Friday, June 18, 2010

The South of France with a Milan side-trip

I don't remember first meeting Tasha when she and my sister Kate became friends in Jr. High. I only remember that from that point until I left for college she was as much a part of the family as I was. She had sleepovers in our room many weekends and sometimes what seemed like the whole summer. She teased and joked with the family as if she'd been around her whole life...we laughed a lot-and she and Kate laughed at me a lot. :) We also talked late into the night sometimes about serious things. I don't remember specific conversations, but I know she and Kate do. They bonded in a way few girls of their age ever did. And Tasha began attending church with us, then Young Life which is how she was led into a relationship with Christ. Although most of my memories of Tasha and Kate together have to do with their boy-craziness, I was honored to be invited to her wedding to Adam 5 years ago this summer. It was a little funny to be at her wedding with my own still a few months off since she was more like a little sister to me than anything else, but I was very happy for her and proud of her-the little I knew of the woman God was teaching her to be.
A year later, Kate was telling me that Tasha and Adam were moving to France to be missionaries...I was impressed, a little astonished but very distracted by the events of my own life.
So when we moved to Germany I had a desire to find out where exactly they were living in France and how we could arrange to meet up with them. I wanted to know what they had been doing, what their experiences had been coming as missionaries rather than US government employees and just to see some familiar faces when everything in Germany was so foreign and new.
Then Kate told me that Tasha and Adam were moving home to the States in I better get moving if I wanted to see them before they left France.
Memorial Day weekend, Ben and I packed the car, left our house and pets in the capable hands of our friend Renee, and drove south toward Aix-en-Provence.
We left Friday morning and drove into Italy where we made a pit-stop in Vicenza at a larger US post where we could get some things we can't get in Garmisch...and then drove on to Milan to stay for the night.
I had found a great deal on a hotel right in downtown Milan for less than 60 euro for the night. God was gracious and provided us with a free parking spot on the street in front of the hotel-this truly was miraculous! And we enjoyed walking through their city park, window shopping and seeing the outside of Il Duomo before finding a wonderful restaurant where I had the best pumpkin ravioli I could ever have imagined. I firmly believe that if we lived in Italy, I would be in immediate danger of gross obesity and spending all of our money eating out. Truly amazing food. We could have spent much more time (and $) in Milan, so we hope to go back at some point.

(Milan city park)

(Kittens living in the dry castle moat)

(Castle front)

(Il Duomo)

(Night time view from our hotel balcony)

The next morning we had breakfast and got back in the car to finish the drive to Aix-en-Provence. We really didn't realize that we would be driving along the Italian and French Rivieras, even though we knew we would be close. The views were astonishing and have inspired us to plan a trip to stay on the coast there sometime.
After about 5 hours of beautiful countryside and seaside views, we found ourselves exiting the highway and pulling up to Adam and Tasha's apartment. We spent the rest of the afternoon walking through the gorgeous town with them, talking and catching up. They are experts after 4 years, at showing guests all of the important sites in town.

(Their cute French apartment)

Saturday evening we met many of their friends at a cookout in the apartment building courtyard. It was a little overwhelming to hear so much French being spoken since neither Ben nor I had ever been in France before...but also beautiful. We enjoyed speaking with people from all over the world-many university students-and learning about why they were in Aix. We met a young man from Afghanistan who is a translator for the French government. It was fascinating to talk to him about his job and his life and family in his home country. Sad, but hopeful.

Sunday evening we attended church with Adam and Tasha. They are on staff at an international church which is English speaking. They help run many ministries including youth groups and occasionally teaching at Sunday service. We very much enjoyed meeting more people here, worshiping with them, and hearing God's Word taught. We were struck by the international community, by Tasha's reading of the Bible with a Frenchman who is developmentally delayed...and by the plaque on the wall that referenced a letter that John Calvin had written to the congregation that was being persecuted while worshiping in that very building.

After church we had a fabulous dinner with Adam & Tasha where we each ordered something different and tried each other's dishes. It was good to talk and laugh and discuss spiritual things sitting together on the street in the South of France.

The next morning, before we drove the 9.5 hours back to Garmisch, we had breakfast together at a bakery-French pastries. YUM!!!

And then we bid farewell and bon voyage to our dear friends...they will be leaving for the States next month, where they have bought a home and will be busy with that as well as schooling and work. I know they will miss their French lifestyle but I also know that God has important and wonderful things for these two...and He will bless them in all things because they love Him and follow His Word.

Perhaps the highlight of the trip for me was getting to know Tasha all over again, this time as adults. She is still the fun-loving spunky girl I grew up with, but now she is also a Woman of God, holy and reaching out to others with His love. What a blessing!

Tasha and Adam, we look forward to visiting you next time, in PA, in your new house! We love you and thank you again and again for the wonderful visit you shared with us. xoxo

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

May busy-ness

Ben and I started May off with a Mediterranean cruise. We drove from Garmisch, Germany to Vicenza, Italy where we took the train into Venice, Italy and boarded the Norwegian Gem for a 7 night cruise to Dubrovnik, Croatia; Athens, Greece; Izmir, Turkey; and Naphlion, Greece. We had two days on board with no ports so we could lay out on deck and relax...and eat. :) We enjoyed the buffet, some good old American comfort food dining or poolside, and the upscale restaurants (for when we decided to get out of our swimsuits and dress nicely). During lunch one day we saw a school of dolphins swimming and playing in the waves. We enjoyed the on ship entertainment, including the karaoke. No, we didn't sing, but we were great spectators, especially for the Chinese Canadians who took karaoke very seriously and often chose songs in the Chinese language-very beautiful, but a bit difficult to understand. ;)

This picture made us laugh so hard...they took a green screen shot of everyone boarding the ship, but Ben was wearing a green shirt which didn't show up, so it looks like he is wearing the boat/ate the boat/wearing an invisible T-shirt...we didn't pay the $11 for the picture, but couldn't pass up the chance to take our own of it...haha

Upon exiting the Venice train station...what a site!

Leaving the Port in Venice, we watched the city pass by from our room.

St. Mark's Square in Venice was PACKED on the European Labor Day holiday.

We were able to get a last-minute upgrade to a balcony room at a great deal, and very much appreciated the ocean breeze and sounds in our own room!

Our first Port of Call was Dubrovnik, Croatia. A beautiful coastal city at the southern tip of this culture-rich country. We enjoyed the views from our balcony as we docked.

Dubrovnik has an old city that is still completely walled.

There are fun paths around the walls outside of the city that take you right along the water where you might see some locals swimming or jumping off of rocks.

The old city is charming (once you get past the souvenir shops), it is all stone buildings and narrow pathways.

We opted not to pay to walk the tops of the city walls and instead walked the city streets...and then ventured out of old city and climbed to the cliffs with amazing views just beyond the city walls.

Here is Ben above the Sea, with old city Dubrovnik behind him.

Beer on the ship is expensive, so Ben opted to find ways to purchase local beers and enjoy them in each port. So we sat along the outside of the walls and watched the water, surrounded by history.

Town Square

A sandy/pebble beach a few blocks from the old city which you can see curve into the water behind the beach.

There were plenty of cats in each of the ports we visited, this is one of my favorite shots.

One night dressed for dinner on the ship after a day at sea. The blue water is magnificent! Resting up for the next day in Athens, Greece.

Walking out of the train station in Athens, Greece...we are headed up the hill to the Acropolis that you can see on top!

We wound our way up the hills and neighborhoods to find the entrance to the ancient Greek ruins. We found this pretty little chapel along the way.

With the Parthenon behind us.

There is still a lot of detail to see in these ancient places...some of the statues and carvings have stood the test of time high atop this hill, completely exposed. It is amazing.

With the pillars behind Ben, you can get an idea of the magnitude of these pieces of rock, put together to form these buildings and artwork.

You can get an idea of how big and crowded the city of Athens really is spread out behind this theater. It looks the same 360 degrees around!

Local musicians during our lunch on Souvlaki Row.

Greek lunch. Pita, Tzatziki, Cucumber & Tomato Salad (the real Greek Salad) and Souvlaki (Greek grilled meat). Tasty and healthy!

Izmir, Turkey

Izmir is a large, modern city with plenty of history. We saw ancient mosques AND a full size Starbucks store.

A wonderful Mediterranean meal-kabobs, tea, a sandwich with yummy meat and veggies.

Ben enjoying Baklava in front of a store window displaying one of many many gowns sold in this shopping city. I didn't know that Izmir would be as big OR have so much shopping available.

Nice Turkish Gentlemen who work in the bakery where Ben got his Baklava.

This is one entrance to the Grand Bazaar-a maze/labyrinth system of alleyways with thousands of shops selling anything you can imagine. This must have been an older entrance b/c the tiles here are much prettier and older than the patchwork concrete through most of the bazaar.

A view of Izmir's city sidewalks, lined with palm trees.

Our last port of call was the small town of Naphlion, Greece and it's historic buildings were fun to explore at a leisurely pace. This was probably our favorite of the ports b/c the size made it easy to navigate as well as light on tourists (besides our whole ship of course). It felt like the kind of place you could really get to know the modern Greek culture as well as it's history. I guess we'll have to go back someday to find out. :)

A small lunch in the port of Naphlion, Greece was a treat for both of us-fresh bread, veggies, olives, feta cheese, and of course, Ben's beer.

The lovely streets of Naphlion, Greece.

Enjoying a little gelato before going back to the ship. The climb to the hill top fortress behind Ben was our exercise for the day-and the views of the city and the sea were beautiful.

Our cruise friends, Mary and Graham (mother and son) were from Scotland and we enjoyed spending a few evenings with them eating dinner and seeing some shows. We learned a lot about the pride of the Scots, and now have friends to visit when we travel that way. It was fun to make good friends so quickly-who we otherwise never would have met!

After our last day at sea, we docked back in Venice and took advantage of our time to explore the city before heading home.

A nice stroll through the labyrinth of Venice.

The detail of the carved stone and paintings is beautiful on the buildings in St. Mark's Square.

As you can see, it wasn't very crowded-so early May (but not a Euro holiday) is a good time to visit Venice!

After too little time exploring Venice (there is MUCH we didn't see or do) we headed back to Vicenza to stay the night, get our car and drive home to Garmisch the next day. What a blessing to be so close to so many amazing places-and to take advantage of the travel opportunities while we are living here.

The following weekend, I drove to Willingen, Germany with two other women for a conference, and Ben and I just returned from a weekend trip to Milan, Italy and Aix-en-Provence, France where we visited with friends who have been living there for 4 years but are going back to the States this summer. We had a fabulous time, but we'll have to post about that trip next time!