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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

    Entries in Europe (17)

    Saturday
    Jan032015

    Merry Ole England

    “Stay left…stay left…stay left” Jenn repeated as we exited the London Heathrow car rental garage.  The simple phrase was repeated nearly as often as the seemingly infinite roundabouts that dot the English countryside.  We made an impromptu decision to visit Stonehenge, which is surprisingly only a little more than an hour from London.  As Stonehenge came into view we played the song that shares its name from the classic 1980’s movie, ‘This is Spinal Tap’.  The scene was as ancient and strange as the rock mockumentary’s song implied – An ancient place where you can sense its significance.  We were not surprised to learn that archeologists still haven’t uncovered all of its secrets.

    From Stonehenge, we headed north to the quaint town of Bridgnorth and then over to Burnley, where our friends Norman and Christina live.  These two amazingly gracious hosts guided us through memorable Skipton Castle after a stopover in the Pendle Hill area where “witches” were prosecuted in 1612.  In the evening, Norman made us the best gin and tonics before we went to a local pub for dinner.

    The next morning we bid goodbye to our friends and proceeded to The Fat Cat pub in Sheffield where we met Tony, whom we met on a train while traveling in Hungary.  We enjoyed a few pints surrounded by the locals and ate a filling lunch while exchanging travel stories.  We continued our journey to the town of Lincoln where we explored the magnificent hilltop church while children practiced for an upcoming performance, singing angelic music and reading holiday-appropriate passages.

    With only three days remaining in our European adventure, we headed back to London where we spent long days walking along the River Thames to Big Ben, the London Eye, Hyde Park, and the Victoria and Albert Museum.  We’d been warned that dining in London can be pricy, but the city’s sights are so disparate that it was easy to escape the primary tourist areas to find tasty and reasonable dining options.

    We had a great time in London and the rest of the England.  We look forward to future visits where all of the roads seem to lead us to some of the best friends we’ve made during our year-long voyage.

    Sunday
    Dec212014

    Bringing Back Cocktail Hour - Christmas Markets in Germany

    Our friend Katie had told us that Germany was the place to experience the holidays.  When she sponsored “dinner and drinks for two”, we decided to set off on a search for the most delicious food and lively libations available in the country’s celebrated Christmas markets.

    We started our tour in Düsseldorf, a large, pedestrian-friendly city with several markets, each with its own unique atmosphere.  Our favorite was Altstadt (Old Town), home to a giant ferris wheel overlooking an intimate collection of well-lit holiday stalls.  We explored the offerings from the local vendors and satisfied our hunger with fried potato pancakes, pork shank, and a heaping helping of grilled mushrooms topped with spicy chili sauce.  As the temperatures dropped we warmed our hands and our bellies with spiced glühwein served in decorative mugs.

    We boarded a northbound train to Osnabrück, the town where three of Jenn’s grandparents were from.  It didn’t take long for us to fall in love with the historic town and its Christmas market which was the perfect size; the people were friendly and the food was among the best we’ve encountered.  We strolled through the stalls surrounded by beautiful, colorful buildings as we consumed Nordic salmon over a bed of lettuce.  The salmon had been smoked on a cedar plank secured over an open flame that gave it an out-of-this-world char grilled flavor.  This first dish of the day satisfied our immediate hunger, but it wasn’t long before we were queued up at another stand where we ordered a thick pork nackensteak “mit kraut”.  The glühwein continued to flow as we ate our way across Germany.

    The final stop on our fun filled Katie-funded Christmas market tour was one of the country's largest and oldest.  Stuttgart houses more than 270 stalls filled with holiday goodies, and it accommodated an immense weekend crowd during our visit.  We tried two new plates – A sauerkraut dish that included sausage bits and hot mustard, and a hearty chili con carne.  You can surely guess what we selected for our warming beverage of choice.

    We raised each new cup of glühwein (and glühkirsch, and glühschnapps) saying “Prost” and “Thank you Katie” for bringing back this wonderfully non-traditional cocktail hour.  Have a Frohe Weihnachten!

    Thursday
    Dec112014

    Guinness Stew and Irish Flu

    Seeking the comfort of pub food and familiar language, we hopped a flight from Madrid, Spain to Dublin, Ireland where we encountered very friendly people and unseasonably nice weather.  We spent many days walking around the city, weaving through the crowded streets to some of the main tourist venues, and enjoying a pint of Guinness at the end of the brewery tour.  Like usual, we found greater pleasure blending in with the locals at Oxmantown coffee shop, which dealt out the most amazing sandwiches, and taking in Wuthering Heights at the historic Gate Theater.

    Another highlight was our excursions to neighboring towns like Howth and Dun Laoghaire.  Howth offered a beautiful and refreshing 12 km hike along the coast which reminded us how much we love walking through the many splendors of nature.  Dun Laoghaire engaged us with its Maritime Museum and a complementary exhibit of photos from Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated Antarctic exploration during the early years of WWI.

    For our final few days in Ireland, we'd planned a trip down to Cork.  Those plans were detoured when we both encountered what we dubbed "the Irish flu" - A 48 hour illness that took the wind out of our sails and demanded a sedate recovery period.  Cork will have to wait for a future visit to Ireland, one in which we hope to stretch our hiking legs to further shores.

    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.