Friday, November 14, 2008


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

Thursday, November 13, 2008


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.



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


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


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.



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.


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.


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.


Saturday, November 1, 2008

Weekend on The North Shore

After leaving Maine, we spent a quintessential fall weekend in Ipswich, MA.  Ipswich is a 
 small town about 30 miles north of Boston and home to The Salah Family. Hung met the Salah's during Thanksgiving weekend of his freshman year of college.  Hung grew up in Oklahoma and traveling back to Oklahoma from Maine for a four day weekend wasn't an option. When one of Hung's new friends (Matt Salah) found out that Hung wasn't going home for Thanksgiving, he invited him to his parent's house for the weekend. From that weekend on, Hung became an honorary member of the Salah family.

Upon arriving, our hosts gave us a summary of the many events going on around the area.  We quickly settled on The Ipswich Lions Club Annual Chowderfest.  Ipswich is known for its seafood, particularly clams, so we were ready to sample chowder as local restaurants battled for bragging rights.  We were not disappointed by our decision.   During our two hour visit to the Chowder fest, we sampled eight local chowders, tapped our feet to the live music, and enjoyed the sunshine reflecting off the Ipswich River.  Our favorite Chowder:  The Ipswich Clambake.  

Our next stop, despite our full tummies, was Russell Farms for apples,  cider, and donuts.  
Cider donuts are by far my favorite part of any orchard outing.  While the adults savored the warm baked goods, the kids ran over to look at the animals and play on the swing set.  

All baked goods made from SCRATCH. Sign next to register informed us that all oil used to cook donuts was reused as biofuel to run the tractors in the orchard.  
Save the Earth: Eat Donuts.

The next morning Hung and I drove over to Ingaldsby Farms in Boxboro, in search of the 
 "best muffins on earth."  We found delicious, cake-like muffins the size of grapefruits bursting with fresh berries.  My favorite:  The Blueberry-Raspberry Cream.  The tartness of the fresh raspberry and blueberry was perfectly offset by the cake-like-muffin and the sweet cream cheese filling.  We found a picnic table outside, ate our muffins and drank the dunkin' donuts coffee we had purchased on the way to Boxboro.  

Love at first bite

On the way back to Ipswich, I informed Hung that my stomach hurt--I had eaten too many sweet things and needed something savory.  Just as I finished telling Hung of my need for something without sugar, we turned the corner on Rt. 1A and saw "The Clam Box."  The Ipswich Clam Box is a landmark, the building actually looks like a box of clams.  The restaurant has been around since 1935 and draws huge crowds in the summer.  A quick nod from me, and we were pulling into the parking lot.  Since we weren't really hungry, just needing something savory, we decided to split an order of fried clam strips.  We received a heaping container of not-too-greasy, golden, crispy fried clams.  YUM!

The famous trapezoidal restaurant

Ok, I've been talking about food A LOT.  To burn off all the calories, Hung and I spent the next few hours walking at Appleton Farms.  Appleton Farms is a working farm with miles of well kept walking trails that are open to the public.