Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ikea, meatballs and lingonberries










If there were any country inside Europe that seemed the most familiar to me, as if I wasn't in a foreign country, it'd be Sweden. It honestly felt as though I was in an extension of the North Western US, with a slight language barrier.

A few months back a friend of mine asked if I would join her on trip to Sweden to go to a singles conference for our church. I have never been partial to conferences like that, but went anyway since she requested I go. Besides, any excuse to travel is a good enough excuse to me.


We flew up to Gotenburg (South Western portion of Sweden) on Good Friday, and took a train 30 minutes north to a campsite that overlooked a lake. It was quite a surreal experience while taking the train since we passed through places that looked like Lake Tahoe. The houses were built in the same style that I've been used to seeing all my life in the US. And in a way, it slightly disappointed me. I'll always have a love for my home country, but when outside of it I'd rather experience something different than what I'm used to.

The weekend was nice enough. I was able to meet kind people from all over Scandanavia and the UK, and the surroundings were beautiful. But I was quite grateful for the few hours on Monday that we were able to spend in Gotenburg before our flight back to Amsterdam. Although the architecture was inspired by other cultures, such as the Dutch, German, and English, the European charm was quite strong. And it was the first time in the entire trip that I felt like I was in a foreign country.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Spring has sprung!

The flowers are in bloom, the weather is perfect, and I couldn't be more content.


Monday, April 20, 2009

Choose your own adventure, the aftermath.

Upon stepping out of the hospital, no neck brace or lame foot could keep me from hopping on a bike again! (Mainly due to the fact that there weren't any taxi's in the area to take me to the train station). This daring act may seem to you like stupidity, but I disagree. See, I rode on the back of Tim's bike this time. (I'd insert a "so there!" right here, but that would seem a bit immature, ...so I won't). He slowly made his way around the small city to the train station, and I painfully hobbled my way onto the train back to Barcelona.

I spent my last few hours in the city either hanging on someone's arm while hobbling along, being carried piggy back across the city (embarrassing), or with my foot elevated. Sunday morning I called a friend of mine from Amsterdam to see if she could pick me up from the airport that evening, since I wouldn't have been able to make it home with my luggage on my own. I didn't give her very many details, so rumors flew around church after she had told a few people, and in the end one person was overheard saying: "Oh, yeah... Claire got in a serious accident in Barcelona, she can't even walk anymore. Someone's flying down there now to bring her back home."

Tim ended up escorting me to the airport after having one last little visit in the city. Once we made it to the check-in terminal, he suggested I get a wheelchair. I'm assuming my look said it all, since he replied, "Claire, you're never going to see any of these people again... just take the wheelchair!" So, I obliged. Once the wheelchair came I said goodbye to Tim and was wheeled over to my gate. I sat in a normal chair, with the wheelchair beside me, while waiting for the plane to arrive - and I felt like I was handling the whole 'wheelchair' thing quite well. When it was time to board I was wheeled over to the door of the gate while the other passengers were starting to line up - and I still had the 'wheelchair' thing under control. But no more than 10 seconds later, a little old lady was wheeled over and placed right in front of me! Oh how I wanted to laugh. What pathetic site I must have been. Unfortunately the wheelchairs weren't the type which allows the rider to push themselves, otherwise I'd have asked her if she wanted to race down the platform to the airplane.

I stayed cooped up in my apartment for the first 3 days after arriving back to Amsterdam since my foot swelled to the size of an elephant and no longer fit in any of my shoes. I was told by my house doctor, who didn't even look at my injuries, to go to physical therapy. So I did. That first visit, my PT told me to get crutches and he worked on my neck. He was unable to work on my foot due to it's size. I went back two days later when the swelling had gone down a bit more (by then it had been a week since the accident), and he determined that my joints had been compacted. He said it'd take a few weeks for my foot to get back to normal.
Well, a few weeks have reached 4. The swelling has gone down - almost completely, the bruising is almost gone and I no longer use my crutches. That said, my foot is numb from my big toe down the right side of my foot to the joint, I'm not able to apply pressure to the ball of my foot near the last three toes, I'm not able to curl my toes very well, nor am I able to turn my foot due to the tightness right below my ankle. Which means, I walk with a limp. I feel like I should wear baggy pants that hang half way down my butt, so that my limp will look more like I'm just pimpin'. At least that way I'd look 'cool'.

The End.

There is a moral to this story though: A) listen to the voices of reason, and B) don't ride on the back of a motorcycle with a boy.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Choose your own adventure, part 2


The car behind us stopped right as we got the bike off my foot. I stood up, but felt completely dizzy and hobbled over to the curb to sit down with my head between my knees. During the time it took me to walk from the bike to the curb, the car driver asked us if he wanted us to call the ambulance. I said no while Jed said yes. Jed won out.

So, we sat on the curb waiting for the ambulance. I ripped off my shoe which was suffocating my foot and Jed pulled up the sleeves of his jacket revealing a nice sized gash on his forearm all filled with gravel. Scott had heard us crash and stopped to help us, so I asked him to grab my purse out of the seat of the scooter. I pulled out a baby wipe (not only do I have multiple personality disorder, I'm germ-a-phobic as well) and wiped up my minor scrapes and Jed's bleeding arm.

The ambulance arrived a few seconds later. The paramedics cleaned and disinfected our wounds and took us to the ER. The entire time I was thinking "hmm... I wonder how much this is ride is going to cost." When we arrived at the hospital we were transferred to wheelchairs and pushed into the ER. Since turning my head to the right would make me dizzy, they placed me in a neck brace - highly attractive. Then, as we sat talking to the doctors, the only thing I thought was: "hmm... I wonder how much this ER visit will cost." I was quite impressed, though, on how prompt and thorough they were. No sitting for hours in a waiting room, no wondering how much longer it would be until you were able to get fresh air. It was only a half an hour after arriving that I received x-rays on my foot and neck. However, when the x-ray tech positioned my foot, I couldn't help but thinking "well, there goes the rest of my vacation money for the year."

I braced myself for the grand total after the doctor told me nothing was broken. "Will my Dutch insurance cover medical expenses in another country?" I wondered. I sat in the wheelchair pondering the costs when Jed walked over to me with a manila envelope that contained my x-rays and a summary of what occurred, the doctors diagnosis, and the dosage of ibuprofen they prescribed. There was no bill with the pile of documents. I looked. Twice. Then I asked, and was told that we were free to go, free of charge. Bless socialized medicine!! True blue socialized medicine. Free for the masses. What an absolutely wonderful thing it is, to be treated for an injury/illness, and not have to sell your right arm in order to afford it.

to be continued...

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Choose your own adventure, part 1

I was scheduled to go home from Barcelona on Saturday... but I didn't. Instead at 1am that morning I changed my plans, against my better judgment, all for a symphony concert inside Barcelona's Opera house (which was beautiful). If only I hadn't stayed- then I wouldn't be walking with a limp nearly 3 and a half weeks after the fact. But, now I'm getting ahead of myself.

If I hadn't mentioned before, I absolutely loved Barcelona. And as Friday came to a close, I didn't want my vacation to end. Also, the thought of having to be at the airport by 6am wasn't very attractive either. So I had an internal conflict which went a little something like this:

voice A: I really want to stay
voice B: But what about my commitments on Sunday such as teaching two lessons and translating for the Brazilian family who goes to church?... no one else speaks Portuguese.
voice A: I really, really don't want to leave around 4:45am to get to the airport
voice B: But I told my upstairs neighbors that I'd stop by for their birthday get together. And AGAIN, I have a major commitment with the Brazilian family... they won't understand a word without me.
voice A: Man! The guys are going to a great concert, and if I don't go I'll be completely jealous. Plus, to spend almost 2 extra days here would be so nice, even if I have to buy a new return flight.
voice C: You'd better not stay Claire... I've been trying to tell you for the past 5 minutes and this is the first time you're actually listening to me...
voice A: (cutting off voice C) Yeah, but I REALLY want to stay.

I'd like to say I don't have multiple personality disorder, but after what I just wrote I'm sure you wouldn't believe me no matter how much I plead my case. Needless to say, the two voices of reason lost out... and my stubborn attitude caused me to press the purchase button on the airline's website for a flight that left Sunday evening.

That Saturday morning started out just like the rest of them... quite relaxed. We decided to rent motor-scooters again for a few hours in order to drive up to a little village which has old castle ruins. Everything was great until one fateful moment when I hear Jed saying "no, no, no!" and noticed we were tipping over.
As we were tipping I thought, "the bike's going to fall on my foot", and Jed went on uttering "no, no, no!"
When the bike happened to land on my foot, I thought "yep, there goes my foot", while Jed still exclaimed "no, oh no!"
Then, when I looked back and saw a car coming behind us, the only thing I thought was "we need to get this bike off my foot!" We both proceeded to do so, with Jed saying "oh, no, no" all the while.

to be continued...

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Passion is what drives you


You may have realized by now that I love to travel. I love it so much that I daresay it is more than just a hobby of mine, --but not to the point of a passion. I fear one can only have a limited number of passions in life for them to truly be worth calling a passion. And however far my love for travel goes, it will never rival my real passion, which is food. That said, the one can only accentuate the other, and combined the two leave in my heart a profound sense of contentment. But when my mind is set on combining my love of travel with my passion for food and something goes awry, I am left with a momentary feeling of utter disappointment - almost to the point of temporary depression, until I find something 5 minutes later to fill the void.

Let's take the day trip Tim and I had in Madrid for example. It was a lovely trip, absolutely lovely. (And I seldom use that word for my lack of a brilliant British accent - but have decided to use it now, since no other word comes close to expressing the loveliness of that day). And that loveliness wasn't even marred by the bitter disappointment I felt for one brief moment, due to Tim's quick thinking.
Before leaving for Spain I naturally did my research to decide where I'd like to go and what I'd like to see. Knowing that I'd be in Madrid for one of those days, I did my research on that city as well... but only got so far as to decide I'd have to stop by La Violeta to taste and buy some of the cities most well renowned violet candies. So, with that, and the main reason for the Madrid trip which was to go to the temple, I felt content.
Tim requested we take the high speed train, which is a passion of his, so I naturally obliged. It was quite nice to arrive in Madrid in a third of the time it'd take on the road, without having to deal with airport security and the likes. And Tim was like a child in a toy shop, all giddy at the prospects of being on a train that can go all the way up to 300 kph. He would express his enthusiasm by pointing out how quickly we had passed by one city or another, and on the return trip when the train reached 298kph he had to call his dad to share in his excitement. And I... well, I couldn't help but laugh.

We arrived in Madrid a little before noon. It is a vastly different city than Barcelona. The major buildings have more of a Romanesque feel to them than the carefree and whimsical architecture found in Barcelona. But is absolutely beautiful, all the same. Upon stepping out of the train station we found the city to be slightly deserted and many of the shops appeared to be closed. Our fears were confirmed as we sat down to a light lunch, that we had chosen a holiday to make our descent into Madrid.

Undeterred, we made our way over to La Violeta for my sake. Tim couldn't believe that with everything Madrid had to offer all I wanted to do was buy violet candies, but he humored me anyway. Then when we reached the shop and found it closed, I stood paralyzed in despair. I had traveled all the way to Madrid to try a violet candy, only to find that my attempts were in vain. All the joy had drained from my face as I gazed at the display candies taunting me from the windows. Tim pulled me into a hug, pat my head lightly and said "There, there Claire... don't cry." And with that we promptly found a bakery where we purchased a large donut for each of us to eat while sitting on a park bench.

With the void filled - in my stomach at least - and having come to terms with the trauma that had just occurred, we continued on with the rest of our day. Our trip to the temple was wonderful, and more than made up for the prior disappointment of the day. The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around the city, taking metro rides, stopping for a few minutes to visually absorb Picasso's Guernica, watching street performers dance the Flamingo, and eating tapas for dinner outside at the Plaza Mayor (which looked more German than Spanish) followed by the thickest and most delicious hot chocolate imaginable for dessert.

So, I may not have eaten a violet candy, but my passion for food was satisfied with a myriad of other tasty delights... which made the whole trip worth it.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Get your motor running...


What do you do when you have a week in Barcelona, you've already seen a few of the major sites, the weather is absolutely perfect and you want to have a little fun? Why, rent motor-scooters and ride up the Costa Brava, of course!

It couldn't have been a more relaxing, enjoyable and fun day. The guys found a deal that allowed us to have the bikes for 10 hours for only 18 euros. We used up every single minute we had of those 10 hours by taking a day trip to Girona. The ride up the Costa Brava on the back of a bike was so nice. I'm sure it's fun being the one to actually drive, but being the passenger was much more peaceful and relaxing as I was able to watch the sunlight glimmer on the water while the wind whipped around me. (Plus, it makes for better video taking when you don't have to focus on the road).
video
We made it into Girona by early afternoon. It's quite a quaint and colorful city... and it was the perfect place for us to stop for lunch and explore. There is a river of water that flows around the city center with beautifully painted houses lining it. But if you make your way past that and enter the city center, you're welcomed by a giant cathedral which would dominate the city if it weren't surrounded by so many other buildings. And just like in most every other city in Europe, you could lose yourself in the small and winding roads while being enraptured by one detail or another, and be all the better for it.
Unfortunately time did not allow for that to happen with us, since the bikes had a curfew. So our walk was short around the city after lunch. But that was just fine, since having a curfew meant hopping back on the bikes and heading down the highway....

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Montserrat

An hour north of Barcelona lies a breathtaking mountain range that only intensifies your appreciation for the Catalan region of Spain. It is as though Montserrat was strategically placed there for all those who passed by it to stop and smile... and to have yet another confirmation that God not only lives, but most definitely loves us.

Granted, I'm not the only one who has felt this way. In 880 a small group of shepherd children saw a bright light descending from the sky in the Montserrat mountains. In the same moment the children heard angels singing and the music filled their hearts. They ran home to tell their parents, who sceptically went to the mountains to see for themselves. They had the same experience. Now on the top of the Montserrat mountains sits a Benedictine monastery which is where the vision the shepherd children had took place.

You can't help but stand in awe at the beauty of the mountain range. And in that awe you find yourself wondering how a monastery was ever constructed there since it takes a death defying cable car ride up just to reach it.

The best way to get there, so we learned, is to buy an all inclusive ticket at the train station in Barcelona. The 36 Euro ticket includes the round trip train ride, the round trip cable car ride, free lunch, round trip rides on the funicular to go further up the mountain or down into the caves, and free entrance into the museums. It was definitely well worth the money, and a great way to spend a day.

The views were phenomenal. The basilica was stunning. The hikes you're able to take will make you want to stay there forever. And every day at 1:00pm visitors pile in the basilica to sit in admiration as the boys choir sings for 10 minutes.
video
The boys are from the boarding school at the monastery and for a few months when their voices are at the right pitch they are able to sing in the choir.

Suffice it to say,... I really liked the place.