Going Home...Maybe

Greetings fellow readers! The day has finally come, the day I leave Albania to begin my journey home. I wanted to write 'Europe' there instead of Albania, but I guess this continent loves me too much to allow me to leave. Or something.
Shall I explain...
First of all, I should let everyone know that I've thoroughly enjoyed myself here. I spent two days traveling alone in Italy--more moving on trains than seeing stuff, but I met up with two friends--Zuleika Rossato and Giuseppe Armenise--on my excursion through Italy. They both showed great hospitality and helped me on my way. I also must say that Italy was easier to navigate the second time. Things just made more sense. So, I suppose that's a good thing.
I slept on the ferry again from Italy to Albania, only I thought that I would be smart to get the cheapest ticket and not a berth (read: sleep in a chair instead of a bed). Well, turns out that they close the big salon (yeah, where all the couches and nice chairs are) at night. I wandered out a little confused, thinking that there would still be some sort of chair to sit in. As soon as I got to the hall, I realized that I was quite mistaken. Everybody was in the hallway...sleeping on the ground. Haha. I went out to the deck and found a bench and fell asleep. I woke up at 2 in the a.m. absolutely FREEZING, and decided to go in to sleep on the ground.
I got to Durres and immediately went to visit some friends who fed me some breakfast, and then I met up with Gledi Peco. We went to the beach in Durres and then we went back to Tirana and went out at night to a venue. Yes, a venue.
The next day we woke up early and went to Dhermi with Edi Cuci. We swam there and had fun jumping off of rocks. The beach there is absolutely amazing. The bad thing is that hotels go for like 120 euro, a price Albanians are quite upset with. So we slept out on the beach. Man, it does get cold on the beach. It's so surprising because it's so hot here at this time. Anyway, after a freezing night, we woke up super early to catch a bus to go to church in Vlore. The bus was completely full and we had to stand up the entire way. I suppose only those that have been to Dhermiu really appreciate what we did. It's about an hour and a half of mountain roads. Anyway, we went to church and met with some people that night. The next day we did beaching in Vlore at a spot about twenty minutes from the port. Absolutely beautiful.
We stayed in Fier the next day and met some people then came home to Tirana. I went and met up with a good friend, Harbi Aliaj, and Gledi took a nap. After hanging out with Harbi, I went to go get MJAFT! shirts for some friends. Unfortunately, they had just had a party and given the shirts away (MJAFT! means ENOUGH! and it's an organization for change here in Albania). However, they gave me more posters and then invited me to do a radio interview on their new radio station. Haha. You know me, I accepted. They wanted to have a talk with an American MJAFT! supporter. I left quick to eat and I was supposed to be back at 4.45 to go to the studio, but the bus didn't come and so I was a few minutes late. They had already left, so I didn't end up doing to interview. I went and bought me a bag for luggage and some other Albanian food and stuff that I wanted.
Gledi, Tomi and I then went out for a night on the town. It was as we were returning home that I got a phone call I didn't want. Me mother called me and told me they had got a phone call from Orbitz--my flight was canceled out of Albania to Munich. Psh. Since my flight from Munich to the US was a different reservation, this screwed EVERYTHING up. So, after calling Orbitz and Delta, the only thing I could do was move my Delta reservation to the next day...for $477. What the crap, man? They wouldn't even waive the change of ticket fee of $200. So, I'll be complaining quite a bit to Orbitz and Lufthansa since they made me miss my original flight. Also, I'll enjoy another comfortable European night, this time in the Munich airport. Psh. The internet isn't even free there. And as of right now, my flight just got delayed again. Yay!
We'll see you all this weekend!!


Euromania is at a Milano End

Well, at least for these guys--I've got about a week more. I forgot to mention yesterday how cool it was...after dinner we were walking through the streets of Innsbruck and lo, we heard music. It just so happened that a classic marching band--in lederhosen and other proper dress--came strolling down the streets. It was awesome, and it was also quite hilarious to watch how other people reacted. Quite ridiculous, actually...people were running in between the ranks trying to get photos with the classy band members. Well, anyway, it was cool.
So, our last day...
We went out into Innsbruck central again, only this time, we were in sunlight. That was nice. We bought some stuff, and then we got ready to take off to Milan. We came back to our car to find a parking ticket on the window. Haha, well, we were told by our concierge at the hotel that if we got a ticket, to take it to them, so we did. Heaven knows what they did with it. Oh well!
The drive to Milan is LONG, but it was a good drive. Crazy, though, because once you get to the top in Brenner Pass, you have a long way down. Seriously, we drove over 100km, descending the entire way. I pushed the brakes more than the gas for those 100km. It was fun though.
Our maps on Mr. Garmin are a bit old (as we found out while searching for Bro. Gehrlach...I google mapped it...apparently we were really close to his house) and when we got into Milan, I took the closest exit to what we were told and went, according to Mr. Garmin, off-road for about 5km. Haha. I haven't heard the word, 'Recalculating...' nor the phrase, 'Please drive the highlighted route.' more times in my LIFE!
Anyway, we found our hotel, and now we're just rearranging suitcases and etc. to prepare for tomorrow. I'm trying to put a new OS on my lappy, and I've got some good internet here. It's funny, it took us about 10 hotels before we got one that gave us not only free, good wifi, but free, good wifi in our room--haha. Anyway, I'll try to get the remaining pics up tonight, and then my posts will be considerably shorter and more spaced out while I make my way back to Albania. I'll still try to keep in touch.
Anyway, I suppose this is adieu. Adieu.

Update: So, I read today that it's bad blogger etiquette to append or edit a post. Well, sorry. I'm putting up my photos of the past little while, since the others are asleep and I had to recover my little eee after a failed attempt to update my kde version usually different repositories. Haha. Plus I still can't get it to boot off my thumb drive so I can put ubuntu on it. Oh well. Enjoy the pics I got until the others get home. link


Finding an Inn in Innsbruck

Sorry about the delay the past few days. Having spotty wifi is a traveler's bane, but it happens so often that you usually get used to it rather quickly. That being said, you'll notice that pictures haven't been uploaded and yesterday didn't see a post. Well, don't you all worry too quickly. We're in Innsbruck now, and we're doing fine. The only problem is that not only does our hotel lack wifi all together, but there is no internet place close by. Lucky for all you devoted readers, I found one on the way back tonight.
Alright, let me quickly catch you all up to where we are. We arrived in Innsbruck yesterday, driving from Salzburg in quite the storm. Thing is, we didn't just drive from Salzburg, that would've been boring. Yesterday while at church in Salzburg, Dad was asking around about a man by the name of Karl-Heinz Gehrlach, a man he tracted into in '74, in his first area of Braunau. A year or so after returning home, he got a postcard from Brother Gehrlach saying that he had finally made the decision to be baptised. So, now that Braunau was no longer a branch, could he possibly be in Salzburg. After some investigative work with some of the members, and a lot of help from the senior couple serving in Salzburg (which, get this, had been the mission president in Vienna, '90 through '93, which for all of you ATM scholars know that those are the years that Albania was opened to work...under the Vienna Austria Mission. That's right...Sister Reber walked up to me, after speaking with mom, and said, 'Miredita!' I was surprised to say the least and quite proud of her for remembering that one word--good day), we found out that he actually was in the Salzburg ward. Not only that, but he was the High Priest group leader. How's that? It made dad happy to hear, and so we got his information (he wasn't at church that day) and set out to find his house.
His house is located in a place called Goldegg, google map that. It's just a little out of the way from the main route to Innsbruck from Salzburg, so we took off. Garmin had the road name, so we thought we were set. He hadn't answered his phone, so we didn't know if we'd find him. Well, after 3 hours of searching and asking folks, we couldn't find his house, and he still wasn't answering his phone. It was a fun excursion though, and we met some wonderfully helpful people.
So, we came here to Innsbruck, had quite the adventure once again finding our hotel, and settled in for the night. Somehow they only had us down for a triple room when our reservation clearly said a quad. It's been interesting, but things like that don't bother the rest anymore, and nobody would go talk to the manager, so mom and dad insisted on having the twin. Odd, but whatev. No biggie, except they have absolutely no room to move when they begin to snore. Ugh.
We woke up this morning and took off for Schwangau. Anybody no where that is? No googling. Would it help if I said that the reason we went there was to see a famous castle called Schloss Neuschwanstein? It's a beautiful castle, and it was raining...well, it was raining HARD. How hard you say? Well, it was a cold rain that had us soaked within about 10 feet from the car. And of course we (Curt and I) refused to--gasp--buy an umbrella. Seriously, tourist areas + umbrellas = gouge your eyes out as well as the prices. And, of course, because of that logic we didn't even look at the prices. Haha. We just went for it. Dad and mom had rain jackets at least. Curt and I just had warmup jackets...that didn't do their nominal job of warming us up in the slightest. Regardless, we had a joyful time. Oh yes, and we chose to walk the 40 minute (it really was only 20) walk to the castle instead of the bus. SO, in other words, we were soaked, and there was a HUGE line to get under the little shelter at the castle until our tour was to begin. No photos inside, so the photos on that site are what you get.
Anyway, we had a good time, and we made sure to use the awesome heat capabilities of our rental on the way back. We came home, dried halfway, then took off to explore Innsbruck. Nice little place, a lot of these towns remind me of ski towns back home, and Innsbruck is just like that. Except we're in the Alps. *THE* Alps. Yeah, so put that in your pipe and throw it away.
Until tomorrow or when we have internet again. Plus, the rest of the gang will be seeing you all soon (maybe not you *all*, but...), so...ciao!


SalzBurger King...in Germany

After yesterday's title, it's a shame I can't come up with one that good. I'll give it a go when I'm finished writing. I just know it'll not compete at all.
So, today would be the day that dad and mom got their gift to themselves. We woke up and got ready and all went over close to Mozartsplatz to pick it up. You'll all just be held in suspense. On the walk down, I noticed that there was an odd phone company advertising the iPhone 3G here in Austria. I was disappointed to know I'd miss out on it in America, so I figured maybe I should buy it here, but alas, they lock'em on this side of the pond too. Besides, I'm patient. Psh--everyone knows that.
We got in the car and took off to Hellbrun Palace, a place known mostly for two things: the Sound of Music gazebo (yay I got a picture!) and the Waserspiele, or, the Trick Fountains. I must say that I was so intrigued by the archbishop's (who built it) intrigue with water, that I decided I will have trick fountains and all sorts of waterworks of the sort at my future home. Just like that.
After getting a little wet (dude, the tour guide was seriously out to get me. Just because I had keenly avoided getting wet through three-quarters of the tour, she specifically targeted me. It could've been the comment I made about her to Curtis about her not being able to get me wet, but it was probably because she had a little crush on me and wanted to flirt or something. She got me pretty good though...but...seriously...), we toured the palace (not the greatest palace, but it's still a big beautiful house), and then decided to take off to Hallstatt, a quaint little city right in the middle of the mountains. It was like Park City, only quainter and less of a glitz, on a lake (which was incredibly blue). Awesome. I think the best part was the drive up; the roads were perfect examples of what everyone dreams European roads to be like (unless you spent two years in Albania). I was accelerating into turns like it was nobody's business, until of course we came upon a mountain bike race. We couldn't really determine the route, but we tried to encourage them. It had to have been a doozy. Seriously we passed them on and off for at least 40km. I think I found out which race it was: the Salzkammergut Trophy. Check out the course info! One of the courses is over 200km with a 7000m change in altitude!!! Since it was raining a tad, and they were mountain biking, they were *covered* in mud. I was proud of them.
After visiting Hallstatt, we took off once again for Mondsee, where Maria and Baron von Trapp were married (in the movie of course...everyone knows they were married at the abbey in real life, and about 11 years before the movie says so too, so...). This made our trip a nice little circle about.
We had then planned to come back to Salzburg and attend the Symphonie in H2O (I'm not the only creative one) at Hellbrun, but we quickly (or not so quickly!) realized that all it was was the original tour. Not with music...but with lights. Odd. Whatev. By this time we were worn out (and I may have aggravated some with a game of name that musical when I started playing music from Sweeney Todd. I had seriously thought that the musical was well-enough known that everyone would know a little about the plot, let alone simply recognizing Johnny Depp's voice, but it just got everyone upset at me, so, I know not to try to lighten the mood by forcing them to guess people's voices). Dad suggested that we just stop at Burger King to get something fast and go home, and I figured I had spoken enough (okay, so I also went off a little about how I was just trying to liven things up and that they needed to not get so...what's the word...biting?...so quickly) so I didn't object. We thought we had seen one close in town, so we pulled out Mr. Garmin out who sent us on a 11km journey (it's only like 6.5 miles, people) into Germany. That's right. We went to Germany just to get a Burger King. Suppose it beats the McDonald's right on the border. However, it was an okay thing in the end, and I'll tell you why.
As we were walking out, a young man walked up to mom (I walk too quickly) and asked if she spoke english. Mom, of course, said yes, and the young man continues on, in broken english, that he and his folks were terribly lost and wondered if we could help. Mom says that we're American so we don't know the area, but we had a GPS and maybe I could help them.
I pulled the GPS out and went to talk with the boy (what do you call those 16-17 year-olds? young man sounds so...old) and his father. I recognized immediately that they were speaking french and were thus, French. You see, one of my goals is to be able to recognize a foreign language, even if I don't speak it. It's great when I am on vacation, because I seriously just eavesdrop on everyone who speaks loudly enough because they don't think others can understand them. So...I do extremely well here in Europe. I entered the address and switched the GPS to french and pulled up the step-by-step directions and walked them through it, making sure they noted the exact distances between turns.
They were grateful, and only about 6 km off of their mark, so I hope they made it okay. In fact, after they left I thought how silly it was that we didn't just take them there. Kinda stayed on my mind a bit, but the directions were simple enough, and the youngman/boy was resourceful enough I'm sure they made it there.
I've been watching an insane amount of CNN since we've been here since that's the only english channel. I got mom to watch the little special on Youssif, the young boy who was burned in Iraq. Anyway, it was a cool little special. Here's to all of us opening our hearts a little more to those in need around us. I'm out.

ONE MORE THING: I figured I'd do it since Steve *totally* dropped the ball this last time. I'm having terribly spotty wifi here, so my pics are not uploading nearly as well as I hoped. Looks like they might be delayed another day. Actually, a few have been put up (not nearly all) so you can swing by my picasa page to check up on them as they get up!


Do-Re-Mi-So-Fa-So-Good in Salzburg

I know, it's do-re-mi-FA-so, but I had to make it work. Heck, in Albania and Italy, they say do-re-mi-fa-so-la-si-do, so if entire nations can change it up, I figure I can--at least while I'm in Salzburg. You know this is a fantastic city, full of musical history. The home of Strauss and Mozart, and of course the von Trapp's (Sound of Music, people, Sound of Music!)
I suppose I should catch everyone up with where we are right now...we drove from Vienna to Salzburg yesterday. Our original plan included a night's stop in Linz, but we are having a difficult time with online hotel booking in Austria (we figured it out...sorta. I can definitely recommend booking.com). Hence our trip all the way to Salzburg. On the way we stopped in Melk (although one look at the entrance fees to the simple monastery made our visit there quite short) and then in Mauthausen.
Mauthausen was a concentration camp during WwII, so of course dad and I were particularly intrigued (he's seen it before, though, and I can't truly speak for the others--I know they thought it was good too). I have always been fascinated by WWII and the history here in Europe because of it. We walked through the gas chambers and the cremation facilities, as well as the throws of monuments that have been erected. Quite surprisingly, there is a monument that the RPS e Shqiperise put up (that's Albania in the olden days, folks). We walked down the treacherous rocky path to the rock quarry where the prisoners were forced to walk everyday and to come back with granite blocks on their backs. If they stumbled (we stumbled and we weren't loaded; that road is not flat at all), they were usually killed or severely punished. It was amazing, if not quite saddening to think that human beings were (are) capable of performing such deeds.
We left Mauthausen for Braunau, a small city on the border with Germany where dad spent a couple of months as a missionary. They don't have missionaries in the city anymore, but I did see and drive across the bridge dad has in his photos. This particular bridge is the gateway to Germany--one side is in Austria, the other in Germany.
After eating dinner in Braunau, we took off for Salzburg. The cool thing about this ride was that it was all pretty much back roads. Really cool European roads cut through a sprawling forest. It was awesome, and quite beautiful.
We arrived in Salzburg and found our hotel, and got ready for the morning. When we woke up and had breakfast, we decided to walk around Salzburg. We visited Mirabell Gardens (SoM, folks, SoM) and headed into Mozartsplatz. Mom and dad found their souvenir of choice (you'll have to see), and we continued into the church nearby.
In contrast with most of the Bavarian-influenced churches that we've seen, this one was all white inside. It even had five organs!! One in the back, and four around the altar. Crazy. Well, like I said, music is important here.
We then went up to the city fortress, a castle on the hill. It was probably the most interesting castle we've been to, mostly because of the in-depth descriptions that were lacking at the others. Plus the train-ride up (it's about a 50 degree angle up) was fun. Kinda like a mini rollercoasta.
The only problem is that lately I've felt a little under the weather. After getting off the funicular (that's what they translated it to!) I sneezed about 24 times in a row. Oh, it was ridiculous...trust me. We came back to the hotel to cool off and have a little lunch.
After a nap, we got up and decided to go to the Eagle's Nest. For those who have never heard of this...this was Hitler's secret hiding place. Situated quite high in mountainous region south of Munich, it is only reachable by an elevator.
Well, unfortunately, we missed the last trip up, but we were close, and that sufficed us. It was a fun ride anyway. Seriously, the Europeans have no fear to place a 20 or 30 percent graded road in the middle of civilization. I'm probably exaggerating, but they were steep.
After that we came back to Salzburg and went to Leopoldkron, which is the backside of the von Trapp house in the movie. We ate on the lake right there and came back to the hotel where we booked our remaining two hotels. Needless to say we're taking these days much easier than Albania and Italy. I think it's worked to our advantage, as we had tons of energy then, and now, we want to relax and enjoy the atmosphere's closer to the cities.
Oh yeah, the dad/hat story. We got off a late subway train (hence the last entry's title) our last night in Vienna, and I noticed I would have about 45 minutes to write and put up my entry before the lobby closed at our hotel. We were just about out of the metro station (good band) when dad exclaims, 'Oh crap!' and puts his hands to his pockets. So I'm thinking, 'There is no *way* he left his wallet or credit card at that restaurant (that we were at)...what's going on?' And he goes on: 'I left my hat.' Seriously. He had left his ATK hat at the restaurant and was FREAKING out. The look on his face...it was as if Curt or I had been shot or kidnapped...or something. He told us we had to go back. So...we got BACK on the train and went a few stops to where the restaurant was. Not a big deal, but...for an ATK hat? I would've bought him a new 5 euro EURO2008 cap. Anyway, so we got back to the hotel a lot later than planned, so I wrote that small entry from the steps outside. Haha. A bum with a computer.
Pics from Melk/Mauthausen/Salzburg up tomorrow!!

Update: I got my iPod working. I've been trying to prepare my thumb drive to become a bootable ubuntu disk, but I've had no luck. We found a nearby internet cafe and I decided to try it on Windows. It started to work, but continued to take a long time (the comps sucked anyway), so I googled a bit more about my problem. From day one I realized what was going on, I just needed a simple way to fix it. Guess what? Winamp fixes it. Crazy, ain't it??? Anyway, I've got no artwork, but everything works. To test it, I stayed up real late watching a movie. Haha. Anyway, thanks to everyone (esp. AJ!!) for all of their help and suggestions!


Late-night Trains

Well, today was a good day, but we got back supa late, so you all have to wait even longer before I can write a good entry. Anyway, remind me to relate the story of dad and his hat. Haha. That was classic.
Anyway, it's late and tomorrow we take off for Salzburg (Linz, actually, but we had to get a hotel in Salzburg. It's been crazy difficult to find hotels here in Austria...).



So, I'm noticing a lot of people aren't enjoying the long posts. I can't really do a separate 'long' and 'short' version, so I figured since I'm going to be kicked out of my internet spot soon, I may as well just write something short today. Plus, I promised pictures, and that took a while to get organized, so...
We left the hotel and grabbed some breakfast today from a nearby pastry shop. After eating it, we hopped on the subway train to go down to Schoenbrunn palace, the summer home of the Habsburg dynasty. It was very impressive, and now I want to build myself a summer palace. I'll let you all visit.
After spending the better part of the morning there, we came bac and walked around some other touristy attractions in Vienna before heading off to find a mythical restaurant that used to exist some 30 years ago. Odd thing was...it does exist, and it was actually good food, although I now I've eaten too much since arriving in Austria. Italy serves you an art, while Austria serves you a meal.
We then went and got ice cream (...) from Tichy, another place that existed over 30 years ago, except that this place has grown quite considerably. Its ice cream was fabulous, that's all I can say.
We walked home, and now I'm writing you all. Hope that it is enough to at least satisfy all of you inquiries on our daily excursions. If not, I've put over 400 new photos of Venice, Klagenfurt, and Vienna up, so...have at 'em.


Wien in Vienna...

We left Feldkirchen today and decided to go up to the castle Hochosterwitz, which is quite the preserved castle. They've obviously done a lot of work to keep it nice, but I was completely impressed by the location and view of the castle, as well as the great defense mechanisms built and maintained.
We then took off towards Vienna, knowing that we wouldn't arrive until about 5pm. The problem being only that we hadn't had internet the night before. Fortunately, we were able to use the offices internet in the morning and had (luckily) found a place to stay for three nights in Vienna (not to mention at a decent price).
After visiting Hochosterwitz, we decided to get some lunch, but instead of any restaurant, we stopped at a grocery store. Definitely the way to go, I don't know what we've been thinking before. (Actually, I do...we never really had the opportunity to before.)
We left for Austria, and thanks to Mr. Garmin, not only did we certainly not get lost, but we enjoyed the backcountry for quite a ways.
Once we got near Vienna, however, the weather turned quite sour. I actually didn't mind it--we had been burning in the sun for about two weeks now, so the rain, well, the torrential downpour, we drove through was a refreshing change.
Anyway, driving into Vienna was fun and shortly we found our hotel, which happens to be in the city district that dad served in (although a different area). After settling down for a while, we rushed out and took a walk down Favoritenstrasse, a popular walking mall in town. It was interesting to see what dad did remember, and to listen to his comments about what has changed. Tichy's is still there (does anybody remember the ice cream place dad talked about?). It's just a lot bigger...still popular.
I'm trying to pick up on as much german as I can while I'm here, so I've been blitzing dad for information, asking about everything as it intrigues me. I'm sure he's used to it by now, I've been doing this sort of thing for 22 years. We'll see how I am at the end of this week. Plus, I hope it's helping him remember his own german better.
Anyway, you are all thinking of how boring this post is, but I have ten minutes to wrap up before the lobby closes, and hence I lose my internet. Hope all is well with everyone back home, hope to hear from some of you soon!

I promise pictures up tomorrow of Venice, Klagenfurt, and hopefully Vienna (day one). We'll be here for three nights, so I'll try to remain consistent. Also, I plugged my iPod into my eee, which apparently the newer generation of iPods do not like. My problem is the same as this, so if anybody can do a little research for me so I can use it on the way home that would be awesome. Anyway, guten nacht.

Klag'n All Around

Can I preface today's entry by saying how enjoyable it's been to be here? Ha, that's not meant to rub salt in all of your eyes, but seriously, I wondered how it would go down, you know, spending so much time with the fam. I guess it's one of those things that really can't be explained. You love your family so much, but you know each other so well that there's never any surprises or change, and without that, you can kind of all fold in on each other.
Maybe I've been away from my family for such a long time that there are new things, or maybe it's the nature of this trip. Or, maybe we've all grown in patience and understanding and matured. Maybe it's just me.
Regardless, everything has been made into something good. Today we traveled from Venice to Klagenfurt, Austria. The goal was to make the church meetings in Klagenfurt, which began at 11. We woke up early and ate a hearty breakfast, then took off. I let dad drive for the first time this trip, which wasn't a mistake, but...well...I should start over.
Dad drove today, which wasn't a bad thing...I see where this is going. One more time.
I was coerced into taking a break from driving, since I've been doing it a lot, and of course I don't sleep a lot. Dad drove, and it's been a while since he drove a stick. He's used to the big vans I guess, and so the Peugeot was a different handler. I have to say that even I thought it felt weird at first, mostly because it seems to be geared a little higher than my GTI, which makes sense, since that's got 6 gears to share the RPMs. Anyway, I apparently slept on the way here to Klagenfurt, but I don't know how because every time I did look up, I kept thinking, 'Holy crap it's a good thing it's Sunday and we're trying to go to church.' I seriously thought he was gonna run into the car in front of us about every time he went to pass them. Haha, I always gave him a hard time about his driving, but at least I've always felt safe. This time I had to exercise a little faith.
ANYWAYS. I love my dad, and he got us to the church at 11.01. We hurried into Sacrament meeting after one of the sisters came outside. As she greeted dad, I saw my dad break out his german for the first time this trip. I was impressed, because he was speaking quite freely, or at least continuously. After that, he kept trying to speak in english. Anyway, I was happy for him, and church was great.
It was fast sunday, so a lot of emotional german. And some english. A gal from Logan got up and thanked everyone for their support. She had been here, trying to do grad school, but soe things happened with her teacher, so after spending a year here, she decided it was best to head back. Crazy.
After church, I got a talking (got a talking? wow...come on, self) with a kid who had very recently returned from the Hamburg, Germany mission. He spoke what I call foreign missionary english (you are pushed to learn english on your mission if you don't speak it...problem is, your companions hardly like speaking it with you because they're trying to learn your/the mission language and you never hear it except in your mission meetings). That is, he spoke well enough to communicate (I'm not criticizing him in any way, I appreciate his efforts, and I feel shamed that I couldn't speak to him in german). He asked what we were doing, I mentioned I was a missionary in Albania and he immediately mentioned that he was in the training center in England with an Elder Cocoli that was going to serve there. Well, of course I know Cocoli, so it was a cool 'small world' moment (which I've become accustomed to, but I still like the feeling). Crazy thing is, Cocoli was in England for only a few (4 or 5) days because he couldn't understand things that were going on. So for this kid to remember him, that's cool.
After church and chatting with the missionaries and the sister from Logan, we decided to explore Klagenfurt. Of course, everything had changed since dad's days here, but we went to the square and saw the Lindwurm, the dragon that once haunted the city. We then decided to go to Minimundus, which has quite the story behind it. It's a park, of sorts, and inside, there are models. No, not supermodels, although the models are quite superb. They are models of some of the most famous buildings in the world. Eiffel Tower, CN Tower, Radio telescopes in Germany, castles and train stations throughout the world, mosques from the Middle East, temples from Asia, even the Space Shuttle (which even lifted off), the White House, and the Statue of Liberty. The coolest thing isn't that they are all together, but that they are to scale and quite detailed. The replica of St. Peter's square and Basilica, for example, cost over 700,000 euros and would have required one modeler 32 years to build. Wow. I really wanted to get up and close with my camera to make it look like I got some crazy aerial footage of the Vatican, but they didn't allow you too close. We took lots of pictures, so one day I'll make a real vs. model slideshow or something, since a lot of the stuff we took saw there, we've seen in the past.
From there, we decided to find our hotel. We've had quite the luck the last couple of days, since all of our hotels have been super great, low key, and off the beaten path. Our streak continues today. We're staying in the city of Feldkirchen, a small town just outside of Klagenfurt. and I must admit, I love it here. We're only here for a night, but the hotel is more like resort, with a bunch of apartments, about 6 to a building, surrounding a lake. They call themselves a village, but it reminds me of nothing and my parents of the Homestead in Midway. All I know is that it's way cool. We're just 10 minutes from the city and we're in the Austrian forest. Seriously, if I were in England I'd say this was Sherwood. All around Klagenfurt is forest, and so we are just right in it. It's beautiful, and all of the 'apartment' buildings look like old German cottages (or Austrian cottages...it would make more sense.)
We swam a little in the lake, but to our delight (it's been quite hot lately) it started raining as we went for dinner. Ah...dinner and lodging in the Southern Austrian Alps. If anybody needs recommendations for places to stay in Florence, Venice, or Klagenfurt, you just get in touch with me.
Anyway, here's for staying low-key (although that means this entry is going up a day late), and off the super touristy trail.


Venice Water, You Take a Boat

Ah, Venice! The city of love. The city of magic. The city of...I'm probably just making these up. So, what is Venice? It's definitely an experience, that's for sure.
Our original plan was to take the train into Venice--the train station is merely a 5 minute drive from our hotel--but there was some construction, and we missed our train. So we decided to drive in.
For those who are unfamiliar with Venice...it's a city built on mud. Literally. Mud and trees. Oh, and the main thoroughfares are canals. Just in case somebody's been hiding under a little bubble.
So, we park just outside the old part of town. ---HISTORY LESSON--- okay, so not so much history, but just a little thing to remember. You see, since Venice is such a historic town, they can't really renovate and fix things, although they do the best they can with the laws that are in place to protect the history. Great for us, kinda expensive for them. Anyway, so the city has only changed a little for the past couple hundred years. So, no cars in the city, just like during the Renaissance.
Now, to imagine what the most powerful community could do during that time, well, it's amazing. We first got on a waterbus to Piazza di San Marco (St. Mark's Square) which is a marvel by itself. The square is larger than two football fields, and is surrounded by Baroque and Renaissance architecture and even some French Napoleonic influence. St. Mark's Basilica is not only a classy church, but decked out with gold mosaics and everything. No photo's are allowed inside, so, sorry. But seriously, it was huge, like the two churches we saw before, but the shimmering gold inside of this one makes it a treasure for sure.
We decided that we would skip the palace, which I'm sure would have been fun, but we weren't in the mood for museum ventures. We wanted to see Venice.
So we walked around, passed over Ponte di Rialto, one of the most famous bridges in the world, and saw a few churches. After lunch, we decided to go to Murano and Burano, two more islands of Venice which specialize in glass and lace, respectively.
We saw glass blown in Murano, and walked the streets for a bit before we took off for Burano. Unfortunately, it was late when we got to Burano, but just the look of the island made you reflect on the type of life one would live here. It was beautiful, but really laid back.
We took back to the main island to explore some more. We didn't want to pay 90 euro for a gondola ride (although they are just like every movie or tv show portrays them...I'm always reminded of Pepe le Piu...), so we thought we'd just take a later waterbus back to the car.
Venice by day is great, but Venice by dark...wow. I must say I'm crazy about lights on water. Somehow, the shimmer reminds me of a treasure even greater than gold. Something that no one person can grasp onto and claim for him/herself. Anyway, to see all the great buildings with their chandeliers turned on, and the lights on the river...it was not only an experience, but it was so relaxing.
Venice was great, but we're also looking forward to getting into Austria tomorrow. Tomorrow will be spent in Klagenfurt, so here's to happy trails! Pics of Venice will be up later.

So...the other thing I forgot to mention was that I was kinda kicking myself for not looking up some information before we took off. I kept looking for the cafe that Indiana Jones comes up into, and I was thinking the entire time about The Italian Job's chase scene through Venice (which they had to beg to do because of the disruption it caused). So many films have actually been filmed in Venice, it would have been cool to see some of those places. Who knows, maybe I did!! I did see the boats Indy destroys as he's fighting the one dude, but not even Mr. Garmin could find the library. However, just seeing how Venice is set up made me appreciate each and every one of those scenes. It also made them make sense as far as the geography of the scenes. So, the films I thought of were: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Italian Job, and Ocean's 12. Any others come to mind? Leave a comment...


Florence et. al.

Did I mention our hotel just outside of Florence rocked? Yeah, it did. Really! The breakfast was awesome too, the only thing I didn't like was my bed. That had to be shared with Curtis. Oh well. It was a hide-a-way, and those don't tend to be very comfy. However, tonight's hotel just outside of Venice is a great little house on the prairie. Plus, it's back to free wifi, and this time, I can get it in my room. Finally.
Well, I will say that Florence, or Firenze, as it's called in Italian, is an amazing city. Unfortunately, with our quick change of plans, we weren't able to get reservations into the two most famous museums, Galleria dell'Accademia--which houses Michelangelo's David--and the Ufizzi, which supposedly, while small, houses the world's greatest Renaissance collection, including multiple works of Donatello, Michelangelo, Raphael, et al.
However, we still saw the Duomo, which was worth the Renaissance walk we took. It was amazing, and I would almost say it had more grandeur than St. Peter's. I can only describe it as beautiful. And to wonder that Florence produced the Renaissance greats...what a generation.
We finished the walk at Ponte Vecchio, which is a bridge, but it's more like a city street with shops that just happens to go over the river. From there we wandered about...okay, I'll admit it. I was told that the best gelato was found at Ponte alla Carraia, but from Ponte Vecchio (ponte means bridge in Italian), I looked at the map upside-down (wasn't using Mr. Garmin, my first mistake) and noticed that Ponte alla Carraia was two bridges down. You see, a river isn't quite the best point of reference to orient a map. It's large, and most times you can't see the bends to compare it with a small map. So, I had the city map upside-down, like I said, and we walked to the second bridge...in the wrong direction. It also just happened that the second bridge that way was a LOT further than the bridge we were looking for. Needless to say, people weren't happy, and we settled for a panini and gelato closer to the Duomo.
We headed back and got the car, and made our humble little way to Venice, where we are staying tonight and tomorrow night. The plan is to stay here tonight, go and do Venice all day tomorrow, and then get up early and take off to Klagenfurt, Austria on Sunday.
Happy Birthday, America, and to all of you, enjoy the holidays and be safe!!!

ps - our Rome pictures have been updated to reflect our second day, the Coloseum and Palatino (with Roman Forum). Check them out here.


Holy Hills

The plan was, in the morning, to get up early and eat, then Dad and I would go get the rental car, and Mom and Curt would...well, I think we decided they would buy some socks for mom, since her toes have had a number done to 'em, and she hasn't been able to wear (gasp) shoes for a few days. I did worry a bit about her in sandals as we caressed the rocky streets of Rome, but she fought back and always seemed to be toughin' it out.
We took the gps to find our rental location, and luckily for us, it was rather close. Avis played nice, and we got out of there quite quickly. The man was looking only long enough for dad to pull it out of Avis a few meters, and then we switched places. I don't know if he doubted his ability with a manual or what, but I personally think he likes having a chauffeur—who wouldn't? Seriously, I die for the crazy European traffic, and so I can mark Rome down for I conquered those streets (it's a great thing to have gps...until it directs you down a one-way street. Rome's streets are not wide enough for one car, let alone two, so...you guessed it. I reversed about 500 meters of narrow Roman back roads because of it.)
We visited Palatino and the Roman Forum in the morning, after parking halfway in the street to meet up with mom and Curt and to get our luggage. Lucky for us, parking at the heavy trafficked Palatino was an easy find, after we had nearly circled it. Make sure you check out my amazing parallel parking there.
The ruins were great, and it's just awe-inspiring to think of the wonders that stood in that spot. How tall were the palaces originally? Augustus' house had fresco on every wall...was the how the entire place was? Who walked those streets of antiquity? Maybe some famous people like Peter or John, heck we know Agrippa and Caesar stayed there.
Afterwards, we snook out the back and went straight for the Colosseum. What. A. Sight. Seriously, if anybody describes the Colosseum as dull or boring, they don't have any insight into history and are probably haughty enough you shouldn't be dealing with them anyway. It's amazing!! Here we are in this day and age, and we've broken world records with buildings stretching towards the heavens. But before the day of Christ? To have a theatre that could fit 50,000 to 70,000 people, have a close-to-modern layout, an underground sea of passageways, AND to top it all off, be the first stadium that had a removable top (it was a set canopy that some serious—and strong—sailors hoisted up to shield the crowd from sun and rain)??? Amazing. Even the prices of admission of the time were right: free. Maybe we could learn a bit from them.
Afterwards, we snaked our way all over a certain portion of Rome in order to find a Piazza inn which I had found some art I wanted. Finally, we entered, and quickly bought it before taking off.
The trip to Firenze was swift and easy, and after filling up with gas and grabbing some food (we grabbed McDonald's, but I have to explain: The first night we were in Rome, dad was so hungry he mentioned he didn't care if we ate McDonald's that night. I insisted that I would not go into McDonald's, not even here, and that while in Italy, we were going to enjoy the cuisine. Fast forward to this afternoon, when, about 3 o'clock [breakfast at 8am], I realised we weren't going to be getting any food if we didn't eat there because we had already begun to get on the freeway, and I caved. Not, of course, a caving to a craving, but more-so, a caving to actually eating something from McDonald's.) The freeways here are tolled, but they are very nice two-laners that never seem to congest. That's nice. I only hit 150 km/hour though, mostly because with four people and luggage, our Peugeot was being pushed hard.
We booked a hotel just outside of Firenze, and it turned out to be on top of a hill. It's quite the classy place, and I would already recommend it to anyone needing a hotel in Firenze (that's Florence if you didn't catch on). The drive is beautiful to get here, and we were just freaked out twice, when the road seemed to narrow for us to fit through, and another time when the road was about 45 degrees inclined. It was so steep that I killed the car twice trying to get up, and only when I started further down did I make it up. But, it was worth it. We are on top of a paradise hill, experiencing Tuscany-life as it's meant to be.
Now, I'm gonna sign off and hit the hay, we've got another long trip in the morning. (After we see Florence up close, that is...)

I'm having issues with Picassa and this hotel's internet. If you don't see photos for a while, that's why. Also, be sure to check old albums as I update those pictures as well (so you can see from all three cameras that are going).


Roman All Around

Ciao tutti! Come sta?
Wow, everytime I get on here to write my blog, I'm infested with chat conversations in the other window. Anyway...
The alarm beeped silently as the morning came down upon us. It was a cool Roman morning, and nothing was going to stop us from going upstairs to get breakfast for free. After all, for the 80 Euros we were paying for the small rooms they put us in, I planned on getting my money worth of breakfast.
After breakfast, we took off on foot in whichever direction felt good for us. We decided against doing any paid touring or taking public transportation. In our walk to find a hotel yesterday, I decided Rome was worth every square inch of walking. So walk we did.
I did have the gps, so it wasn't totally random, but as we walked in the general direction of Vatican City, if we ever saw something cool looking, we would just detour and catch up later. In this manner, we ran into the Spanish Stairs and other attractions.
We planned on getting to the Vatican Museum before 10, but we got there at 11. Having been forewarned of long lines, we knew that early and Wednesday was the best time to get there. So it was, as we walked directly into the museum without stopping.
The day was turning into another Italian summer day, hot and sticky. You would think that in stone buildings that the air would be cool, but either the sheer number of people caused that to be false or I just think wrong because it was quite warm throughout the museum.
The museum was great, really. Four miles of exquisite and beautiful art. Frescoes, paintings, tapestries, and, of course, statues. I would recommend touring it to anyone. It really gave you an idea of the majesty of the Renaissance period. Of course, ending with Raphael's rooms and the Sistine Chapel certainly don't disappoint. The Sistine was everything one would want. The only negative is the fact that the deal the Vatican has with the restoration company prohibits photography and videography, with or without flash inside the chapel. I got most everything else though. If you can, look at the detail, such as veins, ribs, etc.
After spending nearly 3 hours seeing every corner of the museum (I am quite determined when I get into places like that) we left to go to St. Peter's Basilica. Once again, amazing. There are nearly no paintings (I'd say none, but I don't know for sure) in it--they're all mosaics. Curt and I went to the Cupola, and even up there, they are just mosaics, but they looks so detailed from down below. Kudos to you Michaelangelo.
Walking around the Basilica, I noticed some grates. Looking down, I could see forever. Seriously, the Vatican really is built upon tons of stuff, and only they know what's down there. Supposedly, if you go far enough down, you'll eventually hit the actual hill called Vatican Hill.
St. Peter's square is just as humongous as you think it is, and the dome on top of the Basilica is probably taller than you all think. The 323 stairs leading up are quite steep, and towards the top the ceiling makes you feel like you are doing a slot canyon in Southern Utah.
The view from the top beats a lot, and since Rome doesn't have a 'modern' skyline, you can see forever. We stayed a bit longer, then decided to get some food and take off for the Pantheon.
The Pantheon is probably more amazing historically than a lot of what we saw at the Vatican. It dates to pre-Christ eras, and it's quite original. The pillars are solid granite, brought from Egypt, and the dome is the largest dome in...could I say the world? (St. Peter's is significantly taller, but about 3 meters narrower...) I seriously enjoyed the plaza it sits on. You can tell that Rome itself is higher than it used to be, since the Pantheon sites on original ground. Rome's risen about 5-8 meters around it. The violin players in the plaza made the experience unforgettable.
We decided, at about 5.30, to try to make it to Palatine hill. The ticket for the hill and the Coloseum are the same, allowing entry to each once within a 24-hour period. We didn't make it, but seeing Piazza Venezzia and the Coloseum itself (not to mention the Roman Forum and the parts of Palatine that are visible) was awesome.
The coolest part, I think, of Rome is that everything is classy, and history and modernity live hand in hand. On the way back, we detoured to Fontana di Trevi, which had an awesome gathering of foreigners and locals alike, enjoying the time together.
That, my friends, is what traveling is all about.

PS - if people want to make orders for anything over here, please let me know. We found some pretty good ties (thick, but could be look alikes...most of them passed my critic-ness, so...) for 6 Euros (9$). Not a bad price in Italy. In Albania, I got 2 for 2000 leke, about 17$.


Forza Italia

Hola, Italia.
We arrived in Italy today, ready for whatever adventure awaited us. We had two options: continue by train up to Venice and keep our car reservation, or, since we were already in the southern part of Italy, go to Rome and tour this part of the country. After checking prices and reasoning everything out, we decided to catch a train to Rome.
Italy is a darling country, reminding me of a more advanced Albania. The older architecture is similar, and, at least in Bari, that was very prevalent. I didn't see too many huge highrises in Bari, but what I did see was beautiful.
We got to the train station at about 9.30a, and bought our tickets around that time. We didn't have anything to do, and quite frankly, even though we slept like babies on the ferry, we were all still tired.
Our train didn't come until 1.42p. We grabbed some deli sandwiches and water for our brunch, and sat near the platforms in the little shade we could find. It was peaceful, if not hot, and the few breezes that came by were definitely appreciated.
About noon, I got tired of just sitting around, so I took Mr. Garmin and went for a walk through the city. I figured since I didn't speak the language (I know enough words to make an Italian smile, that's about it; then they start speaking to me as if I know what they were saying. I think our taxi driver said I pronounced Italian well, but the blank stare I returned assured him I had no idea what he was saying) I was automatically a real tourist. For some reason in Albania, i was always hesitant to pull the video camera out, but here in Italia, people were staring as I walked up and down the streets talking to myself. Haha.
As I returned from my walk, I decided that I liked the atmosphere in the country and that Rome would be an interesting test of my travel skills. It's admittedly hard to travel with more people, but I think I will just take it a little easier.
We will be approaching Rome in about 4 hours. Our plan is to get a hotel and cool down. We might take a night stroll through Rome, seeing some of the sights in the coolness of the dark. We'll stay in Rome for a few days, taking a day trip tomorrow down to Naples and Pompeii, then the third day touring the Vatican and other cool Roman sights.
We have yet to decide whether to take a train to Florence (I have a friend who lives there), or rent a vehicle from Rome instead of Venice. It's harder to travel by train with more people, but not extremely difficult, although I think some would feel better if we went by car.
Enjoying the peaceful trainride, ciao!

Update: We got to Rome fine, and after a little trouble finding a hotel room, we ended up staying at Hotel Nardizzi Americano, which is a small little hotel on Via Firenze. We got into Rome about 6.30pm, and we'll taking a chill evening tonight in order to be ready to go tomorrow early. We plan on going to the Vatican, Colliseum, and the Forum (perhaps E.U.R. as well). Rick Steves calls people like me a kamikaze tourist...I think.
We're here for two nights, afterward we'll be getting a car (may be cheaper for four of us, plus the 'rents don't have to carry luggage) and heading to Florence.