Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Thanks and Back Home Business

To all those of you who sent emails and comments, thank you!  Your well-wishes meant a lot as we were on our journey.  I'm certainly working hard to respond to them, so if you haven't heard back yet, you will!

On the first day back, rather than fall asleep, I put things away and cleaned cleaned cleaned!  It felt good to create a "fresh start" immediately.  I was completely exhausted by bedtime, though.

The rest of my days have been filled with a variety of things.  I've been helping Rusty out at his place a bit.  I've picked blueberries, played safety as he re-topped a noble fir, and denailed scrap lumber.  The scrap lumber project has taken quite a bit of time and I have a few little blisters, but I'm quite proud of them!  I am as good with a hammer as I ever have been in my life and it's very satisfying.

My roommate, Erin, celebrated her birthday while we were away.  As I enjoy baking quite a bit, I offered her a belated cake/pie/cheesecake.  She was delighted, but overwhelmed with all the choices.  After going over some of my specialties, she selected key lime cheesecake, much to Kelly's delight.  What a great choice for a summer birthday!

There were also four huge zucchini waiting for me in our household's community garden when I got home.  Knowing that they're not great for fresh eating when they're so aged and five people can only consume so much zucchini bread, I looked for some other ideas.  At this blog, the author suggested zucchini pineapple.  It really does taste like pineapple with a slightly different texture!
Tomorrow is helping out a friend and heading to a family wedding on the coast!  This weekend will hold Let's Go Camping at Wallowa Lake.  I'm crossing my fingers Kelly will be home and not working over the weekend so he can volunteer too.
Take care,

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Home safely!

We are back home safely!  For now, we're going to have a shower in our own shower and a sleep in our own bed. Yay!  Here's to hoping our diabolical plans avoid jetlag!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Last Full Day

So today began our last full day. We got up and got our stuff together, cleaned the sheets we had used, and got the gifts for our hosts laid out for giving after breakfast. We had one last great breakfast with them and before the first of them had to leave we get them the gifts we had gotten for them. These consisted of the deck of cards we had for all of our hosts along with the Oregon post card thank you, and some other things we got from the store early this morning. Martin and Maryna were great hosts and staying with them and having them let us blend into their daily lives was a great experience and we had many great conversations exploring the similarities and differences between our cultures.

We then hopped on a train for a quick stop in the town we spent our first night in to pick up a couple fragile things we had eyed when there a month ago (wow! yeah, a month!), aka Heidelburg. We really can’t say it enough it’s a great little town and is more worth a visit than Frankfurt or Munich. After getting lunch at another kebab shop we got back onto the train to head up to Frankfurt, so that we could check into the hotel we reserved right next to the airport for easy travel in the morning.

So yeah, here we are nearly at the end of our trip, and while the experience has been really fun and exciting we are both kind of ready to be home again. The places we visited were great and the history we saw and the history we observed being uncovered still, really puts the really young nature of our own country into perspective. It also makes me wonder if there are places where Native American sites of wonder and importance were covered up, filled in, and built right over the top of in order to remove knowledge of them out of fear and spite.

Well it is about time for bed here, we have an early morning and a 20 hour journey in order to make it home. We look forward to seeing you all again soon!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Crazy Bike Adventure!

Starting out slowly in the morning is pretty great.  Today, I had never seen so much food on a breakfast table before.  We had a delicious start with several kinds of bread, cheese, cured meats, homemade bran muffins, cereals, and fruits.  I wanted to take a photo, but the camera was upstairs and I was enjoying the climate around the table far too much to move.

After a leisurely breakfast, we debated a bicycle tour or a canoe tour.  In the end, we settled on a bike tour.  Martin was feeling a bit under the weather, so he stayed home to rest.  Powering along well-developed cycling paths on our rented bikes, we stopped at a lake to try to watch birds, but animals have the sense to rest in the heat of the day, so we simply stopped at a lake.  We also dropped by an old church in a small village.  One of the buildings had this painting, showing the tale of the Hedgehog and the Rabbit.  It is similar to our Tortoise and  the Hare.

After this, we arrived at our most significant destination, a mill.  We first enjoyed a bit of shade along with some desserts.  We sampled a cherry cheesecake and a citrus yogurt cake.  They were quite refreshing after a long ride.

Once we had appeased our hunger and our taste buds, we dropped inside the mill.  The first floor was the gift shop/bakery counter.  On the following four floors, old milling equipment was displayed.  It was clear that this equipment was no longer in use, but it was still interesting to see.  Unfortunately, all the signs for the equipment were in German, so we mostly guessed at its purpose.

Here is us on our bikes in front of the mill, ready for adventure!  The stream that runs under the bridge heads to the left side of the mill and was once used to power the machinery in order to grind the flower.  Quite the picturesque day, huh?

We also sidetripped to a local castle.  There wasn't a whole lot of information or the opportunity to go instead, but it was still lovely to see.  It was situated on some nice green grounds, providing many lovely places for picnics.

As we were riding back towards Marburg, Marina spotted a cherry tree.  We waded into the grass to find that someone had already picked all the reachable cherries.  Undaunted, Marina parked her bike at the tree trunk and shimmied right up, creating a pouch to pick into from a scarf!  I loved watching another determined, creative soul when it came to gathering ripe, seasonal produce!

Later on down the road on one of our breaks to double-check the map, we passed some chickens.  CHICKENS!!!  I attempted to befriend them with cherries.  I didn't quite make a friend, but it was nice to commune with the fowl.

Here is a view from the way back.  Do you see that tiny hill between the trees?  We biked around the far side and well over to the right (off the picture), though more small villages before reaching that destination.  We were pretty pooped at this point.  Kelly especially as his bike wouldn't change into the lowest gears, so the many hills we climbed were tough nuts to crack!
In the end, we estimated we biked over 60 kilometers over the course of about 8 hours.  This is over 37 miles.  We were very grateful we had done all the walking previously to at least sort of prepare for this undertaking.  Let me tell you, though, we have a couple of very sore tushies!  I don't really want to think about how our legs will feel tomorrow morning.  All this aside, we are mighty!  Rawr!
Returning to the flat to a slightly anxious Martin at about 8pm, we mostly dropped our things and turned around to head out to dinner.  We tried a Vietnamese/Thai/Chinese restaurant about 1.5km from their house (more biking - yay).  The food was plentiful, delicious, and well-earned.
Kelly and I still have to discuss our plan for tomorrow, but we know we will be heading to Frankfurt and checking into a hotel near the airport so we can catch our flight the following day.  It has been an amazing trip, but we're also very excited to return to the comfort and familiarity of home.  We really hope, though, that a lot of the wonderful CouchSurfers and travelers we met along the way will some day turn up in the Portland area.
Wheel never stops turning,

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Marburg, Farmer's Market, Flea Market, Grilling in the Park

Today we got up a little later than normal, mostly because we were having such a great time chatting with our hosts last night that none of us noticed that we had stayed up until it was three in the morning. So we all ate some breakfast and headed out to the farmer's market to get some food to grill for the evening since the day was so nice. An interesting difference between a farmer's market here and back home, is that here a farmers market meant a place to go to get food or food plants, there wasn't a small presence of food with a ton of arts and crafts supplies like we typically get at home.

We then walked around the flea market for a bit looking at the array of random items that people brought for sale. After an hour or so there we decided to go relax at a café nearby, but unfortunately it was closed. We did however get to see a stereotypical Marburg old building which over the years has become not so straight and that is apparently due to the fact that too much sun exposure on mostly one side for 300 years warps the wood. Also pictured below is the slate siding that some of the older houses have, but newer or more recently updated or renovated ones don't have, because the cost is way too high since ever stone has to be hand formed in order to fit on the house correctly.

Back at our hosts' flat we relaxed for a bit of lunch and cooled off with a German style milkshake. It is not what you think it is though. It is basically a milk and yogurt smoothie sans ice cream or ice and they are actually pretty nice on a hot day.

Later we went to the park to grill, play some frisbee, and hang out in the sun for dinner. This is the disposable picnic grill that they picked up to cook with. It is basically an aluminum roasting pan filled with lump charcoal, fitted with a piece of expanded metal on top, and a small wire frame to keep it off of the ground. All in all it worked pretty darn well to grill the array of sausages we picked up from the market earlier.


We then taught them how to play Yamslam and Timeline after we got done eating which went pretty well, but it soon became evident that Timeline was definitely made for Americans mostly, since there were a lot of things that were pretty much entirely American history events included in the game. That aside our host Martin won both of the games we played.

Afterward we headed back to the flat and chatted for a while longer and then headed to bed. It was a great relaxing day with very good company and the kind of day that was definitely more our speed as we get to the end of our whirlwind tour of Europe.

Marburg: Geek Heaven

Today started out slowly.  To be honest, it was became somewhat uncomfortable for me, but in a good way.  To eat a bit of breakfast, putter around, eat more breakfast then chat in the kitchen seems like an unacceptably slow start to a day.  However, I think it's helping me learn to relax.  That's exactly how today started.  We had a wonderful time just chatting with our hosts, Marina and Martin

Martin headed out to do some volunteer work while Marina, Kelly, and I took a little walking tour of the city  We walked by a gaming club she knew of that also had a board game museum, but we learned that they were on summer break..  Marina had another commitment, so Kelly and I continued on to a church she recommended seeing.  It was a protestant church done in the gothic tradition, so the outside had quite a bit of ornate work and tall, thin spires.  Inside, it was still nice, but it looked spartan in comparison to many of the Catholic basilicas we've visited.

After seeing the church, we turned around and headed back to the Oberstadt.  We strolled through the cute little shopping complex, noticing many old buildings.  Another church had some gothic architecture and many of the buildings were very old.  Some looked to be built in the style that comes to mind when we think of a traditional medieval castle while others had the traditional German look to them.  Few looked modern.

There was also a statue/fountain in the center of St. George slaying the dragon.  He seems to be a very popular patron saint.

We were about to head to lunch when - what did I espy? - that is Spiderman hanging from the alley.  As we drew closer, we also saw Batman's symbol.  What could give me greater delight than discovering a comic book shop?  Counting the Euro board games in a toy store, that totaled four geek shops we'd already encountered in this one city!  The rest of Europe?  Zero.

Megan's enthusiasm for finding the store
After this it was time to enjoy a meal.  Marina and Martin had recommended a café called Die Pause.  They said it definitely had the best cake in the city, but the soup and other food was good as well.  It took a bit of figuring out - the restaurant was on one level, then steps led down to two terraced sitting areas.  In the restaurant or in the top sitting area, you could sit down and have waiters take your order.  In the bottom area, you placed an order inside the restaurant and the waiters would bring it to you.  Another generally good sign: no englisch Cartes (English menus).

Kelly settled on a sandwich and I on the soup of the day and salad.  We ordered beverages as well.  I tried drinking chocolate.  You get hot, steamed milk and a little bar of the flavor chocolate you chose.  You drop the bar into the cup and mix it around.  It was certainly an interesting treat!

Kelly's sandwich was delicious, filled with ham, pickles, tomatoes, and cheese.  There were edible flowers that adorned both our dishes, serving the dual purpose of looking pretty and adding a unique but delightful flavor.  Note the berries on the salad - they are a tart little berry called Johannisbeer in Germany, or Johannisberry in English.  I've never seen them in the States, but they're pretty great!  (For those interested, other popular berries are himbeer [raspberry] and erdberry [strawberry].)

My soup was amazing - a lentil-coconut soup with cumin and a few other spices.  It sounded a bit odd when I ordered it, but it was so delicious.  They really balanced all the flavors with  an expert hand.  Their bread was filled with herbs - it tasted like rosemary, thyme, and perhaps even a bit of lavender.

Finally, we were headed back home.  I saw a sign for a store called Mac Dragon and insisted on following it and stopping in.  I thought - another geek shop?  It wound up being a specialty alcohol store, filled with products that are really not available anywhere else.  It is a happy coincidence that many of them are geeky in nature.  They also had a lot of Celtic and dragon items.

As expected, the garrulous shopkeeper was a pretty big dork.  We chatted and browsed for a while, Kelly sampling a few different products.  I wondered aloud if there was a connection between Mac of McAnally's Pub from the Dresden files and the store, but that wound up being happy coincidence.  Well, five nerdy businesses.  Yessss!

We finally made it back home after this.  We chatted briefly with Marina before heading to an end-of-term party thrown by another CouchSurfer.  It really wasn't our scene, but we got there early, chatted with a few other Surfers who were very interesting and pleasant.  We met people all the way from Philadelphia to Belarus.  I took my camera, but spaced pictures.  We headed back and wound up talking with Marina and Martin until almost 3 in the morning.  (I didn't fall asleep!  Wow!)  Our conversation ranged the gamut, but I was especially intrigued by the part where we compared all kinds of aspects of German and American politics.  I learned many new things!

We used their shower for the first time.  It is a very old shower that I found to be absolutely fascinating.  It heats as the water comes out through gas heat.  It's originally designed to be simply a tub, but there is a showerhead attachment.  It doesn't have anything to stick in, so you just hold it as you shower.  In this picture, you can see the shower head and the pilot light that flares up to head the water.

I'm actually finishing this post the next morning.  We plan to head to a farmer's market and a flea market today to experience more of the local culture.  We're unsure what the rest of the day will hold.  We shall report back!

May the Force be with you,

Friday, July 19, 2013

Marburg: Day 1

Most of the day was spent on the train.  We hopped on at about 8:00 and finally reached our destination at about 2:30.  The area outside of Marburg was very agricultural.  We saw a lot of hay and/or wheat from our seats.

I was beside myself with excitement for this train ride.  Sometime in Italy, I spotted a double-decker train.  Much like Pippin discovering that beer came in pints, my reaction was similar: They come in two stories?  I have to ride one!  I'd pined for my chance and finally it came - we rode on the top of a double-decker regional train to Marburg.  It was everything I'd hoped it would be.

The first thing I did after hopping off the train was to find a bakery and get a bretzel (soft pretzel).  Mmm.  I had definitely missed them!  Once we enjoyed our snack, we figured out the bus system and navigated our way to our hosts' home.  One was very busy that evening, so we did not meet him.  We spent a couple hours chatting with the other and we are very excited - we're already laying plans to travel about Marburg together and cook/bake together!  She had to run out as well, so we decided to do a bit of exploration.  (More on hosts tomorrow!)

We managed to get just about everywhere right after they closed.  We managed to not visit the tourist information office, library, and game store.  We're thrilled to have actually found a geek shop - we've been looking, but to no avail.  We did ride an elevator up to the Oberstadt, or the over city.  There's a charming older bit of the town that is up on a hill with traditional narrow alleys and cobblestones.

There's also a lovely view of Marburg and the surrounding area.  It's hard to see, but the tall tower in the middle of the picture actually has a rooster on top.

Tomorrow(today, really, it is the morning now) will hold traipsing about with our hosts.  We have no idea what's in store, but we're excited!


Thursday, July 18, 2013

Interlaken, Lauterbrunnen and Thunersee

We got up early and headed out to the bus, which took us to the train, which then arrived at Lauterbrunnen. This great little town us tucked up in a valley between the high cliffs of the Swiss Alps and is absolutely picturesque. Complete with waterfalls from the tops of the cliffs of the valley, above the cliffs and at the top of the ridges, farms with terraced trees and plants and can be seen, and behind everything stands Jungfrau the highest point in Europe.

We then went on a walk along the bottom of the valley, buying some cheese from a self-serve farmer’s refrigerator. The streams here all seem to have that same semi watered down milk color that we have noticed elsewhere, and we even saw areas there sluices carried water into eddy areas so that gravel and sand would collect and then would be dredged out and put into piles giving businesses easy access to cheap gravel from the glaciers among the peaks.

As you walk up to Trümmelbachfälle, you first notice that low roar in the background, you pay your 10 Francs per person you come to the end of some stairs and the entrance to an elevator. In short the place is a waterfall, but it is unlike anything we have ever seen. The glaciers from the three highest peaks in Europe pour into this one common runoff area.

There are ten different waterfalls the majority of which are inside the rock of the mountain which the elevator, also carved into the mountain, takes you almost to the top of. The roaring of the water echoing through the crevasses and caves is almost deafening, evidenced by the small children who were covering their ears with confused looks on their faces wondering what could be so loud. The wow factor of how the water over the years has cut through the mountain and carved some very impressive formations is hard to explain. This place was not really even mentioned in the guidebooks or sites we visited as a place of wonder that should be on anyone’s list, and that really seems like a disservice to an area so full of the power of nature in full display. The first picture is the very top waterfall that the whole thing starts with followed in order, but not including all stages, to the bottom.

After that we headed back down for a quick lunch and then out to Lake Thun, or Thunersee, for a little walk and some relaxing/reading by the lake. Originally we had planned to go swimming but the weather had cooled off significantly and we were not as enticed was we would have been otherwise. The lake itself is very large and very beautiful with very little traffic on most days which really helps to foster a serene setting to relax in.

It was then time to head back and make dinner, which we made way too much of, and find some travelers who wanted some free Indian food. It was pretty easy to find hungry people in a place that was so expensive to eat out in, and being surrounded by people who had some pretty small budgets for their travelling. We then found out that we had a host for at least some of our stay in Marburg, YAY!, and we were going to sit down and blog a bit, but alas the Surface was low on juice and the public areas with tables to work at were either taken or had no power nearby.

Instead, we introduced a fellow traveler from Australia to the world of board games with a round of Love Letter, Timeline, and Roll through the Ages. We ended up staying up pretty late and then made our way to bed after making sure everything was packed up and ready to go for the morning so we could catch our train.
We are getting to the end and we will see you all soon!

Interlaken, Rafting and Shopping

A quick look back on yesterday really quickly. The whole reason that local Swiss couple was even on the train in the first place was because they had taken a train ride on a historic train on the day of the train route’s 100 year anniversary on a vintage train. After looking at the prices for the cable car ride, remember this was the cheapest one, we decided that paying 120 Swiss Francs each was a little much for a ride to the top of a mountain and back.
So we got up the next morning and ate breakfast and waited in the lobby to go on our 4 hour white water adventure. They gave us wet suits, the water can be as low as 6°C, life jackets and helmets and loaded us into the van for our half hour ride to the drop off point. After the standard quick tutorial on how to paddle, how to hold on, and how to put weight onto one side to prevent band-aiding on a rock. We dropped right into the river, and after 60 feet or so we hit our first of a few class III rapids. All in all we were expecting a lot more intense rafting experience than we ended up getting. The river moved so fast that we barely had to paddle between rapids and there were 8 people in the raft so we would paddle 2-3 times per command and that was it. Near the end though, after the last of the big rapids, we all got a chance to give steering the raft a try since at best it was a fairly flat but class I area of the river. It was a little trickier than it looked and took a little bit to get the hang of, probably because our instruction was good, but not great.

After we got done with rafting, we headed into town to get some groceries, eating out in Switzerland is prohibitively expensive (20+ Francs per person in most cases). We also walked around town and went shopping a bit for things we wanted to bring back and found some ice cream and a good view from a park.

We got back to the hostel and hung out for a bit enjoying some more chatting with other travelers and figuring out where we were going to go hiking the next day. In the end we decided on going to Lauterbrunnen and hiking to Trümmelbachfälle.

Monday, July 15, 2013


I write to you today sitting in a hammock eating while snacking on little caramel-hazelnut-chocolate yummies.  There is a light, cool breeze and happy voices in the background.  The light is just beginning to wane, but I can still tip my head back and see the light blue sky dotted with fluffy cumulonimbus clouds.  If I didn't know better, I would think I'd died and gone to heaven.

The train ride was quite long, but we got in a lot of good napping and reading.  At the last leg, we met a kind Swiss couple who filled us in on a bit of the language, customs, and affordable sights to see.  They were well-traveled and remarked politely on a lack of American interest/awareness about the wider world.  This has been a common theme in conversations with a variety of people from a variety of countries.  It has been very interesting to hear their perspective and share our observations and thoughts.

Once we arrived, we checked into our hostel.  Our travel buddies were already in Switzerland and mentioned how expensive it is.  They were not wrong.  We couldn't find CS hosts (sad face), so we wound up booking a hostel.  Below, you'll find a picture of the view from our window.  My camera failed to pick up one of the mountains, but you get the idea.  I am loving the hostel experience.  We taught and played Roll through the Ages with a couple of freshly graduated Manitobans.  We then had a lengthy conversation with a woman from Sydney and another from Nova Scotia.  I love the culture where it is just acceptable to walk up and ask if you can join someone's game or sit down and gracefully weave yourself into a conversation.
We planned some activities for tomorrow.  We're going to ride a cable car to the top of a mountain and hopefully fit in a bit of a hike.  In the afternoon, we have booked a whitewater rafting trip with Class III and IV rapids.  Woo hoo!  Once that was wrapped up, it was time to head to Hotel Schuh for a Chocolate Show!

I'd head about touring a Swiss chocolate factory on this morning's walk to the train station, but when I researched it online it would have been 2.5 hours to get there and it is actually operated by Nestle.  We have limited time here, so I looked into other options.  A local hotel offered the chance to watch the process and perhaps try your hand at it.  Yes!

First, the chef showed us some cocoa beans and talked through a video that explained the process of harvesting and roasting them.  I didn't realize it, but the pod containing cocoa beans is split open and harvested by hand.  The initial fermentation process is also done by hand.  Chocolate is very valuable!  He then explain the ingredients in the three types of chocolate.  Cocoa powder + a little cocoa butter + sugar + vanilla = dark chocolate.  Obviously the best, by the way.  Cocoa powder + cocoa butter + sugar + milk powder = milk chocolate.  I was surprised to learn that milk chocolate generally does not contain vanilla.  Another point in the dark column.  Cocoa butter + sugar + milk powder + vanilla = white chocolate.  Confirming my suspicions, white chocolate is not real chocolate because it must contain both cocoa powder and cocoa butter.  To me, it's also the least tasty of all the chocolates.
Examples of chocolate types, cocoa processing, and ingredients

We got to try a sample of each and also a piece of 100% cocoa dark chocolate.  The chef said it wasn't very tasty for eating, but good to know about.  I don't know if it was leftover sugar in my mouth, but I thought it tasted just fine!  Next, he showed us a machine invented by Lindt that revolutionized the production of chocolate, allowing for the very smooth consistency in fine chocolates.  It spends 72 hours being processed in a liquid form!  Finally, it was time to learn how molded chocolates, in this case little mountains, were made.  First, he dusted the containers with a special powder to look like snow.  Next, he filled the mold with chocolate.

He would strike it several times with an implement to ensure all the bubbles were out and clean the top.  Finally, he poured the chocolate back into the melting bin, leaving just a shell.  He put this in the refrigerator and turned to repeating the process with a big mold (a shoe in this case, but think your hollow chocolate Easter bunny), only with more tapping and partial filling.  Once this was emptied, leaving just the coating, it went in the fridge and the first mold came back out.

He piped a caramel filling into each one, then poured chocolate over the top once more.  He tapped a bit, scraped the top and sides, and put in back into the refrigerator.  The shoe came back out, got a second coating, and went back in.  He pulled an already finished tray of caramels out and we got to sample them while he showed us taking the mold off the shoe and the completed product.

After that, we got to sample more chocolate, filled with all kinds of goodies.  He closed by answering questions while he dipped milk chocolate coated hazelnut/almond paste lollipops into either dark or milk chocolate then allowed us to add our own toppings - pistachios, coconuts, the Swiss version of M&Ms, dark chocolate balls, and/or white chocolate balls.  Om nom.  The staff was extremely sweet and accommodating - it's typically a minimum of 10 for the chocolate tour, but we got a "private" show(the first one they'd ever done!).

After spending the aforementioned time gaming, talking, and blogging, it is time to head to bed.  I'm positive a hammock has been added to my list of things to eventually purchase for our home.  I hope you're finding your own little slice of heaven.

Have a sweet day,