02 July 2017

London Days Two-Three

I’ve never attempted to “do” London in such a short time before - I’m glad that this isn’t my first (and certainty won’t be my last) trip to this amazing city.  It makes it so much easier to be content with all that we’re missing out on and all I wish I could see.  I haven’t been back to the Tate Britain since the first time I visited ten years ago.  I’ve never toured Kensington Palace and we didn’t make the Churchill War Rooms this time (there’s no time to wait in a line to get in if you have so little time to see anything).  Even so, I don’t feel panicked or bothered.  There’s always another trip.  My first time to Europe I thought I would never go back, or at least not for a long time.  I’ve since learned that when you are single and gainfully employed and love to travel, then there’s always another trip.  

That in mind, I decided long ago that this leg of the trip wasn’t about me - it was about trying to find a way to give my dad and my brother the best trip to this city as I could.  I think we’ve been successful. 

Yesterday we started off on Portobello Road.  Truthfully, I wasn’t sure this was a good idea.  It’s a great place to get good and inexpensive gifts and certainly an experience that’s part of being a London tourist, but I am traveling with two men.  I was surprised at how much they seemed to like it, given that dad doesn’t like shopping.  We didn’t stay long, which suited all of us since the crowds are always so thick that tolerance wears thin, but it was a successful trip and both dad and Jared said it was one of their favorite parts of London, so it wasn’t a terrible idea after all.  Phew. 

After Portobello we went on a walk through Kensington Gardens, my favorite of all the London parks.  Because it is so vast with so much green space, it always feels less crowded than the other parks to me.  Plus, there’s that Peter Pan connection I can’t seem to get away from.  (Not like I’m trying that hard.) In addition to the pilgrimage to see Peter, we also went by the entrance to Kensington itself (lined with flowers in honor of Diana’s birthday yesterday, which was nice to see), and went by the memorial fountain to Diana.  I love that fountain - I love that it was designed and is used for kids to run around and play in.  The whole area was full of families stripping their children down to their underwear for an impromptu water party.  Everyone was laughing and running around.  Kids were turning cartwheels and parents were in the water with their kids.  It was delightful and, I think, honored her spirit quite well.  

We also went to another London first for me - The Wallace Collection.  This museum was a residence that became an art museum because of the vast collection of the owner.  Unlike some of those museums I’ve been in before in Europe that feel like a bizarre attic of random junk, this one was pretty stunning.  The collection of armor was jaw-dropping.  I’ve never seen such beautiful weaponry.  Truly.  It was beautiful.  Usually when I see armor in a museum I kind of nod and walk on, but this was gorgeous.  There were also some other well known paintings, including a portrait of a young Victoria and The Swing, what inspired us to come in the first place (Jared studied it in school and wanted to come see it.). Actually, Jared’s been dead useful on this trip when it comes to art.  He took an art history in school and has been a fountain of little tidbits on paintings I hadn’t known about before.  We wouldn’t have discovered that little gem of a museum without him and I’m glad we did.  It’s small but wonderful.  I enjoyed our visit there very much. 

After that we went for a walk along the Thames and found dinner (well, dinner for me - the boys wanted to save room to go visit Jamie Oliver’s burger joint.  These burgers are what they described as “orgasmic”.  I have never in my life had a burger that tasted differently than any other burger to me and certainly none that turned me on so. . .you’ll have to take their word for it.)

Our second show was The Lion King, which was just as good as the last time I saw it.  There is certainly a benefit to seeing it in a theater where it isn’t touring - the set was particularly impressive in ways that the touring casts I’ve seen before can’t have.  I was especially taken this time by the powerful way the lionesses are portrayed.  I’d never really considered The Lion King as a particularly feminist story, but the way that the musical enhances the role of the women really touched me this time.  My favorite moment in the show was Nala’s Shadowlands.  Seeing the lionesses stand together in tragedy was beautiful. 

Today we began with a visit to the parks surrounding Buckingham Palace, where we arrived in time to see the Trooping of the Colours.  I’ve never seen this before because crowds, but it was fun to see the guards going by.  I wouldn’t make a special trip to see it, but I’m glad it happened while we were there.  After that we walked back to the National Gallery, always a safe bet.  Dad has a lower interest in museums than either Jared or I (I could probably museum hop my way around London and not get too sick of it), but he was a trooper and our visit was short.  I was particularly taken by a temporary installation of a piece called The Caged Bird Sings by Chris Ofili.  Ofili is a British watercolor painter who worked with some weavers in Edinburgh to create an enormous tapestry inspired by Maya Angelou’s book, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  The piece is enormous and looks like a painting from a distance.  Up close you can see the woven elements.  The color is so sharp and breathtaking - I was utterly stunned by the whole thing and thought the visit was worth it just to see it.  

The highlight of the day for me was Evensong at Westminster Abbey.  I love Evensong service in general, and have never heard it in Westminster.  The sermon today was inspired by the upcoming 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s 95 Thesis.  The speaker discussed that the contents of the thesis were not nearly as important as the act of even daring to speak out in the first place, and transitioned into speaking about the power of music in converting hearts.  This is an appropriate topic in an Evensong service (which is mostly music), but there was a wonderful reminder of the ability of congregational singing to effect the spirit in others.  I am grateful for music and for the love of singing that I have.  (I should also probably take this time to apologize to my neighbors who frequently hear me belting showtunes at all hours of the night when I’m performing.  Sorry ‘bout that.)

Our final stop for the day was The Play That Goes Wrong, which was so awesome last year I had to bring my brother and dad back.  We all had a great time and it made me anxious to get back and get started on rehearsals of my own.  Nothing like seeing good theater to inspire you to put on a good show yourself. 

Incidentally, here are some statistics of the trip: 

  1. Miles walked: approximately 150. 
  2. Alpine Slide trips: 4
  3. Books in my suitcase (not including my journal/script): 10 (HOW?! - I came with 0.)
  4. Chocolate bars purchased: 21 (Oy.)
  5. Countries visited: 9

I am ready to go home.  As is often the case at the end of a trip, there comes a point where living out of a suitcase and spending so much money gets tiring and you long for your own bed.  I miss my cat.  I miss regular and reliable cell service.  I miss my friends and I’m excited to get my show underway and to get prepared for the school year.  All the same, this has been a truly unique and special trip for me.  It has been different than many of the other trips I’ve taken, especially since I’ve been visiting places that I’ve been before with people who haven’t been, and it’s given me new insight in how to get joy in the joy of others.  Traveling and being single can be inherently selfish experiences, but that slight shift in focus has been good for me.  I am grateful to be going home, and grateful to have come.  What a gift.


30 June 2017

London Day One

Yesterday was another travel day with not too much to report.  We visited Bern on the way back into Germany (where we had to drop our rental car).  I had to admit ignorance and that I had no idea that Bern was the capitol of Switzerland.  In my head it was Geneva, but that’s probably because of all the conventions/the Olympics?  I don’t know.  I have a pretty great depth of knowledge when it comes to the arts and history, but those blasted geography Jeopardy categories just kill me. 

We had a short time in Bern but I feel like we used the time well, and it was long enough to give me yet another city in Switzerland I need to go back to.  Bern (which sounds more like the American “bear” than “burn”) is home to a pretty awesome bear pit - the Bern bears are active and adorable and made Jared talk weird, so it was an all around win.  I knew going in that bears were the symbol of Bern, what I didn’t know was that St. Bernards came from the area as well - the whole town was full of large painted dog statues and we sort of put two and two together with one of those “oh. . . Duh,” kind of light bulbs. The whole town is a UNESCO World Heritage site because it’s so old - a good portion of the town dates into the Medieval period, including a particularly famous clock I saw on a Rick Steves episode once that was built in the early 13th Century.  We happened upon it a few minutes before it chimed.  Truthfully it was a little “meh”, I felt, but it was awesome to see something so old work so well for as long as it has?

After Bern we went across the border into Germany to our hotel in a town called Weil am Rhine where we dropped our luggage, then went to return our rental car and to head into Basel back in Switzerland. 

The fun thing about improvising as you travel is that you often end up doing something totally wonderful and unexpected and quirky.  That happened several times last year when we found some random hikes, new National Trust sites, and the ever memorable (if bizarre) Mystery Play in York.  It also means that sometimes you come across some true wastes of time.  That was Basel for us, unfortunately.  We went in the direction of what was assumed to be the old part of town (always a good bet for tourist options), but ended up walking through what must be the armpit of Switzerland down a seriously sketchy street where I saw at least one drug deal actually go down.  Eventually we found what we’d been hoping to see - the Three Countries Bridge where you can view France, Switzerland, and Germany all at the same time.  This also ended up being a bit of a joke because it was in the middle of a little peninsula in the harbor that we had to walk about a mile to get to and away from, only to find that it wasn’t actually a place where you could stand in all three countries as we’d thought.  Ah well.  Best laid plans?  The night ended well, at least.  We blew all our change in a grocery store on as many Haribo gummy bears as we could afford.  (In truth, I also bought some cough drops, not because I’m sick, but because they have different flavors to try! I’m a sucker for things like that. . . )

Today we started the final leg of our trip by heading into London.  They say that when you’re tired of London you’re tired of life, and I can tell you right now that I will never tire of London.  I adore this city.  I love the cacophony of languages and sounds and smells around every corner.  I love the culture, the history, the people.  So help me, one of these days I’m going to move here and never come back.

I got to embrace the life of a solo Londoner for a bit tonight when the boys went off to Les Miserables and I went off to see An American in Paris.  It’s tradition for me to see a show every night I’m here, but coming with two men who are interested in theatre but aren’t exactly theatre junkies meant playing it a little safer in the selection of shows than I normally would in such a short stay, and the other two shows we’re seeing are shows I’ve seen before.  I went rogue tonight and I’m so glad I did, partly because I enjoy time by myself and partly because Gershwin music is so dreamy.  The musical was more poignant than I anticipated, had an absolutely perfect cast, and was enough to turn this cold-hearted “romance will never find me!” cat woman into a puddle of “LOVE PLEASE COME FIND ME AND PLEASE SING LIKE THAT.”  Oh, London.  You always make me feel as though I were born in the wrong place in the wrong time.


28 June 2017

Harder Kulm

I wasn’t planning on writing today - I still am not entirely sure of what to say, given that today was very much like yesterday in all the essential pieces.  I even had the same meals (bread, cheese, fruit - pretty standard cheap European lunch/dinner option.)  As it is, I’m in the middle of watching the end of the last Harry Potter movie and feeling quite sentimental and sad over silly things like the death of fictional characters (Lupin! Tonks! FRED.) and over celebrities I never met (Alan Rickman! John Hurt!) and mostly I feel like writing something.  I have no idea how trip related it will even be and most of this will probably come out like a stream of thought mess, but that’s more or less where my mind is right now, so . . . Either grab the oxygen mask as it descends from the metaphorical ceiling before reading or find the nearest exit?

It will start trip related, at least. Today we took a ride up to the Harderkulm (or Harder Kulm - I’ve seen it both ways).  This point - about 4,000 feet above sea level, offers an amazing view of Interlaken, the turquoise glacier water filled lakes and rivers, the towns below - it’s breathtakingly beautiful (like everything else in the alps, lets be serious.)

Looking down over the valley I thought, as I often do when I travel, about the people to whom Interlaken is not a vacation destination but home.  Where the mountains and lakes we take thousands of pictures of are part of a back garden, a commute to work, a normal every-day expectancy.  I thought about the writers I love who have been inspired by the alps or other scenes of nature.  I thought about William Wordsworth who wrote of daffodils and Emerson who went to the woods to live deliberately, and Moses who climbed mountains to commune with God and Mary Shelly who found mountains filled with monsters.  Frodo who climbed a mountain to destroy a ring, Heidi who climbed a mountain to lead a simpler life.

I thought again about England.  Everything reminds me of England.  And when I say this, I don’t mean England the country so much as England the study abroad.  Before I left for this trip I went back and read my journals from that one.  It was ten years ago.  It was on that trip that I realized how introverted I become in large groups.  How much I love solitude in nature.  That trip taught me the power of throwing yourself into something. 

When I look back on who I was then, I feel a whole range of emotion.  Where I am now and where I thought I would be then are widely different.  In many ways, I have become exactly what I feared I would: a cat obsessed Mormon spinster with as many prospects of love now as I had then: a delightful zero.  I’ve had roughly the same number of dates in the last year as I had that year (again, nearly zero).  I hate dating now about as much as I did then, though for slightly different reasons.  I want to take the somewhat boy obsessed girl who watched all her friends get married that summer and tell her to buckle up, settle in, and get over it. 

I also want to sit that girl down and tell her that in more critical ways, she was going to become and experience exactly what she hoped she would and more.  On that trip I watched friends who were far more adventurous and deep thinking than I and wished I could keep up.  I was one of the youngest in that group - if not the youngest, and I saw so many I wished to be like.  Now I find myself thinking and analyzing not just literature but so many other things in ways that bring my life satisfaction and excitement.  I watched as friends went off on adventures and thought that I would never be so brave - I was too afraid to go on roller coasters at that point, how would I ever manage to do anything that required even the smallest amount of legitimate courage?  But now I see myself and think that I am a brave person.  Not “walk into the woods and let Voldemort kill me” level of brave, perhaps, but I have traveled the world, bought a house, taken several jobs that were too big for me - and I’ve somehow managed to buck up and make things work.  I’ve even forced myself onto enough roller coasters to admit that A) I don’t get motion sickness (the real reason I never rode them) and B) that I don’t die on them, so I may as well just go and have fun.  

I want to give that girl a glimpse (not the whole picture, but a glimpse) of the joy teaching brings.  Of the shows she will perform in.  I want to tell her that she can love, and that she can survive being broken by it.  I want to shove a bottle of Lexapro toward her and tell her to save herself some serious grief and just start medication already.  I want to tell her to get into the mountains a bit more and to take a few more deep breaths of air before focusing so much on checklists of things to do.  

Mostly I just want to tell her that she’s pretty much the luckiest girl in the world, with the greatest family and the cutest cat (that has yet to be born) and the best friends and the greatest opportunities a person could ask for.  


(I also want to tell her she’s damn lucky to live in a world where there is still another Harry Potter book to read for the first time, because that is a pretty awesome world to live in.)

27 June 2017

Interlaken

Yesterday we left Salzburg early in the morning and left for Interlaken.  It was a long day of driving with not much to report that pictures on Facebook wouldn’t have conveyed.  We did go into five different countries yesterday (Austria, Germany, Italy, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland).  The men finished two individual liter bottles of Coke while I steadily sipped away at my 500 ml bottle and finished toward the end of our seven hours of driving.  I would also like to say definitively that there are no men in the world that can belch louder and with more enthusiastic glee than the men in my family.  It is truly a gift.

Our time in Interlaken is something I’ve been looking forward to most on this trip.  Most of the places we are going I have been before and recently, so seeing some new places here is exciting.  Switzerland hasn’t disappointed at all.  It may smell like sheep/cow/goat poo everywhere you go, but after two months of hiking through the English countryside that smell is a somewhat nostalgic one for me, so what it really puts me in the mood to do is go hike a mountain, which is exactly what we did today. 

The weather during our time here is likely going to be pretty wet the rest of the time here, so today we had to pack in as much as we could.  We got an early start and headed toward Oeschinen Lake.  There are so many mountains that we could see, but Switzerland is freakishly expensive, and I’m traveling with one college student and two cheapskates, so the Oeschinensee was the best option - we could travel up the mountain by gondola and hike back down again (after the requisite ride on the alpine slide, of course.) We had looked at the map and assumed that the “hike” from the lake would be more of a walk, but it turned out we couldn’t park our car nearly as close was we wanted, which meant a much longer hike than planned.  

Truthfully, I didn’t mind at all.  I wished I’d come better prepared (I had a snack and some water, but my shoes weren’t ideal), but I really do love wandering around the mountains (and, as previously mentioned, when you can do so downhill, it’s an added bonus).  The lake was stunning.  We ran into some friendly goats and heard cowbells nearly the entire time and got some of the most stunning views I’ve ever seen on a hike.  I’ve added to my bucket list the desire to come back here someday with my hiking boots, better gear, and a week or two to spend just wandering Interlaken on foot.  There are so many trails here and I would love to come explore them.

After our longer than expected (at least four miles) hike down the mountain, we got back in the car, headed for a bakery (because that’s the reward for physical labor), then drove off to Trummelbach Falls.  These are some truly crazy falls - ten in all - that come thundering from the glaciers of three separate peaks in the Interlaken valley.  What’s so great about Trummelbach is that each of the ten falls are viewable thanks to a series of tunnels that, in some cases, are illuminated from inside so you can see better.  The force of the water is incredible and slightly terrifying.  In the truest sense of the word ‘awful’ I was struck with both fear and awe at how mighty they were, especially toward the top.  The falls carry up to 20,000 liters of water into the valley every second, which is difficult for me to fathom.

Today is one of those travel days, similar to our day in Hallstatt, where even my vocabulary can’t quite work around an appropriate description for all that we saw today.  It was beautiful.  It was stunning.  It was unforgettable.  This little taste of hiking in the alps wasn’t good enough for me.  I want more, and I want to do it prepared next time.  And there will be a next time.  When I was younger I was afraid that when I grew up (and especially when I married), I would have to give up all of my favorite things.  I’ve learned since then by watching those who have married and by living my own life that when you love something, you make it happen.  Traveling the world is something I make happen.  I am not content to sit back and settle down in one part of the world - I want to see everything that I can. *



*With special emphasis on places that aren’t crazy hot/humid, because I’m a bit of a weather wimp.  It’s probably my greatest travel flaw.

25 June 2017

Herrenchimsee


Thus far the weather on our trip has been nearly perfect.  It’s been hotter than blazes and more humid than I prefer, but it has been sunny and pretty.  Today begins what looks like the end of our good weather luck - rain is forecast for nearly our entire stay in Switzerland and possibly for London as well.  Ah well.  I once had a friend tell me about a pastry shop I needed to go visit when I was traveling to Boston.  “It will have a long line, but soldier on,” she said. “It’s worth it.”  This has essentially become my travel motto: soldier on.  Bad weather be damned, we are going to see what we want to see!

Today we went out to Herrenchimsee, one of the castles of “Mad” King Ludwig II.  Ludwig is a king that reminds me of Louis XVI of France or Nicholas II of Russia - men with great talents and passions who never should have been rulers of countries.  Ludwig himself was a great patron of the arts and a man with a great fascination for invention and modern technology.  He was also very probably gay in a time when it really just wasn’t allowed (at least not in public).  His death is a mystery, but his legacy is one of extremely lavish spending.  His most famous architectural project, Neuschwanstein is probably his best known project, but his most expensive project was Herrenchimsee, located on an island in the middle of the Chimsee lake in the south eastern corner of Germany.  Like Neuschwanstein, it is unfinished.  What is finished is both fascinating and, frankly, a little disgusting - at least when you consider the amount of taxation it took to make such projects possible.  

Herrenchimsee is Ludwig’s love letter to Louis XIV of France.  Louis XIV, known as “The Sun King”, was the idol of many royals who longed for days of absolute power.  Louis XIV reigned for ages (seventy two years) and built the palace that monarchs all around the world tried to copy - Versailles.  As a result, the most finished sections of Herrenchimsee are museum replicas of the most famous rooms in Versailles, such as the bedchamber of the king and the hall of mirrors.  These rooms were only ever intended as museum pieces.  The state room bed was never slept in, for example.  

The castle also includes some funny modern updates that reminded me a bit of when I visited the Newport Mansions in Rhode Island.  Ludwig was king in the late 1800s when technology was advanced enough to allow luxuries that didn’t exist in Louis’ day - indoor heating, for example. My favorite update was a clever trap door for a table, so that the dinner table could be decorated and loaded with food and then lifted back upstairs using a pulley system.  One of the great flaws of Versailles was that the kitchens were so far away from the dining rooms that it would take more than twenty minutes of walking to get food to the table.  This should have solved the problem in Herrenchimsee, but since the palace was never finished, this ended up being a bit useless since they had to haul food over to the palace from the old palace on the island.  Whelp. 

My other favorite piece was an orb at the end of Ludwig’s bed that looked like the Palantir from The Lord of the Rings.  Three candles could be lit inside of it so that the room was cast in a beautiful blue light.  Perhaps Ludwig was afraid of the dark?


Ludwig only stayed in the castle for ten days before his mysterious death - to this day no one knows exactly how he died, only that he was found dead with his physician.  It could have been suicide, murder, or an accident.  Most studies I’ve read assume it was suicide, and it does seem to add up that way.  Like the dynasty he idolized, I think that Ludwig realized that lavish spending not only thoroughly pisses off the people you rule, but also leaves you feeling empty and lonely.  Furthermore, being a closeted gay king must have been incredibly difficult and lonely.  I’m sure his life was anything but the fairy tale he tried to create in his castles.