Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mom & Mike's visit in July

Europe Trip, Summer, 2008 (Guest Blogger: Mom)

Thursday, July 17, 2008
We arrived in Geneva where Brian was there to meet us. It’s 1:00 pm but only 7:00 am according to our biological clocks. After dropping our things off at Brian’s apartment, we hopped on a bus and went to downtown Geneva. We saw the world’s tallest water fountain, the Jet d’Eau, in the middle of Lake Geneva. We walked out to the fountain, then walked back to see the famous Flower Clock in the Jardin Anglais. We also did some walking downtown and stopped in the bike shop where Brian does business. After returning to Brian’s apartment, we then walked to Kelly and Jason’s apartment where we were dinner guests. Dinner was great and so were his friends; however, all the traveling had caught up to me and I was beginning to feel ill. Brian took me back to his apartment. I made it just in time. Sleep was going to be my best friend.

Friday, July 18, 2008

We slept in this morning, which really was a blessing. We then started packing for Rome. We left for the airport around 1:00 pm, all three of us with backpacks in tow. Our flight to Rome took about 1.5 hours. We took a train and then walked the rest of the way to Hotel Parker on Giolitti Street. After dropping off our backpacks and freshening up a bit, we headed out to see our first sights of Rome. We took the metro to Spagna, got some excellent pizza, and sat and ate on the Spanish steps. It was a beautiful night to be outside. After eating, we walked to the Fontana (fountain) di Treve. We threw our coins over our shoulders into the fountain, assuring that we would return to Rome again. I got a cone of jellato, while Brian and Michael each enjoyed their beer. After walking around quite a bit, we went back to Hotel Parker.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Most of today was spent at Vatican City. We took the subway to the Vatican and started off by seeing the Vatican Museum and The Sistine Chapel. We had lunch at an outdoor restaurant near the Vatican. We were starving. After lunch, we went to St. Peter’s Square and St Peter’s Basilica. We walked all around and even climbed the stairs to the top of the copula. We saw the inside of the church and then climbed even higher to the outside where we could see all over Rome. It was a beautiful, clear, sunny day. We then went down to see the famous Michelangelo sculpture of Mary holding Jesus. After that, we saw the tombs of all the Popes.

After spending the majority of the day at the Vatican, we walked to Castle Saint Angelo but didn’t go in because it was almost closing time. We did a little souvenir shopping and wandered around the old streets of Rome. We ended up at Plaza Navona and had a nice dinner at Tre Scalini. Our table faced the square and while eating, we enjoyed music by a talented guitarist. Our food was o.k. but pricy. After dinner, we walked some more and ended up at the Pantheon. We enjoyed listening to some young acapella singers. Again the weather was beautiful. We then walked to the Colosseum to catch the subway back to the hotel. When we got there, we didn’t have the correct change, so we walked back to Hotel Parker. It was over an hour walk and we got back around 12:30 am.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

We all slept a little longer than planned this morning. After showering, we were ready to go about 11:30. We took the subway to the Colosseum where we explored both the inside and outside and snapped many photographs. We had fresh watermelon and other snacks. We walked all around the Roman Forum and walked over to Paul’s jail cell. We then walked to the Pantheon and saw the inside of it. Brian and Michael rested while I did some window shopping of the shops near the square. When we met up, we were ready for dinner. After much discussion, we decided to go back and get some more of the best pizza we’d had which was near the subway station by the Spanish steps. We got our pizza, found a place to sit and again were serenaded by some talented musicians. After resting a bit, we walked around and did some more shopping. Then it was back to the Colosseum subway station. This time we made sure we had enough correct change to buy tickets. Back at Hotel Parker, we relaxed and I wrote some post cards.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Today was our last day in Roma. We got up a little earlier today and checked out at 11:00 am. Everything was packed in our backpacks, so off we went, down the streets of Roma. We headed to the metro and decided to visit Piazza del Popolo, a place Michael had not been before. The square was beautiful with a fountain in the center. There were several small tents of vendors set up. We bought some dried fruits and I bought a gift for Judy and Conrad. We then took the subway to Repubblica Piazza del Republica and walked in the Santa Maria degil Angeli. The church was built over three different remains of water pools.

We then took the metro to the bus shuttle and took the bus to the airport. When we got to the airport, it was very crowded. We waited in line for about an hour. We then boarded Easy Jet and headed back to Geneva. We got back to Geneva about 6:30 pm and visited the grocery right at the airport. I was really impressed and thought it was a great idea to have a grocery at the airport. We picked up some fresh items for a salad and of course a fresh baguette. We took the bus back to Brian’s apartment. We talked to Brad on SKYPE. After a delicious dinner that Brian made, we did two loads of laundry. We thanked God for a safe journey and a wonderful trip to Rome.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Today I slept in while Brian and Michael went biking. They went about 30 miles. When they got back, we took the bus into downtown Geneva. It was another gorgeous day; a bit chilly, but sunny and dry. We purchased our train tickets to go to Paris. Then we walked to the bike shop. We watched a small amount of le Tour de France and Brian paid for Michael’s bike rental from the morning. We then stopped by a grocery to get a sandwich and some snacks. We walked to the lake and sat on a bench and enjoyed the beautiful view of Lake Geneva. We walked to the Botanical Gardens near the lake. I forgot my camera today. We then walked to two different groceries to get ingredients for dinner. Brian made delicious Swiss fondue. We had wine and tea with our fondue and Swiss chocolates for dessert. After dinner, I made sandwiches for our hiking trip tomorrow. It was a wonderful day in Geneva, Switzerland!

Wednesday, July 22, 2008

We got up early. Brian rode his bike to the airport to get the rental car. Michael and I got things packed up for our day trip to Interlaken. When Brian returned, we loaded up the car and drove on a three hour beautiful scenic route to Grindelwald Grund and Mannlichen. When we arrived at Grindelwald Grund, we took the ski lift to the top of Mannichen. We unpacked part of our lunch and enjoyed our sandwiches amongst the beautiful mountain ranges. As expected, it was quite a bit colder on top of the mountain range. We had dressed in layers. After lunch, we began hiking. We hiked along the Panoramaweg route and look lots of pictures, especially of the Eiger and surrounding mountain ranges. This could clearly be one of the most beautiful places in the world! We continued hiking until we reached the train station at Kleine Scheidegg. We took the train down to the bottom of the mountains at Grindelwald Grund. Brian wanted to catch up on the Tour so we stopped at the hostel that Michael had stayed in three years ago. Michael and I sat outside and ate the other half of our sandwiches while Brian went inside for a bit to watch the Tour. It was a beautiful afternoon and evening. We then walked back to the car and drove back to Geneva. When we got back to Brian’s apartment, we were all hungry again, so I stir fried some veggies while Brian took the rental car back and Michael talked on the computer to Ana. When Brian returned, we ate. We gave thanks to God for the opportunity to enjoy this awesome day.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Today we got a later start but decided to go to Montreux. We took the train on a beautiful scenic route. Montreux is located on the other side of Lake Geneva. It was about an hour train ride. The weather again was absolutely beautiful; sunny and in the mid 70’s. When we got to Montreux, we enjoyed the view of the lake and the fabulous flower gardens along the way to Chateau de Chillon. Once we got there, we toured the castle. It was built on a large rock that juts out into the lake at the water’s edge. The castle was much larger and took longer to go through than we thought it would. After touring the castle, Brian bought a bottle of wine for Uncle Bob and I bought a souvenir magnet. We walked back to the train station and took the train back to Geneva. When we got back, we threw a load of laundry in (It was Brian’s laundry night, according to the bi-weekly schedule). Brian fixed tuna and vegetables and I made a salad. We talked to Brad on the computer. After dinner, we did more laundry and went to visit Brian’s friend, Vivienne. She was very hospitable and was getting ready to go to Costa Rica. We enjoyed another beautiful day in Switzerland.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Today we got up leisurely, showered, had banana smoothies that Brian made, and walked to the United Nations complex. I wanted to see where Brian works so he took us to his office. We met his officemate, Rodolpho. We also met several other coworkers: Adam, Francisco, Leena, Erik, Mariana, Rachael, Claudia, and Alex. Everyone was very friendly and had many accolades for Brian. After meeting everyone and seeing Brian’s office, we walked to the main UN building and took a tour of the facility. It was very interesting and we all enjoyed learning about the various branches and functions of the UN. The hallways are adorned with illustrious gifts of artwork from every country. The meeting rooms are very large, as you would imagine, to accommodate delegates from around the world. After the tour, we took the bus to Old Town Geneva. We were all hungry so we decided to stop at Migros grocery and got cheese, meat, fruit, and drinks. We then stopped at a bakery and got a freshly baked baguette. We took everything to Bastion Park in Old Town and had a picnic on the lawn. Again, we were blessed with beautiful weather. After eating, we walked around Old Town Geneva and then by the lake one last time. We caught a bus back to near Brian’s apartment. We stopped to get some Swiss chocolates to take back to the states. After dinner we packed and got organized for our trip to Paris.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

We got up early today and took the bus to the train station. Our train left at 9:30 am. We took all of our luggage with us this time since Paris is our last stop on the vacation. We arrived in Paris around 1:00 pm. Brian and Michael got maps and tried to figure out where we were and where we needed to go. We took the metro and then walked to 46 Rue des Lombards where we met Thomas Coet. We rented an apartment from him for Euro680 for five days. The apartment was centrally located in a lively section of Paris. There were all kinds of bars below us. We were on the second floor. We could look out our window onto all the action of the street. After we met Thomas and he showed us the apartment, we walked down the street to the grocery. We were all very hungry so we got some fresh fruit, meat, cheese, a baguette, and drinks. We came back to the apartment, had some snacks and watched The Tour on TV. Michael called Ana and then it was time to meet Thomas. He had invited us to join him for a drink at Lezard Café. I had put a chicken in the oven earlier so we would have dinner to eat later. After dinner, it was getting late so we talked briefly to Brad and then I was about ready to crash for the day. Michael volunteered to sleep in the living area where it was very noisy because of all the bar activity below. He discovered that closing the windows made it bearable though.

Sunday July 27, 2008

We woke up around 9:00 am. Michael wanted to go to Iglesia de Dios so he went on by himself since there really wasn’t time for all of us to shower and get ready in time. Brian and I went to Notre Dame and sat in on most of the service. It was all in French except for one small section which was in English. We met Michael at 2:00 pm and headed to Avenue Des Champs Elysees to watch the end of Le Tour de France. We walked around almost the entire portion that was blocked off and finally found a place to watch the cyclists circle. They circle around eight times. It was very exciting, colorful, and impressive. It was also very crowded. Brian wanted to meet up with his friend that worked with the winning team. Carlos Sastre from Spain won the race this year. Michael and I went on to the Eiffel Tower. It was the first time for me to see it—WOW! I was amazed at how big and beautiful it was. We walked to a local market and got some food. Brian met us at 9:00 pm. We sat on the grass and enjoyed the view and the weather. At 10:00 pm flashing lights came on the tower. They stay on for about 15 minutes. This repeats every hour. It was very late when we got back to the apartment.

Monday. July 28, 2008

We slept late and decided to go to Musee d’Orsay but when we got there we found out that they were closed on Mondays. We walked to the Eiffel Tower. We bought tickets (Euro12 each) and went to all three levels. It was beautiful! After that we went down, stopped at a supermarket, got a few things to eat, ate on the grass, and then decided to walk over to the Arc de Triomphe. We got there about 10:00 pm. It was raining – not bad – the first real rain of our trip. The Arc is Napoleon’s triumphal arch, celebrating battle victories. It stands proudly at the top of the Champs Elysees. We were hoping to see the flashing lights on the Eiffel Tower at 11:00 pm. The posted the closing time at 11:00 pm; however, about 10:40 they said it was closing time and asked us to leave. We were not happy and they were rude. We left and took the metro back to our apartment.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

We awoke a little earlier today and decided to go to Musee du Louvre; however, when we arrived, we discovered that they were closed on Tuesdays. We decided to walk back to the Arc de Triomphe to complain about being asked to leave early last night. Brian talked to someone while Michael and I waited. He came back with three free vouchers to various attractions. He said one person was helpful and understanding while the others were not. We then too the metro and train to Versailles. Versailles is the largest palace in Europe. Louis XIV moved his court there in 1678. It was the royal residence for more than a century until Louis XVI and his queen Marie-Antoinette fled during the Revolution. After touring the palace and gardens, we took the train and metro back to our apartment at 46 Rue des Lombards. We fixed dinner and then talked about tomorrow’s plans. After dinner, we walked around the streets surrounding our apartment.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

It’s our last day of vacation—our last day in Paris. We left the apartment about 10:00 am and walked to the Louvre. First on the agenda was to see “The Mona Lisa” by Leonardo de Vinci. It was extremely crowded and hard to get up close but Brian managed to take a few photos. After that experience, we walked around quite a bit—room after room of sculptures and paintings. It was quite interesting and expansive. The Musee du Louvre is the world’s largest museum. The building itself was once France’s largest royal palace. Today it contains more than 350,000 priceless objects. Even though we were there for several hours, I think we only saw a fraction of the artwork there. The Louvre was originally built as a fortress by King Philippe-Aususte in 1190. Charles V (1364-1380) was the first king to make it his home. In the late 1700’s, Napoleon renovated the Louve and made it into a museum.

After tiring out at the Louvre, we walked to Notre Dame and strolled all around the inside. Brian and I were not able to walk around when we came on Sunday because mass was going on. Notre Dame was built on the site of a Roman temple and was completed in 1334. It was almost destroyed during the Revolution but was restored in 1841- 1864 by architect Viollet le Duc. The twin towers of this gothic cathedral are 69 meters high and can be seen all over Paris.

Next we walked back to the apartment and fixed an early dinner and relaxed a bit. We met Thomas and discussed departure, keys, etc. After our meeting with Thomas, we took the metro to Sacre` Coeur. Sacre` Coeur (Sacred Heart) watches over Paris from its highest point. The basilica was built as a memorial to the 58,000 French soldiers killed during the Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) and took 46 years to build. It was finally completed in 1923. The view of Paris from Sacre` Coeur was spectacular. We were able to pick out many places we had visited. We sat on the steps, watched the amateur entertainment, walked around the shops and then watched the flashing Eiffel Tower at 10:00 pm. We then took the metro back to our apartment and packed up for our journey home tomorrow.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

We got up early today as today is our travel day. We gathered all of our belongings, said goodbye to Brian and took the metro to the airport. The line was so long, we barely made our flight. It took 9 hours to get home. This time the plane was full and I was about two rows away from a crying baby- the whole way. It was a long trip and we were happy to get home. Home Sweet Home. We thanked God for a wonderful trip to Europe and for keeping us all safe.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

4th of July on Alpe d'Huez

I can't believe it took me nearly a year (I arrived last year 07-07-07), but I finally made the trip down this Independence day towards Grenoble to free myself from having never climbed the mountain Lance built (owned): Alpe d'Huez, home to the famous Lance-Jan "look", and the 2004 Tour de France Individual Time Trial (amazingly, on the slopes of this 14km mountain, it was rumored that well over a million people watched Lance throw down on the 2004 ITT as he throttled past his rivals). Once I arrived, I revised my goal for the climb to 1 hour. I barely made it, the timing was not precise as there was construction, and conflicting signs -- some TdF signs, and others for La Marmotte, a one-day race that traces the incredibly tough 3 Col Tour route finishing on L'Alpe. I nearly signed up for La Marmotte, but now realize it would have been an ugly day on the bike. I had learned from others that it would be important not to attack the first 2 kms (which kick up to 10% immediately). It was hard to heed that advice as I found myself at 17kms/hr on the first pitch. Exciting as it was to be on the first slope of this worthy adversary, I knew I had to back off the tempo if I didn't want to blow up in the first few kms. Things worked out in my favor, since I simply couldn't hold that pace, I was forced to back off. I settled in to about a 12km/hr pace. I knew I had to pick it up at some of the flatter sections to make my revised time goal of 1hr (the hill is nearly 14kms, so the math was quite easy, I needed just about a 14km/hr pace). I felt pretty good on the first ascent, I was not getting passed, and I was passing others; I felt decent about my pace. There were riders everywhere. Lots were out loosening up the legs for tomorrow's Marmotte, still, many more were just out to ride the beast. About a 25% French, Italian, Dutch, and English population breakdown by my estimates judging by jerseys, dialect, and rental cars. Each of the 21 hairpins had a plaque with the name of a winner from past stages that finished atop L'Alpe which helped to make sure the history of the slopes was not lost on those climbing her, as well as names from riders of Tours past still plastered all the way up the climb. The ride was going pretty well, the hairpins were relatively flat (as opposed to cambered like much of the roads around here), so you can catch a bit of speed going around the corners before losing momentum on the next pitch. The markers for the 21 hairpins help you keep track of where you are on the mountain, even if you've never climbed it, so you never really feel like you're just hanging in no-man's land. Until the last 2 kms. About 5kms from he summit, you can see the village and the ski lifts, so you think: I must be near the top, I can kick it up a bit. It seemed a simple formula, but I'm glad I heeded my own unspoken and unverified advice to wait just a bit to get on it. I'm glad I did, the last 2 kms, you keep thinking, now I've passed all the turns, where is the finish? I still had some left in the tank at the top, so I continued on to try to find a lake around the corner I had heard had a spectacular view. After climbing on past the finish, I decided I would head back down for lunch and head for the lake on the next go round. I guess I figured it would be selling myself short to come all this way and just ride it once, so I did what any lunatic would do, turned around for another try. I found the second go 'round a bit tougher. For one it was hotter, and for two, I was just plain tired from getting up and driving down there. Still it was worth it again. (I did get passed by a few strong guys on the last 2kms this time though...you can easily tell how strong a guy is by the shape of the calves as they pass you. Not really, this is totally superficial, but makes you feel like you have an excuse for being passed by some guy who must be a continental pro out on a training ride). All-in-all, it was a great ride, if not a bit anticlimactic since I had basically been hyping it in my head it since I moved here last year. Now to make it to Alpe d'Huez's larger, more intimidating cousin, the Col du Galibier. For now though, this year's Tour is underway, and I'll soon be at the finish at the Champs-Élysées in Paris soon. Meanwhile, on Monday, I'll head out to the Motreux Jazz Festival which like Alpe d'Huez eluded me last year to see Vampire Weekend and The Raconteurs.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Dauphine Liberthday

Before I get to the last few days: Happy Father's Day to my old(er than me) man!

Thursday and Friday of this week, I took off of work as a birthday present to myself to watch the Dauphine Libere as it came through my backyard (on the Saleve) and in nearby Samoens. I was encouraged to hear rider commentary from Thursday that the Saleve -- which we ride weekly or more -- was a tough climb that no one wanted to attack on. I rode my mountain bike up to the summit. About 1 km from the top I ran into Will & Doreen, Barry, Martin (all of whom I watched last year's Tour de France with), and Eric & Katy. I rode to the top to grab Jason and Bill who had taken their mountain bikes to the top via the cable car. We had a great spot, several photographers and film crew stopped at our spot to shoot. This year we were rewarded with cold beers courtesy of Barry who rode up with them (I was glad not to have to ride down to chase down a cold drink this time around). The race was incredible. We were reading feeds on Barry's mobile and at the base of the climb, it seemed there was one break with 3 riders with the pack largely together. By the time they made it to us 6 kms later, the field was absolutely smashed to bits. There were two main packs of about 25 guys, the rest were in ones and twos. I can't recall a race where the riders were so strung out since Lance and Jan were dueling it out in the Tour a few years back. After the race rolled through, we made plans to meet up for Friday's stage -- we planned to ride from Geneva to Samoens then up the Col de Joux Plane. Jason, Bill and I took off mountain biking, but it was simply too wet to continue on the rooty off-camber hills, so we rode back into town. Friday I met up with Eric, Katy, and Barry. Erik and Katy rode out on their tandem (2-person bike) in the pic below. We met up with Will in Samoens. The ride up Joux Plane was tough -- I haven't been there since last year, and know why I don't go out there more often, it is brutal. Right at the start there is one section of 13% (the pic of Barry and me below...notice I am standing while he is sitting -- such is the benefit of a smaller geared compact crank). It evens out to about 10%, and there are only a few spots to recover on the 12kms to the summit. As Barry started to pull away, I thought to myself: how on earth did I ride this last year in a 25 (tooth gear), I am falling off the pace this year on a 27. It was about 3 kms later that I actually looked at my bike and realized I was not in my 27, but was back a gear in my 24! By that time, it was too late, I was cooked. It got cooler and cooler towards the top. It was very cloudy, and there were a few rouge raindrops near the summit. Barry got up first with me in tow, we headed straight to the cafe to warm up -- it was 50 F with lots of wind, and no sun. It was cold! I think the mountain forgot it was June. I was shivering! Fortunately I had a Flemish flag to keep me warm. The riders today weren't as strung out as Thursday, but it was clearly a tough day. Aussie Cadel Evans was leading the elite pack a few minutes behind the break. Levi Leipheimer was about 30 seconds back. (On Thursday Eric was wearing a Rabobank jersey -- the days last rider was a Rabobank guy, Friday the same turned out to be true when he donned his Gerolsteiner kit). On the way down, the shivering continued. Once we got about 4 kms from the bottom, the sun hit my legs, and it felt like I was magically transported to the Cote d'Azur. Barry opted for the Bus de Will back to Geneva, so Eric and Katy and I were on our own for the 55 km ride back to Geneva. Feeling a bit guilty about letting the tandem riders tow on the way out, I pulled most of the way home into a headwind. We stopped in Taninges for a pastry, and made it into Geneva around 7:30. I swiftly showered and changed and went to the pub for a few Guinness with some friends and co-workers, and to watch the Dutch thrash the French in the Euro Cup (there were lots of Dutch fans, or more likely, lots of anti-French fans). My one year anniversary is quickly approaching here in Geneva, and I am speaking today at THIRST -- a summer series of Sunday evening services at Crossroads.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

INTA 2008 Annual Meeting in Berlin

May 17 - 21, I was in Berlin for the INTA 2008 Annual Meeting liveblogging for Internet Cases. Fortunately I had most of the day Sunday to tour, it was an amazing city of rich old and modern history; in many places there was a stark contrast between the old and new, the east and west. Some of the tour highlights were the Brandenburg Gate, the Holocaust Memorial, Checkpoint Charlie, and what remains of the Wall. Not much else is new over here. I am hoping to do the Tour du Lac (180km around the lake) with Jason on June 1, then am planning on watching the Dauphine-Libre as it heads into my backyard and up the Col de Croisette (Cat 1 climb) which I recently rode on my latest work-in-progress, a 42-17 geared single-speed bike. The next day, my birthday, the race continues over to the Col de Joux Plane (a famous Tour de France climb). I'll be at both.