Happy 4th of July!

On this day celebrating our independence from the British Empire I am RESTING! Lately, with the mini farm coming up, I don’t have time to “rest”… it’s a mad dash from 0545 to 2100 to complete all daily duties before bedtime. With 3 days off from work and the weekend ahead I decided today was a good day to take naps and sit in air condition for a while.

Creating and establishing my dream of raising our own food is a lot of work! It all began to become reality when I picked up those 12 chicks from Tractor Supply in March. While my littles hung out in the brood box growing like weeds I was cleaning out the old hen house (a repurposed horse stall) and dreaming a little more.

When I lived in Kannapolis at my dads home place I read Organic Farming magazines my mom bought for me. One of the magazines had a really cool article about pigs that didn’t rut and need mud pits, they liked to sleep burrowed into hay in clean, dry space. It was a heritage pig that was just barely escaping extinction; the pig was mid-size growth wise, a family pig that was great for small farms. This image of the pig and article stuck with me and I’ve been hoping to raise some myself one day.

Craigslist to the rescue! I love love love Craigslist! And Facebook Market… but Craigslist is a great resource for finding local farm animals and supplies. While perusing listings one day I came across a post about KuneKune pigs in Smithfield, NC. I reached out to the contact and immediately established a great bond with Caroline, the owner of As We Go farm. They work diligently to raise healthy, happy and quality bred KuneKune’s as well as chickens, goats and Malamute dogs. A week later Marty and I were off in the truck for a 3hr drive to Smithfield to pick up our first breeding pair of KuneKunes!

Sally and Fat Back now live with us here at the farm! They are super cute KuneKune’s with perky ears and a turned up nose. KuneKune’s were brought to New Zealand at some point in the past, as they began to become extinct there (as faster growing, larger pigs became popular) there was an effort to save the blood line and several were brought to the U.S. There is actually a KuneKune registry to ensure bloodlines are pure and since our pigs are part of the registry they each had DNA sent to California for proof of lineage. Thankfully these two pigs are for breeding so they get to stay with us forever and I can become attached to them… within reason.

Sally and Fatty love their swimming pools, they love all food and are pretty much bullies with the other animals if food is involved… but take food out of the equation and they love to have their backs brushed, a good ear scratching and Fatty will sit for you and eventually roll over for a belly rub! They are pigs so their sounds are pretty intimidating until you learn that they’re all bark and no bite! Sally is older so that we didn’t have to worry about Fatty getting her pregnant too soon, once Fatty comes into his manhood Sally will be old enough to carry her first piglets — hopefully we’ll have our first babies this fall/winter!!

Through Craigslist I’ve also found a close chicken resource in the neighboring town Polkton, Easter Egg Farms. Molly supplied me with two beautiful New Hampshire Red laying hens so I could go ahead and have fresh eggs until my chicks mature. As well, I bought two Silkie roosters from her for fun. Uncle Bob and Ray are pretty hilarious and make me think of cartoons when they chase each other. My adolescent roosters are just coming into their roo so Uncle Bob doesn’t have much longer to be dominant, but he’s enjoying it until the end. My Reds are pretty dominant as well and actually rule to the roost. Molly’s girls handle all of their chickens daily so they are very friendly and don’t mind being picked up. Now I work hard to handle all my Henny Pennies so they stay friendly! We have 2 New Hampshire Reds, 2 Silkie Roos, 4 whites, 2 Cochin, 3 black laced Wyandotte’s, 3 reds, 4 Guineas.

Mr. Olson, a friend through a friend, in Kannapolis keeps Nubian dairy goats. He loves teaching and sharing his small farm with families so I’ve been out in the past to visit when he has goat kids, as well visit his chickens and bee hives. When his nanny dropped two buckling kids this year I jumped on it and asked if we could adopt them. After visiting and speaking with Mrs. Olson about goat milk and how much they enjoyed it I began thinking it might be a great addition to our growing farm. As I began learning more about goat milk and its many uses I talked with Marty and his parents to determine if we’d all be on board to use it. The consensus was a resounded “yes” so I found Amy, at Laurel Hill Farm in Gastonia raising beautiful, ADGA registered Nubians! A week later we drove down and picked up our two sweet girls Hot Lips and Klinger. They come from a strong dairy line and mommas that produce a lot of milk on a daily bases. They were 12 weeks old and had quite the personalities! Hot Lips is pretty social but talks and bosses around all day long. Klinger is shy and not so sure she enjoys being petted; she’s also incredibly accident prone and broke her leg within a few weeks of moving to our farm. An emergency vet visit, PVC pipe splint and follow up visit she is doing great — actually, we finally get to take the splint off this weekend!!

Marty has been very supportive and helpful as I began my mini farm. He spends his weekends helping me build fencing, fixing up the hen house, working on tools for me, working in the garden or walking around Tractor Supply pricing supplies and listening to me spout off ideas. His only request was a fainting goat… well, I found us a buckling in Salisbury and off we went to pick up Hawkeye. He’s the cutest buckling, black and white with tiny horns. Pretty quiet for 7 weeks old and very docile. I fell in love, he was so tiny compared to the Nubians, and he was super chill. Edgar and I were working down with the goats and Edgar made him faint the first time — I called Marty and told him all about it!! Then… no more fainting, Marty and Brea tried everything, I even went down with umbrellas one day and Hawkeye was fearless!! Finally, several weeks later Brea was visiting, we were hanging out with the goats and Marty made Hawkeye faint! (There is a video clip on my IG) Now he tends to lock-up fairly frequently with the other animals, primarily in the morning when I’m letting them out of the barn, but he’s learning and getting better about controlling it. He’s still a sweetie but he is learning from Hot Lips how to talk more!

And finally… Nigerian Dwarf goats. After a wonderful night at Twisted L Horse farm in Richfield, at a women’s night out (Women, Wine and Equine) I met Jessie and her husband. They have lots of dairy goats and horses, were pretty awesome people and I eventually bought a breeding starter set of Nigerian Dwarf goats from them. They too are ADGA registered and from a great farm family that want to raise quality, healthy animals. Two 3 year old females, Zeva and Halo came to live with us along with a 2 week old buckling, Radar. Radar is a bottle baby so I’ve been spending the last several weeks quite attached to him… he tends to act a little more like a dog than a goat, but these days he’s spending entire days with all the goats so he’s growing. Zeva is incredibly social and wants to be petted constantly, Halo is a little shy but after she warms up to you she likes to squeeze in close and have her neck scratched.

After the last addition I had to reach back out to Mr. Olson and ask him if he had any others interested in his wethers, as our farm exploded and I no longer needed wethers (bucks who have been castrated). He did end up having someone else interested, so his two wethers won’t end up here. I’m excited to explore the dairy goat world and look forward to having fresh goat milk next spring. My plans are to breed one of the Nubians and one of the Nigerian Dwarf goats to bring our girls into milk next year. I’ll start with two and if it goes well, we enjoy the milk and I can manage the work load maybe we’ll breed the other two as well.

So… there is where we stand with animals.

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Let’s talk about me… in a large nutshell

I thought today it might be a good time to kind of do a re-cap of sorts about me… who I am, where I came from and what I’m up to these days. Originally runcharityrun.com was created for my Team in Training fundraising days and from there I’ve just kept it, repurposing it from time to time. The use of the word “re-cap” is a little deceiving, this is flipping long… take it or leave it. Friends I’ve known since childhood know me and most of what I do never surprises them, but friends I’ve gained through my adult years don’t necessarily know as much about me and lately I’ve been surprising them. LOL

Who am I? First, I’m a child of God, blessed beyond measure and working each day to live in gratitude, without fear or worry and as a light to this world. I have 2 wonderful parents, an older brother and a life partner that is my best friend! Then there is my pug, Edgar, he is essentially my child since I never had a desire for children so he’s my dude.

Growing up we lived in a rural North Carolina town (though I didn’t realize it was “rural” until well into my 20’s) my father came from a farming family; my mom from a family that moved to the area for jobs at Cannon Mills. Why do I define this? Well, to underline that farming, open land, woods to play in and a mostly-outdoors-in-town family was ingrained in me from childhood.

My father was burnt out on farming by the time he became an adult so he pursued other dreams. My mom likes to describe to us where he lived (in the middle of no-where) when they were first married and how dark it was — she came from living a few blocks from downtown Concord.

Growing up we living in an old mill house a few blocks from downtown Kannapolis on 2 lots. My parents purchased the house and my dad slowly remodeled it through the years to make it more functional. I remember avocado green tiles in the bathroom, avocado green appliances in the kitchen and a shag yellow/brown carpet in the hall. The only thing I ever disliked was the carpet, it had a really rough texture to it and itched my legs. Mine and my brothers rooms were across the hall from each other so we played a lot of games between those doorways including shooting marbles (which oddly I remember very clearly). Avocado green is also one of my favorite colors to this day!

Firmly believing in chores and teaching their children to be responsible we grew up helping around the house and eventually mowing the grass as we got older. My brother mowed the hard side and I got the mostly flat side. Even with a self-propelled lawn mower (which literally dragged me around sometimes) I eventually hated mowing the grass. “When I grow up” started forming to the sorts of a townhouse with a small postage stamp front yard for my eventual dog to pee on.

During our childhood we loved going out to the Brumley farm to see the cows and gardens. My parents have VHS tapes of me talking to the cows, making a licking-face to impersonate the cows and of my uncle carrying his equally large camcorder. This makes me laugh… what a great time! My grandfather would fill up water troughs for me to swim in, we had a little red tricycle we’d ride up and down the quarter mile paved drive and I’d take morning walks with my grandmother around the neighboring trailer park picking baby daisies.

At home we played in the back yard, explored the over-grown second lot and as my dad filled in the gully to make the second lot usable, we played in a LOT of dirt piles. I remember, rather vividly, huge dump trucks bringing in fill dirt and the giant piles being the most amazing playground a kid could ever ask for. Of course, having an older brother meant we played a lot of G.I. Joe and built dirt forts we “bombed” with dirt globs. There were many evenings we had to strip at the back door before heading to the shower because we were filthy!

On the other side of the family, the Morgan side, my pawpaw rode us around in his mail car and took us over terrifying hills that “got your stomach”, woke up early on Saturday mornings to him blaring the Trading Post on the AM channel and the most amazing buttered toast. My Grandma Net loved gardening, and to this day has the prettiest yard! She’d let me help her plant flowers and taught me the best way to make things grow and how to trim them back. I have so many wonderful memories with our entire family there; eating delicious meals, playing in the yard, hiding in the attic of the garage. Before we regularly started showing up there we spent all of our family gatherings at my Great Grandma Ruthies house. She had an awesome back yard that gently sloped to the back porch so we could ride our little tricycles out there or chase each other down the hill. Someone would be making ice cream on the back porch while we picked snake berries and played house in the bushes along the yard.

Ok, so needless to say… as a kid we spent a lot of time outdoors solidifying my love for nature. As I grew up, life got busy — soccer, basketball, horseback riding etc. I kind of dabbled in everything and enjoyed it all. My parents always encouraged me to chase dreams and try out anything new as long as I followed through the commitment. The one and only year I decided to try out softball, I hated it… they made me the catcher and the balls were terrifying!! When they put me in outfield I had fun playing in the clover… my parents made me finish out that season because I committed to it. Obviously I didn’t make it pro.

High school came along, I was submersed in soccer, basketball and horses. My brother and I would go out-back, roughing-it camping together. We had grown up camping as a family through the years so we enjoyed the wilderness survival side (him more so than me). College came and I was still playing soccer and working with horses but there wasn’t much time for anything else. Weekends at home were often spent at my uncles land riding 4-wheelers and such or at the lake with friends. I still didn’t have that dog though.

Eventually I got married in 2008, I never got the townhouse, but during my first marriage we did buy a house with only .17 of an acre and I had my pug, so that’s close enough. Eventually that dissolved in 2011 and I began triathlons for the first time. My girlfriend kept encouraging me to try it because I had become a fairly efficient runner (running was cheaper than a gym membership). So I bit the bullet, took my bonus that spring and bought my first road bike. Following my road bike purchase I joined Team in Training through the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society for my first sprint triathlon.

The love of triathlon was born! I followed that love for 4 dedicated years finally making it to Ironman Chattanooga in September 2015. Not only did I meet some amazing people, I’m honored to still have in my life. That Ironman year I also met Marty via a good friend setting us up. Neither of us were interested in dating, so of course we clicked like a puzzle missing the final pieces. For the last year I had been adhering to a strict vegan diet and loved the way I felt during training, but as our relationship progressed it became difficult to plan two meals every day and after my Ironman I finally went back to meat. LOL

Ok… now. Let’s talk food. Being incredibly conscious of what I was consuming made me continue “thinking” about my food when I changed my diet back to include… about everything. Marty would always laugh at me for shopping at Harris Teeter, but they had one of the best organic sections around our area (yes, it is definitely more expensive but they have their own line now and it’s much more affordable). During my triathlon years I met a lot of awesome people who helped me learn more about food. The best foods for the exercise we were doing, new ways to cook, new foods to cook, etc.

Where am I going with this? Food, conscious thought… where does it (food) come from? There are some great books out there talking about what you should or shouldn’t eat– but the easiest rule of thumb is “if your grandmother doesn’t know what it is, don’t eat it!” Ok, I’m not talking about a different culture and their food, I’m talking ingredients.

Marty hunts, his daughter hunts, his dad hunts… they know what their deer have been living off of. I’m an animal lover, so at first this kind of bothered me. About like the time when I was young and learned we were eating the cows from pawpaws farm I talked to… I stopped eating beef for a while. Marty introduced me to hunting and helped me see that we were only killing and eating what we needed. We honored the deers life the best we could and in turn, it provided for our family.

Now, you may argue — but Walmart is JUST down the street! You have a Food Lion, Harris Teeter, Publix etc. I would like to ask you, have you ever seriously considered where your food comes from? How it’s raised, how it’s processed, how many hands it has to go through before it makes it to that refrigerated shelf where you then pick it up and purchase it, set it on a shelf in your fridge or freezer a bit longer… and then eat it? Well I have and there are a lot of documentaries out there you can look up; I firmly believe this is a personal journey so no judgement from me. There is also an amazing effort from organic farmers and other farmers trying to raise healthier food for their communities and I love it! Sustainable farming is tough work, it takes a balance big farming can’t do, but I believe it’s the right way.

My friend, Elizabeth Anne Dover has her own vineyard and farm (Dover Vineyard, Concord, NC). We grew up together at 4-H and with mutual friends through the years. I follow her endeavors on Facebook and find it incredibly inspiring! I also have several other friends I’ve either grown up with or met through the years that are farming now.

Slowly I started to have a desire to have my own farm of sorts. Pawpaw did it, I remember loving it and I had a barn in my back yard he used for cows. Slowly the dream evolved, but I just didn’t have time or resources to start. Marty and I eventually moved to Stanfield in the fall of 2016 before I started an insane work project that had me traveling for a year. But that little dream was still there and now we shared 13 acres with his parents.

Finally… March 2018 I text Marty “I just picked up 12 chicks from Tractor Supply!!”… I was so excited to have a beginning! And there… my little farm blossomed. I’ll share more in another post since this one is a mini book. I imagined I’d be sitting down with the goats writing this, but lets face it… farming is hard work so I’m sitting in bed dozing in and out with my iPad on my lap and Edgar snoring beside me. Oh, and Marty, but he’s wide awake enjoying tv.

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Charity, Marty, Edgar, Bee, Sally, Fat Back, Hot Lips, Klinger, Hawkeye, Radar, Zeva, Halo, Chester, Cindy, Uncle Bob, Ray and all of the Henny Pennies

Marty and myself this past weekend at Top Golf with his daughter and son in law.

My sweet Edgar boy, he hit the big 10 this year! I can’t believe we’ve been buddies that long!

My mini farm in it’s growing phase… we now have a permanent paddock and in a few weeks my dad and I are adding on an addition just for the pigs and goats so the chickens can have their space back!

Beautiful Austria… we needed more time with you!

While traveling in Germany we decided to dip into Austria… mostly because we could. We were going to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle and with it being along the boarder it just made sense. We booked a night in Innsbruck, Austria and headed south!

During this time we still had the BMW 5 series so Marty was happily driving down the Autobahn speeding as fast as he was able in areas and enjoying the open road… I had motion sickness patch on and often closed my eyes. I’m not sure why, but it seems each year I become more and more susceptible to motion sickness, and it’s beginning to show itself in odd places. Large boats such as ferries or sight seeing boats are triggers, flying bothers me a bit but GinGins get me through, the cruise ship between Finland and Sweden was a bit of a trigger, and now more frequently car rides… even in the front seat! Bleh. At least we left home with 6 patches and they work brilliantly!

Previously noted, when we arrived at the Neuschwanstein Castle it was after hours so we weren’t able to take a tour. After enjoying the fresh snow and evening sunset we continued traveling through the mountains into Austria. Our host in Austria was a young college kid named Simon; we had a private room at his place for the night and access to the house. He was home when we arrived and cheerfully showed us around the house ensuring we took off our shoes (as everyone does in Europe), asking us to turn off lights when we left a room (as everyone does in Europe) and then proceeded to ask us to take no longer than 7 minutes in the shower (this isn’t usual). It was kind of fun watching him bounce around the house showing us everything and then chuckling at all of the notes posted throughout the house reiterating what he was telling us. Seriously… 3 notes in the bathroom, notes all over the kitchen… you get the picture.

After a good nights sleep, morning tea and a Berliner we headed out to explore Innsbruck. The town is in the middle of beautiful snow covered alps and every turn was absolutely gorgeous. They hosted Winter Olympics in 1976 and still had the Olympic Rings throughout the town. Innsbruck is known for amazing skiing and the town is clearly set up for it with many lifts and buses continually taking people up to the snow. It was fun traveling through the ski town with many people toting around their skis and boards as they walked down the street. It sort of reminds you of Salt Lake City in Utah, but a bit smaller bowl with the mountains closer on all sides.

Since we missed touring Neuschwanstein, we decided to check out Ambras Castle, a medieval fortress turned Renaissance palace, home of Archduke Ferdinand. We snagged free parking (by fluke that the machine was out of order) and we headed in to explore! It may not be the most extravagant castle at first glance, but it was full of history… and peacocks. The only downfall to this castle was that it was cold outside and cold inside. In the lower castle, we went through exhibits showing medieval armor and history of war, but we kept catching a chill! The buildings were not heated and the workers staffing the halls were all as bundled up as we were. It’s a bit amusing… until you need the toilet.

Although the outside of the castle was more simple than others, the inside had beautiful craftsmanship. After learning about the history of armor, medieval amusement of jousting and how it evolved, we followed the tour into what is the oldest museum in the world. The collection put together is quite amazing and also humorous when you begin looking at the oddities collected by the wealthy. Some items such as carved coral, carved ivory, intricate wood carvings, all with insanely tiny, clear details, etched glass, and amazing locks with single keys by a specific locksmith it was funny to look at a painting of the largest hog “in the world” on canvas that the king loved, or ridiculously tall platform female shoes that they technically couldn’t walk in and required an assistant to guide them when they walked… but continued to wear the shoes because it represented their level of wealth. Oh how times have changed… and yes, I am aware we have just as many oddities and amusing bits to poke at with our current wealthy individuals, but the past displays of wealth always tickles me funny.

In the Upper Castle we loved looking at the Spanish Hall with its gorgeous woodwork on the huge doors, the incredibly detailed inlaid woodwork they request you not to touch (which only makes you want to touch them), decorative stone floors, gorgeous ceilings laid out with warm, dark wood and paintings, on the wall you view paintings of Tyrolean rulers (27 life-size portraits) as well as artful detail, tall windows along one side topped with large round windows that had paintings of different scenic views across from them on the opposite wall. It was a lovely room that you could imagine full of life. The craftsmanship put into the decor is unlike anything you see now days; the intricate detail, use of natural products and built to last a lifetime. We had a great time admiring the castle, learning a bit more history and gawking like all of the tourist.

With only one night/day in Austria we made the most of it by visiting the Harley store (a must in each country), tooling around in Old Town to look at the Golden’s Dachl, Innsbruck’s most famous landmark — a golden roof! The Goldenes Dachl, or “little golden roof” is covered with 2,657 gilded tiles that glimmer in the sun. Emperor Maximilian I (1459-1519) ordered his royal box with its flashy roof so that he could watch jousting (something we learned a lot about at Ambras Castle). Finally we ended our day in search of a Starbucks to purchase me a “you are here” mug. Unfortunately, Innsbruck didn’t have a Starbucks, but Marty found one in Salzburg an hour away so we headed onward.

The amusing part… or not so amusing part of driving in most of Europe are the small towns you have to drive through, roundabouts and tiny roads that are two-way but look more like one-way. Now, don’t think for one second that the drive isn’t gorgeous, but it’s a bit tense at moments when it looks like you’re about to barely squeeze by the car in the other lane. Thank God Marty was driving!! After driving for about an hour, we followed GPS into a large parking deck and proceeded to look for Starbucks. We had actually arrived at a large, multi level shopping mall. It had a cool green-space on the ground floor, lots of cafe’s to grab a caffeine fix at and clean, comfortable seating areas throughout. After making a few rounds we finally found our Starbucks and picked up my coffee mug! Marty’s so good to me…

After a full day in Austria we were headed back into Germany… it was our first late-late night for arrival and it irked our host, but we made amends and after arriving close to 1am we finally tucked in for a few nights. (It was a private flat so we didn’t realize the host had to meet us personally to give us the entry fob and key… whoops!! (I wouldn’t make that mistake again).

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Charity & Marty

Germany, Part I

Germany has quickly become a familiar country, grocery stores, speed limits, pubic transit, road signs/directions. It’s a large and beautiful country with so much to offer we find ourselves making it our home base and returning after visiting surrounding countries.

Car travel in Germany is a breeze and rentals can be cheap so we opted for 2 weeks of car rental to allow us a bit more flexibility with travel as well with our baggage. With a car we can not only see sights on our own time table, but we can also shop more easily at grocery stores and take the food with us to the next destination, as well we can stay on the outskirts of towns which is usually more affordable.

As we left Munich our travel plans were to make a sort of loop through Germany with us ending in Hamburg (we did a point-to-point car rental). Along the way we hoped to visit churches, castles and significant historical points throughout. While we drove we’d listen to Rick Steves Europe podcast and learn about architecture, cultures between the Bavarian south of Germany vs the more liberal north and how Germany has been shaped through the years. Revisiting the war-torn years of Germany quickly makes you appreciate your childhood and the lack of need we grew up in.

Ok, ok… castles, fortresses, churches, old towns…

Marienberg Fortress in Würzburg: most of the building date back to the 16th and 18th centuries lending it renaissance and baroque flavors throughout. As like many castles in Europe it has been captured several times, destroyed several times and changed “owners” multiple times through its history. It was fully rebuilt in 1990 and there was additional restoration taking place when we visited. The views across the land from the fortress were magnificent! The walls were massive and we had fun walking atop some of them looking down at the vineyards surrounding the fortress, the village below and across the river.

After enjoying the fortress we went down to the town below and visited St. Mary’s Chapel, a Late Gothic building. Church architecture varies significantly throughout Europe depending on the financial status of members in the community, if it was associated to academic institutes or was built under the patronage of a bishop. It’s been fun looking at the churches and reading about their history as we travel Europe. Marty and I love the beautiful stain glass windows the most and always look forward to entering churches in the afternoon sun.

We visited Würzburg on a Sunday (so Marty could zoom zoom on the autobahn with the least amount of traffic) which meant most of the shops were closed, but there was a heavy concentration of locals out enjoying the winter sun with a glass of wine or a hot coffee. The wind was kicking that day so we opted for hot coffee’s and hiding inside for a bit while we drank them.

Next up, Ulm Minster — the tallest steeple in Europe. It is a Lutheran church and never had a bishop, so it’s not a cathedral. The architecture is to die for and we were amazed. Unfortunately, like most areas in Europe it’s the off season so there is a lot of restoration taking place. Surprisingly, the scaffolding didn’t take away from its beauty (but it doesn’t allow for the most beautiful photos). We were going to climb the minsters spire for the panoramic view, but it wasn’t open all the way to the top so we skipped it.

Onward to Cinderella’s castle! Neuschwanstein Castle in southwest Bavaria. It’s a 19th century Romanesque revival castle perched on a hill, originally commissioned as a retreat and home for the king. Ludwig II of Bavaria paid for the building of the castle out of his personal funds as well as borrowed funds, but did not take from the Bavarian public funds. Shortly after the kings death the castle was opened to the public. As we drove towards the Neuschwanstein castle snow began falling in the mountains, when we arrived there was a light dusting across the land that lended an even more magical touch to the view. Unfortunately we arrived right around 5pm when the castle was closing, so we did not get to tour it. We considered driving back for a tour, but we were headed south into Austria and I didn’t think the time to backtrack was worthwhile.

After enjoying a drive around the village and watching the sunset over the castle we headed onward to Austria… there we found another castle to tour!

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Charity & Marty

Germany, Part I

From Switzerland we took our first double-decker, long-distance bus ride to Munich, Germany. It was a pleasant bus ride with comfortable seats, WiFi, toilet and great views. Bus tickets are cheap, you don’t have to worry about stops along the way (unlike trains) and it’s a nice way to see more of the country as you move between locations.

In Munich we had a one night stay in a private room, so once we arrived at the bus terminal we started our 10 minute walk to the metro and followed our host directions. Onward we went, loaded down with heavy packs and a few bags we were toting since we knew the next day we’d have a car. The metro was easy enough, but German… oh man… most difficult language to decipher yet! Most of the countries we’ve visited I’ve been able to pick up a few key words quickly, but German is tough. Thankfully the metro had line maps posted on the inside I was able to follow so we could get off at the right stop.

One of my favorite parts of riding metros is seeing how they differ in design. The German cars we rode in were most definitely older, they had bench seats with a brown pleather covering them. It looked like a diner on the inside the way the benches faced each other. My favorite cars were in Budapest, they were TINY! Super cute and had a fun, quirky, antique ascetic. Maybe not as comfortable as some of the larger cars we’ve ridden in, but you have to enjoy the evolution of metro cars!

On our first full day in Germany we picked up a very nice BMW 5 series Marty picked out… Germany has the Autobahn so we had to get a fun, fast and comfortable car. The driving in Germany was for Marty — speed was his wish, and he got it! After driving the little Panda Fiat in Italy the BMW 5 series was humongo and felt like a boat in parking decks (thankfully Marty was driving).

Leaving Munich we headed to Heidelberg where we had a private flat for 4 days. After staying in private rooms the last week we were both looking forward to having the space to stretch out and enjoy ourselves. As we drove through Germany’s countryside we were amazed by the vast landscape, it seemed to never end. Beautiful farms dotted the sides of the road, pastures were bright green and there were wind turbines everywhere. Surprisingly the turbines were quite attractive and I loved seeing them peak over the next hill and then come into full view as we drove closer. Germany has an extensive plan for generating additional energy from wind and solar. During our ride I read about their plans, how many turbines they had in production and their plans for the future. With electric power becoming more popular in cars most countries are now consuming more electric than they can supply and with the demand continuing to grow countries are becoming more creative with how to keep up.

The first day on the Autobahn was a bit scary for me, but Marty had a blast! It was a bit fun at points flying down the highway, but during some moments I had to close my eyes! Most of the drivers are pretty good, but occasionally we’d be speeding down the highway and a tiny car would pop over into the left lane and we’d have to dramatically slow down because the car couldn’t accelerate fast enough. When driving in the unlisted speed zones you had to be on your toes!

Our home in Heidelberg was fantastic! Except for the stairs… Marty could have killed me! The house was up the side of a mountain, and you had to climb no less than 4 flights to get to the flat… 4 steep flights. When we spoke to our host the first day she explained that they used to have a lift, but her husbands arm was injured at some point by the lift so they disassembled it. Marty joked with her that the “woman” must have picked out this house, but she enjoyed disputing this and said her husband picked out the house, and that she has to carry the groceries in. On grocery day she carries them up the stairs and he is happily standing at the door ready to help her sort them. LOL Inside the flat we had a shared laundry room, and then a private bathroom, kitchen, living room and bedroom. The weather was cold and windy, as winter tends to be, so we enjoyed building fires in the stove at night and slept curled up tight in the duvets.

Up next… castles… to be continued… we’re in Amsterdam and the day has begun so I’ll catch up soon!

Xoxo,

Charity & Marty

Riiiicooolllaaaa!

From Italy we took our first long distance train to Zurich, Switzerland. When it comes to backpacking travel we’ve learned that trains, ships or bus is definitely the ideal because there are no additional fees for your packs and you have a lot more elbow room! Tip: if you’re riding the train there is usually an open storage area so you need to be swift when boarding so you can snag a spot. The overhead area is small.

Our host in Switzerland gave us excellent directions and we were able to find her home easily with public transit. So far, the only city we’ve used taxi service was in Budapest per the recommendation of our host. Let me just say, Europe has public transit down-pat and I’m in love! One of my favorite parts of working in D.C. was the public transportation and it’s a bit sad compared to everywhere we’ve been in Europe.

The home we stayed in this time was an old, 3-floor townhouse with squeaky stairs, cold wooden floors, a pull levy toilet (tank mounted above on the wall by the ceiling), cozy kitchen and quirky bathroom with a claw-foot tub on a raised platform. It by far has been the most charming house with all of its quirks and old world character. Marty would say “it’s an old house and you need a new one because this one has too much upkeep”, but for me, I loved finally staying in part of the old town rather than a newer apartment. Jolanda, her large dog and room mates were extremely hospitable and fun to chat with. The kitchen was probably my favorite yet, bold yellow, squeezed into a closet size room with a happy clutter of useful pieces surrounding you… and I think they had more hot tea choices than I do at home! I felt right at home as the small, very functional kitchens grow on me.

FYI: Switzerland is the most expensive country we’ve visited yet. Do a little research before you go… we popped out our first night to a U.S. style diner for an easy burger (it got great reviews on google) but I didn’t think to look at prices. Two burgers, two sodas and one fry later we left incredibly happy in the tummy but busting our budget for the entire day with a bill of 55€. We learned our lesson after that and were able to be more budget conscious, but I hadn’t done my research.

Speaking of food… street food is delicious and became our go-to after our first night flub. Brats, pretzels, pretzel sandwiches, fresh baked goods… the choices are never ending and readily available. We picked up fruit, sodas and chocolate in small markets rather than the designer street stores and were able to keep to our budget more easily. I loooooove street food and will try about anything, Europe has made me so very happy with all of the delicious food!

We spent time popping in and out of shops and quaint roads through Zurich, took the train to Luzern and enjoyed the fun art districts.

Our day to Luzern was really nice because the train was cozy and allowed us to see parts of the country we’d have otherwise missed. Unfortunately since we’re exploring during winter months the sun hid and it was a bit gray and cold. I may not have captured as many lovely pictures as I’d have liked, but we still enjoyed the medieval architecture and colorful town. The Chapel Bridge (Europe’s oldest covered bridge) was beautiful and we enjoyed walking through the dark, worn wood admiring its natural beauty. It has been through a serious fire in the past but the reconstruction is handsome and it yields inspiring views of the city lining the river. It’s really very breathtaking walking through so much history.

I’m beginning to be a little slack with photos, they’re on the DSL and most nights I’m exhausted and do not want to pull them off. Maybe I can remember to use my phone camera a little more frequently so I can share more pics. Maybe this week I’ll get to it and put some in here.

Until another time… XX

Charity & Marty

Benvenuti! Italiano! Milano! Grazie! Buongiorno! Ciao!

Frankly, when we arrived in Milan we weren’t impressed. We arrived at Central Station from Milan Malpensa airport (via train) and it was filthy. Signs were misleading or there weren’t enough of them to follow, local and military police kept a hawk-eye on everyone passing through and there were more panhandlers in one location than I believe I’ve ever seen. Reading about Italy and speaking to friends who have traveled in Italy we were on guard for pick-pocket geniuses so that only added to our unease. So I’ll just admit now that we were not excited.

Thankfully our host allowed us to drop off our bags early, so after riding a tram to the closest stop we were able to pop in, meet our host and drop bags. She shared a great book with us to help with sight seeing and we were off! Our first day was a long day due to traveling at 4am in the morning and lack of sleep the night before. It was after 10am before we were able to sit down and eat something and grab a cappuccino. Caffeine helped; it at least kicked us back into a near normal pace!

Let’s talk about cappuccino’s… umm… Italy, you are the BEST! No matter what anyone tells you, once you’ve drank your way through Italy via cappuccinos and lattes any other will be subpar. Sadly, it’s just a fact you have to accept. I know, because now we’re in Switzerland and yea… does not compare! (Plus they’re 3xs more expensive here in Switzerland). When you get tired of sight seeing in Italy you just pop into a cafe and order coffee (mornings are for cappuccinos, afternoon for espresso or lattes) and sit. Restaurants in Italy are slow and laid back, you don’t rush in and rush out— there is no rushing. And you know what? That’s ok, it’s nice to kickback and relax a bit without feeling like you have to scarf everything down and run out to give them a table back.

After spending a night at our host home we felt a little more refreshed and ready to explore Italy further. We decided to take it slow to give ourselves more recovery time. Traveling is amazing and exhausting all at the same time. I wouldn’t trade any of our experiences up to this point, but sometimes you just need to rest. We didn’t leave our host home until after lunch due to enjoying a lovely morning relaxing and reading. Sundays in Italy are even more relaxed than other days so we embraced the slow pace and explored. The buildings are beautiful and they draw you in with every turn. Balconies overflowing with flowers and greenery, soccer balls tucked in corners with other children’s toys. Some flats had their windows open and you could listen to their music wafting through or Italian chatter as friends toasted each other and enjoyed their time together. Families were out and about walking to restaurants or parks, kids were on their bikes following parents and often playing chase with each other. It was heart warming to see all of the families spending time together.

We forgot about afternoon riposo (or rest) so when we decided it was time to find food all of the restaurants were closed until 6:30/7pm (it was around 3:30pm when we felt like eating). As we walked around hoping for an open restaurant we ran into McDonalds… it was open, I was starving and getting “hangry” so we went in. They had multiple ordering kiosk which made it super easy to order and pay for your food (they bring it to your table). The menu is very different than the U.S. so we enjoyed trying it out! Now we know, when in a pinch, McDonalds! They even have a decent cappuccino, although I’d recommend getting them from cafe’s as it’s similar in price and much tastier.

Monday we rented a car, Fiat Panda, so we could drive to Lake Como. I won’t even go into the details of how frustrating it is to find places in Italy… Italy, if I had one request, it would be to take some tips from other countries Central Stations. Lol Let’s talk about getting out of Italy! Driving in Italy is intense, maddening and hilarious. Not only do you have to contend with drivers, but you have motorcycles/scooters that pass you in all directions (cutting across the wrong lanes, in and out of bike lanes, across sidewalks) and then you also have to watch for pedestrians that have the right-of-way at most intersections (except at large ones where they have traffic lights controlling all traffic). Being in the heart of Milan we knew it would be an adventure to get out. We’ve found that GoogleMaps frequently let us down and per online suggestions maybe try Waze next time. Besides being a typical downtown with a gazillion one way streets, it is also full of roundabouts. Marty drove and I helped with navigation. We quickly learned that if you don’t drive super aggressively you’ll either probably die or never get where you’re going. The little Fiat didn’t have a ton of pick-up so Marty would downshift frequently to keep up with traffic. There were little jolts here and there, but it was such a fun ride!

When we arrived in Como GoogleMaps was taking us to the lake… this is where it became incredibly amusing. There is an area surrounded by ancient walls in which Como Cathedral is located. Google decided to take us directly to the lake so next thing I know we’re inside the walls on tiny cobble stone, one-way streets that make the Fiat Panda feel huge while trying to avoid walking pedestrians and follow the blue arrows guiding us down open streets. We couldn’t help but laugh, we frequently got stuck because roads were closed or because there were delivery/work trucks parked in the middle of the one-way streets. After a bit of driving around following blue arrows we finally saw the primary road outside the walls and made a mad dash to get out. Whew… what an adventure! Eventually we found parking and then walked our way through the town within the walls to Lake Como. Lake Como, by the way, is a glacier lake and absolutely gorgeous! Glacier lakes have the best color and this one did not disappoint!

Before leaving Como we headed to the funicular so we could ride above the city and gain a better view of Lake Como. This is the second funicular we’ve ridden since arriving in Europe and it’s the largest I’ve seen. It actually had 4 or 5 connected platforms with seating and the load it could carry was quite large. There were 2 funiculars running at this station, one going up and the other going down at the same time. The views were pretty phenomenal and after arriving at the top I dragged Marty up another 2km to the lighthouse. It was quite the climb and at moments I regretted it, but we finally made it! There were several other tourist traipsing up and down, it felt like we all made a little pact to survive this climb no matter what!

Finally it was time to return our little Fiat, Marty let drive it back into town and although slightly scary it was a blast. I think Marty might have gained a few more gray hairs from my driving, but hey, no accidents and we made it back in a timely manner! Hahaha

After doing some evening laundry at the laundromat we were packed up and ready to head to Switzerland by train the next day. Overall Milan was a lot of fun, maybe a few too many people for us, but we found beauty within and appreciate the opportunity to experience a different culture.

The view of our rooms entrance at our host house

Ci vediamo!

Charity & Marty