Monday, July 25, 2011

In which I briefly depart from travel writing.

My future is a little uncertain right now.

For the past couple of years, I have planned on continuing on to M.A. in Publishing program at PSU after graduating. But after finishing up this school year, I'm not so sure I want to do that. There are two reasons.

First, the school. While I've had a couple of really great profs at PSU, the remaining have not been so outstanding. In fact, I've had better instruction at community colleges. I'm having a really hard time with the knowledge that I'm paying for a lot more but getting a lot less. And it's not like PSU is a bad school! According to this info sheet, the school is acclaimed for being one of the best when it comes to transfer students, service to the community and green practices. But the English department seems to be somewhat ordinary, at times mediocre, which breaks my heart. I want to learn. I want to be challenged to think outside of my comfort zone, something that has only happened once or twice last year. I don't know, maybe this next year will be better. I have a very challenging fall quarter coming up and fully plan on diving in with all that I have.

Second, Portland. My beautiful city. My gorgeous, temperate, friendly, walkable, green city. I don't want to leave. I've lived in this area all of my life. My family is here. My friends are here. Fantastic food and beer and snacks and food carts are here. Unfortunately, the jobs are not here. The creative types flock to Portland in search of fantastic jobs, jobs the city doesn't have, and they're stuck pulling espresso shots and dishing out drinks from behind the bar. And I'm afraid. I'm afraid that when I graduate, I'll have just as hard of a time landing a job as I am now (because I'm trying. Really, I'm trying). I'm afraid that my sweet husband will be stuck working in a place he hates just so he can have the health insurance he needs to take care of a damn expensive disease he can't get rid of. I'm afraid I'll be stuck delivering papers for who knows how long when all I really want to do is edit them.

I know I've mentioned before that I have big dreams of moving to Scotland (or to Europe in general) but I have to be somewhat realistic about it. That won't happen anytime soon, no matter how hard I hope and wish and pray (in my own special way).

I still want to edit like nobody's business, but I don't know if I can stay where I am to accomplish that. I suppose time will tell. I do know that I have been mopey, unresponsive and insecure about what exactly it is I want to do and where exactly I want to do it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

How to ride a train in Germany.

The last half of our trip involved using a lot of trains to visit a lot of cities in Germany. I feel that we didn't get to explore Germany as thoroughly as I had hoped, but I suppose we earned an appreciation for a country that neither of us were familiar with.

We bought a rail pass through Rick Steves for Germany since we had a few very long travel days. While there are cheaper options than a rail pass (such as the German regional passes) we really appreciated the lack of thinking required on our parts. Riding the rails with our pass kind of felt like we were using a super efficient public transit. The trains were plentiful, the schedules were excellent and we always had a seat. I am so jealous of how easy it is to get around Germany.

The cities in which we stayed were Cochem, Heidelberg, Munich, Salzburg (Austria), Rothenburg ob der Tauber and Frankfurt. I'll touch upon each one in the next two posts, but the cities we enjoyed the most were Munich, Salzburg and Frankfurt.

Cochem was just a quick one night stop for us. We left Amsterdam that morning and were quickly introduced to the German rail system and just how efficient it was. As in, we missed our stop in the middle of nowhere due to our inability to open the door of the train fast enough. The stop before Cochem was at least an hour out and we feared the next stop we'd have to get off at was just as far. I won't lie, we panicked a little. It was already after 7pm, on a Sunday, and we were hungry and exhausted. Luckily, the next stop was only 15 minutes away and we were able to turn around without any issues. The remainder of our train riding in Germany was spent like this:
Our first stop, Cochem, was a gorgeous little town on the river of the Mosel. I had booked a room just past the center of town, not realizing how far the walk was. Thanks to a long day of travel and rapidly dropping blood sugar, I was one cranky snot during our two mile walk to the hotel. When we finally reached it and retrieved the key from underneath the flowerpot (no lie) I was enraged to see that our room was at the very top of the guesthouse. I had to CLIMB STAIRS. WOE IS ME. But I quickly knocked off the attitude when I saw the view from our window.
After I sat a bit and munched on a reserve Larabar (lifesaver) we went and found dinner. I don't have a photo, but the one restaurant we managed to find close to our hotel was Mexican. MEXICAN. I ordered a veggie burrito that I asked the waitress to hold the cheese on and Jeff ordered enchiladas (but got a burrito). The burrito came without cheese on top, but with some kind of crumbled cheese inside (feta?) that I tried to pick around and I'm almost sure made me sick the next couple of days. If you can imagine not being able to get authentic Mexican food outside of Mexico and some southern states, Germany is a hell of a lot worse.

The next morning we attempted to find Burg Eltz near the little town of Koblenz. Since we had to check out (and leave money on the table, also not a joke) by 11am, we had to take our stuff with us. We wrongly assumed the train station in Koblenz would have luggage storage. As we emerged from the train into the misty rain and entered the station, we noticed the station was empty. Of anything. No lockers, no rail employees, no people. Assuming (again, wrongly) that there would be some kind of shuttle to the castle, we took off on foot with our bags. Now, I am still a fan of using backpacks while travelling, but that shit gets heavy. And I got whiny, again. I had hurt my foot in Amsterdam (slipping off a curb or something dumb) and it was really bothering me. So we didn't get to see the castle because I am a baby.

Our next stop was the college town of Heidelberg. For those of you that grew up in the Pacific NW, Heidelberg is the German equivalent of Pullman, WA. Absolutely NOTHING going on. We had a really crappy hostel above a supermarket that promised a buffet breakfast but really offered bread (only one piece), jam and cereal. After we dropped our bags, we attempted to explore the city. Here is what we found that first night:
 A weird sculpture.
 Vegan appetizers.
Firebowl. A bowling alley where we played many games of foozeball.

Needless to say, Heidelberg was not winning us over. We kept seeing ads for this awesome pub quarter, but couldn't find it. The next morning we hiked across town to check out the castle. It was gorgeous and historic and awe-inducing.
I feel the city slightly redeemed itself by keeping this castle around and available to explore for reasonably cheap. But I would not go back.

My next post I move on to happier places like Munich and Salzburg. You are excited. I have coined Salzburg Portland's sister city because it is SO WEIRD AND AWESOME.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Amsterdam Whoopsie

In my last post, at the end of the barrage of photos I prattled on about Germany and riding the rails there. Well, I'm getting ahead of myself! I somehow forgot that we went to AMSTERDAM for 5 nights before we ventured to Germany! That's right, we saw stuff like this:
Shitty contemporary art blocking the picture:
The only brewery we did not venture into (but hey, it's still historic):
Only in Amsterdam? Wooden clog boat:
C'est moi!
More puuuuuurty:
Amsterdam is, in a word, chaotic. The city is inhabited by less people than Portland, but it has all these tourists (like us) running amok, smoking weed (not us) and visiting prostitutes (also not us). We went for the art and culture and beauty of the city. Amsterdam is home to the Rijksmuseum, the van Gogh museum and Rembrandthuis, Rembrandt's former home. Visiting Amsterdam has been a dream for Jeff, who is an artist and just so happens to look a little like van Gogh. Don't believe me? He shaved before we left, but when he grow his beard out....
When we weren't visiting museums, we explored the red light district, visited the Anne Frank House and wandered the many canals Amsterdam has to offer. On our last night there, we met up with some cool vegans from the PPK and ate at Bolhoed and the Flying Saucer. And that's kind of it. You see, Amsterdam did not exactly live up to what we expected. Don't get me wrong, it was a great experience, but I think the crowds and hype over the city are a little ridiculous. Maybe it's because we weren't there to party, I dunno. Maybe it's because every canal we came across had some kind of garbage and construction going on, ruining our dreams of an idyllic city. Maybe it's because we're old spoiled brats who just want peace and quiet.

As it is our duty, we hit up two breweries in Amsterdam, but neither one was stellar. One was inside of a windmill, so that was sort of awesome, but being told that the beer was very strong and having it not be? LET DOWN. The second brewery kept running out of beer, so we ended up drinking the same stuff. No fun.
 A little bit of Portland in Amsterdam.

One of the best times we had in Amsterdam, honestly, was escaping the city for Volendam and Edam. Volendam is a small harbor town just outside of Amsterdam and Edam, famous for cheese, is even smaller and littered with gorgeous houses perched on canals. It was just the escape we needed.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The Sights of Bruges, Antwerp & Oostende

Today's post will be somewhat photo heavy, but that's all anyone wants to see, right?

Our first full day in Bruges we climbed that famous clock tower. You know, the tower featured in the movie In Bruges, the tower one of the main characters takes a leap off of. My friends, that is a serious drop. I don't recommend it.
The view from the top was amazing and totally worth the harrowing circular stairway.
Around Bruges:
We also took some side trips to Antwerp (it's really hard for me to NOT write Antwerpen but I don't want to sound like a douche) and Oostende, a city on the North Sea. It felt like we went to a beach in Oregon, the weather was nice but the water was ice cold.

I promise to return to heeeeelarious commentary tomorrow when we venture to Germany. We learned many a lesson on riding the rails and I feel it is my duty to share that with the world so that you don't make the same mistakes.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Eating and Drinking in Bruges.

Going through my photos of Bruges, I realized that I would have to split the post up even further to go into any sort of detail. So in this post, I will focus on our gastronomic experiences in this gorgeous city and tomorrow I will share the sights of  Bruges, Antwerp and Oostende.

When people ask what my favorite part of this trip was, I automatically answer Belgium, especially Bruges. Everyone we met was incredibly friendly and helpful and the language barrier was not present whatsoever. For example, our bed and breakfast was run by a man that knew at LEAST 4 languages (Flemish, French, English and German) and he liked to push more food on us, despite the overflowing bread basket still sitting on our table next to the homemade jams and fruit bowls. Our very last night in Bruges was spent getting drunk with a local who Jeff bonded with over futbol. He bought us drinks, we bought him drinks, we exchanged emails and phone numbers and a jolly good time was had all around. I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened in Paris.

Our first mission when we arrived in Bruges was to find dinner. I had made notes on vegan friendly places in most of the cities we were staying in and while Bruges wasn’t overflowing with options, there were a couple. Passion for Food was where we ended up. It was empty save for the employee’s family, which meant the man that helped us talked to us forever about what to see while we were here and his own visit to the states. It was a great experience and I encourage everyone that travels to talk to the people who live there, wherever you go! Generally they’re curious about where you’re from and willing to give you tips and recommendations. On to the goods!

My dinner was a tasty roasted veggie bowl with lentils, chickpeas, bulgur and apples. Being the most substantial thing I had eaten in days (and for days to come), it tasted amazing. Accompanying it was a beer that we would become familiar with during our stay in Belgium.
I don’t remember what Jeff had, but I doubt it was as good as mine, I tend to pick well in all walks of life. He did pick this tasty thirst quencher, though. The waiter told him, “you’re on vacation” when he pointed to the 9% alc. label. OH YES WE ARE.
 The next day, after some strenuous sight-seeing (which I will grace you with tomorrow) we set out to find a pub called Staminet de Garre, famous for their incredibly potent house beers. As in, limit 3 per visit potent. It was tucked away in an alley, but you know I found it. I don’t think my face shows just how excited I was.

As they didn’t open for another hour, we decided to take the brewery tour at Halve de Maan, an ancient brewery on the edge of the city. The tour lasted at least an hour and is so popular they do one every hour, in three different languages! At the end you’re rewarded with a glass of the Brugse Zot, the same beer I had the night before. I wasn’t complaining!


My absolute favorite part of the tour? This guy.
Sufficiently buzzed, we made our way back to Staminet de Garre. You know, for more beer. Potent beer. It was everything I had every dreamed of, and more.

We managed to hit this place one last time before we left. The second time, we sat upstairs with a family from Canada who had an old man dressed in lederhosen having a grand old time. Upon leaving, one of the family members told the Scottish server, “if you’re ever in Canada, you let me know!” After they left, the server looked at us and muttered, “who would want to go to CANADA?” To which we giggled. I mean, after years and years of having to claim Canadian citizenship to avoid answering for the Bush administration, it felt good not to be the scapegoat. I love you Canada!

On a final note, I must talk to you about Speculoos. My friends on the PPK have been fired up about it for months and I finally understand why. I’m assuming you’ve tried Biscoff cookies at least once during your life. Well, this is a spread made of those cookies. A COOKIE SPREAD. It is the most amazing food product ever made and we went through two jars during our trip. They’re starting to make it available in the States and I encourage you to search it out. If you are close to me in person, I have a jar of my very own and I MIGHT share with you.