Back in America

We’re back in America now, a four-month journey throughout Europe nothing more than a fond memory now. Not much reverse culture shock although it was a little weird driving an automatic transmission car again.

The last six days of our trip passed without any further ill events. After we got our new tires we began the rather arduous seven-hour journey from Esslingen to Amsterdam, arriving around 5:30 in the evening.

The Dutch are a strange bunch. They’re sort of like Seattleites on steroids. They can’t drive worth anything; stopping or slowing down for no reason, taking too long at intersections and driving like they’re in their own little fantasy land. They hate cars. Parking is €45 a day. On the drive into town EVERY light was red (and not because we were victims of bad timing, they time them that way to keep cars moving as slow as possible), and bikes rule the roost. They also have a strange sense of morality. It’s, of course, well-known that pot and prostitution reign free in the center of town so that was no surprise but strangely incongruous was the fact that most of the stores close at 6pm on a Saturday and don’t open again until Monday morning. And they, of course, revel in paying one of the highest tax rates in the world and being tolerant to a fault, as long as they agree with you of course. They’re even one of the nations in Europe that has banned certain books. Yep, being in Amsterdam was a bit of a jolt to the system. This is not to say that we didn’t enjoy it but I certainly wouldn’t want to live there. We much preferred the easy-going lifestyles of the Italians and Greeks.

Last Saturday we visited the Anne Frank House, a great and moving museum. We especially liked the fact that, unlike most museums, it’s rather small so you can literally read and see everything they have and not feel like you’ve missed something. After having some crepes for lunch and visiting a very windy farmers’ market (one unfortunate vendor who was selling dishware had her table collapse when a large gust of wind came through, breaking several pieces) we toured the Van Gogh Museum. In the evening we toured the spectacle that is the Red Light District.

On Sunday we spent most of the day with a friend from high school, Krystof. Krystof is from Prague but is now working for the European Community just outside Amsterdam. We were blessed with a beautiful day and spent most of it at the beach in the nearby town of Bergen-am-Zee. We had a late lunch at a beachside restaurant and watched a stunning orange sun set into the North Sea.

On Monday, after another splendid breakfast from our Dutch-American host at Boogaard’s Bed & Breakfast, we set out on the final leg of our trip back to Saarbrucken, Germany. Our friends Muhammad and Zineb, once again, went out of their way to make us feel at home. We had dinner Monday night at a pretty decent Mexican restaurant and on our final day in Europe, successfully sold our BMW to Muhammad’s brother-in-law. Our final dinner in Europe was quite un-European, all you can eat sushi.
On Wednesday Muhammad again went above and beyond, waking up at 5:30 AM and driving us two hours to the Frankfurt Airport. Nearly 24 hours and a plane change later we arrived in Bellevue, Washington, USA.

We’re settling back in. I did battle with AT&T and got half their cancellation penalty waved. We got new phones from Verizon. Rosie got her first haircut in months and we’ve started searching for a new car and temporary housing while I search for a job somewhere in America. The dreary, cloudy, drizzle makes us miss the warmth of Nafplion but it is nice not to have to go to a café anytime we want to check email and it’s nice to see old friends once again.

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Reporting Live from an ATU Auto Store in Esslingen, Germany

I suppose when you go on a trip for four months you’re going to experience a little misfortune. We, of course, had our car troubles and lost camcorder at the beginning and our friend Jon had his pocket picked on the Athens subway and now, once again, we have experienced a rather minor setback on our return journey. Yesterday, as we drove from Dachau to Saarbrucken, we got caught in a 15 km backup on the Autobahn because of a semi versus bus accident.This set us back about and hour and a half. Then, because it’s never just one thing, less than an hour later we got a flat tire. By the time I’d changed it, standing on the side of a cold, wet freeway; semis barreling by (at least it wasn’t raining and at least it was the right rear tire), all the auto stores had closed so we stayed the night in Esslingen, Germany, just outside of Stuttgart, and now, this morning, we are getting two new tires then, God willing, will be on our way to Amsterdam within the hour. So that’s the current situation. What led up to it is much more fun.

Our last ten days in Greece were relatively quiet. We had a great lunch at a nice little out of the way beachside restaurant a few minutes outside town with a bunch of our new friends before some of them left to spend Christmas with their relatives in Athens. I went swimming on Christmas Day. After the cold snap we’d experienced, the thermometer actually topped out at an unseasonably warm 23 that day, making the swim warmer than some I’d taken in October, amazingly enough. We did a bunch of gift shopping for friends and family back home and a few things for ourselves, including a tres fashionable dress for Rosie.

Our last night in Nafplion, Boxing Day, we spent walking around town with our new friends Angelo and Katarina and their little boy, then had one last glass of ouzo while enjoying the view of the Argolid from the terrace at the Nafplion Palace Hotel.

We left on December 27th, our oh so friendly neighbors who don’t speak a lick of English giving us one last bag of oranges for the road and enough hugs to keep us warm the rest of lives, and made our way to the ferry dock in Patra, bound for Ancona, Italy.

Italy was, just as we’d remembered it, completely fabulous. Our first two nights were spent in Florence. I finally got my Steak Florentine at a cute little place called Trattoria Za-Za. It was a religious experience; one of the best steaks I’ve ever had. We also did all the typically touristy things: the Duomo, the Uffizi, the Pontevecchio, and the Boboli Gardens; and some more clothes shopping for Rosie.

On the 30th we drove to Modena, stopping at the Galleria Ferrari on the way. In Modena we ate the second fanciest meal of our trip at the Jen Jedda (and Michelin) recommended L’Erba del Re and bought a bottle of Jen Jedda recommended 12-year Balsamic vinegar, another religious experience.  (They also had a bottle of 100-year that I’m sure would have been out of this world had we tasted it.)

And then it was New Year’s Eve; the third such time I’ve spent it in Europe and the first time in Venice. The city of canals lives up to every expectation. Even though there aren’t too many touristy sights other than the Doge’s Palace and St. Mark’s, the three days we spent there didn’t seem quite enough. We could have spent many more just walking around the back streets and stopping at the hundreds of hidden little bridges that seemed to pop up around every corner.  And all that touristy stuff is well worth it. The Doge’s Palace, which has one of the largest rooms in all of Europe, and a gondola ride, are not to be missed.

After Venice we drove up into the Alps and the frigid city of Innsbruck, Austria, which was experiencing near-record lows of -12 in the early evening and highs of around -5, making me glad I’d bought a pair of long underwear from the street vendor in Venice.

There we rode the gondola (funny how the boat and the cable car share the same name) to the top and marveled at the view of the snow-capped peaks. I also crossed one more item off my bucket list when I did a bobsleigh run down the Olympic track. I’m glad I did it but I don’t need to do it again since it wasn’t quite as thrilling as I’d hoped; more like a cold roller coaster ride than anything.

Two days ago we departed Austria and continued our glorious drive through the Alps on our way to Dachau. Along the way we stopped at the impressive Neauschwanstein Castle.

Yesterday we visited the sobering Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. We arrived just a few minutes after opening and a light rain fell. For the first couple of hours we were nearly alone, making the experience that much more surreal.

In just five short days we’ll be on our way back to the United States, a lifetime of adventures experienced these past four months.

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A Month in Europe, Things I’ve Observed

Since leaving Seattle a month ago we’ve visited seven countries counting the small city-state of Monaco. With the exception of Italy I’ve been to all of them before and, in fact, been to several of the places we’ve been before so it’s not what I’d call a culture shock. Still, there are some things I’ve learned, relearned and expectations I’ve confirmed both about the culture in the various places we’ve traveled and about travel in general.

For those folks in the US that aren’t fans of the Patriot Act, don’t count on the nations of western Europe being all that different. In London there are CCTV cameras on nearly every corner and there are a significant amount in most of the other cities we’ve visited so far. And if you’re not a fan of the military don’t hope for escape here either. We’ve experienced fly-overs by fighter jets in every nation we’ve been to except Germany (which is somewhat odd considering we were in Saarbrucken, just a short distance from Weisbaden Air Base) and the “boots on the ground” are just as ubiquitous with state police carrying automatic weapons around the streets of Paris and the Swiss Army practicing maneuvers in the countryside. The Swiss also run TV ads for the Bundesweir that look remarkably similar to our own Air Force recruiting ads in the US.

I’m glad I was born with English as my mother-tongue and I’m glad (although a little saddened) that it is the Lingua Franca of the world. It has made traveling around very easy. The down side is that it has killed some of the culture here. In Germany we went to an “All You Can Eat” Sushi place for dinner. German word for “all you can eat”: “all you can eat.” Most of the songs on the radio are by Lady Gaga or Britney Spears (no kidding, I’m glad we brought the iPod so we could listen to some Italian music on our drive through that country) and most of the t-shirts sport American phrases.

The drivers in Paris and Italy are no where near as crazy as people let on. In fact, I wouldn’t say they’re crazy at all. Of course that’s my opinion and for those of you who’ve been a passenger in my car maybe I just fit in but seriously, they all stop at red lights and stop signs. 99% of the cars on the road don’t drive any faster than the 130 kph limit (although every once in awhile you’ll get someone fly by in the left lane going 200 kph). I stand by my statement that most Seattle drivers could learn a lot by taking a two-week driving course in Italy. Greeks, from what I’ve witnessed today, are a bit of a different story and I’ve already caught the sight of one shaking his fist at me in the rearview mirror (sorry buddy, every other country I’ve driven in the person entering the roundabout yields to the person in it).

Monaco is not as ritzy as they make it out to be. There are a lot fewer Ferraris and Lamborghinis than they say there are.

Greece is more expensive than they make it out to be (should have filled up the fuel tank in Brindisi) and there are a lot more new Mercedes, BMWs and other “luxury” cars than they say there are.

They don’t tip in Italy or Greece, despite what some people may say on travel boards. They do, however, add a “cover charge” of 1-2 Euros per person to every bill.

Despite the fears of some of those in Western Europe, it’s not unsafe in the least to bring a BMW to Greece. Since we’ve been here we’ve seen more BMWs and Mercedes than in many other places we’ve been. Maybe this is just Kefalonia and the northwest coast of the Peloponnese but I doubt it. I feel as safe from car vandalism or theft here as anywhere else we’ve been.

As for travel in general, it’s mostly all the same lessons we all know but somehow always forget every time we go somewhere.
Pack more underwear but less of everything else.
Plan a”rest” day at least once every ten days to catch up on laundry and just relax. While travel is suppose to be relaxing, living out of a suitcase and going to a new place nearly every day can get tiring.
Add at least a couple of hours of “padding” in to each day.
Know the closing times of things you really want to see. (The American Cemetery in Normandy closes at 5pm after the second weekend in September.)
Plan more.
No amount of planning will ever be sufficient.
Reserve all rental cars ahead of time.
Never rent a car in the heart of the city (too expensive).
Don’t reserve much else unless you absolutely have too, it has a free 24 hour cancel period, or it saves you at least 50%.
Rick Steves, despite how annoying he can be in his TV show, does make the best guide book out there.
With few exceptions, if it’s not at least mentioned in passing in the Rick Steves guidebook there’s probably a reason for it. Case in point, while we enjoyed Gallipoli and the Gargano coast, most of the southern Adriatic coast of Italy wasn’t exactly something to write home about.
Four weeks of travel is about all I can take at one time. I’m really looking forward to reaching our home in Nafplion and unpacking all of our stuff.
I definitely want the BMW 535. The 3 series is a lot smaller than you’d think (only two large suitcases fit in the trunk) and a 2.0 liter engine just doesn’t cut it for acceleration.

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Arrivederci Italia, Yasus Hellas

We have been gone now nearly a month. In some ways it seems like ages ago that we were walking around London. In others, it seems like it was only yesterday that we were saying goodbye to many of you at our farewell dinner at Casualita’s. One thing’s for certain though, we’re definitely not homesick in the least.

As I write this we are steaming toward the island of Kefalonia off the northwest coast of the Peloponnese aboard the Andreas Kalvos. Rosie is taking a nap on one of the benches, a few Greeks are discussing who knows what a few meters away, the sun is shining and it’s a balmy 25 degrees. Earlier today we waded into the clearest blue water I’ve ever seen while we waited for our ferry to arrive in the small town of Kyllini; this after a delicious meal of Horiatiki salad, tzatziki and souvlaki. Now life could only be better if we were laying on a beach watching the sun set into the Ionian Sea. And soon that, too, will be a reality.

As for our final days in Italy, on Sunday we left Peschici on another pleasant drive around coast-hugging curves and sunshine. We lunched in the seaside town of Polignano a Mare, a village built on cliffs dotted with several caves, one that will soon house an underground seaside restaurant and bar, according to an advertisement we saw. Definitely worth another visit at some point.

There was no ferry running to Greece from Brindisi so we continued a bit further down and west to the town of Gallipoli on the Gulf of Taranto (the “arch” of the boot). We were glad we did. It is a nice town with a historic district built on an island accessible by only one bridge. We stayed at the very charming Court Palmieri and dined al fresco, by candlelight, on the seawall, savoring crab linguini served in a crab shell.

Yesterday we walked around Gallipoli and Brindisi doing some window shopping then boarded the Ionian Queen for its overnight sailing to Patras. And it must be the Greek in me but within moments of driving off the ferry, encountering the typical Greek traffic (no lanes, stop signs are only suggestions, the oncoming traffic will move while you’re passing in their lane) and seeing the roadside dotted with tiny Orthodox churches (and I do mean tiny, about the size of a doghouse) I was filled with emotion for my mother-country and I got just a little bit teary-eyed.

By the way, if this all sounds like a dream you’d like a piece of, there are still two spots left on our sailboat leaving a week from Sunday morning. If you can get to Paros, Greece, a beach towel and a bathing suit in hand, we’ll take care of the rest. And if not, you’re always free to come visit in November or December (although the sea won’t be quite as blue and the sun not quite as warm).


Since getting off the ferry last night: We had a bit of a time finding the hotel I’d read about (Princess Hotel in Lassi just outside Argostoli) since the island of Kefalonia isn’t very TomTom friendly (“she” told us that the route from Poros to the main town of Argostoli involved unpaved roads and parts of the trip were not covered by GPS). We did finally find it though and it’s a very lovely place. The weather today, however, is not quite as lovely: overcast with periods of light rain, a lot like Seattle actually although quite a bit warmer and we’re told that it will soon pass and the sun will likely be blazing and warm within a day or two. Let’s hope.

Today we visited Kefelonia’s two main attractions: the Drogoati Cave (300 feet deep and full of thousands of stalactites and stalagmites) and Lake Melissani, which is located inside a cave and illuminated by a large hole in the roof after a collapse 5000 years ago. After visiting the caves and lunching in the town of Sami we drove over to Antisami beach (part of the location, as is much of the island, for the film Captain Corelli’s Mandolin) and just as we laid out our towels it began to rain. We are now sitting in the lobby bar or our hotel watching the on-again-off-again rain fall.

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Livin’ La Dolce Vita

We’re now in Italy, and in typical Italian fashion we’ve thrown the itinerary out of the window and are completely winging it. In fact, we’ve even left behind the safety of the Rick Steves’ guidebook and are on the Gargano coast (the “spur” on the Italian boot). It is beautiful, undiscovered compared to the rest of Italy and the sun is shining bright. We enjoyed driving the windy, coast-hugging roads with the sunroof open on the way here.

As for the previous week, after leaving the French Riviera last Sunday we had a nice drive along the coast and down the extremely narrow and winding road to the most northern of the Cinqueterre (5 Lands), Monterosso al Mare. If you ever take a trip to Cinqeterre I’d definitely recommend staying in this town because it has the most restaurants, shops and the only beach of the five. After lunching at a beachside restaurant, taking a swim in the ocean and walking around town looking at the shops, we had dinner at a restaurant next to our hotel and met a great couple from LA who we ended up having dinner with on Monday evening, one of those great dinners that seem to fly by but, after you get up you realize four hours have gone by.

During the day on Monday we walked most of the length of the Cinqueterre trail, about 5 miles. The section between Corneglia and Manarola was closed because of a washout so we took the train, which was nice because it was getting late and it had started to rain. The last section, between Manarola and Riomaggiore is called the Via del Amore (so called because a boy and a girl from the two towns walked the path to see each other and became the first inter-village marriage, leading the two towns to widen the trail so that the families of the couple could attend the wedding. It is now adorned with padlocks on the fence (a romantic tradition) and lots of messages from loving couples on the wall.

On Tuesday we headed toward Tuscany and through the rain. Along the way to the town of Volterra (the setting for part of the Twilight series although the second film was actually filmed in nearby Montepulciano), we stopped in Pisa and saw the leaning tower and Field of Miracles, way too many tour groups and even more Algerians and Tunisians selling watches, umbrellas and other cheap crap to unsuspecting tourists. One tried to scam us with some sort of parking voucher scam. It was nice to see the Leaning Tower and get the obligatory photo of us “holding it up”, but other than that I wouldn’t recommend Pisa. Nearby Lucca on the other hand was very nice. We spent about three hours there walking around the small streets and looking at the shops. It helped that the sun was shining over Tuscany too. In Volterra we stayed at a working seminaro. It was sparse in accommodations but the staff was nice and the rooms were cheap. For dinner we started with some of the most amazing bruschetta we’ve ever tasted followed by a decent Tuscan style steak for me and a plate of pasta for Rosie paired with a good Chianti.

On Wednesday we drove to Siena for lunch and saw the Campio, which was alive with hundreds of people lounging on the brick in the noonday sun. After lunch and a little more sightseeing we drove a short distance to the wine-crazy town of Montalcino, home of the very excellent Brunello and its younger cousin, Rosso, two very good red wines made in the region. The weather was stunning and we enjoyed looking out from our hotel’s patio at the acres and acres of vineyards. We even got a bit of an airshow as a couple of Italian airforce jets were practicing maneuvers in the area on both Wednesday and Thursday.

On Thursday we continued sightseeing in Montalcino, did some wine tasting and some shopping (Rosie bought a pair of Italian leather boots and an Italian leather handbag) and then drove to Assisi, home of St. Francis, a truly incredible man whose holiness seemed to be known even in his own day some eight centuries ago. One couldn’t help but feel a little materialistic when learning about the way St. Francis lived.

Yesterday we visited Assisi’s main church (there are several big ones), the Basilica of San Francisco and then headed back in to the rainy weather. We spent the night in the town of Montesilvano, which I’m sure if very nice in the summer but there wasn’t much going on last night. It did look a lot like a lot of American beach towns one might see with somewhat cookie cutter hotels and even a shopping mall with a mediocre chain restaurant and a Cineplex. We were glad to leave Montesilvano behind this morning, especially since the rain had stopped and the sun had come out. We had a nice drive down the coast stopping in a few much more scenic towns along the coast, including Ortona and Vasto, where, after searching high and low for a restaurant, any restaurant we finally found one a block from where we’d originally parked and had a great lunch with an amazing view of the Adriatic.

Tomorrow we’ll head down to the ferry in Brindisi, unless we find another quaint village and possibly some snorkeling before the water gets too cold. We’ll keep you posted.

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“In Switzerland even the cows are soldiers.”

It took us an extra day waiting on a part for the door locks before we were able to leave Saarbrucken but on the bright side it gave us an extra day to enjoy time with our friends Muhammed and Zineb and to relax. And now that we were behind two days we decided to pretty much forgo any sort of itinerary we had for the first part of the trip and be most spontaneous. This has proved to be much more relaxing.

On Wednesday the 22nd we spend most of the day driving to the picturesque town of Lauterbrennen, Switzerland with its cute alpine village and stunning waterfalls. It is also the jumping off point for the gondola (four actually) up the Schilthorn. For James Bond fans, much of the movie, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, was filmed in this area, including at Piz Gloria, the restaurant and view spot at the top of the Schilthorn, which played the part of Bloefeld’s secret hideout. They’ve definitely let that be known too, with plenty of James Bond merchandise in the gift shop and the “James Bond Bar” with drinks like Kaffe 007 and the Miss Moneypenny.

We were originally only going to spend half a day in Lauterbrennan but found so much to do here that we ended up spending two days and still left wanting more. On the 23rd we spent the morning and early afternoon canyoning down Grimsel Canyon. Canyoning is the sport of “hiking” down a narrow, water-filled canyon and includes rappelling, zip-lining, sliding down rocks and jumping off cliffs into pools below. I jumped off one cliff 30 feet high; definitely needed a courage pill for that one. Rosie also jumped off several that were at least 10-15 feet high. On the way to this adventure one of our guides pointed out a hidden airbase that is located inside a mountain, behind a man-made waterfall. Switzerland is full of these types of hidden military installations and everyone over the age of 18 serves in the military and owns an automatic rifle. Here, “even the cows are soldiers,” our guide joked.
In the afternoon we took the gondola up the Schilthorn and then had a wonderful dinner in the little town of Murren, accessible only by gondola or train.

On Thursday we visited Trummelbach Falls, a series of ten waterfalls that fall inside the mountain. There are a series of tunnels carved out of the rock to allow visitors to see this extraordinary sight, the only one of its kind in Europe.

After viewing Trummelbach Falls we drove over the Alps to Aosta, Italy, stopping in the chic resort town of Gstaad for lunch.

Yesterday we continued our drive southward and out of the rain that plagued us most of the day Friday and are now on the Riviera where the sun is shining and the people are beautiful. (Well, a few of them are. Some are not so much and also happen to be the ones wearing speedos and thongs.) We had a lovely pizza lunch on the Italian side in the town of Alassio then continued on to our hotel in Roquebrune-Cap-Martin. After checking in and changing into some more fitting attire we drove the eight kilometers to Monaco, where, springing off our tour guide’s cow comment in Lauterbrennan, Rosie exclaimed that here, even the ducks drive Ferraris. And it certainly was tres chic, although I was a bit surprised at how few truly expensive cars there were and how reasonable the prices were. There were plenty of expensive yachts though, being that yesterday was the final day of the annual Monaco Yacht Show.

Next stop: Cinqueterre.

Categories: Monaco, Switzerland | Leave a comment

The Griswolds on Vacation, Part Two: The Adventure Continues

Last Wednesday we spent the morning visiting Warwick Castle, including their new interactive “Dungeon Tour”, which states that it’s not for those with a nervous disposition or claustrophobia. I can see why. It was quite intense. Near the end we were ushered into a mock medieval courtroom where a few of us were charged with a crime. Rosie was the first accused and wouldn’t you know it, she’s a witch! Apparently some townfolk had seen her dancing around a fire naked chanting spells earlier that week. Luckily her punishment wasn’t to be burned at the stake but only banished to Wales. I think we can live with that.

After Warwick Castle we drove back to London. Unfortunately traffic was horrendous and we ended up missing our scheduled train to Paris, having to leave a couple hours later and, true to our last name, lost the video camera in the process (luckily, unlike Clark W Griswold, I hadn’t made a video of Rosie dancing around the shower with nothing but a towel on before we left and since they didn’t have video cameras in the 13th century I don’t think any footage of her dancing around a fire in Warwick will surface either).

On Thursday we walked ELEVEN MILES around Paris (no wonder our feet were tired by the end of the day). We saw Luxembourg Gardens, The Pantheon, Notre Dame, The Tuleries Gardens, Place Vendome, Sacre Couer, Montemartre, the Champs Elysee and the Eiffel Tower, whew!

On Friday we rented a car and drove out to Mont St. Michel, definitely one of the highlights of the trip thus far. And to our pleasant surprise they were performing the opera Carmen in the open air that evening. What a setting to see opera!

On Saturday we drove up to the Normandy Beaches, a beautiful coast thanks to our Allied Forces fighting bravely 66 years ago. Unfortunately, we were not able to pay tribute as the American Cemetery was closing just as we arrived so we continued on to the lovely little beachside resort town of Luc-sur-Mer and our hotel room with a view of the English Channel or La Manche, as the French call it.

Yesterday we awoke early, made the drive back to Paris and boarded the train for Saarbrucken, Germany where we met up with our friends Muhammed and Zineb Turker, who we haven’t seen in three years, and took possession of our new BMW 320id. We had a nice sushi dinner with them last night and tomorrow, after we change to the winter tires on the car and repair a problem with the door locks, we will be off to Switzerland and another stop on, as Donald Dewsnup likes to call it, our 007 Heaven trip (and while we’ve had our share of problems on this trip so far, at least a bald man with a white cat isn’t one of them).

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Week One: England – The Good, The Bad and The Weird

Well our trip is off to one hell of a start. We got to our hotel in Central London without event save the fact that we got off one Tube stop too early and had to walk an extra half mile, which, with 70 pounds of luggage each is a bit more than you’d think. After checking in we took the Tube down to Westminster, saw Parliament and rode the London Eye. On our way back to the tube station, we stopped to enjoy some delicious crepes from a street vendor – banana and Nutella, mmmmm!

On day two we visited the British Museum and saw the Rosetta Stone and lots of mummies. Next stop was the Tower of London which was built in 1068 and it has housed prisoners every century since except the current one. Of course we had to stop by Buckingham Palace and St. James Park. In the evening we had dinner in Notting Hill then went back to the hotel where I attempted to deal with AT&T (The long and short of it: they have permanently lost this customer of ten years because they chose to lie to me multiple times.)
Saturday was also one of mixed reviews. Unfortunately we missed the “Changing of the Guard” by 15 minutes (and they only do it once a day) but we did take a nice stroll through Hyde Park and saw (this is “The Weird”) a seagull pick up a pigeon from the ground, take him into The Serpentine (big lake in the middle of Hyde Park) then drown and eat him. Never seen THAT before! Following that, and completely unrelated, we had lunch at the little restaurant on The Serpentine then took the Tube to the car rental in Mayfair. There we were “upgraded” to a BMW 318. Very nice, or so I thought (more on that later). We had a nice drive down to Lyndhurst in the New Forest where we took a lovely stroll through the quaint town and surrounding meadow where horses graze. We ended the day with traditional pub fare of a meat pie and fish and chips at the Fox & Hounds Pub.
On Sunday, Rosie’s birthday, the “upgraded” car had difficulty starting but start it finally did and we drove to nearby Beaulieu Motor Museum, which was hosting one of the largest auto “jumbles” or swap meets in the country this past weekend. We enjoyed looking at all the old cars including some steam coaches, speed record-breaking racecars, and a great collection of James Bond vehicles as well as the beautiful grounds of Beaulieu Manor, a training ground for spies during WWII and the 13th century ruins of Beaulieu Abbey. After that our luck turned again as our car definitely didn’t start. Three hours later we were on our way again in a Ford Focus (which may not be a BMW but works a heck of a lot better). Unfortunately, because of our later than expected departure we weren’t able to make it to Land’s End and instead spent the night in the charming seaside town of Lyme Regis. It was a great find with a lovely walk along a pebble beach and some nice restaurants with views of the English Channel. And luckily, after having one of the hotels in town without a vacancy call some others, we found nice lodgings in a B&B with sweeping views of the Devonshire countryside.
Monday was much better. We had a leisurely breakfast then set out for our next stop near Bath via Dartmoor National Park, Becky Falls and the medieval town of Widecombe-in-the-Moor. Monday evening, after checking into our hotel in the small village of Holcombe, we had dinner in Bradford-on-Avon at the Bradford-on-Avon Rotary Club. It was a real pleasure attending my first international meeting and the group was a jovial bunch and was greatly excited by our attendance.
Tuesday we drove to Solihull near Birmingham, the ancestral home of the Griswold (Greswolde) family. We took a drizzly walk through Malvern Park, the old Greswolde Estate grounds and saw Malvern Hall, now, St. Martin’s, a girls’ private primary school. Following that we drove down to Warwick had dinner and spent the rest of the evening relaxing in our room.
Wednesday we will visit Warwick Castle and, in the evening, take the train to Paris!

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One Hour to Wheels Up

Months of planning is finally about to become reality. In one hour we will board a British Airways 747 bound for our first stop on a four-month tour of Europe: London.

But four months in Europe wasn’t quite enough for us so prior to this grand adventure we took a few mini-vacations on the West Coast. We finally have a few free moments to write about them!

Two weeks ago Rosie flew down to San Diego for one last “girls’ weekend” with friend Jenny. While the weather wasn’t warm enough to lie out on the golden beaches like they had hoped, they were not disappointed by the shopping! Their first day was spent in La Jolla. They walked along the beach, saw lots of sea lions, and found some good shopping. The next day they went to a swap meet. (FYI: they do not call them “flea markets” down there. The bus driver got a good laugh when Rosie told her they were going to the flea market. When you think about it, the term is kind of funny.)  The afternoon was spent on Coronado Island. They visited the Hotel del Coronado and the local shops. Their last full day was spent at the San Diego Farmers’ Market. This was the best farmers’ market Rosie has ever been to! The food was amazing and she wanted to try something from every booth, but Jenny and she decided to get a panini with mozzarella, basil, and tomato. YUM! The rest of the day was spent exploring Balboa Park.

Mark was suppose to go on a three-day hike with friend Matt and his boys Mako and Liam while Rosie was gone, but a bad chest cold got the better of him and he spent the weekend resting, although he did managed to squeeze in a Saturday night with friends at a drag show on Capital Hill (a first; very interesting).

On Monday Mark flew down to Anaheim and rendezvoused with Rosie at Disneyland where we spent the next two days. What a place it was! It was great to be a kid again in the magical kingdom. It truly is one of, if not the, happiest place on earth. We especially liked Main Street USA and also enjoyed the “It’s a Small World After All” ride, the riverboat cruise (Captain Mark invited us to ride in the wheelhouse with him!), the jungle cruise, “Thunder Mountain”, “Splash Mountain” and the Indiana Jones adventure. And amazingly, the longest line we ever stood in was only 15 minutes. The parade down Main Street, the fireworks show (which includes Tinkerbell and Dumbo soaring above Sleeping Beauty’s Castle), and especially the “World of Color” show at Disney’s California Adventure Park (which is an extravaganza of fountains, colored lights, Disney movie clips projected on water spray, lasers and fire) are also not to be missed.

Day two at Disneyland was spent at Disney’s California Adventure Park where we had a blast riding the “California Screamin’” rollercoaster, the “Tower of Terror” and, probably our favorite ride of the weekend, “Soarin’ over California.” We also watched the Aladdin show, a shortened version of the movie with some updated jokes that even adults will find funny.

That evening we rented a car and drove to out friend David’s house in Gardena. The next day the three of us drove out to Simi Valley and visited the Reagan Library and gravesite and then ate lunch at a waterfront restaurant in Malibu after taking David’s V8 Cadillac through the winding turns of the Malibu Hills. After another hour walking the Santa Monica Pier we said our goodbyes to David and headed back to Seattle.

No rest for the weary, the very next day we headed out for a weekend of camping just east of Mt. Rainier on Highway 410 (Cottonwood Campground) with our friends Ross, Jessica, Matt and Micki. Besides drinking lots of wine and roasting marshmallows around the campfire we also enjoyed a great short hike on nearby Boulder Creek Cave Trail, which includes two caves, one with a waterfall at the end and one a 200-yard tunnel complete with bats (fortunately we didn’t see any). Matt was also able to catch a few trout in the river next to our campsite. Unfortunately a no good, dirty weasel got a hold of the bigger one (or so he says).

Monday afternoon we had a late lunch with friends Jeremy and Nicole then finished packing up our apartment and yesterday, after more packing, we had a wonderful time saying goodbye to old friends and new at a special “Flavor of Seattle” VIP Dinner in our honor (Thanks, Victor, for hosting and thanks to everyone else who came for helping us make our last night in the US a memorable one!).

Next stop: London, England


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Our European Itinerary

Most of you know our general itinerary for the next four months but in case you don’t or just want to follow along, here it is:

Sept 9-11 – London
Sept 11/12 – The New Forest and the Beaulieu Motor Museum (home to a large 007 collection)
Sept 12/13 – Lands End
Sept 13/14 – Glastonbury and Bath
Sept 14/15 – Brecon Beacons, Wales and Warwickshire (the Griswold ancestral home)
Sept 15-17 – Paris
Sept 17-19 – Mt. St. Michel and the Normandy Beaches
Sept 19/20 – Saarbrucken and our friends Muhammad and Zineb (and our new car)
Sept 20-22 – Switzerland
Sept 22-24 –Provence and Monaco
Sept 24/25 – Portofino
Sept 25/26 – Lake Como
Sept 26-29 – Venice
Sept 29-Oct 9 – Florence, Siena, Cinqueterre, Tuscan Hill Towns and points south
Oct 9/10 – Ferry from Brindisi to Patras, Greece
Oct 10-16 – Nafplion and our friend Panos
Oct 16-27 – Sailing the Cyclades aboard a Benteau Oceanis 40 with friends Charm and Jon
Oct 27-Nov 14 – “Home” in Nafplion and side trips in the Peloponnesus
Nov 14-22 – Naples, Capri, the Amalfi Coast and Rome with friend Jen
Nov 22-Dec 29 – “Home” in Nafplion and a week trip around northern Greece. Visits from friends (maybe you?!)
Dec 29-Jan 12 – Drive back to Germany including stops in Dubrovnik (New Year’s Eve), Budapest, Prague, Salzburg, Innsbruck and Neuschwanstein Castle

If you’d like to catch up with us for any part of this itinerary email us and let us know where you’ll be! There’s still space on the boat or maybe you’d like to do some skiing in Innsbruck or ring in 2011 in Croatia! Remember, unless you’re James Bond, you only live once!

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