Saturday, March 14, 2009

Les Arcs Ski Trip

By no means am I an expert skier, but when I have been dying to ski the Alps. Kvos and my friend Charles were also up for some winter fun so off we went to Milan where Kvos picked us up and 7 very long, but picturesque & chatty, hours later we arrived at our destination - Les Arcs, 1950 meters up. After we settled into our hotel/apartment in Prince Des Cimes we set off to see our tiny village and fill our growling bellies. The exploration took all of 10 minutes but it was freezing so we stopped for some hot chocolate at the local bar and then went on to get some yummy raclette. The mess left by the melted triangle of cheese wasn’t very attractive but it sure was tasty on potatoes, veggies, and bread!
Early the next morning we enjoyed croissants from the bakery next door and got hit the slopes. Kvos wasn’t feeling the ski vibe but Charles & I had a great time zooming down the open mountain. It was quite unlike anywhere I’ve ever skied. The slopes were so wide and open that several times you had the feeling of skiing alone, despite the crowded lift lines. After several runs, our confidence was soaring so we decided to trek across the mountain to try some new slopes. All was fine & well until the lift ride up the final peice, it was terrifying, and by terrifying, I mean pee in your pants and cry for your Mom, fall to your death with just one false move, frighteningly terrifying. Thankfully there was only really one tricky part on the way down, where a corner literally dropped off the face of the world, but we managed to navigate around it successfully. We stopped for a refresher shortly after that part and got to see para-skiiers dropping down from the sky. We knew it was time to quit when we both starting taking falls on our tried & true runs so back to our apartment we went to warm our aching bones. After the long day skiing, it was rather calming watching the skiers go by on the lift just outside our window. There wasn’t much more to our trip besides another tasty French-style breakfast, a 5 hour drive back to Italia, a pizza stop in the city of Navarro and 2 hour flight home. It was a lot of work for one day skiing, but it was still well worth it!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

365 days, 23 countries, 1 very happy girl….

Most days my heart almost bursts from happiness. I have all that I could ever ask at this point in life; the love & support of my amazing family and friends back home, new life-long friendships here, an exciting & fulfilling job, and, of course, the opportunity to travel the world and the means to do so. I am living my dream. I only wish that I could share the joys and wonders of the past year with my loved ones directly. It seems very unfair that I - just one person - get to have all the fun, but at least I’m having enough for everyone!

The Road Not Taken
Robert Frost

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Wroclaw (vrat-slav), Poland

Wroclaw was one of very few European cities I really wasn’t looking forward to visiting. I expected a boring town with no character…thankfully I could not have been more wrong! Wroclaw is a pleasant little city, with a thriving student population, and several unique, historical oddities. The arena we played had once hosted Nazi rallies lead by Hitler himself!
I literally stumbled over my first surprise; at the corner of ul. Pilsudskiego and u. Swidnicka is a sculpture of 7 bronze statues descending into the pavement on the east side of the street and ascending on the west side. I’ve since found that this is called the Passage Sculpture and was created to commemorate the installation of martial law in 1981 to end Soviet oppression.
As I ventured into old town, I was awestruck by the vibrant Town Hall in Rynek, the main market square. Most of the old town area was destroyed in WWII, but like Warsaw, has since been rebuilt to model its original appearance. The Polish towns that I have visited are so colorful, it says a lot for the resilience of the Polish spirit considering the many sufferings these people have endured over the centuries.
In the corner of Rynek I found the Hansel and Gretel houses, two charming buildings linked by a archway dating back to 1728. Originally it lead to the nearby Church of St. Elizabeth’s cemetery, which explains why the Latin inscription reads “Death is the Gateway to Life.”
As I left the square, I noticed a row of decorative marble balls lining the street, the lead ball being pushed by a pair of cute gnome statues. Later, after I had my giggle and a photo, I learned that these unusual dwarf statues were all over the old town area. The dwarve's connection to Wroclaw began with Orange Alternative movement, when graffiti of happy dwarves were painted over anti-communist slogans on city walls in a peaceful, alternative protest to communism. Today there are more than 40 statues, which made for an extremely fun, and educational, day of dwarf hunting for the amateur travel photographer. And the cultural/fun – pierogi eater, sleepyhead, etc. -- background of each statue was very entertaining.
Maybe I am just easily amused, but those little statues really changed my entire outlook on Wroclaw. Had it not been for them I would not have discovered how beautiful or interesting this city is…and most importantly, I would not be looking forward to returning as much as I am now.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Spontaneous Paris

When Tracey and I re-united with our other halves, Maria and Tash, a plan was hatched for the four of us to do a weekend getaway together, but our hopes of it happening soon dwindled as we compared schedules. But we realized it was only Friday of the weekend and we had no plans for Saturday, so online we went to book our hotel and the next morning we were off to Paris! We were on the biggest high from our spontaneity and the weekend really could not have been any more perfect. We left Amsterdam rain and headed toward the French sunshine, so warm that we were able to put the top down in Tash's sleek Audi (4 girls in a high-end convertible, total guy magnet) as we navigated our way through the Parisian streets. The hotel we booked was a real score, right in the heart of the Latin Quarter and very quaint; small but classy, just like us! Our first order of business after settling in, a brasserie for some French fromage and coffee. After we were well satiated we continued to wander through the cobble stone streets of the Latin Quarter, down to the Seine and over to the Louvre. All the sites were closed by the time we got out and about, but we were quite happy to just take in the Parisian vibe and stroll about. After our dinner we went to another brassiere – Le Buci – and had the most delicious chocolate mousse ever. I hadn’t been much of a fan up until then, but anytime I see mousse on a menu I will be sure to be saving room. The next morning we woke early, eager to soak up as much of Paris as we could before leaving later that day, but sadly Paris wasn’t as interested in us and almost everything was closed! Luckily the brassiere from the previous day’s fromage stop was opened so we went and had a traditional French breakfast of baguettes, croissants, butter, jam, and coffee. Afterwards we headed on to visit Notre Dame cathedral, a very remarkable and impressive church. As it was Sunday there was a mass being celebrated, which was really a treat to see. Before leaving our fair Pari(s), we stopped for lunch at yet another brassiere in our adopted neighborhood. I decided to go authentic and had the cheeseburger with FRENCH fries, topped off with a tasty crème brulee, which was still flaming when brought to the table. The car ride back was just as fun as the one there – lots of laughing and general silliness – it was a perfect end to an incredible weekend with some very good friends.