Friday, April 30, 2010

Amsterdamm and Pearee

Hey friends... Long time no blog, right!? Fear not, the young Olsen couple is happy and well in CA and has had a blast here for the summer. We're going to do some catching up on the old Europe trip, which seems like a dream these days. Enjoy the updates and hopefully when we settle in back in West Lafayette for the coming school year we'll wrap up the dated posts.


After school ended in early May we packed up and hit the trains again. (And thanks to our good friend Randall who toted our overweight bag back to the US for us, so we could travel light for the remainder of our adventure.

Our first stop was the city of Amsterdam. My (Matt) father’s close friend and former other half of the Olsen & Hart duo, Dan Hart, and his partner Dirk live right in the heart of the city. Dan and Dirk used to live in NYC, but as Dirk is a native of Holland they relocated there a few years ago. And since then, they have been gracious hosts to the Olsen’s whenever traveling through Europe. My Dad on many occasions, my Mom on her circumnavigation of the globe en route to Nepal, Randi in her early adulthood adventures, and even her now husband Chris on his whirlwind tour of Europe after a school opportunity in Switzerland. So naturally, if Rachael and I were that close to Holland, there was no way we would flirt with faulting tradition. And more so, it is always wonderful to be reunited with friends. And Dan and Dirk are two of the classiest gentlemen I have ever met in my life.

Our first evening was spent having an excellent dinner with the duo that Dirk prepared. It was a treat and a surprised to find out that Dirk is not only a chef, but a published chef as well! We were spoiled every night. We later went out on the town, weaving through shortcuts and along canals to the celebration of Holland’s independence. Waving to the Queen and getting a wave back was a close second to Dirk and Rachael singing “We’ll Meet Again” along with the Orchestra, Holland’s most accomplished opera singers, and at least half of Amsterdam that packed the streets. It was a lot of fun and a great first preview of the city.

On day two we slept in, had a leisurely breakfast, then took the train out to Keukenhof to see the tulip fields. It was a cool, partly sunny, spring day. The flowers were as beautiful as expected and it was just a nice day as newlyweds, wandering the gardens. We took naps on the lawn, navigated mazes, climbed windmills, and kissed. That’s my kind of garden.

On day three we spent some time wandering the city and scoping things out. So, pretty much anything you have heard about Amsterdam is true. It’s all there, and you can find it if you want it. But it was still enjoyable for a couple of BYU grads exploring Europe. What was funny as we got off of the train on the first day was after walking down the street for a mere 30 minutes I turned to Rach and said, “I’ve smelled pot like 3 times already…” Her reply was, “I’ve counted 5.” We got a laugh out of that. Leave it to the Mormons to keep tally… Haha! Anyway, day three we went to the Anne Frank Museum, which was very very well done. It told the story, sent the message, and really captured the brilliance of that little girl. It’s a shame that she was so close to freedom when she was murdered. Fortunately she left the gift of her story. We ended the day with a stop at a really tasty Thai place that we stumbled across while we waited for the She & Him concert to start! Rachael found out they were playing while we were in town, so we made sure we got there. Zoe is just as darling as you would imagine…disgustingly so. It was a great show and the perfect end to our stay in Amsterdam.

Overall, Amsterdam was the perfect way to relax as our first stop after school. Again, a special thank you to Dan and Dirk for being the perfect hosts and always caring for the Olsen clan.


Next stop, Pear-ee!

We left Amsterdam and boarded the high-speed train direct to Paris. Those babies are sweet! The trains in Europe are a great way to travel and I’m really glad that Rachael and I learned how to really travel, early in our marriage. We both hope is serves us well, many times, as the years go on.

So, my expectations were very very low for Paris. Why? I don’t know… I’ve just never been that excited about it. I’ve always spent my time dreaming of the Alps and Paris always seemed like just a place girls fanaticized about because they were groomed to believe it was the most romantic city in the world, or whatever. We’ll I was so impressed with that little town! It is absolutely beautiful…everywhere. At least everywhere we went.

After we dropped off the bags we headed out for Notre Dame. It turns out that the scaling of the map of Paris is much different than for the other cities in Europe we had visited up to that point. Paris is huge! Things are much further away than we (mostly my fault) realized. But after that first long walk in the rain we made it a point to get the hang of the city train system. And we did a dang good job too!

Notre Dame was great. It is a beautiful sight, and the view along the Siene nearby was incredible. After a quick look around Notre Dame we made a stop at Shakespeare & Co. to walk the same steps as the many great authors who had visited over the years. It was a great shop and made me think I should get more into books. After that we wandered the streets until we made it to CafĂ© Flore for the best hot chocolate (at 6 Euro a pop!) we had ever tasted. It was like the best chocolate bar in the world being melted right into your mouth. Mind = blown! And since that wasn’t enough we chased it with a crepe and hoped the subway over to the Eiffel tower. The rain persisted, but we had fun wandering and seeing the city and it’s great sights. We didn’t go to the top of the tower since it was dark, cloudy, and we were told it was over rated. It worked for us.

The next morning we went into the heart of the city again for church. It was like a reunion! Between the two of us we knew about 5 or six people. It was so fun! They had a little mix and mingle after the meetings and it was just a blast. After church we hopped the train out to Versailles. Holy cow! Incredibly beautiful and the perfect Sunday afternoon. The palace and the gardens are amazing and it would be offensive to try and describe it any better. Mostly because I’m incapable. The highlight was Rachael and I rowing each other around the pools and just being charmed by the whole experience. Oh, and rowing is harder than I thought. I learned to focus on my hands and not the end of the oars. It helped the coordination, but I’m still weaksauce. We ended our Sunday with a walk up to Sacre Ceour. The tower was closed, but the view from the hill was great. The little neighborhood was charming as well. Well, except for the creepiest and worst mime ever.

On our last day in Paris we just hit the Champs and loved it. First stop was the Arch. This is s perfect 360 view if the city and we dug that whole area. After that we made a critical stop at McDonalds. Being tired, almost broke, and just craving some nuggets we buckled, abandoned Parisian cuisine, and loved it. I swore off McD’s years ago. But man did it hit the spot at the Berlin train station and again that day in Paris.

We then walked the length of the Champs de Elleysee to the Louvre. We felt so lame for being so exhausted by just traveling around these incredible cities in Europe. I mean, tough life, right? But is is tiring! So we only spent a couple of hours there, saw Mona and Venus, sorry David, and made our way on to the favorite falafel place of Lenny Kravitz. It was good!

We loved Paris and need to go back since we really didn’t go a do a lot of things in depth.

Early the next morning we headed out to the airport for our Honeymoon to Greece. Had it not been for a generous old man at the station and another kind younger one on the train we may not have made it. We new there was no room for error in order to catch our flight and they made sure we were on the right train, got off at the right spot, and “navigated” the ticket gate since we bought the wrong ticket. The French get a bad wrap, but it sure isn’t because of these two guys. The best line was from the younger guy… After we found out he was just back in France visiting since he lives in the US, Rachael asked why he came home. His reply? “For love!” With the tone that could only imply that there was no other reason for a man to journey so far… So, there’s your romance. Paris, you never fail us.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Germany's Capital: Berlin

This weekend we went to Berlin with some of Matt's classmates. When we arrived we took a tour right away. Berlin is Germany's biggest tourist destination but it is so massive that you hardly feel crowded at all. But since it is so massive it is hard to get your bearings on your own. The tour guide didn't tell us much more than what I had read out of our Rick Steves book but it was so helpful to have someone navigate for us for a couple hours. Our Hotel was right on Alexander Platz where there was a cool fountain and a very informational exhibit on the post-hitler alternative youth culture. We walked down the main drag, Unter Den Linden, to Brandenburg Gate. Along the way this is some of what we saw:

Martin Luther Statue with a dash of protest.

Small Cold War memorial in the middle of a park.

Here we have the Berlin Cathedral.

Humboldt University. 27 noble prize winners have taught here, including Albert Einstein.

This is the courtyard where infamous Nazi book burning took place. Among the 20,000 books banned and burned there was one with the passage, "when you start by burning books, you end with burning people." The memorial above is a glass window that shows into a room with enough empty book shelves to hold the all the books that were burned. Matt is tap dancing on the memorial.

This is the Russian embassy. I loved it because of the USSR symbols still above the window!

Does this balcony look familiar??

This is the Memorial to the Murdered Jews WWII. It was completely entrancing. We could wander and rome all through the different concrete tombstone like blocks.

Beautiful Brandenburg Gate. The statue on top was originally named Goddess of Peace. When Napoleon took over Prussia, however, he stole it and took it the Louvre in Paris. When Napoleon was overthrow they stole it back and renamed her the Goddess of Victory.

Reichstag Building: This is Germany's Parliment building. It burned down in 1933 (many believe this was Hitlers doing) and it wasn't rebuilt until 1999.

This is at the top of the Reichstag in the glass dome on the top.

After the Parliment Building we roamed around the streets South of Unter den Linden where the Nazi and Wall history is rich. But we made a happy stop first:
This is Gendarmenmarkt Square. There are twin churches on either side (one French, one German) and the Berlin Symphony's concert hall is in the middle. This was the most charming block of Berlin.

Just on the corner of Gendarmenmarkt Square is Europes biggest Chocolate shop, Fassbender & Rausch. We tried a handful of truffles and a few different levels on chocolate and it all was so delicious! All over the store they have these enormous chocolate masterpieces.

This is just the bottom of the wall to an old bank. The holes in the concrete are bullet holes from WWII. So crazy!

Right under this parking lot is Hitler's Bunker. This is where he plotted, hid, and commited suicide.

The Berlin Wall! Even though the wall is gone, they have traced the entire thing with this double cobblestone line.

Some remnants of the Berlin Wall.

This is Check Point Charlie. Many people died trying to cross the wall into Western Berlin. The big picture on the right is of a soviet soldier looking over eastern Berlin. The other side of the picture has an American Soldier looking over the West.

We followed the cobblestone trace of the Berlin Wall for 3 miles until we came to this, The East Side Gallery. This is the biggest remaining stretch of the Wall. It is about a mile long and is covered with murals by artists from around the world.

It Started raining so we booked it to the nearest train station to find dinner.

Vapianos was the coolest restaurant! The table we are sitting at had a real huge tree growing out of the middle of it. They hand made all of their pasta and made killer pizza! My pizza has 3 types of cheese including shredded parmesan and gorgonzola, procuito, and figs! it was so tasty.

And then on the way home we passed a car show room and matt couldn't help himself!

Berlin was Awesome! So much scary recent history and incredible innovation all rolled into a huge, busy, ever-changing city. We loved it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Prague, CZ

Prague. My goodness PRAGUE! I sometimes have a hard time believing our life right now. Matt works hard at school but these long weekends have been incredible! Europe is so special. It blows my mind that every weekend we can end up in a new country with its own unique history. Prague's history and cultural landscape have been the most interesting by far. I learned so much!
This is what we saw every morning walking from our hotel to Charles Bridge.

Charles Bridge is so charming. There is a statue every 100m on either side of you and even closer together than that are people selling hand made jewelry and paintings. In medieval times there were no statues but I learned that the first statue ever put on the bride was a cross- paid for by a fine a Jewish man had to pay. This Statue below is of a Czech Saint named John of Nepomuk. Apparently Catholics come from all over the world to See him. If you touch his statue then you will have one wish granted.
Here is Matt making his wish on the John of Nepmuk statue

We visited The Castle Quarters...
Over the entrance arch are two pairs of wrestling giants.

St Vitus Cathedral

The palace has the most amazing view of Prague!

This was outside of the tourture chambers and prisons.
Pragues rooftops

the building on the right is St. Nicholas cathedral

Matt saw this wall from the top of the palace and we spent an hour roaming around looking for it!

We also roamed around Little Quarter...
John Lenon Wall that I made us search for

Around the corner we ran into this gate with "love locks" all over it. The idea is to write the names of the love birds on a lock and then attach it to this gate to represent your love. I tried to convince matt that if one of us had the other in a head lock by the gate then our love would be represented well- but he just wanted to hug.

This is a monument to the Victims of Communism Who Survived. As the figures get further away, chunks of the statue are taken out. It depicts communism perfectly.

Prague's New Town:
It is the coolest feeling to learn about a Country's past while you are standing where it all happened.

On our way to the mall (guess who makes us go to a mall in every country... the one on the left, thats who) we saw this awesome piece of art! It says "Revolution" and it is made entirely out of wire and old keys. Every where you look there is either remnants of a dictator or remnants of a revolution. The spirit that the Czech's have is unbelievable.

Our Frank Ghery Building! This one is nick named "Fred and Ginger" since it looks like the buildings are dancing. The real name of the building is the Dancing House.

We saw Les Sylphide (a great little ballet) inside the most gorgeous theatre I have ever been in. The National Theatre is nicknamed the "Cradle of Czech Culture." More money is poured into this theatre every year than all Czech film production.

After the ballet we got dinner at Cafe Louvre. It's been in business since 1902 but still draws a young energetic crowd. Albert Einstein ate here :) The idea of this Cafe is to feed thinkers. They keep pads of paper for notes on the table and sell their art off the walls. It had a good feel with some real good food! The top dish is traditional Czech food, and the bottom plate is a sundried tomato and ham stuffed chicken. So delicious.

Prague's Old Town:
Olds Town center square. The statue is of Jan Hus-the founder of the Hussite religion. My favorite thing about this square is how almost every big building looks like it is from a different era. Every couple meters tells a new chapter in history.

Astronomical Clock.

Jewish Quarter: During the Nazi era this was a small area were jews were allowed to collect and archive their treasures.
This is the Old Jewish Cemetery. This was the only place that the czech jews were allowed to bury their dead for a couple hundred years. Since jews believe that once a body has been buried it cannot ever be moved it got pretty packed...

While we walked through, all of the men were asked to wear these.

Our final view on the way home. You can see the Castle Quarters up on the hill. So pretty!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

One Month Anniversary

Well friends and family, can you believe we have already been married a MONTH? All we can say is, "What a rad month!" In honor of our first 30 days of eternity with each other we made some chocolate covered strawberries. Although Matt said I was the Chinese ship to his Great Barrier Reef* when I kept messing up his perfect dipping, they still turned out so good!

Happy 1st Month! May we live, laugh and learn to incorporate chocolate into every annual tradition.

*BBC World News is the only TV station we have in english and we have it on all the time so our jokes and references are starting to revolve only around world events...