Monday, September 26, 2005

EspaƱa...

The advantages of a keyboard that types in espaƱol...
 
Just a brief update from Cadaques, a sunny oceanside paradise where Salvador Dali once lived.  We've spent that last five days visiting our friends Ron and Darrell and traveling throughout the southeast of France drink the wine and sampling all sorts of culinary adventures.  Adventures a plenty have been had, especially exploring the area via auto.
 
One minute left on the internet so it´s time to wrap up.  Just wanted to send a shout out and let people know we´re still alive and updates from our French adventures will be up soon...
 
Brian

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Ireland update

Ireland pics are up on Flickr. Brian's Ireland post is also up (or will be very soon) with pics linked.
 
I have not had time to write about our bike ride around Slea Head on the Dingle Pennisula (and may not have time now) which was probably my highlight of the Ireland trip. Do me a favor: Go to flickr, search on the tags for "Dingle" and then watch the slide show. That ought to tell you most of what i was wanting to write, and the scenary was just so gosh darn beautiful that I'd had for you to miss the pics.
 
furiously picture uploading....
 
Becca

Friday, September 16, 2005

Emerald Isle or Rip-Off Republic?

Ireland. Definitely along with the Alps one of the places I looked most forward to visiting in the European portion of our trip. After 10 plus days I have to say I'm of two minds. The west coast has absolutely breathtaking natural scenery while being a very strong reminder of how difficult life has been historically and continues to be for those who have to live off the land. And the people are (as everyone mentions) super friendly and nice.

However this has been offset (though not completely) by the very touristy feel of certain areas (Doolin excluded) and the absolutely stunning expense of living in Ireland. The prices for everyday items rivaled those seen in Norway and what we expected in England. Let's put it this way; two hamburger and chips and two pints should NOT cost €30 (that's approximately $36). Of course, it's not just the tourists they're gouging; the Rip-Off Republic special (showing how the government is gouging the locals) has just finished its run on local TV with heavy support.

I don't want this to sound like we've disliked our time here; we've enjoyed Ireland as the people and scenery have been as advertised. We're just left feeling a little burnt and a lot lighter in the pocket. As Becca correctly stated (being a econ major and all) it's all about supply and demand and what the market can bear. I just feel bad for the people that live here and have such a high cost of living every day. And for those of you in NY and LA, I know it's more expensive there though I'd be hard pressed to believe that the Irish people are getting paid equal wages.

The heavy editorial content portion of the blog finished, here's our highlights from the rest of our time in Ireland.

Cork- Stayed in a jail like room at Sheila's Hostel. Termed a "Budget Accommodation Center" (not exactly the most welcoming, cozy beginning to our trip), the folks outside smoking 24/7 gave me the impression that it was a little bit more like a halfway house. Our two evenings were spent having pints at a local pub. Both nights we were showered with free pint coupons from Murphy's and Beamish reps. Not bad at all, especially since the first night I drank both of our freebies. More shocking was the second night where we were subjected to the two local couples who came in, refused their free pints and then proceeded to drink Coors Light with ice cubes. What?!? Coors Light not watery enough for you? You need ice cubes? I don't think Becca has ever seen me so stunned.

Dingle- Home of Fungie, the "feckin' dolphin", Dingle was a nice location but one that has been pretty heavily "touristed". The real highlight though was the day we spent biking the Slea Head Road. We got an absolutely breathtaking day where we biked approximately 50km (around 30 miles or so), stopping and admiring the beautiful views of the west coast as well as exploring a number of historical sites. Western Ireland has rightly been called one big open air museum. There are thousands of ancient (BC like) and early (low ADs) and just plain old (mid ADs) ruins just lying in farmers fields. Many/most are accessibly and free, and really made us wish that we had rented a car so that we could find more of then.

The day after the bike ride we ended up visiting the majority of these sites again the next day as part of a really interesting archeology tour. Normally the duplication would have sucked but it worked out as it gave us a lot more information about the sites and a chance to see a few of them without having done 40km of biking beforehand. Just stunning to be biking along such natural beauty, being surrounded by over 2000 years of history all while gaining a better understanding as to how hard it must be to live here. The weather (when not clear) doesn't let up and coupled with the rocky soil makes for difficult living conditions.

Doolin- First of all, thanks go to our friend Kevin, who we met in Gimmelwald. He suggested the Aille River Hostel to us and Doolin as a good place to go and recharge the batteries (which we sorely needed) and we're glad we took him up on it. Our two highlights were just chilling the second day in the hostel while storms raged around us (the weather reports threatened Swiss-like flooding but it never got that bad) and using the first day to go golfing. Becca and I decided to partake at the Doolin Pitch 'n Putt, where we had amazing views of the ocean and the Cliffs of Moher. We also somehow didn't lose a ball, despite shots like this. And Becca can say she broke 100 on an Irish golf course!

Dublin- We stayed in Dun Laoghaire (home of another piece of the Bloomfield empire), a suburb of Dublin because it was the weekend of the All-Ireland Hurling Final. Final day and Dublin was covered with 100,000+ plus Galway and Cork fans headed towards the match. The weirdest part was seeing folks come out after the final (which we didn't watch due to a bad bit of scheduling on our part) and not being able to tell who won. It was only until the evening when we saw the highlights on the news that we'd knew. The one major highlight was visiting the shrine... The Guinness Storehouse. The tour itself wasn't overwhelmingly impressive (save for some of the old equipment and all the whole advertising campaigns) but the fresh from the source pint had here made up for it all. I don't think Becca has seen me a) so giddy and b) drink a pint of Guinness that quickly. Guess that's why I drank half of hers...

All in all, I'd give Ireland a B+ for sights and a D for value for the dollar. And next time, Becca and I are renting a car so we can better explore all the cool little places scattered throughout the west coast. Back to France Tuesday for a week of big city (Paris) and a long weekend of historical side trips (Omaha Beach, D-Day, etc.)

Brian

Encounters at the Louvre...

In addition to the incredible works of art (more on that later) we saw at the Louvre, there were a couple of encounters of the unexpected kind.

Given our peripatetic nature, I had been wondering when I was going to run into a fellow Kellogg (my business school) classmate. I am organizing some meetings when I can, but figured that I would probably run into somebody by chance. I don't think I expected it in one of the less popular/famous wings of the Louvre though. But indeed, as we were heading upstairs who should we bump into but Kate Downes, one of the MMM women extraordinaire (a group of fantastic women who I, as a MMM groupie, got to hang out with). It was good to catch up on our lives over the past 5 years and to hear how some of my other classmates are doing. It'll be interesting to see how many more Kellogians I run into along the way.

Even more unexpected, however, was running into Goran Ivanisevic, his wife, daughter, and mother (in law?) cruising along looking at pictures (For the non tennis fans among us, he's a retired Wimbledon champion and well known pro). I was engrossed in a large French painting when Brian suddenly grabbed my arm and hissed: it's him! Once I figured out what he was talking about I went to see for myself. He was moving at a high speed though, and as I didn't want to appear too obviously stalky, I was desperately trying to get ahead of them and be "looking at the art" while I tried to check them out. This went on for two galleries. (Given how subltle you all know I can be, I'm sure you can imagine the comic possibilities at this point)

I started to become fairly convinced, but wanted proof. By then we were in the new room housing the Mona Lisa, where you are not supposed to take pictures. As at the time everybody was anyway, I pulled out my camera, put it on highest zoom, turned off the flash, and tried to surreptitiously capture the man. As the following fuzzy photo shows, I do not have a second career waiting for me as a paparazzi. However later google image searching has convinced me that we did indeed have a celebrity sighting on our hands. Who would have thunk?

the skulker extraordinaire....

And we wonder why Parisians hate us...

Becca and I spent 6 1/2 hours at the Louvre on Wednesday.  Absolutely amazing and left us wanting more but not mentally or physically being able to. 
 
One stunning story to pass on though.  We were at one of the many merchandise kiosks in the Louvre picking up a guide of the place when we heard the following exchange:
 
Salesperson (in perfect English, by the way): Is that all? 
American Woman (packing about 100 euros in books and pointing at a multilingual DVD about the Louvre):  Does this DVD come in American?
Salesperson: Yes, it comes in English.
American Woman: I know it comes in English, does it come in American?
Salesperson (quizzical look firmly on at this point): Yes, it comes in English.
American Woman (pointing to the British flag on the DVD cover): I asked if it comes in American.
Salesperson (getting pretty flustered): It comes in English.
 
The last two lines are repeated at least 2-3 more times before the American woman just gets this look of "stupid French" on her face, puts down the DVD and buys the rest.  Becca and I weren't sure whether to laugh or bonk the lady upside the head with our new guide. 
 
Any opinions on what the DVD language differences would be between American and English?  Leave 'em in the comments section.
 
Brian

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Bad Idea Jeans...

Good news: We now have posts up for the Swiss and French Alps. A bit late but worth the read. Even better news is that we'll have our Ireland adventures up soon as well (we hope we hope). Nothing like (relatively) cheap Dublin ghetto internet cafes to get the creative juices flowing. In the meantime a funny story from the less sexy part of the trip: trip planning.

Becca and I have been starting early discussions regarding the second major leg of our trip and contemplated figuring out a ground route (instead of flying) from Turkey to India and SE Asia in December. We started to get kind of excited about the 'romance' of overland travel and all the things we would see and experience on a trip like that. However, after actually consulting a map, we decided this might not be such a good idea after all. Not so much because of the weather (which would likely be dicey in the mountains at that time of year) but because potential routes would have us going through Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and possibly Kashmir. Somehow, I don't think this route would pass the Mom test. :-)

Hope all is well. And for none of you that care, the Ducks are 2-0. Quack, Quack.

Brian

Monday, September 12, 2005

Mountain Hostel Paradise...


A little bit more about our Swiss adventures while we recover from too many (or not enough, depending on your perspective) pints of Guiness...

We had seen the pictures of the hostel on the website and knew it had a scenic location, but we were not prepared to get off the cable car on the edge of the cliff wall and see the sign for the hostel just 20 yards away. (Though for those keeping track of our arrival to lodging hike distances, this reduced our average nicely). I was a little concerned that the location might make it noisy or less quaint/cozy/private, but even without the power outage shutting down the cable car for two days the lift turned out to be no disruption at all.

The hostel itself was how I imagine my idealized hostel to be (with the exception of a lack of double rooms): lodge-like with wood everywhere, free pool table to socialize around, homey bar, comfy couches, great views, a free jacuzzi outside looking at the mountains, hot pressurized showers, a laundry machine, lots of porch/deck space, musical instruments to play laying around, a professional grade kitchen (with 6 huge gas burners, lots of shelf space and baskets for dry groceries, and a huge subzero refrigerator) and enough tough love discipline from Petra and peer pressure from others to keep the place organized and clean.

The sense of community was wonderful as well. This was especially true during the power outage when we were all stranded there. We played cards by candlelight, listened to music, and hung out during the day enjoying drinks and playing pool. We met and enjoyed spending time with Erin and Fiona, Scott and Melinda, and the rest of the magnificent seven (the group of us left after the exodus post-power outage): Rob and Matt (our two gourmet chefs), Richard, Kevin, and Allison. The last couple nights there the group of us worked together to create tremendous feasts from simple ingredients: goulash and shepards pie and salads and fruit salad with vanilla custard and garlic mashed potatoes and chocolate truffle fondue and many bottles of wine. It was heavenly. .

The town itself is actually a tiny village spread along a Z-shaped road up the mountain side at the edge of a cliff wall (which requires a cable car to get up) on the opposite side of a valley from the Jungfrau. There are plenty of cows, goats, chicken, sheep, and (of course) gnomes to keep you company. About 30 minutes up a steep narrow road is Murren, more touristy town with the grocery store, and lots of hotels.

The hiking nearby is phenomenal. We went out all but one of the days, when we gave ourselves permission to just veg and enjoy the views. Our first couple hikes were in the storm, so our views were somewhat limited. I wish we had taken more pictures of the rain-swollen streams and trails that had water cascading down them etc, but it was raining so hard that we were afraid to take the camera out. Still, we had some memorable moments.We hiked up a valley along a pretty river to a very nice meadow that ended in a rock face and a glacier. The Aussies with us convinced us to do some fording of the various run-off streams, hopping from rock to rock and trying not to think about how cold the water would be if we slipped. (This no longer would be possible by that night, as the water level had risen too high) Once we reached the bottom of the glacier we got to climb up a number of moraine slopes, slipping and sliding on the scree. Our reward for all this risk of ankle-wrenching was a chance to reach out and touch our first glacier of the trip. Though it in itself wasn't that remarkable, we also found a waterfall seemingly coming out of the sheer rock that was runoff from the glacier up above. The freezing spray instantly soaked our feet (so much for all of our careful rock-hopping) and created quite a swirling wind. It was pretty cool.

On a different hike we ended up in a beautiful meadow, with shepards huts and the sound of cowbells clanging. All of a sudden out of the mist we saw a steinbock ( picture from a later hike in the sunshine) walking towards us. With the mist it almost felt like a unicorn or something, and had us quite transfixed before it decided to return to its grazing elsewhere. Most of the time this hike was covered in rain and clouds (after returning later we even got a scenic overlook before and after), but when we could see the mountains, we noticed all the new waterfalls that were popping up. After realizing that the rain had turned to sleet/hail/freezing rain on Monday (the worst day), we decided to take the more direct (1 hour) way down instead of the 2.5 hour trail we had planned. We were glad that we had decided to cut things short as the trail became a lovely combination of mud and running water and we ended up sloshing the last 40 minutes with frozen feet. (And just a view of how wet we got during these first hikes: here I am after the first stage of Monday's outing)

Our favorite hike though was up to Oberhornsee Lake. This involved walking down into the river valley from Gimmelwald, then climbing almost straight up back up the (seeming) sheer cliff wall on the other side. Once up that first part, We climbed up through fields and cows the the shoulder of the peak, then around the corner into another valley. This trail around the corner, while perfectly safe, was quite a challenge for two folks with a fear of heights like ours. The narrow trail was cut into a quite steep grassy slope, and after less room than we would like the slope turned into the sheer cliff wall. It kept feeling like you were walking off into thin air. We had to do quite a bit of singing songs and concentrating on where our feet were to make it through that section. From there we descended down to the Obersteinberg Hotel, which is situated in a beautiful location with dramatic view. All supplies must be brought in by helicopter or mule and guests must hike in. I've heard the food is fantastic; it would be a wonderful retreat for anyone into hiking and mountains. We continued past for another hour or so, climbing up to another ridge through brilliant wildflowers (and bees!) and refreshing-sounding streams.

We had heard that the lake was a little more like a pond, so we were expecting it to be fairly small, which it was, but nothing prepared us for how crystal clear and peaceful it was. Most glacial run-off mountain lakes are milky, but this one somehow filtered the water from the glacier through the soil or something and then appeared to be fed by a spring. It created amazing reflections of the surrounding mountain peaks. In the fields beyond the lake Brian was able to get his daily fix of animal chasing, walking up to a herd of grazing cows, goats, and the occasional steinbock. We loved it up there, and could have spent hours sitting up there and enjoying the peace and the view. Unfortunately, we knew that we had many hours of strenuous hiking to do to get back home, and wanted to be sure and do that before dark. After a tiring walk back up and down and up and down and up back to the hostel (complete with lots of swearing from me going back down the super steep part) we were rewarded by our first hot shower in days (as the power had just come back on) and then refreshed our sore bodies and enjoyed a drink out in the hot tub. Now that, ladies and gentlemen, is the way to do the mountains....

Before we leaving the lake, however, we had had an important duty to do. We had been looking for a way to honor and observe the anniversary of my Dad's death for the past few weeks. We had hoped to find a way to do something appropriate in one of the synagogues in Prague, but the crowds (as we have already mentioned) were just horrible. Now, in a beautiful mountain locale overlooking a lake that he would have just loved, we built a little memorial to him and spent some moments saying goodbye. I think he would enjoy the view.....

From my travels with my family growing up I had always thought of Switzerland as one of my favorite places and I was thrilled to see that Brian shared the feeling. There are many more stories to be told (and many, many more pics...check them out on Flickr (tag = Gimmelwald) if you are interested) about this place and we hope to write some new ones in the near future. Like many in our 'surviving seven' group, we stayed longer than we had planned (though our couple of days was nothing compared to the extra weeks spent by Rob, Richard and Kevin) and we also hope to go back. Our current plan is to return to Gimmelwald in November after exploring some of Italy with Brian's parents. We're interested to see what the area is like in a different season and mostly just eager to go back.

Anyone care to join us?

Becca

The Alps, French Style

After reluctantly leaving the peaceful nirvana of Gimmelwald, we headed off to Chamonix, France for some more hiking and exploring some of the higher peaks in the Alps. After eight connections and a bunch of breathtaking views of the Alps region, we arrived into Chamonix just in time to grab some dinner at a local joint and socialize with our fellow b&b members (half of who work for the owner who runs a mountain bike tour service).

The difference between Chamonix and Gimmelwald was striking. Chamonix's sister city is Aspen, Colorado; although I've never been to Aspen so I can't compare but Chamonix was bustling with outdoor stores, ski shops, pubs and the like. Your typical mountain tourist town built for those visiting first and foremost. Ok but definitely a much different vibe from waking up with cows outside your window. The other surprising aspect of Chamonix was the huge number of British folks working in the various shops, pubs, etc. Becca just gave up using her French after awhile because there was so many of them. In talking with our various b&b mates the best answer we could get was it was a destination for mountain biking and ski bums who get by working various odd jobs.

Allright, on to the good stuff. The first was an unlikely one; as we spent Sunday touring around Chamonix, we saw people finishing the Tour de Mont Blanc. A 155km adventure race that started in Chamonix that included total elevation gains of over 8500m, three countries and alot of tired looking finishers. The winners finished in 24 hours and the rest had a maximum of 45 hours to finish it in (the normal person hikes it in 10-11 days). To see the finishers come down the home stretch was an emotional moment; some finished with their families, some with teammates or people they'd met along the trail and others were quite happy to go it alone. But the sense of accomplishment on people's faces was one Becca and I won't ever forget.

The next two amazing days were spent taking full advantage of the absolutely crystal clear views of the French Alps. Waking up on Monday, Becca and I decided to scramble on to the first train to Chamonix and hoof it up to the lift to the Aiugille du Midi. Leading up to now we'd been told horror stories about the queues at the lift and how important it was to get there early.

Fortunately for us, Monday was the official end of the French holiday so we bought our multi-pass (which gave us free reign over all the various mountain transport for 36 hours) and joined the various mountain climbers for the 7:45 ascent to 3842m. When we got to the top (and Becca was able to get me over the wooden bridge that had a 1500m drop) we were rewarded with a panoramic view of the French, Swiss and Italian Alps, including such famous peaks at Mt. Blanc and the Matterhorn. We also got to watch the extremely geared up climbers walk out and start their ascent of Mt. Blanc all with about 5-6 other people around us. Definitely made for a more enjoyable experience, especially compared to our visit on the way back from Italy where by lunchtime it was wall to wall people.

Italy you say? After I was finally getting settled in to the idea of being up at over 12,000 ft. we decided to go explore Italy via a gondola that is suspension only. Although we though we'd be more scared going across on the this, the trip ended up being very peaceful as we cruised over a number of glacier valleys and got to spy down at all the crazier people who were hiking in between them. I don't think our one-year backpacks are really equipped for anything like that. The view from Italy back to the Aiguille du Midi were very nice which was fortunate since the entire Italian side was socked in with clouds and pretty much MIA. Once these clouds started roaming in our direction, we decided it was time to head back as there were a number of signs reminding us that gondola service could be suspended at any time. Although the clouds ended up holding off, we were happy to be a little closer to solid ground once again. All in all though just breathtaking views of the various jagged mountain ranges and the enormity of the Alps in this area. One would think that Mt. Blanc would stand out at over 15,000 ft. Instead it is simply the largest bump on an huge mountain range that certainly defines the area.

We spent the afternoon and the next day taking hikes around the area. The afternoon was spent hiking from the Plan l'Aiguille (the mid point station on the way up to the Aiguille du Midi) to the Mer de Glace and its cool ice cave they build every year. A pretty hike albeit rocky at times that wasn't necessarily highlighted by the view (though it was nice) but instead by our conversation on the train down by this incredibly precocious 7-year-old English kid from Oxford named Daniel. It's hard to recap it but my highlight was him asking Becca "do you want to feel my muscles" and then flexing his arms followed by his legs as well as his correcting us on a number of various issues all while explaining the biblical background of his first name. I was imagining this is what Becca was like as a child, minus the "feel my muscles" bit.

The second day we took the gondola up to La Flegere (the trip up to 1894m confirmed to us it was a good idea to not hike up). From there we first did a 2 1/2 hour round trip hike from La Flegere up to Lac Blanc (2352m) then back up higher to L'Index (2385m), the station above La Flegere. On the modified chair lift ride back down to La Flegere, Becca's panic attack kept us both occupied as I tried in vain to convince her to go to her 'happy space'. After eating lunch at La Flegere, we hiked another two hours across the 'balcony' to PlanPraz (the station halfway up to La Brevent, located at 2000m). Though this second hike officially only had about 106m of elevation gain, the ups and downs we did on the way there felt like that amount 4-5x over. We were rewarded with a number of amazing views of Mt. Blanc and the rest of the mountain range we'd hiked around the day before as well as the physical satisfaction of having done 4.5 hours of almost all uphill hiking at 2000-2500m. Not bad for a couple of aging wanderers, eh?

Of course we then showed our age by spending the last day just laying low, enjoying the nice weather and having a fabulous dinner of raclette and a bottle of wine, looking at the Alps with the cows ringing their bells in the distance.

The Alps for me was one of the most anticipated part of the trip coming in and it definitely met expectations. The biggest difference between the two sets of mountain ranges is the terrain; the French Alps are much more rocky and jagged vs. the rounder greener landscapes of Switzerland. As a whole, I know my vote lay with Switzerland but we were also glad to have explored both and had a chance to see some amazing sights in each. In all a tiring yet very enjoyable time up in Mother Nature enjoying the beautiful scenery. Can't ask for much else.

Brian

PS To see the rest of the pics on flickr, look for the Chamonix tag.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Sacre Bleu!

Last evening was spent at McDermott's Pub in Doolin, Ireland watching Ireland in their efforts to qualify for the World Cup vs. France.  Unfortunately Thierry Henry, having a stunningly bad game to that point scored a world class goal with about 15 minutes left.  You can read more via the Soccernet link on the right side of the page.  A picture showing our cheering efforts (complete with free hats) will be forthcoming.
 
The only good news of the evening (at least to Irish fans) was that Northern Ireland, who is rated below Rwanda in the world rankings, beat England 1-0.  That brought the loudest cheer of the night by far.
 
Good to see some things never change...

Brian

Yippee!

Just a quick note for all the long suffering readers of this blog who have been pestered with emails from us about this:
 
OUR HOUSE FINALLY RENTED!!!!!!!!!!
 
For those who weren't aware we have been paying the mortgage on our house on top of our monthly trip expenses so far, as our renter backed out at the last minute before we left. This has led to some extreme budgetary consternation at times, made all the worse by our utter unimpressedness with the job the company who was supposed to be trying to rent it was doing. It's hard to try and be a leasing agent when you're travelling.
 
But stress no more (or new stress: will the renters wreck the place?)....our house no longer needs to be lonely.
 
We'll lift a pint to that.....
 
Becca

Saturday, September 03, 2005

My First Irish Experience...

...is sitting in a hotel pub in Cork, listening to Travis Tritt, eating fish and chips, all while drinking my first proper pint of Guinness. Well, at least I got the last part right. The funny/ironic part was everyone there was a local, the food was quite good and inexpensive compared to the pubs we'd been window shopping and for some reason listening to the barkeeper singing along to Blueberry Hill seemed Irish enough for us.

A day of wandering/blog updating from here in Cork and then off to the west coast for the week. I've got my Ireland jersey ready and my lungs primed for the Ireland/France World Cup qualifier on Wednesday.

In the meantime, we're working on posts for the Swiss and French Alps to be posted soon (we hope) and Becca has uploaded new pictures from the Swiss Alps (with those from the French Alps and more still to come).

As always, feel free to leave comments below (it's nice to know that you are actually out there)...

Brian

Additional Help

Adding on to Becca's editorial note, if you'd like to donate to the flood relief, I've set up a link to the Red Cross on the right hand side of the site. We urge you to donate; since our own government has been so slow in helping save the people of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, perhaps each of us can do our best to show that we care and help the survivors of this horrible tragedy.

Brian

Thursday, September 01, 2005

State of Emergency

(Ed note: this entry and title were taken from our journal, written at the time of the events. Now, after a few days of being stunned and sickened and heartbroken by the images and stories coming out of New Orleans, our experiences seem trivial and it seems inappropriate to be writing about floods and disasters in such a glib way. We thought about taking this entry off, but decided that this blog is intended to be a record of our experiences during this year and Central Switzerland's floods and our being stranded by them are a definite part of that. Our hearts go out to the citizens of New Orleans and their friends and families and we just hope that the government and the country can try and make up to them in the coming months for the ways they were ignored and (in many ways) betrayed during the past few days)

When Brian and I started planning this trip, he probably mentioned to many of you that he thought to truly experience an 'around the world' trip, he was hoping to be in the middle of at least one coup d'etat or national emergency (he had visions of being air lifted off an embassy). Not surprisingly, I was somewhat less excited about the prospect, but didn't really give it high odds of occuring. And even if I had thought it likely, I would never, ever, in a million years have expected it to happen in Switzerland. I mean, this is Switzerland: land of the decimal point and the accurate watches.

But a national emergency is actually what we found ourselves in last week.

We had just finished writing a quick entry for the blog complaining about the rain and how it had kept us from enjoying the views we were hoping to see. Though we alluded to it earlier, we really had no idea of the devastation the rain was creating farther down the valley. Though it rained a lot, it didn't seem like it had rained THAT much, but it turns out that it was not only that it was both hard enough and constant enough, but also that it was warm enough that instead of landing as snow for a good portion, it rained all the way up the mountains. That meant that it all ran back down the mountains (new waterfalls were popping up everywhere on the cliff walls and little streams were flowing across roads) and into just one river (or rather two...one in each valley on either side of the Jungfrau) and both those rivers (which overflowed their banks and did damage as they made their ways down the valleys) flowed into Interlaken. 36 hours after we had gone through it, people were paddling canoes across the rails at the Interlaken Ost train station.

I'm not sure how much made CNN (probably not much), but central Switzerland sufferred terrible damage: more than $100 million swiss francs worth and many many people lost their homes (we later saw all sorts of pictures of freeways looking like lakes and buildings being swept away and people wading through waist-high water in the capital). All sorts of army reserves and national guard type folks were called out to try and help fight the water and repair the damage. And it wasn't just Switzerland. It sounded like Bulgaria and Romania actually suffered the worst damage, with Bavaria (part of Germany) and part of Austria also being hit. Major big deal.

Not long after we posted that Rain, Rain Go Away post we lost power. Petra (our kick-ass inn-keeper/bartender/den-mother) came in to tell us about what was happening and let us know that we were all struck up there in Gimmelwald indefinitely. The roads and hiking trails down off the mountain were washed out and the power outage meant that the gondola (the way most of us got up there) wasn't working. (And even if we could have gotten down to the valley, we wouldn't have been able to get anywhere). That caused some panic among some of the backpackers who had flights in the next couple of days out of Amsterdam, Paris, London, etc. and especially with one fellow who was on a leave from the air force and was worried about being declared AWOL.

The surreal part is that even though we were in some ways at the epicenter of it, or at least at the point causing a lot of the trouble, it was (almost literally) like water off a duck's back. That is, the rain came down, and it ran past us down the mountain and then it was gone. And by Monday night/Tuesday morning it wasn't even raining any more (And by Wednesday it was BEAUTIFUL!). So we felt like we should somehow be helping or doing something, but everything was fine where we were (and we couldn't get out of there)...so basically we just hiked and guiltily enjoyed our vacation.

We were even in the one place in Gimmelwald with a (professional-grade, fantastic to cook on) gas range, so we had no problems making food. In the evenings, we would sit around by candlelight, enjoying yummy communal food and listening to some of the more musically inclined and talented fellow strandees entertain us with jam sessions on the guitar, piano and bongo. We enjoyed the beer, got to know each other, and played cards by candle light. Really, if anything it enhanced the experience.

As we sit here and write this from Paris one week later, we are overwhelmed by the images from New Orleans, Biloxi and the rest of the area Katrina devastated. We once again feel grateful and fortunate to have ridden out our floods on high ground and hope that all of you back home and your friends and family are on high ground as well.

Becca

Will try and post more soon. We have more to tell about Gimmelwald, the Mountain Hostel, the magnificent seven, Chamonix and Mont Blanc, and the TGV. Leaving Paris for Cork in Ireland tomorrow. 11 days in Ireland then back to Paris and environs for a week before Mom arrives to travel with us for a while.