Saturday, July 27, 2013

We're in Ann Arbor, MI

We are finally back in the US! After a quick overnight stop in NYC where we stayed with Caroline's friend in Brooklyn, we caught a flight to Detroit. Our good friend Rachel picked us up from the airport and now we are in Ann Arbor!

We had fun seeing friends last night, and we are excited to explore the city. 

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I'm the queen of Sweden!

We're in Stockholm now, and it's great! Tomorrow we fly back to the US, which is really hard to believe. But I'm the queen while we're here:

Saturday, July 20, 2013

German Beer - the refreshing choice!

OK, obviously beer is a special thing in Germany. I expected that there would be lots of tasty beers and lots of places to get them. Still, I was a little surprised to learn quite how prevalent beer is during the summer in Germany. All along the bike path, there were little towns with shops catering to passing cycle tour groups (such as ours). The offerings differed a little from one place to the other, but there were two constants: beer and ice cream, or bier and eis in German.

At first, I was a little surprised how everyone would stop mid-ride for a beer, either with their meal or just on its own. It wasn't just the more relaxed cyclists; even the hard-core cyclists in spandex were drinking beer during their ride. I was somewhat skeptical at first. Certainly I enjoy a nice beer after exercising or a good ride, but in the middle of the day?

I was convinced when I saw that Eva, one of the fastest in our group, was having a beer at each stop. She was steadily and consistently out ahead of the pack, seemingly without tiring. If she was refueling with beer, it couldn't be that bad of a decision. I decided to give it a try, and was very pleased with the result. Something about a tall glass of German beer really hits the spot. It is not as heavy or strong as Belgian beer, not as watery and flavorless as big-brewery American beer, it was just the right balance of nice flavor and cool and refreshing. See picture below : )

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Czech Republic turns out to be really great!

Quick - when you think of the Czech Republic, what comes to mind?

Before this week, I would have said it was a poor country slowly recovering from the breakup of the Soviet Union. Now I know that is partly true, but also it is a country filled with gorgeous landscapes, friendly people, cool castles and old buildings, and a very difficult-to-decipher language.

The first two days of biking were through the Czech Republic before we crossed into Germany on Day 3 (and by the way, the border crossing was a total non-event. No gate, no guards, no passport check, not even a Welcome to Germany sign). Aside from some very crummy and scary paths on Day 1, the paths were mostly pretty good, and the views were beautiful.

Here is Caroline's dad crossing a bridge with Lars, one of the Danes in our group. We have 10 people total, 5 Americans and 5 from Denmark. Lars and Marianne (both Danish) are the leaders of the trip. We are super grateful to them for organizing this whole adventure. Check out the beautiful bridge below.

We are biking alongside the river Elbe, which goes through Prague and continues into Germany (though it doesn't go all the way to Berlin, our destination). As we cross back and forth over the river we have beautiful views like the one below. The cities here are so picturesque in the summer sun. Unfortunately, the river recently flooded terribly. I think the water level was 3m above what you see in the picture below. In this particular town, it looks like they could withstand a 3m rise, but in other places we saw very wide, flat plains along the river with a lot of visible flood damage.

This was the view from our hotel room after Day 1 of biking. Just another lovely Czech village with gardens, flowers, hills and quaint buildings with sloped rooftops. Nice.

I'm including the picture below specially for Caroline's mom, who is a very faithful reader of our blog, and deserves some comic relief :)

As we biked along the Elbe River, we saw tons of views like this one. It seemed like the Czech countryside was filled with vacationers.

This is from a small town where we ate lunch one day. Nearly every town that we passed through had the same architectural style: white houses with sloping tiled roofs, a church tower in the town square, and some very elaborate homes for the one-time lords or princes of the region.

Here's our gang at the top of a hill, resting a little bit before we continue onward. Some of the days were hard work on the bike, but it helps that every day was filled with so much beautiful scenery and we had a great team of companions.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Biking 1 foot from a dropoff into the river!

Today we started our bike trip from Prague to Berlin. We have a group of 10 total people, 5 Americans and 5 Danes. We got invited on the trip through Caroline's dad, who is friends with some of the other folks in the group. 

Yesterday we walked around Prague, which, if you haven't been, is just beautiful. Everywhere you turn are elaborate buildings, stunning views and awesome castles. This morning we set out on the bike trip, after a few hours of delay fe the bike rental company to drop off the bikes. 

The day started off nice, as we followed a nice smooth path along a winding river. However, a couple hours in, the path turned to dust, then rocks, then narrowed to only a foot wide. To make matters worse, we were often riding on this narrow path right along an edge with a drop off into the river on our left side. 

Here's is a picture with Annika and Asbjørn, two Danish siblings around our age. 

And it's hard to see, but in this picture you can kind of tell how close we were to the drop off. 

This went on for 3-4 km, and any many points a lot of people in the group dismounted to walk their bikes. Fortunately, Caroline and her dad skipped this part because they were doing the very important job of driving the luggage car. I took over for them after lunch so they could have a turn on bikes, so now I am sitting at a very nice hotel with a great view of the Czech Republic. Hope the group gets here soon!

Cool sink at the hotel in Prague

Look at this sink:

The water comes out in a triangle!  Cool, huh?  Overall, this hotel really reminds me of the East Campus dorm at MIT.  Can you imagine my dad staying at EC?  I think the overlap of people who know my dad and know EC is pretty small, though, so it will be hard for people to imagine.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Winning an argument with a bus driver!

Yesterday I did a quick trip from Haifa to Jerusalem to visit my friend David who made aliyah (immigrated to Israel) a few years ago. I wanted to see him one more time before returning to the US. 

When I got on the bus in Haifa, I purchased a round trip ticket for 71.40. It is my understanding that any intercity bus ticket includes a local bus transfer on arrival, so when I got to Jerusalem I used the ticket to get on the local bus and the driver punched the ticket. This turned out to be a mistake. 

This morning, I got on the bus back to Haifa and presented my ticket, and the driver told me it was already punched. 

"but that was for a bus within Jerusalem!" I insisted. 

"there's no such thing as using this ticket within Jerusalem" he disputed

"well, that's what happened!"

We argued back and forth a bit, and I was almost about to pay another 42.00 for a new one way ticket, but then I told myself I should argue a bit more - it's the Israeli way!

"look, I'm from outside of Israel, I made one little mistake. Now I should have to pay 42.00 for that?" I tried. 

"I believe you, but I can't do anything!"

We went back and forth a bit more as others boarded the bus and paid, including the "wait, wait" hand gesture a lot. Finally some progress...

"ok," he said, "explain to me what you did"

I went through it step by step, pointing out that with yesterday's date on the ticket it was pretty unlikely that I had already used it once to return to Haifa and was now trying to reuse it twice. 

Finally he agreed that I should just pay the price of a local bus, because I had accidentally gotten that for free yesterday. That seemed fair to me, but I wanted to clarify how to use my transfer ticket back in Haifa. He started to think about it, then just said "just get on and you'll pay for your local bus in Haifa." He punched the ticket a second time in a made-up place and handed it back. 

Success! A good feeling to win a dispute with an israeli bus driver right before leaving :)

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Rosh Hanikra

We went to Rosh Hanikra a few weekends ago.  I had been wanting to go because it has some really awesome cave grottoes, and it was even more awesome than I thought it would be.  We can see the white cliffs of Rosh Hanikra from our apartment in Haifa even on less than super-clear days, and we were there on a very clear day so we could see back to Haifa, which is about 20 miles away.  The land that you can see along the horizon is Haifa in this picture:

Rosh Hanikra is the farthest north town in Israel, on the border with Lebanon.  Here is a map of the place.  That tower that you see on top of the photo might actually be in Lebanon:

We took a cable car to get down to the grottoes, which was quite fun:

The view out the front of the cable car was really nice:

So was the view out the side:

When we got out of the cable car at the bottom, we were at the entrance to the grottoes:

The whole place is extremely beautiful, right on the water:

Here is Sam entering the grotto:

A magical view:

Here we are in the grotto:

Oh, it was so gorgeous!!!  Look:

Doesn't it just make you want to go there?  It was so amazing.  Here is a hole that was made by the erosion of the water over probably millions of years.  The water flows in and out of this hole, and for some reason it reminded me of Jonah and the whale:

Another beautiful view:

Outside of the grottoes are these beautiful white rock cliffs.  Here is Sam in front of one of them:

So blue!  I love this:

On the left here you can see the entrance to the grottoes:

Around that point of land is Lebanon:

During WWI (maybe?) there were tunnels built that were intended to connect Europe and the Middle East by train.  At some point, the tunnels were bombed to disrupt the trains, but there are still some of the tunnel areas intact:

More grotto - look at the color of the water:

We also saw a Navy ship out in the distance.  This picture isn't so great because I zoomed in on my camera phone:

More of the cliffs and the water:

The cable cars were really narrow:

I liked how bright orange the motor wheel was for the cable cars:

Up at the top, we were able to peek at the border zone with Lebanon:

Pretty cool, huh?

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Where in the world are Sam and Caroline?

I can't believe it, but we are less than a week away from leaving Israel now. You might think that means we will be back in Boston pretty soon, but we actually have quite a lot left to do before we really get settled back in Boston. Since people keep asking about when we get back, I thought it would be useful to explain our itinerary for the next few weeks.

Right now we are still in Haifa. I am pretty much done with my work and Caroline is still going in for a few more days next week.

July 10: Tel Aviv to Prague. We fly to Prague and meet up with Caroline's dad and some of his European friends for a bike trip from Prague to Berlin. We have one day to see Prague before we start the trip.

July 11-19: Bike from Prague to Berlin. We'll be covering about 80 km per day, which hopefully won't be too intense. One of the European friends has organized the whole thing, so it should be pretty logistically relaxing for us. We just need to bike a lot :)

July 20: Berlin to Stockholm. We have one day to see Berlin, then we fly to Stockholm, Sweden. We will be meeting up with one of Caroline's good friends from growing up, who is currently living in Germany because her husband is stationed on a military base there. We'll see Stockholm for about 4 days, then...

July 24: Fly from Stockholm to NYC. We'll stay overnight one night with another friend of Caroline's, then...

July 25: Fly from NYC to Ann Arbor, MI. We have a wedding to go to on July 27, so we'll go see some good friends from MIT and enjoy a beautiful wedding.

July 28: Drive to Ohio. We will drive together with another of Caroline's good friends (from MIT) to visit her family in Ohio for one day. Is this plan sounding complicated enough yet?

July 30: Fly to Philadelphia. We'll go to Caroline's family's house for a very short visit and just enough time to pack all our belongings into a moving truck. Then on July 31 we hit the road in the truck...

July 31: Visit Caroline's grandparents and Aunt and Uncle in upstate NY. We'll stay overnight with her aunt and uncle.

Aug. 1: Drive to Boston!!!!! The home stretch begins. We'll drive the truck to Boston and move into our new apartment in Arlington. We'll stay in Boston for about 4 days. We have another wedding this weekend (one of my friends from my band), and so we'll get to see a lot of our friends from MIT who will be flying in for it.

Aug 4: Drive to Ocean Point, ME. The Sunday after the wedding, we'll head up to Maine for our annual vacation there. This will be our first chance to really slow down and relax. Phew!

Aug. 17: Fly to Minneapolis. We'll go to MN to visit my family for a little over a week, including the annual Camp Cousins tradition.

Aug. 25: Fly back to Boston. This is the end of our travels, finally! We arrive back to Boston on Sunday, Aug. 25 and then I start my new job the next day...and we will very suddenly be returning to normal life.

It's been an amazing year, and you can see we still have a pretty wild schedule for the next two months before it's all over.

Happy 4th of July!

We're not really doing anything special for the 4th of July, since it's not a holiday here.  But I did wear my traditional 4th of July outfit today (red skirt, blue shirt with white polka dots), so I'm bringing a bit of 4th of July spirit around with me.

It will be nice to have fireworks next year!  If you're going to some tonight, enjoy them extra for us!