I wish I could take a picture of it, but it wouldn’t show up through this small airplane window I am peering out of. We are flying over the vastness of Russia right now, about 4 hours still until we reach India. We are fleeing the land of the midnight sun, and it has now just about set. Most of the clouds and sky are a dark gray, but I can still make out a little bit of land below. The sky towards the sun is streaked with candy-colored pink clouds. And below I can see a river reflecting them, a concentrated lightening bolt of pink.
I’m excited about today. We have one flight left this afternoon; seven hours on a plane and we will step out onto hot, humid, Indian soil. Our return is a sort of pilgrimage to our travel mecca, the place where the plan began. Three years ago Matt and I each journeyed to India for the first time. Matt went first with a group of students from the University of California for a six-month study-abroad program. I came two months later for a three-week visit. If travel were a swimming pool, Matt saw the water and dove in. I walked to the edge and dipped in my toes, and then I sat on the steps for a while to get used to the water.
One of my last days in India three years ago was on an overnight train from Udaipur to Delhi. Matt and I shared a cabin with a British couple who were on their way home from a seven-month trip through Asia. They had quit their jobs before starting their travels, and were faced with the decisions they would have to make when they returned home in a few days. Matt confided in me that he thought what they did was awesome and that he hoped to do the same. I thought he was crazy.
Now, as we return, Matt and I are going in the water together. Time and other trips have brought us to the same chapter in traveling, and since we got engaged two years ago, we’ve eagerly awaited to commence this part of our life. So much planning has gone into this trip, as well as the anticipation of how it would impact our lives. Certainly I am excited by the prospect of travel, new experiences, and learning. But I am most excited to begin this adventure with my husband and to go through crazy things together. Even though India is the foreign country we are most familiar with, we still have no idea what is in store. Last night we ended up getting a hotel for our 20+ hour layover in Helsinki. Savoring the stay, I took a long hot shower (best of the trip so far), and slept under clean sheets without a fan or AC for what will be the last time for a while. India, here we come!
First of all, Joylani also thought I was crazy when I asked her out- it just takes awhile for her to come around J
Today is our final international travel day for awhile. And I can’t say that I’m not a bit relieved. I’ve written already about how much we’ve see and experienced, but it’s been tiring too. We’ve only slept in beds 3 out of the last 5 nights and last night would’ve been a night in the Helsinki airport (where we had a one-night layover), except that Joylani convinced me to get a hotel room. The past month has been like CBS’ Amazing Race, a different country almost every day. This wild blitz through Europe has been a great way to kick-off our journey, but our trip is only starting now in many ways. We don’t plan to travel that quickly again. We really want to delve into and experience places, rather than just sightsee a bunch of places. But Joylani got to see Europe for the first time and I got to see some new countries. The European portion of our trip was planned like a military operation though, as its expensive and we were traveling in a larger group. But it was a good scouting trip, if you will, to see where in Europe we’d like to visit in the future.
Here are a few facts about our July:
26 days, 12 countries, 9 flights on 4 airlines, 3 boats, dozens of trains and buses.
Joylani’s favorite country: Turkey
Joylani’s favorite city: Copenhagen
Overall best thing Joylani saw: Hard question, but I really liked Notre Dame
Joylani’s favorite meal: Gyros with some white wine, in Athens
Best Surprise: seeing Nora Jones at the Acropolis
Matt’s favorite country: Turkey
Matt’s favorite city: Istanbul
Overall best thing Matt saw: Ephesus
Matt’s favorite meal: Every lamb kebap I ate
Best Surprise: Estonia
After such an amazing month of travel, it feels weird to continue on. It’s really unfathomable for me that we’re going to continue. I mean it seems like we should go back to work. We could have plausibly taken three and a half weeks off of work and returned with no vacation time for the remainder of the year. But we’re not returning, we’re continuing. As the reality of this whole thing dawns on me, I think “it’s” finally hitting me. What are we doing? Did we really quit our jobs? Are we crazy? What were we thinking? Is this really happening? Of course, we’ve been gone for nearly a month, but it’s only now that I’ve had a few days to really think and reflect. We’re actually doing this.
Our last night in Istanbul, Joylani and I sat with Jackie and Alex as they enjoyed some hookah on the rooftop terrace of our hotel. We were just talking about highlights and funny stuff from the past month. As Alex and Jackie began lamenting their return to home and work, they said how they couldn’t believe we get to keep going. They were incredulous that such an amazing trip was coming to an end, yet it was just the beginning for Joylani and I. Alex added, “You know I’ve been thinking about how everyone says they wish they were doing what you were doing or had done what you’re doing. And they say you’re going to have an awesome time. Well, I’ve been thinking about all that and they’re right- you ARE going to have an awesome time!”
The ironic thing about all of this is the more I realize what we’re doing, the more it hits me, the only word that comes to mind is “unbelievable.”
I’m happy to announce that I’ve finally finished my review of Europe. It took me a while to finish because, unlike Matt, I don’t prefer to write at night. I’m a sleepy one and when I’m tired it is hard for me to think straight. Usually when I do write something late at night and then read it the next day, I end up re-writing most of what I wrote anyway. So I try not to write at night. However, this has been a problem for this first leg of the trip since the days have been full of sightseeing and traveling, leaving little time for me to write. I apologize for the long gap in my posts and hope that you aren’t too tired of reading about Europe yet!
Paris. We spent the most time in Paris out of all the European cities. It was great for all the sites and museums, and so much fun to finally see them all in person. My favorite thing I did in Paris was go to see Notre Dame. We came up on the side of the church and immediately went to a side entrance taking us up a narrow spiral staircase to the top of the tower. We were greeted by whimsical gargoyles and a great view of the city at dusk.
After hanging out at the top for a while, we made our way down the dizzying stairs to see the front of the building. Either I had never seen a picture before (Disney’s The Hunchback doesn’t count), or I did and just forgot what it looked like. Either way, I was very surprised when we came around to the front of the building and it was covered with all these crazy statues and carvings. There was hardly a part of the front façade that had a plain surface. The sanctuary was splendid too, with the glow from hundreds of tea light candles bouncing off the walls.
Stripes, bikes, and fresh design. Copenhagen easily won me over with the large number of bicycles and cheerful colors found in the clothing, design shops, buildings, and even our hotel. The city proved to be visually stimulating and relaxing at the same time. It was a stark contrast from Paris’ blocks upon blocks of sand and grey colored buildings with endless shutters and wrought iron window boxes; the buildings in Copenhagen weren’t as imposing and the red bricks most were built out of looked lively against the deep blue-grey sky. Copenhagen felt warm and familiar. The bikes reminded me of Isla Vista,* only the riders were stylishly dressed and they had real blonde hair. The bikes parked around the main train station were greater than those outside of Campbell Hall.** Every fourth person seemed to be wearing a boldly striped shirt. The girls dressed in lots of layers, and almost everyone had on leggings under a either long shirt or short skirt. Even in the light rain during my first two days there, the bright colors made the city seem so happy and alive. In fact, it is. I heard that the people in Denmark are some of the happiest in the world. A highlight was staying at the SAS Radisson, known as the first design hotel in the world. The hotel was originally designed, architecture, furniture, and even the dinnerware, by Arne Jacobson, but I read that the inside has since been redone with little regard to his original style. Since I don’t really know what that was however, that detail had little effect on diminishing my excitement for the interior of the hotel. In simple words, I thought it was great. Clean lines, refreshing color palette, and a heated floor in the bathroom made our night in Copenhagen a fun one.
Adding to the adventure, I think I may be one of the few people who have caught up on laundry by hand washing in a 5-star hotel room.
Luckily, the heated towel rack speeded up the drying process.
I’ll try to not go on too long about Copenhagen, but I can’t finish this post without mentioning the fabulous home design shops and wares, bold patterns, and endless items that I would have loved to take home with me. Ikea is Macy’s, and Copenhagen is Saks.
*Location of UCSB
**Largest lecture hall at UCSB
In lieu of a formal tour, the fam opted to go with a taxi driver who could take us around town to show us the sights. Luckily for us, we got a chain-smoking Turkish guy. He didn’t know too much about Stockholm, but he did give me the number for the police in Turkey, which wasn’t too reassuring. Hopefully I won’t need it! Even though I didn’t learn much about the city or its history, I enjoyed running a few errands (making up for lost baggage) in the city with Matt while the others in our group toured an old house. I like going to grocery stores and pharmacies in other countries because I get to see what normal people do. There’s something that is intriguing about seeing items similar to what I would see at home. I think what goes through my mind is that I know I can get it if I need to, even if I also know I won’t.
As for the food, I tried the fried herring but probably won’t again, however the lignon berry sauce was very good. (Does the word “herring” remind any of you of American Tale?)
My old boss’ boss was from Finland, but from her height, you would never guess the Finns are GIANTS. But just so you know, they are. I consider myself to be somewhat tall-at 5’9”ish I usually find myself taller than those around me, especially girls. I knew something up when the girls we passed on the street in Helsinki were at least a few inches taller than me. Not just one or two girls, but a lot of them. And they weren’t wearing big heels or anything, just natural tallness.
We spent a second day in Helsinki during a layover en route to Delhi. Even though we didn’t venture far from the airport, I will say that Finland seems like a beautiful country with lots of trees and open land. I’m making plans in my head for a return to Scandinavia-perhaps a bike/camping trip around Denmark, Sweden and Finland with a glimpse of the Northern lights??!
St. Petersburg, Russia
It was sprinkling outside on and off. This man was painting along a canal outside of a gift shop we visited. Seemingly oblivious to the outside world and his inside out umbrella, he was surprisingly aware of his surroundings and after I took this photo he began to use the umbrella as a shield not from the rain but from other tourists trying to take his picture. I don’t blame him. Who would want to be disturbed during his serene moment of catching the light reflecting off the buildings as it streamed through the clouds?
The architecture in St. Petersburg was delightful and impressive. Many of the old buildings were painted with rich pastels-green and yellow with white trim, and the interiors were ornate with gold leaf and painted ceilings. We visited two main sites: the Hermitage, the world’s second largest museum, housed in the old Winter Palace, and the Peterhoff Palace-parts of which, including the garden, were built to rival that of Versailles. I was disappointed to have missed some of the more modern works at the Hermitage (the impressionists, and, my favorite, Picasso), but it was still and amazing museum and even though our guide commented on the crowds, it seemed half-empty to me after the hordes of people at the Louvre.
Concluding thoughts: If I could only go to the Louvre and Versailles or the Hermitage and Peterhoff, I would definitely go to Russia. The collection at the Hermitage is amazing it was nice to see paintings without being crowded by other people. As for liking the Peterhoff over Versailles, they are both amazing buildings and the gardens are huge at each. But I liked the half structured, half rambling garden at the Peterhoff over the very structured garden at Versailles.
My highlight here was my first time going into a Russian Orthodox Church. There are no benches or instruments allowed, and when I entered my ears were met with the sounds of accapella choral music and my eyes with the empty floor space. Together the two elements made the room seem very reverent. Before seeing Talinn, I wondered how this small capital of a small nation could be an appealing tourist destination, but it definitely surprised me and won me over with its mellow brand of medieval charm.
Would you buy your child a toy from this man?
I can’t give too much assessment on Poland because we didn’t spend much time there. What stuck with me the most was the lingering impact of communism on the country and the people. I admired our jolly taxi drivers, a few years older than my parents, who had only known communism the first two thirds of theirs lives, and who were still young during the solidarity movement and when all the big changes were taking place.
Warnemude and Rostock, Germany
Matt and I spent our time in Germany between two small towns. Rostock had beautiful brickwork on the buildings. We spent most of the day in and out of Grossmans-a Rite Aid type store, stocking up on random things we needed such as shoelaces, q-tips, and nail clippers. Not too interesting, but it was nice to take a mellow day and run some errands without feeling like there were things that I had to see. The one place I was curious about was Warmandnudie, er Warnemude, which was to be my first time at a nudist beach. However, when we arrived it appeared to be a normal beach with lots of families and sunburned leathery folks. No nudies, probably a good thing.
Germany was the first time I visited a place where my family is from. My mom is mostly German, and two of my great-great grandfathers were German preachers. Passing through the old buildings and churches in Rostock helped me to picture a little bit of what their life must have been like back in the old country.
Switzerland marked the start of traveling on Matt and my plans rather than on those of the family vacation. Luckily, this didn’t mean we had to say goodbye to Matt’s whole family at once because his brother and sister stayed with us for the remainder of our time in Europe. Other than the 50% decrease in the size of our traveling party (from 8 to 4 people), the biggest change since leaving the cruise has been that in our diet. Starting in Switzerland we began to subsist on mostly bread, cheese, and yogurt. This hasn’t been too bad since those are three foods I like very much, but it is a drastic change from the 4 course meals on the ship.
In Lucerne we met up with one of my friends from Jr. High, Melissa. I have always wanted to meet up with someone I knew in a place far from home. This desire started in college when I was just one of two people from my graduating class to attend UCSB, and the only one to stay past the first quarter. Even though I made some good friends in the dorm, I longed to see someone who I had more history with than a couple months. So still, every now and then when I am in a place far from home, I think of how much fun it would be to run into someone I know. This is how we found Melissa (or rather, she saw us first). I knew she was arriving in Lucerne on the same day but Melissa and I had not made any specific plans on when or where to meet. We (Matt, Jackie, Alex and I) were walking in the general direction of her hotel, meandering through cobblestone streets and window shopping. And then it happened. A familiar voice called out in the street, “Hey!” It was Melissa! It was nice to be in beautiful Switzerland, meet an old friend, and have a little fantasy come true all at the same time.
· We were failures at finding places to eat food, but on the first night this paved the way for one of my favorite meals-eating bread and cheese (what else!) on the steps in front of an old cathedral looking out on the city of Lucerne in the company of good friends.
· Waking up to Mt. Pilatus was amazing. I’m glad we had such a big window in our room from which to view the big mountain!
· I loved the hike partway up Mt. Pilatus and was frustrated that I couldn’t walk the whole way due to me stupidly wearing sandals and because of my bad knee. If you ever go there, be sure to hike part of the way. The gondola is great, but you miss out on so much of the details when you are up so high. It was fun to hike with Melissa because we chatted about the similarities between the Swiss forest and those at home.
· Scandinavia is my new fav. I come from a rainy, green, and forested place, and consequently those elements are often found in other places I love. The parts that I saw of Denmark, Sweden, and Finland were lush and green and colorful. Cities are interesting on many levels: architecture, history, and people. But there is no rival for the pristiness of God’s creation in its natural form. This is definitely a place that I would like to return so that I can see more. Hopefully one day I will return.
· Crocs-Between Demark and Switzerland I saw way more Crocs on people and in stores than I thought possible.
Panorama Pension in Lucerne. It smells a little musty-dusty and the carpet felt like sticky felt (just wear shoes), but the price is reasonable and the place had an amazing view. The owner, Kurt, is very jovial and nice.
Things I miss so far:
· Asian food-particularly [sticky] rice and noodles. I’ve been specifically craving chow mein, and even though I’ve seen Chinese restaurants in almost every city, I just haven’t gotten any yet.
· Sweats-the warm and fuzzy kind. (I’ve had plenty of the other kind the last few days and would gladly welcome a little bit cooler weather). There’s just something so comfortable and relaxing about a pair of comfy sweat pants.
· My family and friends–xoxo