Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Travels with Debi: Transitions, planes and trains

If you have been following along on this journey, you have read that I am a nervous traveler- at least when I am alone.  When I am with someone, like my buddy the Mad-English teacher,  I am definitely in gawk mode.  I absorb my surroundings and I am pretty sure there are those who would like to tell me to quit gawking and keep up!   HAHA.  That is sort of my gig, being a fairly visual person and all.  I see photos and paintings and drawings all the time.  It makes me seem pretty distractible.
Hello Iceland

But this big trip was all by myself.  Even though I had the outer aura of calm (most of the time as you will find out later)  I was a wreck inside.  Which is why I wanted people with me until the VERY LAST MOMENT!!!  (apologies to Jonny and Anne-Sophie for the extra TLC I needed, lol)  The confidence I have gained is immeasurable, and I will have no problem going by myself again, but if nothing else--  I love having someone to talk to.  Shocking I know.

This is what I looked like at god knows what time of the day on the way from Iceland to Frankfurt- going on 20 hours of no sleep here.
But all the enforced quiet was not bad really. I do a lot of self reflection and thinking. It proved to me something I already knew, that I can indeed take care of myself.  That I do know what I am doing and that I don't have to have someone else to rely on.  I also have total knowledge that I do like having a companion while on my adventures, but it is good alone, though I have a lot of angst when something major like that is underway.  But fear just has to be conquered (compare this to clinging to trees in unusual places!) in order for life to be rich and fulfilling, and I am ALL about that.

I did this a lot- wine and reading my kindle.

 I really like being on airplanes, it is just something that I enjoy.  I actually giggle a little during liftoff, which I embrace with gusto. Anyone looking my way would think I was a little crazy and they could be right.  I was so so freaking fortunate to have booked Icelandair last winter, in a class called economy comfort.  Which basically was sitting in the first few rows of the economy class, but with no one sitting in the seat next to you.  Fabulous- I will pay a bit more to have more room to spread out.  (I like to have areas to lay all my stuff!)  So in March I got notice that they eliminated that option and- hang on to your cushy seats everyone- all four of my airplane rides were in freaking first class.  "Would you like some Prosecco?" she says when I sit down??  Why yes, yes I will take sparkling Italian wine when I was frazzled by my own mental activity to relax. And then choose wine to go with my meals.  And the superb espresso......  and the desserts.......  Oh hell yes.  It was a very good airline.  And real pillows and a blanket....  I am such a child.  HAHA  But it is the little things, you know?
So much food.  Did not finish the food, did finish the drinks!

I had one of these  (a glass of, not a bottle of) on the way there and one on the way back....  That chardonnay was super good!
So the train trips.  I did a lot of train travel in Europe- when we were in Switzerland we traveled up the mountain by train, while near Strasbourg to get to the city, and on the tube in England.  It is a pretty comfy way to go.  I think Wisconsin dropped the ball not building that passenger train system, but whatever.  Those were super modes of transport because of the people I was following around, whilst gawking.

A couple dirty window pictures of the train side of Paris.  I saw the Eiffel tower far in  the distance a while on the second leg of this trip, but no photos!
I had to get from Germany to London somehow, and while I could have done a plane again- somehow I ended up on the Eurostar.  There is a bit of a convoluted story to that; originally I was going to travel with Anne-Sophie to London because she had an event to attend.  But then she had to work and so I decided (with encouragement from others) to indeed go on the Eurostar train.  So the thing was, I agreed to this train when I had someone to hold my hand under the English channel.....   and it never occurred to me that I could change to a plane once I verbally committed to the train.

Really good espresso on the Eurostar- note the delicious chocolate they include- such class.  

If you want to put one of my biggest fears, claustrophobia, into one terrifying event- being under god knows how much water for heaven knows how long with no chance of living through a catastrophic event (yes I go there, don't judge me) that would be the Chunnel.  But since I was like about 2000 miles out of my comfort zone, I just said what the hell and went with it.  I mean how bad could it be?  And it turns out not bad at all.

Outstanding espresso on the Eurostar
So let's cut to Paris.  Of which I have virtually no photos of, btw, and I have to get there to visit it properly.  Ok, so while making plans for the Eurostar, there were no open seats on the one that goes through I think Brussels (I can't remember for sure), so HEY WHY NOT TRAVEL THROUGH PARIS????!!!  RIGHT???  This is what happens when you make those arrangement 3 days in advance.  It turns out that in Paris I had to change trains, which wouldn't be that big of a deal, but then I had to also change train STATIONS.  Well the Gare du Nord was only a few blocks from the Gare de L'est and after consultations with Jonny and, primarily, my wonderful friend Paula who coached me for a good solid 30 minutes via messenger the day before I left, I decided I didn't have to take Uber or taxi service.  6 min. walk!  Come on, I can do that.  She told me how it would look, what to look for and mostly that I had to stop and buy a croissant in Paris because they are better than they are anywhere in the world.  Well I am a believer and I did get that croissant and kind of am unclear where I actually ate it.  Must have been on the train.

This was Strasbourg I think - I learned really fast how to read these guys

Another life lesson I have learned for the second time whilst traveling overseas is to not f-ing overpack because you will regret it- greatly.  So I discovered I could have left about 1/3 of the clothes I had with me home- and that is just part of it.  And I will not forget it the next time.  And while I figured it out in Germany, it was reinforced in Paris.

The thing about train travel is that your big suitcase does not magically disappear, like on an airplane,  to reappear later - also by magic- at your destination (for the most part- we all know airport  and baggage horror stories), and you have to drag ALL of your bags (including your ridiculously heavy camera bag) through the stations.  And when you have to change said train in the middle of your journey, you have to drag them through the streets of Paris.  Oh boy.  So, rolling suitcase with my carry-on attached to the top, and my camera bag on my arm with my purse on my shoulder was quite interesting.  But I stopped every 500 feet or so to check my map, which thankfully had many recognizable places marked (think: McDonalds and Western Union).  I was at first seriously paralyzed when I got finally out of that station and saw signs for the Gare du Nord and then I had no idea where to go when I got out onto the street.  In retrospect, since the one way was sort of dead end there was only one correct way to go.  But my mind was frozen.  I had to find my way through part of Paris- holy crap ---why didn't I just fly?????  So. Paula in my mind, and the fact she researched the name of the main street- Magenta I think- and I had her directions about where to look and things to notice, I trudged off.  When I got to an angle in the road after a few blocks, and I had no idea where to go next as the signs disappeared, I piteously asked a stranger in the street, with my best French (of which I know close to nil)- Gare du Nord??  And there, with a point, I was kindly directed to see it at the end of the angled road. WHEW!!!  I imagined I had plenty of time, close to an hour.

My lunch on the train- I didn't eat the mystery meat, of course. Really- I had a little quinoa, a roll and dessert- and wine.  :D
Well except I was not expecting a seriously lengthy line in PASSPORT CONTROL.  Turns out London is a little edgy about terrorism, and so you have to go through some security to get there.  And the train station there in Paris seemed more than slightly understaffed.  FFS people, that was ridiculous.  So I drag all that crap up those stairs to be directed toward the end of line that was unseeable.  But first I had to stop and get a landing card- a card identifying where I was staying in England that I had to hand in.  And since I needed a pen and (as my sister Rose has mentioned) I will actually talk to anyone, I struck up a conversation with some fellow English speaking travelers and borrowed a pen.  And long story short, a very kind man let us in front of him instead of us having to go all the way to the end of the line.  It took FOREVER as it was. And I was panicked at the thought of missing this train.  Fortunately, I was waved through because I was smart enough to book first class tickets (I had to, I deserved it.  lol) and I managed to get on the train with some really really fast walk/run action.  I aboarded within 5/10 minutes of it leaving.  Of course it turned out that I went the wrong way on the outside of that train and got on 5 cars away from the one I needed to be on, but I had Anne's voice in my head telling me to just get on and figure it out from there.  (Believe it or not, this long incident has been shortened for your reading comfort)

So I went through that train- bam (bam means I hit my luggage into someone to some degree)...... sorry........bam- oh i'm so sorry........... bam sorry!! bam, oh excuse me, I am so sorry.... through Five. Freaking. Cars.  Sigh.  So I offloaded all that stuff on the luggage rack,, except for camera bag and purse and collapsed in my seat- a single, spacious window seat!  :D  A very calm, cool and kind older French lady across the aisle looked at me (who was not calm and or cool at all- definitely a stressful and HOT hour) and said- Travel is so stressful, no?  And she smiled and so did I because that was just what I needed to release my stress.  I am pretty sure I must have looked a bit frazzled. And then she told me I was bleeding and I had to laugh- I got a blood blister from my camera bag on my arm.  So I went to the SUPER NICE AND BIG!!! bathroom (as opposed to an airplane) and cleaned myself up and pulled myself together.  And I think I had a glass of wine with lunch so there was that.  Trains are nice.

This is where we began going down under, but I didn't really even realize that was what was happening at first. And you really never see the water at all ever.

Basically by the time I got to the English Channel, I couldn't have cared less what was going to happen to me.  To surrender like that is freeing. hehehe

I was amazed at the size of these crazy train stations- but I guess it all makes sense when you think about it.

Now this is a train station and some superb weather! London
 At the end of my London stay, I knew that I had an" easy trip on the tube to get to Heathrow". So I wasn't too worried about that and the guys said I would have lots of practice.  Frankly I thought that meant we were taking a little side trip to Heathrow.  Well I was wrong and was told that no- it is an hour to Heathrow, it was too far away.....  what fresh hell is this going to be??  So my sweet Pengie Jonny helped me get my stuff down to that subway- and I was well coached on where to stand so I could slip my bags into this particular corner and how to read the info inside the subway car and other useful things. And it was the end of rush hour, so there was going to be some crowds on the tube for a while.   I began my trip standing in the doorway, holding my bags close (overpacking sucks), then I was able a few stops later, squeeze myself closer to the corner I needed, then eventually stood right by that corner and after about 30 min. was able to sit down right by my stuff. Good times!  Actually it wasn't bad at all- when observed from post-trip.
In the lounge in Heathrow- coffee and biscuits!

So, there is a lady at Heathrow that holds a special place in my heart.  She was so kind and she directed me to expedited check in that apparently I was entitled to in Minneapolis too (ahem) and also directed me to the lounge where I could sit until boarding (ditto Minneapolis) and mentioned that I should watch my time and my gate because there are no announcements in the lounge.... thank you you sweet woman, Icelandair and yes, I will also thank karma.  So I found my way there, parked myself in a nice lounge chair and had again some outstanding espresso and had true quiet and relaxation for over an hour before finding my gate.  It was delightful.

This was so so good.
By the time I made it back to Minneapolis, I was one relaxed girl.  Airports- please.  This is a piece of cake. Iceland airport, pfft. Easy peasy  And terminal 2 at MSP is awesome because it is small and easy to deal with  and at that time, there was NO ONE else arriving from overseas, and when one has SAGA class on Icelandair, you get to get off the plane first and your luggage comes out first...  and so you can get to customs faster.... and call your amazing sister to come and get you quicker...

So so many people told me that I would be fine-you will have such a good time.  You are so brave- you will do great!  So many people told me to relax and enjoy, to ask people to help if I need it,  to trust myself in effect.  That is not easy for me, I have had people second guessing me and question my decisions.  Most of that happened many years ago, and finally I am following my instincts and make those voices go away.  We all have those ghosts from the past that make us doubt. Doubt our worthiness.  Doubt our value. Doubt our ability to do new things or really embrace the unknown and the joys in life. I will find things that might not be right for them, but certainly are for me. This is personally my ultimate of clinging to things in unusual places.  Clinging to my ability to do things in spite of being terrified at times and "just" anxious at others.  And ultimately finding my joy. 

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Travels with Debi: Strasbourg and the last few days in Germany

The beauty of the edge of the Black Forest
This is the last post from Germany, and I really was so sad to leave.  I enjoyed myself so much and the people I met were incredibly kind and wonderful to me.  It makes me tear up a little thinking of it all.

We stayed close to home for various reasons on Monday and Tuesday- I did go out for lunch at an Italian place one day and we had delicious meals at the house as well.  Anne-Sophie's dad had a birthday party Monday and (again with the wine) we had some lovely champagne and cake.  The German cakes you guys- oh yeah.  Lots of kinds of cake...

Part of the Ruines Diersburg 
Wednesday we went into France and visited the town of Straßbourg, which is where I took the train the next day.  It was a short drive really, but we did take a train into the city center which was - as pretty much all the cities I was in- BREATHTAKING.  Feel free to write in appropriate adjectives because I am running out and I haven't come up with new ones.  And I still have London to write about.  Goodness I am a procrastinator- but better late than never.  ;)

You can see just beyond that house the valley that this castle looked over.

View from the Ruins

Part of the footprint of the castle
First off though, during the day when I was left to my own devices on Tuesday, I was encouraged to go to the Ruins that I am still fascinated by.  The Ruins is a centuries old ruins of a castle that belongs  to their family.  It was destroyed at one point in I think the 1400's.  A sort of funny story, though, I had some issues trying to get there. I swear to heaven that I followed the map and the directions.  I, of course, had no idea where I was going.  Because if you know me at all, you understand that I will get myself turned around.  I did know that I should not proceed up over the hills of the Black Forest, so I am not still wandering around there.  Anyway, I walked and walked and looked.  I saw it from afar but I could not find how to get there!   It made me sad.  I did see beautiful country side, though and it was a nice walk.

Now doesn't this look easy??  Nothing apparently is all that easy- especially with ill-marked roads and directionally challenged art teachers.

So before we went to Straßbourg,  we went for a little drive.  It is hard to explain the whole thing, but we drove there, going up the way I came back (of course) and then she parked the car  along the road and said we are here.  WHAT??  WHERE??  Look up!  Oh.  I didn't take a picture of the location because there were just too many trees in the way, and it didn't lend itself.... and also I was busy rolling my eyes at myself.

And so this guy was hanging out across the road when we got to the car

So basically I walked right by the path to the ruins and didn't know it was there, but I forgive myself because how was I to know, right?    TOTALLY worth the wait, such a cool place.  You know me and abandoned stuff....

Cathedral in Straßbourg

Look at all that carving!  And the pink sandstone was just glorious
Just beautiful
So Straßbourg is a gorgeous city, and has some amazing buildings and one gorgeous Gothic church The architecture was fantastic!  I have to reiterate how much I enjoyed the buildings and details of such buildings in Deutschland.  Anyway, we wandered around and enjoyed- ahem- ice cream, I got some post cards and we went to a park where Johann played in the fountain.  What a wonderful day.  I did not take as many photos anywhere as I "should" have, but I sure enjoyed the moments I had.  AND I found another palace!

The entrance to the Palais Rohan
Some fine Baroque architecture here!

A few detail photos that I really enjoyed above!  Blogger is being difficult and not letting me put things where I see fit.  

Let's just go play in a fountain!

I took a quick shot of the inside of the train station that I left from.  Pretty cool

 That evening we had some photos taken of the group of us by the neighbor and we got back to the house so I could gather my things because the train left fairly early.  I'm sorry I made Anne-Sophie stay with my until the Eurostar came, but I was nervous.  Though I had coaching from my dear friend Paula, a truly seasoned traveler  who gave the the confidence and information necessary to get myself through Paris- which will be discussed at length in the next post- I was still a bit terrified- yes I was a mess.   You probably should know the whole event was undoubtedly more dramatic in the mind of Debi than in real life, but eh.  That is part of my charm, no?
This time it was a party of 5
Just a small selection of some gorgeous sweets.  I got something,
but don't remember what. 

Selfie with cathedral

This was such an opulent carousel.

 This was the end of my Germany based travels- on to another transition and travel....  and a new country as well!   It was certainly easy to find my joy here.  Stay tuned for more adventures!

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Travels with Debi: Mannheim, a Palace and the Black Forest

So off to the next part of my trip!

I am beginning to write this totally sleepy from my night of not falling asleep - again**.  This gets real old really fast.  So I am relaxing and trying to start write and I am almost about to fall asleep. So I am pushing on.  If I nap, as many people would suggest, then I would again have a no sleep night and that would be bad new bears.
** I started this this morning and am fortunately much more alert!  :)

The Palace!  Look at those stag statues!

Anyway, part of the weekend I was in Germany I was entertained by Anne-Sophie's awesome sister, Valerie and her boyfriend David and Anne's boyfriend Nico, because she had a work presentation on Saturday afternoon.  When one spends over a week with someone, one has to expect some surprises.  Fortunately, we had a very enjoyable afternoon together. Johann was with us as well, and he was a great little companion!  I miss that little guy!

Party of 6!

It was soccer play-off time in Europe ( here too, but not a lot of folks seem to watch soccer!)  and there was a lot of excitement- we wore interesting things when Germany was playing, there were tons of outdoor viewing locations and soccer mania was rampant. I believe I interpreted correctly that no one in Germany, though they were rooting for them, believed the German team would do well.  Which they kind of didn't.
Germany jersey!
I wish I had a photo of the wig that was making the rounds!

So we did some fun things  such as  go out for ice-cream (this was a frequent occurrence) then had a drink at an outdoor viewing place that had some very good wine.  After which we went and saw an honest-to-god palace!  The grounds and formal gardens connected with the Schwetzingen Palace were spectacular!  And there was even a mosque, which was beautiful as well.  To me, though this was by far the most opulent of the castles of various ones I saw,  and it sort of was the least interesting.  I truly enjoyed the grounds, gardens, and the formality of it all,  but I really like my castles, well...., more castley.  Apparently I have romantic notions about what a castle should look like.  Like old and with dungeons and towers I guess.  There was a lot to look at- but you might be able to tell that I had some fairly harsh lighting conditions here- but that is ok. Wandering around and seeing all the little hidden nooks and fountains and statues was a satisfying experience.   There was some beautiful beautiful sights.

The entrance where we entered the grounds- 

A little Roman temple with pond and statue

Part of the mosque area


Fountain and statue with urns

After finishing up at the Palace we actually went to eat in outdoor seating at an American style sports bar!  It was fairly amusing, really, to go to Germany to eat a (veggie) burger and fries.  We had a grand time all together.

These hedges- or whatever you call them, were just stunning

Part of the palace grounds

The gate out of the property

I have to comment on the language experience during this afternoon!  It was quite amusing to listen to the different selections of languages spoken.  Of course there were the three Germans, 2 of whom spoke impeccable English, one who spoke English a little.  One spoke French and English, I speak English and a bit of German.  There was a lot of mixed languages going on and it was a fascinating thing to behold.  Just one of the things I found so interesting and enjoyable about being in a foreign country.  As I have mentioned previously, the landscape and the buildings in the southwest of Germany was like  a fairytale to me.  I was enthralled with the way it looked- I know I have mentioned how beautiful it was before, I just can't describe how much I loved it.  And those buildings- so charming.  I tell you, America needs to step up its game.  Get out and plant flowers from your windows people- you are missing the boat.

Even their lampposts in some locales have roses growing on them.
Speaking of charm, we went for a drive through a tiny part of the Black Forest on Sunday and landed in a beauty of a village where we stopped for- SURPRISE!!  Ice cream!  In case you are wondering- I did eat more than pretzels and ice cream.  But I could have been fine with those two things as well....  and the wine, but I digress.

So. Damn. Cool.

I loved this painting on the building.  
I found some lovely little shops, even if they were closed for the most part, and a few interesting little spots nestled in here and there.  There was also a stop in a shop connected to a factory that makes the little espresso cups that I drank coffee (really really good coffee) each morning.  I picked up a couple cups there, and they were literally the only souvenir I got for myself the whole time I was there.  These cups are from the Zeller Keramik factory in the town of Zeller am Harmersbach.

Chicken cup with espresso!!  And Johann!

Some of the amazing details- carvings above the windows.  Look at the curves that divide the windows to the left.  Stunning 
A little gate that has if you look closely a bunch of cannons tucked up above

I had to take this photo of a Wrigleys gum sign!

So, funny story on this photo- my son Jon wanted to know if everyone was wearing 
lederhosen- Anne got a laugh out of that.  She says yes, lederhosen und dirndls.  I found 
the right store for it!

Another little cool place that i have no idea why its there.  But it was fun to explore
What a splendid few days we had- and in between I had such wonderful conversation with Anne-Sophie and enjoyed spending a little time with her family and just being in that lovely home I shared for a week.  Next post up is going to be Strasbourg, unfortunately the wrap up for my amazing part one of my trip in June.  Some one asked me what my very favorite part was, and I can honestly say it all was my favorite.  I just can't choose.  

So until next time, be a joy giver.  Put a smile on someones face.  :)