Captivating Keswick and Its Countryside

Raul and Lauren arrived in the village of Keswick (KEZ-ick) following their Ingleton Falls hike. A centuries-old town of only 4,800 inhabitants but popularized by 19th-century Romantics and nature lovers, Keswick borders Derwentwater, a picturesque lake. The travellers first headed to Dunsford Guest House, run by Deb and Keith, which turned out to be one of the best bed and breakfasts they’ve ever known. The rest of the evening was spent down by the lake, admiring the water, and enjoying the sight of an intelligent Collie rounding up herds of sheep as his master walked through the pasture.

On Thursday, under beautiful, sunny skies with no hint of feared English rain, Raul and Lauren took a ferry across Derwentwater and began a ridge walk to Catbells peak (1,480 feet). The tree-less landscape offered panoramic views of distant, time-worn mountains as well as the beautiful Derwentwater.

Climbing Catbells

Climbing Catbells

From the Peak

From the Peak

The walk back down to the lakeshore was spotted with sheep, a common sight in England, and a couple even followed them down the path a ways. An unforgettable highlight on the ferry back to Keswick was the largest German Shepherd Raul and Lauren have ever seen. He must have been of mixed ancestry, for he measured at least six feet from nose to tail.

"Who, us?"

“Who, us?”

That evening, they visited the Castlerigg Stone Circle, a late-Neolithic structure which testifies to the sheer antiquity of the region. Lauren in particular was fascinated by this remote place and felt the magnitude of history and ancient peoples hanging over it. While still shrouded in some mystery, it is known that this circle, and others like it all over the British Isles, served as a meeting point for ritual celebrations, especially those concerning the solstices. The site was almost deserted, so they enjoyed a beautiful sunset in absolutely peaceful surroundings, the silence broken only by the ever-present sheep.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Friday held more fine weather and refreshing hiking. They circled Buttermere in a four-mile loop. With no wind to disturb it, at least part of the time, this lake’s still waters perfectly reflected the green, neighboring hills and rugged countryside. Lauren could believe she was finally Miss Elizabeth Bennet.



Raul attempted to corral sheep, as is his wont, but he did not succeed in getting close enough for a pet. They found a small restaurant toward the end of their walk and tried the highly recommended cream tea, which consists of tea served with scones, clotted cream, and jam. It was unbelievably delicious.

Cream Tea

Cream Tea

Leaving Buttermere, the pair drove back in the direction of Keswick toward Latrigg Peak. They experienced their first flat tire together, and Raul changed it very well. Not wanting to let the mishap interrupt their afternoon, they continued on to Latrigg. They climbed to the top of the 1,200-foot hill to revel in complete solitude (excepting the sheep, of course) and views of Keswick, Derwentwater, and the valley below.

Relaxed Sheep

Relaxed Sheep

Truly, the weather could not have been better with blue skies, puffy white clouds, and abundant sunshine. This was not the England the travellers expected. Back at the car, Lauren persuaded Raul to stop once more by the Castlerigg Stone Circle, since she was so captivated by it. Having returned to Keswick, the always-helpful Deb from their B&B recommended an auto repair shop, and they got a new tire without incident. Raul and Lauren ended the evening down at the sheep pasture by Derwentwater again. Raul, ever hopeful, tried to approach more sheep but did not gain their trust. Meanwhile, Lauren enjoyed a fiery sunset. This far north, the sky stayed light till 11pm, even though the moon was already rising high.

Raul inches closer

Raul inches closer

Saturday morning, Raul and Lauren wandered through Keswick’s local market and bought a wool blanket made in England colored in red, white, and blue. (Patriotism for both countries?) Leaving Keswick, they headed to the South Lake District, their final destination being Manchester as they were to fly back to Munich the next day. On the way, they stopped in the town of Grasmere, where lots of Beatrix Potter (creator of Peter Rabbit) merchandise is sold. They avoided the tourist traps but had a lovely walk along the lake and enjoyed another cream tea. Well, only Raul enjoys the actual tea. They drove into Manchester, and Lauren needed to stop by a shopping mall. There, they had British Taco Bell for fun, which of course did not taste the same as the American version. And as if on cue, it finally started to rain just as Lauren and Raul reached their lodging for the night.

Yorkshire Monasteries

In the second part of our series on our trip to England, we recount Raul’s independent excursions in beautiful Yorkshire.

While Lauren attended presentations and events at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, Raul sought his own lessons in medieval history with a visit to the ruins of a Cistercian abbey and the scenic water gardens on the surrounding estate: Fountains Abbey.

Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey

Raul’s chief difficulty of the excursion was driving (a right-hand drive vehicle once again) and navigating the approximately fifty-five miles on his own. Along the way, he stopped for picnic victuals from a massive ASDA supermarket, the most interesting of these purchases being a flavorful and mature English cheese.

The estate that Fountains Abbey resides on is one of twenty-eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in England. At the site, Raul walked a short while from the entrance to the ruins. In the shade of the tower, he attended to his picnic lunch while observing the other visitors. There was at least one school group, with students all dressed in monk’s garb.

As luck would have it, there was scheduled to begin a free guided tour just as Raul finished lunch. The tour guide was a knowledgeable elderly woman, and there were no questions she could not answer satisfactorily. She skillfully depicted to the visitors what daily life would have been like for the residents of the abbey all those centuries ago. The social hierarchy of the residents and visitors, the functions of the various buildings, some of which only have small traces left which tell us a great deal, the problems and solutions of sanitation, medicine and food, the economic challenges and success that the abbey achieved, and the rituals and roles that the monks performed are some of the numerous topics that were discussed.

Unfortunately, the day was wearing on and Raul needed to make haste in order to visit the rest of the estate before making his way back to Leeds in time to pick up Lauren. The water gardens were added hundreds of years after the monasteries were closed by Henry VIII, so in a way the estate and gardens are a second attraction next to the ruins. Raul quickly walked the length of the park and eventually made his way back to the car.

On the second day of the conference, Raul visited another estate containing a monastic ruin, Bolton Abbey. The ruins of Bolton Priory lie on the estate, and there are a number of other attractions throughout the park. A hole in the wall grants visitors access to a trail leading into the estate:

Hole in the wall

Hole in the wall

The priory lies on the banks of the River Wharfe, adjacent to a shapely bend in the river.

Bolton Priory

Bolton Priory

Raul hiked within the picturesque grounds to a café, where he conveniently took shelter while a thunderstorm rolled through. Once the sun was shining again, he found a picnic table and ate lunch with greedy ducks eyeing every crumb and waddling around his feet. Only an approaching dog was able to scare them away.

He hiked back along the other bank of the river and observed the priory more closely.

Bolton Priory Door

Bolton Priory Door

On the third day, Lauren planned only to spend half of the day attending a few presentations that she did not want to miss. Raul spent the morning reading in a park, and then they left Leeds together in the direction of the Lake District. Along the way, they stopped to hike the Ingleton Falls Trail. Along the trail were five different waterfalls and several crossings of the rivers. The terrain is quite varied, from very wooded to wide open vistas. This photo was taken approximately halfway through the five-mile loop.

Ingleton Falls Trail

Ingleton Falls Trail

In our final installment in this series, we will visit the Lake District.

England Makes Good Weather for Us

Recently, Raul and Lauren spent one week in England. Lauren was engaged to present at the venerable 2014 International Medieval Congress in Leeds, so Raul decided to tag along and make a short excursion of it.

On Saturday, they arrived at Manchester Airport, greeted by grey, gravid clouds, just as the weather forecast predicted. By the time they picked up the rental car and dropped their belongings at the lovely home of Emily and Luke (and their dog Lola), their Airbnb hosts, it seemed that Yorkshire was determined to make fools of weather forecasters. The sunshine and blue sky roused the weary travelers from the temptation of a quiet nap and they made their way to lovely York with its impressive walls and Minster.

York 005

York Minster

Besides her own exalted forum, Lauren would also attend numerous other presentations on Monday and Tuesday. Therefore, Raul was named the official driver for their hired car. Although he had previously driven on the left side of the road on Eleuthera, this would be his first experience driving a right-hand-drive vehicle. The drives on Saturday and Sunday, with Lauren navigating, engendered the vital comfort and confidence necessary for Raul to go adventuring alone on Monday and Tuesday.

By unhappy coincidence, the Tour de France started the very weekend of their arrival, in Leeds itself. Raul and Lauren were delighted by Yorkshire’s enthusiasm for “The Tour,” but the purpose of their visit was orthogonal to the Tour de France, and they faced a few inconveniences such as road blocks and the extra expense associated with lodging in such circumstances. On the other hand, they were within a mere couple of miles of the future king and queen, who were seeing the competitors off at Harrogate, so maybe that counts for something.

Sunday morning, they visited their first of several abbey ruins, the Kirkstall Abbey, a testament to the tyranny of Henry VIII and his destructive rejection of the Catholic Church.

Kirkstall Abbey 012

Kirkstall Abbey ruins

After taking in the ruins, Raul and Lauren strolled around the abbey grounds. Raul found an easy tree to climb, though not easy enough for Lauren to conquer.

Kirkstall Abbey 019

An easy tree

The rest of the day was spent exploring the estate of Lotherton Hall. The grounds were peaceful, with wooded lanes, an impressive tennis court constructed of impeccably laid bricks, fountains and rose gardens, a bird garden, and of course the country house itself.

Lotherton Hall 006

Lotherton Hall grounds

Their lodging near Leeds was a pleasure. Emily and Luke treated Raul and Lauren to a home cooked dinner of Spaghetti Bolognese, with portions maybe too large even for Trent Terwelp. The following night, all four of them sat together to watch the semi-final World Cup game between Brazil and Germany, which will not soon be forgotten.

Raul fancies the classic taps in the bathroom, with hot and cold water having independent spouts.

Taps 001

Traditional taps

In the next post, Raul visits two more ruins, and Lauren joins him for a hike through the Yorkshire Dales.

The Ink is Dry

Hello dear readers, it is long overdue, but I am finally here to fill you in on the last few months of life in Munich. The most exciting time was Lauren’s visit from the 5th of July to the 4th of August. It was a feeling somewhat reminiscent of seeing her for the first time on our wedding day, at the moment that I first saw her in the airport when she arrived. More details of our short time together can be read in previously published posts from Lauren.

At the time of Lauren’s arrival, I was still living in the spare bedroom at the office. I had only barely gotten an apartment from a lovely Romanian girl named Ramona, to move in on July 7th. This was to be a short term arrangement, meaning I had to move out sometime in September. Well, September has arrived, and Ramona and I have agreed to end the lease on October 1st.

Since Lauren left, I’ve been working longer hours at work, and also spending a lot of time on trying to find a new apartment. There have been a few promising leads, but in the end, I ended up taking a charming flat in a dull town north-west of Munich called Kissing. The downsides include having to take a long-distance train to work, not living close enough to cycle to work in less than an hour, living far from most of my friends and work colleagues, and living in a very bland town. The advantages are that the rent is very affordable, there is no commission to a real estate agent, the owners are very nice, a brand new kitchen is included, there is floor heating throughout the flat, and it is an attractive space. Overall I’m pleased, and just having a place to live for the foreseeable future is an enormous weight off my mind. After work today, I met with the owner to sign the lease. It is an open ended contract, with no end date. We just have to give three months notice when we want to move out.

A few weeks ago, I bought a good quality used bicycle from someone on Toytown. It is a commuter bicycle with eight speeds, which is more than enough for the flat city of Munich. I really enjoy riding it, and I’ve ridden to work a couple of times once I fitted it with reflectors, lights, and a bell, which are legally required in Germany. Tomorrow morning, I plan on riding south for a couple of hours to Wolfratshausen, a town which lies at the end of the suburban train line. From there, if the weather holds and I still have energy, I’ll keep riding, or take the train back into town.

Coincidentally, another document important to my future livelihood was signed and sent to South Africa by courier on this same day as my lease signing. My company’s five year agreement was finalized and signed today, after many months (years?) of being wrangled through a corporate maze of compliance, committees, legal reviews, and the like.

I’ve really enjoyed living in the Schwabing area of Munich these last two months. Some days after work, I like to wind down with dinner from the Mexican cantina which is located just to the south of my flat. Their tacos al pastor are delicious, and just around the corner I like to go watch the old timers duel on a field of 8ft by 8ft of alternating alabaster and onyx colored squares. It is always the same guys, and the action can get testy at times.

I will miss these pleasures in Kissing, but I know it is not permanent. Now that the pressure is off, Lauren and I can properly search for a an affordable place in or closer to Munich, at least close enough to cycle to work.

On Tuesday, Lauren booked her tickets for her next visit to Munich. She’ll be here for another month, to do research at the Bavarian state library, from October 13th to November 13th. Hopefully on the weekends, the weather will allow for some hiking in the alpine foothills to the south of Munich.

As for me, yesterday, I booked passage to America for the winter holidays. I’m using what will be left of my 2013 leave from work, as well as four public holidays, to visit from December 17th to the 11th of January. To all my friends from St Louis, I hope we can see each other then.

Together in München – Week Three

Raul and Lauren’s third weekend together in Germany held a visit to a medieval town called Rothenburg ob der Tauber (“Red fortress above the Tauber [River]). The town, now of about 11,000 inhabitants, has been around since the tenth century, and its medieval buildings and city wall remain well-preserved, having mostly escaped WWII bombing. On Saturday morning, the 20th of July, they bought a special Bavaria train ticket which gave them a discount for travel within the state. After a couple station changes, they arrived in Rothenburg and walked underneath the city wall to the old town. Lauren had reserved them a room in Gästehaus Raidel, a quirky and immensely charming 600-year-old house run by a very dear old man. The layout of their room was unlike anything they had seen before, with a low-ceilinged ante-chamber that housed a sink, mirror, chair, and wardrobe. The main room with a double bed had small windows looking out onto neighboring rooftops and featured a desk which they used for their laptop. A narrow study off the bedroom held a tiny window, chair, and tabletop running between the two walls. The toilet was in a little room behind the study, and the shower and a second sink were in a separate bathroom. It was all a little dusty and sported a few cobwebs on the ceilings, but it was quite cozy and the ambiance added to its medieval charm.

After dropping their backpacks, the travellers sauntered up a shop-lined street toward the main square, stopping to sample some sweets from a pastry shop. There were many tourists about, a majority of whom were Americans, for an American high school band was performing in the square that day. Rothenburg has become a popular tourist destination, but many are day-trippers, so the evenings are less crowded. They walked around the city and admired the centuries-old buildings, enjoying especially the trip around the city’s ramparts which encircle it for over a mile. They had a great Italian meal which served as another confirmation of the superiority of immigrant cooking for ethnic food. Saturday evening held a tour with the famous Rothenburg Night Watchman. He dresses up in medieval costume for his role and leads groups of tourists on a semi-historical circuit of the town, highlighting the city’s developments and declines. It was a thoroughly unique and enjoyable tour, and Raul and Lauren hope to repeat it in the future with their families and friends.

The next day, the expatriates hiked down through a forest and along a river to a small town where they had brunch at a beer garden (yes, they’re even open early Sunday mornings!). Raul had some kind of coffee cake and picked out a delicious cheesecake for Lauren. The hike back up to Rothenburg was steep but shady. After catching a train back to Munich, they ended up in Münchner Freiheit for dinner at an Italian place, also staffed by Italian immigrants. They took their meal at a sidewalk table and enjoyed the pleasant evening and slow pace of life in Munich.

The third week together was full of activities. Both Lauren and Raul viewed separate apartments on Monday evening in an attempt to find a permanent place to live. They have their current apartment only till mid-September. Tuesday evening was much more enjoyable, for Raul’s colleague Ross invited them to a beer garden with him, his girlfriend, and four of their friends. Raul and Lauren greatly enjoyed their company. They purchased a pretzel and Obazda, but Ross’s friends brought their own picnic fare. Thursday evening saw a stroll around Münchner Freiheit once again, with the particular reason of visiting the delicious ice cream shop there.

Together in München – Week Two

The second weekend of July held a visit to a nearby municipality of southern Bavaria called Berchtesgaden. The area is just a few miles from Austria and is also home to the mountain peak where Hitler’s Eagle Nest rests. Lauren and Raul’s destination was the Berchtesgaden National Park, where they took a ferry across an immense glacial lake, Königssee, and disembarked at St. Bartholomä pilgrimage church. The crystal-clear lake, surrounded by sheer rock walls and forest, is a stunning image of beauty. On the ferry ride across, the captain of the boat played a trumpet to demonstrate the echo that those tall cliffs produce. At St. Bartholomä, Raul and Lauren put their camera to good use and then followed a hiking path along the lake-front. Later turning their backs on the water, they delved into the forested hillside for a steep scramble up rocks and the dirt path. They were eager to continue exploring the many hiking possibilities here, but they had to return to the dock before the last ferry of the day left. They had just enough time to visit the beer garden and order fries, spritzer drinks, and dessert before departing. Since it is an easy trip from Munich, they are sure to come back in the future.

The next day, Raul and Lauren acted as tourists of their city and followed Rick Steves’ walking guide to learn about München and its most celebrated sights. They ended up in Hofbräuhaus, the most famous beer hall in the world, according to Rick Steves. Although frequented by plenty of tourists, the food and live oompah music made for an enjoyable break, and they followed the sausage, pretzel, and cheese snack with some delicious ice cream from a nearby shop.

On Tuesday, July 16th, Lauren gathered up materials for Mexican-American tacos, and prepared lunch for Raul and his colleagues at Agrista. The eight employees generally eat lunch together and take turns cooking, so Lauren took the opportunity to cook for them and become acquainted. She had done a test-run of the tacos at home a few days earlier and found that German beef is quite unappetizing. According to what she read, Germany primarily raises dairy cows, not beef cows, and then just slaughters the old, tough dairy cows for the beef that is in the supermarkets. To avoid that tasteless beef, Lauren turned to the more common 60% beef, 40% pork mixture that seems commonly to replace the 100% ground beef that is called for in recipes. Thankfully, she found Old El Paso soft taco shells and cheddar cheese in an unusually large grocery store and had brought a container of taco seasoning all the way from the United States. She thinks the tacos at Agrista turned out well, since she made a large amount, and it was completely gone at the end. In the future, she plans to make her own corn tortillas, and then they will certainly have a taste of home in Munich.

After lunch, Lauren stayed at Agrista, and she and Raul accompanied his colleagues after work to Tollwood once more and spent a pleasant evening outside in very “mixed” company. The eight employees of Agrista are from a variety of countries: Germany, South Africa, Britain, China, Romania, and the United States, so it has been fascinating to get to know each of these people and their stories.

Raul’s colleague Diane and her husband Tai came over for an American dinner of chicken fajitas on Thursday. After enjoying nice dinner conversation with them, they took the subway one stop down the line to the square known as Münchner Freiheit (Freedom of Munich). Lauren was in heaven when they found the darkest chocolate ice cream she’s ever had – it was even called black chocolate. She knew she would never love another dark chocolate ice cream after that moment. After purchasing the treat, the four of them strolled around Münchner Freiheit and became acquainted with the area, which houses many enticing restaurants and two large, public chessboards on the pavement like those that Raul and Lauren saw in Switzerland last year.

On Friday, the expatriates once again sought out German garage sales, which are called “Flohmärkte.” The previous week, they had bought a wooden chair to be used at the desk in their apartment, and this week, Raul found a British Harry Potter book. German and American garage sales seem to be not very different. Raul and Lauren found used clothing, dishware, children’s toys, and a lot of mediocre novels.

Lauren’s Arrival

Lauren arrived in München late in the evening on July 5th, sorry to have missed her family’s traditional 4th of July cheesecake but unspeakably happy to finally see Raul after nine long weeks of separation! The next day, they woke up early to go to the Viktualienmarkt in Pasing, the neighborhood where Raul’s work is located. They purchased a baguette, some fruit, and delicious cheese from a cheese shop and headed back to the train station. From there, they travelled southwest to the town of Herrsching, whence they began a three-mile pilgrimage up a large hill to Andechs Monastery. When Raul went by himself to this church, some weeks ago, he did not keep up with the group that arrived on the train with him. This time, he made sure they did in order to see the route the Germans would take. Lauren enjoyed seeing many men in Lederhosen on the hike up. Some even wore the traditional shoes and wool socks.

At the monastery church, Lauren climbed almost 200 steps up a narrow tower to view the surrounding countryside, but Raul stayed below since he had already made that climb. One highlight from the rest of the trip was a lovely meal at the nearby beer garden which included fries, Bratwurst, Apfelschörle (carbonated apple juice) and Johannesbeerschörle (carbonated currant juice). Another highlight was seeing a young lady walking in front of them as she flipped up the back of her dirndl, likely to cool off the back of her legs, and revealed a nice pair of underwear partially covering a nice derrière. Just as the scenery is beautiful, so are the girls.

After hiking down from the monastery, Raul and Lauren walked along the Ammersee and rested on a bench as they enjoyed a well-deserved ice cream. From there, it was back to Munich and to the home of Diane, a colleague of Raul’s, and Tai, her husband. Raul and Lauren enjoyed a game of Settlers of Catan with them.

Next day, Sunday, was moving day. After sleeping in late, Raul and Lauren made two trips with their luggage to their new apartment in Schwabing, a verdant neighborhood north of the city center. They met their roommate Mona, a nice Romanian girl about their age, and her Swiss boyfriend “Jorge.”

They spent the evening enjoying the nearby English Garden. It is a large park, about two-thirds the size of St. Louis’ Forest Park, whose southern half is popular with tourists who visit the Chinese Tower and the beer garden. Raul and Lauren entered in the northern half, near to their apartment. The air pregnant with the heavy smell of linden flowers, they wandered down shady paths until they too reached the Chinese Tower. Lauren could not resist ordering an enormous salted pretzel. Unfortunately, her meek voice was misunderstood, and the attendant presented her with a large radish cut in a spiral style. “Kein radi,” she protested, “no radish,” and pointed to the pretzel instead. They moved on to another shop where they bought a traditional cheese spread called Obazda which is perfect for being scooped up by a pretzel. Delicious fries accompanied the snack.

They sauntered out of the garden at the south end and ended up on the edge of Odeonsplatz. They tried to enter the plaza, but a ticketed event was occurring inside. After walking around the plaza to the opposite side, they picked out a spot on the sidewalk near several others without tickets and waited in anticipation for the orchestral concert to begin. Lauren was especially excitable and even more so when they heard Dvořák’s New World Symphony begin to play. She had never heard it live before. They were just going to listen for a few minutes…which turned into “Five more minutes, please” and then into the first movement, the second movement, and part of the third. It was quite late by that time, and Raul had to work in the morning, so they tore themselves away.

The weekdays came long and uncomfortable for Lauren since Raul had to work and she was anxious to spend as much time with him as possible. On Thursday evening, they accompanied some of Raul’s colleagues to Tollwood, a summer music festival where many tents and booths of food were also set up. Lauren enjoyed her first döner, served in pita bread. This Turkish food is quite popular as a kind of fast-food in Germany. After the festival, they looked forward to their free time on the weekend, and thus ended the first week of Lauren’s visit.

Getting Closer

I left Thursday morning for Madrid, and after a few little hiccups, I arrived around 9 o’clock this morning. Unfortunately, when our flight was delayed in Chicago and then we were put on a different flight to Madrid, skipping what would have been my second lay-over city, Boston, the luggage was separated from its owners and is still in Boston. Supposedly it will be delivered tomorrow afternoon to the place I’m staying, and I really hope it is. I packed two large suitcases full (right to the limit of 50 lbs. each) of things to leave behind permanently in Munich. I had only my essential documents and papers for getting a library card to the Biblioteca Nacional on my person, so I have no toothbrush, clean clothes, or the like. Happily, as I was taking my documents out of my small backpack, I found an old t-shirt that was supposed to be in the donation box a few weeks ago. I guess it was left behind for just the occasion of sleeping tonight. At least I can take this dirty shirt off for a while.

I am spending two weeks in Madrid now for researching books pertaining to my dissertation. The excellent thing about this situation is that it got my flight to Europe paid for, so I will be able to see Raul very soon!

Raul and I came to Spain in 2005, so this is my second time here. Madrid is pretty much like I remember it – not too enticing from the approach by air (it’s pretty arid), many people, and kind of dirty. I guess those last two describe most all capital cities, which is why I don’t care for them too much. Already today I’ve had my fill of people for many days. I took several Metro rides between the airport, the apartment I’m staying at, and the National Library. It seems like those stations generally smell filthy. It looks like there’s a more direct route by bus to the Library, so I will try that on Monday.

I’m staying in a room in an apartment rented by a Peruvian couple, for the really excellent price of $28/night, whereas most hotels and other apartment rooms in the same area were 70, 80, 90 euros a night. I have my own bath and access to their kitchen and WiFi (Wee-Fee). It was a great deal, and it’s very clean. As to be expected, it’s quite small, which isn’t a problem except for the shower. I literally could not turn around without either banging the shower door with my elbows or accidentally turning off the water. First world problems – at least the water was hot.

I wanted to make sure I went by the Library today, so after I stopped by the apartment, I just took a quick shower, put my dirty clothes back on, and headed out. It was pretty easy to navigate the Metro system and find it. The grandiose building sticks out from the ones around it. Spain has an old reputation of bureaucracy and “come back tomorrow” mentality, so I was thrilled when it took less than ten minutes total to get my researcher card. Armed with a gas bill to establish my residence, a letter of introduction signed by my thesis director, and my passport, I entered to find out what I needed to do. A colleague of mine had said it took her about 30 minutes when she did it last year. I had to stop at four desks and security before I could get it, but it turned out without a hitch. I requested the book I wanted, they assigned me a desk number, and then a red light flashed on my desk when I could pick up my book. I started reading one of the primary sources I’ll be working with.

I tried to stay as long as possible, but I was so sleepy from not having slept much on the plane that I had to leave. I went by a grocery store on the way home and purchased the requisite Taranu foods : yogurt, granola, salami, cheese, water, baguette, and a red bell pepper. I did not have success finding apples. I had a late lunch and then caught up on some emails. I’m trying to make myself stay awake in order to adjust to the time, but I’m having a hard time fighting it. That’s why I am bumbling through this entry. Good night!


Having coffee in the shadow of Il Duomo.

Having coffee in the shadow of Il Duomo.

This past week, I took two days of leave from work to meet up with my friends Chris and Thea in Florence, Italy. They moved to Florida from St Louis, so it has been a while since I’ve seen them. Lauren visited them when she took a trip to Florida with her family earlier this year. I think I got the better end of that deal.

The Kelces are on a Mediterranean cruise, and they stopped for one day in the port of Livorno, Italy. From there, they met me in Florence for about six hours, before returning to their ship. I had intended to take an overnight train from Munich, but that was sold out. Instead, I flew and spent two nights at a friendly guy’s house I found on Airbnb. Overall, I think that was cheaper than the train would have been, but I still look forward to taking an overnight train ride someday.

On the morning of Chris and Thea’s arrival, I rode the clunky bicycle that my host provided me to meet them at the train station. I got my bearings and determined that they could be arriving at one of two possible platforms. My first guess was correct, and soon we were on our way. Thea led us into the heart of the old city, and as we took a break at the foot of the massive cathedral, we all decided that we wanted to climb to the top of Il Duomo. It was a hot and long climb, but we were indeed rewarded with an impressive vista.

View from Il Duomo

View from Il Duomo

At the top of the Duomo

At the top of Il Duomo

We replenished our energy reserves with a lunch of pizza (of course) at a restaurant near the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria. At the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio stands a replica of Michelangelo’s David. The original was moved to an indoor location in order to preserve it.

After lunch, it took just a couple minutes to reach Ponte Vecchio, an old Medieval bridge that still houses shops. Today, all the shops are gold and silver smiths, but in centuries past, it also had other types of businesses, such as butcher shops.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

We tried to find some shade in a park, away from the bustling crowds of tourists, but there was nothing open to us, so we decided to cool off under an umbrella at a café with misters. I hydrated, while the Kelces had a cold beer, and then I saw them off to their train with only a minute to spare.

I left the train station on the bike, heading back into the old city. I finally did find a park to read in for a time, though it was rather small and the din of traffic was ever present. At least the people around me were all Italians, as the park was somewhat away from the main sights. I felt glad to have seen my friends, but by this time I was starting to acutely feel the loneliness of being so far from home, from friends and family, and most of all from Lauren.

Relaxing at the Giardino Bardini

Relaxing at the Giardino Bardini

The following day, my flight was not until 5pm, so I had a good bit of time left to fill with more of Florence. I debated going to the Uffizi Gallery, but in the end I was driven to find the green places of the world once more. I decided to visit the Boboli Gardens, behind the Palazzo Pitti. I had been led to believe that I’d have a nice view of Florence from these hilly gardens, but the best view appeared to be from a fortress above the gardens, which was closed. Nonetheless, I was pleased, and my ticket also included entry to another garden, the Giardino Bardini. This garden was a fantastic treat. I was rewarded with woody lanes, fantastic views of the city, the lovely scents of flowers, and all of this with virtually no tourists. Evidently it has only recently been opened to the public and it isn’t well known yet.

Terrace at the Giardino Bardini

Terrace at the Giardino Bardini

Overall, it was a good trip, and it is a good illustration of one of the reasons Lauren and I want to live in Europe. Here, we’ll have easy access to a multitude of countries and cultures. Munich itself is well placed, being relatively centrally located. I look forward to the next rendezvous with old friends.

Time with Friends…On Both Continents

Tonight was a special evening spent with my closest friends, and in a happy coincidence, Raul will be meeting the missing members of our St. Louis gang in just a couple hours in Florence, Italy. It’s just a shame that we couldn’t all be in Italy for this reunion.

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After enjoying a truly beautiful and mild May and first week of June, typical St. Louis summer weather is back with a vengeance. It was in the 90s till late in the evening with high humidity. Nevertheless, we convened at Forest Park, the expansive and verdant gem of St. Louis and rented paddle boats as if we were young couples on first dates. It’s a good thing Betsy wasn’t on a date though, or one may have raised one’s eyebrows at the coquettish manner in which she “tried” to cover herself as she paddled in a dress. A grand time was had by all even though we were sticky with sweat by the end of our lake tour.

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After boating, we returned to the Boat House for dinner where we were able to review our impressions of the season finale of our beloved Game of Thrones, which we had all watched in time for our meet-up. The King is tired.

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Sung looked a little tired too, as he took the liberty of unbuttoning his shirt at dinner to take better advantage of the air conditioning.

Soon Sung was back to himself, and he dutifully returned to his task of picking out our own sigils. Trent’s is a river, after the River Trent as I understand it, and Kari’s is a moose because that’s all there is in Canada. (Confirm or deny, Kari?) We imagined theirs together with the moose peacefully lapping up water from the river. I told Sung Raul’s name is from a word for Wolf, but Sung said Raul’s sigil is a beaver. Betsy kindly thought it was because of his industriousness, but Sung explained that it’s due to a physical resemblance. I must disagree; Raul doesn’t even have the teeth for a beaver, the most obvious characteristic! Sung deemed me a phoenix because he rises from the ashes of a fire like my red hair. Betsy is a horse with a flowing mane, and Sung is a sloth who never comes down from his tree. All in all, we make a formidable group.

As for the events on the European continent, I will let Raul pick up the story.