23 September, 2009


A quick stop in Uberlingen between Denmark and Italy.
My roommate was inspired by my chaotic repacking tactics and decided to take a picture.

With such a crazy travel itinerary its no wonder that I have found myself positively exhausted mentally and emotionally this week and down with the flu.

I called my Dr. Mom and she looked at my pixilated flushed cheeks and said my fever was about 101 and that the swine flu is only supposed to last for 3 days. She had it last spring the first time it went around so of course she should know. That's my mom for you, getting the flu before the rest of us just so she can tell us that every thing really will be alright when we get it. Mom also lost her button. Just some of life's moments which skype allows you to share.

I don't know if swines get this emotional when they are sick, but I've been a bit nutty the last few days. I know it has a lot to do with knowing that I have 5 weeks left of work, then 3 weeks traveling with Mom and Dad, and then 2 weeks to tie up loose ends, drink some gluwine and hop a plane home to the states. I am sure there is a partridge in a pear tree in there somewhere too.

I am not a very patient person as it turns out. In order to wait for something I want I start to tell myself that I don't want it at all. Apparently I prefer the disappointment over the anticipation. In high school I spent an entire week of volleyball tryouts praying they wouldn't pick me only to leave the gym on the last day higher then a kite with the delight of realizing I had made the team. And I've employed this many times since, sometimes there are just too many feelings to feel them all at once.

Right now I feel torn between loving my experience here and being really tired of dealing with the thousands of little things that come with daily life in a foreign country.

Traveling makes the little things worth it. Traveling is exciting but, once traveling is over, the little struggles are still there. My computer programs are still in German, my furniture is still someone else's, many of my friends are still completely out of touch. And yet, knowing how much I want to go home and see my family and friends and how much easier life will be in English in the states, I still find that I have to tell myself that I won't like it, that people won't be there anymore (and in fact, some might not), and that going home will be even harder than coming to Germany was.

And what's the purpose of all this negative self talk? It's so that I can find the patience to keep myself from throwing my uncompleted German tax forms (yes, in German) out the window and hoping the next plane home.

I have had my adventure, I loved it. But now I just want to sit on the couch with my dad on Saturday morning watching a western with a cinnamon roll in hand and some turkey noodle soup cooking on the stove for lunch. The list would be longer but I have the flu right now and well, this is all that sounds good. Oh and mom's there too, she's just not really watching the western.

I know its not that bad, I mean I only have to wait until November to see my parents. And then traveling in Italy will pass some time. I mean it's Italy! Would you believe mom is totally into the idea of couch surfing? Hilarious! I love it. If anybody knows someone in Italy with a couch you should let me know

...even better if it comes with a western.

17 September, 2009

København & Kompan!

First of all I should make it clear that any words that I have written or will write about this trip simply cannot do it justice. If I say it was good then know that it was great. If I say it’s been fabulous, know its been the fabulousest. I will try and give you some highlights and convey the natural high that I have been on since about day three, but what ever I say, it simply won’t be enough. In order to really understand this experience you are going to have to hire me to take you on this trip yourself. I would of course gladly oblige, as it is a fabulous one.

I arrived in Kopenhagen on Monday evening and caught a train to Odensi Denmark. There I met Rasmus, my couch surfing host and two fellow couch surfers, German girls on a trip back from Sweden. They couldn't have been more than 20 and were hitch hiking their way home. One girl was clearly the leader, the other was quite shy, but ready for adventure none the less. We spoke a little Duetschlish. They asked me if I was a student, I said no I have been working for a few years. Some how this question left me feeling like an old aunt.

Rasmus took all of us to an international café where many university students eat on Monday evenings when a special dinner is offered. It was great (read stupendous). I spoke with a young woman who lived in Lapaz Bolivia for 6 months after she graduated from high school two years earlier. She had just returned from a 6 month trip to the US where she had also hitchhiked her way around the country. Everyone in Europe is so well traveled, and they speak so many languages. One of the things I have observed here is that people are fascinated by language; they are curious and confident in their exploration of how to speak. Julia and Ozon for example were constantly playing with language and sounds; they both speak multiple languages fluently, or at least fluently compared to how well I speak multiple languages. I realize I need to be more playful with my German, and I have tried to be, but then again German's aren’t exactly playful with their language, especially in the work place, ah well.

Rasmus was a great host; he is the first local that I stayed with in a city I was visiting. Superb. His studio flat was covered in art that he has collected and offered easy conversation topics for discussion. I can't believe I forgot to take a picture. My favorite painting was the canvas that was blank except for the words painted in black that said, "This is not a Frisbee". It was hung crooked on the wall. I shared with him that I have my Portland Frisbee hanging as decoration on my wall when its not in use. Rasmus said this was one of his paintings and that he painted it after thinking about tossing the canvas across the room and then decided not to because as he looked at the blank canvas he considered that fact that "this is not a Frisbee". I agreed that indeed that was an astute observation and one worth noting. We had an rather compatible sense of humor.

In the morning I left the flat early to catch the bus into town. I missed the early bus but luckily a woman was driving by and spotted my bags. She assumed I was headed to the train station and offered me a ride. Everyone in Denmark speaks English. Unlike the Germans they watch American television shows in the original language, it makes all the difference.

I was headed into town to meet with Michael from Kompan. Kompan is a play structure company that I have adored ever since working on park designs at Vancouver Parks and Rec. This stuff is cool, edgy, and way more fun then other play structures. The reason; Kompan was founded by an artist who worked closely with child specialists early in the design process. So, the pieces are sculptural, engaging, and indestructible.

When I first thought about where I would travel in Europe if I could live here for a year, Kompan was one of the first places that came to mind. If I am a nerd for anything, its for play structures and forts. Meeting with Michael was great! He set aside his whole morning for me. We discussed playground design, Kompan's design approach and business model, new trends in play between children and their parents and how play structure design and landscape design overlap. Both of us were particularly interested in how the professions work together to address the challenges of designing play structures (that meet code) for slopes. It was basically 4 hours of nerdy designer heaven. Especially when I got to "test" some of their products.

It was interesting to see how reaching out to other professionals can be easy and inspiring. I wasn't there looking for a job, and I wasn't there representing another company or a specific project. This was really a networking and informational exchange between two professionals. I loved it!
Kompan Visit

After my morning at Kompan, Rasmus gave me a tour of Odensi. He showed me a few parks and quaint old parts of town. It took an hour and a half.. He said that if the tour had taken any longer it would have meant that we saw something twice.

I hopped the next train to Copenhagen and found myself a hostel for a day and half to travel solo. I don't like traveling by myself, but I am getting better at it. The trick I have learned is to go shopping. In the end it's cheaper to travel in groups. I did spend less money on food however. Many people had told me that Copenhagen didn't offer much for tourists; I completely disagree. It may be less exciting compared to Amsterdam but I haven't been there so I wasn't disappointed on that account. Copenhagen is made up entirely of red brick; a stark contrast to the pastels of Wein.

I loved the half daylight basement shops that were all over the side streets in town. Michael at Kompan informed me that if the Germans are engineers then the Danish are product designers, and these little shops are full of their lovely wares.

The travel bug has completely taken hold and I still have one more destination.


Wien is a city that offers many incredibly cheap cultural activities and even more places for fantastic, although not so cheap, food, beautiful architecture, delightful bike lanes. We saw the Viennese waltz, markets, palaces, museums and my favorite, the opera. I Loved it. The quality of the performance was fantastic. The music was lovely and the story ridiculous. Such great fun standing the whole time.

Ozon was an incredible host. He knew the sights and the transportation system inside and out. And Vienna has a superb transportation system. Trains, trolleys, subways and buses, they all work together so quickly. The size of the city allows for regular departures and many routes but it's the system's organization with every type of transportation using the same ticket that makes it so easy to use. That and Ozon had the routes practically memorized. He made it look so easy.

It was a treat for both Julia and me to not have to think about what we needed to do to get where we were trying to go. We were delightfully entertained for 4 days in Wien and each one just kept getting better, until Sunday of course when that realization that we were leaving started to set in and we all got a little tired at thought of leaving our happy vacation bubble.

Thursday was filled with the impressionist museum, lots of great Turkish food, and a very long and necessary bike ride around the city. We stopped for a beer after our ride and stayed for three. The conversation lead us right back to the Turkish Restaurant for a round of dessert. I have never had so many days in a row filled with such wonderful food, sights and company. This was the kind of life I imagined Europe was filled with, turns out it is, as long as you are living it with a touch of Turkish hospitality.

I know I loved Wien for many reasons. In many ways the city size is similar to Portland. The scales of the neighborhoods, streets and city center felt comfortable and easy to explore. They weren't overwhelming like Berlin or Paris had been. The sights were of the highest quality. Really lovely buildings and parks are well arranged and seemingly never ending. There are culinary delights, and the arts out the wazoo.

Traveling with friends far surpasses traveling alone, but even better is traveling with friends and discovering at the end of your travels that you have many more then you started with.

Today I am in Denmark. I am so excited to meet with Michael, a Kompan Designer, and Rasmus, my Danish couch surfing host. The Danes by the way are not only responsible for Kompan play structures but Legos as well. I have not doubt that this vacation is just going to keep getting better.


In Praha we met a computer programming Russian who we stayed with for two nights. He drank a lot of beer and was very pleasant. His interests included competitive ballroom dancing and figure skating football and beer.

Julia and I had one day and praha and felt obliged to make the most of it. We went into town early and hungry. It was a good day. There was plenty to see and plenty to eat.

Our first restaurant was in the main square amid a sea of tourists and tour groups. The service was poor and the information on the menus misleading in regards to prices and hours in which breakfast is served. Breakfast is very important to us. So we did not stay at this restaurant. And while two hungry women in search of food can have a negative effect on the mood of a day, our determination to make the most of our traveling experience by not settling for tourist trap cuisine was in the end most rewarding. We first found a simple juice and sandwich stand, which was far cheaper than the first restaurant, and surely better quality. It was just enough to get us in a better frame of mind as we set out to explore the town. Much to our surprise our next restaurant stop was just around the corner from the main square. An adorable little courtyard eating area served by a decadent bakery and delicatessen. If ever you plan to go to Praha you must visit this restaurant. www.augourmand.cz The crepes were fantastic and so were the chocolate chip cookies that we purchased to share with our Russian host later in the day.

The rest of the day went similarly, good sights, followed by good food, followed by more sights and food and great service. We finished in the evening with a visit to the theatre to see Swan Lake. It was mostly to see the building and less so about seeing the ballet. Both Julia and I found ourselves rather bored through the performance with only a few notable scenes that keeping our attention. I came to the conclusion that the quality of the ballet was not very good. It seemed to me that the points that seemed most polished and refined kept my interest without any trouble while the rest of the performance may have been terrible but I can't be sure because I really didn't pay attention.

Praha was a great city to visit, and I felt that a day was enough to take it in. It seemed just as touristy as Paris however, and I again found this element a bit exhausting. Damn tourists.

On Thursday we wished our host the best and headed back into town to catch the train to Nuremburg and the bus Wien. Would you believe that between Julia and I we had exactly enough Czech money in coins to buy our subway ticked into town. And not a penny or cent or whatever they call it in Czech.

11 September, 2009

I think its day 5?

We had a whirl wind trip to Praha, I totally don't have time to write about how great the food was among other things. The most amazing Viennese ice cream is calling.

In the mean time, here is Julia's take on our adventures.

Oh! But real quick, we saw real Viennese people in ball gowns dancing the Viennese Waltz. They really still do that here!

A few days behind

My favorite place to think in Europe is on the train.

We spent our day in Hanover wandering through the Herrenhauser garten, an old classic with fountains, statuary, parterres, grotto, and a maze. Yup. That’s right a real maze of over trimmed shrubbery. It was easy to find the center. There were four ways in.

I wonder if I can convince any of my clients to put a maze in their yards and gardens, I am so sure I could design a better one. You know the kind with gnomes popping out and walls magically moving and children disappearing into for centuries at a time only to reappear and hour later covered in dirt, leaf litter, and a lifetime of imaginary adventures… I really think the bar for quality maze design has been set entirely too low.

Have I mentioned that I am planning to do residential design when I get back to Portland? This is one of those dreams that I mentioned a few months back. It's the kind of dream that I now have the drive, inspiration, and faith to pursue. I am determined to work for myself and directly with clients who will own and use the landscapes that I work with them to design.

I am in the dreaming stages of business planning; letting my imagination run wild with the possibilities. I am thinking beyond residential design and landscape architecture for that matter. For now lets just say that I am going into the business of creative collaboration.

Last night in Hannover Julia and I met with some of her future colleagues, she may be returning to Hanover in a year or so for an internship with a health organization focused on helping immigrants understand Germany's health care system. Many of the minority groups in Germany are unaware of the benefits that are available to them.

We had a great evening discussing the cultural experiences each of us had enjoyed while traveling in different parts of the world. Later that evening Julia and I returned to Tim's place for our second night in Hanover. He and I are both expecting visits from our families this fall and we talked about how interesting it will be to see our parents' perspectives on Europe and the lives that we have been living here.

Off to Prag. Think. Think. Think.

06 September, 2009

Day two

A glorious stress free day of train travel was the perfect kick off to my well earned holidays. After two weeks of long hours trying to meet a deadline at work, Julia's arrival in Uberlingen was highly anticipated. Once she had arrived, a bit of a mystery...

She said she was at the train station... Oh where in Uberlingen could that girl be?!

Luckily for us the internet provided multiple forms of connecting: skype, yahoo chat, I found her first on facebook of course.
"Where are you?" I beeped.
"I am by the st Francis church in the internet cafe" she beeped back.
Uberlingen has an internet cafe?! I thought. I sent her a google map marking the intersection in town that she should meet me at.

Once we decided on our wild itinerary we got train tickets and started hunting for places to stay. Julia, if some of you haven't heard is my international traveling friend from UO. I feel like a Couch Kartoffel compared to Julia. She is visiting me in Germany on her way home from an internship with the UN in Botswana Africa. Julia is finishing the second year of her master's degree in public policy and planning with a focus on international development.

We have talked about traveling together for years and as we laughed our way through 9 hours on the train yesterday we kept asking why we hadn't done this sooner. I told her that she was simply too busy traveling.

By the way, I am writing from the couch in Tim's Kitchen in Hannover. He is our fabulous host from Couch Surfers and a chemistry Phd student from Australia. This is my first time couch surfing, I waited for Julia to be my guide. If you are wondering what the hell I am talking about google "couch surfing".

Many times in the past weeks I have felt the sting of realizing that I am choosing to step away from my European adventure just as I seem to be getting the hang of it.

Day one.

A mini blog, maybe one a day even, of my two week adventure that includes in chronological order:

Hannover Germany
Prague Czech Republic
Vienna Austria
Bratislava Slovakia
Copenhagen Denmark
Cinquitara Italy

Will I make it?

Oooooh the suspense.