Aug 15, 2014

Childhood memories in France

Marine's cousin, Florent, his partner Aurielie, and their daughters Laura and Aeline, live in the border town of Saint Louis, France. It's just minutes outside of Basel, Switzerland so we stopped to visit. Aeline and Laura are the cutest children I never understood. Aeline because she spoke French, and Laura because who knows what language she spoke. We headed into Switzerland to find them some candies and to explore for ourselves. We also came across the Tingely fountain, which was whimsical, weird and wacky.

After finding some Swiss chocolate for the girls, we said our goodbyes and headed off to Strasbourg. Marine was born in Mulhouse and moved here when she was little. Her aunt, uncle, and cousins all live here. After meeting my family and seeing where I spent childhood summers in the States, I was really excited to see Marine's slice of childhood. I couldn't understand the language, but the feeling is the same.

We spent time swimming in Marine's grandparents lake. The lake itself lies just 2 kilometers from the German border, and was originally used for trench building during WW2. Later, the German army filled the dug out hole with bombs and artillery and filled it with water so the allied forces couldn't use it. Once the war was over, small cabins that had to be self assembled were sold to refugees, and after rebuilding had begun in Europe, Marine's grandparents purchased one. Marine says her cousin used to dive to the bottom and find old memorabilia like German coins underneath.

After some swimming, Marine's aunt took us to the castle of Haut Koeningsbourg. The castle sits on a Alsatian hilltop where it can see much of France and even the Swiss alps on a clear day. Below the castle was Le Montagne Des Singes (Mountain of the Monkies). a wildlife preserve filled with Monkies that walk up to the patrons and collect popcorn right out of their hands. It was 1,000 times better than seeing them in cages in some crappy zoo. We also took a river cruise, saw some other animals at the local park, explored the cathedral, and the museum of decorative arts.We've walked through the streets of Paris, the markets of Florence, the canals of Venice. We've strolled hand in hand down La Rambla, the waterfront of Saint Tropez. All of it has been incredibly romantic, but this was different. I saw into the past of the woman I love. I met the people who helped raise her, I jumped into the lake she cherised as a child. What could possibly be more romantic than that?

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Aug 12, 2014

Hiking the Alps

Bern, Switzerland was quite a departure from anything we had seen in Italy. There were gothic structures, overflowing flower boxes in every window, and animated fountains depicting local folklore on every street corner. We discovered panoramic rose gardens, fragrant bakeries and even a bear exhibit that we had very mixed feelings about. After our day of exploration we were headed to Lauterbrunnen, a valley village above Interlaken and below Grindlewald. It's nestled into a valley with over 72 waterfalls, framed by snowy mountain ranges and gorgeous hiking trails. Every picture we took was nothing compared to the real thing. Each day a new and more exhausting trail led us to a more picturesque place. I spent the first day running around on the trail singing "The hills are alive with the sound of music!" Marine asked what I kept referring to, so I promptly downloaded the movie off the internet and we spent the entire trip getting our Julie Andrews on. We also ate swiss cheese, chocolate, and fondue. The week was like stepping out of the illustration on an Arrowhead bottle.

Seriously, at this point we've been to what seems like 100 churches and towering man made buildings, but being out here in nature was a truly spiritual journey. Yes we'd laugh and joke and dance around like Frauline Maria, but mostly we were introspective, in awe, and climbing staggering heights we hadn't attempted before. We even hiked to Trummelbach- a waterfall inside of a mountain. It was slippery, frigid and exhilirating. I swear we took over 1,000 photos it was so gorgeous. Switzerland was the most expensive country on our itinerary, but it was worth every penny. Even our city tax got us free public transport. The people were sweet and helpful and the atmosphere was wonderful. But nothing beats the sense of accomplishment we felt after several hours of hiking to the top of a mountain, sweaty shirts sticking to our backs, sun to our face and valleys below our feet, all whispering "we did it."

Up next, Strasbourg and Paris! Follow us in real time on instagram @marineschmittie and @thatstarvingartist

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Aug 2, 2014

Fine d'Italia

We boarded the water bus at the train station and headed towards the hostel in Venice, Italy when Marine asked, "I wonder what it's like here during a storm." A few hours later, she got her answer. The first night in Venice was a cozy one spent indoors looking out at lightening strike over the canals. We stayed in Giudecca, which overlooked San Marcos square and The Doge's Palace. We awoke in the morning to a calm, clear sunshine and miles of canals to explore.

We saw the famed "Bridge of Sighs", a passageway from the court of the palace to the prison. It is said that prisoners would glimpse out of the windows towards the Venetian canals and take in the last view of their freedom and sigh.

We explored the canals, the Rialto bridge, and ate our way through the city. The best pasta we had in all of Italy was discovered here, at a tiny take away window serving cheap, fresh, hot pasta to the delight of locals and tourists alike. Also gelato. The next day we ran into some family friends who were on vacation, and joined them to see the Murano glass blowers. As big as the world is, it is still awfully small sometimes.

Later on it rained and cleared most of the tourists out of San Marcos square which made it immensly more pleasurable to spend time in. That evening we saw a play depicting the history of Venice and actually learned a lot. The city was built by Italian refugees escaping Attila the Hun's invading army in the lagoon. The newly established village became a popular trade route connecting Asia and Europe, and the city later earned further repute when two merchants stole the bones of St. Mark from an Egyptian tomb and put him to rest in the basilica in San Marcos square. It also became famous for its underworld of masquarade balls and scandalous courteseans. Venice is a history and mystery buff's dream.

In the morning the clear skies beckoned us to the Doge's Palace (you know, the one the Venetian in Las Vegas looks like). The Doge ruled for centuries and was a democratically elected leader. In fact, Venice had a history of scandal, but hardly from the government. We strolled the rest of the afternoon through winding sidewalks and back alley bridges over bustling canals. We ended here in perfect weather, ready for the streets of Milan.

In Milan, the weather had begun to look ominous again. We walked through the city and stopped for lunch in the park.

We strolled the shopping center and wound up in front of the Duomo just as the sky darkened around us. The towering structure looming before us looked like a castle straight out of Beauty and the Beast. We snapped a few photos and ducked into the subway before it began to rain again.Up next: The Swiss Alps!

Also, follow us on instagram @marineschmittie and @thatstarvingartist

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Jul 24, 2014

Roaming Through Rome (and Naples!)

After strolling through the romantic streets of Florence, we were ready to take on the bustling streets of Rome. Rome is a city that everyone should see before they die. There are ancient ruins around every corner, a hopping nightlife, a million museums and even its own holy land of sorts. We made an appointment for the Vatican City museum and we recommend everyone do the same- the line without a reservation is terrible. St. Peter's however, is free but requires a little wait in line. If it seems long- DO IT ANYWAY. It's totally worth it. 

Though photos are not allowed in the Sistine Chapel, I managed to snap this beauty of Michaelangelo's "The Last Judgement". I figured if they sell postcards of it in the giftshop, it's not that holy anyways.

Also witnessed a pigeon fight in the pinecone garden. It was epic.

Sidenote: keep all shoulders and knees covered (guys too!) or they won't hesitate to kick your scandalous self out!

We also hit up the Piazza Navona and the Pantheon before calling it a day.

The next day we hit up ancient Rome and got our gladiator on at the Roman Forum and the Coloseum.

We nixed the Trevi Fountain and Spanish Steps because they were covered in scaffolding and not worth seeing at all. We did however, had a gorgeous date night out on the river. The moon hit our eyes like big pizza pies and then we were off to Naples.

Naples:

Naples is the farthest city south on our European journey. The city iteslf had some interesting history, like it's underground tunnels that used to house ancient aqueducts, and later WW2 refugees, but overall it's not as pretty as it's neighbors to the north. There's a lot of chicken scratch graffiti, and not a lot of safety for pedestrians. It's best to do day trips to Sorrento, Capri, Amalfi, Erculano and Pompeii. We got lost in the ruins of Pompeii our first day there. It was a step back in time, a perfectly preserved city (people, dogs and all) buried beneath the volcanic ash of Mount Vesuvius.

The next day we set off on a boat trip to Capri with some of the girls from our hostel. There were girls from Brazil, Canada, Minnesota, and Italy. It was a perfect afternoon filled with sunshine, delicious food and an unfortunate iphone death. I took Marine's phone for a little swim completely on accident... Yes we tried the rice thing, and the oven thing, and all the things. The salty Meditteranean took her claim. RIP.

Stay tuned because next up we visit Venice, Milan, and some Swiss alps! Also, follow us in real time on instagram @thatstarvingartist and @marineschmittie! Leave us comments because we miss you all!

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Jul 20, 2014

Under The Tuscan Sun

We arrived in Florence in the afternoon and the rain had subsided. Though it had been 10 years since I had last stepped foot in Florence, I remembered everything vividly. I recalled its ambience of romance and quiet grandeur, it's open air markets and rich culture. So many notable pieces of art and architecture reside here, proud but never boastfully welcoming visitors onto its streets.

We strolled through the iconic Piazza Della Signore, home of the Neptune statue, an art museum and the latest Gucci Museum.

Another favorite was the Piazza Della Michaelangelo, which boasts panoramic city views.

If you're going to visit Italy with your significant other, you may think Rome and Venice are the places to see, but Florence is absolutely necessary. It's less inundated with tourists, and just as romantic and easy to stroll. We also visited the Ponte Vecchio, the Ufitizi Gallery (where the Birth of the Venus and a few notable Caravaggios are housed), we climbed a dizzying 467 stairs to the top of the duomo, and meandered through the Boboli gardens.

Basically, Florence was a stop where we got even more googly-eyed at each other, ate too much gelato, and wondered how the heck we got so damn lucky.

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Jul 13, 2014

Benvenuto a Italia!

There were about 1,000 stairs straight up the hillside as we trekked from Riomaggiore to Manarola. My legs shook with each quivering step down the opposite side of the hill. It was midday on the coast of Cinque Terre, our backs, brows and everywhere in between dripping with sweat. Walking into the town center after our quest was like a homecoming. 

Cinque Terre is a serious of 5 small villages nestled into the northern west coast of Italy. It's a UNESCO world heritage site, so it's protected from giant corporations, major infastructure and too many tourists. It's ideal for hiking, swimming, and all around inspiration. 

We basically spent the week hiking and taking photos and being amazed that we were in paradise. (and also streching our really sore legs!)

Yep. I did that. 

Pisa:

Originally, we were planning on spending a night in Pisa but cancelled it when the SNCF train strikes screwed up our travel plans. Luckily, our train to Florence stopped there anyways and we had just enough time to snap a few photos of the famous leaning tower before the sky opened up and poured down on us.

By the time we hopped off our train in Florence, the rain had taken a pause and the view from our room looked like this...

Stay tuned for our romantic escapades in Florence! And follow us in real time on instagram, @thatstarvingartist and @marineschmittie :) 

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Jul 8, 2014

Striking Out: Stuck in the South of France

The following is an excerpt from my travel journal:

Barcelona was all abuzz when we arrived sleepy-eyed this morning onto her streets. The quaint laziness of the weekend was gone and the locals were en route to work and school. A few misty raindrops landed on us through a layer of thick, humid air. It was a relief from the crowded subways where we huddled on platforms amid swarms of schoolchildren, tourists and businessmen. Hoards of bodies crammed in between armpits and chests, shoulders and knees. We were an amalgamous form, uniquely one until we scattered into pieces at Espanya, Catalunya, Selva Del Mar. We gathered at the train station in hopes of better news, only to be reminded that the strike had stretched into 6 days.

Day 14 in Europe and we've hit our first rough patch- The French trains are on strike. What this means is Marine and I have spent a day longer in Barcelona than we originally anticipated. We've made a makeshift home of the train station, and even found some comraderie in our fellow travelers. We've comforted the customer service rep after she was berated for a cancellation entirely out of her control. A part of the adventure is not turning around and going home when someone tells you it cannot be done. It is not crying or getting angry or stomping our feet proclaiming that the world revolves around us. It is in fact throwing your hands up and admitting that you are an integral part of the world, but that it will also continue without you. Sometimes you can plan everything squarely to the minute, and still you will look up, and catch rain.

Day 15 in Europe has put us in the small French town of Perpignan. The strike continues into its 7th day and we can only pray that negotiations today are successful so we can eventually make it out of here. We have eliminated Carcassonne from our travels. The fortified city will have to wait. We'll probably spend another night here before we try to get a train for Montpellier in the morning, which then could get us a train to Nice, where Marine's grandfather can come pick us up. Hopefully, the French can resolve these issues, and we can all go back to our regularly scheduled travels!

So we made the most of Perpignan, we found a small but friendly hostel, ate delicious food, climbed castle towers and strolled through the streets. Sometimes getting lost means finding something better.

Eventually, we made it into Toulon, where Marine's grandfather and his girlfriend, Monique came to pick us up. It was a magical relief.

Over the weekend we stayed with Marine's grandfather in the South of France. He took us to dinner in St. Tropez the first night and I could hardly understand him. Even still, I could hear him reminiscing over the food, my own head becoming a swarming fog of wine and cidre. He talked of life as a young man on his boats and the pretty girls that walked by, his attempts to woo them. He poured me the last of the wine and claimed that whomever finishes the bottle gets married within a year. Marine blushed, and I took that as a sort of blessing.

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Jul 3, 2014

The Road From Copenhagen to Barcelona

Yes, I know this post comes a little late. We've been on the road for about a month now and we're finally getting our bearings, sitting down and uploading some photos. It's been an amazing whirlwind, but here are a few highlights from the first leg of our international escapade!

Copenhagen:

Our first stop was in Denmark because that was the cheapest flight into Europe from the US. Danish food is nothing to write home about, but the beer is pretty good, the people are really sweet and the bikes are really intimidating.

There's also this little hippie city/state that was formed in the 70's and they consider themselves a free state, and not at all a part of the EU. (they also wouldn't let us take any photos womp womp)

Madrid:

We flew straight from Copenhagen to Madrid where I got to brush up on my Spanish skills, eat tapas, drink sangria, and stumble upon a few street protests.

Before exploring much, we took a trip out to La Adrada to meet a friend, Elena and get some hiking in!

When we got back we stopped at the Parque Del Restiro, the Museo Del Prado, the Temple of Debod, the capital, the Catedral de Santa Maria, and the Plaza Mayor.

Valencia:

After the bustling tourist-filled city of Madrid, Valencia was a welcome respite of sun, sand, and relaxation. We laid by the beach, walked through the parks and stayed with our friend, Carmen.

Barcelona:

After two days in the Valencian sun, it was off to the party town of Barcelona! We hit up as much Gaudi stuff as possible, Casa Batllo, Park Guell and the Sagrada Familia, as well as the gothic cathedral, La Rambla, and the Magic fountain.

I even snuck in a photo from the nude beach we visited...

After Barcelona we had some major issues getting into France because of the train strikes, but I'll divulge how we escaped Spain when I update next- which I promise to do more often! Right now we're off to roam the streets of Rome! Leave a comment and let us know how things are across the pond! We miss you guys!

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