Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Hills Are Alive....

With Larry, Charmen and Cathleen. Yes, that's right. Lar joined in on the European fun on October 5th and we had a tremendous time touring Austria and Switzerland together for two weeks.
However, before venturing south of the German border, we did make a mid-day stop to the charming medieval town of Rothenburg.

After touring around and grabbing lunch, we continued our journey south to Salzburg. Our first day, we took a tour of Hitler's Eagle's Nest, in the town of Bertchesgaden, Germany, near Salzburg.

Surprisingly, there isn't much there, other than the one building at the top that was built for Hitler by his Nazi party as a gift. He actually only went there a handful of times, but to get to the top is quite impressive. You have to walk through a long tunnel and ride a brass elevator to the top.

Once back in Salzburg, the sun was shining and we walked through the beautiful Mirabel Gardens.

The following day, Lar and Charm did the Sound of Music tour. They were able to visit the famous gazebo (during song, "You are Sixteen, Going on Seventeen"), the house used in the film and the church where Maria got married.

View of the fortress and Salzburg's old city.

Salzburg's old city.

After two days in Salzburg, we traveled an hour south to Hallstatt, in Austria's Salzkammergut Lake district. This adorable village nestled into the hillside, sits along a gorgeous and peaceful lake.

We had a wonderful and very relaxing overnight stay in this quiet and quaint setting.

Next, we were off to the western part of Austria, to Innsbruck. Here, we met our friends, Al and Cristina, who joined us from Italy for two days. Most of our time consisted of visiting restaurants adn experiencing Austrian cuisine. One morning we did trek to a palace on the edge of town that was frequented by the Hapsburgs during summers. There were beautiful gardens surrounding the palace.

We also visited the neighboring village of Hall. The old town is actually larger than Innsbruck's and we enjoyed listening to an oompah band while having coffee in the market square.

After Austria, we headed to the Black Forest of Germany where Lar and Charm participated in a mission trip with their church for several days. Afterward, we enjoyed one final weekend together in Lucerne, Switzerland.

We had a lovely time walking around this beautiful old city alongside a lake with the Alps in the distance. The Chapel Bridge is beautiful as it snakes across the lake from one side of the city to the other.

We took a sunset boat cruise on the lake.

The following day, we trekked to the top of Mt. Pilatus, which towers over Lucerne. To get to the top, we rode the steepest cogwheel train in the world. Luckily, it was a clear, sunny day and the views were magnificent.

We had the best time together and I feel so lucky that I can have so much fun with my parents. They truly are two of the most remarkable people I know and I can't wait for many more traveling adventures ahead!

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Joie de vivre!

I can hardly believe it's been three weeks since arriving in Istanbul at the start of Charm and Cat's adventures in Europe. I'm currently writing this from Munich where I've attended my final fair for the European tour circuit. Before detailing the wonderful times I've had with Charm AND Lar, who joined us on Oct. 5th, I must first go back to the remainder of travels in Paris and Brussels before the road trip through Austria and Switzerland.

After a jam-packed two days in Istanbul, we returned to Wiesbaden for one night to catch a train to Paris the following day. After settling in our hotel in the southern sector of Paris, we headed to the Latin Quarter where we enjoyed spectacular views of the Notre Dame at sunset and a lively dinner at a nearby restaurant. The next day, we headed to the Sacre Coure cathedral where we enjoyed breathtaking views of the city with perfect blue skies as the backdrop. Afterward, we trekked to the nearby famous flea markets of Montmarte where we enjoyed looking at streets and streets of antiques, textiles and other beautiful Parisian finds. In the afternoon, I went to fulfill my work duty at the Paris College Fair, and Charm went to the Tuileries Garden and toured the Orangerie museum. She said she hadn't walked as much in one day as the Paris marathon (are you rolling your eyes Laurel and Mandy?).

Our final day in Paris, we had a very special treat in store for us. We were meeting up with Denis Empereur, a former exchange student at Baylor. It had been over three years since I'd seen Denis, but it was as if no time had passed. He was still his sarcastic, charming self and we had a such a great time catching up and being with a local. Charm had also met Denis while he was at Baylor, so it was nice we could both have the "reconnection" experience together.

Before meeting up with Denis for lunch, we had a lovely morning beginning with breakfast at our favoirte decadent tea parlor, Angelina's, with the best hot chocalate I've ever tasted (melted chocolate in your cup, literally). We then had a lovely (and quite long) walk from the Lourve to the Place du Concorde all the way along the Champs Elysses to the Arc de Triomph. Yes, it was no short jaunt, but we enjoyed being out in the beautiful and warm weather in a beautiful city that I enjoy more and more every time I visit.

After returning to Wiesbaden for one night, I was off to Geneva for another college fair. Charm had opted to stay in Wiesbaden while I did this quick trip to Geneva, as she knew she would probably be quite tired after all this moving and grooving. She had a nice and relaxing two days of catching up with all the news and was even sweet enough to clean some of my apartment. What a great mom! The best part was returning from a horrendous trip from Geneva (with delayed planes, rain, etc.) with a home-cooked meal on the table. It was such a treat to have that and made my day!

The following day, we were on the road yet again to Brussels. We had a JOYOUS time getting to the fair event and long, grueling, painful story short - I was an hour late to the fair! Darn you google directions! You've never failed me before and in a crucial moment, totally fell through. No, the real blame belongs to the city of Brussels where street sings are practically non-existent. Needless to say, our driving experience into Brussels gave us a bad taste in our mouth for the city, so we weren't sure what to expect the following day during our touring.

Well, the next day came and along with it the rain. And with the rain, Charm got a cold and cough. We visted the major sites in the old town, shopped for some lace and enjoyed a Belgian waffle. But, the saving grace of the day came when we were cold and tired from walking around and spotted a cozy bar with a fireplace a-blazing through the window. We ducked in for some delicous Belgian ale and re-fueled for our drive ahead (not immediately after drinking, that is). We learned one thing from our Belgian experience, although it's great to drive and feel independent with this European traveling, it can be more complicated that it seems and quite taxing. Regardless, I'm so glad I had an excellent travel partner with me and I now know to NEVER drive in Brussels again with no GPS (and perhaps a little more time to get lost)!

Two days later, Lar arrived to Germany and the tour of Austria and Switzerland would begin. It's been an incredible experience and I will update the blog again soon with our many adventures!