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."


wayne said...

When you told me your parents were meeting you for a vacation in Switzerland, I couldn't wait to see the pictures. Gorgeous! That shot of the single tree, amazing.
thanks for sharing

Joanie Van Slounie said...

I don't think I have the right adjective to describe how beautiful your photos are; INCREDABLE is all I can say. The comment your dad made about that tree gave me chills. Thanks for another wonder journey with you.

Natalie said...

Uncle Mike i LOVE your photos! They are really pretty. It looks like you,grandma, and grandpa are having a real good time. :)
We are all hoping there might be swiss chocolate in our future.( Hint hint) Well i just wanted to say "Hello". Well i hope to talk to you soon. I hope you had a great time. :)
Love you lots!
love natalie

Kathleen Blanc said...

My dear Michael ~
Many of your pictures fill me with inspiration, recognition, and appreciation. The lone tree is radiant and was immediately a favorite. It obviously holds space for miles and miles around it. I love seeing and experiencing that all over this planet. I always imagine how grateful they are when we "see" them and acknowledge their role. This one that spoke so strongly to you, of course had a messege of recognition for YOU. Truly, Michael, you are taking us all with you to experience through your eyes. Thank you so much.