Thursday, April 24, 2008

The View from the Top

This past week I returned from an amazing vacation with two of my best friends, Tom and Yvonne... who also just happen to be my parents! I am one of those individuals who, as an adult, has been fortunate enough to develop a fantastic relationship with my parents who remain an integral and active part of my life, and I am so grateful for that gift. Since Tom & Yvonne live in Minnesota, my home state, and I'm halfway across the world in India this year, we decided to meet "in the middle" and do a little tour of Europe for 10 days. I suggested that we head for higher ground and explore the Alps mountain range starting in Germany, then moving to Austria, and finally to the ultimate Alps experience, Switzerland.

To create the best possible experience we chose to purchase Eurail passes, bought backpacks, and decided to hit the trains of Europe--just like a few college students on summer break. It was an excellent choice! The European train systems (and public transportation systems, in general), are incredibly organized, efficient, and right on time. We decided to rendezvous in Amsterdam, where I spent the night with Tom, my "son-of-a-cousin" (...what do you call them anyway? He calls me his "great cousin" - I like that! :o), but anyhoo, my cousin Kevin's son Tom, and his wife Anat--very cool couple, indeed. My parents had missed their connection the night before, so they came in the next morning and we toured a bit of Amsterdam before heading out to Munich, our first stop, that evening.

Our overnight train took us directly to the Bavarian region of southern Germany and Munich (touring the castles of Neuschwanstein and Hohenschwangau), and we had officially started a week of seeing extraordinary sights, eating (truly) scrumptious foods (especially breakfast--YUM), and walking/hiking between tourist attractions, hotels, and restaurants. The next 8 days took us through the Alps of Austria (Salzburg and Innsbruck), Switzerland (Zurich, Bern, Zermatt, and back to Zurich), and finally returning us to Amsterdam where we spent more time with Tom and Anat. Here are just a few of my favorite "snaps" from the trip--be sure to hit my online gallery or the blog slide show to see more!

Some of the highlights from our trip included the many train rides with a large cast of characters (Schultz, Sven, the Swiss Army, a mob of high school kids, etc); many meals of fresh breads, cheeses, and assorted meats (which I'll gladly eat again for any meal any day!); the amazing Swiss chocolate; all of the bells and glockenspiels chiming at noon in Salzburg (just for us!); views of mountains, lakes, cows, sheep, goats, rain, snow, full sun, full moon, cold weather, warm weather; the running of the Swiss Army Glacier Patrol; and (of course) many card games of 2500 - our favorite card game. There were lots of hugs (yea!) and we had a chance to laugh, cry, reminisce, and think about all of the trips we've taken together all these years. My parents have visited me every place I've lived: Finland, Hawaii, Minneapolis, and (almost) India, so Europe was close enough this time around. But you think I like to travel? My parents have been road tripping since before I was born. When me and my sister came along we just joined the ride! It's been one heck of a vacation ever since.

Thank you for such an amazing and wonderful trip, Mom & Dad. I am so grateful to have you in my life as my parents, my guides, and most importantly, my friends. I love you both so much. Needless to say it was a tearful goodbye at the airport in Amsterdam on Monday, but one filled with joy, appreciation, and deep gratitude for such a meaningful and fun time together.

I'm going to close this entry with my favorite "snap" of the trip. As we were trekking through the snowy Alpine mountains I got this quick shot below from the train. Immediately I looked at my Mom and said, "This is another book cover" (I have pictures of my family on my first three book covers... so now I just have to write this next book to go with the picture! All in due time...) So I present to you my favorite picture entitled, The Lone Tree, a work of nature that I could identify with the moment I saw it. I felt the stillness of this simple tree so high in the mountains... its solitude and its aloneness. As I sat and looked at the picture on my camera's digital display I began to feel a touch of melancholy. I showed my Dad the picture and told him how I felt like I could identify with this lone tree in many ways with being far away from my friends and family again this year. Through all of my travels and my many moves over the years I have gained great experiences, but I've always ended up alone. Sometimes I stop and think if all this exploring, climbing, reaching and discovering more of what life has to offer really worth it?

My Dad just smiled at me, looked into my eyes and said, "But few get the view from the top."

Monday, April 7, 2008

Sri Lanka Siesta

This weekend, Michael (aka "Curly"), Paul, Will, and I took a hop flight down to Sri Lanka to see the country and check out the sites. It was absolutely amazing... I tell ya, between riding elephants, strolling along the ocean, wearing boa constrictors, visiting the over 70 elephants at the elephant orphanage (and then watching them bathe in the river), touring the spice garden, jump starting the van, running through the tea fields, spending the day at the botanical gardens, eating great food, shopping in crowded markets, relaxing to an herbal massage at the health spa, watching a cultural dance show, swimming in the hotel pool, road tripping through the mountains, playing with monkeys, jumping out of the van to "get the shot", or just hanging out with J.D. and playing 20 questions, we really didn't have anything to do... and all in 56 hours. Whew! :o)

Sri Lanka is incredible. It's sort of like India, but sort of not. How to explain... well, it looks a lot like India, but it's cleaner and more orderly. For example, in the cities, such as Colombo and Kandy, the streets are clean and the traffic stays in its own lane. Imagine that! The prices are a little more expensive than India, but now that we're all seasoned hagglers, it's not a big deal. The landscape is truly breathtaking--the mountains, the ocean, the rain forests, the flowers--something to see around every corner. The animals are amazing--elephants, monkeys, lizards, snakes, bats (huge ones! see the gallery slide show), dogs everywhere (much like India), and all of the exotic birds make this another tropical paradise.

Despite the ongoing issues in Sri Lanka (another car bomb went off north of Colombo yesterday), people just keep moving. Like any other part of the world, unrest continues but life doesn't stop. Violence is present, but so is peace. In so many places in Asia, peace is present--so much so--on the faces of the people, in their smiles and laughter. Even the noisy vendors on the streets trying to make a living will laugh with you when you try to talk them down to a reasonable price.

Overall, Sri Lanka was an excellent vacation which provided a beautiful and relaxing experience for all of us--and it's only two hours away from Bangalore. The people were very kind, the hospitality excellent, and our driver, Joseph, was wonderful. All of us said we'd like to return again soon--and with the short flight and reasonable prices, its a sure win for a revisit!

Well, I'll be off for a couple weeks touring Europe with my Mom & Dad, so be ready for "snaps" from Amsterdam, Germany, Switzerland, and Austria by the end of the month!