Friday, July 22, 2011

Footloose and Fancy Free: Tales of a teacher on summer vacation, Vol. 2

By Laura K.

What’s a girl to do when she has two months off work and an awesome sister with a lot of frequent flyer miles?  Oh, probably go off on a European vacation.  My sister and I just returned from spending twelve whirlwind days traveling, seeing, experiencing, photographing, and enjoying four European cities in three countries.  I’ve been trying to think of how I can summarize our trip into a neat little package for you.  I’ve had no brilliant ideas.  So instead I have decided to hand out some awards to the aspects of our travels that stand out to me.  So, without further ado, I bring to you: The Best of Europa.
The award goes to…
Best Lodging: Leopoldskrohn in Salzburg, Austria
I mean, you can’t beat staying in a castle with beautiful halls for dining, an incredible old library in which I could be content to just sit, surrounded by old musty books for hours on end, and a view that includes delightfully landscaped gardens, a lake, and mountains rising in the distance.  Did I mention that this was used as the set for the Von Trapp home in the Sound of Music?  I felt like I was living in a fairy tale.

Biggest Disappointment: No swans in Hallstatt
This tiny little town up in the lake district in Austria had enough charm that it was still quaint and endearing to walk through, but I must admit, I was really looking forward to the swans Rick Steves promised me in his guidebook. 

Best View During a Meal: A restaurant balcony overlooking the Ludwigsee on the way to Hallstatt
After some initial lost in translation moments, we eventually ordered some fish for lunch and some homemade apple struedel for dessert.  It was delicious, but let’s be honest for a moment – everything tastes better when you are overlooking mountain lakes and little villages.

Most Hospitable: Our hotel in Old Town Prague
Before we even finished checking in, the hotel manager came over to introduce herself and shake my sister Rachel’s hand.  Then we had complimentary room service arrive at our door before it had even closed.  This was followed immediately by a phone call checking to make sure our room was satisfactory.  Welcome to Prague.
Craziest Streets: Prague
The streets were tiny, twisting, narrow, cobblestone corridors that I loved walking down, but proved impossible to navigate.

Most Blessed By: The kindness of strangers
We had several moments in our trip when things could have lapsed into small disasters, were it not for the kindness of strangers.  There are several people who brought us places out of their way, gave us tips on beautiful places to visit, and helped us navigate when we were lost.  Without them, I’m fairly certain Rachel and I would still be wandering the countryside of the Czech Republic.  
Favorite Cultural Experience: How do I decide?
It is definitely a toss-up between the marionette theater in Salzburg and the ballet in Prague.  As you can imagine, the marionette theater’s rendition of The Sound of Music was delightful in the most ridiculous and enchanting sort of way, and the ballet was just beautifully breathtaking to watch.  
Best People Watching: Pigeon Boy
While eating gelato in front of the Astronomical Clock in Prague, we were mesmerized by this little bitty boy who was not big enough to have pedals on his tiny bike.  He focused in on a single pigeon in the square and chased it down with impressive speed and agility for someone so tiny.  He reminded me a bit of my friend Rachel who enjoys chasing birds at the beach.  

Best Weather: Our last day in Prague
This trip was a good reminder that God controls the weather, not  We were less than thrilled that rain was in the forecast for over half our trip.  Every day we dutifully packed our umbrellas, and nearly every day God blessed us with sunny blue skies.  The last day in Prague though was our favorite weather day.  It wasn’t too hot (like the day we thought it would be a good idea to bike along the Danube), or so windy that we found it impossible to see through our tangled locks of hair (like the day we toured a palace in Vienna).  Here is a pic of our “calm” hair on the windy day.

Favorite Sound of Music Moment: Too many to count
This category has to be included because Salzburg is where the movie was filmed.  We were able to tour many of the sites of the movie.  I loved Mirabell Gardens, which is where much of the Do-Re-Me song takes place.  I also must admit that the gazebo where Rolf and Liesl danced was more lovely and whimsical than I anticipated.  Fun fact: the gazebo is locked to tourists because once upon a time, a woman tried to leap from bench to bench, just as in the movie, but she fell and broke her hip.

Best Slide: The second slide in the salt mine
We toured a salt mine outside of Salzburg, and learned a lot about salt and European history through our trek deep into the mountain.  The highly dramatized educational films we watched along the way definitely added to the experience.  There are two wooden slides that you take down deeper into the mine, just as the miners do.  We liked the second slide better because A) it was longer and thus more fun and B) let’s just say it took us a while to get the hang of mine sliding…
Best Wildlife Viewing: A man taking a pony for a walk in the English Garden
I know I was jet-lagged at the time, but I also have witnesses to back me up.  I really did see a man walking his pony through the garden, like one might walk a puppy.  I was almost equally delighted by the little toddler who followed his puppy’s example, and approached us on all fours sniffing the air and barked at us. 
Favorite Church: St. Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna
St. Stephen’s is an imposing gothic cathedral.  It is incredible to look up at from the street and also gorgeous on the inside.  We saw a lot of fancy churches, so St. Stephen’s should be excited to win the title of favorite.  

Favorite person we would like to take home with us (or at least out for Viennese Coffee and Cake): Our tour guide at the State Opera House
This guide is among the most graceful and charming people I have ever met.  She was so effortlessly elegant and delightful.  We really wanted to put her in our pocket and take her with us, but we didn’t think that someone so elegant would want to try to fit in a pocket, so we went on our own to experience Sacher Torte at the fancy hotel across the way.
Best Meal: Wienerschnitzel under a Ferris wheel
Do you watch “The Amazing Race?”  Since my return, I have been informed that the show one-upped my favorite meal, by having contestants eat wienerschnitzel while ON the Ferris wheel.  We were not quite as cool as that, but I still loved the experience.  
Best Train Advice: Hope for the best!
It was often tricky to tell if it truly was your train that was at the platform, so eventually we used the “hop on and hope for the best” game plan.  I’d say we had a 95% success rate.  
Favorite Games: “Play at your own risk” in the labyrinth 
Hedge mazes are fun in and of themselves, but we were quite amused that in two of the labyrinths at Schoenbrunn Palace there were signs warning you to use the games at your own risk.  Upon further investigation (trying the “games” out) I think you’d have to try really hard for these harmless interactive stations to be risky.  

Best Train and Metro Navigator: Rachel
Best Street Navigator: No one. 
Most Difficult Task: Finding our new hotel.  Every time.  
Most Stressful Tour: Trick Fountains at Hellbrunn Palace
We lived on edge during the whole tour because water could shoot out at you from the most unexpected places, at the most unexpected times.  
Most reminded me of Hope CC: Crows in Munich’s English Garden

Sights I could not get enough of: Europe
If I have to choose more specifically than that, I will say that I loved the cobblestone streets lined with old, dignified buildings.  I loved the Alps.  I loved the bicycles, window boxes, and old fashioned doors.  I took too many pictures of all of these things. 

I loved our trip, and I love that I can take advantage of the season of life I am in to do fun and amazing things.  Wherever you are at in life, I encourage you to take full advantage of the experiences before you.  Live the life God has given you to the fullest.  Traveling is one of my favorite things because I can’t get enough of learning about other cultures, seeing how other people do life, and taking in the amazing beauty that God has created all around the world. 

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