Monday, July 18, 2011

Adventure in Marriage


"... adventure helps to build companionship in a marriage.
Whether it is camping in the Tetons or traveling to New York to see a Broadway show, the excitement and mystery of adventure can be strong coffee for a marriage. The new sights and sounds, the need to pull together to erect a tent or hail a cab--and yes, all the tensions also--they awaken us from the dulling effect of the daily grind and make us more alive to our world, to each other, and to God."
-Love & War, John and Stasi Eldredge

Saturday, July 16, 2011

His take, Her take

Traveling as a couple is quite an experience. There is so much you learn about each other as you are put in situations you wouldn't normally experience in everyday life. We were talking with friends of ours today about this and one of them said to just wait until we travel with kids. Yikes!

Here are some things I {Jenny} learned about Brandon:

We knew we wanted to rent a car for portions of our trip in Europe. But I'll be honest. I was so nervous about Brandon driving around Europe! I was also very curious to see how he would respond to certain things... the language barrier, different cultural norms, a parade of churches and museums, street vendors shoving objects in your face...

I have more faith in him as a competent driver than before. He was awesome on the autobahn and in a baptism by fire in the streets of Florence. There were times when we had to fight across lines of vespas and cars to make a turn and he did it! Round-abouts? No problem! There were times I wanted to hide my eyes when we were on those crazy two-lane freeways with big-rigs on one side and sportscars racing up behind us, but he rocked our sweet little Opel.

I was impressed at how Brandon jumped into each city without much reservation. He was attempting to speak the language and greeting shopkeepers and restaurant staff. His smile and kind greeting was warmly received wherever we went. I loved that! He is such a social learner. He thrives and learns through interpersonal connections. Every place we went, he was trying to start up conversations. I really admire that quality in him as I tend to be more reserved and introverted.

I was also surprised at Brandon's appreciation of the art we enjoyed. It was wonderful to share those art gallery walks with him. I loved how much we connected over art and history. Brandon has such a sense of adventure that I'm not sure I really knew the extent of before this trip. He was up for trying just about anything and taking my long walks... even after he had already experienced a few.

We shared so many wonderful experiences together. As with walking through each new challenge or experience, I love Brandon more now than I did when we married.

Here are some things I {Brandon} learned about Jenny:

In preparing for this trip, I relied on Jenny for a lot of the planning since she had been there before and was familiar with many of the things we were going to encounter. I know she's a planner and I love that about her and that we share that in common, but I was blown away with the level of detail she put into her planning. We didn't waste a moment on our trip and it was all thanks to her.

I was a bit nervous about the language barrier and having to converse in German, Italian, and French along our way. I knew that Jenny spoke French, but I was stunned by how beautifully she spoke it and how well she engaged the native French in all sorts of situations. Restaurants, on the phone, conducting business. Definitely a wow moment seeing her in that element. She is definitely a world traveler and she is in her element exploring this part of the world.

I learned that my wife is a bigger history buff than I realized. As we explored the sites and museums of Normandy, I loved that she was as into finding beaches, buildings, and exhibits as I was and I loved talking about the events and impacts as we drove.

I also discovered Jenny's public transportation persona. She gets incredibly serious, especially on subways and it's pretty intimidating. It's a stone cold forward facing look that says "DON'T mess with me!" It took me several uneasy trips to figure this out and I completely understand it now, considering all of her trips to Europe before this have been as a single woman. I'm glad that I can be there for her now and protect her from the guy in a Napoleonic outfit singing and dancing with a baby doll and the drunken English college students jumping up and down and shouting. Both true events on our trip.

Something my in-laws did not clue me in on before we left was something called a "Jenny-walk." To define it, a "Jenny-walk" starts as a walk to a destination that is "just a few blocks away." You may or may not get to that original destination, but the walk branches out from there until you've found yourself miles from where you started seeing things you never intended. Though we returned exhausted and with sore feet, those walks are now fond memories.

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Our unAwards for European destinations

Just for fun, we thought of some "awards" to honor our stays across Europe.

Bests...
  • Best City for Walks: Paris
  • Best Drivers: Germany
  • Best Public Transit: Paris
  • Best Sense of Humor: Germany
  • Best food: Italy
  • Best coffee (non starbucks): Italy
  • Best dessert, Brandon's pick: Amorino gelato in Paris
  • Best dessert, Jenny's pick: Salzburg apple streudel
Odds and Ends...
  • Most expensive: London (Paris comes in 2nd)
  • Most affordable: Rome
  • Most friendly to Americans: Normandy
  • Most dog-friendly: Paris
  • Easiest city to navigate: Rome
  • Smelliest city: Paris
  • Cleanest city: London
  • Most fashionable city: Rome
  • Safest-feeling city: Rome (If traveling as a single woman, I may have felt differently)
  • City with the most to do: London
  • Most delicious foreign dish: Florentine steak
  • Most underrated city: Montepulciano
  • Most overrated city: Florence

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Blaming GPS and other invaluable lessons learned on the art of travel

During our trip to Europe, we learned a lot. We learned more about each other (more on that later) and we learned more about the art of traveling. Here are some of the top lessons we learned:
  1. Print and organize copies of all your confirmations for hotels, train tickets, plane tickets, attractions, etc. It is also helpful to print maps of where each hotel is located; this is a great quick reference for you and for a taxi driver.
  2. Try to fly in and out of the same airport
  3. At that airport, rent a car for touring that you can return to the same airport. Traveling from point A to B with trains, buses, subways... can add up fast. A car rental is helpful if you plan on doing a lot of day trips or moving between several cities.
  4. Car rentals in Europe from major airports are not very expensive per day. If you drop the car somewhere else, expect to pay A LOT! That was an expensive novice mistake.
  5. There is a fine balance between time and money. An occasional splurge to save time (the car rental, taking a taxi) is often worth it.
  6. Take plenty of cash. Budget well and write down purchases down to the last euro to answer the question "What happened to all our money?"
  7. Tipping is different in Europe. Service is usually included in your tab and 1-2 euros will suffice for a sit-down tab. If the service is exceptional and the restaurant is on the nicer end, a more generous tip may be appropriate.
  8. Sitting down at a restaurant or cafe will usually cost you. Especially at major landmarks and in outdoor areas. We avoided paying a hefty price for gelato by looking at the prices and not being afraid to get up and walk away.
  9. Don't be afraid to exercise your NO. Being nice or polite to pushy vendors or people following you will only encourage them to push more. Give a firm, clear NO and people will leave you alone. We had vendors nearly touching us and thrusting flowers in our faces, we became very good at saying NO.
  10. Take time to rest and eat. There's nothing worse than a cranky traveling companion.
  11. Try to keep a stash of snacks from the grocery store handy. Grocery stores are wonderful spots to get drinks and snacks for a fraction of the cost of those carts by the tourist attractions.
  12. Take water bottles to Europe. Fill them up at the hotel and you'll be set for some summer sightseeing. We brought water purification pills, but found our water to be drinkable at every hotel we stayed at.
  13. Bring your phone. You never know when you'll need to call a hotel or use wifi to confirm a reservation. Be sure to read your service provider's tips on traveling internationally. Turn off roaming, data, and 3G. If you receive data via mobile service (not wifi), you will be charged $19.98 per MB in most countries. Sign up for global calling and text messaging (this costed about $16 on one of our iphones).
  14. There's nothing like a good map. Even if you've been to the city before... *ahem* I have a tendency in being overconfident in cities I've visited before and contributed to a few of our longer exploratory walks/drives... We had many: Florence & Rome airport, London, Normandy, Paris...
  15. Speaking of navigation, if you rent a car, get GPS! This will save you time and frustration. That way instead of getting mad at each other, you can blame the maker of the navigation system for coming out with such a shoddy product to get you lost. :)
  16. For each destination, make a list with your fellow travelers of the must-see/must-do items and a secondary list. This helps with time prioritization and making sure that everyone is represented in planning daily itineraries.
  17. Get out early (there'll be time for naps later). You'll be able to get a jump on the queues and you're likely to see a different city as it wakes up as opposed to the heavily trafficked version.
  18. Gaining some familiarity with the language will take you far! People who speak English at popular destinations is very common, but if you are brave and graciously try to speak their language, most people will respect and appreciate the gesture. This is most valuable in France where the French are very proud of their language. At least master "hello", "thank you", and "please". Bonjour, Bon giorno, Gutentag Merci, Grazie, Danke S'il vous plait, Per favore, Bitte
  19. For a cheaper meal, search for a spot further away from the attractions without outdoor seating.
  20. Be sure to pack: sunscreen, bug spray, bandaids (blisters), clothing detergent, good walking shoes, outlet converter and wattage transformer
  21. I cannot stress having good walking shoes enough! If you are lucky to find some that are more subdued or stylish, good for you. Brand shoes scream American, but if your feet aren't aching it won't matter as much. My Rainbow flipflops declared mutiny on my feet and I missed my old Birkenstocks that didn't survive my move to WA.
  22. The most important thing: Be patient with the process and each other. In Rome a tour guide told us the rule of 70% in Europe. Things will work out 70% of the time. Accepting this will help you avoid some unnecessary stress. Even with hours and hours of planning, there will still be surprises. Stay on each other's team and work through it together. The more skilled you become at problem-solving together, traveling and, consequently living life, becomes more fun and beautiful.

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Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Perception

In michaelangelo's depiction of judgement day, you may notice that the vision, the perception, of the damned is obscured. An eye is covered on every figure. Our Vatican tour guide explained that michaelangelo's purpose is to show how the perception of those people is flawed and they cannot see their sin clearly nor their need for Christ; therefore, they reject Christ and choose hell.

I began thinking about this issue of perception as I read Love & War (by John and Stasi eldredge) and I'm becoming frustrated with my weaker eye. My right eye sees clearly, my left eye is very blurred--together it's a headache. The irony of my physical perception problem is that this present chapter speaks to the issue of Satan's role in trying to destroy marriages. His primary strategy is trying to get us to make "agreements" with him. "Now, what the father of lies does is put his 'spin' on a situation. It typically comes as a 'thought' or 'feeling.'" For example: "she doesn't really love you. He'll never change. She's always doing that."

Perception is important, isn't it? How easily we can cover an eye to the truth or not correct our vision when it is flawed.

As for us, we are trying to be more mindful of agreements every day, especially as romantic adventures like Europe seem further away and more perilous adventures like moving our lives 700 miles south become imminent realities.

What an adventure we find ourselves on... together.

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Monday, July 11, 2011

Slideshow of our European highlights

Friday, July 8, 2011

Europe final day and return

video
After staying up late to pack we woke up at 6:30 and headed out to see some final few sights. 

The streets were empty and the doors of bakeries were open with the smell of fresh bread in the air. We stopped at 2 this morning because no one makes bread like the French. 

Notre dame was nearly empty, most of the people inside were staff and worshippers attending mass. It's an incredible sanctuary. I was so glad we were able to appreciate it before the crowds. I took some video of the bells announcing morning mass. I love that sound. 

Then we turned around at the hotel to get to the airport. It was a looong day of travel. We had the most fear-paralyzed traveler we've ever seen next to us on the first leg. It's not good when someone walks up to your row sobbing and asks, "you're not afraid are you?" We've basically been up for 24 hours, but are delighted to be home!

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Europe day 12: Paris encore

We started our day late. We've been catching up on a lot of sleep or at least trying to lately. We're thankful for a very comfortable hotel room that is quiet in this party life city. 

Our first stop was Starbucks. Then we walked to the Louvre. I haven't been there in 6 years and they've turned the underground "carousel" part into a complete shopping mall. It made me a bit sad to see how commercialized this city has become. Some of my favorite spots in Paris have been turned into mall kiosks and shops like marriage frères, pylone, and amorino. 

Then we went into the museum. It was not what we anticipated. It was extremely crowded and everyone is trying to take home a digital piece of the Louvre. There were flashes everywhere and cameras held in front of all the masterpieces. Our stay was, unfortunately, an abbreviated one. Afterwards we got McDonald's and enjoyed it in the peace of the Tuileries garden. (Starbucks and McDonald's, can you tell we're homesick?)  

Later that night we went to isle saint Louis (brandon's favorite Paris spot) for some amorino gelato. It was perfect! Then we took a sightseeing cruise on the seine. It was beautiful at dusk. Afterward we slowly walked back to the metro but took time to appreciate some of the musicians, fire-eaters, and other performers in front of notre dame. 

A beautiful final night in Europe. We have loved it all, but are looking forward to returning home tomorrow. There are so many U.S. comforts that you begin to miss when you're out of the country. The simplest of which are free water and bathrooms. 

Europe day 11: Paris

Slept in late. So nice. This trip has been wonderful but exhausting! :)

We started out by finding a small bakery for breakfast. We had a Parisian breakfast which consists of coffee or tea and a croissant or pain au chocolate. It was a tasty but a very light meal compared to our English breakfasts at our previous hotel of cereal, egg, toast, "bacon" (fried ham), tomato, juice, and coffee/tea.

So we walked to admire the garnier opera house and get some Starbucks. The one I used to like moved down the street. It was huge! And very friendly just like at home. :) The decor was quite posh. Painted ceilings, chandeliers, oh Paris. Starbucks is everywhere here by the way.

Then we walked from there to the marais. We passed by some pet stores and couldn't help but look! We miss our little dog a lot. We finally got to a bakery that I love for ham and cheese sandwiches on a baguette. Then we walked to the park behind notre dame to eat. We were starving! I had inadvertently taken Brandon on another " Jenny walk". We decided that my habit of proposing to walk somewhere that "isn't that far" and ends up being a 2-6 mile trek is called a "Jenny walk". Poor Brandon. Poor feet! We eventually headed home for a quick rest. (that is, collapsing into a 2 hour nap)

Our evening was a series of misadventures with another "Jenny walk" from the louvre to the Eiffel tower and back. (to appreciate how far these walks are you have to see a map! It's crazy!) the highlights were walking through the Tuileries garden by fragrant lavender, taking photos of the Eiffel tour and appreciating its massive size, most of the walk, plotting how we'd disable an attacker on the quieter streets, deciding to take the metro to get to the marais area for a 11pm dinner, finding pizza San Antonio for a second night in a row, discovering that egg on pizza is pretty good.

After our trip we'll be posting "awards" and Europe travel tips that we've learned mainly through our errors. :) À tout à l'heure!

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Europe day 10: Normandy to Paris

Our first stop today was the Pegasus bridge cafe. It was the first house liberated in France. A British air division took the bridge and set up command and a field hospital there. The proprieter Arlette Gondrée was 4 years old when the British liberated her. It is an unbelievable site with such a story! I was a bit awed by madame Gondrée though. We had an amazing breakfast too. Two cafe au lait, a delicious cinnamon roll fresh from the oven, and Brandon asked for a ham & cheese omelette. Mme Gondrée told him they could do that for him. :)

Then on our way back to the car, pondering deep things, I felt something hit the side of my head. I panicked and asked Brandon to see what it was. "Oh my gosh!!" "what? What is it?! Get it out!" "a bird pooped in your hair." yep. Gross. I walked to a nearby parking lot with my body hunched over to one said calling for shampoo. Brandon sweetly washed my hair right there. It was pretty hilarious. This has happened to me three times in my life, but never in the US.

We had another beautiful drive through Normandy. The countryside is incredible. We talked about how fun it would be to stay there for a week camping or staying at b&bs.

Our final d-day stop was the American cemetery. It was very sobering. The lawn kept stretching on. So many young men and women. It was such a beautiful and peaceful resting place. On June 6, 2044 a time capsule will be opened there. How incredible will that be? How will d-day or the second world war be remembered a century later?

We returned our car then took a train to Paris.

It took some negotiating with the metro to get to our hotel but we made it! Our final stop.

I took Brandon to the marais, the area where my family and I had enjoyed a month in an apartment. Everywhere I looked I noticed changes. "that used to be..." "what happened to..." The area was crowded and brusque--Not what I remembered. Even our favorite gelato place around the corner was different. The staff was curt and the gelato didn't have the same presentation. It reminded me of a lesson that has been recurring during this trip--that you can never recreate or recapture something that is past. If you work hard to recapture something and hope for it to be the same, you'll surely be disappointed and you might miss something new and special. Even if Paris had never changed, I have changed. I'm not a single 20 year old anymore. I'm here with my husband, introducing him to an old friend. I hope to uncover something new here. We'll see.

Europe day 9: England to Normandy

Woke up at 3:45 am, took a cab, 5:00am train to Portsmouth, shuttle bus, 8:20am ferry departure.

A lot of travel to get from a to b! We had a great ferry ride and met an older English couple named Tom and Barbara. They have a home in Bath, England and one in Honfleur, France. Can't imagine two more beautiful places in Europe! It's so nice to connect with others when you're traveling, without that connection, it can feel a bit isolating.

When we landed in Le Havre we went straight to the car rental to start our tour! Brandon was glad to have my French skills. :) First stop on our 4th of July d-day tour was the Caen memorial museum. It was incredible and very overwhelming. It included a multimedia tour of the world before 1945. It was chilling to see the Nazi memorabilia and propaganda. The civilian impact was so devastating. I loved watching a video about how resolute the British were against the Nazi forces. Repeated air raids then air raids at night! I learned a lot and it brought so many pieces of the war together. The tour of d-day was amazing. The orchestration and ensuing sacrifice was awe-inspiring. And after seeing and learning more about how evil and ruthless the nazis were and the impact on European everyday life, one could see how crucial it was. That tour reminded me of one of the reasons why we travel: to learn and understand.

Our next stop was Omaha beach, where we lost the most men. There's a beautiful sculpture that represents The rise of freedom and the wings of hope and fraternity. Driving around the region, the gratitude of the French people is evident in flags and signs everywhere! If you're not so sure about the French, visit Normandy, they'll change your mind. :)

Then we went to arromanches les Bain where the Allies built mulberry harbor, an artificial port. It's incredible! We were there at low tide and walked around a monstrous row of concrete "phoenixes" on the beach. We had dinner in the town. I taught Brandon how to order. It was cute, after he ordered he got embarrassed and said, "no françois!" He meant "no French" but he essentially said "no frank".

Then we had to drive in the opposite direction to our hotel. We were hoping to arrive at 11pm (already a late estimate) but then we became very lost. The cool part was driving over Pegasus bridge, the not so fun part was having the husband of the hotel manager chew me out in french for being late.... Until Brandon walked in, then he shut up and slinked away. Nice. Fortunately the hotel was the nicest of our tour and we slept very well!

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Europe day 8: London

We're at the point in our trip where we lose track of what day it is, we're exhausted beyond belief, and we start to say things to each other like "in the u.s., they..."

Today was a bit rocky. London is arguably one of the most expensive cities in Europe, so that's rough. Then it's a challenge to navigate, especially with tube closures at odd times and redirected routes. There was a lot of time spent re-navigating. :)

We went to Harrods. Insane! Biggest dept store in the world. Saw a bed for Buhner and a very annoyed chihuahua in the salon.

Then we went to Westminster abbey foe an organ recital. Beautiful. Dinner at "the Texas embassy". Finally a London eye ride.

Off we go from our old tyrant Britain to our revolutionary war ally France, specifically where our men sacrificed for the freedom of millions: Normandy.

Europe day 7: London

We got tickets to Jersey Boys for Saturday night. It was fantastic! Great music, a lot of fun. If you don't know it, it's a musical of the story of Franki Valli and the Four Seasons.

Getting in and out of the show was quite a task though. Yesterday was gay pride day in the heart of soho right where our theater was. It was nuts! It felt like that Seinfeld episode with the puerto rican day parade where Elaine tries to sneak through the crowd because it's Sunday and she just needs to get home to have time to unwind!!!

Looking forward to Westminster abbey service, Harrods, and the London eye today though!

Europe day 7am: London

Great morning! Saw some of the beautiful and iconic sights of the city in the morning then headed out to the Notting Hill area to find the portobello road Saturday market. So fun! Found a few things and a delicious burrito stand! Apparently Mexican food has come into vogue in Europe. We got a bit disoriented using the bus and tube system but eventually made it home to dress for our play...

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Europe day 6: Vatican and off to London!

Rome Walks tour was unbelievable! One of the best tours I've been on. The history and art came to life! Incredible stories told by our guide who is a believer and has a passion for church history. The Sistine chapel had so much more meaning. It was interesting how michaelangelo wanted to convey biblical scenes showing the fallenness-humanness-of mankind to man in crisis to intimacy and connection with God. I didn't realize that michaelangelo had never painted before being told by forceful warrior pope Julius to paint the sistine chapel. And then to paint al fresco (into wet plaster) upside down. Then he was asked to finish designing the basilica. Wow, michaelangelo truly changed art forever. So many more stories I could share... Like what a sick freak (there are other words...) that Nero was. Ew.

Then we battled italian modes of transportation to get to the airport. After our flight and our second train ride of the day, we opted to take a taxi rather than lugging our heavy packs through the tube. Our hotel is very quaint but is comfortable. Nice to crash!

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