Wednesday, January 30, 2008

London 2008

The follow-up to our huge European whirlwind was a mid-week, three-day excursion to London. We flew taking advantage of RyanAir's wonderful airfares and spent the rest of the time experiencing as much as we could of what London has to offer.

Though less than three days is too short to get a real understanding of what such a huge city steeped in rich history is like, we were able to stay with our new friends, Valerie (from Quebec) and Tony (from New Zealand) and get a local perspective on one part of the city: Stratford. We had a great time staying at their place and meeting their other guests, people from Iowa, California, Israel, Germany, and Slovakia. Everyone was really friendly and the roommates had an awesome way of tracking all of their guests. They had a huge piece of blank cardboard that they called a map and every visitor had to draw their country or state on the map in relation to London. It was so interesting to see how easy it is to be confused with the shape and spacial relations of each region! We ended up having at least two Californias represented, Michigan was located south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and Egypt bordered Australia to the north.

Aside from our fantastic experience at Valerie and Tony's, we also had an opportunity to see the sites of London. We toured Notting Hill and Chelsea and checked out the hip coffee shops and vintage stores.

As we didn't want to miss out on the well-known sites in London, we also made a point to go downtown and see Trafalgar Square, Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, the Royal Mews, the London Eye (I don't understand the fascination with huge ferris wheels in Europe), and Big Ben.

I was most impressed with the Tate Modern, which was recommended to me by a friend who lived in London over the summer. I'm not an art expert by any means and I found the Tate to be very stimulating and the collections were extremely well organized and not overwhelming. Perhaps the best part was going to the top floor of the building, an old power plant, where the museum renovators built another floor for a bar and restaurant. The view from this glass-walled area were absolutely magnificent and there were people from all walks of life relaxing and enjoying themselves with bottles of wine.

Another really amazing part of downtown London was the new Millenium Bridge. We only walked across this bridge at night and there are areas where you can look down and the grate is so wide that you can see the waves of the Thames crashing immediately beneath you! It's terrifying but also totally exciting. From a distance the bridge is amazing as it is lit in neon lights.

The reason you aren't getting any photo posts for this trip is because I plugged my camera in to ensure I could take as many pictures as I wanted during our stay, and promptly forgot to pack it in the mad mix of trying to pack three days of belongings into a carry-on. Oops! We bought a Kodak one-time-use camera while we were there and I realized I hadn't used a real film camera in years! Anyway, one of these days we will get the film developed and perhaps share them on this site.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Winter Vacation!


Polish pups: Fredka and Chiesa
Fredka and Chiesa on a walk in the woods

Joe and Ola on our walk through the park with the pups
Joe and his cousin Ola on our walk through the park

A bar we went to in Poland
A poster at a bar we went to in Lodz

Joe making pierogis
Joe showing off his natural pierogi-making talents

Joe in his bow tie he got for Christmas!
Joe in his bow tie he got for Christmas!

Dessert! Poppyseed cake, gingerbread cake with lemon and plum layers, sugar cookies, etc...
Dessert! Poppyseed cake, gingerbread cake with lemon and plum layers, sugar cookies, etc...

It's been a wonderful and busy past few weeks for us! After finishing classes, Joe and I packed up the car to visit his family in Poland for Christmas. They live in the city of Lodz (pronounced like "wooch") which is about two hours west of Warsaw. His aunt and uncle, Marila and Olaf, are both doctors in Lodz and Olaf works on a helicopter! Their daughter, Ola, is just a few years older than Joe and I and Ola's sister, Justina, is older than Ola. She is married to Bartok and they are expecting a baby.

We spent about four days with Joe's family and had a chance to go bar crawling in Lodz with Ola and her friend who is also studying to be a doctor. We also experienced the incredible Polish feasting that Polish Christmas is known for! I tried a lot of foods I'd never tried before like jellied herring and a traditional dish that looks like meatloaf but is made from rabbit. We also had amazing cakes and cookies throughout our trip. Being in Poland was a lot like being in Michigan, with cold weather and a really nice family, but I still missed seeing my own family for Christmas.


After our stay in Poland, we drove over 14 hours to Paris for three days! On the first day, we stayed with a group from the couchsurfing website and met some interesting people from Wisconsin, Canada, Africa, Turkey, and of course, our French host, who is an engineer and has lived in both France and many South American countries.

On our second day in France, we started off the morning with crossaints and Cafe au Lait at a cute cafe in the 15th Arrondissement. We then took le metro over to Champs Elysees and strolled along the most beautiful avenue in the world. After seeing the Arch de Triomphe, we headed over to the Taillevent, a beautiful world-class restaurant reviewed by the New York Times in the following article:
All six courses of our lunch were amazing. It was a very special meal for both me and Joe!

Haagen Dazs on the Champs-Elysees

They were remodeling this building and, of course, could not have scaffolding show on the Champs-Elysees, so the restoration company made this huge printed canvas to cover their work in progress

Admiring the pages of a magazine in the Louis Vuitton store

Our view of the Eiffel Tower and the Tuileries Gardens from the balcony

Inside our hotel room on our cool antique furniture

Our hotel! If you look in the middle on the third floor, you can see Joe in his robe!

The signs for the Paris metro look a lot scarier than they actually are

Lunch at the Taillevent!

Engagement Ring
My beautiful engagement ring!

After we said our good-byes to the staff at the Taillevent, we shopped more along the Champs Elysees and then checked in at our hotel, The Hotel Regina Paris. Wow! We had an entire apartment with beautiful antique furniture, a work room, and...a view of the Eiffel Tower from the balcony! We headed downstairs to the bar to enjoy our pink champagne and enjoyed a very classy bar atmosphere. When we were back in the room, we enjoyed the beautiful view with the Eiffel Tower completely lit up and I told Joe how perfect the day had turned out. At that moment, he took a ring out of his pocket and asked me to marry him! It was a perfect moment and I look forward to spending the rest of my life with Joe.

Joe in Shakespeare & Co Bookshop: "Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise"

Joe under the Eiffel Tower

The rest of our stay did its best to compete with the day we were engaged. We walked around the Tuileries Gardens and saw all the beautiful landscaping and activities they have for both tourists and local Parisians. We scouted out two of my must-see attractions: Brasserie Balzar in the Latin Quarter that I had read about in Adam Gopnik's Paris to the Moon and the Shakespeare & Co Bookshop along the River Seine. The Shakespeare & Co Bookshop is definitely worth a stop for anyone going to Paris. The store has all English books and has a rich history of hosting famous writers. The Parisian English book stores were especially exciting for me because it had been over four months since I stepped into a bookstore where I could actually read the titles!

Home and Rome:

After Paris, we drove back to Heidelberg where we did laundry and rested for a day. At 3am the next day, it was off to Rome for six days! We arrived on New Year's Eve and stayed for two days at Colors Hotel. There was champagne waiting for us in our room and we discovered that there would be an MTV-sponsored performance across from my favorite Roman monument, the Vittorio Emmanuelle II. As we walked back to the Termini metro station, we drank champagne with the huge crowd and had a view of the Colleseum!

Over the next few days we had a chance to see the Pope at Nervi Hall, tour the Vatican Museum, go on a great Roman Pub Crawl, and see Trevi Fountain. We also had great pizza and pasta. We even met up with couchsurfers in Rome and had "the greatest Pizza in Rome" and got some great advice on where to go for pasta. We went to a few places that were great but Pastarito had great pasta and great prices too. You can see some of the other places from the pictures I will post.

Eventually we got home and now we are excited to plan a wedding for 2009. It will definitely be in Michigan, and we will announce everything as we make plans!