Sunday, June 18, 2023


The next morning, before leaving, we were able to attend church with Rachel at Black Forest Christian Fellowship, which was held in the Black Forest Academy auditorium. The pastor started his sermon with an illustration accompanied by a short clip from Star Trek. I guess there are some things that are universal.

Our flight to Iceland departed from the same airport (ZUR) in Switzerland where we had previously arrived. This time around, Gabby discovered a delicious airport restaurant called Marche that had healthy cafeteria style options from which you could pick. We also encountered more Americans airing family drama. This time, it consisted of young man complaining to his aging mother in a wheelchair that he can’t get into medical school due to his ethics professor not liking his position on cannabis, while at the same time claiming that it’s at least partially his mother’s fault for making him take the class in the first place.

Adam's least favorite budget airline
Adam decided the Eurowings is his new favorite airline, just barely edging out Ryanair for the top slot. Given their complete lack of legroom (and he thought Ryanair was bad, with his knees up under his chin) and somewhat lacking flight crew, it wasn’t what would one consider a “premium experience.” However, they did get us there, and it was entertaining. At one point, the flight crew apparently smelt someone smoking or vaping, so they came over the intercom to threaten to have whoever it was fined and arrested when we landed, if they could figure out who it was.

Next, we had a nice deserted layover in Dusseldorf, Germany. Unfortunately, we couldn’t get to the restaurant we wanted without leaving and going back through security, so Adam and I settled for a German bratwurst and a pretzel. While we were walking through the terminal, we spotted an official state plane from the United Arab Emirates. We assumed there was a delegation visiting Germany, but we managed to stay out of the news in this scenario as well. We eventually returned to our gate area, which was occupied by some free range kids, who were running laps and hurtling suitcases while their parents looked on, uninterested.

When we landed, we embarked on a whirlwind tour of Iceland, very similar to the sub 24 hour tour of Paris we had taken not more than a week ago. Both Adam and I had been to Iceland previously, but this was Gabby’s first time (and, she said afterwards, her favorite stop of the whole trip). Given that it had been more than five years since we had last visited, and Iceland has developed substantial infrastructure around tourism in that time, we felt like the theme of our trip this time was, “That was here the last time.”


Our first roadside stop was the Kjosarhreppur waterfall. This was a good introduction to Iceland’s beauty. Completely out of the ordinary and tucked away in a deserted valley, but not so overwhelming as to overshadow other sights to come. Next, we stopped at Thingvellir National Park and walked to the end of the park to see a waterfall we had missed the last time. Continuing around the golden circle, we stopped at the Haukadalur Geothermal Field, where more permanent ropes had been set up to prevent the shortcuts taken by some of our group the last time around.


We stopped at Gulfoss and were able to get much closer to the falls themselves, this time around, given the observation areas weren’t covered in ice. Next was Selandrafoss, which we were actually able to walk behind (although this left us very wet). We also made our way down the cliff face to the Gljufrabui waterfall, hidden from view in a canyon, accessible only by hopping from rock to rock up a narrow canyon. Just a little bit further on, we stopped at a hidden waterfall called Irafoss, off the beaten trail. This might have been one of my favorite stops on this trip, as there was no one else there and we got to enjoy a little solitude for a moment.

Next, we stopped at Skogafoss, which was one of my favorite waterfalls we visited the last time around. This time we hiked up beyond the falls and encountered herds of sheep grazing. Adam and I agreed that, although this was still spectacular, there was a little something lacking without the snowy, frozen, wind swept vistas we encountered the last time we were here. We also stopped at the Sólheimajökull Glacier. This place was deserted, but we hiked up to a breathtaking up-close view of a wall of ice. Finally, before heading back, we revisited the Black Sand Beach where the infamous dunking of Steven occurred. Gabby enjoyed finding and skipping perfectly smooth volcanic stones.

A familiar sight...
After the end of a long day, we boarded a ferry to the Westman Islands for our overnight stay. The ferry itself was deserted on this last run to the islands (arriving after midnight), and the town we landed in was similarly desolate. As we hiked up the hill to our AirBnB, it started to rain, and, for the record, Gabby intoned that this was the “second most miserable” experience of her life. However, once we arrived at our lodging and everyone had had some grilled cheese and soup, things got a little better. Adam had a little bit of trouble checking in for his flight the next morning, and for a moment, I thought he might end up like Joe (just barely making the last plane home), but he messaged Play on Instagram (their only means of contact), and it was resolved overnight.

The next morning, the last thing we had to do was to see the puffins, that we came all the way to this particular island for. These were at the top of Gabby’s list, and I was hopeful that this island would provide the opportunity. We set out from our AirBnB and walked towards the coast, and I started eagerly examining every black bird, hoping that it would be a puffin. I even tried pointing some of these out, “I think that might be a puffin!” Only to be met with the response, “That’s not a puffin.” The more time we spent looking, the more grim our chances appeared. I started praying, “Lord, please show us the puffins. You brought them two by two to Noah, I know you can bring them one by one to us.” We continued looking, to no avail. I started to think about how miserable the flight home was going to be, when, all of the sudden, Gabby said, “Look, a puffin!” Sure enough, perched on the edge of the cliff was not one, but TWO puffins (a breeding pair). We stayed for a while, watching these two and a couple others fly around before heading back.

The Westman Islands
From there, it was a whirlwind home. We rode the ferry back to the mainland and drove back to the airport, passing our friend Mike Jones' favorite KFC, and stopping at the local wool store for our friend Keren along the way. Adam and I both agreed that, as amazing as Iceland was in the summer, it is even more spectacular in the winter. Overall, it was interesting traveling during the summer, but I think a combination of the heat and the people reminded me why I like our February adventures so much.

Saturday, June 17, 2023

Black Forest, Germany

Kirche Hofen
Our final day in Germany, we explored the area around Kandern and the Black Forest. This might have been one of my favorite laid back days. This area also felt less tourist heavy, and we did more things ordinary Germans vacationing in the area were likely to do (as recommended by Rachel and her friend). Our first order of business was exploring the area around Hofen, where our AirBnB was located. Our first stop was the Kirche Hofen church building that was within sight of our AirBnB, sitting at the top of a hill, all by itself. Adam and I took a few kilometer walk down the public path behind the church to the neighboring locality, taking in the sleepy village life along the way.

One unique thing about (at least this area) of Germany was the incredible number of public walking trails and paths throughout the area. When I first looked at a Google Maps overview of the area, I thought I might be seeing contour lines in the forest (representing elevation), but when I zoomed closer, I realized those were all individual paths. As Rachel explained, property rights in Germany function very differently than in the United States. Most property is public property, and the “right to roam” trumps any particular property owners claim to privacy. This resulted in many excellent public trails, similar to the Huckleberry in Blacksburg, and cyclists everywhere (many of which on electric bikes, but we’ll let that slide for now).

On this last day, we saw three castles, much to Adam’s delight. Our first was Rotteln castle, which may have been the most authentic castle ruin we saw during the entire trip. When we arrived, there was wedding about to start, and the photographer was taking pictures of the bride and groom. When we walked up to the entrance booth, we discovered this was a cash only establishment, but, unfortunately, we didn’t have any Euros. The sweet old lady manning the counter put a finger to her lips and then waved us through. Later, as we were sitting on a castle bench, Gabby sneezed, and received the sweetest genuine “gesundheit” from a little girl holding her dad’s hand walking by.

Adam's favorite castle

Wolf Valley
From there, we headed back to Kandern, stopping for hike in the Wolfsschlucht (Wolf Valley), along with what looked like a group of moms and their young kids, out to let off some steam. We stopped at Rachel’s apartment for coffee and enjoyed talking about German culture, school life, and things both she and her friend enjoyed doing together while at Black Forest Academy.

Coffee with Rachel

Sausenburg Castle
Our next stop was Sausenburg castle, which came highly recommended as a nice hike and a beautiful place to go stargazing at night. We hiked along until we came across this castle ruin the middle of nowhere, accompanied by a sign, but, otherwise, little fanfare. We climbed the steps in the tower (which were well maintained) and spent a while taking in the view of the German, Swiss, and French countryside. I also happened upon my first international Geocache, perched in an inconspicuous spot.

On top of the Sausenburg tower

Spaghetti Eis!

Next, we made our way to Badenweiler castle, which was a little bit of a disappointment, after everything else we had seen. This castle was in the middle of a fairly developed city. Adam said, “It’s not even that old.” Finally, we had to make a stop for “spaghetti eis,” a German treat we had been told not to miss. Ironically, this is almost exactly like what it sounds… spaghetti ice cream. However, this isn’t spaghetti flavored ice cream, but, rather, ice cream that *looks* like spaghetti with a combination of vanilla ice cream in noodle looking form, strawberry sauce, and shaved white chocolate sprinkled on top. The resulting dish bears a surprising resemblance to the dish in question.

Interestingly, credit cards were not accepted by any of the surrounding ice cream shops in this area of Germany either. This was odd to me, because, after our experience in the UK (where even the buskers were set up to take contactless tips), I just assumed all of Western Europe was similarly developed. Rachel informed us that, particularly in her area of southern Germany, this was not the case. In this scenario, we managed to track down our ATM in order to get our ice cream.

Friday, June 16, 2023

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

The next day, we set out to cross into Switzerland again and visit Interlaken (the land between the lakes) and the Lauterbrunnen Valley, home of the Jungfrau, the highest peak in Europe. This is literally the Rivendell of Europe, as they used this location for filming some of the scenes in the Elven haven here. On the way there, we encountered a Vespa convention being held in the town of Interlaken. Hundreds of Vespas everywhere, some with multiple passengers. Our friend Jeff would have loved it. This is also one of the best places in the world for BASE jumping, skydiving, and paramotoring and we saw many people flying through the air via various forms of transport.

Lauterbrunnen Valley

No sign, so...
Given our time constrains, once we arrived, we discussed several options, and eventually settled on hiking up the valley wall to a town called Wengen, which sits on the shoulder of the mountain. Two and half miles and 1,600 ft. of elevation gain later, we made it. This was quite a punishing hike, but the views all the way up were worth it. About halfway up, we encountered a horse trough with water flowing through a spigot into it. Recalling Rachel’s guidance, and observing two other hikers refilling their water bottles, we took advantage of this refill opportunity, without which we would have ended the hike extremely thirsty.

At Wegen, we caught the train back down to the valley floor. As we rode, we all agreed we should have taken the train *up* the mountain and then “hiked” back down. However, given all there was to do in the valley, we were mainly focused on optimizing our time, and waiting for the train didn’t seem very enticing when there are mountains to be hiked.

Trummelbach Falls

Our next stop was Trümmelbach Falls, a series of waterfalls inside of the mountain, which we were told is a must see. We arrived just a few minutes before closing time, and the lady at the ticket booth tried to talk us out of it. She said, “There is not enough time to see all of the falls.” I told her we may never be here in our lives again, and asked if we could see them anyways. Luckily, I was more successful here than at the Arc de Triomphe, she conceded, sold us our tickets, and we boarded the last sketchy looking elevator to the first lookout. From there, we ran up the stairs to get all the way to the top, and began to work our way back down. I don’t know that I have ever climbed that many steps with a similar sense of urgency, but we got to see all of the waterfalls, and guy locking up let us linger for a while, taking it all in.

As we were getting ready to leave, we noticed the local police interviewing someone in the parking lot, but, rather than involve ourself in another international incident, we moved along quickly. From here, we drove up the Lauterbrunen valley until we had to turn and then drove back down, playing the Rivendell theme from Lord of the Rings, and taking it all in.

Lake Thunersee
Our final stop for the day was at Lake Thunersee, one of the two lakes which give Interlaken its name. We found a nice public beach with public bathrooms maintained well enough to put many facilities in the United States to shame. We jumped into the ice cold, pristine, blue water for what would be a short shim (and more of a dip for Gabby). As we were getting ready to leave, an elderly lady showed up, waded in, and swam out towards the middle of the lake, apparently unbothered.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Southern Germany

Ulm Minster

Inside Ulm Minster
The next day was our driving tour across southern Germany. Our first stop was in a city called Ulm, to see the Ulm Minster cathedral there, which, apparently, has the tallest spire in the world. Driving through the city to get there, though, was no picnic. I accidentally cut one lady off, and then immediately committed a traffic violation. I topped all of this off by going the wrong way in a bus lane next to a police car (who promptly turned on his lights and rolled down his window to yell at us… in German). Hopefully that means they thought we were just less than stellar German citizens and not stupid Americans. At least the cathedral was nice.

The next stop was Meersburg Germany, a town built on a lake of the same name. It was beautiful and we noticed there were lots of vacationers, but not many Americans. Gabby called it the “San Torino of Germany.” We ate outdoors at a restaurant called Ins Fischernetz with a view of the water, and had some type of German macaroni and cheese that was really good. We also climbed the adjacent hill to look at the Meersburg Castle before heading on to Black Forest.


Walking through Kandern
Our many reason for visiting the Black Forest area was to visit our friend Rachel. We met her and her friend at a nice restaurant near Fischingen called Fünfschilling. There’s something kind of magical about seeing the familiar face of a good friend so far away from home. We enjoyed catching up over dinner, I got some driving tips, and had a delicious chicken cordon bleu. Gabby got a summer sausage that was conspicuously lacking actual sausage and was very disappointed (almost as bad as Tanner’s hamburger in Costa Rica with... no burger).

After dinner, we got a tour of the Black Forest Academy, where Rachel works. Serendipitously, I had grown up hearing stories of this particular place in Germany as friends of ours from my home church had served there previously as dorm parents. The picture of Germany in my head were primarily based on the stories they would relay when they were home on furlough. I greatly enjoyed touring the school and seeing the town I had heard so much about. After the school, we walked a long loop through the town of Kandern. At one point, Rachel pointed out a stereotypical angry German grandmother scowling at us from her balcony.

Black Forest Academy

Later, we crossed the mountain to Hofen for our AirBnB. There was a little confusion upon our arrival, but we eventually were able to contact our host. She gave us a tour through the upstairs apartment, which looked like perhaps someone’s grandparents had lived there previously. Nothing had been disturbed, down to the books and notes on the dining room hutch. We enjoyed the expansive balcony from which we could look out, see the valley, and enjoy watching daily life.

Traveling to Europe during the summer, I was again reminded there are three things that Europeans seem to despise: air conditioning, ice, and water fountains, which is a shame, considering these three things make the heat of summer much more bearable (at least to me). However, on the last point, Rachel informed us that fountains that you see in the public square often have drinkable water. The rule of thumb is, “If there’s no sign (telling you not to drink), then it’s drinkable.”

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Bavaria, Germany

The next morning, we woke up in our AirBnB in Wolfertschwenden, Bavaria, Germany. This little town obviously wasn’t used to tourists. We picked our AirBnB due to its proximity to several sites we wanted to visit, and, as it turned out we ended up in the middle of a quaint village going about its daily life on a Tuesday morning. Kids walking to school, a house being built, and a tractor carrying a hay bale down the street.

The first order of business was a visit to the grocery store. There was no Aldi close by, so we chose to visit a local chain called Dorfladen. After gathering what we needed for a couple of meals, we went to check out. The nice German lady helped us, but as we went to pay, there was some issue with the credit card (also not used much here, apparently). There was some confused German, and then a call across the store that we understood, “Sandra!, Sandra!, Help!” Eventually, we understood there was a minimum for the credit card charge, so we ended up with five extra pretzels to get us over the limit (along with our tomato soup). This was fine with me, because one of my goals on this trip was to eat as many authentic German pretzels as possible. We also found some peanut butter, labeled, ironically, with the brand, “American.”

Neuschwanstein Castle from Queen Mary's Bridge

Helicopter rescue

Our main destination on this day was the Neuschwanstein Castle. You may have seen pictures of this castle before, as it is one of the most iconic sites in Germany. It has also been used in several films, including "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang." Upon arrival, we realized the castle’s popularity would also lead to crowds of people. Adam quickly dubbed this “Bavaria’s Gatlinburg.” As we arrived at the base of the mountain, we noticed a helicopter flying multiple trips back and forth to the summit, near the castle. At first, we thought maybe this was a tour or, as we got closer and saw rescue personnel, some kind of training. It wasn’t until later when we saw the police were involved, and, the BBC reported that there had been an attempted double murder. A man had lured two ladies off the trail, attempted to assault them, and then pushed them both over a cliff. One woman survived, but the other did not. They were able to quickly capture the suspect (an American, ironically).

At this point, we told Adam, we might have to be careful traveling with him. When we were in the UK recently, Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelenskyy just happened to be visiting London and we were passed by Rishi Sunak’s motorcade on the way to Stansted Airport to meet him. Also, Adam mentioned the last time he was at CDG airport, the Concord plane crashed (which eventually ended its service to Europe). And now this. News seems to follow Adam.

Hohenschwangau Castle in the distance
Now we come to a segment called, “Tell me you’re American without telling me you’re American.” Sometimes, these things are simple; the guys wearing OBX or Dunder Mifflin shirts, for instance. Other times, these things are funny; like the guy who yelled “Gesundheit!” when his buddy sneezed with the thickest southern accent I’ve ever heard. And sometimes, these things are a little more disappointing; like the penchant for public arguing and airing of grievances for anyone within earshot. We passed one American family that was obviously not having a good family vacation, and I told Adam if he ever heard me speak that way to Gabby, he has an obligation as one of my groomsmen to kick me in the butt.

Our swan friend
When we arrived back at our AirBnB we were greeted by our jovial German host, who was excited to emphasize all the amenities available to us, including the sauna in his backyard. He spoke even less English than we spoke German, but we managed to get by with Google Translate. He even had one complete phrase in screenshots, asking us, if we enjoyed our stay, to leave a “five stars review.” He also told me I looked Norwegian. Maybe it’s the red hair? Since it was included, we decided we were obligated to try the sauna. Adam and I found this a little uncomfortable, unless we were as close to the floor as we could get. Meanwhile, Gabby was in her happy place, basking in the heat like a turtle on a rock.

Tuesday, June 13, 2023


When we landed in Switzerland, I was immediately impressed by the Zurich (ZUR) airport (especially coming straight from CDG). It was spacious, clean, and the bathrooms even smelled nice. It probably helped that SWISS Air (unlike a lot of the other airlines we fly) is more like a real airline, with adequate legroom, water, and even chocolate during the flight!

We picked up the rental car and I began my first significant driving experience in a foreign country. I drove a little bit in England (experimenting with left sided driving), but have not been the primary driver on most of our trips. That usually works out well so that I can navigate and plan along the way. We figured out pretty quickly that what I thought was a stop sign was actually a “no parking” sign. I also encountered my first “Ausfahrt” (exit) sign. Our first stop was at Schnitzelworld in Zurich for some lunch. After that, we began our beautiful drive through the Swiss countryside.

One observation: Switzerland (and, later, we found, Germany) really likes tunnels. I bet they have more highway tunnels per capita than any other country in the world. At one point, we had to detour around one of these tunnels, which routed us next to this beautiful alpine lake with mountains directly behind it. We made our first unplanned stop on the side of the road in town called Mols to take in the breathtaking view. We also noticed information on SCUBA diving in this particular location and seriously considered it as an activity for an upcoming day. However, we eventually realized that this would be considered diving at altitude (1,800 ft), which neither of us are currently trained for, so we deferred.

Mols, Switzerland

Our main destination for the day was our AirBnB in southern Germany, but, along the way, I wanted to make a stop to visit Liechtenstein, the world’s sixth smallest country, because I wasn’t sure we’d ever be back. This country, consisting of just 62 of square miles, is definitely the smallest I’ve ever visited. However, since they are a member of the EU, all we had to do was drive over a small bridge on the Rhine River, crossing the border with no formalities, to enter the country. The entire country is set on the edge of a mountain, and we stopped to visit the capital, Vaduz.

Kathedrale St. Florin
We parked near the Kathedrale St. Florin, but it was closed for the day, we then walked through the town square and down main street. It seemed like a nice sleepy little country and they even had a LEGO store! The residential castle with the ruling monarch sits on the top of the mountain, but as was made obvious from all of the signs, no, you can’t visit the castle. And stop asking.

View from Vaduz

After we wrapped up our visit to Liechtenstein, we continued on towards Germany, dipping into Austria briefly on the way. We stopped at a McDonalds (one of the few things open that late) for dinner. This was no ordinary McDonalds, but a fancy, two-story affair with touchscreen monitors for ordering (luckily for us, with English as an option). It was obviously the place to be, and there was a small conference room upstairs playing a construction time lapse on loop. It was obviously the pride and joy of that small town. I think eating a meal in a country counts as visiting it, but Gabby says we have to come back in order to count Austria.

At this point, it was very dark, and, with a few hours of European driving under my belt, we crossed into Germany. I saw a German state trooper sitting at the border, so I was careful to mind my speed. A little ways into Germany, we passed a circular white sign with a black slash through it. Not being well versed in German road signs, I noticed, but didn’t think much of it. However, just a few minutes later, I spotted headlights in my rearview mirror. Still going what I thought was the speed limit, I noticed this guy was going relatively fast. As he got closer, I realized he was *very* fast. Before I realized it, the guy was on top of me and blew past going maybe double the speed I was going. At first, I though this was an anomaly, some German teenager out for a joyride. However, not but a few minutes later, someone else buzzed past me going a similar speed.

That when it dawned on me. I was in the middle of figuring out the Autobahn from scratch. That little sign we had passed, with the circle and the slash in it, was an indicator that all speed limits had ended. I was driving through Germany in the middle of the night on a road with no speed limit. Later as I was reading up on German driving regulations, I ran across this comparison: “Germans have similar feelings towards mandatory speed limits as Americans have towards gun control or Japanese towards whaling.”

Monday, June 12, 2023

Paris, France

Before Gabby starts her residency, we decided to take advantage of the flexibility we have to do some traveling. This resulted in planning a whirlwind two and half week sprint before her first day. To start, we drove to Ohio for my brother’s wedding and were there for three days. We came back on a Saturday night and flew out for this trip on Sunday. The day after we return (late at night) we’ll be driving from Virginia to Colorado with our friend Nick and his moving truck, flying back home a couple days before Gabby officially starts.

Waiting for the bus at Dulles

For this trip, we and our friend Adam booked four one way flights. A flight from Washington, DC to Paris, France on Play Airlines; a flight from Paris to Zurich, Switzerland on SWISS Air; a flight from Zurich to Keflavik, Iceland on EuroWings (I know, I’d never heard of them either); and, finally, our flight home from Keflavik to Washington, DC.

Sunrise over the Atlantic

The trip to the airport on I81 was a little rough, with lots of accidents and construction slowing things down. Plus, the guy driving the shuttle bus from the parking lot at the airport pulled over to the side of the road and turned the bus off at one point. However, Dulles has nice bag scanners at security where nothing has to come out of your bag (liquids, electronics, etc.), and, with that boost, we made the flight somewhat comfortably.

Our first flight connected in Iceland, but, unlike other times we’ve flown through there, we noticed it never actually got dark on the way, although we were flying through the night. This was definitely different than traveling in the winter, and one of the first things we had to get used to in taking a somewhat normal “summer vacation!" Our flight was a little late into Iceland, so the connections were going to be pretty tight. Knowing most of them were on Play, I asked the flight attendant and she confirmed my assumption that they would hold the connections for their arriving passengers.

When we got to passport control though, there were obviously a few people who hadn’t gotten the memo. In particular, there were three college aged girls traveling together standing in line behind us, and, in our first instance of Americans loudly broadcasting their business to everyone within earshot, they were arguing about whether they were going to make their connection. One girl, obviously the leader of this operation, was freaking out, while the other two tried to calm her down. “I told you guys this wasn’t a good idea. I would pay three times the amount for a direct flight. I’m so f---ing pissed. F--- us, honestly. We’re so f---ed.” Later, Adam said, “See, Ezra, you’ve got it easy. I could be like those girls.” I said, “Adam, if I had any inkling you would be like those girls, I would never have brought you.”

Iceland (round one)

The second (shorter) flight to Paris was much better, especially because I ended up in the exit row. I tried not to rub it in with Adam too much. We arrived to a (hot) terminal at Charles de Gaulle airport and navigated buying tickets for the train into the city while trying not to look like bumbling Americans. We bought a two day ticket with unlimited rides which definitely paid for itself. We had also pre-purchased the Paris Museum Pass, which gave us admission (and, in some cases, priority access) to a lot of the destinations we were planning to see. We made it to our AirBnB, met our host, dropped off our backpacks ("Pack light, travel fast!") and grabbed a baguette at a local corner cafe. Given it had been 12 or so hours since we had eaten anything, that was the best sandwich I had ever had.

Inside the Pantheon
Our first stop was the Pantheon, a former church converted back and forth into a national memorial several times. Our Paris Museum Pass allowed us to skip the line and go straight in (which felt like seeing New York with my friend Jeff), and had Adam was singing its praises. We saw the giant time keeping pendulum and a crypt where Voltaire is buried.

Our next stop was the Lourve. It was gigantic (and also hot). We did our best to hit the highlights, which included the Mona Lisa, the Venus de Milo, and The Winged Victory of Samothrace (which Adam told us is "very important"). Unfortunately, when we finally arrived in the room that housed the Mona Lisa, it was obvious this was a similar situation to that at Platform 9 and 3/4 of King’s Cross Station in London: a huge line snaking back and forth through the center of the room just to get the chance to take your picture of the painting. Gabby said, "I'm not standing in that line."

The Mona Lisa

Next was the Pompidou, with lots of strange modern art. Adam enjoyed the Norman Foster exhibition, while Gabby and I examined a horse skin hanging from the ceiling and a piano in a sweater. The Pompidou’s one redeeming quality in my eyes was the amazing views out over the rest of the city, including the Eiffel Tower and the The Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Paris. We had some delicious hamburgers for dinner at a place called "Meating Corner."

View from the Pompidou

Arc de Triomphe
After dinner, we headed to the Arc de Triomphe and arrived right at 10:15 PM. However, although the website said access closed at 11:00 PM, apparently they let the last group in to go to the top around 10:15 PM. They were shutting down the area when we arrived, but I asked one of the attendants if he could let us through. He deferred to his boss who told me it was “impossible” because they had already shut everything down. I tried my best Tanner charm impression, “Aww, cmon, man, you can’t help me out?” to no avail.

Undeterred, we made our way down to the Eiffel Tower for the 11:00 PM light show. Continuing a theme for the day, this area was, of course, swarming with people. There were also “entrepreneurs” everywhere. You couldn’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone selling the same light up Eiffel Tower statutes. Also, a nice guy with champagne that will charge you an outrageous markup so that you can enjoy your adult beverage under the tower. I still can’t figure out how there’s a market for that many of the same thing. I kid you not, there were five guys selling the same thing standing within 15 feet of each other.

Eiffel Tower
On the metro back to the AirBnB, a group of ladies speaking English loudly boarded the train. It was immediately obvious they were “Not from ‘round here.” I listened to the accents for a minute before asking “Virginia or North Carolina?” “Kentucky,” came the answer. I was close.

Breakfast from the corner shop

The next morning we checked out of the AirBnB, and got breakfast at the same local baguette shop. We stopped at Notre Dame, which was damaged in a fire recently, but is currently being reconstructed. A fun group of street performers was playing nearby, including one guy with a real piano that they definitely hauled through the metro (tour production managers with keyboards in fake upright shells take note).

Our final stop in Paris was Sainte-Chapelle’s cathedral, which may have been my favorite. At first, we entered into the lower level and were a little disappointed. Then we found the staircase to the beautiful top floor with huge stained glass windows that tell stories primarily from the Old Testament. I looked carefully for distinctive objects that could help me identify what story a particular window was for. I found a bathtub ark (some things are cross-cultural) and the ark of the covenant.

After that, we took our final train back to CDG airport. For the record, CDG is probably in my bottom five airports thus far. It’s a hub and spoke design to start with, which gives it a strike puts it on the same level as Newark (NWJ). Our flight was delayed here, which was a shame, since we could have spent more time in the city. I also almost stepped on a pigeon who was standing in the security line in front of me, but no around appeared to think this was unusual.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Traveling Home from the British Isles

The morning of the day we were finally planning to depart, Joe was the only one who couldn’t check in online for the flight. He contacted Play customer service via Facebook and was told to go to the checkin desk at the airport before the flight. We got to the terminal early and said goodbye to John, who was staying in England an extra day to give a seminar on some of the work that his lab does to collaborators of theirs in Loughborough.

Joe, happy to be going home
Joe went to the desk and was told that, for some reason, he had been put on standby for the flight home and was fourth on the list. Not very optimistic that he would make it, we headed to the gate as he started researching other flights home. We came up with several potential options, but they would be pretty difficult logistically and fairly expensive. However, just as we were getting ready to board, they called him up to the desk and gave him a seat - 38F - the very last seat in the back of the plane. Much to Theo’s disappointment, Joe got a window seat, as opposed to the middle seat he had. Theo said, “First Joe gets interviewed by the Polish media, hangs out with the royal horses, and then gets the window seat on the way home. Next week he’ll be dating a model. Joe just thinks he’s the cat’s meow.”

All aboard!

While I was very happy that Joe made it onto the airplane (I was afraid he was going to mess up my stats there for a minute), I have to admit, there would have been just a small amount of sweet justice if he had been the only one to miss this flight, after waving at us from the Spirit Airlines flight that took off and left us all behind in Florida, during our trip to Costa Rica

A well traveled apple
We arrived at the Iceland airport, and I finally enjoyed my apple which had traveled to all five countries with us. Several hours later, we finally arrived in Baltimore at BWI. Mobile Passport allowed (most of) us to make it through the customs line quickly, but Abbie was disappointed she didn’t get a, “Welcome home!” from the agent.

The Arctic Ocean
We encountered a little bit of car trouble on the way home, but Sam came to the rescue and we were all able to limp home while listening to the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl. We made it back early Monday morning, just in time for us all to be at work the next morning. No harm, no foul on the delay!