Monday, August 08, 2005

Paris Photos

The Louvre

The Opera House

Mona Lisa

James the Statue

Picasso Painting

Notre Dame

James and Amy in Montmarte with Paris view

James and Amy at the Louvre

The Eiffel Tower

Happy 5th Anniversary at the top of the Eiffel Tower even though you can't tell.

Champs Elysees

Eiffel Tower at night

Paris anniversary dinner

Arc de Triomphe

A 5th Anniversary in Paris and the Wiebes Sign off From Dublin

As this will be my last post from our whirlwind tour of Ireland and Western Europe, and because our trip this weekend included a TON of different stuff, this post will probably not be a short one. For those of you who don’t want to know what I eat for breakfast, ok. I will not be describing any of our breakfast fare. As to what else I will include, you’ll just have to take your chances and read on.

As of last night at 10pm, Amy and I have now made our last official flight back into Dublin Internation Airport before heading back to the good ole’ US this coming Thursday morning, August 11th. Amy and I were married in Dallas on August 5, 2000, so this last Friday was our 5th Anniversary. Being a significant event, we wanted to do something really fun to celebrate. So, we got up very early Friday morning and headed to the airport to fly to Paris, France. Our flight left Dublin around 6:40 and we landed Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris at around 9:30, France time. We headed directly for the trains and after standing in a ridiculously long line to get tickets (since their automated machines wouldn’t take our low-tech credit cards – they don’t have the smart chips that are in all the cards here) were allowed to board. We rode the hour train into the old-town part of Paris. Despite not speaking French and not having very good directions as to how to get to the stop closest to our hotel, Amy had very little trouble getting us there. Procuring subway tickets was a little tricky the first couple of times, but we figured it out.
We had the great fortune of having a guy here in Dublin that Amy works with who is from Paris. His name is Arnaud, and if he weren’t a consultant on the same project as Amy, he could be a tour-guide director in Paris. He spent what must have been a considerable amount of time writing us out a site-by-site itinerary of what we were to go see and when. He even had a map with each site listed and arrows to go along with his already very detailed instructions. Having grown up there, he knew many tricks to getting around, what to see when, good restaurants, and many other excellent suggestions for our trip. (Thank you very much Arnaud! You made our weekend trip a phenomenal success.)

We made our way to the correct stop and walked the quarter-mile or so to the Hotel de Opera which is less than a half mile from the River Seine. We arrived there at around noon only to find out that we weren’t allowed to check into our room until after 2:30. So, we left all of our luggage in a storage room and headed right back out the door. We whipped out our trusty itinerary and got started. We walked a little ways and grabbed some lunch at a great sandwich shop. The ladies inside gave us our first taste of only speaking very limited English. Amy and I had prepared ourselves for this to a certain extent by learning some of the more important touristy French words and phrases. However, as we expected, there is no good way to communicate complex concepts such as what you do and do not want on a sandwich equipped with only par le vous ingles (do you speak English?), bon jour (good morning), bon sois (good evening), ovuai (good bye), merci (thank you), bou quou (very much), o au (where is), toilettes (duh..), jambon (ham), formagge (cheese), a few numbers and almost nothing else. Eventually we got what we needed but only after some not minor confusion. For those of you who don’t already know this (or who don’t care J ) the French make very good bread (example: croissants, baguettes, etc.) and consequently, their sandwiches are also very good.

This is really where we began using Arnaud’s itinerary (please, if you are able, pretend that you can hear the accent of a Frenchman with great English speaking the words of this itinerary), so I’m going to simply paste it in. (I’m also posting this here in case any of you ever visit Paris with a short amount of time to spend and want to use the same plan. It worked wonderfully.)

Here is a suggestion of programme:Friday:From the 1. Hotel, go west to the 1b.Place Vendome, then west again to 1c.La Madeleine and reach the 2. Place de la Concorde (Concorde Square) viathe Street called La Rue Royale, with the Egyptian monument. From there,take the 3. Avenue de Champs Elysees and walk (this will be a bit long butworth it) until you reach the 4. Arc de Triomphe. I would give you theadvice to go at the top of this monument, instead of going up the EiffelTower. You'll have a great view from there. Then, take the Kleber Avenueand walk until 5. Place du Trocadero. Across the Square, you will gobetween the two big museums and go down the stairs where you will cross theSeine and be at the 6.Eiffel Tower. You go up or not, and then, you shoudgo to the 6b. Hotel des Invalides. It's not that far from where you are, soi suggest you walk, but please make sure you know where that is on yourmap. Inthis building is the grave of Napoleon.Then, take a cab to 7.EgliseSaint Germain des Pres, on the boulevard of the same name (or not far fromit). You will be in what we call the 8.Quartier Latin (Latin Quarter, easyone).This is where you should spend the rest of the afternoon and the evening.In your guide, you will see a lot of things, but do not go south of theBoulevard Saint Germain, this is for Sunday morning. I would recommend towalk in the pedestrian area. The restaurant will be the oldest "brasserie"of Paris, called the Procope (, 13 rue de l'ancienne comedie, paris 06, the subway station is Odeon). Booking is madefor you two under the name of Wiebe at 8pm. Tel number of the restaurant(just in case) : 00 33 1 40 46 79 00 (if from a french phone, 01 40 46 7900)

Saturday:From the 1. Hotel, go south to the Seine and reach the 2. Place de laConcorde (Concorde Square), with the Egyptian monument. From there, enterin the 3. Jardin des Tuileries, and go through it until you arrive at the4. Louvre. Take your time to walk outside the Louvre on its different sides(south, north and west). Then, go east on the Seine border and reach the
5. Pont Neuf (that's a bridge). Via this bridge, you will get to the 6. Ile dela Cite, which is the heart of the old Paris. On this island, there is the7. Cathedrale Notre Dame, which is a magnificent monument. Then you go backto the left side of the Seine and go to the City Hall: 8. Hotel de Ville.Then you go further east on the other island of Paris, called 9.Ile SaintLouis, where you can have lunch and the ice cream we talked about,
10. Berthillon. It is sold in many places on the island, you can't miss it. My advice would be wild strawberry, melon, extra bitter cocoa, peach. Youshould stick to the fruits. Then go back again to the left side of theSeine, and take the Boulevard Henri IV, and reach the 11. Bastille Square,where was the old prison that was destroyed at the French Revolution andwhere the modern Opera is. Cross the square and go directly to theBoulevard Beaumarchais, the second on the left to reach the 12. Place desVosges. Once there, you will go west and enter what is called 13. Le Marais(litterally the swamp). You should spend some time here, there are somehidden monuments in almost every street. You won't be far from the Picassomuseum, if you wanna see it (use your map, it will be marked). After havingspent some time in this area, you have to go to the 14. Opera Garnier (holdyour breath, it's marvelous). From there, go to the 15. Galeries Lafayette( you can ask somebody, it's very close to where you are) and spend sometime in the building, which i beleive is worth it. If you want to buystuff, i think you will find everything there, even if it's slightly moreexpensive than the other shops. Once you come out, go to the subway station"Saint Lazare", where you will take the subway line number 12, to"Abbesses" (direction Porte de La Chapelle). Arrived at Abbesses, YOU HAVETO take the elevator, otherwise you will suffer. Once out, you will be atthe center of the 16. Butte Montmartre, which is a hill from where you willhave a great view on Paris. It is also the stage of the movie Amelie and isa great representation of the old Paris. You should spend the eveningthere, it's fun, you have a lot of bars and restaurants.

Sunday:If your feet are still alive, i suggest you go to the Pantheon, where allmajor people of the French history (besides Napoleon, because you saw hisgrave on friday). From the Opera, take subway line 7 to "Jussieu", and thenfollow your map until you arrive to the 1. Pantheon. Next to it is theuniversity 2. La Sorbonne, which you should take a look at. Then walk tothe 3. Jardin du Luxembourg, in which there is in particular the palacehosts 4. The French Senate (i honestly don't know if you can visit it, butyou should try). Spend some time in the garden, and then take the RER atLuxembourg (that's the name of the station) and go to 5. St Michel station.You will arrive where Heather used to stay with her silent girlfriend. Itis a very nice walk to go along the Seine in this area. Go east, yourobjective is to go back to the Cathedral Notre dame, because this is whereyou're gonna take the boat for an english (you deserved it) tour on theSeine. Departure is 6. Quai de Montebello, departure every hour from 11amto 11 pm. You'll get some rest on the boat.
Have a nice week end

So, you can see at this point, that his plan for us was wonderful. If I went through and covered every single place we saw it would take twenty pages, so I will give a brief summary:

During the day, we got a great view of the city after climbing the 286 stairs of a spiral staircase to get to the top of the Arc de Triomph, not to mention that the monument itself was incredible. We saw the Eiffel Tower, and it was clearly amazing, but it was incredibly busy there as you may be able to see in the pictures, so we took some pictures and continued on. The estate on which Napoleon is buried is phenomenal, although by the time we reached this point in the day, we were pooped. We walked around for a little while after this stop and tried to shop a little (unsuccessfully) and then went back to the hotel to change before going to eat dinner. We had a fantastic anniversary dinner Friday night after seeing all the places for that day. We sat out on a skinny patio on this restaurant/"brasserie" called the Procope that was built in 1689 and has been running ever since. Amy had the idea that it might be less busy at the Eiffel Tower at night so we went back over there after our dinner and arrived at around 10:30. Plus we thought the idea of spending the late evening of our anniversary on the Eiffel Tower was pretty cool. We stood in line to get tickets, then in another to get on the first elevator, in a REALLY long one to get on the second elevator to the top. We walked around for about 10-15 minutes and the view was really good, although our camera doesn’t do night photos all that well, not doing the view justice. We then got back in two more lines to get back to the bottom. By the time we hit the ground again it was 12:30 and we finally crawled into bed around 1:30.

The next morning we slept in until 9:30 or so, and then headed out, grabbing some food on the way to the Jardin (Garden) des Tuileries that is next to the Louvre Museum. We walked through this at around 11am and were stunned at how few people were out. They had all apparently had later nights than we had. We got to the Louvre in about twenty minutes, and briefly debated going in. However, the draw of being that close to some of the most amazing art in the world, combined with the fact that it seemed that it might possibly not be CRAMMED with people won us over. We went through the parts of the Louvre that we wanted to see in a little over an hour. Not only was the art on the walls amazing, the entire building was crafted exquisitely. Everything from the antique fireplaces in some of the rooms, to the entire ceilings of painting that had been moved from other places in the world, to the enormous sculptures, and everything else. We of course squeezed through the crowd to get a picture of the Mona Lisa, and then promptly continued on our way. We couldn’t believe we had seen so much in only an hour. After a couple of other stops, we arrived at Notre Dame. We didn’t feel like paying the 12Euro entrance fee, so we got our picture of the outside and then went directly to find lunch. We had lunch at an outdoor café, and then found what Arnaud called Berthillon. Berthillon is a kind of ice cream, at least for the fruit flavors, that is sort of a combination of a gelato and a fruit smoothie. I had peach and cherry on a waffle cone. It SERIOUSLY tasted like I was eating peach pie – Fantastic.

We went around and saw the items for the rest of the afternoon including the Picasso Museum, and the Opera Garnier, which were both also incredible, and then went back to the hotel to shower and change for dinner. We went back out to Montmarte via the subway only to find that the connection that we needed in order to get close was closed. So, we hiked a good little ways but eventually arrived, plus we got to see the Moulin Rouge along the way, which is one of Amy’s favorite movies. Why, you may ask? Well, once again, I must contend with one Mr. Ewan McGregor. We had some pizza and wine for dinner and then climbed up another million stairs to get to the peak of Montmarte, on top of which is an old church or mosque. But the view was again amazing. There is one last wide set of stairs to walk up to get to the church. Saturday evening, on these steps were congregated a few hundred people, watching a guy down below us who was, as it turned out, one of the funniest and creative street performers I have ever seen. There was a small street at the top of Montmarte just below this last set of stairs up to the church and so people were crossing it between the few cars, buses, and motorcycles that were passing by. This performer was acting like a crossing guard of sorts, but was sneaking around behind people, imitating them, rubbing bald men’s heads, goosing people, stopping cars randomly and pulling passengers out, opening trunk lids on a few cars rummaging through their things, and just having a good time of it. The victims were all very gracious. All the while, this huge crowd had gathered on these steps above the street to watch, and this guy was awesome. We then headed back to the hotel after stopping for banana splits on the way.

Sunday morning we had breakfast at another café and headed for the Pantheon. After that we made it to the Jardin du Luxembourg. Again, the gardens in Europe are just huge parks, with lakes, hedges, benches, trees, etc. So, we sat on the grass for awhile and read books in the sun. After awhile we headed back toward the River Seine and the boat tour. We had some extra time after getting close so we decided to take an extra half-hour walk along the river down to the Musee’ d’Orsay, which is supposed to have one of the best sculpture collections in the world. After arriving and seeing the absolutely thousands of people in the square outside waiting in line to get in, we turned around and walked back down to the boat tour area just in time to catch the 3 o’clock tour. The boat goes up and down the river as you can imagine with a tour guide pointing out and describing the various points of interest. We were one of the last to board so our seats weren’t great in the back of the boat and we couldn’t really hear what was being said. However, we had already seen many of the places she pointed out and were more than content to just be sitting on a boat in the river relaxing in the sun of Paris. After the hour boat ride, we headed back over toward the Notre Dame to get lunch and because we had to have some more of the Berthillon before we left. After getting our last taste of that deliciousness, we headed back to the hotel to get our things and went to the airport to fly back into Ireland for what may be the last time.

All in all our stay in Paris, was one of the most unforgettable trips I’ve ever been on. Part of this was because of the sites, but the biggest part was being there with my best friend, Amy. We had an absolutely marvelous time for our 5th anniversary weekend. It was great.

Well friends and family, this is where our journey must end, as all journeys eventually do. For us though, the end of this adventure is merely the beginning of another. The next few days will be very busy as I attempt to figure out how to fit all the stuff we’ve acquired over the last two months into what were already fairly full suitcases. We are here for three more days in Dublin until Thursday morning, at which time we leave to fly to Dallas for a friend’s wedding. We’ll be in Dallas three days and then fly back to Seattle on Sunday. Amy turns around the next morning to fly to Boise, Idaho for four days. She’s home for a little over a week, as we are watching some good friends’ children while they take a much-deserved 10th Anniversary trip down to San Diego for a long weekend. Then Amy will go back to Boise for a few days. The movers pick up all of our stuff on August 31st from the storage shed in Bothell. We then leave Seattle on September 4th. We are driving from Seattle down the Oregon coast, down through the Redwood National forest in northern California, down through San Francisco, to Los Angeles, where we are going to attempt to see Bob Barker and the (COME ON DOWN….YOU’RE THE NEXT CONTESTANT ON THE) Price is Right. From there we’re going across the desert to Arizona to see the Grand Canyon, down through New Mexico to Carlsbad, and then back over to Abilene, Texas where we hope to stop and see my brother Mark and sister-in-law Jocelyn on our way to Dallas.

Then over the course of the next few months, as we will be living much to our delight with Amy’s parents during this time, we’ll be looking at buying a house, finding a church, checking out schools and neighborhoods, and purchasing at least one dependable car (assuming of course that our 1990 over-200,000 mile Honda makes it to Texas at all.) I’ll be looking for a job and an internship, and Amy will be starting to work in a new office with PWC. We have so much to be grateful for. God has blessed us richly.

We have had a most wonderful time in Seattle with all of our many friends. We have seen some of the most beautiful and amazing places in the world: Washington, Vancouver, Oregon, Ireland, Scotland, London, Paris, Edinburgh, as well as all places we’ll see on our trip to Texas. We will miss our time in Seattle very much, as well as the many wonderful, deeply-valued relationships we’ve formed in our time there. (Yes Paul, this even includes you, despite your roasting of my publishings on this blog.) The rest of you Seattleites know who you are. You will be remembered always, hopefully visited often, and always carried in our prayers. We love you all and thank you so very much for going along with us through our trips here across the ocean and our adventures with you in Seattle. Peace to you all.

Much love and signing off from Ireland,
James and Amy Wiebe

Thursday, August 04, 2005

London Pictures

Trafalgar Square

Buckingham Palace

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Hostel, the Tube, and a Date with Ewen

With so many things to see and do here, it now comes as no surprise that we have only a little over a week left in Dublin. Our summer away is now almost over. Several people who read our posts have commented on the length and breadth of the detail with which I describe our many adventures. It is not the first time in my life that I have been told that I am a little, shall we say, "verbose". (That’s right Cornwell, I’m talking to you!). I choose to explain myself in many words for several reasons. First, as some of you are aware, the stories I tell in real life are no less brief than the ones I post here. I suppose there is the possibility, however slight, that I have a difficult time choosing which parts and pieces could be left out without ruining the effect of the story and so I choose to leave all of them in there just in case. And, as I reflect here (adding even MORE words to what will already be a lengthy post, I sit back and enjoy the fact that I am writing even more for you all to read! Ha.)….you get the point. I like the details, and so you will get them too. Now on with the story.

Amy’s parents made it back safe and sound to Dallas. The next three days were errand days. I had to do laundry and clean up the apartment before we left for the weekend. I have also been working on a fictional book I started during the last part of my graduate program and so spent some time Thursday and Friday to do some writing.

Friday afternoon I packed and had dinner ready when Amy got home from work. She packed and ate dinner and we headed to the airport that evening to catch our late flight to London. For those of you who have ever flown into London, you know that this city has several major airports. Unfortunately, ours was not one of them. We opted for the cheaper airfare, and consequently had to fly into Stansted Airport which is an hour trainride outside of London. Our flight was over an hour delayed and so when landed in London at approximately midnight instead of the supposed 10:45. We had gotten lucky and the attendant who checked us into our flight in Dublin let us carry on our big backpacks, so we didn’t have to wait for our luggage in the baggage claim. We scooted our butts down to the train area as fast as possible. If I haven’t made this abundantly clear already in other posts I will do so here – Amy is the best navigator ever. EVER. Even though she’s never been to this airport her internal radar was beeping anytime we started to make a wrong turn, and in no time flat, we found ourselves sitting on the last train of the evening to go into London from the airport about 10 minutes before departure.

We rode the approximately 45 minute train into Liverpool Station in London and we perplexed to find that the Tube (their name for the subway) had already closed. I mean come on! It was ONLY 1:30am Saturday morning. So we did the next best thing. We started walking. We knew the general vicinity in which our hostel was located and went in that direction. Amy had several maps out and was on the hunt again. We walked about a half mile or so carrying our huge camping backpacks, and then flagged down a taxi. We were both very tired (particularly Amy who does not have the luxury I do of sleeping in until 8:30 [edit by Amy: Come on folks. Does anyone believe he gets up at 8:30? I didn’t think so.] during the week. I really do feel bad about this, but not bad enough to deprive myself of sleep just so I will be tired too.) We arrived a few minutes later and checked in. This hostel was not what I had pictured. I thought it was going to be a sort-of dumpy looking place with a bunch of pent-up raggedy teenagers running around. It was more of a run down motel/bar/club. The house music was pumping. People were dancing and drinking and having a good ole’ time. We purchased earplugs from the "concierge" and made our way upstairs. By this time it is around 2:30am. We found our room, and to our surprise, the other six people with whom we were sharing this room were already in bed asleep. We crawled into our respective bunk beds (this is the first time I’ve slept in the same room as my wife but not been in bed with my wife) and hastily passed out. We got up the next morning, had some of the free toast and cereal and made our way out into London.

Not to let her directional prowess go unused we found the nearest Underground Tube Station and headed in the direction of Buckingham Palace. We walked slowly through the park next door to the palace thick with huge, old trees. Then we walked out from under the canopy of leaves, and BAM, there was the palace. It is huge. We didn’t take the tour or anything, but this place is not a shack. We stood in a large courtyard next to the palace to wait until 11:27am for the "Changing of the Guard". There were hundreds, maybe thousands of people in this area, and many police to keep us all in line, some of whom were on horseback. Right on time, the ceremony occurred; complete with two smallish marching bands and their own police escorts. (Why the Palace Guards would need guarding I don’t know, but they were.) Before the ceremony was completely over, we headed out back across the park, and to the Tube station.
As an addendum, if I had been alone and had been forced to navigate the subway by myself for the weekend (particularly when you consider the fact that several service lines aren’t running right now because of the bombing early in July) I would still be wandering those dark corridors even now. Thankfully that isn’t the case and the story can continue.

We made it to the Central London Theater District and found some lunch. We walked around for awhile afterwards looking for cheap tickets to another show, and not finding any that we wanted, and then walked a few more blocks to Trafalgar Square. That was a cool place. We got some really good pictures there. We then headed to Picadilly Theater a few more blocks away to see Guys and Dolls starring Amy’s boyfriend/heart throb, Ewan McGregor. She told me at one point right after the show that she wanted to get up on stage with him and do a duet of one of the songs from Moulin Rouge. To this I replied that if that ever happened I would end up wifeless. She assured me with a wink that my assumption was unfounded. Guys and Dolls was really terrific. The music was great. The acting was great. The girls were great. And even Ewan McGregor (now my arch-nemesis) was great too.

By this time it was late in the afternoon on Saturday and we stopped in a couple of clothing stores on our way back to a Tube station. I made the mistake of looking in the front window of a men’s suit boutique called Ciro Cinatarrio boasting that they were having the best sale in the history of the world. I went downstairs and was dumbfounded to find that they actually had great suits for good prices, and to make matters worse, they actually had my size in a couple of them. I tried two on, debated on it for a few minutes, then let Amy talk me into the purchase. I got a great black pinstripe suit for 79Pound, or about $140 US. I can’t usually even find the low end plain-blue suit at JCPenney’s for less than $225, so I was very happy. We went back to the hostel to shower and remembered that we hadn’t brought towels. After a few seconds we decided it was better to shower and use t-shirts to dry off with than remain smelly and sweaty. Damp, but now clean, we headed out to Covent Gardens for the evening. This is an area of shops, pubs, clubs, and restaurants. We had purchased one all-day ticket on the Tube and had definitely gotten our money’s- worth out of them. We had dinner in an outdoor restaurant on a huge courtyard that was host to some event for the Rescue Boat Association, which appeared to be some sort of combination of something like the US Coast Guard and AAA, rescuing people from sinking boats or accidents. A young rock band called Even9 was singing and playing their hearts out at an elevated volume. After food and drink, our previous night’s lack of sleep was catching up with us and we headed back to the hostel for an early night.

The next morning we got up, packed our things, and headed for the Imperial War Museum. We were lugging our heavy bags again (not for sympathy, but for the record, Amy’s bag was at least a good 30 pounds, and mine was probably close to 60) and I was sweaty again by the time we arrived, but was past caring. We wandered around in the huge museum for about 2 hours, and left feeling a little bit depressed. The museum has excellent exhibits of all the major wars that England has been involved in, and additional exhibits of the Holocaust and a tribute to how children were effected and treated during the wars. Tragic. We were both felt sad and heavy as we left the museum.

We then took the Tube across town to check into our hotel. We had gotten the night in the hotel as a package deal with the Guys and Dolls tickets. It had been a long walk to the War museum and back and was then also quite a walk from the closest Tube station to the hotel and we were dragging a little bit as we checked in, and it was only noon. We dropped off our things, changed into clean shirts, and headed out for Westminster Abbey, the English Parliament building and Big Ben. It was very crowded and the tours were quite pricey and neither of us felt like wasting a lot of time standing in lines, so we walked around taking pictures. At one point, we were crossing Westminster Bridge and asked a guy to take our picture. He happened to be an Asian fellow. He gladly took our picture, but his friend gestured that he wanted to have a picture taken of himself and Amy. Amy was a little weirded out by his request, but she smiled uncomfortably anyway and the picture was complete, and we went to find lunch. We had some great Japanese noodles and then strolled over to the London Eye, which just happens to be the biggest wheel anywhere in the world. It is a huge Ferris Wheel, which at it’s apex, measures 457 feet above the ground. This time we paid the exorbitant fee of 12Pound apiece and got in line. It was worth it. We got a phenomenal view of the city and captured some more great photos, and it was pretty fun ride to be up so high.

It was approaching 4pm and we got to London Tower as fast as we were able only to find out that we had already missed the last tour of the day and were just simply running out of time to be able to come back the next day. London Tower is a large castle built around 1000A.D. From here we also had a great view of the Tower Bridge (see picture). So we walked back to the Tube and went back to the hotel. We ate dinner at a great Italian restaurant around the corner from the hotel and took another long walk through Kensington Gardens which is a HUGE park area in the middle of the city, not unlike Central Park in NYC. Even after dinner there were still many people walking, running, biking, playing soccer, laying in the grass, feeding swans, and making out in the grass.

We slept well that evening, got up, packed our crap, had a big free breakfast, and went back across London to the Tate Modern. This is a large London gallery of modern art. There was some good stuff there and while Amy and I appreciate the effort with which these pieces were crafted, we don’t always have the highest tolerance for what appears to be random splashes of paint, twists of metal, or piles of what appear to be trash. I don’t say this to diss on the artists out there, just to inform you of our limited palate for modern art. We left our enormous backpacks at the museum coat closet and snuck out to go see Anchor Pub which was just down the street a half-mile or so. Anchor Pub is the bar where Tom Cruise sits for a drink at the end of Mission Impossible 2. We heard that it was close and thought it would be worth a brief visit. We then walked back to the Tate, picked up our backpacks and walked about another half-mile across the Millenium Bridge which is a pedestrian footbridge across the River Thames to reach St. Paul’s Cathedral. I guess I have sort of a problem with paying the US equivalent of $30 to see the inside of a church. We walked in, discovered the price, and promptly walked back out satisfied to get a picture of the outside and say we’d been there. We hopped in a cab and headed back to our original Tube stop – Liverpool Station. We boarded our train and headed for Stansted Airport. An hour later, we arrived, checked in for our flight, had a nice lunch, boarded our plane and came back to Dublin.

Amy and I discussed yesterday that we are very glad to have been able to visit all these amazing cities, but that neither of us really feel like we’ll ever have to come back to them again. Perhaps we’ll feel differently about Paris next week after we’ve been there, but it seems that Amy and I are Americans through and through (and proud of it!). We decided that we would much rather be lounging once again on a large cruise ship, somewhere that has more beach than subway, and more sun than cloud. We still have plans to someday come back and spend several weeks exploring Italy, and perhaps also return to see more of the northern European countries like Germany, Norway, Austria, and Switzerland as well. We are very excited about seeing Paris next weekend, Friday, August 5, 2005 being our 5th wedding anniversary. After that, we are also excited about returning to Dallas for 3 days for a friend’s wedding, and Seattle for a few weeks before what will Lord-willing be our last cross-country move back to Texas. It is going to be a blur, but we’ll try our best to stay "in the moment" these last few days in Ireland and France.

I hope I haven’t bored all of you with my minute-by-minute play of our trip. I hope that some of it was enjoyable to follow along with. I wrote it for those of you who wanted to read of our exploits, but in honesty, I also wrote it for Amy and for myself, as I know that I would quickly lose track of all the things, places, and people we’ve seen over the last few weeks. I never thought that I would have been able to make a trip here like I have. I thank God for it. I have seen parts of the world I never thought I would see outside of a textbook. It has been really cool. Next week will be my last post from Ireland. I bid you all a fond farewell until then.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Awww Yeah

London Pictures

Tower Bridge

Westminster Abbey

The city of London as seen from the London Eye

The Parliament Building and Big Ben

James and his 'other' BMW (he just stood by it. No riding this time.)

The London Eye

James and Amy at Hyde Park. That's Earl and Fred in the background.

Artsy fartsy photo of St. Paul's Cathedral and the Millennium Bridge from Tate Modern.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Scotland, Crystal, a Giant's Avenue

James sitting on one of the stacks of basalt formations that make up the floor of the Giant's Causeway

Giant's Causeway and Cliffs
Shot of a castle in Scotland from the air
The plane we flew in, the Pilot, and his assistant
Another shot from the air showing a small town in Scotland
Bob, Kay, and Amy in the charter plane
Downtown Edinburgh
Edinburgh Castle
Waterford Crystal Golf Trophy
Man Carving Crystal Waterford Vase with a circular saw. He's pretty good at it too!
James, Amy, and Heather at Kitty O'Shea in Dublin. Sadly, this was Heather's last taste of the nectar before returning to France

A Seaplane Ride, a Castle, a Palace and a Short Flight

After getting back from Giant’s Causeway on Tuesday evening last week, we crashed and went to bed after eating a late dinner. Wednesday, we ran some errands, Heather did a little bit more shopping and we all went over and had lunch at St. Stephen’s Green. We then headed over to look at The Book of Kell’s at Trinity College in downtown Dublin. The Book of Kell’s is one of original manuscript copies of the Four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They only show two of the books at any one time, and show a couple of other manuscripts of similar antiquity in the same cabinet. There were many people in the room at the same time and so the view was limited. We waited our turn and saw the Book of Kell’s and then headed up the stairs to find ourselves in another library. Among the other books in this upper library are one of the oldest and largest collections of bound books anywhere in the world.
Imagine for a moment, walking into a long darkish room the length of a football field. There are dark shelves on either side of you. You look up to the 30 foot ceiling to see that the room has a second story on either side also containing similar shelves. On the shelves are thousands and thousands of dark red, pale green and gray leather-bound books. There are sliding ladders, spiral staircases, and as many old books as you can imagine. We weren’t allowed to touch anything of course, or really even get close enough to look at any of the titles. The college employs a full-time book restorer and several students to work at keeping these many books maintained and when necessary, repaired. We saw a few of these people actually repairing several of the books. It was an interesting and most delicate process.
After we were finished there, we headed home and Heather collected and packed the rest of her belongings, getting ready to head to the airport. We walked down to the corner to catch a cab, and for the first time since I arrived, we were unable to just hail a cab. Twenty minutes later, Amy and her parents had walked down to where we were, as the four of us were going to go out for dinner that evening. So, we all headed down the street carrying Heather’s luggage. We’d walked 10 or 12 blocks when we finally found her a cab. She apparently made her flight with no problems as she didn’t come back to stay another night, and I have since received an email from her. Thursday during the day, we didn’t do jack-squat. Amy’s parents were recuperating from the previous several days adventures. I took this time to do laundry, read, check emails, pack, and watch Everybody Loves Raymond. That evening after Amy got out of work, we headed to the airport with her parents for our weekend in Scotland. We had a great weekend. We had heard that the accent was much stronger and difficult to understand, but Bob confirmed it 5 minutes after we got of the plane. We were at the car rental stand and we pretty much had to translate for him to understand what the attendant was saying. It was funny. We got our car situation figured out and packed our things and hit the road.
We drove for about 2 hours from the airport to a place called Lake Lomond, about an hour north of Glasgow. We stayed in a really cool lodge hotel on the edge of the lake close to a very small town. The food was good and the rooms were very nice. Amy misunderstood the price quote and it was more than what we had planned but I guess it was worth it. The English Pound, as some of you may be aware is much stronger than the American Dollar, so anything we spent in Scotland (because it is considered economically and politically to be part of England, and also uses their pound) we had to multiply times about 1.75 to determine what we were actually spending. We stayed at the lodge Thursday and Friday nights. Friday, we drove around the countryside, went through a garden walk. This wasn’t any garden walk you would do in the US. It was more like a hike through someone’s enormous back yard. It was about a mile long path through a thickly growing collection of hundreds of different types of trees, shrubs, flowers, mosses, and bushes. It was overgrown in spots and the path was almost indeterminable in others. There were benches and pools, waterfountains and old buildings that had been there for a long time untended and the plants were apparently taking back the land. It was actually really cool because of this though. It felt very natural (no pun intended), and not so manicured and perfect as many botanical gardens are. When were done, we drove around for awhile through some of the other small towns and headed back to the hotel and used the pool, hot tub, and steam room. That evening, the four of us went for a chartered sea-plane ride. Our private tour lasted about 60 minutes. We flew at between 1500 and 4000 feet over the many small towns, castles, and the multitude of other lakes in the area. Our pilot was really cool, and flies 747's from Glasgow to Hong Kong full-time, and does the seaplane thing in his spare time. He actually owns the company and knew a great deal about the surrounding areas. We all had our own headphones and could ask questions and point out things to each other. We got some really cool pictures, as you will see.
Then Saturday, we headed over to Edinburgh. We got there around 1pm or so, checked into our Bed and Breakfast (B&B) and spent the remainder of the day bussing/walking around the city. We saw Edinburgh castle, The Holyrood Palace where the Queen of England stays when she comes to Scotland (AMAZING), and a few other small attractions. We had dinner at a little store on a corridor of pubs, stores, and restaurants, and churches called The Royal Mile. This street stretches from the Edinburgh Castle down to the Palace, hence its name. We then went home and rested for awhile. Then at around 9pm we headed back into town to hit the pubs. By the time we found a suitably quiet pub for us to be able to hear ourselves talk, it was after 11 and after one round, we all headed back to the B&B. Sunday we got up and bussed out to the Royal Brittania, which was the British Royal Yacht up until 1997. It was huge and the tour was fairly cool. If you took all the time they suggested it would have been a two hour tour of a boat, but Amy and I sped through it, leaving Bob and Kay to finish at their own pace and went to the attached mall and shopped around. They really know how to hook you in. They put this attraction, which is likely one of Scotland’s most visited tourist stops in the third floor of a shopping mall. That way, either upon entry or exit, you have to walk through the mall and will likely get sucked into spending some more Pounds in their stores. It was okay, though. We mostly resisted the temptations.
When we found each other after the tour, we all went back into downtown Edinburgh. We went through an old (1500's) cathedral, called Gile’s Cathedral which is over on the Royal Mile. It was not as ornately decorated as some of the other cathedrals we’ve seen, but was obviously very old. We then went to the Scotland Historical Museum. Amy and I made it through the first couple of floors, but we quickly lost interest and decided to do something else. Bob and Kay stayed there and finished the museum, to later meet us back at the B&B where we’d parked the rental car. Amy and I instead went back over to see another cathedral we had heard about. The cathedral was nice and different from the other we’d seen that afternoon. It wasn’t overly decorated either, but was elegant and pretty. They had recently had all the stained glass repaired and cleaned. In order to do it correctly, (because it is a historical monument, the government paid the bill) the windows had to be removed, were taken elsewhere for treatment, and then returned. It cost about 20,000 Pound per window, and the total ran somewhere close to 500,000 Pound, or just shy of a MILLION dollars. When we arrived, there were other people around. After looking around a bit, we were the only people left inside and the hostess there was apparently starved for conversation. After about another 25 minutes of torturous stories about everything from the lady’s helicopter-flying uncle to the way that people need to be more conscious about the way they deliver goods to poor countries, we finally made our way back out into the streets of Edinburgh.
We then went through another shopping area and looked for a skirt for Amy, but never found one. HOWEVER, I found a really cool sport coat for 4 pounds (7 dollars....a-frickin-mazing!!!!) and a pair of cool slacks for 12 pounds(20 dollars). We then headed back to meet Bob and Kay where we'd parked the rental car and drove back to Glasgow on the way to the airport and stopped for dinner. We had a good dinner in an interesting restaurant buried in the depths of a fairly unmarked building. It took us a LONG time to find a restaurant that was open at 7pm on a Sunday night in the downtown area. We headed for the airport for our 10:45pm departure and took our 28 minute flight home. Yes, 28 minutes. It is so cool. You get into your seat, buckle up, the flight attendants go through their mandatory (RIDICULOUS) safety demonstration (If you don’t know how to use a seatbelt yet, you shouldn’t be allowed out in public. To quote Jerry Seinfeld, "Oh!!! You pull UP on the handle? I thought I would just try to BREAK the metal apart".), get up in the air, reach cruising altitude and then begin to descend into Dublin. It was great. The Shortest flight ever. We got back to our apartment here in Dublin at around midnight Sunday, July 24th, and went straight to bed. We aren’t doing much today. Amy is, of course, at work until 5 or 6. We will go out to dinner, letting Bob and Kay finish packing, and have a pretty early night. They leave tomorrow at around noon to head back to Dallas. Amy and I leave for London Friday night. We will be there until the following Monday evening. It should be a great time. Until next week…

Relaxing in Ireland and Time Spent at the Dublin Airport

Ten days have flown by. I think we’re going to fly back across the Atlantic in a few weeks and realize only too late that our summer in Ireland is over. It will not go unremembered, however. Every week there is something new that we have done or some new story to tell. Following our trip to Germany, we returned to Ireland. We landed here in Dublin at 10pm and got back to our apartment around 11:30. Amy had to unpack her things, and then repack them in order to fly out the following morning for another brief trip to Poland. Her flight left at around 6am and she got about four hours of sleep that night. On Monday morning, I puttered around the apartment, doing laundry, cleaning up and getting everything put back together. Then Heather and I headed out for the beach. Heather had been running and had found a beach not too far from our apartment. So, we put on our swimsuits and headed for the surf. We were looking forward to a day of sunshine and waves. This is the Irish Sea, after all.
We walked about 2 miles to get there only to find that the water was nowhere to be found. The beach is part of an inland harbor that sits off the eastern shore of Dublin City. The part that we were at is a tide-flat. To paint a better picture I must give a few more details. The beach is sandy, except not sandy like you’d see in California or Hawaii or any nice beach you’ve been too. The sand is so fine that what you walk on feels more like clay. It is quite hard when the tide is out. There are odd little piles of sand – small round mounds about 4 inches in diameter and a couple of inches high. These mounds cover an area of beach about 3 miles long. On top of the mounds are little piles of sandy poop-type excrement left by the thousands of sand crabs that live under the sand. It looks gross, and feels gross to walk on. We arrived and discovered that the tide was out, but to say that "the tide is out" to any American does not truly convey what I am talking about. This area of beach is apparently so gradually sloping that when the tide goes out, it goes WAY out…about 2 miles out. We walked out toward where the water should have been on the sand poop mounds for fifteen minutes and still literally could not see the water.
Finally, there was an area where the sand was a bit lower and there was a pocket of water remaining that created a small lake on this beach area where there were some people splashing in the water. At its deepest point it was only up to people’s knees, but we figured, "Hey, we’ve walked all this way, and we are GOING to get in the water!" So, we took off our shoes and waded in. What we discovered was yet another Irish oddity. In the water, there were thousands of little fish-type creatures (perhaps something close to a crayfish or small shrimp, except without pinchers…only about ¾ of an inch long) swimming around. They would dart around in the water and you could feel them under your feet, crawling/swimming around and on top of your feet and it wasn’t a pleasant feeling. BUT, we said again, "We will not be deterred." Heather, by this point, was making some rather amusing noises and walking very carefully so as to step on as few of these things as possible and then let out what can only be called a squeal as she very narrowly avoided stepping on a sand crab the size of a medium sized cookie. Actually, there were many small crabs skittering about under the water. They run sideways along the sandy bottom. They try to get out of your way but are not always successful. Shortly after ending that crabs life, Heather and I decided that we’d had enough. We exited the water and sat down to let our feet and legs dry and then called it a day at the beach. Heather and I relaxed that afternoon and then grabbed some dinner on our way to see War of the Worlds. It was an okay film, but don’t hold your breath folks. It would make a decent rental and really wasn’t nearly as good as it looked.
Tuesday we got up, went down to Grafton Street, where Heather did a little bit of window shopping, grabbed some lunch and headed over to St. Stephen’s Green. We found a great spot in the park under a huge tree and at lunch. We had both brought books and sat in the sun/shade and read. I fell asleep for awhile. The park was packed by 2pm with professionals from the area who were on their lunch break. They come out every day at lunchtime to enjoy what few days of beautiful weather they get every summer and this day was no exception. People just walk over from where they work, eat, smoke, and talk. It was a great day for it too. Tuesday evening we ate at the apartment and watched one of the Lord Of The Ring DVD’s I brought with me from Seattle. Wednesday and Thursday were fairly uneventful. I am taking one class online from SPU and had a project to complete and spent these two days doing research, reading, writing, and wishing I were done with school. The project is done (unless I am told I need to do more), and with the exception of one more small assignment, my schooling at SPU is nearly at an end. While I was doing this stuff, Heather, never the type to sit about idly went and took the opportunity to see more of the sites. Thursday evening, after sitting at the apartment doing homework for two days, Heather and I went out to do another Musical Pub Crawl (see posting from second week, June 27th for description) since she hadn’t gotten to do this yet. Amy got back into town from Poland that evening but still had to work the rest of the week.
Heather and I had signed up for a 1 day hike/tour of the Wicklow mountains for Friday during the day. We got up early, met up with our tourguide and other hikers, and headed out of town. All of us who signed up for the hike were under 30 except for one woman who had accompanied her son on the hike. She and her son were from Norway. There was another guy from Newfoundland, Canada who was our age. The other two people besides Heather and I were two female undergrads from a state college in Binghamton, NY. There were only 7 of us plus the guide and after about an hour of driving we arrived at the beginning of our hike. We are fairly close to sea-level in Dublin and we were still fairly close to that at the trailhead of the hike. Our guide owns this business and he and a couple of other guides take people on 1,2, or 4 day hikes all over the Wicklow Mountains. The weather was great. We set out on our adventure shirking the use of any sunscreen because the sky was overcast and there was a good breeze. Over the course of the next 4 hours we hiked up about 400 meters (about 1300 feet). After doing most of the vertical part of the climb we hiked up another 100 vertical feet through thick ferns and then up into a field of heather (the plant…not the person) along a path used primarily by sheep and goats and then up along a distinct ridge over to another incline. We stopped at the top of the ridge for a great lunch. By this point we were hiking through grange land used by the farmer of the area for their herds. When we stopped for lunch, a pair of sheep was watching us closely. When we stopped, they began to wander in our direction to see if we were also sheep. After determining that the smell of our food was not enticing enough to draw them any closer than 20-30 feet, they departed with a few baahhs and walked away.
After lunch we continued upwards for another two hours or so. We reached a peak of one of the mountains at 659 meters (2,162 feet). Up at this height there are many marshes and bogs on the flat parts of the mountain top because these areas get a much greater amount of rain. The bogs, over the course of the next hundred thousand years, will turn into peat. Walking in these areas was interesting because I had seen where peat had been harvested in other parts of the country and seeing how it started was cool. It starts out as sphagnum moss that grows and then dies, grows and dies, etc. Over time, it becomes thicker. Peat bogs grows at a rate of about 1 inch every 500 years. Our guide knew much about the vegetation, animals, and landscape of this area. At one point shortly after reaching our highest point we were looking at some plants. The guy from Canada was walking next to me about 10 feet to my left and all of the sudden he was up to his knee is bog. He pulled himself out with some effort and was covered in guck but was otherwise fine. We spent the last three hours or so of the hike descending back down around the backside of the mountain we had climbed. We came out above two lakes that were several hundred feet below us. At the far end of both lakes was an old monastery and cemetery. We stopped for a well deserved beer at the monastery inn, and then headed back into town. We had hiked over 15 kilometers (almost 10 miles), and by the end realized we had made a grave error in not using sunblock. The sun had come out shortly after lunch. I had shaved my head the previous morning and I was roasted. My neck and head were torched. Heather also had decent sunburns on her shoulders and neck. We were all tired and decided that pizza was sounding pretty good and walking anywhere wasn’t, so we ordered in and watched some television that evening.
Saturday morning, Amy and I headed to the airport to pick up her parents, who came in from Dallas for a 10 day visit. Heather did her own thing for a few hours and was going to meet us all back at the apartment. Our friends Chad and Joy have an extra room in their apartment and were gracious in letting Heather come and live with them for a few days after Amy’s parents were coming in to stay with us. Amy’s parents’ (Bob and Kay) plane was supposed to arrive around 9am into Dublin and since they had checked bags we knew it would take awhile. As it turned out, the flight from Dallas had been 3 hours delayed, and we hadn’t checked on it before we left. We went and sat in our rental car in the parking lot and read our books for awhile. We went back in to get them outside of the baggage claim. Another hour and half had gone by and there was still no sign of Bob or Kay. By this point we had been at the airport for about 5 hours and couldn’t figure out what the problem was. As some of you may have deduced by now, we had not accounted for the time/day change that was printed on the itinerary we received and had miscalculated when they were supposed to come in. We were a day early to the airport. Annoyed at our own mistakes, we headed back into Dublin and met Heather over at another outdoor street shopping area. Now suffering from a throbbing scalp and neck, and Heather with burnt shoulders, we stayed in the shade as much as possible. We walked around for a few hours and the girls did some shopping. We didn’t do much else that evening and had dinner together.
Sunday morning came and Amy’s parents came in on their plane just as they were supposed to. We told them of our stupidity and all got a good laugh out of it. We went and dropped off their bags at the apartment and Heather, Amy’s parents, Amy, and I all got back in the car and headed south out of Dublin to go to Waterford. Waterford is, as many of you may be aware, the home of Waterford Crystal Company. It claims to produce the finest crystal anywhere in the world. After a couple hours of driving, we got to Waterford, had lunch and headed to the factory. We took an hour tour of the factory in which we got to see parts of all the major production areas and watched as some of the crystal was actually made. It was amazing. The men who were working with molten crystal worked with it like it was wax. Their skills were exceptional and their movements were so practiced that they seemed almost effortless. What came out after all the processes was a spectacular product. Amy and I decided that we would be remiss not to buy anything while we were there, and found two lovely vases that we liked. We had them shipped straight to Texas from there rather than carrying them back and risking them getting hurt.
Monday, we walked around the city for a few hours taking in some of the sights and had a relaxing day. Then on Tuesday, Bob, Kay, Heather, and I drove up to North Ireland, through Belfast, and up to the Giant’s Causeway. This is an area of basalt rock shaped like stacked hexagons (See pictures). It was formed by the same volcanic eruptions that formed the island of Ireland back in history. There are some exceptional cliffs in the area as well. The weather wasn’t spectacular, but that didn’t stop us from exploring the Causeway for a couple of hours. Then we drove up the road a few miles to Carrick-a-rede rope bridge. The rain had come up and so Bob and Kay opted to stay in the car. Heather and I hiked about ¾ of a mile back to the bridge. The scenery was pretty cool. The bridge crosses a 40 foot span of cliffs that salmon swim through every year to spawn where the local fisherman come to make their biggest catches of the year. We walked back and then all headed for home.
We are headed to Scotland this coming weekend. Amy’s parents are here until next Tuesday, and then Amy’s cousin arrives on Tuesday. She is a food-drop coordinator with a food co-op in Africa. She lives in Colorado, but is going to stop over for a few days on her way home to pay us a visit. Only a few more weeks left…I can hardly believe it. I am beginning to feel my first pangs of homesickness. I miss you all and hope you are doing well. Talk to you soon.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Germany Pictures

The BMW. ('Nuff said)

Really big wine vat. (Don't worry, I didn't drink it all.)

Speyer Catholic Cathedral

James and Amy in Frankfurt

Heidelberg Castle

Protestant Speyer Church

Heidelberg Castle

Peter, Amy, Helga and James

Heidelberg from above

Look how thick the castle wall is

James and Amy on the Rhine

Thursday, July 14, 2005

James Goes Back to His Roots

Greetings to all our friends and family. Heather Mittelstaedt (a friend of mine from SPU’s grad program) arrived on Wednesday afternoon. She has been staying with a friend of hers from Seattle who is currently living in Paris, France. Heather and I decided before school ended that she should come for a visit since she as already going to be living in Europe for the summer. She has seen many of the sights in Paris and was excited to arrive. Wednesday was mostly a relaxing afternoon. Heather and I walked around Dublin a bit and I showed her some of the interesting spots I’d found close-by. Then, on Thursday, we rode a train up to Howth to check out the hike around the cliffs that I had found several weeks ago. The weather wasn’t fantastic but it wasn’t raining either, so we had a good hike, got some exercise, and then stopped for lunch in a restaurant close to the train station called “The Bloody Stream”. I realize it sounds like a gross name, but the culture here doesn’t seem to mind that there is some gore in their past and they use it sometimes in names like this one to symbolize and remember the bloodshed that is a formidable part of their past. Despite the name, the food was excellent, and we headed back into Dublin at around 2. We did some more walking around and then went back to our apartment to meet Amy before we left to go out for dinner.
One of the managers in Amy’s office here in Dublin decided to have a bit of a social gathering for the employees and spouses. As it turns out, Amy is the only person who wanted to bring along guests and since Heather was here, we gladly brought her with us. At the first place we met up with everyone else, we introduced Heather to everyone. One of the guys who was there is a friend of ours who Amy works with. His name is Arnaud (pronounced loosely: “R-No”) who is from France. He and Heather had a great night of conversation which included some friendly poking back and forth about the difficulties she had had with some of the French people. But Arnaud is not one to let a jab go without retort, and so he defended his homeland admirably wearing only a smile and jabbed back. It was an excellent dinner.
Then on Friday morning, Amy and I got up at around 4am and headed to the airport. We had planned a trip to Germany. As some of you may have guessed by my last name (Wiebe in German is pronounced “veeb-a” with only a very slight pronunciation of the last syllable), I have some German roots and have always been interested in visiting the country of my ancestors. (I will be giving you the correct pronunciation for some of the places we went just so that you get to practice making fun sounds and words.) Amy spent six weeks studying abroad during her undergraduate program and the professor who led that trip (and also performed our wedding ceremony) has some cousins who live outside of Heidelberg, Germany. At the end of the six weeks in England, this professor had invited anyone who wanted to come to go with him and his family and spend another week or so in Germany, where they stayed at his cousin’s house, and had a great time seeing part of the country. Having met these relatives of his before, Amy emailed them a couple of weeks ago to see if there was any possibility that we could stay with them while we were in the country. They very graciously accepted us.
Our flight landed in Frankfurt on Friday morning around 10. We had a few problems locating and procuring our reserved rental car, but after an extra hour of wheeling and dealing, we ended up with our BMW 316d. As some of you may be aware, I have a bit of a love-affair with BMW. I have wanted one for many years and Amy was pleased to let me rent one for the weekend we spent in Germany since this is where they are built and aren’t much more expensive to rent than any of the other cars available. We hit the highway with no problem thanks to the GPS system we had in our car. (Let me tell you, if you are ever in a country where you don’t speak the language and can’t read the street signs, GPS is not only a blessing, it is a must! For those in our audience who aren’t familiar with GPS, it is a computer guided navigational system, or Global Positioning System. You enter an address into the car’s computer and a small TV screen and female’s voice from the console tells you when to turn, how far to drive, and some models can even show you where restaurants, gas stations, and hotels are located along your chosen route.) In any case, it was great. We got out of Frankfurt and made our way to Altlussheim, which is a town of less than 5000 that is twenty minutes outside of Heidelberg, and about an hour and ten minutes from Frankfurt.
The people we were staying with live there. Their names are Peter and Helga. They have a 23 year-old son named Michael who lives with them. Peter is a sales/marketing consultant for a company that deals in mechanical products and parts. Helga works at home right now. Michael has a job as a farmer/harvester on some land just outside their town, owned by another farmer. This week, he was driving a large tractor harvesting carrots. They have a very nice house which was designed and built for them about 15 years ago. It sits on some property that sits about a football-field length from the Rhine River. The Rhine is a large river that helps support shipping throughout the country and is also used for travel by tour and personal boats. There was many large boats on it throughout the course of the weekend. Between their house and the river are some large fields in which corn and wheat grow. When the Rhine floods, which it sometimes does severely, the water can rise and fill these fields coming very close to their house, which sits only about 20 feet above the level of the river during its normal stage.
When we arrived, Helga had prepared lunch for us which consisted of green salad, Lox (salmon), a cooked vegetable casserole, and rice, all served with a sort of gravy. It was an authentic German lunch and it was excellent. Following lunch we took a walk to Helga’s deceased father’s house. His house is just a few blocks from theirs. Peter’s mother now lives there with a female roommate. Helga’s father died last year from some health problems and they have decided to keep the property so that Peter’s mother will have a place to live that is close to them. There is a large garden (approximately 60x60 feet) on this other property which Peter’s mother works in. She grows tomatoes, raspberries, carrots, cucumbers, zucchini, dill, onions, garlic, some other herbs, and even some corn, among other things. We had fresh vegetables all weekend. Helga showed us the small cemetery close to where they live where her father is buried. The cemetery was not exactly busy with people, but there were probably at least 10-12 people tending to the areas of flowers which were planted in the earth above the graves. It was very nice there – beautiful gravestones marked with a variety of plants and flowers that are tended regularly by the family of the deceased. We took a short bike ride through the streets and paths running through and around town and Helga showed us which fields her son works in, as well as some of the other points of interest. Peter arrived in the middle of the afternoon. We drove to the nearby city of Speyer (pronounced Shpeya) to see a huge cathedral there. For a city that is as small as Speyer is, this cathedral was enormous. (See picture of Peter, Helga, and Amy for comparison of size.) Also in Speyer this last weekend, they were having “Der Brezelfest” (The Pretzel-Fest). So, after we finished with the cathedral we headed to the festival, which is really more like a fair. There were food-stands, games, rides, several beer gardens (which is as expected in the homeland of beer), and many, many people. The Germans take their celebrating seriously and do it with gusto. We walked around for a couple of hours, looking at the party as well as the partiers. At one point we stopped for a few minutes to watch the victims on a ride that would have made a well-experienced stunt plane pilot sick. It was fun! Then we went home to get some sleep.
The following Morning (Saturday) we got up to a normal German breakfast which consisted of cereal, juice, coffee, yogurt, several kinds of brunchen (bread rolls, pronounced “broonken”), and several different kinds of sliced meats. Helga has some mild health problems and was tired from the night before, so Peter, Amy, and I headed into Heidelberg to take tour of the old part of town and see the famous Heidelberg Castle. The tour was interesting. The tour guide noted that there is only one building that was left standing that was from old times. The rest of the buildings down in the city were burned to the ground by Napoleon, and this one structure remained because it was the only one that had been built of stone. It was a famous hotel – Der Hotel zum Ritter St. Georg. (I don’t know the meaning of the name. The guide didn’t really say.) We also saw an example of the dwellings of a commoner from the 17th century. After our short tour ended, the three of us took a cable car up a rather large hillside to see Heidelberg castle. Heidelberg Castle, along with the city, was first destroyed in 1622. The castle was rebuilt by Karl-Ludwig. The castle was destroyed a second and final time by Napoleon’s troops during the War of Succession, in 1693. It was large as you can see from the pictures.
When we were finished, we then took another cable car-ride continuing up the hillside, sometimes climbing as steep as a 45-degree incline up another mile or so. The car we rode in on this last leg up the hill was built and has been operating since 1897. At the top, we arrived at Konigstuhl, (“Cone-ig-shtool”) which means “The King’s Chair”. I don’t know that this place has any other significance than being a really great view, but it was fantastic nonetheless. We walked up a short path to a building that housed a great restaurant and ate a very late lunch in the sunshine out on a huge terrace overlooking Heidelberg which was now far below our elevation. We were introduced to a great drink called Rädler. It is a type of beer that is made from a light colored beer, usually a pilsner, and is combined with mineralwasser (mineralwater – “mineral-vosser”) and a little bit of lemonade. It is a sweet drink that is served very cold and reminded me a little bit of ginger ale. It was great on a hot sunny day with the schweineschnitzel (a kind of breaded pork cut in gravy: “shvina-shnitsel”) and potatoes we had. It was all really good. We then headed back down the mountainside, walking back through Heidelberg where I picked up several beer steins as souvenirs in an open-air market. We then drove back home to Altlussheim and had coffee and cheesecake with Helga. That evening, Peter, Helga, Michael, Amy and I drove to another small old town called Karlsruhe that had some very old houses in it dating back to 1598 that were still standing and occupied. We then drove back over into Heidelberg to see some fireworks.
Sunday we got up, eating another huge breakfast, and Peter, Helga, Amy, and I went and looked at some fantastic gardens a few miles away called Schloss Schwetzingen (“shlos shvet-singen”) which was an estate that was built about three hundred years ago by a rich baron. It was the size a small town and had statues, several lakes, two temples: one built to the god Apollo, and another to the god Mercury, bath houses, a theater, office builidings, living quarters, flower gardens, a bird sanctuary and much more. It also claimed to have at least one of every type of tree grown anywhere in the world, which is probably an exaggeration, but probably isn’t too far off. Many of the trees had small plaques on the ground in front of them designating their Latin species name. It was an amazing place. We all went back to Altlussheim and went to another festival. This one was being thrown by the town’s fire department in an effort to raise funds for continuing their operations. They were grilling up steaks, a kind of hamburger, bratwurst (You have never had a bratwurst until you’ve had one in Germany. SO GOOD!), and several kinds of beer. They had marching bands playing that came from several of the surrounding towns to help with the festivities as everyone ate.
Amy and I wanted a couple of hours to look around Frankfurt on our way back to the airport so we left around 2:30pm. We got back in our BMW and got out to the Autobahn (which simply means highway) and headed for Frankfurt. I must say, Amy is a brave soul and must really trust my driving skills. Despite the rumors, there are speed limits on parts of the Autobahn. However, in certain parts where a speed limit isn’t posted, you are simply expected to use good judgment. So, we got up to speed, and I then told Amy I needed to test the capability of our car, which up to this point I had not yet been able to do. We fell in behind some other people “testing” their cars and really got moving. I got our car up to 220 km/h, which translates into around 135mph. That was pretty much all I could squeeze out of the 316 model and I was happy to call it a day. It was really cool to be able to drive that fast and even have my wife encouraging me to “hit it hard”. It was a thrill…and it was LEGAL!
Needless to say, we made good time getting back to Frankfurt. The Germany Ironman competition was going on yesterday and we walked through part of the city watching a little of the competition, enjoying some more Radler, and watching the bustle of people. We spent a couple of hours out in the sunshine and then headed for the airport. We made our plane, which as it turned out, left over an hour late, but got back to Dublin last night around 10:30pm. Amy had to turn right around very early this morning and fly back out to Poland for a three-day trip. She is a trooper y’all! Our experience in Germany left us waiting for a time when we can go back and see more of the country. We saw only a very small portion of it and can’t wait to visit again. We had great beer, saw some very old buildings, castles, and towns, spent some time in the culture, and drove a car very fast. All in all, it was an extremely satisfying weekend. Amy’s parents arrive this coming weekend for a ten day trip to see us. Heather is staying with us until next Wednesday and then will return to Paris for a couple of weeks until she flies back to Seattle. I hope you are all doing well. Talk to you next week.