Saturday, October 30, 2010

Exceptional People

It seems my world has been full of exceptional people lately and I feel compelled to throw this down on 'paper' and get it out of my head.

Exceptional people. Maybe not exceptional in the way you're thinking. And I wonder if moving from the environment we're currently in to the States will change anything. I'm thinking not. The grass is not always greener. Watch out, I'm on a rant.

For example, there are many exceptional people at school who feel they can park or drive in any manner they please - even when the school offers free parking in back and asks everyone to please watch out for persons walking in the parking lot. I can't write much more on this topic because Bart has listened to this for 3 years now and refuses to anymore :) (the first year we were here it wasn't too bad). Yes, I've sent emails and suggestions. The school this week installed large, orange poles in the "drive" line to keep exceptional people from creating a 3rd driving lane in a 2 lane parking lot.

Twice in two weeks, exceptional people have nearly hit me head-on because they didn't want to follow the tractor in the road and wait for clear passing. The first was with my dad coming home from Lauterbrunnen - the van literally jumped out at us from behind the tractor. Dad looked at me and said "it's a good thing you saw that in time and swerved - that would have been real bad." I know. We were quiet for a while and tried to figure out why? And both times I was very visible - big car with lights on ??????

Other exceptional people don't feel they have to wait in lines with everyone else. This is an example of what we run into frequently (I think I've mentioned that only the Americans and UK seem to line/queue): Bart and girls are waiting in the crepe shop to order (in Gruyere). They are the only ones at the counter besides the customer already being helped. Another couple walks in. As the current order is finished, Bart is prepared to start ordering but the lady (new couple) interrupts and starts to place her order. He interrupts and says (in Engl. while they're French) that he's next and has been waiting. He said "she huffed at me and they walked out." Bart and the girls got their crepes. He's very tired of this - it happens a lot (although they don't generally walk out; they stand disgusted that they now have to wait).

It's hard in an environment of impatience and exceptions to the rule to teach your kids to be patient and kind and wait their turn. Rachel sometimes says, "well, mom, no one else is paying attention to the rules, why should you?" AAACCKKK! Part of that response is her Middle School brain trying to sort itself out. The other part is simply watching my frustration in trying to play by the rules but getting thwarted in the process ("exceptional" parking causes problems for those trying to get to legitimate spaces).

We live in a frenzied world that wants it all now and to their own personal specifications. Not easy sometimes. So I will continue to tell the girls to be patient and kind and I will do my best to model it. But perhaps keep my mouth shut a bit more in the car when I'm frustrated.

At least the tractors will be off the roads soon - snow's coming..........

"A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly." Proverbs 14:29

So I'm working on being the patient man - thank you for your patience in reading. And while we know there exists plenty of impatience everywhere - our future destination should be a place where people know how to wait in line. Right? Please tell me I'm right??????

Thursday, October 28, 2010

I did it!

I finally had the guts to conduct a whole appointment in German - only a few mishaps/misunderstandings. Oh yeah, I did it, I did it, I did it..... (mild dancing to go along with that - because no, I don't think I can dance. I did think I could dance once long ago but that's best forgotten. And it hurt's my knees.)

Anyway. Went to my annual eye appointment as I was down to my last pair of contacts (two week contacts). Explained how my arms have gotten longer this year in order to read properly. Anyone? Anyone?

Over this past year the contacts have made my eyes more fatigued as well and I wear my glasses more frequently.

Since reading with my glasses is fine, the optician suggested lowering the correction of my contacts to see if that would help the reading vision although potentially giving the distance vision a slight blur. I already have a slight distortion with contacts due to astigmatism - but figured we could try.

Lo and behold, even the distance vision feels better. He suggested the correction may have been too strong. So I dropped my contact correction by .5 in one eye and .25 in the other. ????

First time for everything. I'm still blind as a bat without them but my eyes don't feel they're working nearly so hard as before. Good news!

Did I mention I did it all in GERMAN? Thank You, thank you very much. Don't like to brag and my German grammar STINKS (yes, capitalization is necessary for emphasis here) but it just feels good to feel like it's all been worth it and useful.

A bit of a lame post after the Jungfraujoch, Ja?

Life really has been busy (think I've said that a few times too) and I've tried working on my priorities (there is actually something else I should be doing right now!) which lead me to leaving the Blog on the back burner most often aside from travel posts.

There have been posts I've written and pulled, posts I've written in my head, posts I've started and not finished and posts I want to write but think, well, maybe it's just too personal/don't want to reveal too much of myself. A bit frozen here.

So I'm trying to find a balance. I love writing on the Blog but if it's just travel posts, it gets a little dull. At least for me.

Dad is in the friendly skies now and I have mucho laundry and clean up to do. And kids to pick up and dinner to make. Oh - I made soup 3 times this season. From scratch. Don't laugh!!!!! See what you get when I start to reveal my personal life. As my family was happy with the soups - there will be more.

Is travel more exciting than soup? Hmmm, maybe I should take pictures....

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Up the Jungfraujoch!

I know. You're thinking you've seen more of the Lauterbrunnen Valley/Berner Oberland than you can possibly wish for right here on this Blog in the past 4 years.

But we love it so. And for us...we are treasuring each moment. We had the opportunity to share it with my Dad (Susan's Dad - out from CA for 2 weeks) for the very first time last week. Weather has been, well, somewhat crummy. For a while. Since last September perhaps. As the girls were still on October break through last Tuesday, I had high hopes that the weather would clear in order to make it worth the trip up the mountains.

The forecast for his time here has been rain, fog, possible rain/snow mix, more rain - you get the picture. Tuesday was the only day that showed half a sun on all the weather maps. So that morning, I woke early and started checking the mountain webcams. I don't know how things are in mountainous regions in the States but it is great to have access to live pic's of conditions here. I checked all the Jungfrau region webcams and Engelberg to see what the weather was up to - even in the dawn, I could see things were clear in the high elevations and related valleys - even though the Lake regions were still heavily cloud covered.

I knocked on Dad's door and told him to wake up and get dressed - we're heading up to Kleine Scheidig so he can see our favorite mountains. AND, if the weather was nice, he could decide whether he wanted to go up the Jungfraujoch - highest railway station in Europe. The girls weren't nearly as excited to be woke up on their last free day to trudge up the mountains again but, they got in the spirit - especially as there was promise of snow. They can't wait for some snow to play in. I was hoping for NO snow on the roads as my snow tires were scheduled for installation on Wednesday........

Parking in Lauterbrunnen was a breeze, the conductor had us jump on the train as we exited the ramp - "you may pay for your ticket on the train please" - OK!

Village of Wengen and entrance to the Lauterbrunnen Valley as seen from the Wengeneralp Train on it's way to Kleine Scheidig. There's definitely snow:
Dad with his big girls in front of the Eiger and Moench. As you can see, the weather was clear uptop and the decision was "let's go up, I'll never get the chance again." He was given the altitude warning - we started out at about 500 m that morning and would be reaching almost 3,600 m at the end of our trip - he might feel it. And I knew Rachel would.....
In the viewing tunnel within the Eiger - train runs up the side and into the granite block that is the Eiger and then backs around under the Moench to the Jungfrau station. Quite the feat of engineering - this railway has existed for just over 100 years!
It was a bit windy on top. The sun was shining and it wasn't too cold with exception of the wind that was driving ice pellets into our faces. Girls didn't last long and the gusts were too strong so they went inside:
Makes for beautiful pictures though:
And dad wasn't about to miss out on the views:
The wind is whipping ice off the top of the peak of the station - the Jungfrau Sphinx is barely visible on top:
When dad got back in, he had to wait for his glasses to defrost:
Rachel manages a smile for this pic but she's feeling the altitude. I watched her pretty close as even this extra 300m to the top of the Sphinx about did her in. So we started making our way back down - every little bit of descent made her feel better. Or was it the giant bowl of Bolognese that she consumed? Seriously - she feels the altitude and having had that problem as a kid, I'm very sympathetic.
Looking out toward Interlaken:
The Aletsch Glacier that runs off the back of the Berner Oberland Alps:
Glaciers off the front:
The Silberhorn peak which sits in front of the Moench and Jungfrau:
Last glimpse of the Eiger as we start turning the corner back down to Wengen:
Back into the Lauterbrunnen Valley:
It's hard to describe in word and perhaps even pictures, the majesty of these solid granite and limestone faces and mountains that start in a valley of about 800m and rise up to 4,000m - all visible. It's not a gradual slope with foothills and lower mountains that finally rise to high elevation. It just goes straight up. And Swiss engineering makes it possible for us to scale these heights - without being mountain climbers. Love it!
Hope you enjoyed the trip up the Jungfrau with us - My Dad certainly did.
Next - took him to Luzern for a brat and a beer at the Rathaus. He liked that too. :)

Monday, October 18, 2010

Gibraltar - the Rock

We went to the Rock. On a bus. Highly recommend a visit to the Rock on a bus. You can take pictures out the window of the bus as you approach the rock. And you don't have to sit in...
this LINE:
Not to say there wasn't a little waiting but, Gibraltar has limited space, narrow streets and where do you park once you get there? And - even if you do park on the Spanish side (parking comes at a cost) and walk across the border (border control on both Spanish and English sides), it's a bit of a jaunt. Including a trip across the Gibraltar airport runway:
See that: Ped crossing and bike crossings noted alongside the auto lane on the runway. Just a bit bizarre. Not unlike the idea that the British still hold this "rock" as their own at the entrance of the Mediterranean. Not bizarre in a "doesn't make sense" sort of way but bizarre in that they've tenaciously held onto this 6 km square piece of granite for so long.

You leave Spain behind once you cross through the only entrace/exit and enter Great Britain essentially. Per our tour guide, Andy - a retired HMS Army gentleman, only UK citizens may be residents of Gibraltar (subject to same immigration laws as UK). Gibraltar has it's own currency, the Gibraltar pound, which is based on and same rate as the British pound. However, they have NO problem accepting Euro's - just remember the 'bank' will take it's cut on the currency translation so it's best to use your credit card unless you have pounds with you.

Gibraltar is something of a Tax-free shopping haven (primarily jewelry, perfumes/cosmetiques, Tech/camera gadgets, watches and liquor/cigarettes) combined with military base. We weren't interested in the shopping so much as seeing the island. Therefore, we had opted for the "Rock" tour. Our very capable guide drove us around on the very narrow one-lane (he claimed some were two-lane - Hah!) roads.

On Europe point (southernmost exposed tip with 'gun' capacity for anything entering the Strait - the mountain behind us is Morocco):

The Straits of Gibraltar - 14 miles wide separating the African and European continents and the Atlantic/Mediterranean Seas:

We toured the St. Michael's caverns - limestone stalagmites and stalactites - incredibly beautiful and spooky all at the same time:
They actually hold concerts and events in the Cavern - the auditorium is quite large and a little damp!
Gibraltar is also known for it's monkeys - they are wild on the mountainous portion of the rock and number over 200. They're quite interested in getting a free meal from the tourists/tour guides:
This stately guy is contemplating the 2nd largest dry dock in Europe:
The number of ships and freighters within the protected port area was amazing. They anchor within the Gibraltar protection area tax-free (including fuel) until their next order comes in. Complete with beautiful weather:
From this point, you can see the Mediterranean on the right and the port of Gibraltar to the left. The runway is across the bottom of the pic with the entrance/exit road to the Rock crossing in the middle:
On the way back to the hotel - Costa del Sol, Gibraltar and Morroco/Tangiers in the background:
We enjoyed our return to Spain's southern coast:
Hope it won't be the last visit, but if so - we made some more great memories.
Next Up - more Berner Oberland! My dad (Susan's) is visiting and we got our chance to go up to the mountains - weather's been ick! - but it was a fabulous day so I have pic's to share.
Til then! Have a great day!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Alhambra: Granada, Spain

Frazee, Minnesota has it's giant Turkey. The Autopista from Malaga to Sevilla/Cordoba/Granada has it's Bull: And reminders for your 200km journey (headed to Granada) to mind your distance:
Those pic's were taken on the return trip. We started out Sunday morning at 7am in the dark - cold and raining - to reach our destination in a timely fashion. Through the hotel, we were set up to join an English tour of the Alhambra. They suggested driving from our locale (Estepona/Marbella area) and meeting the tour vs taking the bus tour group. That gave us a bit more flexibility time-wise and allowed us toilet/coffee break when we arrived before the meeting time.
The drive was very smooth, albeit wet, thanks to a holiday weekend in Spain AND it was 7am on a Sunday. This is a country that, on average, is eating dinner at 9pm (most restaurants don't open before 7:30 and don't fill up before 9)on a Saturday night so most people weren't out and about at that time.
I have to say it's always a bit surreal when driving a long distance in a foreign place in the dark. For one, the signs are in a different language (naturally) and two, you notice 'different' things like - cars pulling little trailers with dogs in them. So we start wondering if it's a law to transport pets in a separate container in Spain? Many of the dogs looked similar in type so were they going to the dog races?????
Once the sky lightened up, we could see that the landscape was similar to CA. And then the Eagles were stuck in my head "On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair........" - hummed that (I'm sure the the annoyance of Bart) for the rest of the day! Thanks to a high school chapel assembly in which this song was labelled bad, bad, bad for me - I carry a smidgen of guilt while singing it (result of said assembly was everyone memorizing the lyrics). But I've tasted pink champagne and it didn't draw me into the depths, sooooo.... I digress.
We did not find Hotel California (even though we were by the Sierra Nevadas!) but we did find:
Once we arrived, we were a bit perturbed! at the length of time it took for the tour operator to get things going (stood and waited for 1 hour). It was not our guides fault - he was great. The downside of it being a holiday weekend is that there were a LOT of tourists there - they had a lot of groups to arrange for.
I should backtrack a little: We opted for a guided tour as the Alhambra is a large facility and we didn't want to wander around uninformed as it's typically crowded. They only sell a certain number of tickets per day and it's advisable to purchase your tickets via internet or La Caixa (bank/authorized ticket sales) by phone in advance. All ended up well as we ended up being the last(!) group to start their tour but we were the smallest - a benefit on a guided tour.
Our guide (through Granavision) was very informative, looked a little like Martin Short and talked very fast! I'm bouncing around trying to take pic's and listen all at the same time - tiring. :) The Alhambra was completed in the 14th Century by the Muslim ruling dynasty (Sultans Yusuf I and his son Mohammad V) at the time, later seized by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel of Spain in the 15th Cent. and had changes of hand/fortunes (including much destruction at the hands of Napoleon's armies who used it as barracks) until the 19th Century when restoration work to preserve this small city/fortress began.
The history is too complex for me to indulge in here. Based on the guide's discussions and closing remarks I will relay this: those who appreciate their history of the Alhambra wish others to remember it as it was in the 14th Century when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived side by side with little turmoil in this part of the world. There is little focus on the later expulsion of the Jews and Muslims (Moors) during the Inquisition period. And the guide book (the pictoral In Focus book we purchased) deals mostly with the building/original inhabitants of the Alhambra and very little regarding the Monarchs who claimed it later. Interesting contradictions all over the place.
It is a work of art in it's entirety. The way the buildings are situated. The form. The water features which include running water/fountains in most rooms. The views. The gardens.
View of the main palace from the upper gardens:
Courtyard in the Generalife (relaxing garden retreat above the Main Palace (Palacios Nazaries - and multiple other names over the years. I've chosen Main Palace to keep it simple for purposes of the blog) ):
The North Gallery and it's reflective pool at the Main Palace:
View of the Main Palace from the Generalife and Granada beyond:
View through covered 2nd floor walkway in the Generalife:
Another courtyard in the Generalife (I think I liked this part of the complex the best - all the gardens/water):
Mosaic tiles (found all throughout the Alhambra - most based on mathematics and some with religious significance):
The stucco work was incredible:
Hall of the Ambassadors: Where Columbus came and was granted financing for the America's trip - my lens couldn't catch it all (didn't bring the wide-angle with me).
I take a lot of ceiling pictures and took quite a few here. These are a few samples:

Gardens again. I love the way they are symmetrically laid out - everything placed with a purpose. Beautiful.

There were parts of the Alhambra that were not included with the tour: the Museum, the Bathhouse, the Royal Chapel and other parts of the gardens/Generalife. One could spend an entire day here. If you don't have all day, a tour is great. If you have all day to wander around - by all means do! And wear comfortable shoes - all the outdoor paths are varying degrees of inlaid stone/rock and after a couple hours your feet start to feel it.
Hope you enjoyed - we did.