Tuesday, August 14, 2012

A Long Time Gone

Wow, I have really neglected this poor blog.  I can't believe my last post was written in late January about our time in Nepal.  The rest of our travels flew by as we visited Taiwan, Fiji and New Zealand until early March.  Great times were had as usual!  Since then life has changed a lot because we're are no longer travel nurses, and we have decided to make San Francisco our permanent home for a few years.  Scary, but exciting for sure.  Actually my first day as a staff nurse was just yesterday.  It is so nice to have proper medical coverage after four years of very marginal and expensive insurance.  I might go to a different doctor every day next week just because I can. 

So here is a little of what we have been up to over the past several months...

We purchased some furniture!  Our little motor lodge of an apartment is decorated with the most lovely items from Ikea.  This is not what I had envisioned when looking around for furnishings, but shopping there was just so easy and quick.  Within two hours we found all needed items to properly furnish our tiny apartment.  With a few pictures on the walls and an assortment of worldly gadgets scattered on the shelves, it really has become home! 

Work has been going well.  I actually took a four month travel position on the same unit when we returned from our trip.  It worked our very well, and it was great to catch up with all of my pals.  Aaron has taken a full time per diem position at a different hospital.  He seems quite happy as well.  Some weeks are difficult because of schedule differences, so we just have to make the most of our time off together.  No prob!

Aaron continues to brew large quantities of beer.  Uggggghhhh...just kidding.  At one point we had about 17 gallons sitting in the closet, but fortunately Aaron drank a few beers on a recent camping trip.  Now we are down to 12 gallons.   I have considered hosting Friday night tasting parties in our apartment lobby to help rid of our overflowing amount of beer.  Honestly, I haven't really liked his recent brews.  They're a little too strong for my liking, but I have high hopes for the pumpkin beer that is still settling in our tiny closet. 

I have loved using all of our awesome wedding utensils that we had never opened until recently.  I try to make a few interesting dishes every week.  So far no complaints from Aaron, but he will pretty much eat all foods.  Any excuse to get in the kitchen and use my beautiful KitchenAid mixer!  After traveling with the bare minimum for so long, it is so nice to have an assortment of utensils to choose from and pretty dishes. 

Making friends is a full time job, but I am very determined to have a sense of community here in San Francisco.  Our work friends are fantastic, but it is really nice to meet folks who don't work in healthcare.  I recently started attending a community church that is in our neighborhood.  It has been an awesome experience, and everyone there is so welcoming.  This is just what I needed during this season of my life, especially since we're settled down for a while.  We are also part of a few Meetup groups, so this provides another social outlet.

My parents came for a visit.  We had such a great time showing them the area.  After a few days in Pacifica we drove up north to Bodega Bay to stay for a couple of nights.  From the fabulous California coastline and the Redwoods to the delicious clam chowder, it was really a perfect trip. 

We made a quick road trip up to central Oregon last week.  This was a new state for both of us.  We had contemplated traveling abroad to Scotland or Ireland, but just decided it might be easier and less tiring to stay in the region.  We camped, hiked, fished, drank the local beer, and visited Bend.  Zuri came along as well, so it was really fun to have her with us.  She constantly guarded our campsite while attempting to catch chipmunks.  Poor Zuri, no luck with the chipmunks, but she never gives up. 

So these are just some of the things we have been up to lately.  Next week we fly to South Carolina for a week at the beach with my family.  Pawleys Island is one of the most beautiful and relaxing places on this earth.  We will have good fun!  I am going to try to update the blog more often now that life has slowed down. 


Saturday, January 28, 2012

Trek Guide Extraordinaire

I have fallen in love with Nepal, and it is going to be very hard to leave tomorrow afternoon.  We will be on our way to Taiwan, which I am sure will not disappoint, but Nepal has definitely been a wonderful experience.  I must admit that I was less than thrilled to be badgered by multiple taxi drivers trying to haggle prices on our arrival into Kathmandu two weeks ago.  I actually lost my patience somewhat and began to wonder if I could handle being here for two weeks.  This was worrisome since we hadn't even left the airport parking lot, but fortunately the following day I awoke from proper slumber and felt renewed and prepared to enjoy this fine country.

Aaron has written plenty on his blog, so I will keep this short, but I just wanted to jot down a little bit more about our wonderful trek guide, Manish.  We first met Manish in the trek company office here in Kathmandu the day before departing.  He stands about five feet tall and probably weighs around a hundred pounds when soaking wet.  He also wears a very thin mustache directly above his lip, and he has one single hair in the center of his chin that he doesn't shave.  My first impression was that he was very shy since he hardly spoke above a whisper and didn't make eye contact with us during that initial meeting.  The following day we rode the bus together to Pokhara, and he seemed to be warming up to us slowly.  We exchanged pleasantries discussing the weather and briefly talked about our upcoming six day hike.

Aaron and I were very impressed by his attentiveness from the start of our trek.  His constant concern about our well being and enjoyment were very obvious as he encouraged frequent rests during intense climbs, and he was happy to stop for Aaron to take many many many pictures.  It didn't take him long to learn of my birding tendencies, and he found all kinds of great species for me to gaze at during the week.  He always provided warm cups of tea as we rested along the way, and he helped to cook our meals at the many guesthouses.  He never sat down to eat his Dal Baht until he knew we were completely satisfied with our food.  Before going to bed he always loaded us up with  plenty of heavy blankets to keep us warm during the cold nights.

I really started to notice his personality on the second day when Aaron had a morning of multiple slips and slides on a muddy hill.  His frequent reminders as he took up the rear and watched us struggle down the hill were, "Slowly, please Aaron.  Slowly, please I cannot carry you."  He would laugh, but I think underneath the smile he really was worried about Aaron breaking a bone and having to become a walking ambulance.  Throughout the days there were many random moments of him breaking out into song and impressing us with how well he could carry a tune.  He loves Hindi music.  During the evenings he performed some excellent magic tricks making cards disappear in his sleeve and what not.  We also had several serious conversations about life in Nepal, the poverty here, and the overall culture.  He is from a small village towards the east.  To get home he has to take an eight hour bus ride from Kathmandu and then walk for an entire day.  He eventually told us about his home life and that he has a wife and two children back in Kathmandu.  He doesn't love living in the overcrowded polluted city, but has chosen this as his home so that his children receive a proper education and have the opportunity to learn English.  He is very aware that without English his children will have very limited options in their futures.     

As our trek came to an end we were very sad to have to tell Manish goodbye.  We so enjoyed his company, and he was one of our favorite things about the trek.  I was becoming tearful and ready to give him a big hug when he mentioned that we should come to his house for tea when we returned to Kathmandu.  My tears quickly dried while we exchanged contact information and planned to visit with him during the weekend.  Such a  fabulous idea!  So, we called him yesterday after our long and bumpy eight hour bus trip and planned on meeting early this morning at our hotel.  I think Aaron has written a detailed account of our day with him.  It really was a wonderful experience to be invited into his home and meet his family.  His wife really can prepare wonderful Dal Baht, and his two children are absolutely darling.

Yesterday on our return to Kathmandu we met several other backpackers who are getting ready to trek the hillsides.  We talked about their various plans and none of them will be hiring a guide.  We all agreed that this would most certainly save them lots of money.  I am so glad we chose to spend a little extra and hire a guide because we would have missed out on lots if we hadn't met Manish.  He has contributed so much to our time here in Nepal.  You meet lots of people in life, but really only a handful of them stand out.  Manish is truly an awesome person, and we are very hopeful to return to Nepal in the future and trek the Annapurna Circuit with him.  And yes, tears flowed today as I had to tell him goodbye.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

When in Rome...

Currently we are in route to Kathmandu.  We started out from Rome last night around 10:30 and had a tiring four hour layover in Qatar this morning.  Now we are on the final stretch and should be landing in Nepal in an hour or two.  We were both very sad to say farewell to Italy last evening as it has provided us with amazing travel experiences and memories to last for years to come.

We arrived into Rome Wednesday afternoon and made our way from the train station to our hostel.  The train station is the largest one that I have ever seen as we had to walk at least a mile from the train to the actual station entrance.  There were plenty of shady looking characters along our walk, but as we neared the hostel the area appeared a bit more bright and welcoming.  It turned out to be a fine location in a quiet Italian neighborhood away from the crowded touristy sites.  We quickly got settled into our basic four bed dorm and briefly took a rest on the roof top terrace before hitting the city streets.

My first impression of Rome was not great.  After coming from a slower pace in small town Italy, the city completely overwhelmed me with its many crowds and insane traffic.  Frequently there is no rhyme or reason to the pattern of traffic with motorbikes, cars and buses weaving through the congested streets, ignoring all rules and always competing to be first.  There is one monstrous roundabout in particular that we had to walk through at least twice daily during our visit.  There are four one way lanes with faintly painted crosswalks and not a stop sign in sight.  We usually managed to cross with a group of people to feel more protected.  The hostel receptionist told me that if I was hit while using the cross walk, we would be rewarded 8,000 Euros.  He made this sound like a pretty great way to earn a little extra spending money.  No thank you, but after a day or so I had adjusted pretty well and walked out into all sorts of oncoming traffic without gripping at Aaron's coat sleeve in desperate fear. 

That first afternoon we got plenty of walking in, but didn't actually visit any of the tourist attractions.  We enjoyed eating gelato (coconut and pistachio) as we past the Colosseum and the Forum along our way.  The evening was spent strolling alongside the Tiber River and visiting the quaint neighborhood of Travestere.  Travestere lies just across the Tiber and is a lovely old fashioned neighborhood full of piazzas, narrow cobblestone streets, small gelaterias, pubs, and plenty of older Italians.  We entered a small local hardware store looking for a corkscrew.  The ninety year old man working there was very suspicious of us, and came hobbling from behind the counter with a stick in hand ready to defend himself from the haggard long haired man standing before him.  Once he realized that Aaron was harmless and actually willing to pay for the corkscrew he became pleasant, speaking jovially in Italian with plenty of hand gestures.  He even threw in a free bar of soap and thanked us profusely on our way out the door.  We weren't sure if he was trying to apologize or if he thought that we smelled.  From there we visited the ornate Basilica di Santa Maria, which according to our guide is the oldest church dedicated to the Virgin Mary in Rome, established in the third century.  We were in awe of high ceilings supported by twenty one ancient Roman columns, the colorful marble walls and floors, and the many paintings of Mary and Jesus.  Very Catholic and very impressive.  The long walk back to the hostel just about did us in for the night.  After a quick stop at the grocery store we made dinner of pesto and pasta, and we called it a night. 

We had every intention of being out of bed by 8:30 the following morning, but we didn't actually make it out until a little after 10:00.  Our first stop was the Colosseum.  Because we are traveling in the off season the lines were very short, so we only had to wait for about five minutes to purchase our ticket and enter.  Also, before coming to Rome we downloaded Rick Steves' audio guide, which provided us with lots of interesting information about the main tourist attractions here.  Our tour of the Colosseum was amazing.  The weather was cooperative with moderate temperatures, and the cloudless sunny sky provided perfect views of the ancient stadium.  The enormity of this building is breathtaking in itself, and to think it was inaugurated in AD 80 is absolutely mind boggling.  The arched walls stand so high above, and back in the day they were adorned with various statues and ornate decorations.  On the ground level lies an intricate maze of small rooms and hallways that was considered the 'backstage' area, below what was once the actual staging floor.  For all the wonder and the amazing architecture of this structure, it was also astounding to learn about what occurred here.  The theme of the Colosseum was death.  Spectators in the stands drank wine and cheered as they watched their fellow man kill one another all day.  Prisoners were frequently dressed as various characters and brought on stage.  Here they were humiliated and made to act out the parts of past battles or fallen enemies, dying in the same fashion as the character they played.  Gladiators fought to the death.  Midway through a day of 'games,' the rotten stench of blood and death became so overpowering, they sprayed perfume all throughout in attempt to mask the horrid smells.  So, the Colosseum was most certainly an interesting place to visit, but we were both clearly reminded of the cruelty of humankind.

Our next stop was to The Forum, the city center of ancient Rome.  From afar, this area looks like a pile of rocks, but the combination of getting up close, learning from the audio guide, and using a bit of imagination allowed us visualize what it must have looked like back in the second or third centuries. It was interesting to imagine the main road leading through the heart of the city lined with various shops. The guide walked us through all of the significant routes, like Julius Caesar's place of death and tomb. The Palatine Hills above the Forum were where the upper class of ancient Rome resided. Even after all of the many centuries gone by and all that remains are shells of buildings, it is still obvious that this area was for the upper crust.

Our last tourist visit for the evening was to the Jewish Ghetto. Thanks to Rick Steves for providing a guide to this area because it turned out to be an interesting part of the city that we would have missed out on otherwise. The tour started on the Tiber River at Rome's largest synagogue. Sadly, this small neighborhood was frequently flooded by the river many years ago, which is why the Romans chose this place as the Jewish neighborhood. In the ancient times, the Jews were forced to walk through the Forum where they were laughed at and spit upon. We visited a square where several thousand Jews were selected to go to the concentration camps during World War 2; many didn't return. Today, the neighborhood no longer floods, thanks to renovations, and the locals here appear happy and healthy. There are plenty of kosher restaurants and shops, as well a a Jewish school.

After a very full day of walking and sightseeing, we had pasta at the hostel, and our evening spritz. These days we have felt a little on the older side, coming in early and being in bed by ten (at least me). So, after dinner we were determined to go out to a local pub for a beer. We downed a quick pint each and then made our way back to the hostel for what was still an early night.

Our second full day in Rome was spent at the heart of the Catholic Church, the Vatican. The walk to Vatican City was long and tiring but well worth it because it was a fine day. Our first stop at the Vatican was St. Peter's Basilica. After standing through a security line for about ten minutes, we entered this most impressive structure. After visiting many churches throughout our trip so far, we have seen some large and beautiful ones. This gleaming, massive cathedral beat them all, as even our audio guide described its size in terms of football fields. With its marble floors and columns, its walls and ceilings covered completely with paintings, and icons and statues everywhere, there was nothing dull or drab about this church. My favorite part of this tour was seeing Michelangelo's Pieta, his statue of Jesus and Mary. It was subtle but sublime.

The next big experience was our visit to the Vatican Museum. Their collection of art and various archaeological finds is most impressive, but after three hours of walking through endless hallways of statues leads to intense grumpiness. I really enjoy art museums, but even I was limping, and Aaron was staggering like a zombie by the end. It is almost too much, but fortunately the Sistine Chapel awaits at the end, and it is a spectacular sight. Michelangelo's ceiling of frescoes is considered his masterpiece, and it's easy to see why. The colorful frescoes that he painted while standing on scaffolds and straining his neck take you through God's creation to the story of Jesus. The alter wall is his later work, a depiction of Judgement Day, which is huge and scary. It was amazing how our backs stopped hurting after entering the Sistine Chapel. Aaron actually looked human again.

Following the Vatican, we found some much needed gelato around the corner. My pistachio, ricotta, and dark chocolate ice cream cone was perfect after a morning of museums. We continued on our walk, and wandered towards the Pantheon, and even found the Spanish Stairs. I had never even heard of the movie The Roman Holiday, so Aaron had to educate me on this apparent classic that takes place on the stairs. From there, we made it to the Pantheon, which is an amazing dome shaped, Roman era building. We also had an audio guide for this, which made it an interesting experience; it was especially interesting to see the painter Raphael's tomb after seeing his work throughout the city. Before heading to dinner, we sat in the piazza of the Pantheon and took in the crisp evening air. Throngs of people out and about, enjoying the final few minutes of daylight while musicians played various instruments and artists painted the scene in front of us. We were just trying to take it all in before leaving.

Our final day in Italy involved wrapping things up, doing a few business chores, and eating one more slice of pizza before making our way to the airport. About an hour before we left for the train station, I just happened to look up and see a tour bus full of nuns in their traditional garb, snapping pictures and taking in the sights. It was a classic moment. We have loved Italy and all that it has had to offer us. From the quiet canals of Venice to the beautiful artwork in Florence, from the rugged cliff sides of Cinque Terre to the busy excitement of Rome, we have enjoyed every moment. We have also eaten our way through the country and will refuse to eat pizza anywhere else on this trip. It has spoiled us rotten, and it will make our entry into Nepal that much more different.

Nepal, here we come!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012


The past several days in Florence were really nice.  We arrived by train from Venice Thursday afternoon, and thanks to google maps we made it to our hostel without getting terribly lost.  The hostel was really basic with only one shower and a closet sized kitchen, but the beds were clean and our fellow bunk mates were quiet.  After coming from very decent hotels in Germany and Venice, our six bed dorm room was a startling change.  Anyways, we got aquainted with our small living space, found ourselves a map, and walked around for a while.  My first impression of Florence was that it was overrun with massive amounts of tourists everywhere, and I really missed our quiet visit to Venice.  Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all the people we kept our walk short that evening and went out to find dinner.  The receptionist at the hostel sent us to a very touristy restaurant packed with Americans, so that was kind of a let down.  He made it sound like an authentic dining experience... Oh well.  It turned out that the food and wine were really quite good, so we left in better spirits.  Following dinner we made it back to the hostel for a quiet night.

Friday we were up and out early for a action packed walking tour of the city. Breakfast was at a small cafe we had passed the night before.  The beautiful almond glazed scones sitting in the window display had caught our attention, and we just had to give them a try.  The scones, along with piping hot Italian coffee were the perfect combination to get our epic day of walking into full swing. 

We started our stroll around the more touristy area near the center of town and made our way to the Piazza della Signoria.  This medieval styled plaza was a great place to stop for a while.  The small street cafes were full of mid-morning coffee drinkers.  The buildings are all so ancient and grandiose.  The Uffizi and Palazzo Vecchio surround the plaza and house many important pieces of art.  Everywhere you look there are large columns, watch towers, huge buildings and impressive sculptures.  From here we went towards the Arno River and the famous 16th century Ponte Vecchio Bridge. The bridge is always crowded due to the nice views of the river and the many jewelry stores that line its length on both sides. Aaron took a few pictures and we continued on.

We crossed the river and continued our walk beyond the Palazzo Pitti.  After several stops into beautiful old cathedrals, we found ourselves in a non touristy area of Florence.  The south side of the bridge offers a very different experience for tourists. This might have been our favorite part of the day. The quiet narrow streets wound up the hillsides taking us to a beautiful residential area.   The old villas came in a variety of colors, pink, bright orange, and canary yellow.  The well groomed yards housed a mixture of interesting plant species and plenty of olive trees.  Many residences were gated, but we peeked through cracks in the walls to catch sights of the bustling city below and distant mountains.   Tucked among the homes we found a convent and a very small church that was built in the 13th century.   It felt like going back in time as we quietly strolled along this amazing and quaint italian neighborhood.

On our way down we found a cafe to stop and eat lunch.  We sat beside a fireplace and enjoyed a lovely meal.  I had fried polenta topped with fontina cheese and proscuitto, and Aaron had penne pasta with salmon.  Thankfully wine is cheaper than water here in Italy, so we split a half liter of the house red. After a quick Americano to complete our fine dining experience, we were back outside continuing our long walk.  

Before crossing the river back towards our neighborhood, we climbed lots of stairs that led us to the Piazzale Michelangelo.  The plaza is littered with tacky souvenir shops and yet another fake David.  Poor Michelangelo.  Anyways, the panoramic view of the city from this plaza was well worth our time.  The clouds dispersed, the sun made an appearance, and Aaron got some great shots.  

We started the long walk back to the hostel to take a short break and give our feet a needed rest.  Our return trip took us along the Arno River and back into the busier parts of Florence.  Of course we stumbled upon a market, so we had to stop and check out the many interesting foods for sale.  We are both market junkies.  It doesn't matter what is being sold, from trinkets to foul smelling fish, we can be found.  As Aaron says, the more disturbing the better.  Not to get off track, the meats, cheeses and breads had us constantly oohing and aahing, and the fresh produce didn't look so bad either.  We decided to buy a few dinner items here, and so we excitedly left with fresh gnocchi, pesto and some veggies.  

Finally back at the hostel we took a brief hiatus and put our feet up until late afternoon when we went back out.  Earlier in the day we saw fliers at one of the cathedrals about a concert featuring pieces by Handel.  We crossed the river once again and found the church hosting the concert.   Mass was just finishing so we snuck in the back and waited for it to end.  The concert was very small and informal with a soprano and two organists, and there were only a handful of people in attendance.  Really there was only a nun, a few older folks, and us.  The cathedral was dark and gothic style adorned with large columns and frescos throughout.    Heat was lacking, so we stay bundled in our warmest winter wear.  The musicians performed above from the balcony, and the music was absolutely beautiful.  Handel's 'Rejoice' was amazing as the soprano sang impeccably and with appropriate emotion.  This was a perfect end to a perfect day.

Back at the hostel we prepared dinner and just had a quiet night.  The pesto gnocchi was excellent.  I believe we put in about 13 miles throughout the day per our pedometer.  Not too bad...

I won't go into as much detail about the next two days as they were a bit lower key.  Saturday morning we toured The Uffuzi and saw impressive Renaissance art.  Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael...  Standing in front of The Birth of Venice was extremely surreal. We also had gelato several more times.  The pistachio is my absolute favorite so far.  

New Year's Eve was especially nice. I managed to stay out way past my bedtime.  We rang in 2012 in one of the central plazas listening to the Florence philharmonic symphony, watching fireworks, and sipping cheap champagne.  There was a competition going on between the music and pranksters shooting fireworks.  The conductor got very flustered as the surrounding booms drowned out the music.  It was pretty fun to watch him get so angry.  He most certainly could have used some of our cheap bubbles to calm down.

We slept in on New Year's Day, and in the afternoon we made a short hour trip to visit The Leaning Tower of Pisa.  Pisa is a nice quiet town that is easy to navigate.  After walking a short distance from the train station the tower came into view, and sure enough it was leaning at a pretty decent angle.    After Aaron took about 300 pictures we found a pizza place for lunch.   Once again we enjoyed an excellent meal.  In the early evening we caught the train back to Florence and just relaxed and played cards in the hostel.  

Yesterday we packed our bags and made our way to Lucca, which is where we are currently.  Florence was a place that we have always wanted to visit, and it certainly met our expectations! Let the good times continue throughout Italy!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Finally a Few Pictures

We have been slow to get pictures up so far.  Here are a few from my camera.  Will have to wait to get some up from Aaron's collection due to difficulties downloading.  We just got back in from walking around Florence all day.  We're getting ready to go out for gelato and a concert featuring music by Handel. 

Aaron Lets No Time Go to Waste

Aaron's Dinner 

Post-Meal Blues 

Christmas Market in Munich 

Evening in Venice 

View from our Vaporetto in Venice 

Roadside Cat in Florence 

View from Michelangelo Plazza in Florence

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Christmas in Germany

So far our trip has been absolutely great.   We just arrived into Florence after spending a couple of nights in Venice.  It is hard to believe that we have been on the road for over a week already.

Aaron and I had a really wonderful Christmas weekend with our friend Verena and her family.  Aaron met Verena years ago when he studied abroad in Finland, and they have managed to keep in contact since then.  We recently visited her in Chicago and she extended an invitation to spend the holiday with her family in Rosenheim, which is about a thirty minute train ride from Munich.  We met Verena at the central train station mid-morning on Christmas Eve.  The ride to Rosenheim took us through quaint Bavarian towns, and we could see glimpses of the snow covered Alps through the clouds.  After dropping off our luggage at the hotel, we went to meet her parents at their apartment.  Gisela and Jurgen gave us a warm welcome as we gathered for coffee and biscuits before going back out for the afternoon.

Our first stop was to a local restaurant in Rosenheim to eat the traditional late morning meal of white sausages and hefeweizen.  This is a very common meal in Bavaria.  According to Verena, these sausages are made out of the 'extra parts' of the pig, and they are supposed to be eaten before the noon bells ring so not to spoil.  They are served in a large pot of hot water, and you eat one at a time so that they stay warm. 
Eating instructions per Verena:
Remove one sausage from pot
Cut lengthwise but not all the way through the meat
Peel the skin without being too messy (we were horribly unsuccessful at this and used our hands)
Slice and dip in sweet mustard sauce
Wash down with Hefeweizen

This fine dining experience left us full and content as we boarded the train for Salzburg to enjoy some more holiday festivities.  During the ride Verena and I took turns jotting down Christmas songs to be sung later in the evening around the tree.  Of course we practiced our singing as we rode along, which was really nice.  Aaron finally got a little embarressed during 'O Holy Night,' so he pretended not to know us for the remainder of the trip.  We arrived to Salzburg around three or so and caught a bus that took us to the center of town.  There were plenty of people out wandering, and a few frantic shoppers taking advantage of the final hours of the Christmas markets.  The city was lit with beautiful white lights along the narrow cobblestone streets.  After strolling through the main plaza we made our way up a steep hill to a quiet overlook of the city.  There were no other people, just the three of us and the view below.  Verena and I sang Christmas carols while we took in the lovely sight.  The best part of being in this location was hearing the many church bells throughout Salzburg chime simultaneously at five thirty. 

From the hilltop we quickly made our way back towards the center to an old graveyard.  This is where the locals gather on Christmas Eve every year to listen to a brass band play carols on the rising hill.  While the music sounds above, families place small Christmas trees and light candles on the graves of loved ones.  All day had been very overcast, but while the music played the clouds parted, and we got a peak of the clear winter sky.  It was a beautiful and peaceful experience, and I especially loved hearing Silent Night and humming along with the instruments and the crowd.  Salzburg on Christmas Eve was a very surreal night for us, and we were so thankful that Verena shared it with us. 

Following the music it started to rain heavily, so we caught a taxi to the train station and made our way back to Rosenheim.  Gisela and Jurgen had prepared a lovely meal, so after singing a few more carols around the tree we sat down to a traditional dinner of homeade sausages and potato salad.  The food was amazing and the conversation was lively.  Aaron and I both felt right at home with Verena and her parents.  Gisela and Jurgen are both passionate and intelligent people, so we covered a variety of topics well into the night while drinking fine local beer.

Christmas day started out with a traditional German breakfast-a variety of meats, cheese, bread, fruit, cereal and lots of strong coffee.  We enjoyed a very low key morning lounging around the house and talking before Jurgen and Verena took us on a tour of the town.  Rosenheim is a small comfortable city that is really quite scenic.  We passed by churches, walked along the Inn River, and looked around the city center where there are old buildings and cobblestone streets.  On our way home we stopped at a local brewery that is one of Jurgen's favorites, and we warmed up while enjoying a pint and liver dumpling soup.  Delicious.  We also made a quick visit to a chapel originally built in the 1400s.  It was very small and dark except for the outside lights shining into the windows and a few lit candles.  Once again we broke out the Christmas carols and sang into the still quietness of the church.  It was beautiful.

Back at home Gisela had outdone herself once again with an amazing dinner of roasted duck, potatoes, brussel sprouts, chestnuts and beets.  We had no difficulty clearing our plates.  For dessert we enjoyed a delicious vanilla mousse with strawberry preserves.  The remainder of the evening was spent lounging, looking at old photos from Verena's younger years, and talking.  We made it back to our hotel around one or so, and slept for a few hours before getting up, enjoying a quick breakfast with the family, and making our way back to the train station for one final night in Munich.  We couldn't have asked for a better Christmas.  Verena and her parents really made us feel like part of the family.  Wonderful memories to last for many years to come...        

Monday, December 19, 2011

A Happy Holiday!!

The holiday season has been very good thus far.  After wrapping up our travel assignments in late November we managed to quickly pack up our apartment and make it safely to Colorado.  We spent a fun week visiting Aaron's family and reconnecting with a couple of friends.  Longmont was very cold, so we spent most of our time indoors trying to stay warm.  We had a fine getaway up to Estes Park and got to spend time with Aaron's sister and our sweet nieces.  Throughout the week I especially loved sleeping on the leather sofa in front of the fire while Aaron and his folks watched the entire Lord of the Rings Trilogy (twelve hour extended version).  Perfect slumber...

This past week we have enjoyed catching up with my folks in South Carolina.  The temperature has been very mild so Aaron and Dad have gotten in some fishing time.  We all piled in the car and had a great day trip up to Asheville for a tour of The Biltmore House.  This weekend my brother's family came down for a holiday celebration.  It was lovely to spend quality time together and give my nephew lots of love.  We also managed to clear out the attic of our many belongings from pre-travel nurse days.  After several trips to Goodwill and about twenty boxes shipped, the attic is looking very empty. 

Tomorrow morning we will be leaving for our three month trip.  Our first stop is Germany where we plan to enjoy Munich and the surrounding area.  We're looking very forward to spending Christmas with our friend Verena and her family.  From Germany our travels will take us through Italy for several weeks.  I am very excited about pasta, gelato, wine and art museums!  Then it will be on to Nepal...

So tonight we can relax as we're pretty much ready for our next great adventure.  Aaron has had his bag packed for over a week now.  He is always very methodical in how he prepares for a trip.  Over the past several days he has made multiple lists, and he has tirelessly checked each and every item off.  He has carefully inspected his pack nightly making sure he forgets nothing.  The zippers are zipped, and the locks are locked.  The bag is ready.  I, on the other hand stuffed my pack full of all kinds of necessary items just this afternoon.  I tried to follow the 'two pair of everything rule,' but I decided to live a little and pack a third shirt just for kicks.  So my bag is almost ready, and I will try to do at least one double check tonight.  This is usually how we do things, and it seems to work out okay most of the time! 

Next post will be from Germany!  Good times shall be had!!  Merry Christmas to all!