Thursday, May 29, 2008

Still tired

We're still at Mark's family's house and I'm still pretty tired. I just still feel pretty out of my element. It will be very nice to get home and do all my laundry and be able to cook again and lay around and watch whatever I want on TV and maybe finally get over my jet-lag. I still wake up before 8am every day, which is very unusual for me, but I guess not necessarily a bad thing.

We went up to Milwaukee the other day and ate at King and I. It's Thai food, which is one of my new favorites! I get the Pud See Euw and I really like it. Luckily it's not spicy because I don't really like spicy food, but I do like that. I'd like to learn how to make it on my own... maybe I'll have time when I don't have a job.

Speaking of jobs, I called my old boss yesterday just to touch base, and she said they were very ready for me to come back, which kind of surprised me. I'd heard a few different things from my friends that still work there and it seemed like the big wigs kind of changed their minds daily about wanting me to come back. I kind of gotten used to the fact that I probably wouldn't have a job when I got back, and I was looking forward to just doing my own thing - exercising, working on my crafts, spending time with Mark, cooking more, etc. So I'm really not sure I want to go back to work at all, but the logical part of me is saying that the money would be very nice and help us get ahead even more than we already are and pay off our trip even more quickly (which all in all I think ended up costing us close to $6000, maybe even a little more). We could probably easily live on Mark's salary, but we've gotten used to buying pretty much whatever we want AND putting quite a bit of money into savings and investments. We'll still be able to do the savings and investments if we don't buy whatever we want, but that could prove to be a hard habit to break. So if I worked even part-time, it would give us more cushion for our "learning curve". I might consider going back to work part-time for a while, depending on what they decide to pay me. There's quite a bit of drama at my old workplace though, and I'm not looking forward to that. If it gets too bad again I'm just going to say to hell with it and leave. We'll see what happens. I'm going in Monday to talk with them about it a little more.

Some thought about Europe that I've been meaning to put on here.

~It wasn't at all uncommon to see two dudes riding scooters and motorcycles together (as in on the same bike). Most Americans are way too up-tight to ever do that.
~Guys wore capri's over there... and not just gay guys. It's perfectly normal for guys to wear capris.
~I saw quite a few instances where people - usually women - would be holding infants and toddlers in the front seat of moving vehicles. Apparently that's not against the rules over there or something.
~I had originally thought that Italy would be my first choice for overseas bases, but after having been there and spending more time in Germany, I now think that Spangdalhem, Germany would be my first choice. The Germans are just more like us. They seemed much more laid back - especially compared to the Italians, who in many cases, were just plain rude. And the Germans drive normal. Fast, but normal. They have to pay a bunch of money and take pretty intense classes in order to get their licenses, so I guess that makes sense. Plus, Bavaria was just beautiful.
~They didn't really seem to have many drive thru's over there. I saw maybe 3 McDonald's over there that had drive thru's. Most of them didn't though. And there weren't very many McDonald's near major roads either. They had their own auto-mart type deals that were really expensive, but not really normal fast food. We did see one Burger King in one of the rest area/gas station type things.
~A tank of gas over there for our tiny little Seat costed us about $75USD. So the rising gas prices here seem like nothing still, compared to what we were paying over there.
~I would love to live in a community that made bike transportation more available. Quite a few of the places we visited had bicycle lanes - especially in Austria and Germany - and I LOVED that. You'd see all these people riding around with baskets on the fronts and backs of the bikes and it just seems like such an easy way of life. Even when we were out in the middle of NOWHERE, in the Alps, going up and down mountains, you'd see sport bikers everywhere. How these people biked up 10 mile long, STEEP hills, I have no clue, but more power to them! Oh, and there were LOTS of motorcycles in the Alps too. They were all over the place and usually in large packs. I would love to motorcycle through the Alps. That would be fun.
~The trip made me much more interested in photography. I've always been interested in photography, but I played around with the setting on my camera quite a bit and figured out the manual mode better and it was fun. Some of my pictures are still pretty fuzzy, but I think that's because the camera was zoomed to 12x. None of those pictures turned out clear. One of these days I'd like to get a digital Canon, but I have to save up about $2000 first... =)

Overall, we had a great time in Europe. We learned a lot about different cultures and we had a great time discussing everything and anything. And the whole trip probably made me fall in love with Mark even more... But that doesn't really take much. =)

Monday, May 26, 2008

Fun times with family

We've gotten to see quite a bit of both of our families the past few days, which has been nice. It's hard at times being so far away from both of our families, although at other times I'm sure it's a blessing.

Last night I went to see the new Indiana Jones movie with my family and Mark went with his family an hour later.... It was a decent movie, but the Indiana Jones movies seem a little bit cheesier now that I'm older. I remember thinking they were the coolest when I was younger, and while it was entertaining this time, I wouldn't describe it as cool. But it was decent.

Today we had a picnic at my mom's college roommates house. They've remained close all these years and Avis (my mom's friend) is my godmother. They had a nice get together for all of us at their house. We all played bowling in Wii - even my 94 year old grandma. It was quite entertaining. If I was going to get any game system, it would be a Wii. We took our weina's with us, and they did really well with the kids and all the new people and there were 2 other dogs there also and Ollie freaked out for a little while with them, but then he was fine and our weina and Avis's Bichon Frise, Rosie, (named after my mom) had a great time flying around. Half the time you didn't know who was chasing who, but it was quite entertaining to watch, to say the least.

Now we're back at Mark's parents house. I might be going to bed to read in a little while. I still feel a little out of place here, not because of anything his family does, just because we're not around them enough. That's one of the downfalls of living so far away. Tomorrow is my uncle's memorial service, so that's probably where we'll be most of the day. I'm finally feeling a little less jet-lagged, but I slept like a brick last night. I guess we had pretty bad storms here and neither Mark or I knew that until someone told us this morning. I also went back to bed around 9am and slept for another hour and a half. I was up at 5am again this morning though, but stayed in bed until 8am before getting up. Hopefully we'll fully adjust soon, although Mark is doing much better than I am - although he generally needs less sleep than I do anyway.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Back in the US of A!

This is going to be fairly short since I'm exhausted. It's 4am in Europe, but 10pm here in Baltimore. For some reason I couldn't sleep at all on the 9 hour flight back over here. I finished a book I had just started 2 days ago though, so that was good.

We were apparently the people with the most seniority on the space a list out of Ramstein because they called our names first. I guess having already been on leave for 3+ weeks helps quite a bit. =) There were 69 seats available, but it took them 2 hours and boarding us, unboarding us and and reboarding us before we got off the ground. The flight wasn't too bad. I sat next to a master sergeant in the AF and she was a nurse who'd been deployed for 4 months and in the military for 23 years. It was pretty interesting talking to her and it increased my respect for those who volunteer to serve even more. She described some of the living conditions in the war zone and told me a little about what goes on over there. I couldn't imagine deploying...

We got back to the US and through customs without much problem and tried to get a flight out of Baltimore to Chicago tonight, but there weren't any available. So we booked a flight on Southwest for tomorrow at 10:30am and now we're at a Best Western. It is SOOO good to be able to understand everything everyone is saying around you and being able to watch TV again. I turned my cell phone on for the first time in 3 weeks today. Surprisingly though, I didn't miss it very much while it was off.

My mom is flying in to Chicago tomorrow also, so it'll be nice to see her, although she'll be there because my uncle is dying of cancer. They don't think he'll make it through the week. It'll be nice to see my family again, but it's too bad it's because of these circumstances. I just pray right now that he dies a quick, painless death, since he has cancer pretty much everywhere and is in a lot of pain.

We're VERY excited to see our weina babies tomorrow. When we get home (to Enid) we're going to need a vacation from vacationing. That seems to be the way it usually is. Good thing I don't have a job anymore.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

In Ramstein

Originally there had been a flight departing from Ramstein today, with a roll call (when they tell you if you got on the flight or not) at 14:50 (2:50pm). So we got up early to get to Ramstein in time for that roll call. Our stupid cell phone didn't work at all in the Alps so we had to wait until we were halfway here before we got reception. When we finally did through, we found out there the flight to BWI had been cancelled and was now scheduled for tomorrow. We debated for a while about trying to get on a C-17 flight to McGuire AFB in New Jersey, but it would have been quite a pain trying to rent a car to get to an airport and then getting tickets back to Chicago anyway, so we decided to hold off and just try for the flight tomorrow. The lady at the airport desk said she thought we had pretty good chances... We'll see though.

We checked in to a hotel about 5 mins outside of base and it is surprisingly nice. Our room is probably close to the largest we've had so far, and the bed is probably a king sized bed. The beds over here are weird though. For a king sized bed, they actually have 2 smaller mattresses, instead of one big one, and then each side of it's been gets it's own comforter that's half the size of a normal comforter. They're the nice ones too, the big fluffy down comforters. They don't have sheets, they just have big pillowcase type things they put the mini comforters in. It's kind of neat. And all of the showers here have those shower heads that are on hoses that you can move up and down the little track or take off the holder all together. Public bathrooms over here have a many sink area usually, and then like little rooms for the toilets, not stalls like we have in the states. They're actual rooms with big doors and everything. Kinda interesting. Sometimes the men's and women's is combined too, which is even more weird.

Mark and I really like Ramstein AB (air base for you non-military). It's like a mini-city to itself. They have everything here - even a Chili's on base! I originally was a little worried about living abroad (even though I'd absolutely love to) and then having Mark deploy for 4 months and me be in a country by myself where I didn't know the language. Sounds a little scary, but we're already less homesick just by being on the base here.

We ate a JR Rockers tonight - a burger type joint that's on quite a few bases. Mark and I were talking about our high school reunions, since mine is this year. I asked him if he'd like to go to his and he said something like "yeah, so I can say - look at this" and he held up one hand and pointed to it with the other. I thought he was talking about me for a second, until he continued and said "This is what I fly." I was pretty hurt by that, even though I know that he absolutely meant nothing against me by saying that. He'd never intentionally say anything to hurt my feelings, but that hurt a lot. It seems like I always have to compete with the damn jets, and there's no way I could compete for attention with those, even if I tried. I sat there and cried, despite trying to hold it in really hard because we were in the middle of a restaurant and all. And then he said "People usually go to reunions and brag about their jobs anyway." Oh... I guess if I went to my reunion this year, I would go to brag about my husband and his job, because he's the one with the cool job and I'm the one that just tags along with him going from mediocre job to mediocre job. I completely understand him wanting to tell people about flying the F-16 - I'd want to tell people about that too if I flew that. The whole experience just made me feel very average, or even below average. I know I'm nothing to brag about. I don't have a job period right now, let alone one to brag about. I weigh a hell of a lot more than I did in high school. The only really cool thing I've accomplished is marrying a fighter pilot. There was quite a dip in my self-confidence tonight...

So after that whole episode, we drove around for a while and found this really cool castle way up on hill overlooking the town. It was pretty big and we wandered around it and took pictures and video (surprise, surprise) and then climbed around in the hills around the castle. I guess you can go in it during the day, but we got there around 8:30pm, so the sun was setting, and the bats were coming out. Once they started swooping around my head, I'd had enough and was ready to get back in the car. Ew!

So we're keeping our fingers crossed that we get out tomorrow. We'll know around noon. Otherwise we'll have to go to plan B, and we don't exactly have a plan B yet... We could wait until the next flight to BWI, but that could be a few days. Or we could try to fly on a military cargo plane to someplace on the east coast and then try to figure out how to get to Chicago once we get there. It looks like the cheapest flight we'll get from anywhere on the east coast to Chicago will be at least $200 pp, so we'll see. Doesn't help that this weekend is a holiday weekend. Oh well. It'll just be nice to be home.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Amendment to the plans

We got up around 8am this morning and ate a decent breakfast at the hotel. We wandered around downtown Innsbruck for a while and took pictures and bought a few souvenirs. After about an hour though, we kind of got a pretty good urge to go home. Mark had called the night before so we knew there was a flight out of Ramstein on Thursday to BWI. We had originally figured that we'd just try to get on the next one, but as we were walking Mark asked if I'd like to try to get on that flight and I definitely did. The problem was our hotel rooms. We'd booked both online through and we were supposed to stay at our current hotel in Innsbruck another night and then get to our hotel near Garmisch the following night. It was already past 11am (check out time) but we decided to see what we could do anyway.

We went to our current hotel and asked if we could check out today. She said that check out was already pasted and we kind of nodded, since we figured that's what she'd say anyway, and then she said she'd let us check out, but we'd have to clear it through, otherwise she'd get charged for it. Since Mark's cell phone hasn't gotten any reception at all since we've been in Austria we had to go to a cyber cafe nearby and use Skype. Mark got ahold of customer service at and switched our reservation for tomorrow night to tonight and cancelled our original reservation for tonight, so thankfully everything worked out perfectly. We thought our hotel in Innsbruck would charge us extra for checking out so late, but they only charged us for one night, which we're very thankful for.

Around noon, we headed out towards Fussen to go to Neuschwanstein Castle. It took us about an hour to get there - through the fog and rain, but the area was still beautiful. There were actually 2 castles close together, but Neuschwanstein was by far, the larger one. It sits up on this mini-mountain, with bigger mountains behind it and this big open flat area in front of it. (As in, miles of flat area infront of it.) We paid the 9Euros each for the tour and caught a bus up to the top of the mini-mountain. (Otherwise it's a 45+ minute hike up the mountain... No thanks.)

The castle actually isn't finished, which is interesting. I think only 2 of the floors were finished. King Ludwig had the castle built, but I guess he only reigned for 172 days, before they found him to be mentally unstable and kicked him out of office and shipped him off somewhere. It's very pretty inside. Lots of bright paintings everywhere, with gothic arches everywhere. It had a throne room, with big marble steps and a chandelier that weighed like 2 tons, but there wasn't any throne chair, because it was never made. The kings bedroom was surprisingly small for a castle as big as that one. It was MAYBE 20x30, but that might even be too big of a guestimate. The bed, however, was VERY ornate with dark wood and probably hundred of different sized wooden crosses on top of it. The whole room had very ornate and detailed woodwork, and the guide said the wood carvers worked 4 years straight to finish the room.

After we walked through the castle (which you couldn't take pictures of the inside - only out the castle windows) we decided to walk to Mary's Bridge, which you could see from the castle. I'm not afraid of heights at all, but that thing freaked me out. It's a suspension bridge over a 10-ish story gap with a waterfall directly underneath it. It's beautiful, but while the bridge is made of iron, the floor of the bridge is made of 2x4 boards.... BOUNCY boards that aren't completely up against each other so you can see through them to the waterfall below. So you walk along this bridge and the soaking wet boards (it was misty/raining) bend when you step on them... YIKES!! I got that feeling in the pit of my stomach and tried to keep both my feet on 2 boards at once. But we got some great pictures.

After the scary, packed bus ride down the mountain we headed for our next hotel, which is in Grainau, just outside of Garmisch. Apparently we saved the best for last because we LOVE this hotel. (Gastehaus Buchenhof) It's in a little tiny town, but this place has all the comforts of home and it's beautiful. It reminds me of some of my parents time share places that I've been in. We even have our own mini kitchen and very nice bathroom and a porch out back that overlooks a pretty big backyard. Mark and I would love to come back and spend just a week here sometime. We also ate at a really nice restaurant (probably the best food we've had so far too) right next door to our hotel. I think we'll both sleep well tonight because this place is comfortable and peaceful.

We're going to try to get out tomorrow on a flight to BWI from Ramstein. We're hoping it all works out but we won't know until tomorrow. After we get to BWI we'll have to figure out how to get a flight to Chicago from there, but that's a ways down the road I think.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008


We got up around 9am this morning and packed up our little cabin, ate breakfast and hit the road for our 7 hour drive to Innsbruck, Austria. I actually slept last night because the chatty Cathy’s apparently had checked out yesterday and new (quieter) people were next door to us last night.

It rained pretty much the ENTIRE way to Innsbruck, but it was neat driving through the Alps because most of the tops of the mountains were covered in clouds. The Alps were very high and usually very steep. There are lots of crazy cliffs and you can almost always see church steeples at higher points in the towns that are nestled on and between the mountains. We also saw quite a few waterfalls, which was really neat.

We’ve decided that European drivers are pretty much nuts and we’re both pretty sick of them. Today we were driving on “Bitch Ditch Road” as Mark likes to call it (the long road we saw all the prostitutes along) and we’re going around this long curve and here comes some idiot the opposite way PASSING another car going the opposite way so when we all passed each other we were 3 cars wide across the road. I mean seriously, who does that?? The damn Italians couldn’t care less and don’t have any regard for anyone except themselves, especially when it comes to driving. As has been happening the ENTIRE time we’ve been here, if cars want to pass you, they tailgate you like crazy, swerve back and forth and flash their lights at you until you get over. Really, it’s nuts. I would just love to drive a big Dodge Ram 3500 around here and see how many people mess with you then, since 9/10’s of the car here are about the size of a Geo Metro.

We were also really disappointed with the Italian food. I thought it was going to be really hearty, cheesy food with lots of sauces and meat. Nope… It’s not like that at all. There’s usually slim to no cheese on most pasta dishes and the sauce is usually really watered down and runny. You can seriously get a LOT more for you money at Olive Garden. They also don’t have pepperoni here either, and the sausage is much different from what we call sausage. We had pizza yesterday and they have these big rectangular pizzas and they literally cut (with scissors) off a slice the size you indicate and then they weigh it and charge you by the ounce. I thought that was interesting. Pepsi is pretty much non-existent over here, along with any fountain drink. I miss my fountain Pepsi with lots of ice very much.

We got to Innsbruck around 6:45pm. I thought I would like Italy best of all, but I soon changed my mind. I LOVE Innsbruck. It’s a fairly good sized city at the foot of quite a few mountains. Our hotel is right along the river. It seems to be very peaceful here. The German/Austrian architecture is beautiful. Lots of pretty square, usually brightly colored buildings with the big, dark shutters on either sides of all the windows. This town especially, has a quaint-ness that is different from any other town we’ve been in so far. And I think the Germans/ Austrians are much more like us compared to the French or Italians. Our hotel, oddly enough, is the same exact hotel Mark and Dave stayed in during their travels when they were studying in Germany. How ironic is that? Not the same room, but Mark said it was the same hotel. Our room is nice. Pretty big with a comfortable bed and a little table with 2 chairs and a sink. It doesn’t have an attached bathroom, but the toilets and shower room are right down the hall. We’ll see how that works.

We’re excited to explore Innsbruck more tomorrow and take lots of pictures. (I have about 850 left to take on my last SD card.) Hopefully it won’t be rainy so we can get some decent pictures and video. We’re still trying to figure out when we’ll be able to fly out of Ramstein to the states. We’re going to try to fly to BWI again because then we’ll get to fly on the Patriot Express back to the states too. If we fly anywhere else, we’ll be flying in the back of a cargo plane most likely, which would be interesting, but probably cold and uncomfortable too. I’ve been in touch with my co-workers at Hammer Williams and they’ve been keeping me in the loop of what’s going on there. I’ve pretty much decided that I’m not going to work there when we get back. I might just take a few months off work until we move to Phoenix and work on losing weight and my scrapbooking and learning to sew. We’d also like to take my sisters boys for a week or two if possible. We’ll see what happens though. It’s kind of a relief to know that I don’t have to go back to work there when I get back. I enjoyed working there a lot, but the new boss is not at all anything to brag about and I’m looking forward to not having to deal with him ever again.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Vatican City

Once again I didn't sleep well because of the chatty ladies next to us. They stay up until at least midnight talking and then they get up at 5am and make tons of noise and shake the whole cabin. It's really annoying. Tonight I'm going to pound on the wall if they don't shut up at a decent time.... Grrr..

We got up and out the door by 8am this morning, thinking we could beat the rush to the Vatican. Yeah. Right. We got to the Vatican around 9am and waited in line for almost 2 hours before we got in. Oh well. When we went to buy our tickets the ticket guy asked if either one of us were students. Mark and I both shook our heads no and then he pointed at me and said "Yeah, you look young. You're a student." and gave me the discounted ticket for students! We thought that was kinda funny because I'm older than Mark, but he has a gotee right now so he looks older I guess. Either way, it saved us 6Euros so we were happy.

The Vatican museum kind of reminded me of the Louvre. Room after room after room of artifacts. It was pretty neat. They had really ornate ceilings again and long hallways of paintings. I took lots of pictures. For some reason I was thinking the Sistine Chapel was going to be huge. It was big for a chapel, but not as big as I was picturing. The entire room was painted though. Mark told me some of the history behind it and some of the meanings of the paintings, which was neat. I'm glad we saw it. The room was really crowded and there were a ton of guards around clapping their hands and "shhh-ing" people, which was counter-productive since they were making quite a bit of noise themselves.

After seeing the Sistine Chapel we to St. Peter's Basilica. That was really neat and this time, it was HUGE. There was this huge, probably 2 story tall, alter which St. Peter himself is supposedly buried under. I was surprised that there wasn't more seating though. Most people assume churches to have lots of seating for people, but of the floorspace in the church, probably 1/20th of it had seats. It was impressive though. After that we went to see the tombs of the pope's and there were a bunch of people kneeling around John Paul II's. The whole city was pretty impressive and it was easy to see that the Catholic church has quite a bit of money. We kept thinking the whole time we were there, how cool it would be for Mark's brother, Ryan, to actually be able to study at the Vatican. (He is currently in the seminary, on his way to becoming a priest.) Oh yeah, there were TONS of statues in the museum, but all of their wieners were cut off or had leafs over them. I guess one of the pope's didn't like them so he had them all cut off. It's pretty sad that so many works of art were ruined/ altered like that. The balls were all still there and none of the girls boobs were covered, just the wieners were gone or covered. Weird. And you couldn't get into the Vatican unless you had your shoulders covered (no tank tops allowed).

After that we went to some square that Mark remembered artists being in because we were still on the hunt for our artwork from Rome. We found the square and sure enough, there were lots of people selling art. At first we were really impressed because the "artists" said that they were watercolors that they painted themselves. But after walking by the 5th stand that had watercolors that were suspiciously just like the other 4 we'd seen, we began to wonder. I'd ask them if they painted them and every single one of them said they did. Big bunch of liars pretty much. They'd even signed the paintings, which was even funnier. You could go find the exact same painting at the next stand with someone else's signature on it. Idiots. But we still bought one that we liked, even if it's not original.

Now we're again back at the camp. We're heading out tomorrow morning of Innsbruck, Austria, which is about a 7 hour drive (for Mark/ nap for me). JK. I'll help him drive if he lets me, otherwise I sleep. Maybe I'll be able to catch up on sleep that I've missed from the past 2 nights. We were going to spend the night at Aviano AB, but their lodging was booked so we extended our stay to two nights in Innsbruck. Hopefully it'll be less crowded and more relaxing there than it has been in the big cities. The Europeans are quickly getting on my nerves. You know how when you're on a bus/train/plane/etc and you're going to get off? Typically the people at the front get off first. Not here. Doesn't matter if you're sitting in the front seat, the people from the back will just barge on up and push their way through. They do that everywhere here. We'll be standing somewhere because a guard or someone told us to stop and wait for whatever, and the next thing you know you have 10 people that push their way infront of you, even though we're all stopped. Kind of explains the driving over here though. They're exactly like that when they're not in cars also.

We're hoping to be home around Monday or Tuesday of next week. We're not sure how it'll work with flying space A and then we'll have to get a flight from wherever we land space a back to Chicago, but hopefully it won't take too long. We really miss our pups. They've probably long forgotten about us, but we haven't at all forgotten them.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Colosseum and the ruins

So our plans for the Vatican today were quickly put to a halt when we realized that it was closed on Sundays... Good thing we checked that first! So we slept in... or tried to anyway. Our little cabin thing has 2 cabins in one building separated by a very thin wall. We can hear them talking plain as day. And when they walk around the entire thing shakes. HAHA! Plus yesterday when we hung half our laundry on the lines to dry, we didn't leave it there until it was completely dry because we wanted to catch the bus to the metro. So my pajama pants were slightly damp when I put them on to go to bed, so I didn't sleep the best. Anyway, so we slept in until 10-ish and then got breakfast here at the camp and headed into town.

We walked to Rome's "Tomb of the Unknown Soldier", which is a LOT bigger than the one at Arlington Cemetery as I remember it. It was pretty impressive. The Colosseum is about 1/3 of a mile from the Tomb monument and on either side of the street between the two are these AMAZING ruins. It's interesting because the ruins are a good 20 feet lower than the road (and everything else) is, which makes me wonder why everything is so high now. There are huge parts of pillars all over the place, some are still standing, most are laying on the ground though. There are partial walls and arches all over the place. It was really neat to see.

Next we went to the Colosseum. It's really big also. It just amazes me that they could build things that big 2000 years ago. It's made mostly out of bricks that are close in size to our 'normal' bricks now, except their only about an inch thick. You can still see some of the steps going up and down the different levels. They're really steep, but really short steps. I took lots of pictures and I'll post them on here when we get home. (Lots could be an understatement.... I've taken close to 3000 pictures so far...) I wish they'd have signs all over the place with pictures of what it looked like back in the day from the angle you're looking at it. It's sometimes hard to imagine what it would have been like for the Romans 2 centuries ago.

After the Colosseum we went to Palatino, which is like a huge park that covers a big hill with LOTS of ruins. And it has Augusto's house on it, so we looked in there. It was just 3 rooms (that you could tour anyway). They were pretty small, but had high ceilings and they had ornate paintings all over the walls and ceilings. Some of the paintings had fallen off the walls though so you could see the rocks behind it. It was really cool in the rooms and they smelled like clay. It's hard to believe they're still standing. We walked all over this hill and looked a LOTS of ruins. It was probably bigger than 20 acres - full of foundations and partial walls.

On our way to the metro (there was no way I was going to walk all the way back to our train stop...) we went to check out Circus Maximus, which is where they used to have chariot races back in the day. We were a little disappointed because you can only see a little tiny bit of the ruins on one end that was probably seating and a small tower thing and the rest of it was all covered in grass. It was a long valley though with pretty steep sides and then a median in the middle that was probably 8 feet wide and maybe 5 feet tall. Maybe that separated the lanes, but we really weren't sure. It said that sometime between then and now they had vineyards planted on it, which explains why it's now just a grassy field. I just read on Wikipedia that it could hold up to 12 chariots!

We just got done eating at our campground and I'm ready to go to bed, even though it's only 8:20pm here. We're (again) planning on getting up early to go to the Vatican City and see the Sistine Chapel and the square and museum. It opens at 8:30am so we want to get there early.

We're having a lot of fun on our trip and we're seeing so much and learning a lot, but it gets tiring being out of your own country for this long. A lot of people know bits and pieces of English, but not enough to have a conversation. We've had a few conversations with Americans that we've met mostly waiting in lines for things and our time in Spain with Mercedes and Gonzalo was nice because they both spoke English. But we're ready to go home and see our weinas and eat food that we're familiar with and watch TV in English and be able to understand what they're saying on the radio. I am excited to see Austria though and Bavaria. I've heard that part of Europe is beautiful.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

When in Rome....

We left Florence this morning and headed towards Rome. I'm surprised that this part of Italy is still so mountainous. For some reason I was expecting it to be flat. (If there are a bunch of typos in this blog it's because I'm using a weird European keyboard and the keys are all switched around!)

So we were about 10 miles from our hotel (hostel actually is what we booked online) and we're driving down this country road out in the middle of no where kind. We kept seeing all these random women on the side of the road and I just assumed that they were waiting for a bus. Mark made a joke that no, they weren't waiting for a bus, the were waiting for "tricks" (meaning they were prostitutes). We started looking at them a little closer and sure enough, they were prostitutes. We even saw a few cars pulled over. HAHA!!! They must have been doing it in the bushes or something bc we were really out in the middle of nowhere.

We weren't sure where the hostel was because the exact address didn't pull up on the GPS, so when we thought we were close we decided to pull into this area that said it was a campsite and ask. Turns out, that was Tiber Village "Hostel", which is pretty much a campground. We LOVE it here though. It was $50 per night, which is the cheapest so far, besides Madrid when we stayed with friends. It has the whole campground atmosphere and we really like that. We have a little cabin with private bathroom that's probably 20X10 with no TV or air conditioning or anything like that, but it works for us. We did all of our laundry first thing and sat by the pool while we waited for it. It was very relaxing. They have 6-8 clotheslines by the washers (dryers are very uncommon over here) so we ended up hanging most of our clothes on the lines. I wish I had a clothesline at home. I'd use it all the time.

After we got our clothes put away we took the (free) bus from here to the metro station to go down to Rome. The metro system here seems to be MUCH older than the one in Paris or Madrid, but then again, everything here is much older that both those places. The metro cost 1Euro, so that was nice that it was cheaper than Paris. We got off the metro station and headed first towards the Spanish steps. I'm still not sure what the significance of them are, but they were kinda neat to see. There were TONS of people around there especially, but Rome seems to be much busier than any other place we've been so far in general. There are lots of ritzy stores around like Tiffany & Co, Dolce & Gabbana, Chanel, etc. There are lots of nice cars around too so we have fun looking at them.

After the Spanish steps we made our way over to Trevi Fountain, which was neat. It's a lot like the one in Las Vegas, but much bigger and it's built right onto a building. Again, I don't know the significance of it, but it was neat to see. After the fountain we went to the Pantheon, which was amazing. It's pretty big and it just looks so old. I can't believe its still standing. We went inside and it's pretty ornately decorated. I love the antique or maybe ancient feeling of it. Oh, and right off the metro system was this huge oblique thing that was made for King Ramsey the second, I think, (he's an egyptian king) and it's 3200 years old! CRAZY! We ate in Rome, and while it was good, we decided it was way overpriced. They don't serve normal water here. You have to buy a big bottle of water for the table, which tonight was 4euros. I got a rigatoni, which I think I make a better version of, and Mark got chicken, which was just one small grill chicken breast and nothing else for 9euro. It's pretty expensive and we decided Olive Garden is just as good and much cheaper! Maybe we just haven't gone to the right places yet.

On our way back to the metro we walked by this building and we weren't sure what it was, but a little door was open and people were going in so we decided to check it out. Turns out it was a Catholic church and there was a service going on and there were a bunch of nuns in there attending the service. It was pretty neat to see.

Now we're back at the camp. I'm in the bar typing this. We're going to try to go to bed early (its a little loud so I'm not sure how well we'll sleep) and we want to get up early and go to the Vatican tomorrow. I think it'll be better if we get there early with the amount of people that are here. We both are absolutely loving Rome!

Friday, May 16, 2008

Florence and "David"

Today we went downtown Florence to check out the area. We were going to take the bus so we could leave our car here by the hotel, but we have no clue how to figure out the bus system. They don't really have signs up telling you the bus routes and it's much harder than figuring out a metro system. So we decided to just drive downtown Florence, which was kind of a mistake. We made it to downtown fine, but trying to find a parking garage was a different story. I thought the streets in Paris were narrow, but they are NOTHING compared to the streets in Florence. Some of the back streets here are pretty much a double wide sidewalk, with stone buildings on either side. I'm glad Mark was driving because things were really tight. Plus I'm pretty sure most of the drivers here are blind because there might as well not even be lane lines painted on the road. People just randomly drive down the middle of the road and half the time you can be right next to them and the next thing you know you're both sharing one lane. This happens ALL the time with the stupid mopeds and motorcycles (they're obviously exempt from any driving laws that might exist anyway), but it happens with big huge trucks, buses, other cars, etc, too. It's crazy. Makes me really nervous, so half the time I just close my eyes.

So we finally found a parking garage and marked it on our map and our GPS so we wouldn't forget where we parked... That would have been bad. They have tons of street vendors here in Florence. Everyone and their mother sells Italian leather products - very nice jackets, purses, wallets, belts, you name it - if it's made of leather, they've got it. If the exchange rate wasn't so bad, and I actually had a job, I would be VERY tempted to buy one of the jackets. They really are very nice, but they're also at least 110Euros, which is $170ish. (AKA out of my price range at the moment.) They also sell lots of scarves here, which I love. Every type of scarf you could ever hope to see, they have them all over the place. Again, if I had money, I'd probably buy one of each, but since I don't, I just bought one.

We first went to see Piazza del Duomo, which is a big church with Michelangelo's paintings in it. The line was really long though, and we didn't feel like waiting, so we just took pictures of the outside and moved on. Next we went to Galleria dell Accademia - which is where Michelangelo's "David" sculpture now resides. After waiting in line for an hour and 40 mins and paying 12Euro to get in, we saw "David". The thing is monsterous! One of his legs is probably taller than I am. It was quite amazing to see him up close and personal. There were other sculptures of Michelangelo's in the building also, but they weren't finished because he died before he could finish them. And there were lots of big paintings too, but the Louvre paintings were much more impressive than the ones here.

Next we wandered around for a while and then went to San Lorenzo - another church - but again, we didn't go inside, just took pics outside. After that we went to Ponte Vecchio - which is a bridge that is lined with these rickety looking buildings on both sides. From the back side of the buildings it looks like they're ready to crumble at any moment, but went you walk down the middle of the bridge, you find they're a bunch of ritzy jewelry stores, which is kind of funny. The entire bridge (between a block or two long) is lined with very expensive jewelry stores. Kind of funny.

So then we ate some good italian food and went to Piazza Signoria, which is the original place the "David" was, until they moved it to the other place. There are also a bunch of other sculptures outside this church. It was pretty neat to see. Then we tried to go into yet another church - Santa Croce (where Galileo and Michelangelo are supposedly buried), but it was closed. Oh well.
We (barely) survived the crazy traffic on the way home, but we made it. It's 8pm here and I think we're going to go to bed early tonight so we can get up early in the AM and head to Rome. We have a bunch of laundry to do and there's a lot to see in Rome so we wanted to leave early. We're staying at a hostel in Rome for $150 for 3 nights. Hopefully it's decent. That's really cheap - by far the cheapest lodging we've had here so far.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

I LOVE Italy!!

May 15 blog

We left Nice, France this morning and started our trek towards Pisa and Florence. Mark decided we should drive through Monaco (the country) since we were so close and we’re very glad we did.

I didn’t realize that this part of these countries is so mountainous! There are huge, green mountains right up to the coast of the Mediterranean and I have no clue how they build houses and villages on the cliffs, but they somehow manage. The roads we’ve been driving on often go straight through the mountains and other times we’re going over very high bridges. It’s quite the experience to say the least. You know those video games you can race cars on? The roads are literally just like that! Constantly turning one way or another, up and down hills, through, around and between mountains. It’s amazing. And even more amazing is that these people have somehow managed to plant crops on the sides of these STEEP mountains. Seriously, one wrong step on those things are you’re toast! But they’ve built these terraces – like cut big steps in the side of the mountains and they’ve planted crops on them. There are also thousands of greenhouses spotting the sides of the mountains. Today was kind of a cloudy day so we couldn’t see the very tops of most of the mountains since the clouds were so low. That added to the awesomeness of the whole experience.

So we drove into Monaco, is probably one of the smallest and hilliest countries in the world. It’s where they have to Formula 1 races and where the Monte Carlo Casino is. This city is built completely on the cliffs right next to the sea. We pretty much got lost downtown Monaco right on the bay (where there again, were multi-million dollar yachts docked). We started seeing all these sets of bleachers everywhere and soon realized that we were actually ON the Formula One racetrack. It’s pretty neat. They have all the guardrails up, and little sets of bleachers everywhere and all the signs that go all the way over the roads. Not many people can say they’ve driven on a Formula One racetrack, but Mark did! I have no clue how they go around those SHARP curves as fast as they do. We eventually wound our way around and started the ascent up to get out of Monaco. These roads really are amazing. They’re VERY narrow and usually one side is just a rock wall, and there is absolutely no shoulder. If you cut the turns tight you’re taking off a side mirror for sure. We didn’t ever get out of the car, but it was a pretty neat experience, despite the fact that the boarder control stopped us as we were entering the country.

We made the 3 hr drive to Pisa to check out the cathedral and the leaning tower and to get some lunch. I love Italy. There is a romantic feeling to this country that you feel almost immediately. The houses are more colorful than they were in France and Spain and it seems to be pretty clean here too. I was expecting the tower to be larger than it was, but it was still pretty neat to see. There are all these guys running around trying to sell you fake designer purses, watches and belts. They get kind of annoying, and you try to use the excuse that you don’t speak Italian and they just start speaking English, which is even more annoying. It was funny to watch everyone do the typical pose of trying to hold the leaning tower up.

Now we’re in Florence. Our hotel is about 4 miles outside of Florence in one of the suburbs and it’s on this cute little town square. It was HELL trying to get to this place though. Pretty much it’s surrounded by one way roads going AWAY from the hotel. We were getting pretty frustrated so we eventually just parked the car and walked to the hotel and asked where to park the car. Tomorrow we plan on spending the day in Florence, which I’m pretty excited about.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nice is nice!!

We left Lyon around 10:30am this morning and headed towards Nice. It was about a 4.5 hr drive on the tollway, and it cost us 36Euro in tolls. Ouch. That's one thing we didn't take into consideration for our trip... I had no clue tolls cost so much in Europe.

The Cannes Film Festival started today so Mark was very adement about stopping by there on our way to Nice. (Cannes and Nice are about 25kilometers apart.) Cannes is right on the Mediterranean and it looks kind of like what I'd picture Greece to look like - VERY hilly, with houses and apartments all over the place on the hills. We walked around downtown Cannes and there was a lot of activity since the film festival was starting. It was RIGHT on the water and we walked along this walkway along the water where there were probably 30-40 multi-million dollar yachts docked. I'd imagine that this is where most of the celebrities were staying. There were some really rich looking people sitting on some of the yachts, but mostly lots of "yacht workers" in their crisp khaki or navy shorts and polo shirts with their yacht emblems on them. Quite the site to see. Then we walked around this big building and saw the red carpet of event. One side of the street was closed and there were hundreds of paparazzi already lined up with their camera ready. Half of them had ladders too that they were standing on. We were there around 4pm and Mark wanted to stay to watch all the celebs get out of the cars, but I didn't want to. We wouldn't have had a good spot to see anyone, probably only would have gotten glimpses of them, and I guess I just don't care that much about just seeing famous people. If we had been much closer and could have talked to them or something, then maybe it would have been alright to stand there for hours watching them. But I wanted to get to Nice and eat dinner, so we walked around a little more and then headed towards Nice.

Nice is a lot like Cannes, although not as resort-ish. I think we're kind of to the point where we've had enough of France and we're ready to move on to Italy. Our hotel room here is nice though - probably the biggest one we've had so far, although the bathroom is tiny. It's probably not even 3ft in diameter, but has a sink, toilet and tiny shower in it. Definitely not bad for 50Euros ($77).

We're heading to Pisa tomorrow to see the leaning tower, and then heading to Florence for the night and we're spending 2 nights in Florence. We made reservations tonight for Rome and we'll head there after Florence for 3 nights.

Oh, the french radio stations are kind of funny. They seem to play a LOT of American music. I've heard the song "Low" by Flo Rida at least 10 times since I've been here and it's hilarious to hear the DJ's say the artists names with their french accents. We found a jazz station that played only American music because I guess it's hard to put french words to jazz songs. And all of the TV stations are in French, but they just dub over American shows like CSI and House and others. Just as I typed that Mark flipped the channel and Extreme Home Makeover was on, but they were translating it into French. Pretty funny. Most movies they play here too are American, but with French dubbing. That's getting kind of old. We understand quite a bit of what we're reading, but it's tiring not really being able to communicate well with anyone and not just being able to turn on the TV and watch and UNDERSTAND it. Oh well. We're ready to get to Italy - mainly for the food. And we're both missing our weina dogs a lot. I can't imagine what it'll be like when we have kids, if we miss our weina babies this much. We probably won't be going on month long vacations... that's for sure.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

In Lyon (pronounced Lee-ohn)

We left Madrid EARLY this morning - flew out at 5:45am... Ugh. We got back to Beauvais around 8:40am and got our rental car and headed south towards Paris again. We went to the Palace of Versailles this morning on our way through. The place is absolutely huge, and the gardens (probably hundreds of acres of gardens) are beautiful. There are fountains everywhere (although they weren't on) and small lakes, and beautiful manicured trees and hedges... it's amazing. Looking away from the castle out over the gardens, it looks like a painting really. I'll add the pictures to this blog when we're back in the states. We were going to go into the palace, but it was 20Euro per person, and the lines were REALLY long, so we didn't go in. We'll save that for next time. Marie Antoinette's estate is also around there, but we didn't see that either.

We decided to try to avoid the toll roads on our way to Lyon. It should have taken us about 4 hrs to get from Paris to Lyon, but the GPS took us on the back roads (at our request) so it took around 7 hours. The french countryside is GORGEOUS! Anything I could possibly write about it wouldn't do it justice at all. Huge, green rolling hills, with lots of little towns spotting the countryside. Lots of white cows, and those fields of the yellow crops that we still don't know what exactly it is, but it smells good. All the towns have a church in them and that's usually what stands out. Everything is so detailed here. Every building is in similar styles, but they all seem to have their own unique quaintness.

Lyon is beautiful too. There was a traffic jam on the interstate, so we decided to go through town and I'm so glad we did. There is a HUGE church on top of one of the bigger hills and you can see it from all over the town. There are rivers running through the middle of the downtown area and there are rows and rows of colorful buildings about 6-8 stories high lining the banks. I was expecting Lyon to be flatter, and not as quaint. It kind of feels like Galena a little bit, but the city is larger and so are the buildings. I love it here. I'd definitely like to come back and spend more time here.

Tomorrow we are going to go to Nice (pronounced Niece) in the French Riviera. It's on the Mediterranean coast. The Cannes Film Festival starts tomorrow so Mark is hoping we'll see some stars. We'll see. After Nice, we're heading to Pisa (to see the Leaning Tower) and then we'll spend 2 nights in Florence before heading to Rome.

Monday, May 12, 2008

last day in Madrid

Our time here in Madrid has been quite interesting. The Spaniards are very proud people - very proud of their country. It's entertaining to hear them talk about it because they want to tell you everything and anything about it. They tell about all the different parts of Spain and how the north and south our different and which part of Spain everyone is from, etc. Some of them knew that the bull fight thing really bothered me a lot, and they all said that the bulls the use in the fights are bred to be in the fights - they are very mean. And they're specifically bred to be used for the fights. If they didn't use them in the fights there wouldn't be a need for them anymore and they'd be extinct. I partly understand that, but I still don't get the entertainment value of torturing an animal.

Pretty much EVERYONE here smokes. They even smoke around kids if it is outside or in a bar - and yes, they take kids in bars. We've had pretty much every meal here in a bar, except for two. But they even eat breakfasts in bars sometimes because the bars serve coffee. They are called "tapas (or pinchos) bars", which means appetizers. Eating is a very big part of the culture here, so they're pretty much constantly eating. If you go into a bar for a drink, they serve you tapas at no cost. If I'd had an alcoholic drink at every bar we've been to since we've been here, I would have been drunk the entire time. I've had a few sips of some of the different alcohols, but I pretty much stick with Coke. (They don't really have Pepsi over here... Bummer.) Oh, and in Europe they generally don't put ice in drinks. In France the Coke was pretty much half warm, and served with 3 ice cubes, if you're lucky. So different from the US.

Yesterday we also went to what they call the free market. It's basically just a bunch of tents with cheap stuff for sale. But we bought a few things for cheap so we were excited about that. Then we came home and Mark checked about Gonzalo's home theater... They're very technically sauve. They have every little gadget you could ever hope to have really, but even with all of that, it seems like they have a much simpler way of life here. EVERYONE here lives in apartments or townhomes. I haven't seen one single free standing house since we've been here. We went to Mercedes sisters apartment yesterday in downtown Madrid and her and her husband have a 4yo and a 9mo. old. There entire apartment was probably 1/2 to 2/3's the size of our place in OK, and FOUR people lived there. Mercedes and Gonzalos house is 240sq meters - around 2500 sq ft - but it's spread out on 4 floors, so it doesn't really seem all that big. The rooms are small, but there are many of them. This house would not be conducive to having kids in at all because there are 3 flights of steep stairs.

Today we went shopping in downtown Madrid, but since the exchange rate is so bad, we didn't really buy anything except for a picture. (We're buying artwork every place we go so we can someday have a wall with a bunch of artwork from all over the world.) We went to the grocery store too - El Corte Ingles - kind of like the Spanish Wal-Mart, except it's more like a department store than anything else. Multiple levels, but they sell everything. Clothes, books, food, building supplies, vacations, etc. The grocery part was HUGE. They had a pretty vast seafood department with calamari and octopus and any other fish you could hope to find, and I guess jamon (ham) is very common here. They had TONS of entire pigs legs for sale. (They're aged and I guess the more aged they are the more expensive it is.) We saw one pig's leg was 145Euro per kilogram.... DANG! That part of the store kinda smelled like pigs too... And they had a very big cheese department too - probably 2 typical Wal-Mart aisles just of cheese! And they had jugs of milk sitting on regular shelves... not refridgerated.

We're flying out at 5am tomorrow so I need to start getting all our stuff ready to go. It's been fun here, but tiring. We've had a busy schedule and it's always harder to be on someone else's schedule vs your own. We really got a feel for the Spanish culture though, which was fantastic. I'll add pictures to these blogs when I get home... We've already taken almost 2 gigs worth of pictures and about 15 gigs worth of video. =)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Lots of new foods and la lucha del toro

Spain has been very interesting so far. I've tried more new foods in the past 24 hours than I have in the past 27 years combined.

This morning we got up and had a small breakfast at the house and then they took us on a car tour of Madrid. The weather is cold and rainy, but we still managed to get a few pictures and some video, although we're hoping to get more tomorrow and Monday. It seems to be a lot different than Paris. It doesn't seem to be as big, and the roads seem to be a little wider, and there aren't nearly as many crazy motorcyclists, but that could be because of the crappy weather. I'm surprised at how much we can read and understand here. I know VERY little Spanish, but I'm usually able to pick out a word or two every sentence, so sometimes I know what they're saying, and sometimes I don't. Both Mercedes and Gonzalo speak English very well - thank God.

They had a birthday party for one of their friends, so after our tour we went to a house for the birthday party. There were probably about 40 people there, and almost half of them were under the age of 5. LOTS of kids. They were really cute though. We did the Spanish greeting to everyone (kissing both cheeks) and then just kind of sat there and watched and listened. It seemed as though most people there knew some English, and while they weren't speaking it the whole time, every once in a while they'd talk to us in English. At the party we had charrizo, which is kind of like salami, except stronger and smaller. We also tried what they called a tortilla, but it was kind of like a breakfast pie, made of potatoes, eggs and oil. It was really good. We also had some spanish sausage, which was better than our sausage, and lamb. Lamb seems to be big over here. I'm not 100% sure I like it... It has a weird smell and taste, but it was okay. We also had some lesser quality of jamon again, but I still liked that a lot.

After the party, they dropped us off at the bull fight (la lucha del toro). It was held in this big, open air, very "spanish-looking" stadium. The seats were just very narrow rows of stone, so it was a little crowded, but because of the bad weather, the place wasn't packed. I was nervous about going to this all day, and would have been perfectly fine if it had been cancelled due to weather, but it wasn't. I didn't feel like we could pass up the opportunity to see a bull fight in Madrid though. How much more authentic does it get? Plus Mercedes parents gave us their tickets, so we didn't want to be rude. (They have "season" passes, but the fights are only held there in May.)

They started with this little procession of horses with riders carrying flags, and then a bunch of people in colorful outfits following them that I assumed to be kinda like rodeo clowns, and then a bunch of people in green outfits who I think were safety people of some sort. They have a live band sitting in the bleachers so they were playing music during this part. Then they let the bull out and the "rodeo clowns" all have those cloak things and they get the bull all fired up and chasing the cloaks, but they never went too far away from the wall bc when the bull chased them they'd run behind these walls and the bull would ram it's horns into the wall. Then the matador came out and the rodeo clowns would tease the bull and have it run at them and when it ran by the matador he would stick these things that were probably 2 feet long with a sharp barb or something on the end of it at the base of the bulls neck between it's shoulder blades. He did the thing with the sticks 3 times, and used 2 sticks each time, and if he got them in (which I think he did 4-5 times) they'd stay stuck in the bull. Then he got his cape thing and did his sort of dance with the bull and pretty much just antagonized the poor thing. At this point the bull was bleeding pretty bad from the stick things. It had blood all over it's shoulders and back and you could see it breathing really hard and it's tongue was sticking out too, although I'm not quite sure why. So after about 15 mins of them torturing the animal, the matador finally tried to kill it by sticking a sword, that was probably 3 feet long and maybe and inch or two wide in the same place he was putting the sticks. I guess if he kills it on the first try he gets a good "score" for that and then they give him the bulls tail. However, this particular matador sucked and he try to kill it the first time but only stuck the sword into the bull about 10 inches, so it didn't kill it. So then he pulled it out of the bull and tried a second time about a minute later and that still didn't work so then about 30 seconds later he finally stuck the sword all the way into the bull and it just dropped dead. Then they had 3 mules come running in and they pull the dead bull out of the arena by it's horns. After that they have a butcher shop behind the arena and they pretty much butcher it on the spot and they sell it to eat. (At least that part is good.)

I had such mixed feelings about this whole experience. My initial reaction is it makes me sick to my stomach that they torture these animals for sport. We were in the arena for maybe 25 mins, and I kept it together for the first half of that, and then I just sat there and cried, which was hard bc everyone else around me was cheering (except Mark.) I don't understand the traditions behind this sport at all. It's HARD to watch them kill a big animal like that, especially watching it bleed and then watching them try to make it mad. Bulls really do the whole paw at the ground before the charge. We left after the first one was over because I couldn't take any more of it. They have 3 matadors, who each kill 2 bulls, during the entire show. There's no way I could have watched that all over again... especially not 5 more times. We walked around the outside balcony of the arena though, and that's how we found the butcher place. There was blood all over the ground outside this building and you could even see them butchering it through the windows and doorway. Oddly enough, it made me feel better knowing at least they weren't completely wasting the animal. The whole experience was pretty traumatic, and it is something I will never forget.

After the bull fight we went to meeet Mercedes parents at a small bar and had appetizers again. (I'm beginning to think they don't eat actual meals here, just appetizers, because that's all we've had since we've been here.) Her parents don't speak English at all, so Mercedes and Gonzalo had to translate, but without them translating I could understand maybe 1/3 of what they were trying to say by words I recognized and their hand gestures. For appetizers, we had more charrizo, calamari (which we both thought was onion rings at first...) whole shrimp where you had to pull off the heads out get them out of the "shell", and anchovies. I tried everything, but I can't say I liked it all. And they also gave us an "after dinner" drink, that was a lot like a shot of Bailey's Irish Creme. I liked that.

It's been interesting in Spain so far. The main thing I don't like here is that everyone, and I mean everyone, smokes. I feel like a smoked sausage. I'm pretty sure I'll have black spots on my lungs by the time we leave here because of all the second hand smoke. It gives me a headache, but I don't know how to avoid it without being completely rude. Oh well. If you want to see the bull fight, Mark taped the entire thing...

Our last day in Paris/first night in Spain

This morning we got up around 9:30am and packed up our room and checked out of the hotel. We still wanted to see a few things in Paris so we took the train and metro into the city again and went to see Moulin Rouge and the Montmarte area. Moulin Rouge was pretty neat – it was actually a windmill in the middle of the city. I’m not quite sure of the significance of it, but there are a few other windmills nearby also, but we didn’t see those in person, just on the map.

After we saw Moulin Rouge we walked a few blocks to the Montmarte cemetery. The graves here are all above ground and they have these little hut/ shrine things that they put the bodies in. Some of them are big enough where you could probably fit 4 people inside the front part of them and they have little alter things in them and I assume the bodies are behind the back walls, but I’m not really sure. There are probably hundreds of them and the cemetery was very maze-like with a bunch of stone streets and stairs and there was even a road/bridge built over part of the cemetery with the tombs underneath it. The whole place has an eerie feeling to it because of all the big stone huts and how crowded it is, but it was interesting to see.

Then we walked over to the Montmarte cathedral place. I can’t remember the name of the HUGE church, but it’s the highest point of the city. If my legs (and back and feet and every other part of me) hadn’t still be aching a lot from the hike up the stairs and bike ride yesterday I would have loved to walk/climb to the top of the hill. But there was no way in hell I was going to attempt to climb that many more stairs. It hurts just to stand up, let alone do more stairs.

We decided we’d better get back to the car because we weren’t 100% sure how long it would take us to get to the airport and we had to be there at least 40 mins prior to our flight to Madrid. We got back to our car and luckily the GPS got a signal and gave us an estimated time of arrival of 6:38pm. We thought that was kind of weird, considering we only had like 33 miles to go and it was around 2:30pm then. But we headed out and drove through the crazy streets of northwest Paris. We saw some really neat areas again, but we couldn’t figure out why the GPS wasn’t taking us to a highway since we had switched it from shortest distance mode to fastest time mode. About a half hour into our drive, after we’d gotten out of the city some, I finally realized that I’d put it on bike mode while we were on our bikes… Oops. So when I switched it to auto mode, it bumped our ETA up 2 hrs. Luckily though, we were so far out in the country by that time we still got to take the back roads through the French countryside, which was AMAZING. We drove through 3-4 tiny, little, very old towns where all the buildings were made of stone. It was really neat to see and Mark said that was his favorite part of the trip so far. Eventually it got us on the highway though and we made it up to the Beauvais-Tille airport. After a little bit of rearranging with our luggage (you can only have 15 kilos per bag and you can’t share bags and our bag was 22.5 kilos so we had to switch it to two bags) we were on our way to Madrid.

Our luggage arrived in Madrid, thankfully, and Mercedes (Mark’s family’s exchange student from 20 years ago) and her husband, Othello, met us there and recognized us. We dropped our luggage off at their REALLY nice and practically brand new house, and then went to one of their favorite bars for appetizers and drinks. They had us try jamon, which is a delicacy here, and pan con tomates. Jamon is kind of like proscuitto – except better – very thinly sliced aged ham, and pan co tomates is lightly toasted bread with olive oil and pureed tomatoes on it. Both were excellent. They also serve olives with their alcohol here, but they’re much sweeter than our olives and they still have the pits in them, which I love. They also gave us another type of delicacy ham, but I don’t remember the name of it right now. I found out later though, that the one small plate of the jamon was 23Euros… WOW! It was very good but I wasn’t expecting it to be that expensive. The bartender also gave us shots of this alcohol that tasted like a sweet rum kind of, but it was made out of nuts. It was pretty good, but I gave most of my shot to Mark, even though he’d already had his fair share of drinks. After that bar, we went to another one of their favorite bars and they all had a few more drinks.

Oh yeah, we filled up the car today at it was 52.45Euros for 36.94L. (That’s 1.42Euro/L or about $8.53/gallon.) But we were able to drive from Germany to Paris, all the way THRU the middle of Paris and up to Beauvais on about 10 gallons of gas. Not too bad.

Spain seems interesting so far. We’re staying out in one of the suburbs. Their house is really nice. It’s a 4 story town home with one main staircase and all the rooms are off of the landings. All the rooms, even the kitchen and living room, have doors to them. It seems very modern and is painted in bright colors which I love. Tomorrow we’re being taken on a car tour of Madrid and then going to one of their friend’s birthday parties and then Mercedes parents gave us their tickets to a bull fight. I’m excited to experience that, but also nervous… I’ve heard that it’s sad watching them kill a bull right in front of you – especially when they make it a sport of basically torturing an animal. But it’s part of this culture and we’ll probably never have the chance again, so we’ll take the opportunity we’ve been given. Maybe I’ll just close my eyes for most of it…

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Notre Dame and the Latin Quarter

Today has been quite busy, but we saw a lot and got TONS of exercise. We got up and out the door by 10am, which was a huge feat for us considering neither of us slept well last night. We took the train and metro to the bike place that was recommended in one of our travel books. Turns out the place doesn't exist anymore. Nice. So we stare blankly at each other for a while and then decide to ask if there's a different bike rental place nearby. Paris has these bike kiosk things where you pay this little machine that's connected to a bunch of bikes and they have these kiosks all over the place. So after asking 3 different people were one of these things was, we finally found it... but it was out of bikes. I take that back. There was one bike left and it had 2 flat tires. So we decided to grab some lunch at this AWESOME panini place. They have them all premade on this long bagettes and then they smash it so it's like 3/4 of an inch thick. But they're SOOO good. So then we took the metro up to Notre Dame and decided to forget the bike idea. Notre Dame is beautiful. It's so ornate and it's huge. I wish I knew more of the history of it, but again, most things were in French. We got a lot of decent pictures though. Then I had some sort of brain fart and decided it would be "fun" to go to the top of the towers for the view. Ha! I'm not sure why I ever thought that would be "fun". The view was amazing and again, we got lots of great pictures, so it was 100%... well okay, maybe 90% worth it, but hiking up 400 stairs is NOT my idea of a good time. Plus it's all a narrow spiral staircase, which poses more of a problem going down than up. Going up sucks no matter which direction the steps are going, but I got dizzy going down like 30 flights of stairs that was one big spiral down.

So after we were done touring Notre Dame and after my calves stopped shaking, we wandered around some and noticed other one of those bike kiosks that was full! Except the people infront of us took FOREVER and it wasn't printing receipts so we decided not to rent from that one. Mark, genius that he is, looked on the map and realized they have those little kiosks ALL over the place and that they're on the map. So we walked 2 blocks and rented our bikes and then rode them around the Latin Quarter and up to Luxembourg Gardens and the Pantheon. Riding bikes in Paris is kind of scary. The cars know that bikes have the right of way, but a lot of these streets are really narrow anyway, especially when they have their little cars parked along side the streets. Cars will past you so you have about 6 inches or less from the side mirrors of the parked cars AND the moving cars from your handle bars. There were quite a few times where I just stopped because they were cramping my style. =) But I didn't crash into anything (almost doesn't count), or get hit, so I'd call it a success.

For supper, we at at this little place in the Latin Quarter, which was pretty good. We had (french) onion soup and Mark had lamb and I had beef in a red wine sauce. It was fairly good. We walked back to the metro and came home after we ate. We're both pretty tired and my legs and feet had had enough for today.

I've noticed a few things here. 9/10 of Parisians smoke. That's one not so nice thing about this city. You can almost always smell cigarette smoke. At dinner tonight, the waiter was even smoking... And it seems like most married women here don't wear engagement rings - they usually just have on very plain, thin bands. Seems to be quite the opposite of the States. Life here in general seems to be quite a bit more laid back than in the US, except for when they're driving. =)

So we're both exhausted and heading to bed. Tomorrow we're going to see Montmarte and Moulin Rouge and then drive up to the airport about an hour north of Paris to fly out to Madrid around 7pm (European time). Hopefully my next blog will be from Madrid!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sleeping in is GREAT!.....

We had big plans to get up and ride the train downtown Paris to rent bikes for the day. However, we didn't wake up until 2pm.... Oops. We finally woke up, and I asked Mark what time it was and he said he didn't know because his watch was broken. HAHA! Nope, it actually was 2:15pm... So we got on the rode around 3pm and took the train downtown and went to the Louvre for the first time. It was amazing. I don't really know what I was expecting - I'm not even sure I had any expectations really, but it was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. It's just room after room after room of artifacts and pictures and paintings, etc. It is all in French obviously, so we didn't exactly know what we were looking at, but we had fun either way. We saw Venus de Milo, that headless winged sculpture that I can't remember the name of (The Winged Victory of Samothrace), the Mona Lisa, and many other of Da Vinci's painting, and LOTS of other sculptures. We took quite a few pictures, which was one thing I wasn't expecting us to be able to do. But they didn't have any signs up (that we could read anyway) that said no photos and everyone else was taking them so we did too. I was most impressed by the HUGE paintings. The painting "The wedding feast at Cana" (pictured above) was absolutely HUGE - 22feetx32feet. It took up an entire wall of this huge room in the gallery. We got lost a few times trying to figure out where we were, but we had a really good time wandering through the place. It seemed to be about 4 times the size of the White House, and it just goes on forever. It seemed to be made out of only stone and the ceilings were usually painted and really ornate, with gold on them, and lots of domes and arches. I just wish we could have read about some of the displays because that probably would have made it that much more interesting. It was still fantastic though.

After the Louvre, we took the subway over to the Arc de Triumph. It kind of reminded me of the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, except it was a lot bigger. We got some good pictures and video of the Arc too.

We ate at Quick, a french fast food place, and had burgers. Food is surprisingly expensive over here. It's at least 3Euro ($4.50) for a 50cl coke, which is a little bigger than a can I think. Last night at the Pizzeria, it was like 14Euro for an individual size pizza (around $22.00). The cost of food is kinda kicking our butts right now, but the Quick meal was 11.20Euro so that wasn't too bad and we slept through breakfast and had a pop tart for lunch, so that was good. I'm trying hard not to freak out about money, but it's difficult. It costs us 4.10Euro for the train ride to the metro from our hotel and then 1.50E for a one way metro ticket. So by the end of the day we've usually spent around $22.00, just in train tickets. That's one expense we didn't take into consideration before when we were budgeting, but oh well. We're also taking bets on how much it's going to cost us to fill up the car.... We're guessing it'll be around $75.00. Yikes.

We've taken lots of good pictures and video, but my camera batteries aren't charging correctly because it's different watts over here. I charged both my batteries for my camera and one of them died on our train ride downtown, but thank GOD the other one lasted all day. That was pretty much a gift from God. We're charging them all right now, so hopefully they'll work for tomorrow. And we've been getting some great pictures of us by using the tripod that came with our video camera. Both the digital and video camera fit on it, so we've been setting it up all over the place getting pictures of us with fun things in the background. I love it! Mark's been taking lots of video too.

We're excited about our bike ride tomorrow but I better get to sleep or we'll end up sleeping until 2pm again tomorrow and we have a lot to see tomorrow! I'm most excited about Notre Dome and our bike ride. Mark keeps talking about wanting to see the Latin Quarter. I hope we can find some decent souveniers for people. The few that we have seen are CRAZY expensive! They have magnets for like 7E ($11) and the prices go up from there... I refuse to pay $11 for ONE magnet! That's ridiculous! Hopefully we'll find something decent tomorrow.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

In love in Paris

So it's been quite an interesting few days for us. We got to BWI at 1:15pm on Sunday and had to wait around until 10:40pm to find out if we go on the flight to Ramstein, which we did. We were supposed to board the plane at 1:40am, but the crew wasn't there and they were fixing a valve on the plane.... So.... we FINALLY boarded the plane around 6:30am on Monday morning. We pretty much felt like Tom Hanks in the movie "Terminal" by the end of it. It was very eye-opening because there were probably 200+ people on the flight and at least 90% of them were military members in uniform, who were deploying. It was very hard to not imagine my Mark in one of those uniforms, sleeping on the floor in the terminal, waiting to board the plane to deploy. Experiencing something like that really puts things into perspective. Here we're all excited to get over to Europe for an awesome vacation, and these men and women - many of them our age - were going to a warzone for 4 months.... But the flight was good, except for the damn screaming kids (not crying, SCREAMING) and the 4 yo that sat behind me and kicked my seat when he got bored. Nice. The plane was decent - bigger seats than normal, more leg room and the food was decent. And they handed out hot towels before both of the meals. I felt pretty special.

We arrived in Ramstein, Germany 9:15pm here, which is 2:15pm there. We didn't have any hotel reservations and the car rental place wasn't open until the next day so we spent a good half hour trying to figure where we were going to stay and how we were going to get there. All of the close hotels were booked, but we finally found one about 20 miles away (read $75 taxi ride) from Ramstein AB (air base for you non-military people) at Sembach AB. Sembach was like a little TDY (temporary duty assignment - aka - mini deployment) base that was mainly a bunch of dorms. I'm really not sure what they did there. But the room was decent - 2 single beds with a shared bathroom. Sharing a single bed with Mark brought back memories of when we were in college and he had a single bed. Luckily we were both so tired we passed out quickly and didn't have any problems sharing the little bed. I'm pretty sure it's because we're used to sleeping with our two weina dogs so we only get that much of the bed on a normal basis anyway. =)

We got up at 7:30am on Tuesday not sure how we were going get to the car rental place or where we were going to spend the night in Paris, but we soon found out that Sembach actually had an Avis car rental place, but it was only open from 11am-1pm. So we walked around base, ate breakfast at the bowling alley, picked up some things at the commissary (grocery store) and then got on the internet and booked our hotel for Paris.

At 11am we got our rental car and loaded our junk into it and were on our way. (Note: we bought a Garmin GPS and the European software for it before our trip and that by FAR was probably the best $500 we ever spent, with exception to our weina dog #1.) The GPS worked GREAT, but Mark thought that it would be a good idea to put it on shortest distance mode, instead of fastest time mode, in hopes that that would save us on gas money. Wrong. It took us right through the middle of Paris... Literally took us about 2 hrs to go 20-25 miles. But we actually had a great time weaving in and out of the NARROW streets and CRAZY drivers. The motorcyclists around here are literally nuts. They ride in the middle of the roads on the lines, between cars, cut people off, go through lights, etc. It's insane! We had a good time watching them though. Mark is a genius when it comes to driving in crazy traffic. He did amazingly well in all the roundabouts and cars randomly pulling out and cutting you off. It was crazy.

We got to our hotel around 6:30pm. It's on the northeast side of Paris - away from all the hustle and bustle. It's little, but decent. The bed is really low, and there's not much to the room at all - a bed, 2 nightstands, a tiny desk with a lamp, a 8in TV and a little bathroom, but it was cheap and we're happy with it.

Our next challenge was to figure out how the heck to get back to downtown Paris by train, bc we sure as heck weren't about to drive back down there. The train station is about a 10 min walk from our hotel and then we have to take it to the metro station to get to the center of Paris. After studying the maps we had and a lot of blank stares, we finally figured it out. We made our way downtown and ate at a pizzeria and then went to see the Eiffel Tower at night, which was really neat. It was a lot bigger than I was imagining, and there were a bunch of guys underneath it trying to sell you things. They were annoying because they didn't take no for an answer but we managed to get out of there without buying anything.

We got back to our hotel around 1:15am, and now I'm ready to go to bed. Tomorrow we're going to rent bikes hopefully and see Notre Dame, the Pantheon, the Latin Quarter and possibly the Catacombs. Good times!!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Update from BWI

This morning Dad and Alex took us to Chicago O'Hare for the first leg of our journey to Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Airport. We arrived around 1:20PM and once we retrieved our luggage headed for the Air Mobility Command (AMC) departure desk to check up on the flight to Ramstein AB. While we were waiting for the receptionist, I called the AMC Patriot Express hotline to see if there had been an update to the flight schedule. The Ramstein flight has 32 open seats which is 30 more than this morning, so our chances of getting on this flight tonight have greatly increased. Show time isn't until later this evening so we decided to grab some lunch at a nearby restaurant and then we headed to the USO. So here we are sitting in the USO watching NBA games, reading books and magazines, and hoping we get manifested on this flight. If we don't we'll have to go get a hotel room and try again tomorrow. I feel confident we'll get this flight.

Yesterday, we drove to Dixon, IL to visit Grandma Nix and take her out for lunch. We left the house around 10AM. We took her to a Thai restaurant downtown, which was damn good. We spent the next couple hours visiting with her and it was real nice. She was teaching Monica a few new knitting techniques. We left Grandma Nix around 3PM. Alex was catering a party from 4 - 8PM, so we went over to taste the food and watch him do his thing. He had made a lot of great food. The people he was catering for were really nice and we enjoyed talking to them.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Adventures begun

I've been meaning to start a blog for quite a while now, since all of our friends and families are spread out across the states, and I've finally gotten around to it... after we've been married almost 2 years and have moved three times. Oh well, better late than never.

So we have just begun probably one of the biggest adventures of our marriage - our 3+ week trip to Europe. We were originally going to leave Thursday around 5am but quickly decided that we wouldn't be able to sleep on Wednesday night anyway, so we left Enid around 7:30pm Wednesday night and got in to Chicago around 8:30am on Thursday. Traffic was pretty much non-existent until we got into the Chicagoland area and then it took us about an hour to go less than 30 miles. Can't say I miss traffic too much. Luckily we don't have to worry about that much in Enid. =)

I feel like we're back in civilization again now that we're in Chicago. There are miles and miles of any type of store you could hope to shop in.... Something we're not at all used to anymore. Quite the switch from Enid, and it makes us even more excited to eventually get to Phoenix.

We saw my uncle, Don, who has stage 4 lung cancer yesterday. He was told almost a month ago that he was pretty much on his death bed, but he had one round of chemo at the beginning of April and he just had another one yesterday. I was expecting him to be weak and tired and quiet, but he showed none of those signs. The doctors have pretty high hopes for the longevity of his life. Lung cancer is terminal, but he could live a fulfilling, independent life for many years. His situation is pretty much nothing short of a miracle and it was really nice to see him and my cousin, Allison, yesterday.

I guess the T-38C fleet (what Mark currently flies) has been grounded as of yesterday. They've had 2 fatal crashes in the past 8 days, killing 4 pilots - 2 students and 2 instructors. Hearing these things literally makes me sick to my stomach. There isn't much info out about the crash that took place yesterday, but the one that happened a week ago left the student pilot's wife - who is pregnant with their first child - and the instructor pilots wife, and 2 young kids behind. Not too long ago there was an F-16 crash at Luke (where we're going next) and the pilot died and his wife was also pregnant with their first child. It's so hard to not let that fear just consume you. It's a very good reminder to live in the moment and cherish every second you have with your loved ones. My heart goes out to the families of these fallen pilots.

So I'll try to keep this blog going better than I did the last one. I'll definitely be blogging during our trip so check back for updates!!