Phew! I can’t believe my personal game of Cruising the Continent has finally come to an end. I remember sitting down in May with the Mom and planning the calender through today. As we put our planners away I thought, Self, this summer is going to fly by and all the sudden it will be mid-August. And here we are. I’m not sure where to start as there is simply so much to cover. Chronological order has worked for me in the past so I suppose that is the route I will take. How does one compress the past four weeks? I figure pictures will do the job better than even my master wordsmith-ing could.
IRELAND & SCOTLAND
I anticipated this week for a couple months. I can’t fully explain how excited I was to see my family. It had been six months since I last hugged dad and although I adore our regular Skype sessions, there’s nothing like a big bear hug from him. I last saw mom in March, but again, I just wanted to give her a hug and have her call me her “Angel Bunny.” Of course, I always enjoy hanging out with Matt and Courtney and it was so great seeing them as well. We were long overdue for a dinner triple date. They put together a stellar holiday and it was so nice to just sit back and experience what they had in store. Ireland and Scotland are rife with history and stories. I loved seeing the new countries and, guiltily, hearing my Muttersprache was an excellent change of pace. Overall, it was exactly what I wanted: a chance to put some distance between the host family and I for a bit and, forgive me for the blatant cliché, “recharge my batteries.”
High on a week spent with my family, I boarded a train bound for the western part of Switzerland. The family has a holiday home on the lake that was built by the Dad’s grandfather. In previous discussions, this location, which I never been to prior, was referred to as a châlet. Now, I have never taken French, but if I am to use any deducing skills based on what I saw I would have to presume that this translates roughly as “camp cabin.” The house was hardly larger than my room here at the house. When someone walked in the hallway-width kitchen, I could feel it in my room located on the opposite corner. But it wasn’t the indoors that mattered so much, as the outdoors were simply too good to be true. This is what a lake should be like. Before you go defending the Lake of the Ozarks scroll down a bit and see for yourself as that public toilet bowl has nothing on this lac. The two weeks I spent here were some of the most relaxing I’d had in quite some time. We laid around in lounger chairs, took baths in the lake, lazed about, and life generally felt much slower. It hardly felt like work. I also had a lot of time to go running. I averaged about 3-5 miles a day and loved having some new territory to explore. Each afternoon the parents would ask where I had been running that day and I was lucky enough to tell them a new route almost every time. I was cutting through fields, running along the highway, and jaunting down the marina. In some languages I think this type of running might be called “trespassing” but I prefer to write it off as “exploring.” True to fashion the Dad thought of some ingenuous adventure I could take. One morning he asked if I wanted to take the bike out for a spin. Oh that contraption hanging on the side of the house? Yes, I thought that might be fun to cruise around on. The words were barely out of my mouth before he had it down on the ground, tires pumped up, seat adjusted. No turning back. I wasn’t sure where to take it, but thankfully the Dad had the perfect place. I kid you not, these were the directions he gave me: “When you get to the roundabout by the post office take the road on the right and go uphill. You will go for a while and then take a left. After that you should take a right. Then go some more and at some point take a left and then there will be a right some time after that. Then just keep going and you will be there.” Riiiiight. So I set out with my rudimentary directions and the spirit of adventure. Turns out, it was a great ride. I almost forgot how much I enjoy pedaling around. The bike only had one operable gear so no matter the incline I had to pedal with the same ferocity. This made for some comical huffing and puffing as I made my way up the first, and only, steep hill. When I got to Estavayer I found that I had covered 13 kilometers. Not bad for an amateur. The way home was without incident and it was the perfect day for a ride. All in all, it was a great holiday with the family and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to spend time relaxing such a beautiful location.
After three weeks of holiday one might presume I would be burnt out on travel. But one would be WRONG. I was beyond ready for this trip to Portugal for many reasons, one being that I had not taken a trip with friends since Italy in May and I was ready to macht a holiday with others. Another au pair, Allie, went on Friday and my friends Adam, Phil, and I met her on Saturday in Lisbon. For the next couple of days the four of us cruised the (mostly uphill) streets and took great advantage of the thriving after-hours scene. The lifestyle demands a late dinner, which usually didn’t start until 9:00 or 10:00. We were treated to many a great meal including a memorable steak with peppercorn sauce (Phil’s) and slow-roasted pork cheeks (mine). After a pre-dinner ritual of drinking local wines in our apartment and snacking on cheese picked out by our own cheese monger (Adam) we headed out to take on the night. This usually consisted of us finding a bar (or three), picking up some drinks, and dancing like maniacs. Besides the castle and, oddly enough, the Oceanarium, we didn’t see too many sights, but needless to say we enjoyed the nightlife enough to make up for whatever we passed by during the day. Unfortunately, Allie had to come back to Zürich so Adam, Phil, and I stole a rental car and made a run for the southern coast. OK, so we didn’t steal it, but we definitely headed down the coast and made our way to a little beach town, Porches. We spent the following four days tripping along beaches and soaking up as much vitamin D as possible. At the beach closest to our apartment the guys decided to follow in the footsteps of some local youth and cliff jump. After extensive research and mathematical equations it was determined that their jump was approximately 60 feet. Pretty impressive if I do say so. Their level of manhood jumped about at an equal distance in my eyes as well. The nightlife was considerably more quiet and we contented ourselves to sit in the apartment, drink more local wine and play cards. We ended the week with a bang by venturing to the nearest “big” town and cruised up and down the streets with a couple with befriended that same night at Albufeira’s finest kebab shop. Somehow karaoke got mixed into the night and although I made a tremendous fool of myself, it was still great fun. In the end it was a great holiday, filled with good company, food, drinks, and memories. It was the perfect end to a string of holidays and prepared me to settle back into the routine of work.