Throwback Thursday, all the way back to '01!
Official Tour Album: This Desert Life - Counting Crows, especially Colorblind
Official Tour Theme: Learning how to say bellybutton, asparagus, and thingamabob in many languages
Official Tour Book: Bridget Jones' Diary (highly recommended!)
Colleen and I just got back from Europe, where we saw more of the inside of trains and train bathrooms than we ever wanted to see, got fat and sunburned and then skinny and pale, washed our clothes in a bidet. ended up in a hospital, and escaped Europe via a red-light district.
We landed in Frankfurt, Germany on March 30th with some seriously wobbly legs acquired during the 11 hour flight, and got on a train to Heidelberg.
Heidelberg has a most amazing castle eloquently dubbed Heidelberg Schloss, which means Heidelberg Castle. Yeah. It was quite lovely, what there was left of it after being destroyed and rebuilt countless times. The townspeople used to pay taxes to the prince with wine, which was stored in the castle in the biggest wine vat you could imagine. It was more than 3 flights tall and held over 220,000 liters. The ground water at that time was unfit to drink, so the castle's inhabitants could only drink wine and milk, and most people died of alcohol poisioning in their 30's. Oh, the good old days.
We watched rugby practice and attended a great nightclub with 4 levels of choice techno, pop, live punk and dance music before we headed for Berlin.
Berlin was, well...rainy. Technically, we were just outside Berlin in Gross Glienicke. Pretty much the whole time we were there it rained. We had to dry our washing with a hair dryer because clothes dryers are apparently against Europeans' religion. As are shower curtains. Picture having a normal tub and shower with a detachable nozzle, but to take a shower you have to sit in the tub and try desperately not to get any water on the floor while the dirty, soapy water swirls around your butt. Then, many houses have a seperate enclosed shower in the same room to shower while standing. The logic escapes me.
Due to the rain and our jetlag, nothing much got done in Berlin. Nut, we did have an epiphany while walking back from a friend's house where we had been horseback riding:
We took a jaunt off through the woods on what was meant to be a shortcut, and ended up in lush green wheatfields that stretched for a mile or more in every direction. It was mesmerizing.
Like a couple of crazed cows full of silly joy, we went running into the fields aiming for a tree on top of a small hill. The sea of teal-green wheat nveloped us, towering over our heads until all we could see were the stalks parting before us and closing after us. The feeling was like nothing else, like being in a green bubble where time stood still and all we could hear was the wind swirling above us.
This is where Colleen said, "This experience is like a metaphor of life. We could see our intended destination when we began, but it is now lost."
And then she landed the punchline: "I guess you just start off in the right direction and hope one leg isn't shorter than the other."
This has become my favorite quote of all time. She is so the bomb.
We decided, after quite some cold and rainy time in Berlin, that we wanted to head to Italy.
Colleen and I left our big luggage with a friend and packed everything we would need for 3 weeks into 2 small knapsacks and hit the rails.
As was to be the theme for our whole trip, the rails were beyond confusing, and we ended up running around Germany lost, and spending the night with 20 very smelly men in the waiting room in the Stuttgart train station.
If you are traveling in Germany, please note the following:
Staying overnight in the Stuttgart train station SUCKS! Avoid it like the Black Plague.
But we did catch a train through Austria where we managed to snag our own room and wound our way through a bit of the Alps. Incredible scenery!
By the time we arrived in Florence, it was hot and sunny, and we were thrilled!
In Florence, there are apparently no rules when driving any type of vehicle. The streets are a complete free-for-all where mopeds rule the day, driving up in sidewalks, through cafes, into your hotel room and out the window without batting an eyelash.
The Italian men are so pretty! The Italian women are all size 2s, because we couldn't even fit into the larges in any of the shops. Our expectations have, as a result, been completely skewed, and we shall never live up to our own standards for beauty again.
We found that the best way to avoid cat calls from men in the markets was to hold hands, which convinced them we were lesbians. That worked most of the time, but some of the men only liked us more. Hmmm. Perhaps they misunderstand lesbianism.
We stayed in an incredible hostel that was a 10 minute walk through vineyards from town. I rolled over on a rainbow-colored spider in my sleep, and woke up with 6 square inches of artistically-squished spider pasted on my thigh. Yay for me.
We visited a few choice landmarks, ate pizza and coconut and spit banana at the pigeons in the park (quite amusing, especially if you can dole out karma by getting the banana to stick onto the "bully" pigeons, and watch as they get chased around by the weaker pigeons for a chance).
We decided to make our other trip theme (the first was confusing rail travel) to be learning certain choice words in as many languages as possible. For instance, bellybutton is 'bauchnabel' in German.
The next day we were on our way to Rome.
Rome was, or course, exceptional! The history and the energy is amazing and infectious! The Colosseum, the fountains, the ruins, are larger than life and just......wow. We had to stay a few days in order to make a dent in the bucket list of sights. I have never done so much walking in my life.
We performed in a beautiful courtyard and bought Roman underwear and learned to hate other American tourists. Americans are the loudest, rudest, most obnoxious travelers. They were smoking in the Colosseum and dropping chip bags into the catacombs for god's sake!
Anyway, you all must try coconut ice cream. I've never seen it in the states, but it is fiercely YUM. We ate mostly ice cream and then burned off the fat wandering aimlessly through tiny Roman streets and Cathedrals and taking pictures of handsome Roman men. Rome is just the bee's knees for a couple of single chicks.
After Rome we attempted to see Pisa, but the leaning tower was reportedly leaning a little too much and was closed for repair.
On to the French Riviera!
We arrived in St. Raphael where, after a shot of espresso, we caught a boat to the little town of St. Tropez. Some lovely firemen directed us to a cheap hotel (just our style) where we got a double room with a sink and...a bidet. Hmmm. It wasn't the first time we'd seen one, but this one was... ancient, and perhaps plumbed completely wrong. The water filled from what looked like a drain hole and there was no spout. For lack of a decent sink, we decided to clean it and use it as a laundry-washing sink, and it worked out quite well.
Shopping there was great and quite cheap if you were patient, and we danced around on a court overlooking the Meditterranean while we ate rice pudding and baguettes and fromage (that is French for cheese. If you want to find a cheese factory, you ask for the closest fromagerie. really. Perhaps you already know this, but it tries us as funny.)
The next day we headed back to St. Raphael and the topless beaches where we tried to get tan, but mostly got really burned. We looked like lobsters for most of the rest of our trip.
On to Barcelona, the city of weird smells!
We spent a good portion of our time trying to find a hostel and just managed to squeeze into one of the most popular ones right on La Rambla, a major market street where jugglers and artists and street performers worked the crowds. Our window looked over a courtyard complete with cafes and wandering balladeers and a fountain, and lots of drunk people.
We danced for 8 hours one night on the wharf, spent $7 on a pina colada (oops), and saw an incredible theater production staged on the street that starred entirely alter-abled people. It was beautiful and inspiring.
We also spent a day with some very sweet Brits in a little Spanish town on the coast called Llansa, after getting thrown off a train in the middle of the night.
Asparagus is 'asparagus' in Spanish. How thrilling.
Colleen began to feel ill on our way from Barcelona to Paris (some serious foreshadowing here). We caught a night train and tried to sleep, but were not particularily successful.
Paris was very cold and rainy, and after some effort we found a hotel and Colleen and I went to bed. After sleeping most of the day and watching episodes of "Walker: Texas Ranger" dubbed in French (which is ALL WRONG I must say), I went out to forage for food.
There is no peanut butter in France. However, there is plenty liver pate. There is also no plain cheese. It all must have some sort of srange funk growing on it for the French to consider it to be cheese. I had to get cream cheese and jelly to make sandwiches. You know, health food for young American travelers.
Colleen still felt ill the next day, but we made an attempt to see the sights with Colleen waning more by every hour. We did get to see Notre Dame (really neat-o) and as far as the entrance to the Louvre. But, then, Colleen felt really badly, and what with the long walk back to the hotel, we decided not to risk her health with what would be many more hours of walking, and we turned back. By the time we got back to the hotel, she was in quite poor spirits and we decided to press on to Brussels so she could rest the remainder of the day.
Poor Colleen was very badly off on the train ride to Brussels! We arrived around 10pm and after laying her down in a waiting room, it was only 2 hours before I could get money, a place to stay, and rail tickets. We still spent 30 more minutes wandering around in the freezing cold, in the middle of the night, Colleen ready to die and me carrying both backpacks before we found a police station and correct directions to the hostel.
Colleen went to bed immediately, and was up and down all night with fever. While I went on a journey the next morning to try to find ice cubes for her, she wandered into the street and passed out. The locals didn't take her out of the street, but instead brought a chair into the street, which they propped her up on until she could get back to the room. A very interesting solution, but I am grateful that they were there to help.
Obviously, it was then we realized her illness was quite serious. We had to stay another day in Brussels because she was unable to be moved, and then we made the decision that she needed the hospital, and so we headed to Amsterdam where we thought we could find an English-speaking doctor.
To keep our spirits up, we learned how to say "bellybutton" in Finnish, but I am not going to even try to pronounce it.
The doctor in Amsterdam was no help, saying she would just have to wait to get better. For a couple girls who are notoriously anti-drug, we were surprised to figure out that he thought we were high, and that he flatly refused to believe us when we said we hadn't been partying "Amsterdam-style".
Colleen hadn't eaten for days and was very dehydrated and couldn't really walk, and I was getting very concerned. The doctor wouldn't give her an IV or take any tests, so we left and tried to nurse her back to health at the Amsterdam hostel. She spent most of the day sleeping, and I snuck out in bits to see the city and bring her stories and ice chips.
Two days went like that with Colleen getting no better. It was decided we would head back to Germany to take her to the hospital again, where at least she could speak the language (she is fluent in German).
Some very kind friends took us in just outside of Berlin, and we rushed Colleen to the emergency room right from the train station. The doctors immediately put her on an IV and took blood samples and chest x-rays. They thought she had contracted hepatitis, a very serious disease, possibly from infected water. Her x-rays showed serious swelling of her liver and other organs. They said she could have died, and put her in isolation. I have never prayed so hard for anything than for her to recover.
The doctors kept her in the hospital for the rest of the length of our trip. For a while we were concerned that she might be too sick to return to the states, and I was beginning preperations to stay by her side for as long as necessary. But once she was on IV fluids and anti-inflammatories, she had a very quick recovery, in some small part I'd like to think due to the good vibes and prayers we all sent out. They released her from the hospital the day before our scheduled departure.
I sang a few times when she was hospitalized, but without Colleen, it just wasn't the same. Our kind friends were so incredibly helpful and loving, driving me to and from the hospital, bringing Colleen treats and visitors, and we are forever grateful.
We traveled gently into Berlin on our last day to see Kuperwelden, a really neat display of human anatomy, right before we left for Frankfurt.
Our last night in Europe was spent in the red light district of Frankfurt, Germany, in a horrible little hotel across from a brothel. It was all we could afford that was close to the airport. We took pictures of the John's on their landings across the street and had enlightening conversations with the cockroaches in our room.
Thingamabob is 'dingesbumps' in German. I like that one.
Guess what bellybutton is in Russian? I don't have the right letters here to spell it, but it is pronounced "poo-poo". Go figure.
We arrived back home tired but none the worse for wear, and very happy that Colleen was back to health.
What a delightful ending to an unexpectedly adventurous trip.
BTW: What the heck do you do with $10 worth of miscellaneous change in 12 different currencies?
We have now been home here in Tucson for a few days, and Colleen was doing very well, but has now caught a nasty cold which has her back in bed again. "I'm so sick of being sick!" she has been yelling.
I have been hating the heat and looking forward to our West Coast Tour which will begin on the 20th of this month. But the monsoons have been wonderful, and we have two shows this weekend which will be lovely; playing for people who can understand my lyrics will be nice.
After this tour, I am happy to say that I plan on moving to Nashville for a few months to hone my songwriting skills and possibly get back in the studio for my next album.
This winter I will be all over the US and next summer Colleen and I hope to go to Australia and Japan.
Lookout world! We are coming to learn many useless words in your native tongues! Let us start with bellybutton!
Amber Jade - Clicking my heels and irreverently tripping the light fantastic all the way to nirvana, with a 50lb bag of cheese puffs in tow.