. We stopped for tea in the afternoon, and when we finally got back to our hotel in the evening, we had time to shower and head downstairs for dinner in the beautiful dining room of the inn. It was honestly one of the best days of the entire summer, and it’s in the short-list for best days of my life. We have a new dream of someday hiking the entire South Downs trail now!

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We returned to Katharine’s home and spent a few more days with her lovely family…and one day with ALL THINGS HARRY POTTER. We spent six hours at Leavesden Studios, where the Harry Potter films were created…but I could have spent days, literally. It was an incredible place to visit and we saw SO much cool behind-the-scenes stuff.

 

After this excellent finish to our visit to England, Katharine’s lovely dad drove us and Katharine to Cardiff, Wales. We spent two days there, exploring Torchwood landmarks, admiring the bay, visiting the Doctor Who Experience, and visiting the National Museum. Katharine hung out with us for part of the time before heading off on a camping trip with her friends. We are so grateful for her friendship and help!

Our last stop was DUBLIN, and we went hard. After three hours of sleep and an incredibly early flight from Cardiff, we literally went straight to the Guinness Storehouse and had a tour (complete with pints) at 11 AM. Our AirBnB in Dublin was beautiful and cozy, and we had a quiet evening in due to pouring rain.

Our final full day of the trip was packed…and amazing. We took a walking-tour of Dublin and learned a lot of history about Ireland. In the afternoon, we saw the Book of Kells, which was truly incredible. In the evening, we ate traditional Irish food and spent the evening in a pub listening to live music.

We got up early on the day of our flight home, in order to have time for fresh doughnuts and a visit to Christ Church Cathedral. 

It was hard to believe that our trip was coming to an end, but we enjoyed our last morning nonetheless, and left Ireland even more in love with the country and each other than we were when we’d entered it. Our long flight home passed over Greenland, which has been since added to our list of future trips. I’m so, so glad that we did this slightly crazy trip when we had the chance, and so, so grateful that we were able to do so.

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just before leaving Dublin

Skåne, Sweden (and Copenhagen)

Another post written by my wonderful husband, David!

Here’s some backstory: in the late 1800’s, Sweden was desperately poor. Many children, particularly those who weren’t first-borns, could not hope for a good future in their home country. So, many left: about a quarter of Sweden’s population emigrated to the United States in the 19th and early 20th centuries. This often divided families, and for family members who stayed behind, it was as though their émigré sons, daughters, brothers, or sisters had died. Most people in Sweden today know that they have some ancestors who emigrated, but not many are in touch with the American cousins descended from those ancestors. Many Swedes are curious about these cousins, though. There’s even a popular Swedish reality TV show in which Americans with Swedish roots compete to win trips to Sweden and find their long-lost relatives!

We’re lucky that we didn’t have to become reality TV stars to get in touch with my Swedish third- and fourth-cousins. My paternal great-great-grandfather was one of those younger sons who left Sweden in the late 19th century, in 1889 at the age of fifteen with his older brother. He was from the southernmost peninsula of Sweden, a region called Skåne (SKOH-nah). He eventually settled in Tekoa, Washington; his youngest daughter, Helena, was my great-great aunt. When Helena was little her father would tell her about the home he had left behind, a big house called Dalsjögården (DAHL-fwah-gor-don). When she grew up, Helena talked often about what she would do and whom she would visit “when I go to Sweden” – so much that her husband finally just said “Enough! We’re going!” and bought them tickets. Helena was able to get in touch with some of her cousins in Sweden and visit Dalsjögården; she even recognized some of the boulders and old roads in the forest nearby from her father’s descriptions. Years later, when my parents were planning a pre-parenthood trip to Europe, Helena insisted they look up “the Swedes” and visit them. After another twenty years, my folks took me and my sister there to visit, and now I’ve had the pleasure of introducing Laura to them…

On the way to Sweden, though, we spent a day in Copenhagen, and it doesn’t seem fair to leave that out of the story completely. The big event was a walking tour of the city by a free tour company called Sandeman’s – walking tours seem to be our preferred form of big-city excitement. And the Sandeman tour company is worth looking up in major European cities, the tours are excellent and, officially, free, although it’s considered polite to tip the guide $10-20 per person. We learned about the founding of Copenhagen by Bishop Absalon (who is often pictured carrying both a bishop’s staff and a sword), famous battles against the Swedes, the Danish language, the life of Hans Christian Andersen, and the Danish royal family (the queen, by the way, is known for having painted the illustrations in the Danish edition of the Lord of the Rings). One of our favorite stops of the day came just after the end of the tour, when we wandered to a lovely Anglican church called St. Alban’s out near the citadel and the statue of the little mermaid.  (Laura’s note : we also learned that Copenhagen burned to the ground twice. The second time they had tried to apply their lesson learned by installing a fancy water-pump and assigning fire watchers to watch from towers of churches and other tall buildings. Well, a fire watcher spotted the beginning of the second fire — and then they found that no one could find the key to the fancy water-pump, so the city burned down a second time anyway. Whoops.)

We also learned, though this was not part of the tour, that 7-11’s in Copenhagen have very good free Wi-Fi and surprisingly tasty chocolate croissants.

 

The next day we took an early train to Hässleholm, the Swedish city nearest to the small towns where my relatives live. Or rather, we tried to take a train to Hässleholm – it turned out that after we left on one train from Copenhagen we were supposed to transfer to a different train in Malmö, which we did not do and thus took a beautiful ride 40 miles out of our way along the wide sound separating Denmark and Sweden. Fortunately, Laura realized something was wrong and proved it to me with Google Maps just in time for us to backtrack and arrive in Hässleholm by 6. We then went to dinner at Birgita and Pelle’s beautiful home in the woods with Karin, Tore, and Hillevi. (Karin, Pelle, and Hillevi, for the record, are my third cousins once removed; they are descended from Martin’s sister Johanna, who stayed behind in Skåne). After that, Tore and Hillevi took us home to stay with them in Bjärnum (BYEHR-num).

Tore and Hillevi were two of the first Swedish relatives I ever met, because they have both visited my family in the U.S. several times. Tore is a member of a Swedish Lutheran big band called Röke Blås (ROKE-eh-blahs) that got its start in the town of Röke near Bjärnum – he plays the trumpet. That band has toured in the U.S. ten times over the past few decades, and some of the tours have brought them near enough to Washington that Tore and Hillevi made side-trips to see relatives there, including us. Hillevi has an encyclopedic knowledge of family history, and the first night that we stayed with them she shared some documents and bits of knowledge she had recently obtained about the history of her side of the family, the side that stayed behind in Sweden when Martin and his brother emigrated in 1889. We stayed up a little while talking about family history; she and Tore both recommended a famous series called The Emigrants (Vilhelm Moberg) that tells the story of several Swedish families in North America. (Laura’s note : Ingrid, Linnéa, and Johannes recommended this series as well so I bought the eBooks. It is now several weeks later and I am nearly through book three. They’re fantastic!)

The next morning we met another member of the family: Hillevi and Tore’s well-behaved robot lawnmower, which we saw trundling around outside while we were eating breakfast.

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Roban the Robot Lawnmower

The day was quite full: we visited Dalsjögården (the old family home where Martin lived and Helena visited), took a walk around the lake nearby, met Hillevi and Tore’s daughter Emma and her husband Lasse for lunch, went out for waffles with Bengt, Viveka, and Hans, and attended a string quintet concert in a very old church near Hillevi’s hometown.

The next day we met moose. It turns out that this is a popular thing to do in Southern Sweden: not far from Bjärnum is a place called “Älgsafari,” where tourists (many of them German) come to take a train ride through the woods to say hello to a dozen very tame, very beautiful, moose.

After that we had fika (similar to afternoon tea) with the family of Greta, another one of Hillevi and Tore’s daughters. Then we went back to Bjärnum to rest for an hour or two before the big event of the evening, a barbecue at the home of another set of cousins, the Ivarssons: Ingrid, Stellan, Johannes (who was staying there with his wife Linnéa), and Erik (though Erik was not home for the summer).

The Ivarssons live by a lake called Humlesjö (HOOM-leh-fwah – the name translates to “hops lake,” as in the flower used to flavor fancy beers). Their home is a restored farmouse, painted Swedish red, with a back patio that makes it very convenient for parties. They had been hard at work all day preparing food, the centerpiece being a delicious platter of grilled meats: pork, lamb, steak, and… moose (it looked tasty, but we didn’t have any – too soon!). Since we were staying with the Ivarssons for the next two nights, we didn’t leave when the party was over, but sat up and talked with them for an hour or two until past midnight. The main topic of conversation was the Swedish welfare system, which is much sturdier than the American one and makes us a bit envious. It’s not perfect, and people do take advantage of it, but it seems to serve them well.

The next morning (not too early) we went for a swim in the lake, had lunch, and then stayed behind while the Ivarssons went to the graduation party of Stellan’s niece. While they were out, Laura and I took a walk around the lake and generally relaxed until they returned after dinner. In the evening, before we were all driven in by mosquitoes, we played a stick-throwing lawn game called Kubb. Laura’s team won, but only because the mosquitoes helped by guiding their sticks through the air – I saw them, I swear.

(Laura’s note : David is just bitter, and my team was just better.)

The next morning, our last full day in Sweden, Laura and I rode with Johannes and Linnéa back to Helsingborg (HEL-sing-bor-yuh), where they live. Before going to their apartment, we stopped at the Museum of Failure downtown – a tiny one-room museum whose director is, according to Johannes, a “PR genius” because he managed to get the museum written up in so many big newspapers and magazines. The museum is dedicated to products, especially tech products, that failed spectacularly, many in the last couple of decades. Some of them were familiar to us, like Laser discs and Segways. Others were bizarre. Seeing them gives you the same feeling as seeing depictions of the future in old science fiction movies: electric face-rejuvenation masks, hula chairs, and all the rest were part of imaginary futures dreamed up by the unlucky (or dishonest) entrepreneurs who hoped to make money from them. Before you leave the museum, there’s a place where you’re supposed to write down and post your own favorite personal failure. We didn’t write any down, but we read a few of the ones in English; one of our favorites was, “I asked a one-legged man why he was limping.” Oops!

We went to Johannes and Linnea’s apartment, and Linnéa and Laura cooked an excellent lasagna for our last dinner in Sweden. The next morning we toured Helsingborg with Johannes for a couple of hours before our train to the Copenhagen airport. We miss you, Skåne!

 

Cipressa

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que bello!

We had two visits to Cipressa this summer, and both were lovely. My Opa (grandfather) bought a hundreds-of-years-old house in Cipressa, Liguria, Italy in the 1970’s, and vacationed here for the rest of his life. Since his death in 1998, my step-grandmother, Caroline, has continued to come stay in Cipressa often, and has good friends here. It is a very small town, with views of the Mediterranean. Originally, the plan was to meet up with Caroline here along with my mother. Sadly Caroline was unable to come out and meet us, nor was my mother, but Caroline sent us instructions for the house and had many phone calls with across-the-street neighbors, Rina and Franco, asking them to help us out in a variety of ways.

We flew from Geneva to Nice, planning to catch a train to Taggia in Italy, where Franco would pick us up and drive us to Cipressa. Due to a variety of shenanigans — traffic in Nice, the train station being in some kind of insane meltdown — we missed the last train to Taggia and ended up spending the night at the Best Western in Nice. Initially grumpy, we celebrated AMERICA by eating a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken for dinner while watching American Ninja Warrior YouTube videos. I am not kidding…and it was amazing.

Luckily the next day we had a lot of time before our afternoon train, so we enjoyed visiting the old town in Nice and even put our feet in the sea. It’s a beautiful town and we really enjoyed our unexpected stay there. After a brief train ride, we were in Taggia and met Rina and Christel, another neighbor. Christel speaks German and has been an immensely helpful translator because David and I speak about ten words in Italian, and Rina speaks continually. They drove us to Cipressa and Rina gave us a detailed tour of the house, explaining how various appliances work, where to find towels, and showing us that she had stocked the kitchen for us with eggs, milk, butter, peaches, and bread.

David and I enjoyed several very quiet days — long walks, cooking simple meals in the kitchen, lots of reading (me) and dissertating (David). I was slammed with a bad cold and spent several days mostly napping and listening to podcasts.

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with Franco at the four hour dinner

Once I began to feel better, we took the Marebus down to San Lorenzo al Mare, where we spent a morning swimming in the sea. That night, we went to Christel’s cantina for a huge dinner cooked by Rina. Over four hours we ate many delicious courses, drank a lot of wine and beer, and enjoyed conversation in Italian, German, and a lot of gestures. It was a fantastic night and we finally went to bed at 1 AM with grins on our faces.

In the days following, we enjoyed many good times with our lovely Cipressa neighbors. Watermelon at Rina’s, a tour of Christel’s beautiful house (next door) and a conversation with her over pastries. We went with Rina to Santo Stefano and accompanied her through the street market — David wandered around examining various goods and I trotted behind Rina, carrying her shopping bags and weighing in on purses and dresses that she examined. (She ended up buying a nice beige purse that is machine-washable.) We then went to a small beach where we swam, got completely sunburned, and swam again when Franco arrived on his bicycle. It was a beautiful moment, wading into the water with this sweet, gregarious, Italian woman in her eighties, carrying her swimming flippers that she then put on and swam with. David and I swam out and back to a red buoy twice, and Franco told us that it’s 250 meters. Not a bad swim, really.

We then took our “Northern Europe” trip — Copenhagen, Sweden, and Cologne, Germany — before returning to Cipressa. More posts to come on those trips later!

Sadly on our way back to Cipressa the second time, David’s shoulder bag was stolen. The saddest bit is that it contained his camera, with photos from Sweden that we hadn’t yet backed up online. We will miss those photos, as well as David’s Kindle & some of our souvenir postcards and whatnot. However we were relived that we still had our passports and other important documents, and that we weren’t hurt. (We didn’t even see the thief — the bag just disappeared from David’s feet.)

After arriving at the house and comforting ourselves with big bowls of homemade carbonara, we focused on enjoying Cipressa once more. During our stay we tried both restaurants in the town (we preferred La Torre), went swimming in Santo Stefano, strolled around San Lorenzo al Mare, and had two big dinners in Christel’s cantina — one to say goodbye to her (where we met her daughter Annette and Annette’s two children, Leona and Max) and one just before David and I left. On our last afternoon there we were hanging out in Rina’s kitchen with Rina and Leona, and using gestures and Leona as translator, Rina insisted over and over again that the next time we come to Cipressa we must have a baby. She volunteered to watch said baby while we go to the beach. 🙂

Cipressa was so lovely and I was so happy to share this bit of my childhood and family with David. We’re excited to go back!

bella, bella Svizzera

(Blog post title written in one of the Swiss languages whose region we did not visit. Did anyone get the book reference?)

Our next stop after Tübingen was St.Gallen, Switzerland — the hometown of my Opa (my mother’s father). We took a train from Tübingen to Lindau, a beautiful town on Lake Konstanz, and then another from Lindau to St.Gallen. Our AirBnB there was absolutely lovely, with breathtaking views and nearby walking trails. The only odd thing — which wasn’t a problem as it ended up being just me and David, not also my mother as originally planned — was that the second bedroom was actually a bed inside a large closet inside the bathroom. Kind of a stretch to call that a second bedroom, in my opinion.

Our first evening there, we were quite tired. So we dined on a frozen pizza in our kitchenette before going for an evening walk. By taking a steep hill into the forest, we found not only a pasture containing two cows (complete with bells, echoing through the valley), but also Wildpark Peter & Paul — an animal sanctuary. We watched some kind of mountain goats frolic on the side of a rock outcropping until an ant bit me on the toe and we hurried back to apply ice. Man, did that hurt.

The next morning — ant-bitten toe feeling better — we walked down into St.Gallen with a short checklist of tasks. We wanted to visit the house that my Opa grew up in, eat in a very old restaurant (where Opa had dined many times, including with me when I was seven and he brought us all to Switzerland), and visit the Stiftsbibliothek — the ancient library at the Abbey of St.Gall. After a bit of searching, we found the house and admired it. David took a few photos of me in front of it, and we headed off to find Weinstube Bäumli, the old restaurant, for lunch. We finally found it — only to discover that it is closed for renovations until August 1st. Shocked, we wandered around for a few blocks before returning to dine directly across the street. It was a fun meal. The server spoke to us initially in Swiss-German, and then noticed our blank, panicked stares and switched to Hochdeutsch. We got on well and she seemed pleased with our efforts. We ordered two classic dishes and shared everything between the two of us — local beer, a bratwurst with Rösti (sort of like a giant Swiss hashbrown), and geschnetzeltes (usually veal — in this case chicken — in a creamy sauce). My favorite combination was the nontraditional mix of geschnetzeltes sauce with Rösti. Two of my all-time favorite foods. 🙂

After lunch, we visited the ridiculous, rococo cathedral of St.Gall before going into the library. The floors are so old and beautiful that one must wear large, fuzzy slippers over one’s shoes and slide around. David was in his element as we slid inside. He spent a long time studying a replica of an 18th-century globe — complete with absurd sea creatures painted in the oceans. There are books in the Abbey Library that are over a thousand years old, and the room itself is beautiful. I looked out an open window to what appeared to be a school recess yard, with soccer goals and rubber balls. While delighted at the idea of children so near to the ancient library, I did wonder what would happen if a kick sent a rubber ball not into the goal, but soaring through the window.

We left St.Gallen the next morning, but not before a quick hike up the hill and a face-to-face encounter with the big, brown cows. I was pretty thrilled.

Instead of traveling directly to Cipressa, we stayed one night in Geneva with an old friend of mine, Anya, and her husband, Sam. We were expecting to entertain ourselves and then just crash at their apartment in order to make our flight out of Geneva the next day, but Anya and Sam went above and beyond in their hospitality to us. Anya took off work early and met us in the train station before leading us on a walking-tour of some of Geneva’s highlights, including an enormously tall fountain, a chapel where John Calvin had led a congregation, and statues of very serious Protestant reformers. We were caught in a thunderstorm in the middle of this, which was really enjoyable after so much hot, dry weather in London especially.

After returning to Anya and Sam’s lovely apartment and changing into dry clothes, we met Sam and all went out to a local restaurant. It was still drizzly and cool outside so we had a very traditional meal of fondue!! Both cheese fondue and meat (with hot oil). We had a wonderful time getting to know Sam, sharing about our travels, and enjoying the delicious food. Later in the evening, back in their beautiful apartment, Anya and I reminisced about our days in Girl Scouts together before we all went to bed.

In the morning we enjoyed breakfast — including wonderful strawberries — and David and I commuted into the city with Anya. We said our farewells, and David and I spent the morning strolling and talking in the waterfront parks before taking the train to the airport and catching our flight to Nice. Our unexpected trip to Geneva was such a treat, and we’re so glad we got to see Anya and meet Sam!

Tübingen

In case you don’t know any of David and my background as a couple (which you probably do, because if you’re reading this, you’re probably either my mom or David’s — hi Mom!), I’ll give a brief overview.

David and I met in the spring of 2011 in the city of Tübingen, Germany. We attended different universities but both schools sent students to the same study-abroad program. (In fact, the program was part of the Oregon University System — which I attended — and David’s university system in Arizona was testing out whether they could send students to the same program successfully. David was one of two students from Arizona whereas the vast majority of our cohort attended school in Oregon, including myself. I think Arizona’s test was a MAJOR success for me personally. Thank you, Arizona university system.)

We first saw each other at a Greek restaurant on April 1st, but didn’t speak until the next day during a walking-tour of Tübingen. I noticed David’s boat shoes and polo shirt and thought he looked like the kind of preppy boy with whom I’d attended high school. This made him seem familiar and unthreatening to me, so I awkwardly walked up to him, stuck out my hand, and said, “Hi, I’m Laura.” We chatted throughout the rest of the tour, along with another person who has become one of our dearest friends, Jenny.

At the time that we were attending study abroad, I was in a relationship. I had met my then-boyfriend Peter (still a dear friend today) in high school and we dated for the first three years of college. He saw me through incredibly difficult experiences, including the death of my father the year before I met David. Peter and I were already drifting apart by the time I arrived in his home country of Germany, but didn’t formally break up until a few days after I returned to the United States. So, when I met David, I wasn’t looking for a significant other, and I didn’t think about him in that light for quite a while. His experience of meeting me was rather different, but being the respectful person he is, I did not know that for a long time.

Throughout the semester, David, Jenny, and I became friends. Jenny and I were (and are) very close and David often joined us on outings. In the final week of the semester, through a series of conversations, David and I developed a deep emotional bond. In the weeks afterwards, while we traveled our separate ways (David solo, and me with my family), we each began to realize the extent of our feelings for each other. (Well, David had known since he met me that he was attracted to me, but had quickly pushed those feelings aside out of respect for the fact that I had a boyfriend. I hadn’t realized that I was interested in David — probably also out of respect for my boyfriend, subconsciously — until I was writing in my journal while in Italy with my family. I still remember the moment that I realized that I was writing an awful lot about David, paused, and quietly said, “oh, shit” aloud.)

We ended up finally deciding to try a long-distance relationship in October of that year, and here we are six years later, married and increasingly smitten with one another.

The point of this long tangent is that Tübingen, while sort of the ‘birthplace of our relationship,’ really felt less significant to us than Bloomington (where we had most of our visits, where we moved in together,  where David proposed to me, and where we lived for two and a half years after we got married). So much so that we nearly skipped visiting Tübingen, because neither of us felt that it was important enough to us to visit. It would be fun if it made sense, we thought, but wasn’t really a priority. When we were planning to meet up with my mom in Zurich — a plan that fell through due to some family stuff — we booked a plane ticket from London to Stuttgart and David found us a place to stay for a couple nights in Tübingen. It was less expensive to fly to Stuttgart than Zurich, and we’d be able to take a train to Zurich and meet my mother there before continuing on our trip.

As Tübingen grew closer, we each got more and more excited. Rolling into the city on the “Airport-Sprinter” bus from the Stuttgart Airport, we looked at each other and asked, “how could we have considered skipping Tübingen?”

We stayed in the most ridiculous AirBnB, a bizarre, tiny turret-shaped house beside one of the streams that leads into the Neckar River. You have to cross between two apartment buildings, down a driveway, through a lawn and down a set of stairs to even reach it. It was absurd but delightful and took us forever to find, even with directions. After laying down our packs and taking quick showers, we set out for dinner at the Neckarmüller, a beloved Tübingen restaurant where we enjoyed Käsespätzle & Flammkuchen, and of course beer (helles for David, dunkles for me, as always). Our conversation during the meal turned emotional as we reflected on our love for one another. The only detail I’ll share is that I knocked over David’s glass (and broke it) while reaching for his hand because my eyes were too blurry with tears to see properly. After finishing the meal — and apologizing profusely for the broken glass to our server (who said merely, “oh, es geht” — oh, it happens — with a tone that indicated it must happen about ten times a day — indeed, we’d heard it happen behind the bar about thirty minutes earlier) — we went out to enjoy another German tradition : ice cream cones while strolling.

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worth documenting

The next day, I finally got to eat some Krauterquark, one of my favorite foods. It’s basically a soft yogurt-cheese with herbs. It drives me nuts that I can’t buy it in the United States, and I’ve been saying to myself that I just need to learn to make it for six years. Maybe I’ll finally do that this fall.

We also visited our old class building — peeking our heads inside to see unfamiliar teachers — and walked around the town, commenting on changes we noticed (and more often, on how many things had stayed the same). Dinner was Döner from a beloved shop by the train station, followed by a bus ride up to Waldhäuser Ost — the dorm buildings where all the students had resided. Jenny, David, and I all had lived in building #15. If I recall correctly, Jenny was on the fourth floor. David was on the first, and I the eighth. We went for walks in the nearby woods and fields, where David had enjoyed long walks when we lived there, and where I used to run.

Our visit was brief, but by the time we left we were already hatching plans about a couples trip in future with Jenny and her husband Matt. I’m very glad we ended up staying in Tübingen, despite our initially casual attitude towards it.

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we’ll be back for more Döner!

weekend trip to Oxford

This post was written by my lovely husband David. 🙂 

Oxford (June 23rd – 25th)

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My birthday is June 23rd, a day that we were originally planning to spend either in London or en route to Germany – but sometime back in May Laura started planning a surprise birthday trip, and this morning (see pic!) I finally found out what it was. We made our way to the Marylebone Station (without my knowing exactly why) and had breakfast nearby, after which she handed me a large envelope that had been hidden in the back of our red binder.  Inside were train tickets to Oxford! There were also details of an Airbnb reservation, a list of pubs to choose from for dinner that night, and tickets for a walking tour of Oxford organized around places important to J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis (really got my nerdy heart racing!).

We caught our train, spotted a few sheep on the ride, and then hoofed it to our Airbnb (our favorite so far, largely owing to the presence of a dog named Tig).

 

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River boats on the Thames path (the river is called the Isis by Oxford residents – inside tip for you)

Some Googling from our room revealed that there was a trail called the Thames Path that passed our location just a few blocks away and led into the city along the river, so in the early evening we took a beautiful walk into Oxford to look for the pub I had chosen for dinner.

Along the way, though, we passed a restaurant with enough comfortable outdoor seating right next to the Thames that we abandoned our plan and ate there instead.

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View from the Head of the River restaurant, looking back along the Thames

 

During dinner Laura presented me with another birthday gift, a box of chocolates – a good gift in itself, and even better with the following quote on it: “And in the end, it’s not the years in your life that count, it’s the life in your years,” attributed to Abraham Lincoln. Laura found this hilarious, because of course Abraham Lincoln never said anything of the sort. I chuckled and wondered how long I should wait after dinner before stuffing the chocolates into my face.

Our Saturday in Oxford started slow, which suited us just fine: London had tired us out. The only planned activity for the day was the Tolkien- and Lewis-themed walking tour in the afternoon. This is a tour that runs once a month, people – and Laura discovered it and made sure we got spots. She’s good. Anyway, in the late morning we took another walk along the Thames, found the meeting place downtown, had lunch, and met our tour guide Alistair.

Alistair was exactly the kind of person you would expect to lead a tour like this: an elderly retired professor with a lovely accent who had himself attended Oxford decades ago and remembered, he said, the excitement back in the fifties when The Lord of the Rings was published. He showed us all around the city, starting with the pub where Tolkein and Lewis and their friends liked to meet on Thursdays (Thursday mornings, mind you) to drink beer and read each other whatever they were working on. The pub is called “The Eagle and Child,” or more commonly and irreverently, “The Bird and Baby.” Our favorite story of the tour came early on, just after visiting the pub. Alistair told us that C. S. Lewis (who went by “Jack” in honor of the family dog who had been hit by a car) and his brother, Warren, had had a very unhappy childhood after their mother died and their father moved the family from Ireland to England. To comfort each other the two boys used to tell each other made-up fantastical stories, hiding at home in a wardrobe – hence, a wardrobe serves as the door to a magical land in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

We stopped by the various colleges where Lewis and Tolkien studied and taught at, visited the University College Church where Lewis attended regularly and gave some of his theological lectures, and saw the small gated-off street where Tolkien retired late in life, having left Oxford to avoid fans knocking on his door and returning years later only when assured that his residence would be a secret.

After the tour we visited Christ Church college (the biggest and richest college) and then made our way back to the Eagle and Child for dinner. Our impression during the tour had been that it was a fairly dark, stuffy, crowded little pub, but when we returned for dinner we found a large, bright room at the back with an empty table for two. The food was great, the beer even better.

We slept like rocks that night and rose early the next day for our bus to the airport. We were already talking about how much we’d like to spend some extra time in England at the end of our trip – but for now, on to Germany.

 

 

 

 

 

they can’t take that away from me

The title of this post is, of course, a reference to the wonderful song. I’ve no idea who wrote it, but I think of this version : 

 

I wrote this on July 8, early in the morning, in the kitchen in Cipressa.

 July 11th is my father’s birthday. Born in 1948, he would be 69. He passed away seven years ago after a long and difficult battle with cancer.

I always miss my dad, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t think about him. We were very close, sharing a love of poetry, waking early, going for walks, running, and toast & tea. (I didn’t fully develop my love of tea until the past few years.) In Cipressa, my grief has been heightened. Probably some of this has to do with the time of year — I often feel grief more strongly around his birthday, the anniversary of his death, my birthday, and the winter holidays. And probably some of it has to do with vague memories of being here with him, in this house in Cipressa, when I was seven years old.

The thing about grief as I experience it — or one of the many ‘things’ — is the futility. No matter how strongly I feel pain, or sadness, or the gaping hole of his absence — and I feel all of these things very strongly sometimes — it makes no difference. I could tear down a building in my agony, and he would still not come back. Sometimes, I don’t even acknowledge my feelings to David, because it feels so pointless. We’ll be sitting across the room from one another, me twisted up with the agony of loss, and I think, If I tell David I’m missing Daddy, he’ll hold me, and I’ll cry, and then eventually I’ll stop and move onto the next activity because what else is there to do? Why bother?

On the anniversary of my dad’s death as well as on his birthday, I like to enjoy his favorite things — Indian food, Beck’s beer, poetry, jazz, and, if possible, strawberry shortcake the way his mom made it. Maybe we’ll ‘celebrate’ his birthday the usual way next week when we are in Cologne, as we’ll have a whole apartment and not just a bedroom to use, and we’ll be with my friend Peter, who knew my dad.

Last night, David and I were walking up to the tower that overlooks Cipressa. We were talking about vivid memories — which moments our brains have held onto with sharpness and color. Most of my vivid memories are from traumatic moments in my life, some of which involve my father and his illness and death. But suddenly, mercifully, a different memory popped into my head. It was the memory of a dream. In the year after my dad died, I had dozens of dreams about him. In almost all of them, he was dying for some reason or another, it was my job to save him, and I always failed. But in the very first dream that I had after my father’s death, I am on a stage, participating in a math competition (nervously, as someone not particularly talented at mathematics). I look to the audience, and am surprised to see Daddy, sitting in the front row. Our eyes meet, and he smiles at me and makes the “I Love You” symbol in sign language. And I feel like I can do whatever scary thing the competition throws at me — because my dad is still here, somehow, and he loves me.

the week in London

After our busy weekend, we still had a little time to spend here in the glorious city of London. Tomorrow we leave on a little weekend getaway for David’s birthday (as he proofreads for me and does not yet know where we’re going, you’ll have to wait to find out), so I am taking a little pause to record a bit about the last several days.

On Tuesday we embarked on a walking tour designed by our friend Matt. Matt lived in London for a year while his wife (also our dear friend) Jenny was completing a master’s program here. The walking tour was very enjoyable and mostly along the river. We began the day with time in my favorite part of London — Parliament Square.

We had a very enjoyable walk along the river, and saw, among other buildings, the Globe Theatre.

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We were very ready for lunch by the time we got to Borough Market! We began our meal with some vegetable samosas and juice. This was followed by one order of steak & ale pie and one of fish & chips (we shared everything). It was all very good, especially as we’d been walking all morning.

We continued our walking-tour and ended at The George Inn, a VERY old pub where supposedly William Shakespeare dined (as well as, obviously much later, Charles Dickens). Jenny & Matt sent us £10 before we left on our trip and told us to “get a couple of pints on them” — so of course we did so! I had cider and David had Old Speckled Hen, a favorite of his dad’s. On our way back to our AirBnB we crossed the London Bridge and had good views of Tower Bridge, which I adore.

On Wednesday we went to Paddington Station to pay a visit to Paddington Bear. David has never read these books but I adored them. We are planning to read them together later this year. 🙂 It was a lot of fun to see the painted bench & the statue in the station.

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Next, we went to the British Museum. David has very fond memories of visiting it with his parents and sister, Mary, when their family traveled abroad about ten years ago. We visited the rooms about the British Isles (both pre-Roman & Roman Britain) and saw Lindow Man (entirely by accident) which was pretty crazy. Then we stumbled upon, and followed, the LGBTQ trail in the museum. My favorite part was the cocoa cups owned by a British lesbian couple in the 19th century.

 

 

After this, we went up to Hampstead to visit the Burgh House & Hampstead Museum where our dear friend Jenny completed her internship while getting her Master’s in London. Hampstead is SUCH a lovely, quiet neighborhood. We chatted for a long time with the woman at the front desk at Burgh House and heard from her about how different artifacts of the house survived WWII, and the different people who lived in the house over the years. She also told us that one of the main ways they stay afloat is by renting out the beautiful hall for weddings. After browsing the house & museum displays, we had a lovely tea in the garden café there.

We ended our long day with a quick stop at the Twinings tea shop & museum (I drink at least one cup of Twinings brand tea every day) and dinner at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, another very old pub. (Lots of those in London.)

Thursday was our last day (until August) in London and was a Harry Potter day! (If you know me literally at all, you may have caught on that Harry Potter is my favorite thing in the universe.) We visited a few famous sites, including Leavesden Market (AKA Diagon Alley), the Millenium Bridge (which is featured in the movie Harry Potter & The Half-Blood Prince), & of course visited Platform 9¾ where we had our pictures taken.

Quick lunch back at the Borough Market so that I could FINALLY get my much-longed-for Prosecco spritzer. We had samosas and artisinal jammie dodgers.

Then, we visited Tower Bridge (my beloved!) and David took me on a fancy date night — first, dinner at an Italian place along the Thames, and then drinks at a bar on the 32nd floor of the Shard (!!!). It was SO fancy. I think the hostess could sense the Velcro on my sandals.

We had such a good time in London, but kind of ran ourselves ragged. That was partly because our accommodations tended to be waaay on the edge of town. So, once we were out for the day, we usually stayed out. Plus, there was just so much to fit in! We’re excited to spend another day or two there in August without the big checklist hanging over our heads. It was definitely a great way to start the summer off with a bang! Until August, London! 🙂

hello, London!

Our journey from the airport to our first AirBnB in London was very long. A bus, 2 trains, and a bit of walking later, we arrived at the first place (we moved to a different one on Monday). After washing up a bit, we went to a local pub and had meat pies and beer (or in my case, cider). Y’all. Random pub on the edge of London and the food was SO GOOD!! Yes, we were super hungry, but I think it was also just really good food.

Our first experience of staying in an AirBnB that we booked has been…underwhelming. It is very inexpensive, and although it takes a while to get into the city it’s very doable. However, it’s also pretty grimy…and the bed is excruciating. We finally figured out that it’s actually broken (the bed) which explains the bizarre and epic dips in the mattress. At about 1 AM, early on Saturday, we figured out a solution. David slept atop the comforter, diagonally on the mattress (which is pretty comfortable actually, it avoids the dips) and I slept on the floor on the mattress topper. David used a towel as a “blanket” and I use a sheet.

You know what…it worked.

Our first full day in London was Saturday. And wow, what a day it was!! We had a slower morning than hoped, but eventually got on a bus to downtown London. Yes, it was a double-decker bus, and yes we rode on the top right up front. It was very fun and we could see where the inspiration for the Knight Bus, squeezing through tight spaces, came. From up top your perspective is wider and it seemed like we were constantly squeezing through tight spaces. At one point a bunch of tree branches smacked into the window right in front of my face, and I couldn’t stop giggling.

you can't just walk in there, you have to Make An Appointment
Where the Queen buys wine. Note the golden “Royal Warrant” above the door.

Once we got downtown, we boarded our hop-on, hop-off bus tour. We saw St.James’ Palace and some of the shops with which the Royal Family does business. The shoe shop where Prince Philip gets his shoes, for example, sells shoes for £2000. The place where the Queen buys her wine has an average bottle go for £24,000 (!!!).

After just a few stops, however, the tour guide mentioned that it was the observance of the Queen’s birthday that day, and that we should get off the bus if we wanted to see the festivities and have a chance at seeing the Royal Family. We got off a couple stops later (after frantically whispering, and being confused as to why no one else got off) and walked across Green Park, following the crowds, to the gate at Buckingham Palace.

And. Y’all. We saw the end of the Trooping of the Color, including seeing THE QUEEN and many other members of the Royal Family. I was most excited to see the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, and her children George and Charlotte. I adore Kate’s sense of style and her personality seems genuine and kind as well. (Fun fact : we are both 5’10”.) We also saw the Royal Air Force fly over the Palace which was really exciting and cool.

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We were so floored by this experience that we walked away saying to each other, “we just saw the Queen of England. THE QUEEN!” There were large crowds streaming out of Green Park along with us. We went to a Marks & Spencer store across the street (thanks Jenny for the recommendation!) and got sandwiches, water, & a Victoria sponge muffin to try. It was all very tasty and our experience was heightened by the group of women (we think it was a bachelorette party — or as they much more cutely call it here, a hen party) sitting nearby, screaming the words along to “Man! I Feel Like A Woman” by Shania Twain while drinking champagne. I was surprised (and pleased) that British women know all the words to that song, too. David commented, “see? This is why drinking in public is a good thing.”

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surprisingly good sandwiches

After lunch, we got back on the tour bus and finished the “circuit.” We saw many exciting sights, including the Victoria Tower (which CONTAINS a bell called Big Ben, but which is NOT Big Ben. okay folks. we got it.), Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, and a peek down the long lane into Buckingham Palace.

The tour ended at The Tower of London, where we could board a River Cruise included in our bus tour ticket. Before doing that, we visited the London Wall, built in 200 AD by the Romans. It’s always so bizarre to see structures of that age just…sitting there, in the midst of people eating ice cream and talking on their cell phones.

We also visited All Hallows By The Tower church. It is the oldest church in the City of London (which is not the same thing as London, but a part of London) and I was pleased to see a notice in their entryway that they are an Inclusive Church. It was a peaceful and fascinating place to visit. We even went downstairs into a small “chapel” to St.Clare which was VERY small and a bit spooky — turns out it used to be a tomb.

We then went down to the docks by the Tower of London and went on our river cruise. We weren’t super impressed, but it was fun to be on the water and see many of the sights of London from Father Thames himself. I fell in love with Tower Bridge. What a gorgeous structure!

As we left the river cruise, we happened upon this awesome statue of Boudica. We learned about her in a documentary about the history of London that we watched a couple of months ago. Boudica was a Queen of the Celtic Iceni tribe, and she led an uprising against the Romans in 60 AD and died after it failed. She seems like a complete badass. If anyone knows of a good novelization of her story, let me know.

Sunday was busy, too. We got up early and headed into the city to attend church at Westminster Abbey. It was an amazing experience and I’m SO glad we went. I expected it to be packed, but there really weren’t so many of us there. We were actually in the second row of seats (there were several seating sections, going out from the altar in three directions). Yes, the choir was there and sang. Yes, it was gorgeous. Yes, the boys really do wear those frilly collars. (And yes, they really are little kids. It was very cute to see how, although they were very focused during singing, they scratched their noses and stared at the ceiling during the sermon and prayers like any normal kid.) The sermon was given by Reverend Jane Sinclair, and dealt with how stories tell the truth more than history sometimes can. Receiving communion was, for me, a really wonderful spiritual experience. I always get a lot out of communion, but this was a pretty special one.

Sunday afternoon we went SHOPPING. Not exactly a complement to the morning, but fun nonetheless. I was very excited to go to a store called Long Tall Sally that specializes in clothes for women 5’8″ and up! I bought a lovely dress and tried on pajamas pants that were at least 6″ too long.

Today (Monday) we moved to our new AirBnB, which is SO MUCH NICER. Photos to come I am sure. We have an en suite bathroom, coffee and tea station in the room, and the location is way better. The bed is still not super comfortable (when will the world learn that spring mattresses are stupid and awful?? I will never understand) but given that I already fell asleep on it twice by accident, I think it will be fine.

After dropping off our bags, we went to take a ride on the London Eye! It was super fun.

Afterwards we got lunch by the river (hot dogs and frozen yogurt from fancy food carts) and then came back to the AirBnB, where we have been relaxing (and where I have been finishing this EPIC blog post) all afternoon. In a few minutes, we’re headed to the park across the street with sandwiches, and then we’re planning to go to bed at like literally 8:45 or 9 PM. We’ve been walking well over 10,000 steps per day (I can confirm this due to my FitBit’s enthusiastic buzzing) and getting usually a bit under six hours of sleep. 😀 This is obviously not sustainable!!

If you got through this huge blog post, kudos to you. We’re excited to spending the rest of the week continuing to explore lovely old London town!

departure

We were surprised to discover that our flight is the first international flight out of Stewart Airport! When we arrived, there were news crews and cameras all over. We were greeted at the door and given souvenir sunglasses. David, my mother, and I watched as a press conference was held, complete with ribbon-cutting ceremony and free cupcakes for all. Mom says this is an auspicious way to begin our trip. It was certainly a lot of fun! We’re having a bite to eat at the one little café here. Turns out it is the first day this café is open. Employees keep coming to ask if our meal is good and offer us ketchup packets and whatnot! 🙂 Fewer than two hours until we board our flight!