Tuesday, September 25, 2012

We Will Survive

Thanks to a package we got yesterday, we can now tell you with confidence that we will survive (and flourish) another six months here.

This can of pureed pumpkin, however, barely survived the trip.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Italy Series: Arriving in Venice

We took the train from Ravenna to Venice.  Before our trip, I didn't realize that Venice is an island within a bay and surrounded by smaller neighborhood islands (Venice suburbs).  Surprise! 

We rode over the only bridge linking the island with the Italian mainland and walked out to see that (no, seriously) the roads are all canals.  Or, more simply, there are no roads.  None.  I thought there might be one or two maybe.  With carriages or something touristy.  Nope.  I knew that there were canals in Venice.  I wasn't prepared for how surreal it was to see absolutely no land-based motorized vehicles. 

We found the Venetian version of the bus station (Vaporretto boats) and hopped on the line that ran through the grand canal to St. Mark's Square.  We passed churches and old warehouses and mansions and bridges.  There were construction boats and fire boats and police boats and taxi boats on the way.  And, of course, the gondolas.

Did you know that gondolas are very oddly shaped?  I thought they were just black canoes with pointy curved ends.  But, really, they look crooked.   The ends lean away from center and they all look riiiiight on the verge of capsizing.  I'd never seen anything like it.

From St. Mark's Square we had to follow directions to find our hotel.  Street names (or rather, path names) in Venice are more like suggestions that change every twenty feet and not every alleyway has one.  Our directions went something like this:  

1.  Find St. Mark's Square, since that is something that is easy to find.

2.  On the north facing wall of the Doges' palace, to the right, there are two roads (they meant alleys).  Take the second, darkest, scariest-looking one.

3.  Turn left at the place where the road widens.

4. Cross the crooked bridge over the third canal.

5.  Follow the sound of the accordion player until the song ends.

6.  Turn right and take 147 steps while whistling "O Sole Mio"--this is very important.

7.  Find the man in a black cape and bird mask.  He will lead you to the door that only opens for the pure in heart.  

8.  Clap twice.  And wait five minutes.  We will come and meet you on the third stone stair.   

We actually found it.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

The Italy Series: Ravenna

No one goes to Ravenna.  Unless you're on a bus tour or something and it's part of some larger package deal.

And you're like "It says we're going to...Ravenna?  Whatever.  Let's just eat some pasta and wander around until we can get back on the super fun bus again."

But here's the thing.  Ravenna is this secret cool place that people don't fully appreciate for what it is.

If you're a weird Byzantine history nerd...like...maybe we are...you know, however, that Ravenna was essentially the last capital of the Roman Empire, and the first western capital of the Byzantine Empire.

So, it's full of all sorts of interesting and beautiful things!

(Like mosaics!  Mosaaaaicsssss!)

(Besides, we got a room with this 17th century marble tub in the bathroom.  Win!)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Black Dot Day


Exploring days are called "Black Dot Days" here at the aquahaus.   They're days where we go see something new and then, when we get home, we put our black sticker dots on the giant map of Germany in the living room.  It's pretty much the most exciting thing we do.

So, for our anniversary yesterday, Paul planned a coastal train ride on this 125 year old original steam engine. I saw them shoveling the coal!  COAL!  They really used it!  And the train actually made that Ch-ch-ch-ch-Woooo-Wooo sound!  

My favorite part was when we went through a little street in a village and everyone on the sidewalks were taking pictures and waving.  You just can't help but smile and wave back--maybe like the Queen of England, even.

We rode it out to hike around Heiligendamm, the first German bath resort (founded in 1785).  With everything painted a bright white, right on the beach, and isolated in a forest, I could understand how this started that craze for German baths we read about in all those regency novels (So-and-so is ill and has gone to Germany to take the water, etc. etc.).

Riding the train home, we stopped in Bad Doberan to see the best preserved example of brick Gothic architecture.  Luckily, Bad Doberan was never bombed in the wars and the monastery lands around the minster were kept intact so the church stood in beautiful fields and parkland at the base of a tree-covered hill.

The inside made this the winner of all the churches we've seen in northern Germany, especially since so much of the decorations and so many of the windows were original from 1300.

And if that wasn't enough, we saw some 14th century tombs for the queen of Denmark, the king and queen of Sweden, and this insaaaaane baroque tomb of the Duke of Mecklenburg with life-sized mannequin-like statues of them standing on their rebuilt palace porch.


It was like a giant "BOO-YA" from the past.

I mean, right?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Four: A Nice Sturdy Number

17 September 2008
Paul and I have been married for four years, as of today.

Four sounds nice, doesn't it.  Fouuur.  It just sounds like a good, hearty, solid number.  True, in German, it comes out something like "fear" (vier), which isn't so nice...so we're just going to ignore that and stick with the English for now.

We're going exploring today--one of the things we do best.  And we'll probably eat some pancakes at some point, because who doesn't want pancakes on their anniversary? (no one)  We're also going to eat at the fancy French restaurant around the corner because our gift to each other this year was a pair of plane tickets to Paris in November.

Turns out that Paris in mid-September is "the most expensive and crowded time anyone could possibly visit."  And right about the time we read that, Thanksgiving on the Seine started sounding super romantic.

You know, wedding anniversaries...they're important and everything, but sometimes I feel like they're a bit arbitrary.  Almost as if they are days to help our families and friends keep track of our commitment rather than for us to mark "THE DAY" (that something...was supposed to change?)  Well...the thing is...there was no huge change in our feelings or relationship to each other between the day before we got married and the day after.

We were already married before we were married, so to speak.

So, around this time of year, I find myself thinking of other anniversaries--other days that marked even bigger moments between us, that not many (if any) other people even knew about.

One example?  Well, I met Paul almost exactly nine years ago, when I was 19 years old.  I was sorting old manuscripts in the library archives and he came through with our boss to be introduced as the newest employee.

Or, there's the day five years and one month ago, when we were sitting on the porch of a little rental cabin in Oregon at 3am and Paul said, "You know...I feel like I could ask you to marry me right now.  Is that crazy?"  And I said, "Nope."

So, I guess September 17th, and maybe all wedding anniversaries, don't have to be just about that single marriage ceremony...Maybe a better way of thinking about it is realizing that they can act as a symbolic celebration days for all the anniversaries within each relationship.

With that, then, Happy Fourth (Fifth, Fifth and a Half, Sixth, Six and a Quarter, Sixth and a Half, Seventh, Eighth, and Ninth) Anniversary to us!

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Schlossing in Mecklenburg

There are three major palaces (or Schloesser) in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, and we've had a goal for a year now to go to see them all.

First, there was the fairy-tale palace of Schwerin in October last year...

With its lakeside orangerie...

and Rapunzel tower...

Then, in May, we went to see Gustrow's "Manly" Schloss...

With its banqueting hall decked out with fake-deer/real-antlers...

...And Italian-style arcades.

And finally, last week, we checked off the third Mecklenburg schloss, about a two-hour bus ride away in Ludwigslust.

It definitely had a much more...British?...look about it (reminded me of Churchill's Blenheim Palace).  

Where Schwerin won for fairy-tale prettiness and Gustrow for manly-antler-decor, Ludwigslust definitely won for its gardens.  

Acres and acres of what used to be the Duke of Mecklenburg's hunting park...

But eventually, over centuries, made into a beautiful example of English gardening, with trick fountains...

...and long walks through carefully manicured "wilderness."

Around lunchtime, we wandered through the forests, exploring grottoes and chapels and hiking paths and various mausoleums (daughter of the Tsar?  Didn't expect that one.), and we found a small restaurant in what used to be the Duchess' country-style, thatched-roof getaway cottage.  

Sitting with this view, across a wide meadow, with a bowl of Mecklenburger Potato-Plum soup might have made Ludwigslust's schloss my favorite of the three.

But, then again, looking through these pictures...I'm not quite sure which one I love the most anymore.
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