Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Big 3-7

Phil turned 37 yesterday. This was a birthday of reflection for him, I think. I left him yesterday morning in bed, his eyes wide and fixed on the ceiling. He wasn't buzzing around me like usual as I got ready for work. He wasn't saying much other than her loved me.

Part of me wondered if I should go to work. I did and he was fine. He spent his day reflecting on his life, losing his dad (he was 28 at the time, it still bothers him a lot) and where life was going. After I got home, his mother, sister and his sister's boyfriend took us out for Mexican food. There's a place a few towns over from us. A real hole in the wall-- but it's the most delicious Mexican food you will ever have.

Afterwards, we came back to our house and had the pistachio pudding cake that I had made him. I used this recipe, but I doubled the pudding mix for both the cake and icing. For the icing I also used 16 oz of cool whip and almond milk. Almond milk will not let the pudding stiffen, but with the added cool whip and pudding mix, it will make an extremely delicious icing. I had a lot left over so I froze it and we've been eating it like ice cream.

I really think this is going to be Phil's best year yet. Mine too.We have a lot of adventures in the works, including going to Disney World over the week before Christmas. It's going to be packed, but really magical.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Our Second Valentine's Day

I woke up this morning after having a very weird dream that I can't remember though I knew it involved Phil and at some point my ex-boyfriend. I can't tell you what happened in it, but I can tell you the overwhelming feeling of peace that took me once I woke up.

Phil was snoring next to me. Though we have fallen asleep with our legs intertwined like we have for many nights, we separated at some point. I rolled over and with his back facing me, began to spoon him, nuzzling my face into his neck. A move he knows well that took him out of sleep and made him dreamily say "hey hunny," like he always does.

It was at that moment that I felt my heart swell up with how thankful I was to have Phil and how much this entire year has meant. We ended up staying in during the snow storm yesterday and we made a feast. We also had gone out to lunch earlier in the day and had gotten cannoli cheesecake for dessert. It was perfect and I finally got to watch the end of the second season of Bates Motel.

Phil surprised me with two new necklaces and I got him a Kurt Knusden garnet star (since we started dating in January and garnet means eternal love) and ice cream mugs that in common tongue say "My Sun and Stars" along with "Moon of My Life." I envisioned us eating ice cream sundaes out of them as we watched Game of Thrones in our new house. It played back to a set of key-chains I bought us just because last year and the moment in our first date where Phil was head over heels for me because I then went on to take GoT.

Which is our next adventure; the new house.

And then he drew me to him and we talked about our weekend. He asked me why I thought he always buys me jewelry for special days and I shrugged. He told me it's because he was trying to replace all the jewelry that was stolen from me during brief period where I dated a total wannabe thug boy asshole who robbed me because I didn't deserve that.

Then he told me why he chose the necklaces that he did and each one had its own tale and future. I love that I fell in love with my other half who is just as loving and creative as me.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

EuroTrip: From Austria to Dachau

On your way out of Austria Contiki will take you to the Swarovski Crystal World Museum where you can buy a ticket as a Me time option. They make you through the museum and show you some weird movie from what I was told. Phil and I did not go on the tour, neither one of us are into Swarovski so we went to the cafe and got hot chocolate which was perfect for another rainy, cold day.

After that short break, it was back on the bus where we made our way to Dachau concentration camp. This was one of the more humbling experiences of the trip for me. I had begun a masters in European Studies and all of my classes that semester had been about the Holocaust. My dad is also German and yes, my grandfather was technically a Nazi as most young men were forced to be under Hitler. It destroyed my grandfather as he was captured early on by the Russians and was held on the Black Sea at a POW camp for seven years. It fragmented my family in more then one ways and I have always felt that.

In some way, I knew by going to Dachau I would make a sort of peace with who I was. It was a very sobering experience. You enter the grounds and it is almost like a park. You walk past the gift shop and down a path until you hit the main gate.

Me at the gates of Dachau
The words on the gate reads, "Work makes you free." However, we all know what a big lie that was. After you walk through the gates, you can feel a change in the air. It's cooler there and there is such a stillness that you can only associate it with the mass death and devastation that occurred there. There is a heavy sadness, but at the same time, it doesn't have the burden, but rather the peace that come after such a sadness.

Most of the buildings are gone, but there are still a few to walk through. One has the bunks of the Jews that were imprisoned here:

You can see how they progressively got smaller as the Nazis move forward with their ideas for the Final Solution. Very terrible. I also noticed how quiet everyone was in walking around, people were very polite and very much to themselves. It is a very personal experience.

Guard Tower

Inside the prison where high-ranking captives were held

The grounds.
After walking around, we walked back to the gift shop and we bought a handmade yarmulke for a friend. We had to rush back to the bus because from here, Contiki takes you into Munich.

EuroTrip: From Venice to Austria

We woke up pretty hungover from the mistake of Amnesia the night before. It was the second and last time I had drank on the trip. It was a crazy early day again where we would then spend the day on the bus traveling.

I was ready though because Austria was really one of the top reasons that I had booked this trip. Phil and I had also signed up to go whitewater rafting and we were both really looking forward to doing that as a couple.

(google images)

I am not sure how neither of us took photos, but I have none from Austria. We drove for a long time before we got off the bus to whitewater raft. You cram yourself into a wet suit in a parking lot, carry your raft with your team and then listen to your guide give you a crash course in rafting. Then you got down to the river and jump in to feel the water. 

It is freezing. 

It is also the most delicious water you will ever taste. Picture the best bottled mountain water you have ever had and then multiply your like factor by ten. There is nothing like it, it's amazing. 

You then go back with your team to get your raft and begin a long hike to where you can begin. If you have a good guide then it becomes a lot of fun once you're on the river. Our's were Scottish guys that were hysterical. The one thing I found hard was when you jumped out of the raft or were thrown out. Getting back in is hard and they have to pull you up. Phil pulled me up so hard that I wound up flying into the boat, hurting my neck and landing in his crotch. Our guide promptly said, "I hope you guys are together 'cause you sure are now." Everyone laughed. I eventually was able to get up once Phil moved. I didn't get out of the raft again. 

You ride the river down, hitting some rapids and seeing some of the most beautiful scenery that you will ever see. It's over pretty quickly and then you have to get the raft and walk again to where you'll clean your wet suit and change back into your clothes. There's a place with WiFi and you can buy a pretty bland hot dog and Kraut soda which we did because it was our first of the trip. Both of which I could have done without in the end, but there really wouldn't be much of a chance to get it anywhere else. 

You stay in a Contiki property again. It's four to a room and they're bunkbeds. My bites began to get very bad here and after a sleepless night, I was really ready to kill someone. 

The next morning, it was pouring rain so paragliding was cancelled and there really wasn't much of anything to do. We did not do the bike ride and we were glad because that was when the storm started. The people who came back were miserable. 

I complained about my bites to Contiki again, but this time I went to on-site staff. There is a man there named Rob and he was THE BEST Contiki person I dealt with. He froze our sleeping bags and we had all of our clothes washed. He drove me into town where for 130 euros a doctor saw me and gave me medicine. We also got real blankets that night for our beds and I began to feel a lot better. 

See my later post about Contiki travel insurance to find out more about that rip-off. 

I got a good night of sleep and Phil really took care of me. He timed when I had to take my antibiotics, anti-histamines and would put lotion on every bite I had. I knew that Phil was the man I was going to marry before this, but it was this that made me realize I was very much right about it. They're was some crazy Contiki party here as well. I think it was a fluorescent party which we didn't go to. It seemed pretty lame. Everyone was beginning to feel burnt out by this leg of the trip. 

Phil and I spent time together and got ready for Germany and Switzerland. There really was not much to do in Tyrol other than the outdoorsy stuff that got cancelled or ruined with the rain. The town is beautiful and quant, but also closed early so there was not much to do here. 

Whitewater rafting though? Definitely worth it. 

Saturday, December 27, 2014

EuroTrip: Rome to Venice

I wish I had more to say about Rome, but much fit reminded me of Florence...only hotter. I liked the Colosseum and the shopping. Phil got his sister a really cool wooden bowl here. I also liked going into the Pantheon. It took me back to taking Roman and Baroque Architecture at Rutgers in the musky Art Library with what would become the chair of my department...he was such a stickler. I really hated him by the end of that class, but what had kept me attending were the slides of Italy and all of its beauty.  It kept me going through my junior year and into my senior, where I would get to go to Paris for the first time and completely and absolutely fall in love with everything European.

Phil & I on a Gondola.

We got to do the romantic things like riding a Gondola. I had done this by myself in my teens and it was cool, I had some awesome roommates, but it's very different when you're there with the one that you love. WE really made some amazing memories here like this Gondola ride and when we walked so deep into Venice, I got worried we weren't get out to find me ointment for my bites.

Kelsey, Ellie and I.Venice Summer 2014
We also met up with these ladies and got to have a fun afternoon. Ellie's GoPro never got old. Phil also wanted to feel ever manly here and  bought me a keychain. I had carried all the money in my purse so he had saved for a day or so and I now have a Venetian mask keychain that came from the change he gathered.

Back at the campsite, we were introduced to the Contiki bar and Amnesia...a drink that goes down like juice, but within 30 minutes has you having out of body experiences. Phil and I had two, and I have little remembrance of that night other than the photos from people we were traveling with....

Siobhan and I. 

Hannah and I. 
This was the first and nearly last night that I sort of "let go" and partied. I was too focused on my last graduate classes that I was taking during this trip and my job that I was going back to. Venice, though, was beyond romantic and beyond fun.

I again, was really sad to leave it.

EuroTrip: From Florence Into Rome

I felt rested and rejuvenated after my birthday. I think that this was the part of the trip where jet lag subsided and I was ready for more adventure. This was another early departure for us. We left our nice campsite in Florence for Rome.

Now, for those of you reading this blog to learn more about backpacking with Contiki...please be sure you read my Rome entries. Our TM bragged that this was like an award winning campsite and that we should all be excited. It was similar to the last one we stayed at in that there were two people to a room, four to a cabin and a shared bathroom. However, these cabins were wood ones. And they were old and absolutely disgusting. These were also Contiki cabins which enraged me to no end. I really began to see here how Contiki rips off people by cramming them into these dirty accommodations to make money. I've done budget tours before and I was in now way expecting Rockefeller treatment, but I was expecting to be kept clean and to feel safe. Here, I felt neither. Latches held the doors closed and the campsite is pretty much empty during the day when you're in Rome, leaving your stuff open to anyone with poor intentions.

Also, if you are going to get bedbugs, you will be more than likely to get them here. The cabins are wood so they live in the walls and Contiki just sprays when you complain. They did move us to a new cabin, but that too had bugs. I got bitten badly, but Phil only had a few bites. This is where I really began to hate Contiki. Our TM literally just stared at me when I complained and there was nothing done about it. We had to deal with it for the two nights we were there.

For those of you who have had bed bugs, you haven't seen anything yet! These bugs are HUGE and black, when you roll over, your bed becomes covered in blood from squishing the ones that have been sucking on you. You can literally pick them off your body.

I spent much of my time in Rome feeling uncomfortable, sweaty and tired because we couldn't sleep. Then in the day, you would be in Rome where there is little to no shade and that Mediterranean sun beats down  on you unmercifully. The last time I had been in Rome, I had been 19 and it was March. It was cold and rainy then, but I liked it so much more than the humidity that killed me at the end of August at 28. Now mix that humid sweat with your bug bites and you are just miserable.

I wound up missing the Vatican which was not a big deal to me as I had been there before, but I felt bad that Phil felt he had to stay with me and miss it too. He has never been.

My favorite part of Rome? I think it was finally getting to go into the Colosseum:

From Rome, we would leave for Venice and on to an entirely crazy part of our trip and one that renewed my crushed spirit after the Contiki curse of Rome.