Rivendell is Real – Adventures with McBryde Part 2

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McBryde had been here two weeks, and Tony (a friend of McBryde and Aaron from school) had just arrived, when we set off for a weekend in the most beautiful place I’ve ever visited.

Believe it or not, we went to Rivendell.

Ok, so it was actually the place that inspired Rivendell, but that counts, right? After we had booked the trip, Aaron was doing some research when he found out that the valley in which we’d be staying was visited by Tolkien in 1911, and was an inspiration for the beautiful valley of the Elves that he created first in his book “The Hobbit.”

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So all that to say, I was pretty excited to see this place.

We left as soon as Aaron got off work, and started the long drive down to Switzerland. We stopped half-way for a nice pizza at a gas-station restaurant (lots of those here in Germany!) and then continued our journey, not arriving until about 1am.

It was somewhat frustrating to be driving through the alpine valleys in the middle of the night, knowing that the landscape was beautiful, but invisible to us in the dark.

However, when we got out of our car at the hostel, I looked up at the sky and was awestruck by the clarity of the stars. Never before had I seen such a night sky! Miles away from any large cities, and high in the clear mountain air, I could see more stars than I had ever seen before. The sound of invisible waterfalls echoed all around us, and we left the windows open as we fell asleep, lulled by the sound of the thundering water.

The view that opened out before us when we awoke was breathtaking. Miles of valleys surrounded by huge, snow-capped mountains, and dotted with Swiss chalets, cows wearing bells, and wildflowers of every color. Dozens of waterfalls sparkled in the sun. It was paradise.

We spent our days walking around the quaint little towns, hiking the high mountain trails, and joining our friends from our Bible Study group for dinner and games after the sun set.

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On our second day, we set off in search of the famous Reichenbach falls – the very same where Sherlock Holmes and Professor Moriarty had their epic show-down. Besides being of literary interest, the falls themselves, and the walk up to them, were breathtaking.

We had explored all around the falls and river and were heading back, when Aaron spotted a crevice in the rock and some loose stones.

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Reichenbach Overlook, and the town of Meiringen

We had explored all around the falls and river and were heading back, when Aaron spotted a crevice in the rock and some loose stones. Moving these aside, he found a small tin box with a note inside. Apparently the note was left by a band named Moriarty with instructions on how to access a limited-edition song: only one of thirteen caches in the world that would give you access to it! Another group of adventurers had found the cache, and left a note and an old postcard inside. We added a Swiss patch, and left our names and the date, and carefully returned the cache to the crevice. Maybe some other folks will come after us and add to it! IMG_5507

Another day we rode the funiculars up the Schilthorn mountain, and hiked all the way back down. We passed through a village just when we were getting hungry for lunch, and found a large tent where the village was holding a festival! We ate brotchen and bratwurst under the large tent, resting our legs and listening to a band of yodelers… yodel!

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Swiss Chalet and foxgloves
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Swiss wildflowers

We hiked down the mountain – quite a long and difficult hike, and arrived in the valley just as the sun set. I gasped – the view spreading out in front of us was the very one that Tolkien immortalized in his drawings of Rivendell.

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Interlaken

It was with great regret that I left this beautiful valley. We drove to a point on the beautiful lake – its clear waters reminded me of the Mediterranean – and had our last picnic on the sandy shores.

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It was a wonderful weekend, spent with friends and family in one of the most stunning places on earth. As such, it will always remain in my memory as just a little slice of paradise… or Rivendell.

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//Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.//

Someone Blonder in the House – Adventures with McBryde Part 1

The week after I returned from Barcelona was spent with preparation for our first guest to arrive! Sheets were washed, tables painted, shelves dusted, food stocked, and itineraries planned. My brother McBryde was coming from a fashion show in Florence and staying with us for a few weeks before a conference in Oxford took him to England, so I was a little intimidated about entertaining him in the quiet German countryside.

As it turned out, Germany was just what the doctor ordered. The few weeks of comparative quiet he spent at our house allowed him to rest before he continued with his European Grand Tour.

After picking him up from the airport, Aaron and I drove him home along the beautiful Moselle river, passing vineyards and ruins, and stopping for dinner in a Biergarten in a village that was holding a wine fest. Sitting at the table eating fresh spargel and schnitzel, chatting face-to-face for the first time in four months, and watching the rain drip slowly down on young grapevines surrounding the restaurant was a truly heavenly experience.

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Adjusting to German time

That weekend we took a train trip to Cologne, and in the days following explored the Cochem castle (at sunset, and early in the morning to catch the early sunrise glinting off the rising mist on the river), the little picturesque village of Monreal (tucked deep in a valley and overlooked by two ruinous castles), and even one (very exciting) trip to the German grocery store, Rewe.

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Overlooking the Moselle

 

Even more than the day trips, I enjoyed the quiet evenings, watching the mist rise in the valley from our perch on the back porch, and talking about home, adventures abroad, and memories shared. One adventurous evening we ran through the village (McBryde still holding his wine glass, and Aaron carrying along a walking stick, and me without shoes) to try and catch the sunset from the top of the hill. There may have been some random Bill Murray impressions for no discernible reason, and I sincerely hope our neighbors didn’t see us.

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After our evening scramble up the hill, we were rewarded by a glorious sunset.

Half-way through McBryde’s time with us, a mutual friend who happened to be studying in England came out to spend a weekend with us. After a very adventurous trip (which included a missed flight and an exorbitant taxi fare) Wil arrived in time for a big dinner and a board game, mixed in with a healthy dose of political philosophy along with the dessert. Brexit (Britain’s vote to leave the EU) had just happened, and our thoughts were all focused on the stormy island and its future.

The next day we took Wil and McBryde to Burg Eltz – Germany’s second most famous castle, and the home to a family that had been living there for 33 generations.

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Burg Eltz, inner courtyard

Wil left after the weekend, and I geared up (and packed up) for our upcoming trip to Switzerland for the 4th of July. However, that’s a story in itself, so I’ll save it for next time.

’till then, suffice it to say that missing family has been the hardest part of living abroad, but having McBryde here brought home so much closer.

 

If you want to check out McBryde’s pictures of his time in Europe, go to https://www.instagram.com/charlesmcbryde/?hl=en

“Well, I’m Back.”

…actually I never left, but from the inactivity on this blog over the last three months, you might think I’d disappeared from the earth!

Between day trips, weekend travels, and house guests, June and July have sped by. Tomorrow it will be a half-year since we landed in Europe. Only a two and a half years are left: 1/6 of our time here has slipped by!

The sun that was so elusive from February to May came out at last mid-June, and has been (more or less) smiling on us for the past three months. I got my first taste of fine summer weather in Barcelona, where I met up with two college friends for a week of adventure.

We had all recently crossed the threshold of post-college adult life, and were each in our own way struggling with the changes involved in that transition. The vacation came at a good time for us, and we enjoyed reconnecting, catching up on a year of life beneath the clear blue Spanish skies. Accidentally, our first meal together was in one of Gaudí’s modernisma houses (now a restaurant).

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We stayed in a hostel – my first time doing so – and it was quite an adventure. Sleeping six to a room turned out to be not such a good idea for a light sleeper like myself, but getting to talk in Spanish to Ana, our roommate from Argentina, made it worth the interrupted sleep. At the end of the second day, Ana brought back a bag of tourist goodies she had collected in las Ramblas  – the famous street market in Barcelona. She was endlessly amused by a small paper and string minion that you could attach to your car speakers, and let the bass note vibration dance the string legs. “El Minion baila cuando la música de su coche es fuerte y hace vibraciones …el baila con la música!”

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The first two days we spent wandering the ancient streets of Barcelona. We toured the beautiful Sagrada Familia cathedral – the last cathedral  currently under construction. The play of light underneath the organic white columns was simultaneously surrealistically heavenly and wholly rich and earthly. As my friend Angel reminded me, Gaudí intended the cathedral to signify both God’s general revelation (creation) and his specific revelation (His word). Gaudí’s desire to glorify God was evident in every curve of column and pane of glass. When asked if he was concerned about how long it was going to take to build the basilica de la Sagrada Familia, he replied: “My client is not in a hurry.”

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We took day trips out into the surrounding countryside, and these were really incredible experiences. Our first trip was to the famed mystic monastery built high on the hill of Montserrat. The mountain (literally meaning “serrated mountain”) is a mineral deposit worn away into fantastic fluted spires that soar into the sky like a thousand pillars, some with odd-looking dents in them that look like faces. Standing in the middle of a plain and surrounded by mountains of a different nature, Montserrat certainly looks like the mystic and holy place it has been considered for centuries.

The monastery there is home to the famed Black Madonna of Montserrat. Believed originally to have been carved by St. Luke and found in a cave by shepherd boys, it was probably left there by Portuguese refugees fleeing the Muslim hordes. The monastery was peaceful and beautiful in its solitude among the inhospitable hills. I climbed up to the overlook of St. Phillip’s cross and got a breathtaking view of the surrounding landscape. I also journeyed down to where a chapel had been built in front of the cave where the Black Madonna had been found. Inside the chapel all was quiet except for the low sputtering of dozens of candles set out in front of the crucifix, and the scratching sound of a woman journaling with bowed head in front of the altar. It was a holy place, whatever you believe of the story of the Black Madonna, and I stood for a moment of awe inside the dark chapel before re-entering the bright sunshine of the Catalan hills.

We ended that day with a tour of a modernisma-style cava vineyard and winery, where a delightful older gentleman toured us around the myriads of tunnels deep under the scorched earth in a small, black train. We ended up befriending a teacher from Canada who was a year or two older than us, and on vacation during her break (she worked in England). The four of us had delicious tapas together in one of the many wonderful restaurants in the bustling downtown.

The next day we took a bus up into the Pyrenees, and had coffee in Spain, lunch in France, and dinner in the tiny country of Andorra. The ride itself was breathtaking – mostly through the twisting roads and winding valleys of the Pyrenees.

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As I flew back to Germany, nearly a week after leaving it, I was looking forward to the order and cleanliness so natural to German life. Even so, I was sad to leave behind the beautiful seaside city, the sunshine, and my friends. It was a week of reconnecting, sharing old memories, and making new ones… a week I will always remember!