The Fine Line Between Austria and Germany

I’m pretty sure that Austrians and Germans would disagree with me on this one, but it’s a very fine line between their countries and their cultures, especially on the border.  Driving from one city to another on our week-long trip, we often (seamlessly) passed from Germany to Austria and back.  We don’t speak German, so of course, Austrian German sounded like German German.  The food is really similar, if not the same.  The Bavarian architecture runs rampant throughout the entire area and you can even ski from one country to the other without knowing it.  Anyway, you get the point; to us, these regions are really similar.  Oh, and did I mention it’s one of the prettiest, most spectacular areas we’ve been to?  (You can also take a look our previous trips to this area here and here.)  There are lush green valleys (when it’s not snowing), towering mountains, and lakes dotting the landscape.

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The Baltic Rim: Latvia

This guy was collecting the seaweed along the coast

Next stop in the Baltic region: Latvia!  Once again, our Latvia travel and cultural knowledge of its people was next to zero.  Although it is one of the least populous countries in the European Union, we were pleasantly surprised by its capital city, Riga.  Because of its phenomenal Art Nouveau architecture, the historical center of Riga was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and we were not surprised to find out that the city will be a European Capital of Culture in 2014.  The people of Latvia, however, suffered along with the rest of Europe during World War II.  Just southeast of Riga, in Salaspils, the Third Reich constructed a prison and work camp.  In addition to the German Jews who perished during the construction of the camp, about 2,000 to 3,000 people died at Salaspils due to illness, heavy labor, and inhuman treatment.  Additionally, it’s estimated that one half of the children at the camp died due to outbreaks of typhoid fever and measles.  After the war, 632 corpses of children of ages 5 to 9 were discovered in a mass grave at the concentration camp.  Today at the site there is a gut-wrenching monument composed of over-sized statues protecting their children or dragging themselves forward…. [Read More]

Our 2nd Italian Anniversary

First night on the water

I know I’m a little late, but September 6th marked our 2nd Italian anniversary.  This means we have passed well over the halfway point of Bobby’s Olmsted experience.  Wow!  I’d like to highlight some of our favorite travel spots we were fortunate enough to see this year (see our first year favorites here). First though, we’d like to reiterate to the Olmsted Foundation how incredibly grateful we are for this amazing opportunity.  We never thought we’d get travel like this as a couple, nor have the chance to learn a second language while experiencing the culture first-hand.  We can’t express our gratitude enough – thank you, thank you, thank you!… [Read More]

The West Coast is the Best Coast

Pastoral land

Bobby always says that the “west coast is the best coast” and in Ireland (okay, and in the US) I can agree!  After tackling the whole driving on the left side of the road thing, the four of us – Bobby, me, and my parents – piled into our rental van (yes, we rented a Euro minivan) and we set off for the Irish countryside. It was about a 4 1/2 hour from Belfast to Kylemore Abbey near the west coast of Ireland and we have never seen so many sheep in our lives!  We were not disappointed with the rolling green hills, little while houses dotting the landscape, or the hospitable nature of the Irish people.  From the abbey, we drove south to the famed Ring of Kerry, where we saw more beautiful (and surprisingly very diversified) landscapes.  … [Read More]

Flying South

Beautiful

After almost two weeks of some pretty darn cold weather, we were excited to be heading south to (hopefully) some warmer weather.  That didn’t actually work out, but we loved our last stops nevertheless.  We made a pit stop in Luxembourg and it actually snowed overnight, which made it pretty difficult to venture out and site-see.  We did head over to the American WWII Cemetery though and the snow made it even more beautiful.  After that, we made it to Strasbourg, France and got to spend some time with another Olmsted Scholar, Maureen Tanner (OSC ’12), her husband, and lovely little daughter.

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D-Day in Normandy

View to Omaha Beach

Being an American, and especially an American who has a family member in the military, there are several historical/military sites that are sacred.  These places give us perspective, give us a better understanding of our past, and allow us to be thankful to live in the best country in the world.  One is the Normandy region of France.  (Others on my list include Pearl Harbor, Arlington National Cemetery, Ground Zero, etc.)   Spending a few days in Normandy was well worth the out-of-the-way travel.  We had the opportunity to see several WWII battle sites: Pont du Hoc (the site where the Army Rangers first took the French coastline), Omaha Beach (the famous beach where 3,600 Americans were killed), Longues-sur-Mer Battery (an essential site for German artillery), the American Cemetery and Memorial, and the German Cemetery.

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Under the Tuscan …… Rain?

Another lovely church under an even angrier sky

After reading several travel blogs, websites, and trip-guides on “bests” to see in Tuscany, we decided to chip off the final two sites: Cortona and Montepulciano.  Cortona is the lesser-known of the two, but is famous in America as the setting of the film “Under the Tuscan Sun.”  Unfortunately for us, there was no sun to speak of on our Sunday trip.  Despite the rain, we couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the landscape.  Yes, I said mesmerized.  It is that gorgeous; the photos simply don’t do it justice. Cortona is one of the few Italian cities I have down as “must-sees” for a second time.  (The next time, we’ll be visiting in the summer!)  Montepulciano is pretty well-known for its wine.  Vino Nobile, Rosso di Montepuciano, and even a type of grappa is made there.  We spent the rest of the rainy day at an enoteca, where the nice employee spent a couple hours explaining all about wine from the region. … [Read More]

In Honor of Veterans Day

May they all rest in peace

Veterans Day means something different to everyone.  For some, it means honoring a loved one: a husband, wife, brother, sister, father, uncle, or grandfather.  For some, it means taking time to remember those unknown men and women who have served in the United States Armed Forces.  And for others, it simply means a day off work, since it’s a national holiday.  Before I met Bobby in 2007, I am going to be honest and say I didn’t know many people who had served in the Armed Forces.  My father served in the Army Reserves and my Uncle served in the Army during Vietnam.  Neither really ever talked about it.  When Bobby and I started dating, he was in Pilot Training at Laughlin AFB in Texas and although he flew on an everyday basis and wore a uniform to work, he was a world removed from the war.  It wasn’t until 2009, when we lost a close friend in a training accident and then Bobby’s deployment to Afghanistan, that I truly understood the meaning of sacrifice for our country.  Family members leave their loved ones behind all the time when they are called to war, and war can be a vicious thing.  I would like to think that I am lucky, as my husband serves in the Air Force.  While he was an active part in the war in Afghanistan, he was still well above the fighting on the ground.  Others, however, aren’t so far removed and I think about those guys and girls everyday.  I also think about their families that they have left behind and the worry they must have in their hearts each day.  In honor of Veterans Day this year, Bobby and I decided to visit the Florence American Cemetery and Memorial, which honors the American men who died in Italy during World War II.  Having never been to Arlington National Cemetery (although I really want to), seeing the rows and rows of white crosses for the first time was a startling and very humbling sight.

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