Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Day 2B: Zürich

The view from our room.

Once Kurt and I finally settled into our Zurich Hostel, it was early evening and we decided we should do some wandering around the city. First, we stopped at the cafe downstairs and chatted with one of the guys that runs the hostel. We had a beer and explained our trip while he told us about his visit to Manhattan once. Luckily, most people in Zurich spoke English, so communication wasn't too difficult.

We set off to do some exploring around the city center and eventually find some dinner. We walked along the Bahnhofstrasse, one of the main arteries running through the city center. There are tons of stores and businesses along the route. It runs parallel to the large river which dumps into Lake Zurich.

View of Lake Zurich.

By the time we made it to the lake, a storm was rolling in and we decided to find shelter and food quickly. Of course that was easier said than done in a city we knew nothing about. We were looking for something not-touristy and affordable but were in the city center along the river, right around the train station. It was hard to come by.

We finally veered off on some smaller side streets and found a little cafe just before the rain came through. Kurt and I shared a cheese and meat plate and had a couple beers. Not quite as affordable as we had hoped, but come to find out, Zurich is one of the most expensive cities in Europe. I guess we should be used to ridiculously high prices from New York.

After dinner, the sky cleared a bit and we were able to wander around some more as we made our way back to the hostel. We came across this little park tucked behind an office building. It really looked like a space ship! The lights were so bright! Kurt couldn't understand how anyone could design a space like that. Really bizarre.

Jet lag was beginning to set in, so we headed back to the hostel to hit the sack and prepare for Day 3!

Day 2A: Zürich

"Why 2A?" you may ask. Well, I like to divide the day into 2 parts in my mind: the part where I really wanted to cry and then the part where things started looking up. We'll begin with the bad news:

The Zurich airport is lovely. Impressive design. Clean. High-tech. Quiet. We arrived at around 2 in the afternoon and pass through the passport check with no issues and got stamps in our books (yay!). We proceed on to baggage claim and wait. And wait some more. Finally an airport employee tells us the bags on the belt are all that are coming. My heart sank. Our bags our lost. I scowl as we pass by all the middle schoolers who were on our flight as we retreat to lost and found. Why did they all get their bags?! It's not fair!! (For the record, Kurt and I were surrounded by these kids on the flight and they were docile and wonderful creatures. I only say bad things about them in humor.)

Our confidence is tested even more when a cute, sweet blonde girl with a trainee nametag comes to our assistance at the lost and found desk. She checks the list and confirms that, yes, our bags were not on the flight. They are still in New York. Apparently that baggage check line and the time wasted there were our undoing. Delta only makes the NYC to Zurich flight once a day, so they couldn't bring the bags until the next day at the same time. The airline is very helpful in coordinating bringing the bags to you, but we had packed our schedule so tightly that we rarely would be in one spot long enough for them to catch us. We were scheduled to be on a train headed towards Venice before the bags arrived the next day. And then, we would only be in Venice for a night before we moved on to Slovenia. We gave them the addresses of our next 3 hostels and crossed our fingers we would see those bags eventually. I dreaded the thought of not having my luggage for several days. I wasn't even going to think about never getting it back. This was when I was about to cry. We gathered up our Sky Team toiletry kits and set off to see Zurich even though our initial traveling excitement was a bit tarnished.

Zurich train station.

We arrived to the center of Zurich, found a map, and began the search for our hostel. It was a bit of a walk and we quickly realized we had not escaped the hot and sticky weather back in New York. The long jeans and tee shirts we wore to keep us warm on the plane were now getting sweaty and uncomfortable under the blazing sun. We finally locate a sign for the hostel and it brings us into the building's courtyard. We find the correct buzzer and ring. Nothing. We ring repeatedly. Silence.

Kurt and I are standing there, sweating, wondering what in the world we are going to do. We followed all the right steps! Why were things not falling into place!? After some unsuccessful interaction with a Swiss neighbor, we try to find a pay phone to call the hostel and hope they would answer (Communication proved to be a major difficulty in our trip. Finding pay phones and knowing how to use them are much harder than you would think. I hope to upgrade to a more advanced 3G phone before my next European adventure. It will really come in handy). After some searching, we located a phone but could not seem to connect to the right people.

Exasperated, we decide finding Wi-fi somewhere is our next best chance at getting into this hostel. After grabbing some cash, we find an internet cafe/bar. We grab a couple beers (one of which turns out to be much for helping us relax) and get to work on one of the computers. We search through all of Kurt's correspondence with the hostel, looking for some information about this place. There are no special instructions and no clues on what to do. We scour the hostel's website and slowly find out that it is associated with a bar of the same name which we vaguely remember seeing back at the hostel. We pack up and decide to try this bar and hopefully gain more insight.

We find 3 laid back surfer dudes chit chatting behind the counter. Apparently, the hostel and the bar are the same thing and check-in happens in the bar. There is no office or front desk. Really?! That's all we had to do?! It's painful when the answer is that simple. However, I was more than happy to see a bed, take a shower, and gain a momentary reprieve from my jeans.

Our first few hours in Zurich were rough. Hooters was there to give us some entertainment. Just so you know, we did not eat there. We just laughed at the menu of curly fries, mozzarella sticks, and chicken wings. It's like we never left the states!

This is where things start looking up :)

Eurotour 2010: Day 1

And so it begins.....the chronicles of the epic summer vacation from which Kurt and I have just returned. 12 days really isn't that long of a time, but we packed so much into that period that detailing all the moments seems like a daunting task. Plus, on our flight back home, Kurt was loading all our photos onto his laptop and we totaled up how many each of us had taken. I clocked in at over 600 shots! Woo hoo! My celebration was short lived because Kurt more than doubled my count. Needless to say, I've got a ton of photos to sort through and assemble some sort of recollection of our fabulous European adventure. So bear with me! These posts may take some time.

How it all began...July 13th:

Don't we look like expert travelers!? Well, I feared our travel experience was doomed from the start when Delta called at 3 in the afternoon to tell me that my 10pm flight would now be leaving at 12:30am. Great. Kurt and I killed some time in the evening and then loaded ourselves onto the Long Island Railroad to connect to the AirTrain to take us to JFK. If it were just me, I would have taken a cab, but Kurt is teaching me the virtues of frugality. I'll probably thank him one day. We finally find our way to the correct terminal and this is the scene we are greeted with:

Absolute mayhem. I have a theory that JFK is severely understaffed at this time of night and the Delta check-in was a disaster. I have no idea where all these people were going and why they were taking all their worldly possessions with them. I've never seen so many bags and families of 10 traveling together! Kurt and I breezed through the check-in process at a kiosk but then had to drop off our bags to be checked. We begrudgingly got in this enormous line labeled "Baggage Check" and settled in for the long haul. Luckily, traveling makes me nervous and we were there with time to spare. I hope Kurt will thank me someday.

So we waited. And waited. And waited. This line was going nowhere fast. Occasionally, some inept Delta employee would ask someone in line where they were flying and if they had a boarding pass. If their answers satisfied her, she would move them to this miracle line that moved smoothly and quickly. How I wished to be in that line. We waited some more. The time cushion I had built in to our travel plan was slowly dwindling and we were getting antsy. Finally, the Delta lady sees us looking pitiful and asks us where we were flying. Apparently Zurich satisfied her criteria and she rescued us from baggage check hell. We checked our bags in with no problem and proceeded on to security.

We found our gate and had maybe 5 minutes to sit down. I surveyed the crowd we would be spending the next 8+ hours with. In the pack was a huge group of middle school students. Great. At this moment I was thankful for the multiple sleeping pills I had packed. Once loaded on the plane, we probably sat on the runway for another hour or so. I'm beginning to doubt the competence of Delta. Finally, we take off on our way to Kurt's motherland. Delta offers us a complementary drink for all the delays (thanks a lot). I enjoy a beer with my sleeping pill and drift off to dream of lovely Italian towns, endless Nutella, yummy pizza, and delicious wine. Oh, yes. Lots of wine :)

Day 2 coming soon!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Kitchen Disaster

This evening I stopped by Target after work and was all ready to start packing for our big trip. I innocently start cooking a frozen pizza in the microwave before I began organizing my stuff. All of a sudden, the upper cabinets in our kitchen decided to detach from the wall and send all their contents crashing down on me and the floor! Luckily, my new roommate Sophia was close by and helped me hold the cabinets up and eventually stabilize them. We decided to take everything out that hadn't already fallen out, clean up the mess, and call our landlord to fix them asap! It was so crazy!

During the crash, my white jeans and I got into a battle with a jar of tomato sauce. Sadly, the jeans and I lost. The glass shattered and sauce went flying everywhere, including all over me. During the cleanup, we were amazed at how far away from ground zero we found tomato sauce. I'm afraid we are going to find it in random places for weeks!

I called our landlord and told him the situation. His immediate response: "No way! Get out of here!" Then he asked if everyone was okay and said he would send someone first thing tomorrow morning. I hope it gets fixed soon! I'm going to suggest he call the Fantes--expert cabinet makers from North Carolina. I'll get you two to NYC one way or another :)

Ohio Part IV: Fireworks on Lake Erie

After we visited the farm on Sunday, Kurt and I decided to do a little more tooling around Salem while the rest of the family loaded in the Martigs' motor home and headed north. Mr. and Mrs. Martig, Erik, Silvia, and Oxford all went up to Cleveland to see a park that Erik has been working on at his firm which is currently under construction. Kurt and I planned to meet them all after our scooter ride at a park on Lake Erie for a cookout and fireworks.

The drive to Geneva on the Lake takes you up through a few Amish towns. There is a pretty big population in the area and we saw several horse and buggies along the way. The Amish are particular about having their photos taken, so I was apprehensive to snap any shots. When driving through one small town, they were having a big market and festival (the Ox Roast pictured above). It would have been fun to stop and survey all the goods but we had a schedule to keep, so we continued on. I guess I didn't need a handcrafted basket anyway...

I was glad we hurried on to the lake because it was such a beautiful day! I've never been to any of the Great Lakes (random but I love this print), so it was a new experience. There is a little bit of a sandy beach but the wave action isn't too rough, so there are a lot of rocks and shells on the shore. Some people with delicate feet may have a hard time walking on it without shoes but it's really not bad. The water was really nice and clear and not too chilly. I was disappointed we didn't get to go swimming but spent lots of time playing in the water with Oxford.

Sir Oxford at his finest! Ox is the Martigs' super adorable chocolate lab. He has so much intensity and approaches everything like a bull at full speed. He has this fetching game where he dives in the water to retrieve a log and brings it back to shore only to repeat it several hundred times. The problem is he will swim out whether you throw the stick or not and just keeps going. You have to hurry up and throw the stick where he can see it or he'll swim nonstop until he reaches Canada.

The Martigs came prepared for an amazing cookout. We had lamb sandwiches, potatoes, corn on the cob, and delicious berries with whipped cream for dessert.


The sunset over the water was beautiful. Slowly, boats started moving out into the lake and away from the shore as it began to get dark. It must be a great vantage point for fireworks.

One of our very serious missions for the weekend was to build a firefly flashlight. There was a advertisement in Outdoor magazine once about how to survive when stranded in the wilderness using MacGyver-like materials. The firefly flashlight called for a Starbucks cup with a clear plastic dome lid. You line the inside of the cup with a potato chip bag (the foil kind) and then throw a bunch of lightning bugs in it and tape the top shut. Supposedly, it will light your way in a pinch. Silvia says fireflies do not exist in California, so she was especially excited to catch a bunch and test the flashlight.

The only container we had was a clear plastic bottle but we filled it with as many bugs as we could catch. They must have had stage fright which made their flashes few and far between. It was also impossible to get them on the same rhythm. Dim at best. Now we didn't follow the directions exactly, but I'm going to advise against relying on a firefly flashlight for any of your illumination needs. Nice try Outdoor magazine.

Ohio is on the western end of the Eastern time zone, so the sun doesn't set until really late. It didn't get dark enough for fireworks until after 9 or so. Once we were tired of chasing lightning bugs, it was just about time for the shows to start. We hadn't really researched where they would be setting fireworks off from, but luckily we found a good spot in the park where we could view several at once. I've never been a huge fan of fireworks shows but it was nice to see them in the distance and not feel like they are right on top of you.

The drive home from the lake was a bit of a fiasco and we didn't get back to the house until late. We were rushing back to see Kurt's friend Allen and his fiance Christina who were having a cookout at their house. Luckily, they stayed up late to wait for us, so Kurt and I went over for a visit. We stayed for a beer and some stories and saw Allen's house which has fixed up himself. We were both exhausted from the long day, so we couldn't stay for long and headed back to the Martigs' house to get ready for our long drive back to NYC the next day.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Ohio Part III: Farm and Garden

Sunday morning, after breakfast at Casa Martig and watching the recorded Germany vs. Argentina World Cup match, Kurt, Erik, Silvia, and I went to "The Farm". We went to visit Becky and Raymond and see where the boys spent many summers while growing up.

Becky was both Kurt and Erik's kindergarten teacher, and the boys worked on the hay farm for Raymond while in high school. We had always heard wild stories from Kurt and Erik about the farm and it was great to put faces and settings with their tales while sharing some ice tea with our hosts. Becky and Raymond had just finished an addition on their house, so we got to hear all about the process and their interaction with Amish craftsmen. Their renovation trials were surprisingly similar and different to what we encounter in NYC.

Kurt and Erik used to help move bales from the fields to the barns and then into trucks when it was time to ship out. I can barely lift one bale. I don't know how they were ever able to move hundreds on a hot summer day.

It's like they never left!

The day we left Salem, Kurt took me to see his family's garden. His grandfather used to live on the land but has since passed, and his parents keep a sizable vegetable garden on the property. Now I know why Kurt and Erik are so thrilled to have a backyard in Brooklyn and actually grow some food they can use.

The Martigs grow tons of tomatoes, corn, lettuce, and other veggies. Mr. Martig goes out about every day to check their progress. They store some tools and supplies in a couple sheds on the property but have to lug water out there by hand!

A house used to stand on the property but has since fallen down. This bathtub was left in the ruins of the old house. I tried to brainstorm ways to get it back to New York. Not that I have anywhere to put it, but it would still be an awesome find!

Ohio Part II: Salem by Scooter

Kurt's mom has a scooter she rides around town to run errands. Sunday was a beautiful day, so we thought we would take it out for a spin and tour around Salem. I was a little nervous, but Kurt was an excellent driver.

We rode through Salem's downtown. There were several banks and a few little shops but not too much activity. I spotted a nice corner building (currently an insurance agency) that I have plans to turn into a cafe/bar/restaurant with big windows that open to the street and sidewalk seating. I may be projecting a little too much of Brooklyn onto this small town, but I think it would be a fun project.

There is a nice coffee shop downtown. We stopped there on our way out of town. I was amazed how cheap a couple coffees and pastries could be! New York prices have definitely skewed my financial reality. We also poked our heads into this cute little antique shop above the coffee place.

After a little bit of cruising around, we couldn't resist the allure of Bruester's milshakes on a hot summer day. We got a few, loaded them into the scooter and went to visit Kurt's friend Nick at his house.

Back on the road, we came across a farm that had several zebras and an ostrich! We tried to get close and get a better shot, but they were unreceptive to my calls and whistles. They don't know what they were missing!

We rode by so many farms! I was impressed by the amount of successful family farms that are still in operation. The landscape of rolling green hills is breathtaking and calming. I loved all the barns and silos. I imagine Alabama once looked like this, but now we have demolished all the fields and built subdivisions instead :(

Kurt and I noted that it was eerily quiet everywhere. Maybe we are so used to the madness of NYC, but we hardly saw anyone out in their yards even though it was a beautiful day and the 4th of July. It was an interesting comparison to our everyday hustle back in the city.

Next up: a closer look at rural Ohio!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Ohio Part I:Train and Pittsburgh

So, if you haven't heard, traveling is expensive. And since Kurt and I have the mother of all trips coming up very soon, we decided the most economical way to get to Ohio would be by train. Amtrak has a route from NYC's Penn Station to Pittsburgh, PA. The only downside is that the trip is 9 hours long...

Kurt was pretty excited though. We set out from New York a little before 11am on our trek across the entire state of Pennsylvania. The scenery was beautiful but can only occupy one for so long. Even with books, magazines, music, naps, and deep, meaningful discussions, I got a little restless from being cooped up for so long.

Luckily, we packed some snacks....

and refreshments. The rest of our entertainment was provided by a little boy sitting in front of us. At one point, he and a few other kids were getting a little rowdy and were told to settle down by the conductor. The little boy comes up to his grandmother and says, "Can I go to the bafroom...umm...bathroom, so I can calm myself down?" Momentarily adorable.

The ride was great but I was excited to finally make it to Pittsburgh around 7:30. The train was actually early! Little did we know, this would be the only easy transportation of the trip.

Everyone should take a train ride sometime. It may be slow but it's a nice, relaxing way to get from A to B. Plus, the system is never going to get better if people don't ride. The demand needs to be there, so get out and see the country!

The old train station in Pittsburgh was amazing. They have converted it into apartments, and the new station is a little dinky addition on the back. People don't appreciate grandeur like they used to.

Pittsburgh is a steel city (Birmingham, AL is often referred to as it's little sister...or cousin...some type of relative) and there was this awesome building really boasting its use of the material. Kurt took this picture as the sun was setting. He's so artistic, isn't he?!

Mr. and Mrs. Martig, Erik, and Silvia came to meet us in Pittsburgh. We did a little walking around and then stopped for dinner. We ended up getting out of the city pretty late. We were in two cars, and unfortunately, Erik and Silvia got a flat tire along the way. Needless to say, it was a bit of a setback and we didn't arrive in Salem until late. We went straight to bed to get ready for our big day of touring!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Ohio: Introduction

Happy Belated 4th of July! I'm currently sorting through a mountain of photos from our trip to Salem, Ohio for the long weekend, looking for the one's that best describe the Land of the Buckeye. It was a great departure from the city and really interesting to see where the Brothers Martig were shaped.

Look forward to train, car, and scooter tales!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

New Project

Having brunch with some designer ladies the other day made me realize I need to step up my game in the decorating department. My apartment is seriously lacking. I decided to spice up the little wall as you enter my room. So far, I like it. I don't love it though. There is a lot going on.

The mirrors are Ikea which I have had since my glory days at University Corner in Auburn. My mom graciously sent them to me here in NYC--probably so they aren't cluttering her house in Alabama.

I got the idea to hang the magazines from this cute little cafe in my neighborhood called Smooch. Instead of spending money I don't have on art for my walls, why not hang magazines I love and already own on bulldog clips!? Brilliant.

Speaking of decorating with no money, my next project will be a faux headboard over my bed which Kurt and I "rescued" from the curb. Stay tuned.

Reasons I Love NYC Summers

The Empire State Building framed by a crisp blue sky with white fluffy clouds....

Anthropologie dresses and window displays....

Mister Softee parked on every other corner....

All two blocks from my office. Wonderful.
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