Back to Europe we go …

In 2011 husband and I drove over 4,000 miles throughout the United States for our summer vacation. Road trips are our specialty. We both love to see the countryside through a car window, and eight hours of driving is considered a good day.

However, it was the first year I hadn’t been overseas since 2005, and the thought of taking a big plane over the ocean began to pull on me almost as soon as we got home from the Great American Road Trip.

So back to Europe we go, starting in Prague, then dropping to Vienna for a few days (one of our favorite cities that requires another visit), and finishing off with a week in Budapest. Hopefully there will be day trips and stops along the way as we country jump on Eurail. Historically we dump our plans once settled into our vacation, so we’ll see where we really end up.

I am looking forward to street markets and language barriers and the smell of a neighborhood bakery. I am looking forward to the comfort that Europe brings to me, the quieting of my somewhat-chaotic mind and the reminder to enjoy life with family, good food and a glass of wine.

The map is the route we have sketched out so far. Do you have favorite sights or experiences from any of these cities? Let me know. Any and all suggestions are welcome!

Making the old, new

I’m in the process of having some 35 mm film negatives transferred to digital images. Over the last few days I went through all of my travel images to see what I really wanted to preserve and what could be left for a later day.

The greatest thing about looking at old travel photos is the reality check it provides. In your hands you have proof that 1)  the hairstyle you had was not ‘da bomb’; 2) your Euro fashion attempt was just an American in a scarf; and 3) your travel pictures look just like everyone else’s.

I was mortified at my photos. Boring! I have stood in the center of some majestic, ancient cities, and my pictures make me want to take a nap.

You probably know the remedy – take a look at your subject from a different angle. That theory is harder than you think when you’re standing in front of the Eiffel Tower. You want to take a picture of the whole darn thing. And you should. But then it’s good to play around with angles to see what other lines, shapes and dimensions you can get from your subject.

I’ve pulled a few examples of when I did break the norm just a little bit. As a disclaimer I do realize that at least 1.7 million people also have these “alternative” angles.

First, let’s look at the Louvre Museum in Paris. We know the glass pyramid at the Louvre mixes contemporary in a traditional setting. But how does that feel? I took this picture inside the pyramid to put the modern age in the foreground while blending France’s history in the background. It felt like momma was looking in on what had become of her children over the years.

Next, the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. It’s the most recognized bridge in the city. While this angle isn’t really different (it’s not hard to get this angle, you just have to climb some stairs) it’s still different than the straight on shot that every tourist takes from the bridge opposite of the Ponte Vecchio.

This next picture was taken one early morning in Amsterdam. My photos were starting tolook the same again. Bicycles, coffee shops and canals were filling up my memory card. I needed something a little different – stat. Again, this isn’t the most intriguing picture, but it sums up the quiet Amsterdam neighborhood of Jordaan to me. The reflection has Dutch buildings, a canal and bicycles, just from another point of view.

Finally, this photo was taken in Brussels at night with my point-and-shoot. I had put the digital SLR away for the day and was just enjoying the scene. It was a holiday weekend in Brussels when I was there, so everyone was out. I took this angle for two reasons. The main reason is that I was literally sitting on the ground. People gather in the Grand Place square and just hang out on the cobblestones with a picnic basket or a beer. I also wanted to get the grand spectrum of the buildings, but they are so tall you cannot capture them unless you turn your camera sideways. This is probably one of my favorite things to do now – turn the camera on it’s ear. The scene is kind of interesting, but a different angle and black and white treatment make the lovers walking by more intriguing to my eye.

The moral of the story is sometimes you just need to get up and move around or sit on the ground with a beer. The one thing I do know is that I have a lot of places to revisit so I can get better pictures next time.

Traveling as a vegetarian in a meat country

As a strict vegetarian I’m a little harder to travel with than most. I have not sampled the wiener schnitzel in Austria, the foie gras in France or the blood sausage in Ireland. On my last trip I ate either Asian or Indian food every single day because they are the easiest menus to find variety on.

However, I’ve also been in countries where Asian and Indian foods are non-existent. So then what?

My first choice for vegetarian fare is the local farmers market. A delight of most European cities, farmers markets put you in the heart of a local community. You can also get fruit, nuts and easy vegetables for a picnic that day. I always pack a few sporks in my bag for spontaneous outdoor eating.

Locate the grocery store when you arrive at your destination. Even if you are not vegetarian, grocery stores are another lesson on the culture you’ve just stepped into. Ponder over the labels and look for canned goods that have easy open tops. You can also pack a hand-twist can opener in your carry-on bag without TSA problems.

Talk to a local produce vendor at the farmers market about restaurants that have vegetarian meals. They typically know about restaurants that have meatless options nearby. If there is a language barrier in the area you will be traveling in, pack along a good travel dictionary that has phonetic spellings for saying key phrases or words.

If you are staying in a city for a few days, research apartment rentals online. I have always had great success finding apartments with kitchens for less than an average hotel. Considering the money you save buying groceries versus eating out for every meal, it’s well worth the effort.

For a list of helpful vegetarian eating establishments worldwide, check out Happy Cow or the Vegetarian Vacation URL guide.

Happy meatless travels!