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).

XX-

Charity & Marty

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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

Dear Budapest: say my name say my name…

It’s been a busy week/weekend so I’m a bit behind on blogging. Actually, I began the blog a couple days ago but then the night snuck up on me so I fell asleep.

Our time in Budapest, Hungary was pretty awesome and we fell in love! Hungary wasn’t particularly on our list of countries to travel through on our month long excursion, but I couldn’t make decisions on where to go after Sweden so a last minute cheap flight to Budapest it was!

Our host, Romain, met us at the apartment Wednesday night to give us the run down and we settled in. On Thursday the morning light shown through the large windows in our apartment and I couldn’t wait to look out at the interior courtyard! Our apartment was a small studio on the top floor with bold red walls, high ceilings, tall windows and a red toilet. The red was actually invigorating and I kinda fell in love (red isn’t usually my color). The building was downtown with only a 5 minute walk to the heart of the city… the old buildings were amazing to look at and Marty would have to guide me to keep me from either walking into dog poop or walking out in front of a car. Haha

The last few weeks we’ve been honing our public transit skills and slowly we’re becoming quite accomplished. Budapest has a wonderful transit system and was definitely the easiest to figure out. The only struggle I still have is with buses… gah… they confuse me and make me nervous. I opted to try a bus routes in Budapest… but after about 10 minutes of walking around in circles trying to figure out where the heck the correct bus was Marty decided we’d just walk the rest of the way. Hello hills of Budapest!! Lordy, we didn’t realize we were hiking to the top of a small mountain until we were at the point of no return! Alas, we finally made it to the Matthias Church in the heart of Buda’a Castle District and it was magic! Marty did point out that if we had taken the bus we would have missed all of the cobblestone streets and gorgeous 19th-century houses. Truth. Back to the church…. the church was magnificent! The stone was beautifully carved with amazing statutes on top, the rooftop tiled with lovely colored tiles in patterns and you could see that there was gorgeous stain glass throughout. We haven’t been paying for museums up to this point (I usually pick a couple free ones that we can visit) but the Matthias Church was an exception. AND, the inside of the church was breathtaking! We tried to absorb all of the sights in the church… it was tough as it was an eye overload, but we were very happy we paid to go inside.

Food… oh man, we ate some amazing food while in Budapest; and if you’re looking for a city that you can really stretch your budget in– this is it! Budapest was by far the cheapest city we’ve spend time in so far (which seriously helped get us back on track considering Finland and Sweden were super expensive). There were some modern areas within the city (IKEA, bowling alley, big box stores) but most of our time was spent walking through old town admiring the beautiful building that have so much character! Owners and their dogs have seriously impressed us in Budapest– every dog was well mannered and most were not on leashes at all! It was kind of amazing watching the dogs and their owners walking down busy streets without any fear that their dog would 1. Run away 2. Annoy strangers 3. Not walk into the street (and get hit by a car).

Back to being tourist, one day we took the metro to Hósök Tere (or Heroes’ Square) where there are iconic statues featuring Seven Chieftains of the Magyars and other important Hungarian leaders. This is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was also the site of the first Millennium Underground (metro). Past Heroes’ Square in City Park there is a castle, Vajdahunyad Castle with beautiful architecture! We enjoyed strolling around the outside and then through the courtyard in the middle. It is a very romantic castle of stone and beautiful curves. During the winter months there is an iceskating ring beside the castle — it’s a very large and well maintained outdoor iceskating rink (we watched the Zamboni clean up the rink for evening iceskating). We came back in the evening to take pictures in the dark, as everything is prettier in the dark with the glow of lights surrounding it.

There was so much to do in Budapest and we quickly ran out of time to do it all, but we enjoyed using the public transit to get around while visiting what we could, as well visiting the Harley store and dealer! The people of Budapest are very kind, polite and ready to help when they see a tourist with the classic tourist face of confusion! Overall this has been our favorite city of the trip!

I’ll add pictures later, there are some on my facebook page if you’d like to look at them. Now we’re sitting on a train from Milano, Italy headed to Zurich, Switzerland for a few days before heading to Germany. Eeesh… time flies when you’re having fun! March is quickly approaching and I don’t think we’ll be ready to come back home yet!

Until next time,

Charity & Marty

Sweden it’s been real fun… but onward we go.

Today wraps up our tour of Scandinavia so we can explore more of the world. Sweden and Finland have been wonderful and it feels like there is much more to see; but we continue to move forward so we can explore other countries as well.

Sunday Brea headed back to the state and we headed towards Stockholm via the Viking Cruise line. It’s a cheap way to travel between the two countries and the locals use it as a party ship. The boat is huge and has lots to offer: restaurants, gambling, bars, dancing, a sauna room and most important, duty free shopping! Watching people shop was highly amusing’ but once you go through their market a few times you understand the savings. I booked us the cheapest room possible so we were deep down below deck… among the college students. They snickered behind our backs when we’d walk by and call us “the old people”. Lol We didn’t care, this is a tightly budgeted trip so you take what you can. Personally, I enjoyed the dinner buffet the most! It was fun sampling all of the fish plates and traditional cooking. Marty let me have my fun… let’s just say, I got my entire 35€ worth while Marty ate most of his from the dessert bar. Haha After an evening of eating and watching folks dance we conked out hard. When we docked the next morning we were in Stockholm ready to explore again!

Our host, Louise, was out of town when we arrived but she made sure we could find a key to her apartment and allowed us to stay the first day without her. She was pretty darn awesome! Neither Marty or myself have a lot of experience with public transportation so when I book a new place I request directions from the host. Louise went above and beyond by emailing me detailed instructions, plus a map and some local tips. The only slight issue we had after leaving the ship was finding the metro station. 10-15min walk later we found it and the information booth helped us figure out the cheapest travel options and we were on our way!

Like every other day it was a cloudy day with snow falling, which didn’t really make traipsing around outside very appealing so we crashed at our home and enjoyed a slow evening inside. Some days you just need to rest, what’s the point of seeing so much if you’re too tired to enjoy it?

Yesterday we spent the entire day in and out of museums, traveling by bus and metro, admiring beautiful architecture and people watching. We spent a few hours at the Maritime Museum learning about the evolution of ships; it was amazing. The museum offers free audio tours so we opted for this and it really made the tour worth while.

Swedish folks love a good hamburger, so for lunch we stopped into a Burger and BBQ joint to see if they really know what a good hamburger is… they passed with flying colors! It was deeeeelicious! We’ve mostly been shopping at the market and cooking food to stretch our budget, so it was a nice splurge.

My favorite area in Stockholm was Old Town; the old beauty still shines and it feels like you’re walking back in time as you traverse the cobblestone streets. We went back late in the evening so we could walk by streetlights and the shadows cast were even more beautiful than during daylight. We walked by the castle and observed the guards, took a few pictures and tried to grasp the magnitude of the building.

This morning we had quite the adventure trying to mail a package back to the states. Louise recommended a store close to the metro so we stopped in and the guy working was very helpful to find us a suitable box. We finished up all of the packaging information and he sent us over to the counter to pay … welllll… they only took Kronos and we only carry US, Euros or CC. With their assistance we went off in search of an ATM only to find that it was out of service; we looked around the ICA and even spoke with the checkout clerk, but no one could exchange for Kronos. We walked back to the packaging store to find out that there is another ATM… but it was hard to tell where with only hand directions and a language we didn’t fully understand. We went back out… hunted around and eventually found the ATM! YAY We pulled out 200 Kronos and proudly finished shipping our package. The gentleman at the counter seemed as relieved as we were at our success. We thanked him and proceeded to travel into town for the day.

After dropping off our backpacks in lockers at Central Station we continued exploring the city. All of the restaurants and stores have clean lines and are very soothing to walk into. It is all very modern, but feels warm. We really enjoyed relaxing with a cup of coffee on occasion while resting our feet from travel.

Now we are sitting at the airport waiting to catch our flight to Budapest. The flight has been delayed by 45 minutes so we’re sipping European beers and relaxing.

Until next time,

Marty & Charity

Finland, here we come!

Hello 2018, what a year you are going to be! 2017 was a whirlwind of travel for me and a serious health scare for Marty, but we survived and are excited for the opportunity to continue our life journey together.

Short recap of 2017 — I took on a beast of a contract that helped me grow in my career and also allowed me to meet some awesome new folks; but was a bit of a bear. Thankfully it finished in December and as new opportunities present I look forward to finding another challenge. Marty had a stroke back in May which caught us all off guard and made us realize our mortality. Thankfully, he has mostly recovered and has no significant side affects. As we wake each morning we thank the Lord for another chance to enjoy this life we’ve been given. When your mortality slaps you in the face you begin to remember what life should be about — love, family, friends and pure joy. Martys daughter Brea was married to her best friend in November and we are happy to welcome not only another family member to our circle, but his entire sweet family. It’s been one heck of a year with the ups and downs, but at the end of the year we snuggled up close to each other with our 4-legged kiddos and thanked God for another year and wonderful memories that trump all of the tough times.

This year we are excited to embark on a month long exploration in Europe! LIFE IS TOO SHORT! Last year I kept promising we’d do something epic when I finished my busy contract, so, here we go! First stop, Finland!! I’ve dreamed of seeing the Northern Lights so Marty and I and his daughter Brea are off to hopefully see them and play in the snow. We’re excited to have Brea join us for the first leg of our trip in Finland and Sweden. Here we come reindeer!!

When we start looking for our next adventure we mostly start by seeing how far my travel points get us or what flights are cheapest to our top destinations. After seeing pictures from a friends trip we randomly decided to see how many points it would take us to fly to Iceland… it wasn’t bad, the points will stretch really far. There, how simple was that? After an awesome trip to Utah before Christmas and a natural hot spring we’re also excited to visit new countries and enjoy their winters (something we don’t really get in N.C.).

As our trip progresses I hope to keep family and friends update via this blog, so if you’re interested, check back and see what’s going on! Also, follow my instagram @memoriesnotstuff if you want the journey through pictures.

Peace out USA, we’ll see you again soon, but we’re excited to explore new countries and meet new folks along the way!

Xoxo,

Charity & Marty