31 December 2008

The Land of Sir Ulrich

Thursday, 7 August 2008

European Adventure Travel Day 6
Part 3: Vaduz, Leichtenstein

Getting to Liechtenstein was an adventure. After arriving in Buchs by train, J and I had to catch the lime green bus that would take us over the border to Liechtenstein's capital city, Vaduz. We had to wait for the bus in the rain, and when we got on board, it was chock-full of people returning from a trip to the swimming pool and speaking a language we didn't recognize. Later we figured out that it was the fourth Swiss language, Romansch.

Fürstentum Liechtenstein
(Welcome to the Principality of Liechtenstein)

J and her handy-dandy guide book got us safely off the bus. Unsure where to begin our visit, the rain turned into a thunderstorm and decided for us. We ducked for cover inside this church. St. Florinskirche is a gothic cathedral where the members of the Liechtenstein royal family are married and baptized. It's beautiful... and huge.

St. Florin's Parish Church

After most of the lightning had subsided, we continued on down Staedtle Street towards the pedestrian town center. I was backed up against a wall trying to fit the whole of the Government Building in my frame (hence its former affectionate nickname "The Large House"), but finally gave up and settled for the coat of arms over the entrance.

The Government Building, once known as the "Large House," and Liechtenstein's princely coat of arms

I like national flags, but when you find a cow painted as the flag it's even more fun. Mooooo. I hope you know that I sacrificed my dignity to post this picture...

I never saw a purple cow. I never hope to see one... but red and blue cows are okay.

The storm picked up again, so J and I waited it out in the tourist center, where there were lots of stamp collectors wandering in and out. I'm not a philatelist, so J and I had our passports stamped instead. We also picked up loads of free stuff like stickers, postcards and candy. Also temporary tattoos. That's right... I have a Liechtenstein tattoo!

We moved on to the shops, where I could have purchased all manner of things to authenticate my time in-country, but being happy with my temporary tattoos, I decided to forego the steins and cuckoo clocks.

Castles are everywhere!

As we headed back toward the lime green bus stop, we came across this. Now, wikipedia claims that Liechtenstein is a capital of winter sport, so this was really funny. We stopped and watched for a bit. Didn't hurt that the guys were easy on the eyes.

One thing I never expected to see in a tiny mountain country:
an international beach volleyball tournament

We stopped at a grocery store for dinner (those Coop signs in the above picture are one of the two major grocery stores in this part of the world... Migros is the other) because that's what J and I do. The grocery stores over here sell lassis of all flavors to go. I picked out a chai lassi, and then, besides the usual assortment of fresh bread, cheese, meat (chorizo, this time), and chocolate, I found Guaraná Antarctica. Yes, I know it's Brazilian, but Vaduz is where I tried it for the first time. It is amazing. J was laughing at me because I went a little bit crazy in the store.

Vaduz, Liechtenstein, as seen from the Swiss countryside

A sign on the bus forbade the partaking of food and drink enroute, but J and I surreptitiously snacked on some candy called Maoam (fruit flavored chews similar to Laffy Taffy). Shhh, don't tell. We were soaked and starving, very bad combo. We did have a great view of the city on the way out, after the clouds had cleared off a bit. Vaduz is literally a mountainside city.

Painted cows, beach volleyball and an attack by lightning. All in a day's touring.

29 December 2008

The world's language

As you may or may not have noticed, soccer was my first love. My mother actually forced me to play when I was nine years old in September 1994, coincidentally just after the World Cup was held in the US. Since that summer, I reconciled myself to playing with boys and fell in love with the game. Of course, now that I've experienced all aspects of the game on multiple levels (and by "all" I mean playing, coaching, reffing, and watching it) I can be snobby and call it "football." I have stories about all the places I've experienced because of it, why I have so much passion for it, and how much the people I've met through it has changed my life. My sisters and I have even been on Brazilian television. No doubt eventually some of these stories will trickle out of me, but for one second I just have to be Super Excited.

Clint Dempsey is my favorite American player. I met him twice a couple of years ago; he's a really fantastic guy. He currently plays for Fulham FC in London as well as the US national team. Today, he scored the two goals that held Chelsea to a draw. Now, I'm not strictly a Fulham supporter--I follow the club for Dempsey--but I do love watching pretty football from any country. Anyway. Tying Chelsea is kind of a big deal. :) Up Fulham! Come on you Whites!

I can't think of any one thing more cosmopolitan and global than soccer. Therefore, sometimes I must natter on about it because it's one of those hard-to-explain passions that fills up my heart and it just spills over. It has something to do with the taste of sweat and grass, the intensity of living in the moment, and the way I made instant friends with a boy in a Dutch pub because I could name a few Nederlands footy stars. It has to do with my brother playing street soccer with urchins in Mexico, and with the drums in the stadium that never stop during a match. The whole world speaks this language. All you need is a ball.

25 December 2008

Happy Christmas!

Before it's over...

I just want to take a second and look past all the commercialism, the busyness, the stress, fights and tears that often accompany holidays, and the bad weather that cancelled plans all over the nation.

Christmas is for family and friends. It's for traditions and memories. It's for fellowship and giving. Most of all, it's to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

This is a lyric from one of my favorite Christmas songs, I Celebrate The Day, as done by Relient K:

And so this Christmas I'll compare
The things I've felt in prior years
To what this midnight made so clear
That you have come to meet me here

To look back
And think that
This baby would one day save me
And the hope that
That you give
That you were born so I might really live


Happy birthday, Jesus.

24 December 2008

Santa has a sunburn

I love Christmas. I usually spend it with my family, indulging in our holiday traditions both at church and at home, but two years ago was a little bit different. Four days after Christmas 2006, I was in Honolulu on the first leg of my South Pacific adventure with my school. It was a warm December in Boston, so there wasn't any snow when we flew out, but our arrival in Hawaii still made us feel like we'd flown from winter to summer. On our first day, we were turned loose to find food at the Ala Moana mall. Santa was on the roof!

You don't expect to see Santa in the land of palm trees and luaus.

Not even four days after Christmas.

(...I always knew there was a reason that my parents paid my brother and me in macadamia nuts for reciting Luke 2 at Christmastime when we were small)

Walking around downtown Honolulu, we, the group of students raised with all four seasons (and I, having spent my formative years in Oregon, formerly found a nor'easter to be a culture-shock!), were amused by people in flip-flops and bathing suits ambling past the light-up snowflakes and other festive paraphernalia decorating the palm trees. We rang in 2007 in the air over Hawaii, looking down on the fireworks exploding all over the island.

By the time we arrived in New Zealand, we were slightly more accustomed to our summer/winter paradox, even though the Christmas holidays being in the warm season still took some getting used to. I'm not the only one who feels that way, as I found when I recently saw a bit in the New Zealand Herald asking for Antipodean views on the best and worst Christmas carols. One commenter from New South Wales summed up general opinion: "worst: ...anything that mentions snow, sleighs, reindeer, winter wonderlands. It's summer, people!"

So this Christmas, whether you are wishing your loved ones a "Mele Kalikimaka!" or simply a Merry Christmas*, remember that it can be merry and bright, no matter the weather. Also, there's nearly two feet of snow where I am, so please stop singing White Christmas.

*Or if you're doing your wishing in any of the following languages-

Feliz Navidad
Vrolijk Kerstfeest (Dutch)
Hyvää joulua
Joyeux Noël (French)
Frohe Weihnachten (German)
Buon Natale (Italian)
Feliz Natal (Portuguese)

-then Merry Christmas to you, too!

20 December 2008

Modern fairytales

Thursday, 7 August 2008

European Adventure Travel Day 6
Part 2: Stein am Rhein, Switzerland

In the end, I'm not sure how we found this beautiful little town, but I think J read about it in her ever-present guidebook. I had a roommate who lived in Basel (due west along the Rhein) for a year, but she had never heard of this place. Too bad. She missed out. Stein am Rhein was one of the highlights of my trip.

We got off the train in the newer part of the city and followed the procession of bathing suits, inflatable rafts and picnic baskets down the street and around the corner to the river. Next to the bridge, which leads to the medieval town center, there's a lovely pushing-off point for boaters. Naturally, it being a gorgeous (and hot!) day, there were a plethora of ambitious paddlers crowding the area. We dodged them and continued across the river. You can't tell from the pictures, but the entire length of the bridge is bedecked with flowers, and all manner of boats displaying both Swiss and German flags move up and down the river with varying degrees of speed and jollity.

Looking from new to old, under the shadow of the castle: Burg Hohenklingen

As soon as we crossed over the Rhein, we figured out what gives the town the reputation of being one of the most beautiful cities in Switzerland. All the buildings are exquisitely painted, some have colorful shutters and trim, some are giant canvases for bright, fairytale-esque murals. Most have window boxes full of geraniums. The old city center is beyond picturesque... it's like stepping into another world. J describes it as 'Hans Christian Andersen.' The façade paintings on the building date back as far as the early 1500s. Stein am Rhein was bombed during the second World War, but all the pretty stuff made it through.

Medieval Stein am Rhein

In the middle of the square are all the tables that belong to the sidewalk cafés. We arrived at lunchtime, and most shops close for one hour around noon. The intense heat appeared to have little effect on the average appetite, as evidenced by the delicious smells we caught as we passed families carving into whole roast chickens and dipping into pots of fondue.

Even the streets fit the theme of the town. Saint George battles the dragon every ten feet or so. The ladies of the town must be so proud. But then again... it's not a very big dragon.

The fairytale town's own Knight in Shining Armor

One of the best things about Switzerland: public water fountains! They can be a lifesaver in August. I may have bought several large bottles of water and Rivella before I understood what they were. Most of them are pretty, some are plain, but all of them provide cold, fresh, running water for your hydration needs.

On a side note, Rivella is good. It's made from milk serum, but it tastes kind of citrus-y. J and I were not able to identify it satisfactorily, but yum. I love trying all the crazy foods in other countries that I can't get at home.

And you thought cats didn't like water!

Since most of the shops were temporarily closed for lunch, J and I ambled outside the north city gate to see this church. Its copper roof has turned as green as the Statue of Liberty from years of inclement weather. I love Swiss graveyards. Rather than grassy fields or bare church floors, the graves are turned into well-kept flowerbeds.

After lunch, J and I browsed a few shops in the town. One shop was four or five rooms absolutely filled with blown glass: vases, ornaments, jewelry, tiny animals... everything you can imagine. I was tempted by the glass animals, because my mother has collected them since childhood, but I thought it best not to chance it in the backpack for another three weeks. J, heading back home long before I would, bought the most adorable frog (which did make it back to the States in one piece).

After shopping we went down the to riverbank, where J tried to convince me not to jump in, pack and all. It was that hot. I compromised with my toes, then we walked away from the land of enchantment, back to the train station. We headed for Buchs, via Rorschach and Romanshorn. Not that you particularly needed to know that, but I think those are fantastic city names. :)

Next adventure, Liechtenstein!

09 December 2008

Bumpy water and the world from on high

Thursday, 7 August 2008

European Adventure Travel Day 6
Part 1: Neuhausen am Rheinfall and Schaffhausen, Switzerland

Neuhausen am Rheinfall and Schaffhausen are both towns in northern Switzerland, near the Swiss-German border. Neuhausen, obviously, boasts the majestic waterfalls of the Rhine River. But you knew that. We followed the yellow feetprints painted on the street from the train station to this:

First look at the Rheinfall. We're about to go over...

...a huge waterfall, sharp rocks at the bottom...

Bring it on.

Believe it or not, a little tour boat pulls right up to that middle rock so people can get a real close look at the power of the water. As impressive and beautiful as the Rheinfall is, despite the churning and the rainbows, I just couldn't help but think of a certain General George S. Patton in connection with the infamy of the Rhine. :)

This weird girl kept getting in all the pictures.

We walked up to the bus stop so we wouldn't have to climb all the way up the very steep hill. That's not cheating. That's taking advantage of the amenities at our disposal. J asked a lady to direct us to the Roman ruins, and she looked very confused and pointed to the Munot.

The Munot is a very-definitely-not-ruined medieval fortress on top of a (very tall) hill. It's the town symbol; a large, round, stone fortification built in the 16th century. The Munot is surrounded by a deep trench that might once have been a moat, and said trench is now home to a baby red deer. It smelled a little funny, so we crossed the little drawbridge and entered. Just inside, the Munot is gloriously dungeon-y and reminiscient of the underground caverns of the Dwarves in Lord of the Rings.

The Munot, medieval fortress of Schaffhausen: outside

and inside

I couldn't take a picture of the front because there was a river in the way. To get to the top of the fortress, you walk up a cobbled ramp that winds around and around, but it wide enough to move wheeled cannons up and down. On top of the Munot, there is a giant screen for projected movies under the stars. And some cannons. I like artillery.

Schaffhausen from the Munot

The Swiss don't waste an inch... the entire hill is banked with vineyards. Excellent drainage, I'm told.

Some awesome building with a hole in it

In my completely unbiased opinion, the Rheinfall was one of the coolest things I saw in Switzerland.

Day 6 to be continued in Stein am Rhein (aka the fairytale town) and Liechtenstein. :)

07 December 2008

No wonder people are distressed by lifesize Orlando Bloom posters.

Wednesday night, 6 August 2008

We spent the night of the 6th in oldtown Zürich, in a little rock-n-roll inn called Zic Zac Rock Hotel.

Oldtown Zürich has narrow cobbled streets for pedestrians only, and the entrance to the Hotel is around the corner from the address given. This is because the Hotel begins on the second floor, and the address is to the building and the stairs are around the side. There is a bustling sidewalk cafe below the hotel. We arrived there after dark and bumbled about for a bit trying to decide exactly where we belonged, until a nice waiter took pity on us and led us around to the door.

Zic Zac Rock Hotel is a unique little place. Each of the rooms is named after a musical group or artist, designated by a little plaque on the door, and there are little guitars in the carpet and rock memorabilia on the walls. J and I were placed in the George Michael room (spelt "Georg" Michael on the door plate... he must be Austrian).

The Georg Michael room was quite a terrifying experience.

The proprietors must not have been able to find many George Michael mementoes, but we also didn't see inside any of the other rooms, so that is based purely on assumption. On one wall was hung a small photo of George Michael at a concert. On the wall next to my bed was a GIGANTIC MURAL of George Michael leering into the room. J made me sleep next to him.

I distracted myself from the prying eyes of the mural by tuning into one of the three television channels to watch some soccer. Bellinzona played FC Aarau in the Swiss Super League. Tragically, even my beloved footy couldn't take away the utter creepiness. Maybe it was the lock of painted hair falling suggestively on the painted forehead. Maybe it was because the entire room was a delicate yellow color. Maybe it was the creepy eyes that burned this image into my brain forever... actually yeah. I think that was it.

Our window opened above another sidewalk cafe, so the fabulous smells and the sound of laughter drifted up to us long after we fell asleep under the watchful eyes of Mr. George Michael. In the morning we took the tram back to Zurich Hoptbahnhof (main station) and caught the early train to Schaffhausen, away from Zurich and George Michael.

Why couldn't we have stayed in the "John Bon Jovi Room"?

01 December 2008

Feedback feeds my soul

There's something about long, chilly evenings that makes me want to tweak my blog layout. Or maybe it's the merlot...


Apologies for the infrequent postings. I have, however, edited 1300 of my 1500+ pictures... and yes, I did return from this trip three months ago. I ambitiously told my family that I would update from hostels along the way, but that definitely didn't happen. Surprise surprise.

I've had more blog traffic than I originally expected. I know sometimes commenting is scary, but writers loooove feedback. So, for you to feedback in a totally non-threatening way, I added another annoying little button at the bottom of every post. Read the post, and then click a reaction word*. Or not.

"Sweet as" is a colloquial New Zealand expression for good, cool, awesome, yeah, agreed, etc. Of course, in Kiwi vernacular children are called "sprogs," so take that as you will. There is a NZ restaurant called "Sweet As" though. When I go back, I will eat there. That is a threat AND a promise.

"Funny" and "interesting" are both words that have described me at one time or another during my life. Usually in the context of "funny peculiar" and "dear me, that is an... interesting... use of interpretive dance as an art form."

Just kidding. I express myself in other ways.

Let me know if you like clicking words. I might change the words. Or take them off. Whatever.

*subject to change according to whimsy

ETA: took 'em off. They annoyed me. And no, that is
not how I deal with all my problems. ;)