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    Inspiration

    "Though we travel the world over to find the beautiful we must carry it with us or we find it not."

    R. W. Emerrson

    Sunday
    Dec072014

    Great Expectations - Spain

    We had great expectations of Spain.  We were familiar with the language, love tapas and seafood, and heard wonderful things about it from many of our friends.  With high hopes, we arrived in Madrid on a one-way flight with no set departure date.

    The city of Madrid has a lot going for it.  A wonderful transportation infrastructure would deliver us anywhere in the city quickly and affordably.  We were impressed with the parks which were numerous, vast, and well kept.  And overall, it seemed pretty safe.  Sadly though, we never quite "clicked" with the locals.

    We wore our most congenial smiles and used our best Spanish language skills.  We also observed the local behavior and tried our best to emulate it.  Unfortunately, nearly every interaction was met with frowns and seemingly unnecessary complexity that made us feel exhausted and a bit unwelcome.

    We hoped things would lighten up in the seaside town of Malaga, anticipating the soft sandy beach and fresh seafood.  The seafood didn't disappoint; it was some of the best we've had in Europe.  The beach was vast and had a lovely and lengthy boardwalk, but wasn't as picturesque as we were led to believe, and while we encountered a few welcoming souls in Malaga, we again ran into several more challenging personalities.

    Most trains out of Malaga head north, so we decided to spend a few more days in Madrid to determine if we were being too quick to judge.  We thoroughly enjoyed a day taking in the expansive collection at the Prado Museum, but when things got difficult once more, we sought out the most familiar and comforting thing we could think of...an American language movie theater.  Here, we received a warm welcome from Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in what could be described as the least mentally taxing movie of all time, 'Dumb and Dumber To'.  We ate popcorn, drank a few beers, and suspended reality for nearly two hours in our cocoon of ignorance...It was divine!

    After day-trips to the beautifully fortified cities of Toledo and Avila, we decided it was time to move on.  Perhaps we had set the bar too high.  Perhaps we shouldn't have held preconceived notions.  But in the end, we can't help feeling just a little let down by our Spanish encounters.

    Saturday
    Nov292014

    Up in Smoke - Amsterdam, The Netherlands

    We closed the door as we exited our rented houseboat and followed the canal-lined streets into the historic center of Amsterdam.  We reached the right neighborhood after a long walk and started looking around for the hard-to-find shop.

    “Where is this place?  According to the directions, it should be right around the corner.”

    A tiny sign suspended above the narrow store’s doorway announced that we had finally arrived at our destination.  We entered and were immediately met by the rich aroma of smoke accompanied by the sight of a wide variety of pipes on display.  We made our way to the salesman seated behind the counter, said hello, and commented on the wonderful scent that permeated his shop.  He looked pleased, “It’s my own special blend”.

    We had finally arrived at the Pijpenkabinet Amsterdam Pipe Museum where we received a private tour from an extremely knowledgeable gentleman who had authored numerous books on the topic.  He walked with us, explaining each case and answering our questions.  The impressive collection, amassed over the past 40 years, includes thousands of pipes (and counting) from various parts of Africa, Europe and Asia.  These pieces of art are in all shapes, sizes and made of various materials.  And to top it off, this museum / shop is housed in a typical 17th century Dutch home with original wood floors and period-appropriate furnishings.

    The Pijpenkabinet is just one of the many unique and quirky Amsterdam offerings and we couldn’t help smiling from the fun of it.  We both agreed that one visit wasn’t enough and we’ll be back to visit this very eclectic city again.

    Sunday
    Nov232014

    Everything Old is New Again - Trier, Germany and Luxembourg

    From the Alsace region that seems unchanged by the passing of the centuries, we traveled to two cities that have harmoniously combined historical and modern architecture.

    Trier is arguably the oldest city in Germany.  It is a place where construction of a new parking lot recently revealed ancient Roman ruins slumbering just meters below the surface.  The town’s nearly 2,000 year old Black Gate punctuates a road which delivered us to a small carnival of strobe-lights, amusing rides, and boardwalk games where we drank our first glühwein of the season while watching families enjoy the festive setting.

    Luxembourg’s geographic location at the crossroads of European powerhouses has allowed it to realize impressive financial success.  As it has grown, the city has managed to incorporate immense forts from the 17th, 18th, and 19th century into its modern architecture.  The Musée d'Art Moderne Grand-Duc Jean, locally known as MUDAM, offers a wonderful example of integrating past and present designs (pictured), and we were thrilled to stumble upon a special opening night exhibit that reminded us of Denver’s wonderful Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA).

    These two amazing cities demonstrate unstoppable momentum; their skylines dotted with one construction crane after another.  It’s comforting to see that history can be maintained, and perhaps even enhanced, as city planners balance efforts to expand and evolve while maintaining watchful eyes on the precious need for preservation.

    Tuesday
    Nov182014

    The Belgian Trifecta!

    Decisions. Decisions. Which One to Choose?

    The challenge:  Complete the gastronomical marathon which we dubbed “The Belgian Trifecta”:  Consumption of world-class beer, chocolates, and waffles.

    The timeframe:  A brief, but enjoyable ~18 hours.

    The disclaimer:  The Belgian Trifecta should not be attempted by pregnant women or people operating heavy equipment.  Side effects of The Belgian Trifecta include sticky fingers and a desire to nap.

    The approach:  We took a programmatic approach to tackling The Belgian Trifecta.  First, we built up our courage by consuming a few local beers including an Affligem blond pale ale and Maredsous brown.  Fortified with our libations, we stepped into the cool night air and located a small waffle stand near our good friend Manneken Pis; we sought balance with our topping selections of caramel and strawberry.  Overtaken by a strong desire to nap (see disclaimer), we retired to our hotel facing shame and defeat.  We had lost the battle, but not the war - The next morning we found new inspiration and secured a hearty breakfast of chocolaty bonbons before heading out of town.

    The outcome:  No victory was ever sweeter!

    Thursday
    Nov132014

    The Alsace Region of France

     

    Our increasingly spontaneous travel style has taken us to places we hadn’t heard of before leaving home.  We decided to continue north for some cooler temperatures as we departed Zurich.  Input from our friend Steven, along with a handy travel website (www.rome2rio.com), identified the Alsace region of France as a destination not to be missed.

    The towns of Strasbourg and Colmar are pedestrian paradises with their big parks, rambling rivers, and colorful old buildings.  Mulhouse is home to the Cité de l’Automobile car museum, by far the most impressive transportation-related museum we’ve visited.  It houses an unrivaled collection of ancient Bugatti’s and a variety of European collector car treasures - Matt was in heaven!

    In all three of the Alsatian towns we strolled through the historic centers and enjoyed the café culture.  We practiced our French language skills while interacting with patient locals who were willing to work with us as we expanded our vocabulary.  These cities and the people who call them home were a highlight of our travels.