Saturday, December 20, 2008

Barcelona


Barcelona, Spain was the last city we visited in Europe. We spent three days in Barcelona and left wishing we had more time to explore. It is a beautiful and vibrant city.

Sagrada Familia, the immense but still unfinished church designed by Barcelona's most famous architect Antoni Gaudi. It has been under construction since 1882.


Scaffolding shows where they are still working on the church.
Shopping for postcards
Fruit in La Boqueria. A beautiful market just off La Rambla
Another picture from La Boqueria.

Hung checking out the selection of soccer jerseys. Unfortunately, FC Barcelona was playing an away game while we were in town. We have yet to see a soccer match in Europe.Walking La Rambla

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Venice






Venice: Without a doubt, the most romantic city on earth. Hung and I arrived by train, bought a 72 hour public transit pass and set out to experience the magic of Venice.

A pretty canal
Hung listening to a Rick Steve's Audio Podcast

The Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square)

Piazza San Marco--A pigeon actually landed on my shoulder--Luckily, Hung saved me.
Hung crossing the bridge in front of The Doge's Palace

Who needs rose colored glasses when you've got rose colored street lights!

Gondolas

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Firenze Update Continued

Ok, we've unpacked the suitcases, taken care of the bills, and run our errands; it is now time for me to finish my updates.

During my last Europe update, I told you about our early morning arrival in Florence. Unable to check in at the hotel, we stored our big suitcases at the hotel and set out in search of a laundromat. The laundry was finished by 9 am, so we dropped our sack of clean clothes off at the hotel and went in search of food and entertainment. Food was easy to find, every fifth store front was a cafe. So we popped into one and enjoyed strong espresso and delicious pastry. When you go into a cafe in Europe, you will notice that there are two prices for everything. One price is the to-go price and the other higher price is the price to sit at a table and eat your food. I guess this system makes sense, pay for what you use--chair, table, space. Since we didn't have anyplace to go, we opted to pay the higher price and enjoy sitting for a few minutes.

At the laundromat


Fueled up, we were off. At 9:30 in the morning, the city seemed to be waking up. Grates were starting to be pushed back from store fronts, street cleaners were scrubbing the streets, and people were briskly walking in every direction.

A Jar Of Nutella Bigger Than My Head!!



We wandered the winding streets for the next few hours, anxious to unpack our bags and pull out the warmer clothes. It was starting to get cold.

Finally at noon, we checked in. That's when the envitable happened....the flu hit. Hung looked pale, had a chill he couldn't shake and only wanted to sleep. I ran to our zip lock full of medicine, grabbed some Theraflu, and crossed my fingers that we could knock this flu out quickly. For the rest of the day, Hung slept while I read a book. The next morning, the flu was gone and Hung was ready to get out there and see the city. Phew!

Picture of Florence from our hotel room--Not a bad view for a 3 star hotel near the train station!



We spent our day touring the Uffizi Gallery, crossing the Ponte Vecchio, and enjoying Tuscan food and wine.

Hallway in the Uffizi Gallery

A nice glass of Chianti

Tasted so good...our half litre was gone too quickly.
A very little car parked on the sidewalk--makes the mini look like a beast.

-amb

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

After 29 Days on the road...There is no place like home

HOME! I didn't know how much I missed our home until we walked in the front door this evening. Traveling and seeing new places is exciting and wonderful but the comforting familiarity of home can't be found any where but here.

Our flight home from Frankfurt was pretty uneventful. We left Frankfurt at 11:40 am and landed in Charlotte at 3:30 pm--with the time change 9 hours on the plane. Our Airbus 330 was equipped with on demand t.v. and movies, so I spent the majority of my time catching up on box office bombs. I had been dreading the long flight but it went by pretty quickly. I'm surprised we weren't stopped for extra questioning at customs, because I was down right giddy about being on American soil. Luckily, my extreme exuberance didn't set off any alarm bells and we were through customs and baggage claim in record time. Waiting for us as we exited the terminal was our wonderful friend Ken, who had generously offered to pick us up.

Picture from a couple years ago--Ken, Hung's sister Carol and us.



In the last few hours, I've sorted through our box of mail, been to the grocery store and started cooking a beef stew. The stew will need to simmer for the next several hours but I figured it will be ready when our jet lagged bodies tell us it is time to eat. Besides the house smells better when something is cooking. While I was cooking, Hung offered to represent us at our annual home owners meeting which was held tonight. I had wanted to go and see our neighbors but had spent so much time running around that I was still wearing my travel clothes. I figured nobody needed to see the grudgy road warrior.

Lots of updates are overdue. But I'll save those until tomorrow.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Firenze






I continue to be amazed by the beauty of these old cities.  Walking around Florence (Firenze) is like a history lesson.  After taking a night train from Vienna, we arrived in Florence at 6:30 in the morning. We had reserved a hotel room near the train station and went directly to the hotel after getting off the train.  Unfortunately, we were unable to check in early (I would have been really shocked if we were able to check in at 7 a.m.) Even though we couldn't check in,  the hotel staff let us store our big suitcases in a room off the lobby.   After nine days on the road, we had one administrative task to complete in Florence--Laundry.  Luckily, an american who has lived in Florence for the last 10 years, opened a laundramat near the train stain.  Sixty minutes later, we had washed, dried and folded our laundry.  Now we were ready to start exploring the new city.


The view from the top of the top of Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore--The Duomo.  The view was worth the dizzying climb


Hung climbs and climbs
-amb


Thursday, November 13, 2008

Vienna


After Frankfurt, we traveled by overnight train to Vienna, Austria (Wien if your speaking German). At 8:30 in the morning we arrived at Wien Westbahnhof, wheeled our bags through the train station and down into the subway. Thirty minutes later we were standing in the middle of a busy market in the center of Venice. As we surfaced from the subway tunnel, Hung typed the hotel address into our Garmin Nuvi GPS. Our Garmin is a hand held model and has a great pedestrian feature--I have to thank my dad and Jason for giving me this excellent gift a couple years ago. The Garmin calculated that we needed to walk 0.6 miles through some winding streets. We arrived at our hotel around 10:00 am, intending to ask if they could hold our luggage until check in time. However, we received a pleasant surprise, our room was ready!! Over the next three days we enjoyed many more pleasant surprises and were sad to leave Wien. 

One of the older style trams. The public transportation was excellent in Vienna. We bought a 72 hour Wien Card, good for unlimited trips on the trains and trams. Also when you showed your Wien Card, a discount was given at most tourist sights.

When the tram pulls up, don't forget to push the button next to the door (drucken means push). If you don't the door won't open and you'll be left standing at the tram stop as the tram pulls away...this may haven't happened to us.

Schonbrunn Palace


Buying Chestnuts
The Giant Ferris Wheel (Riesenrad) was erected in 1897 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the reign of Empereror Franz Joseph I. The wheel itself spans 200 feet (about 60 m.). 15 cabins and the upholding structure weigh a total of 430,5 t and rotate at the speed of 0,65 m/sec.





Hung listens to an audio tour as we walk through The Schatzkammer (Imperial Treasury). The Treasury is home to the 9th-century saber of Charlemagne, the holy lance which was thought to be the weapon that pierced the side of Christ, artifacts connected with the Order of the Golden Fleece (romantic medieval order of chivalry), and the Imperial Crown -- created in 962 covered with emeralds, sapphires, diamonds and rubies.   The Treasury was an amazing display of artifacts and jewels.




-amb





EuroRailing






To move between cities in Europe we've been riding the rails. Before flying over, we bought Eurorail passes that gave us eight days of travel over a 30 day period. For the big trips, we've paid a supplement and reserved a sleeping couchette. One of the sleeping couchettes actually had its own private bathroom, including a shower! It has been so cool to fall asleep in one country and wake up in a new one.



The sleeping car

Our bunks


The teeny tiny shower in our sleeping car. Press the button on the wall of the shower for fifteen seconds of water.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Frankfurt

Photos from Frankfurt:


Nutella snacks in the vending machine



Hung is ready to enjoy a bratwurst

The Bratwurst Vendor


Lunch: Frankfurters for Hung and Potato-Bacon Soup for Amie
Hefeweizens and apple wine to drink
Hung crossing the river on the way to tour the old city of Frankfurt

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Europe

I must apologize for our delinquent updates. Last Monday evening, we boarded USAir flight 704 in Charlotte and woke up in Frankfurt Germany at 10:00 am (local time). Since landing we've been on the move nonstop.

In the days between the New England road trip and our departure to Europe we spent our time researching cities, hotels, landmarks, and transportation. We've got a rough sketch of where we are going but will let the schedule develop as we talk to locals and other travelers.

In addition to researching, we needed to pack. This was actually pretty difficult for me. We decided that while we were in Europe, we would take trains and public transportation whenever possible. Since we'd have to carry everything, we agreed to each pack only one rolling suitcase and one back pack. Packing thirty days of clothing into one bag was a challenge. I like having extra outfits--just in case. I couldn't do that on this trip and every item needed to earn its spot. Even with my ruthless, no frills packing strategy, the zippers on my suitcase were popping. However, as I was weeding through my suitcase for the absolute essentials, I remembered space bags! They've always seemed like a gimmick but I was desperate. Here's what happened.

BEFORE


AFTER


I love these bags. They cut the space needed for my clothes by a third. I was shocked at how well they worked. Steps for using the "magic space bags" 1) Put clothes in bag 2) Seal open side by sliding plastic fob (like a zip lock bag) 3) Roll zippered side towards opposite side of space bag 4) Listen for air to escape from special one-way valves built into the bag.

You might be wondering if my clothes look like a rumpled mess after getting squashed into an airless bag. I was worried about the same thing and was pleasantly surprised when I started unpacking because my clothes actually look better than if I had packed them as I usually do. Space bags receive five stars from me.

I've been calling them "space bags" but the actual name Pack Mate Original Roll-Bag.

-amb

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Rebecca & Josh

Amie and I had turned our attention south from the far reaches of Northern Maine toward warmer climes and a few miles closer to home. We were headed down I-95 to Brunswick where Rebecca and Josh have recently set up residence. Amie and Rebecca are cousins and have known each other virtually their entire lives. I first met Rebecca and Josh at their beautiful wedding in January of 2006. Over the past several years, Amie and I have been able to catch up and visit with Rebecca but have not had the good fortune to spend a single moment with Josh.

Rebecca has that completely natural friendly demeanor that doesn't require anytime to be placed at ease. When Amie is doing her best to spend as much quality time with as many relatives as possible at a family event, Rebecca is that hoped-for cousin that I can easily enjoy passing the time in genuine conversation. Through Rebecca I have gotten to know Josh discovering that we share quite a few affections for our home theater, tv shows, pro football, and the "man room" that we both are constantly working on in our respective homes. Josh is just the sort that most guys would want as a friend. He's the guy that I would be throwing a few beers back with at these Mallett family outings. I would not have to provide details or alter my video-audiophile vocabulary because Josh already knows what I am talking about. But its been almost 3 years since Amie and I have seen Josh.

Captain Josh Jacques has been serving our country in Kuwait and Iraq all this time. For all of their marriage, Josh has been deployed into combat zones while Rebecca have lived in her hometown awaiting his safe return. There have been times when Amie and I have been apart for work or visiting relatives but never for too long. I could not imagine a life separate from Amie. Josh and Rebecca's time apart is almost incomprehensible to me, but then I realize that many of our service men and women sacrifice as much for our country. As we were having lunch at that cozy tavern in downtown Brunswick, I was warmed to see Josh and Rebecca sitting together across the table from us -- "like two peas in a pod". We talked of families, friends, our hometowns, sports, and the roads that lie ahead for us. We make plans to watch the college basketbal tournament in the spring. With hugs and handshakes we say our goodbyes with the prayer that Josh and Rebecca will finally able to spend their lives with each other for a long, long time.

At the next Mallett family gathering, you'll be able find me off to the side with Josh having a cold beer waxing over the quality of our 1080p flatscreens with 7.1 DTS Surround Sound.

--hnb

Monday, November 3, 2008

UConn Dairy Bar


We continued driving south after our weekend in Ipswich. On our way through Connecticut we made a quick detour to University of Connecticut to visit the baby of the Salah family, Christiana. Christiana is at UConn attending grad school and teaching a freshman composition class. We had a great visit with Christiana and were able to experience one of the gems of the UConn campus--The Dairy Bar.

The UConn dairy bar opened in the 1950's to sell products made by the University's creamery. The Dairy Bar features a retro ice cream parlor theme and an observation window for viewing the ice cream making process. You might be asking, Why does a university have a creamery? UConn has a large agricultural program. The milk used to make all the ice cream actually comes from the cows standing out in the field next to the dairy bar. The ice cream is amazing...I'm lucky I didn't have something like this during my university days...that freshman fifteen would have easily turned into the freshman thirty.

My cup of classic chocolate. The dairy's most popular flavor: Jonathan Supreme, named for the school's current Husky mascot, swirls peanut butter through vanilla ice cream and adds chocolate-covered peanuts.


Hung and Christiana all smiles after their ice cream. If you look really close, you'll see the cows out grazing in the field.


-amb