It’s ALIVE!!

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.”

After discovering the art of Guinness brewing. Who knew I loved it so much?

Location of a tradition High Tea we had in Belfast

Edinburgh Castle; pretty major.

Dad, Mom, and I in front of Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh. Dad and I climbed them the next morning.

Sir Walter Scott Monument that Matt, Dad and I climbed up. Over 200 steps if you were wondering.

Dad and I in the largest private collection of Whiskey in the world--over 3,000 bottles.

LAKE NEUCHÂTEL

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.

View of the lake from the front porch

Another view from the front porch

Final Destination of my bike excursion

The kiddos watching a movie in bed. One of the quieter moments.

PORTUGAL

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.

Lisbon crew: Allie, Phil, Adam, and myself, tearing up the streets.

Cool "wall-art" outside our apartment

Beach platz for the afternoon

This is the cliff off of which the dudes jumped. Yikes!

Sunset on the beach

Advertisements

Green Thumb

"I'm so thirsty," it says.

This is the plant that lives in my bathroom. It has lived there since before I arrived. I have never watered this plant. I have been here for five months. I’m not sure how I neglected to water it, other than the fact that it was a piece of the room that I always subconsciously knew was there but to which I didn’t actually give any consideration. Last night as I was brushing my teeth in preparation for slumber I finally saw this plant and realized what a sad piece of nature it was. I stripped off 18 dead leaves–yes, I counted–threw them away and gave it it’s first thirst-quenching, life-giving drink in a long time. As of now it’s a pretty ugly little thing, but I will certainly keep you updated on it’s rebirth.

It’s the same way with the bamboo plant that sits on my desk. It took 7 weeks for me to realize that maybe I should give that sucker some water. Seriously. It was when Mom came to visit and we were sitting at my desk talking to Dad on Skype when I actually noticed it was there. Bamboo plants are frighteningly easy to maintain, so it would be incredibly embarrassing if I killed one. I water it roughly every 3-4 weeks and it has yet to wilt (and I’m 99% sure it isn’t plastic). The interesting bit is that Mom and Dad are both excellent gardeners. Our yard turns into some thing Better Homes & Gardens would be proud to display on their glossy pages. I don’t know what happened to me, but I don’t think I possess the gene for bringing beauty through plants. I remember once helping mom plant Snap Dragons in the backyard and snapping one in half as I was putting it in the ground. Thankfully, Mom wasn’t looking so I just shoved it down in the soil, completely unattached from the root, silently praying it would magically grow. A few weeks later, I’m pretty sure Mom wondered allowed why that flower was dead. “Hmm, yeah, that sure is strange. Best not to pay too much attention to it.” –Sorry, Mom, I don’t think I ever told you that.

Unrelated Nugget of the Day: The Mom and I have been talking recently about what my plans are for when I finish here. She is encouraging me to look for a position as a teacher here as they are always looking for native English speakers and people who actually have a degree in teaching. On Friday she sent me an email with links to all the International Schools in Zurich and the surrounding area. Yesterday morning I sent out about a half dozen emails to the schools inquiring about ways to get involved and/or position openings. I got a call from the primary school in Pfäffikon in the afternoon. Unfortunately the kind lady informed me they have no current openings and that I should check back in March for more information. She also told me that because I have an “L” permit I am unable to even be a substitute teacher, as they would need to supply me with their own work permit. Arg. But, I will not be discouraged! The chances of me staying here are slim, but it doesn’t hurt to look. Plus, after talking to Dad the other day I am reminded of the very real possibility of there not being jobs available in the States anytime soon. That Comedy Troupe with Jill is looking better and better every day…

Back in the Saddle

Today was a sad day as I had to say goodbye to Mom. We journeyed to the airport this morning (with a considerably lighter bag, I might add) with countless other commuters on their way to work. Let me tell you, it’s fun to carry around an enormous suitcase while people push and jostle around you. I’m pretty sure I was everyone’s favorite passenger. Mom moved through the airport check-in easily and we shared a Starbucks breakfast. In order to ween her back into American culture, you see. Afterward, it was time for us to go our separate ways and this time it was me with the teary eyes. It was just hard to say goodbye a second time. When I left in January I knew I had this visit to look forward to, but now I have to wait another 4 months to see my parents (or anyone from home for that matter) again. Mind you, when my dad left in January one might have thought someone died with the production I was putting on. I honestly believe the Parents thought I was disturbed. I did much better this time. I’m terrible at goodbyes. I know this about myself.

On my train home I put on a good playlist and let only a few tears slip. I decided that, unlike when my dad left and I wanted him to put me in his suitcase, I am much more secure in my place here. The truth is, I’m not ready to come home. I briefly allowed myself to imagine what it would be like to be in Kansas City and it didn’t seem right. Don’t get me wrong, it would be great to see family and friends again, but I would rather you all come here. I like being abroad. I like being in another culture and experiencing things I only could if I was in another place. I feel there is already so much I have learned about others and definitely about myself, I am eager to see what else lies ahead. And, let’s get real, I’m not prepared to face the job market. Yikes.

Having said all that, upon returning home I found the Mom and kids taking off for the grocery store. I decided to take a nice long run and clear my mind. After showering and coming down for lunch I was greeted warmly with the Boy wagging his finger in my face, cocking his 4-year-old eyebrow, and scolding me for eating his favorite yogurt. The 6-year-old Girl reminded me that only Mommy can tell her what to do. Only the Baby seemed genuinely happy to see me. And, the Mom of course, as she is now out of town with the Dad for the weekend and I am home alone with the kiddos for the next 24 hours. Is it too late to run back to the airport?

“Go confidently in the direction of your dreams; live the life you have imagined.” -Henry David Thoreau

There’s No Place Like Home

It has been so great having my mom visit me. When we planned her trip back in January, I remember thinking how at this point in my journey I would definitely be ready to see some one from home. I certainly nailed it, because I could not have been more eager for her arrival. After making our way home from the airport Mom proceeded to pull out all my “requests” from her suitcase. I must pause to share that the suitcase weighed 63 pounds. That’s right, Mom had basically been toting around a fourth grader. About half of the contents were goodies, some of which I had asked for, and some were the sweetest surprises. I will share with you:

-9 magazines

-4 books

-2 jars of JIF crunchy peanut butter

-2 bags of pretzel Nibblers

-1 jar of cashews

-clothing I bought online

-3 tubes of Crest toothpaste

-1 batch of her extra-delicious cookies

-And, an extra-special Easter Basket with an outrageous amount of candy

Phew! I never knew how much I would appreciate these little comforts of home. It’s been fun catching up and just spending time with each other over a banana or apple and peanut butter and reading our books and magazines at night. We’ve had fun during the day as well. Yesterday, we explored Zurich by foot. I was able to show her some of my favorite spots and we enjoyed nice at a cute little restaurant. Most importantly, we imbibed in a little retail therapy along the most expensive street in the world. Today was great as well. After working in the morning, we headed to Einsiedeln, the second largest pilgrimage site in Europe. A beautiful monastery is located there, along with the Black Madonna, which is said to have miraculous power. It was a picturesque town and perfect for an afternoon activity. Mom and I still have a lot more to look forward to for the next couple of days. After seven weeks here, it’s so refreshing to have a little taste of home.

Day Tripping

I’m very sleepy as I write this but I would be remiss not to document the events of today. As per mention in a previous post, today was the day trip to Lake Como. There’s something so interesting about waking up and falling asleep in one country, but spending most of your day in another. Four of us traveled together by train, bus, and foot to experience a little of Italy. We took a train all the way to the last city in Switzerland before the Italian border and literally walked across into the city of Como. Never has entering another country been so easy. No one so much as glanced at us as we walked through the scantily guarded “security check.” Upon arriving in the new country we stumbled around a bit until we figured out how to get to city center by bus.

Upon arriving at what we presume to be the center we formulated a plan. A beautiful church lay a stone’s throw from where the bus dropped us. But, alas, the lake was equally as close and there lay a plethora of restaurants beckoning us with the delicious smell of Italian food. We decided to fuel up before taking Como by storm. We located the perfect dining establishment as we were taking some quality photos to document the day. All of us wanted pizza and a little wine to celebrate. Upon looking at the menu the waitress had to pick all our jaws up off the floor, as we couldn’t believe the prices of the food and drink. Zurich is by no means cheap and these prices were deceptively low. Why only get 1/4 litre of wine when for only 1 Euro more you could have 1/2 litre? So that’s what we all got– 1/2 litre of wine. My goodness, what were we thinking!? We sat at our sidewalk table, soaking in the sun, for close to two hours working away at our jumbo-sized pizzas and small barrels of wine. It was blissful. The temperature hovered just over 50 degrees, which is downright hot for us, and the sun shone on our pasty (but now rosy-cheeked) faces.

As we glanced out over the lake we noticed a variety of water crafts cruising the waves. No doubt fueled by the wine, we were struck with the brilliant idea to rent a paddleboat and burn some kcals from lunch. We slowly made our way over the docks to inquire about our master plan. For the outrageously low price of 16 Euros we could propel ourselves around the lake in one of these boats. So we did what any 4 sensible girls would do on their day off– we got a bottle of wine, four to-go cups and jumped in a boat. (At this point we are probably starting to sound like drunks, which we most certainly are not. We know our limits. Trust me.) I personally never powered the boat, but from what the other three said, it was good exercise. And as a passenger it was great fun! Lots of laughs and more pictures were taken out on the lake.

Going into the day I knew I would need to get my hands on some gelato, so that was are next stop. I almost, almost forgot how good gelato is. I haven’t had the good stuff since I studied abroad 2 1/2 years ago, and man was it, and the sugar coma I feel into on the train later, worth it. Just so delicious. We finally ambled our way over to the church we saw upon arriving and took even more pictures. We also found ourselves at an outdoor market around the corner, where I decided I needed to help support the local economy with the purchase of two beautiful pairs of earrings.

It was a great day, surrounded by great people and lots of fun. I loved being back in Italy, if only for a few hours. And the change of scenery was much needed and appreciated. But, the best is yet to come, because… Mom is currently on a plane, on her way here!! WAHOO!!