The Day We Did the Lava Tunnel and Hot Dog.

Our day started out with a touch of regret. We really wanted to hit up the Golden Circle tour but decided against it because of forecast, 50mph wind & rain.  The regret turned to gratitude as we walked out the door for our Lava Tunnel tour and were greeted with a face full of cold weather. We had made the right call.

Tour buses in Iceland are pretty painless. The businesses want you there and appreciate how much you’ve paid to get there.  If you don’t know, even the cheap stuff in Iceland is expensive. From what we were told, they have to import all of the things and then tax the crap out of it.

Neither of us can sleep on an airplane but have zero trouble snoozing out on a bus. We awoke about 30 minutes into the ride and found ourselves in a different world.  The rain had turned to snow and the wind was pounding the side of the bus to the point where it felt like we were going to tip over. The thing about wind in Iceland is that it comes in from every direction.  The bus was getting blown toward the ditch at the same time it was getting blown toward oncoming traffic… maybe that’s why neither actually happened.

There are so many cool things to say about the lava tunnel that it’s hard to choose what to share. We’re not geologists so we can skip the science lesson.  Probably the most interesting thing about the lava tunnel that I can confidently share is not something you’d probably read about in many other places.  Our tour guide told us that ALL lava tunnel tours now require guides.  This is because people would throw rocks at the ceiling for the purpose of breaking off souvenirs.  People are dicks. Also, the lava tunnels have a problem with trash.  Apparently, Icelanders will dump old couches and cars into holes.  See, it’s not just Americans, crazy people be everywhere.  It makes sense though, right?  Lava tunnels are normal to Icelanders, throwing shit into a hole, however pretty it might be, it isn’t a big deal.  In America, it’d be the equivalent of throwing trash into a forest.  Trees and wildlife aren’t a big deal to us because they’re normal.

THE BEST part of the lava tunnel was when the tour guide turned all the lights off.  I don’t think that I’ve ever experienced absolute darkness before today. Absolute darkness is liberating, it’s terrifying, it’s something I would recommend. The porous lava rocks don’t reflect light or sound.  We never planned on taking this particular tour, now it’s my favorite.  Checkout a lava tunnel if you ever have the chance.

We returned to the hotel after our lava tunnel tour, wet and tired. What did we do? Visit the Big Lebowski bar, of course! The pictures we’ve posted on instagram do it more justice that I can with words, check em out:  We also went on a successful/fail hunt for a local retro arcade bar.  Successful in that we found where it was, fail in that it was locked up and indefinitely closed.

Our evening capped off with a nap and a hot dog.  Napping is important when you’re traveling; an impossible pressure to do and see everything exists.  Sometimes you have to just accept that sleep is a necessary thing.  After our nap, we shared an epic hot dog!  We went on a walkabout town and ran into a restaurant called, Street Dog. Brianna had been saying that we needed to try a local hot dog, so we did, and she was right (as usual).  The Street Dog proprietor made us an Icelandic hot dog with the works, and even let us borrow some of his cups to try a drink.  We heard about a thing that Icelandic people do over Christmas, drink a malt extract & Applesin mix, and he was kind enough to tell us how to try it out. The hot dog was made out of lamb and tasted like actual meat. The drink was kind of a sweet & fruity meets dry & malty soda mix. We highly recommend trying both this place and drink thing (which is actually called jólaöl).  Chatting with the hot dog man was like having a conversation with Brianna’s dad, Mel, minus the beard :-).

We stumbled onto a random comedy club on the way back from the hotel and decided to check it out.  We were a little early for the show, but it was happy hour so we decided to drop in anyway.  The actual show was less a comedy act and more a dude playing semi-funny songs on the guitar and making fun of Don Trump.  While we both appreciated laughs at the expense of our current president, we ditched out a little early in search of some dinner/drunk food.

The last food on Brianna’s wishlist to try was lcelandic street food, a.k.a lamb or shellfish soup.   Our soup had more meat than potatoes and carrots, which seemed unusual, and they gave unlimited refills with as much fresh baked bread as you could eat.  Aside from the general RBF culture, we didn’t really have many bad customer service experiences while in Iceland.  Our  hole in the wall Icelandic Street Food diner was definitely best of the best though, well, probably  tied with the hot dog guy anyway.

The Morning We Left Iceland

Iceland is the first of many reminders that even though we are leaving a country, there are still hundreds of Iceland sites left unseen, thousands of trails and mountains left unhiked – known limitations of our trip. A full two weeks wouldn’t have been enough either. 

Here are a few final thoughts on the Icelandic leg of our epic trip:

1.) We never used any of the local currency, Icelandic króna – ISK. I tried to pull out some currency when we first arrived and it failed.  Luckily, we had read beforehand that currency isn’t really necessary in Iceland, and it’s true.  All of the shops and diners had mobile credit card machines that made transactions fast and easy.

2.) RBF (resting bitch face) is real, it just doesn’t really mean much. Check out the picture I posted with this entry.  It’s a street mural capturing a group of Icelandic locals as they hang in the street?  Anyway, only two of them are smiling.  The guy in the middle has a smile, but everyone else seems to creeped out by him.  He also looks American.  The second person smiling is the lady in the lower-left, and her smile is pretty fucking terrifying.  

3.) Reykjavík is easy to navigate. Much of everything worth seeing is within walking distance and the bus system was pretty hassle free if you’re not in the mood for renting a car or hiring a taxi. We might rent a car the next time we come out, for flexibility and exploration purposes – the roads are in decent shape and traffic was more like a Lansing than it was like a Chicago.

4.) There are a shit ton of tourists in Iceland.  We read an article that said the tourists outnumber the natives 7-1 in the summer months.  October was a good month for us to pick, ratio might have only been 2-1.

5.)  Many bars stay open til 0400 and almost all have live entertainment.  The performers were Icelandic, as far as we could tell, but sang only English tunes.

6.) Free Wi-Fi is everywhere in Reykjavik: bars, hotels, coffee shops, tour buses, super markets, and hot dog stands. Everywhere.

The Evening We Arrived in Germany

The flight into Frankfurt was pretty smooth until it came time to pick up baggage claim.  Apparently, major airports have separate rooms for baggage claims, and once you go into a wrong room… there is not an easy way for getting back to the right room.  We were able to bounce from Korean airlines to the information desk, where they” kind lady pointed us to the correct door.  Once at the correct door, we picked up a solitary black phone and explained our situation.  We were told to walk back into the secure area and pick up our bags.  The process seemed pretty lackluster on the security side, but we got our bags and went along our way.

Rachel picked us up and we were finally able to meet the newest addition to their family, Arabella! It has been an evening of resupply for the soul.  Spending time with some of the ones we love the most makes Germany feel very much like home.

The best part about tomorrow is that Rachel and Bob have made all the plans.  Brianna and I don’t have to worry about where we’re going or what we’re doing. That being said, I think the plan is to visit a castle, drink German beer, and eat German food. WIN.

The Day We Went to Burg Eltz Castle

Being amongst old friends has its perks; we woke up around 0730 this morning and didn’t have a care in the world. I rolled out of Bob & Rachel’s super comfortable downstairs guest bed thinking that all I wanted was a cup of coffee, I was wrong. What I really wanted was to make a hot cup of coffee and place a stroopwafel on top of it. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. A stoopwafel is a kind of caramel glazed breakfast biscuit.  The heat from the coffee softens and melts the sugary stroopwafel into quite a heavenly treat.  Those with an adventurous spirit might even dare to dip it into their coffee!

After fattening up on some homemade biscuits and gravy breakfast (I’ve probably gained a good amount of lbs on this trip already), we hit the road for Burg Eltz castle.  The drive was about an hour and a half, with the first hour on the autobahn and the last half hour comprised of mostly farm roads that were completely void of people.  Little did Brianna and I know, today is Unification day, a German holiday to celebrate German reunification in 1990. The holiday wouldn’t normally mean much if anything to us, but today it meant that Burg Eltz castle would be abnormally crowded for what would have otherwise been a quiet Wednesday.  

The castle itself is unlike most others I have seen in that it is completely hidden within a secluded valley. The nature of it’s hidden location isn’t one of the main reasons that this castles is still completely in tact and so many other similar castles are nothing more than ruins and speculation. The Eltz family were politically connected social science geniuses.

What was the first thing we did upon arriving to the castle?  Eat food of course!  Brianna and I had our own German pretzels and split a schnitzel between the both of us.  The pretzel looked divine, but only after biting into it did we realize that there was a hidden buttery surprise inside.  It’s not a huge secret that I’ve largely cut meats and dairy out of my normal everyday diet.  I do believe that indulging in culturally different foods is important, probably just as important as visiting castles and cathedrals.  Food has the ability to bridge gaps in both time and space, it can bring people together or split them apart.  Understanding what people eat and why is essential to putting together the pieces of who they are and how they got there.  Food pictures are some of the most fun things to share via Instagram because pretty much everyone can relate to them in one way or another.

Holiday traffic was high, and as a result, there were no English speaking tours being offered today. We were given an English translated pamphlet to read while the German tour guides spoke their Germanic scripts.  It worked well for me because of my tendency to space out during guided tours.  Instead of wondering what I missed, I just reread the pamphlet and refreshed myself on what was going on in that particular castle room.  

The Burg Eltz castle is really well maintained, definitely worth the trip into the country. Some European castles are for show and others for function, Eltz definitely leans more towards function in that the family used it’s trade-route location to secure multi-century long political and strategic relevance. 

We returned home from the castle for a little bit of modern fun.  The kids had some prescheduled sports activities that were pretty special for us to be able to sit in on and support.  

Tomorrow, we head to some pretty serious Stuttgart festival fun.  Wish us… luck? 🙂

The Day We Did Cannstatter Volksfest

Our day started out lazy, again.  Everyone else went to bed reasonably early last night, 10-1030pm, while I stayed awake and drank all of Bob’s German beer.  I was four beers deep by the time I noticed that each beer was 7.9%.  By that point it was too late, so I did the only thing I knew how to do: opened another beer and veraciously attacked a box of goldfish crackers, fistfuls at a time. 

The morning was a little more difficult than yesterday, knowing we’d be leaving our friends behind for this next piece of our adventure.  When Brianna first brought up the idea of leaving Bob and Rachel’s a day early, I wasn’t a fan.  Half of the reason for our trip was to see our friends and I didn’t want to cut that short.  She was kind enough to remind me that the other half of the reason for our trip was to hit a German beerfest type event, and Volksfest would be our best chance. It took me a minute but was eventually able to agree.  Besides, it wasn’t like we were saying goodbye to Bob and Rachel, we were saying, “see you in Switzerland.”

^Brianna was right, as it should be^

Before departing on our first German train, the four of us spent a few hours exploring downtown Weisbaden. Rachel took us to her favorite lunch place, Ratskellar, where we each had our own sweet mustard schnitzel & pretzel. Yes, we do know that there’s much more to German food than pretzels and schnitzels, but when one of your best friends tells you to try out one of her most favoritest foods in the world, you fucking try it. Rachel has street cred.  And yes, it was every bit as good as she said it would be.

After some light souvenir shopping and a brief stroll through the park, we said “see ya in Switzerland” to our BFFs and hopped onto the 1424 to Stuttgart via Mainz. Even though this was far from my first European train ride, I shared more than a little of Brianna’s trepidation. It’s been 11 years since my last visit to Europe and smart phones weren’t a thing back then.  This time around, all of our train tickets are digital / on our phones.  Luckily for us, everything was just as easy as we had needed it to be.  We’re basically pros now (remember I said that when things go sideways in any number of our half dozen upcoming train trips).

Stuttgart is a busy industrial type town with a lot of construction that threw us for a loop as we attempted to navigate our way out of the train station.  I would say that Stuttgart is a bit like Detroit in that there is a lot of automotive manufacturing, but that’s as far as the comparison really goes.  Arriving at a train station that we’ve never been to is a pretty fun experience.  Exit to the left? To the right? Or just go straight out the main exit? Luckily for us, Brianna’s eagle eyes spotted our hotel from a park just outside the train station (we went left and then turned around and went right, zigged when we should have zagged).

The hotel’s close proximity to the train station was planned, as was the hotel’s close proximity to Cannstatter Volksfest, or so we thought.  We thought Volksfest was gonna to be a 20 minute walk from the hotel, it turned out to be more like 60. Three transportation options pretty themselves:

1.) Taxi – Nein, too expensive.

2.) The U (subway) – Nein, too unknown.

3.) Walk – Ja, we are hikers.

And so we walked.  The town was quiet with the appearance of safety for most of the hike. The hardest part of our trek was in trying to find a bridge to cross the large Neckar river that separates the part of town where our hotel was from Cannstatter. Much like the train station experience, our zig zag approach to navigation worked again.  We made what ended up being only a 40 minute walk and only had to turn around a couple of times. 

Volksfest is a large German fair-like event that could be both seen and heard as we approached.  Much like in America, there are lots of spinning rides, to include a giant Ferris wheel.  There was a ride that shot people up, a ride that shot people down, and another that whipped them from side to side.  The swooshing sound that large carts full of people make as they pass eerily close to your head is a bit unnerving at first.  Our nerves calmed after a beer or two.  

Brianna and I wandered the fairgrounds, exploring foods and beers.  There were a lot of “beer tent” type buildings for purchasing beer, but they mostly seemed like a collection of German night clubs where the patrons would go to dance on the table and sing along to live bands.  Every place serves the same beers and we tried them all.  We drank some beers out of plastic cups while we wandered, others we drank out of proper pint glasses and steins.  The trick with drinking out of glass cups was that they would give you return tokens and charge a 2 Euro deposit per glass.  We almost stole a couple glasses, as buying a mug for 2 Euro is pretty much impossible, but we ended up deciding against it.

Of the food we ate, there isn’t much to say other than YUM!  We split foods to ensure we could continue eating all night long without getting full.  Yeah, it’s called, “fat kid teamwork.” The chicken seemed simple enough at first glance, but it really was cooked perfectly to the point where the meat just slid off the bones.  It reminded me a lot of aunt Kris’s beer butt chicken, which is really a compliment to both aunt Kris and the German people.

Of the beer we drank, my favorite was probably the Weizen-Russ; sourly deliciousness.  The most interesting beers were the radlers.  These were beers mixed with various other ingredients, like lemonade, ginger beer, or Sprite.  Radlers weren’t my favorite tasting beers but they did rank high on the new experience chart.

I never thought I’d be writing to tell everyone that Brianna and I closed down Volksfest, but we did.  We were sitting at a table with fresh Malteser Kristall Weizen beers when a large German security guard yelled something at us that we really had no chance of understanding.  It didn’t make sense that the fest would be closing at 11pm, but who are we to argue with large German security guards? 

It wasn’t that late and we weren’t that drunk, so we decided to try our luck with navigating the U, their subway system.  In a normal situation, we would have been able to look at maps and figure out what train to get on. This was not a normal situation.  Do you know what happens when a beerfest closes down?  All the drunk people go home.  We managed to buy tickets for what we thought might be where we should go, not that anyone would check those tickets – the trains were shoulder-to-shoulder packed. 

The train car was hot, muggy, and smelled like old beer, but we both managed a smile in each other’s direction as the train began moving in the right direction.  If you’re wandering what could make this kind of a subway experience even more uncomfortable, it’s when more people get in your train car and everyone starts to sing loudly in a language you don’t understand.  It was actually a lot like the time I took the London Underground home after England beat Germany 5-1 in a World Cup match. We decided to exit the train early, right about the same time I started to smell a hint of vomit in the air.  The stop we jumped off at was just a half mile shy of the hotel, so the whole subway experience did give us a little help and a lot of story.

If we don’t get lost and/or confused, then we’re probably not on an adventure, right? 😀

Stuttgart, it was our pleasure!  Next up, Switzerland!

The Day We Arrived in Switzerland

There is a big difference between a low-cost backpacking trip through Europe and what we are doing.  It’s not that we are paying very much for our hotels, it’s just that the experience gap between a cheap hotel breakfast and a bed in a hostel is, well, significant. The breakfast spread this morning was the best yet, I even tried liver sausage for the first time. Eating a mouthful of liver sausage seemed a little less gross after Brianna let me know it was more like a cheese spread and not meant to be eaten alone.  

Today’s Switzerland leg of our adventure found us hopping on a train to Zurich and making a switch into Lenzburg.  None of the trains were properly marked, we made them on time anyway.  Lenzburg was not our final destination but the train options ended there because of maintenance work on the railroad tracks.  Remember when I said the trains weren’t marked properly? Neither were the buses.  Brianna and I managed to buy the correct tickets for our final destination, Beinwil Am See, we just had no way of knowing what bus we needed to board.  

More than anything else, I’m really happy with how Brianna and I have handled traveling plans as they go to Hell. We tell each other when we think the other is wrong and we haven’t yelled or gotten into a fight.  It’s almost like our travel relationship is an example of how the US government should work – semi-dispassionate checks, balances, and results that make sense.

Our AirBnB bedroom window looks directly out onto the lake Halwilersee.  The house we’re renting sits atop a ridge in such a way that no other houses can be seen, just a beautiful lake and a field full of grazing cows.  If you sit quietly in our room with the lights off, you might just hear one of the cow bells ringing as they walk up and down the hill in search of food.

Probably the funniest moments of the day took place on our grocery shopping trip.  The plan was to secure supplies for a breakfast, a dinner, and some modest drinking of local beers.  We achieved the afore mentioned goals, just not in the way we would have preferred.  Instead of taking us to a proper grocery store, the gps landed us at a gas station / mini-mart by the same name as what we were looking for.  There are 8 of us here in total, 4 kids & 4 adults, so it shouldn’t be super shocking when I say that we had multiple baskets of crap to buy.

Problem 1: We didn’t speak the lady’s language.  She spoke some combination of French, German, and Italian.  We are not fluent in any of these languages.

Problem 2: There was only one attendant working.  A line of people quickly formed behind us.  

Solutions: Buy a load of supplies, carry it back to the car, buy another load of things as the line died back down.  It could have been really embarrassing.  Traveling has a way of expanding the amount of shame one can take before it starts to adversely affect them.  That’s where we are at today and it worked to our advantage.

For dinner, Brianna had some local chicken wings while I devoured an oversized meatball and fries.  Some cultural experiences are more universal than others 😎

Tomorrow we’re off to Alpnachstad for a mountain adventure!

The Day We Stood Atop Mount Pilatus

If you have love for mountains, Switzerland is a must see(most obvious statement of the century). My first trip to the country was a single night spent in the city of Bern with a group of my then and still best friends. I’ll save the stories from that trip and just say that our current 3-night adventure has been completely different.

Rachel and Bob know of Brianna and I’s affinity for mountains and planned a trip for us all to visit Mount Pilatus via Alpnachstad. The Elemental mountain range is similar to the Rockies, I say from very limited  knowledge and experience with each. The mountains vault dramatically upwards from the lower valleys like daggers pointing up toward the sky. We’ve hiked a good amount of mountains in our lives, with many more to come, but the views from Pilatus are the best I’ve ever seen.  The Pilatus top opens into a landscape view of all the cities and lakes below, with white-capped mountain ranges in the backdrop.  

The easiest way to reach the top of the mount Pilatus was via the cogwheel train, advertised as the steepest cogwheel railway in the world. I thought our previous experience with the Colorado Springs to Pikes Peak Cog railway would have prepared us for the experience a lot more than it did. What really happened was that we got on this new-to-us cog railway and it blew our minds. The view from Pikes Peak is beautiful, no question, it’s just that the view from Pilatus Switzerland is better.  Meteorologically, air quality, geographically – all better.  Look at our Instagram pictures, it’s not even a fair fight between the two.

Today’s trip was special in that it was a journey Brianna and I were really excited to make but were making it in an unfamiliar way. Instead of a two person trip, we were joining the six Bob and Rachel clan members. 

Let me tell you that the definition of whether or not a trip was successful changes dramatically when there are four children involved.  When it’s just Brianna and I on a trip, we worry about seeing all of the views and pushing ourselves hard on the trails. When it’s the a full group of us eight, we consider it a successful trip if none of the boys fall off the mountain, or just as long as the baby doesn’t bust through another diaper and wreck the last outfit we have packed. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter whether or not Brianna and I hiked the trail up or down Pilatus.  Life has many trails and only a few of them are made strictly of dirt and rock.

Pilatus is a tourist destination that I would not label as a trap. Once atop the mountain, we had a fine outdoor lunch and were able to look across the alps as we ate.  Getting off the mountain involved a series of cable rides down the opposite side of which we had come up.  Brianna and I were able to skip the second cable ride and hike the couple miles down to Fräkmüntegg on our own, reuniting with the family at a strategically placed and epic children’s playground that can be found at that stop.  I’m not anti child-safety, but the Europeans know how to do a proper playground, something not possible in the US because of reasons I’m not going to delve into here.

Much like Iceland, we are discovering all of Switzerland’s redeeming qualities.  You make a traveling list in your head of all the countries you’d like to visit in your life and think to yourself, “I’ll cross each country off as we go.” We’re finding it difficult to cross countries off as we go. If anything, we’re finding more reasons to come back to each place. Our annual visits to Gatlinburg, Tennessee are a perfect example of finding a place you love and continuously going back to it. We do a lot of the same activities each year but the experiences are always different. 

It’s important for us to make a lists of places we want to see and things we want to do.  We just have to accept that the list won’t ever get much shorter.  These are countries we are talking about after all.  How can you mark an entire country off the list when you’ve only visited a couple of cities and you loved them!? Silliness.

All-in-all, today’s adventure was a success. We didn’t get lost on any of the trains or buses and made it home with the same 8 people we left with.

The Day of Beinwil Am See Adventures

It’s adventure day in Switzerland!  That’s what we kept telling the kids, anyway. Bob and Griffin went into Lucern to pick up a Swiss train station clock souvenir while the other six of us had decided to take a break from the trains and stay near our AirBnB.  

The remaining six adventurers left the house with only the slightest idea where we might want to go and absolutely no idea how we might get there.  Brianna read that Lake Halwilersee, the huge lake that our AirBnB looks out on, has a walking/biking path that wraps all the way around it.  She also read that there was a moted sort of castle at the other end of the lake.  The only way we could have been further away from that castle would have been if six of us walked backwards out the front door and up the driveway.  So yeah, we wanted to get to the castle, I just didn’t think it would be possible.  No harm in trying, right?

Riddle number one of our journey was the basic logistical question of, “how do we get from the house down to the lake path?” It was a bit frustrating to see the walking path just a couple hundred yards out our back window yet be so far away from actually walking on it.  The AirBnB owner told us point blank that the Swiss do not take kindly to other people walking on their land and that walking through the field behind the house was not an option.  When asked how we should get down to the path, the answer we received was less than clear, “walk up the driveway and make a turn.  Head down the path to the lake.” Not helpful.  The only paths we saw were driveways and roads.

When all you have to go on is a set of completely useless directions, the only thing left to do is wing the shit out of it.  By our calculations, if we started walking down a road that pointed in the general direction of the lake, we might eventually get there?  What we were going to do once we arrived, other than walk, we had no idea.

30 minutes of wandering a right turn down some roads with no sidewalks, left down a cement trail through someone’s yard (it seemed more legit than walking through grass), and a few other turns, we eventually arrived at the lake.  It wasn’t the walking/biking trail that we were expecting, but there was a fancy restaurant, which felt like a win.  The baby wanted to eat, we wanted to eat, and our non-existent schedule to nowhere wasn’t pressing us into any kind of a hurry.

We sat at the fancy restaurant with our big family and made a fun mess of their beautiful table clothes.  I’m not even talking about the kids, I was probably the messiest of the bunch.  My brain doesn’t understand the functional need for both a butter knife and a steak knife.  I’m skilled enough to butter bread with the same knife I use to cut into meat.  Why not give us a third knife for cutting through the rolls? A butter knife isn’t sharp enough and a steak knife shreds it like a piece of meat, crumbs exploding everywhere.

My messy eating aside, the restaurant stop did allow us time to discover a ferry boat that appeared to be stopping at a nearby dock every 15 minutes or so.  A quick look at the boat map and we found ourselves believing that this moted castle idea might actually happen… and then it did!  Hallwyl Castle was pretty cool, just not cool enough for us to pay for admission.  In this case, as with so many others, it was about the adventure.

Tomorrow, we say, “see you in Germany” to Bob and Rachel.  Here we come, Brugge!  First train leaves at 0540 😮

The Morning We Left Switzerland

A few people have asked how it is that I’ve been able to do a post for every day of our trip so far and why I’ve been making the time to do so when there is so much to see and do.  I’m going to answer both of those questions with the same answers: planes, trains, and automobiles!  But mostly trains. If you’re not on a train in Europe, it’s probably easy to fantasize about how you would be looking out the window and taking in the beautiful visages from where ever.  This is not always the case, and if it was, 3-4 hours of starring outside a train window is actually pretty tiring.

To expand a bit more on the why I do the posts, I’ll say that it’s logically and creatively satisfying for me.  Logically in that these posts are really nothing more than a generalized email to everyone who cares about us and is curious. If it makes sense for me to write an email to one person a day, then each post is worth it’s weight in effort so long as a single person reads it.  Writing while on this trip is creatively satisfying in that it makes me comb through the memories of our day and decide what’s worth sharing and how I feel like sharing it.  I think that Brianna’s Intragram posts scratch a similar itch for her as well.

Today’s train schedule has been grueling.  We started at a Lenzburg train station @ 0515, where Rachel generously gave us a lift to so early in the morning. Lenzburg to Olten, Olten to Basel, then three hours on the same train from Basel to Köln. Köln to Brussels was delayed because of vandalism(we weren’t given any specifics), putting us 40 minutes behind and in search of a different last leg train, Brussels to Brugge. 

Finding a new train to Brugge wasn’t difficult but it played out in a way that really imbibes the traveling spirit.  We missed the 1:40pm train, noticed there was a 2:40pm train with exactly the same stops, and so we got on.  As we were boarding, I received a response from Bob, I had texted him what we should do if we miss our scheduled train.  Bob’s response advised us to go to the ticketing office and get a replacement.  It made me anxious to do so, but we got on the train anyway, and maybe I didn’t tell Brianna about Bob’s advice until much later, no sense in us both worrying.

Not long after taking our seats on the train, Brianna noticed we were in first class and asked if we should move.  Needless to say, this observation and question made me even more anxious.  We were at an impasse.  Should we move from the first class to the second class on a train I wasn’t even sure we had tickets for?  No.  Fuck it.  If we are going to get in trouble, we may as well get in trouble while riding in first class.  I relaxed and let fate take the wheel.

The first 45 minutes went by, no one had come to check our tickets.  On my way back from the bathroom, I noticed the attendant checking tickets in 2nd class and just minutes away from our train car.  Here we go.  I pulled up the ticket from my email, the overly confusing ticket that included all of our 10 hours worth of traveling stops, maybe it will overwhelm her.  She scanned the ticket, told us to have a nice day, and walked on.  The very next lady she scanned was kicked out of first class, so her scanner was working.  Not sure why it worked out for us, but such is the traveling way!

Switzerland final thoughts:

1.) Switzerland is expensive but still cheaper than Iceland.

2.) The mix of languages makes communicating a bit more difficult than in Germany.  Usually, Germans will speak to you in German first, then switch to another language.  One of the conversations I had in Switzerland started in French, bounced over to German, and finished in English – they were fluent all along.  Not sure if they were testing me but I’m sure it was amusing to witness my incorrect use of all the words.

3.) Great people & great mountains, would love to come back.

The Evening We Arrived in Belgium

Arriving into Belgium made a few things pretty clear to us. German trains have had more information and seemed to be a better maintained; true for international & intercity trains.  The Belgian train station we landed in, Brux-Noord, has a lot of platform construction going on and made us feel like we had landed in WWII. Brugge station saved our opinion of Belgium transport a bit, we’ll see what happens when we leave and give a final opinion then.

The AirBnB we booked for Bruges was only a 25 minute walk from the train station, that’s why we hired a taxi.  10 hours on a train and we were done messing around with hauling around luggage.  My backpack isn’t so bad in hauling things around, I packed 3 days worth of clothes, electronic charging gear and a bathroom bag. If you’ve seen our pictures, you’ve seen me in the same clothes over and over again. They’ve been laundered a time or two, don’t feel so bad for Brianna.  Brianna’s bag is a smaller roller style, handy, just less so on cobblestone.  A 7 Euro taxi fair and we arrived exactly where we needed to be, a stone’s throw away from the Bruges markets and city square. 

The AirBnB room was a cultural experience all it’s own.  First thing we noticed was all of the windows in the bathroom.  Any one taking a shower could look out into the bedroom, and yes, anyone in the bedroom could look into the shower room.  Same kind of window existed next to the toilet as well, but only for those of us who stand while we pee.  Aside from the bed being a little on the really fucking hard side, everything else in the room was perfect.  Coffee, tv, and a refrigerator were provided.  A DVD for watching the movie In Bruges was also provided, which would be how we’d start and end every day while in Bruges ourselves.

Have you ever had mussels and chips at a restaurant?  We hadn’t. If you haven’t, you should.  They bring you large pots overflowing with cooked mussels still in the shells. Unsure of what etiquette rules we may be breaking, we went wrist deep into the pots, forking out the mussels and shoveling them into our mouths.  I was eating so much so fast that I’m sad there wasn’t some mussels eating contest that I could have competed in; might not have gotten first, definitely wouldn’t have gotten last.

Leaving the restaurant was a bit of a struggle, not because we were full, it was because we ordered a flight of local beer that was larger and stronger than expected.  Brianna has been trying to document all of the beers we’ve tried as we travel.  Seems easy enough when you’re sober, I’ve no clue how she does it when we’re completely pissed (British for drunk).

A couple pubs later, we retired back to the AirBnB and tried to drink a couple more beers before passing out.  Points for effort though, right?