Sunday, August 30, 2009

Sole Low

As many of you know, though I still feel like a kid at heart, I am an old lady in body. Surgeries on both feet by the age of 30, and a thriving collection of Dansko clogs under my belt, I've effectively given up on the idea of wearing heels, or for that matter, cute shoes in general, ever again. (Though the good-for-you shoe companies are coming around with more attractive styles all the time.)

Much to Jer's chagrin, the hunt for comfortable and functional shoes on this trip has been as bad if not worse than at home. All pairs I started with have long since been replaced, and many of those recycled now too. Until, WAALAAAA, the clouds parted and the heavens shown down on the size 8W men's Chaco sandals in an outdoor store in Brisbane, Australia. Jer had been wearing his Chaco's since the summer before we left, but when I tried them they were unbearably uncomfortable. For some reason this pair was different, maybe because they were men's? Not sure, but I slipped into those babies and pretty much never took them off. No need for my old lady arch supports, good for walking, hiking, biking, whatever. These were the shoes to change my world.

UNTIL, some j-hole on a bus from Hue to Hanoi in Vietnam decided these shoes would change his world instead. So the search began again, first with a pair of Fauko's (what we called the fake Chaco's sold everywhere in Hanoi) that were not the same and crapped out very quickly. Then we hit up the Nike store in Guangzhou, China and I settled on a pair of running shoes. My podiatrist discourages my wearing of Nike's but says she understands since we get the 50% family discount (thanks Lis!). She warned me that they'll only last for 2 to 3 months at the most with regular wear, which is true at home. I can feel when a pair of shoes is going out and once they die, boy are they dead. (Also to Jer's chagrin, and now I have back-up from the doctor that I need to keep shoe shopping!)

So with the amount of walking we do these days, my new Nikes lasted me a solid 3 weeks. 3 weeks! The dreaded search was on AGAIN and shoe shopping had officially lost its appeal. I just wanted to find a comfortable, functional, and cute (if possible, but unlikely) pair to last me for a tad longer than 3 weeks! The search finally culminated CULMINATED in Amsterdam, after 8 or 9 other stops, at the Skecher's store, of all places. But if I remember back, after my entire backpack was stolen during my first European trip with Bolton, I replaced the lost shoes with an ugly, clunky, but very comfortable pair of Skecher's too....and they lasted quite well....hmmm. Anyway, I zoned in on the UGLIEST, DORKIEST, most horrific pair of shoes I think I've ever seen in my life. A “new technology” shoe they have coined Shape-Ups. It looks rather like a normal tennis shoe but with an inch of extra squishy foam under the sole. The technology is supposed to mimic walking barefoot and the natural roll of taking a step without shoes on at all. At the same time, it promises to tone your legs and butt, relieve back, knee, and joint pain (which had returned in full force to this old lady, hence the desperate search), and improve your posture. They did it! Invented a miracle shoe! Maybe my search was over for good. I could be the new Shape-Ups spokesmodel and own a dorky pair in every possible color!

But could I do it? I do have some fashion scruples left, and these things were just a completely embarrassing 6 inch tall eyesore. And I'd be wearing TWO of them. I hemmed and hawed, and we continued the search to see if a slightly more attractive pair of workable shoes existed anywhere. In the end I sucked it up and bought my new Rollers (as Jer calls them). It was immediate relief physically, but mentally it took a whole new gearing up. Everywhere we walked, I could feel people staring at my hilarious new shoes....and I'm not making that up. It wasn't just paranoia, they are head-turners! See for yourself.

I'm over the embarrassment for the most part now and wear them with what little pride I have left. I can't say my buns are now perfectly sculpted and rock hard, but they really do give you a bit of a workout when you walk. Because of the squishy sole, you're constantly trying to stabilize yourself, which engages muscles that you end up feeling a bit at the end of the day. And let me say that squatting over a nasty toilet you don't dare sit on is no small feat in these things either.....trying to squat and stabilize, while rockin' and rollin' back and forth, aiming correctly at the same takes skill and practice! They have definitely taken some getting used to though....staircases especially presented a daunting challenge for this clutso at first; either direction I had to hold onto Jer for support. Even now that I'm used to them I still often “peel out” with a nice loud tire screech sound, and usually always just walking along even ground. Just one more way these babies turn heads.

Go out and get yourself a pair – all the cool kids are wearing them!

Friday, August 28, 2009

You're Going to Sleep Where?!?!

Actually, sleeping in the van has so far been really good. I can't say that the dining area that folds down to a bed with too thin of cushions is on par with the dreamy queen size Sealy Posturpedic at home, but it works. Usually a bit better for Jer than Courtney. She woke up this morning claiming that she had just slept on rocks. So ya, it's a little hard sometimes.

But as far as where we've stayed, it's all over the board. I guess part of the brilliance of the van is that we can pull over pretty much wherever we want and have a meal or a snooze. We've utilized the fully outfitted rest areas many times - no power, but we have the gas and 12 volt to cook and see by. Sometimes it's the oversized vehicle parking lot in whatever town we're in.

We've also had some wonderful free-camps along the side of random roads. Sometimes it takes a while of driving through the neighborhoods to find an acceptable spot to pull over, but sometimes it's very rewarding too. This spot was up in the very north of Holland in a town called Harlingen. We were able to park for free right alongside one of the canals, and since it was a place where boats often moor up there was power for us too. Brilliant!

The campsites we've become accustomed to are a far cry from where we go for camping at home. Usually when we head out into the Pacific Northwest we're taking to the deepest, unmarked forest roads to find the off-the-beaten-track plot of cleared land to drop the tent and get away from anyone and anything. Over here we're looking for something that's a bit more akin to a KOA at home. (Damn you KOA...) With being on the road the actual way of life, we like the amenities. Showers – good. Showers with hot water – good. Free showers with hot water – GOOD! Wi-fi – hit and miss whether we get it or not, but good. Toilet paper in the stalls and soap by the sinks – good. Toilet dump stations, recycling stations, water fill up stations and all of those other facilities to take care of your caravaning needs – good. A big enough plot that gets you far enough away from the neighbor kids so that their screaming doesn't bother you as you try and sleep in – priceless. Even more priceless if the people next to you don't chain smoke and stankify the entire area.

Most of the campsites are pretty clean and give you a sectioned off plot that will be yours for the next 12-72 hours. These are usually pretty standard, but some sites that we've come upon have been downright beautiful. This one, in particular, was in Llanes, Spain along the norther coast. It was a beautifully terraced hillside right on the water and our spot looked over pretty much all of it, with the crashing waves of the Atlantic right out our back bedroom/dining room window. Loved it.

I gotta say, once we get home I won't be sorry to get back to camping in the middle of nowhere, in the woods, in a tent, un-showered, with a cooler of beer, hot dogs and s'mores. Mmmmm... s'mores... But I can say with a good deal of confidence, when we get to that RV'ing age in our later years, a trip down the I-5 to the Marathon factory and showroom will definitely be on the books.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

F'n Ducks!!!

They're everywhere! Next thing you know there's going to be another Joey Heisman banner hanging off of Big Ben.

In Brugge. It's kind of oddly cool that it looks like the Oregon O. Well not cool, shitty, but you know what I mean.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Another great conversation

So over the past few months we've had several conversations about how we think we're kind of getting dumber. Ya know, we're really not using the hard working, thinking parts of our brain all that much these days. But topics come up in conversations that seem like things that should be no-brainers. When exactly is Thanksgiving? What's a galaxy? What's the time difference to Portland again? (This happens very often.) Here's another prime example. I love this one...

Scene: Walking the streets of Damme, Belgium, a small town north of Brugge.

Courtney: I know people from France are French and people from Holland are Dutch, but what are people from Belgium called? Belgish? Belch?

Jeremy: (wearing a solid WTF look) Ummm... Belgian, maybe?

Laughter ensues. Twice now this has happened. I was wildly entertained the first time, so you can imagine my delight when it came up again.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

China to Relax, HK in a Flash, Bangers & Mash

Translation - photos from Hong Kong, China and the UK. All of which had much more to offer than the title may portray.

Uploaded, released and ready to view.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Courtney's Back - Part 1

When in response to my mom's comment that she often can't tell which one of us is writing a certain blog, Jeremy said “I'll let you in on a little secret. It's always me.” And since it literally has been months since I've put my thoughts to paper/screen, I figure it's time to stop writing blogs in my head and actually write blogs on the blog.

(It turns out that a 5 month silence makes me a tad long-winded. Since Blogger will only allow 4 pictures to be posted on a blog, I broke this post up into several parts so I can include more pics. So....keep reading.)

So we hit a wall in Vietnam. Loved it loved it but then one day we woke up on a bus, covered in bedbugs, and someone had stolen our shoes. It felt like the downnsides of the place had gradually and unknowingly caught up with us all at once and we were over it. So we decided a change of scenery was in order, and after visiting Murphy in China, we forwent (is that a word?) (forgoed?) the original plan of Thailand and Laos and headed straight for Europe. The time with Murph was fantastically just what we needed to refuel....her apartment was very cute and cozy, she had a million pirated movies, really cool friends, and I was able to do some cooking and baking which was awesome. Best of all, we had some serious QT with one of our dearest friends, one who could also relate to the woes of traveling. From there we spent a quick 2 days in Hong Kong, which was a cool city. Kept reminding me of San Fran, of all places. But we were so excited to get the F outta Asia and land in chilly London. Wow, I had a whole new love for that city! We covered every square inch of the place and ate amazing food....I think I could totally live there. I don't remember being dazzled quite that much the first time around.

After that we headed to Holland, to a little town called Utrecht. We totally fell in love with the place. It's a small university town with a hoppin' restaurant and bar scene, and full of cute canals. The cobbled streets were great to stroll around and people watch.

We also found the most amazing doner kebap place that we went back to at least 5 times. Back when I travelled through Europe with Bolton, kebap stands were everywhere, crazy cheap, and insanely tasty. There were days that we literally ate them for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Well they're no longer found at little street carts, but in actual shops now. But every town is still chock full of them and they're still awesome!

Utrecht is where we bought Floyd, an old 1987 mustard yellow VW campervan, our home for the remainder of the trip (more to come on him later). We spent about a month touring around Holland and we absolutely loved every inch of the place. We started with a quick trip to Den Haag. While in Utrecht, we made friends with Jesse and Kristine, some locals (he is originally from CA and married a Dutch woman 20 yrs his senior). They were a lot of fun. She plays in a salsa Holland, hilarious! We went to a concert of hers – the reason for the trip to Den Haag -- and it was great music and totally fun. I got coerced to the dance floor by this old Argentinian dude named Carlos who was hilarious. I totally hammed it up and he was in love! He told us later that we need to look into going to some nudist camps (when the weather warms up, of course!). He said he'd just gotten back from one 3 days ago and that was why he was “so enthusiastic!!” He was a freakin riot. But we're actually intrigued by the idea and are totally going to look into it!! Ha ha. We like being naked, so why not! Though he said it's mostly old people so the scenery may be a little wrinkly for our taste. I'll definitely report back after that one.

Courtney's Back - Part 2

Our next stop was Delft, a small town endlessly full of charm. Camping Ulyenburg was our first experience of life in a van (yes, we literally were right down on the river) and it was a delightful place. With the river on one side and our friendly farm neighbors (goats, horses, ducks, and the like) on the others, we settled in quite nicely. We soon found our favorite coffee and bagel shop (bagels – a long forgotten carb option - yum) where we would hunker down for an hour or two each morning before hitting the town. In the evenings we'd take a leisurely bikeride around the neighborhoods and backwoods areas, where we made friends with (and then subsequently had to go back to revisit) more farm friends....a handsome white horse and black goat combo, who were shy at first but thrilled to see us back again, several cats, dogs, and what could only be described as cowsheep, a brown spotted baby goat who loved to have his chin scratched, and even a kangaroo! I nearly cried on our last visit when it was time to say goodbye for good. Clearly I was in serious need of an animal fix!

We thought it'd be cool to hook up with some Dutch friends from our scuba class (back in Australia), Erik and Anouk. I started emailing with Erik over Facebook and he wanted us to come out that first weekend in Utrecht, but we were going to a concert. We'd chatted with a guy in the band and it sounded cool (check out Sleepy Sun – they were SO good. Totally awesome in concert but their CD is cool too. They're from SF) So then some time goes by and we end up getting in touch again from Delft and this time I'm messaging back and forth with both Erik and Anouk. We made plans to come by on Saturday afternoon (this was Friday) and Anouk made some comment about how Erik wouldn't be home til 8 or 9pm but we could have dinner with her. I responded that it was funny that Erik said to come around 4pm but he wasn't actually going to be there? So she writes back and asks if maybe I have made an “appointment” with a different Erik because her Erik has never had any email contact with us. Oh SHIT!! How freaking embarrassing.....turns out the Erik I was chatting with was ANOTHER young blonde Dutch guy named Erik, that we'd met in a campground in NZ at the very beginning of the trip! We couldn't even remember what his girlfriend looked like, and I can't imagine how we would've played it off if we showed up and she was not Anouk! Erik #2's FB pic looked exactly like Erik #1 with sunglasses on and a goofy grin.....sooo embarrassing. So we kept our “appt” with Erik and Monique (who we recognized at once) and had a blast hanging out, christening their new mini-kegerator, and talking about our trips at their new place in Waarbrugge that they'd moved into THAT day. We instantly remembered how much fun we'd had with them way back in Waitangi.

Then the next day we bombed to Breda, another cute university town, and went to a huge outdoor concert with Erik and Anouk and had an awesome time with them as well. We never told E&M about the mix-up so they wouldn't know we originally didn't have intentions of calling them up to hang out! Thankfully Dutch people are all so nice and hospitable. We did have a constant sense of deja vu that weekend, not being sure which Erik couple we'd had which conversations with. Their lives were eerily similar!...both just got back from touring NZ and OZ in a campervan, both just moved in together for the first time (besides the van), both just graduated and started their first job, yada yada. I think the mix-up doesn't make me a TOTAL crack smoker! Though Jeremy has offered to take on the social planning role from now on...

Courtney's Back - Part 3

After that we found out Tanan and Michael were going to be in Paris within a week or two. Tanan and I became friends through work and her and Michael are Sasha's newly adopted and probably much more loved parents. They spoil her effing ROTTEN so we're going to have a monster on our hands when we get her back! I'm not kidding here....she has since upgraded from her cat bed on the armchair beside our bed, where we thought she was quite happy, to sleeping IN their bed, BETWEEN them, UNDER the covers, with her head on the PILLOW!! Needless to say, she gets away with everything she didn't with us. It's like a year straight at Grandma's house. Boy, she's gonna be a treat once she comes home to what will seem like prison. Thanks guys!! :) Anyway, I digress. They had missed their flight for their originally planned trip to Paris by writing the wrong day on their calendar! How devastating. Anyway, Tanan's birthday wish was to go to Disneyland Paris so we bombed to France and met them was pretty funny. We crashed in the bunk beds in their room at the Hotel Cheyenne.....this place was hilarious!! Every bit of it was themed out to the max: bandanna print curtains, cowboy boot beside lamps, the mirror was framed like a huge rope and lasso, etc etc. It was hilarious but very comfortable with an awesome breakfast buffet. Disney Paris was pretty much the same as LA Disney but smaller scale. The highlight was being dared to eat the entire tub of cotton candy in one chubby bunny stuffing while laughing my ass off (I almost choked because I couldn't produce any saliva to get the crap to melt and dissipate in my mouth), then Tanan and I assing out and taking pictures with every Disney character we could find. We were practically shoving kids out of the way, jumping in pictures, getting reprimanded for hopping the was hilarious. I blamed the behavior on an insane sugar rush, but Tanan is just Disney crazy!

So we spent 5 days with them, crashing at their friends Frenchy and Maria's tiny apt in Paris, and then hit the road to make our way back to Holland. We drove through Roune, a cute little town in Normandy, and then through Brugge. Brugge was one of my ultimate favorite spots on my first European tour. It was a little medieval-feeling cobbled town full of charm at every turn. Canals, foot bridges, beautiful stone buildings with funny chocolate shops, (the chocolate boobs are pretty funny, come on!) and great plazas for stopping to have a drink and watch it all. It was relatively unheard of, aka “new on the scene” at that time (which was 8 years ago now). I couldn't wait to go back there and Jer was really stoked to see it too. Well, apparently the secret is out. This was the first time that my memory of a place was in juxtaposition with the 'new' reality of it. What a huge bummer! Brugge was still that charming city I described, but now overrun with tourists, absolutely crawling with people from charming stone wall to charming stone wall. We discovered near the very beginning of the trip that we don't enjoy the big cities near as much as the quieter, slower paced towns and I think the main reason is that there are so many less people, it's easier to actually see and enjoy the place.

We were thrilled to get back to Holland. Man, we really love that country. Is it a coincidence that our absolute favorite places look an awful lot like home in the good old Pacific Northwest? New Zealand and Holland are both verdant places, full of trees and farmland, hiking and biking trails, with a nice balance of sun and rain. Living everyday life makes you feel like you're still a close neighbor to nature. Qualities I look for in an ideal destination, I've discovered.

Our plan was to head to a weird theater festival in the very north on a tiny island called Terschelling. Apparently it started because people would just go out on the street corners and dress up in costumes, or put on impromptu skits or weird performances and stuff, so they created an entire festival around it. We met another guy in a different band (but also loved his music) who was playing several gigs there so that was a bonus as well. I was expecting this thing to be a total trip and was reaaaally looking forward to it, but in the end it didn't happen. The main issue is getting a spot on a ferry and we tried so many times but couldn't get the ferry website to work. Calling and emailing only got us automated responses in Dutch. Since the website listed several open timeslots, we decided to bomb up there anyway and take our chances. Turns out we could get TO the island, but every timeslot coming back was booked for weeks out. We had to be in Paris by June 23rd to meet my family, so it was a no go. I hope we can make it there someday in the future. The plus side was that we happened upon darling Harlingen (the town where you catch the ferry) and ended up scoring an amazing canal-side spot to crash. It was just one more delightful Dutch town.

Courtney's Back - Part 4

So instead we celebrated my birthday In Amsterdam.....not a bad place to ring in another year! I don't quite understand how a big city like Amsterdam manages to retain it's endless charm but a small place like Brugge doesn't. Amsterdam is quite easy to navigate once you've figured out how the main canals are laid out, and there are so many different sections of the city worth exploring. We hit museums, parks, movies, paddle boats around the canals, pancake houses, coffeeshops, and of course got a few good laughs and gasps in the red light district. We found some secondhand bikes and each day would bike in from our site at Camping Zeeburg and traipse all around the city. We also discovered Maoz, the best falaffel place ever! It's cheap and includes infinite trips back to the “salad bar” to reload your pita with any topping or sauce you could imagine. I'd also venture to say I had the best ice cream cone of the whole trip at a little cafe in Amsterdam (the cone was cinnamon-y and no cone has compared since), but I'll have to wait until we gelati-fy our way through Italy before settling on any conclusions.

Courtney's Back - Part 5

We rolled through yet another darling town called Amersfoort, and chose for our last stop an area just outside of Arnhem in the Hogue Veluwe National Park. This place was the perfect icing on the cake to wrap up our Dutch tour. Our campsite was set on the edge of the forest, with hiking and biking trails leading out just behind the van. A creek ran through it and the trees were constantly humming with birds chattering away. It seemed everyone had dogs so I was in heaven making furry friends; two of which were Bernese mountain dogs. I came away from my 'visit' (aka roll in the mud with them) covered in dog hair and caked with mud, but I felt like I'd gotten a dose of my girl Sanka! We did an amazing bike ride through the park, about 45km in total, which rode us through constantly changing landscapes. One minute we were ducking through the shade of the trees, and the next the forest would open up to a wind swept prairie with grasses as tall as either of us. Then we'd cycle over some rolling hills surrounded by sand dunes past a range of wild elk grazing on their dinner, only to arrive at the former summer house (more like a castle with pristine gardens and lake) of the wealthy couple who used to own the land before donating it to be used as the national park. My ass was sore for a day or two after that ride but it made for quite a memory!

The next installment was the familiar trip back to Paris, round 2, where we met my mom, dad, and brother to travel through France for almost three weeks. Team Buddbergen unite!