"To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield"
- Alfred Lord Tennyson, 1833

"live deep and suck out all the marrow of life"
- Henry David Thoreau, 1845

"Some guys, they just give up living
And start dying little by little, piece by piece
Some guys come home from work and wash up,
And go racin' in the streets."
- Bruce Springsteen, 1977

"...to the heart, there's no time for you to waste.
You won't find your precious answers now
by staying in one place."
- Frank Turner, 2009

"The best things in life aren't things.
They're living and breathing."
- Michael Franti , 2011

"I owned every second that this world could give,
I saw so many places, the things that I did"
- Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic, 2014

All written content and photos by Rob Fulfer unless otherwise indicated.

Monday, May 28, 2012

WAR-MIL-AMS: Days 6,7 & 8 - The Netherlands

Tuesday, May 22, 2012:
After having to fly back east to Warsaw and suffer a long layover, we headed back northwest
to Amsterdam as the sun was dropping in the west setting the dikes and canals that
The Netherlands are known for aflame in the reflection.
The payoff for the long day of travel was the view from our bed on the houseboat we rented
on one of the Amsterdam canals.  Simply awesome!
Here's a link if you are interested:
This was the view to the right (or west) from our small deck on the houseboat. 
Since it doesn't get dark until 10 PM or so local time,
we still had plenty of time to enjoy the atmosphere.

This was our view to the left (or east) from our houseboat deck showing a couple
of the beautifulsmall bridges that connect the streets over the numerous canals.

"Dinner" tonight consisted of a walk around the corner to a great little grocery store
for three kinds of cheese,fresh bread, summer sausages and tomatoes.
I grabbed some high gravity beer and Ashlee sipped on some wine that the
lady we rented the houseboat from had left for us.
The ambiance on our deck could not be beat.
Completing our "Duck Trifecta" for the trip was "Chuck the Canal Duck" in Amsterdam as we named him.  He was quite the beggar for bread while we sat on the deck of our houseboat and in this shot I discovered him sitting on top of our houseboat one morning.  We were also visited by other ducks, coots (one we named Sylvia) and a swan in the canal while we sat our on deck, but Chuck was the definite mascot of our stay in The Netherlands.

Wednesday, May 22, 2012:  On our first full day in The Netherlands we took a day tour of Amsterdam to see some of the rest of this small, but beautiful country which is only the size of the state of Maine.

There used to be 10,000 of them in The Netherlands, now there are only
about 1,000 left.  Their purpose to pump water replaced by machinery.

Our first stop was the amazing FloraHolland, the largest fresh flower auction house
in the world.  This was actually a "slow time" for them since the tulip season
had just ended, but there are auctions every day on flowers from around the world.
Too bad this picture doesn't have a scratch and sniff option.
The drive through the Dutch countryside was similar to the scenes in Amsterdam, only bigger
houses, bigger canals and bigger boats.

We made a brief stop in Rotterdam, the country's biggest port which is filled with interesting
architecture including this extremely cool bridge over the bay.

Our next stop was The Royal Delft Pottery factory.  These guys are still hand-painting
all theirproducts just like they did when they started  back in 1653.  Beautiful stuff.

We had lunch and some time on our own in the city square of the town of Delft. 
We had a lunch that included some good beer and a Dutch traditional wurst sandwich
 that we learned later was actually horse meat...yeah,that's right, horse meat. 
We found a great cheese and chocolate shop as well where we tried a lot of free samples
to get the thought of horse meat out of our minds.

After a driving tour through The Hague, the political capital of The Netherlands,
we arrived at our last(and strangest) stop.  This place is known as Madurodam,
and it's basically a miniature versionof the entire country??  I
t's all automated and perfectly to scale and you walk through at your
own leisure and pace.  Pretty inventive and kind of weird...so yes, totally Dutch.

The kids love this place and Ashlee was no exception although she did have a lot of envy
as a Christmas Village addict herself.

Did we mention we really loved the houseboat we stayed on in Amsterdam?
Here's a shot of it from across the canal.  We were staying in the far left side.
Thursday, May 24, 2012:  Our second full day in Amsterdam was without much plan.  We wanted to explore the city - the good and the bad - the famous and the infamous and decide for ourselves what all the hub-bub is about this free-wheelin' city.

Did we mentioned we really love the canals?  Especially the more quiet ones away
 from the city centerand the touristy melee of the Red Light District.

We found a recommended little cheese shop called Reypenaer and signed up for an afternoon cheese tasting.  It was held in an actual classroom in the basement of the store and we were allowed to try five of their best products (as much as we wanted) and we were given red, white and port wines to try with them.  This is serious award-winning cheese.  All of it was delicious. Not a bad way to spend an hour in Amsterdam!

Yes, yes, yes, of course, we checked out the "seedy" side of Amsterdam.  We walked through "The Red Light District" and saw the ladies in the windows.  We walked through a few "coffee shops" and even talked to owner of one who was very interesting.  But once the curiosity is over, the sadness of basic human trafficking and the reality that people are spending whole days in these coffee shops wasting vast amounts of time and in some cases their whole lives makes the whole thing fairly unappealing.  Thank goodness for the canals, and the cheese and the warm bread from around the corner from our houseboat!!

Bikes, bikes everywhere!  This city lives on bicycles.  It's the quietest "rush hour" you will ever
experience at about 8:30 on a weekday morning as hundreds of people are pedaling in all directions
to get to their work.  Here's a shot of a

 few hundred bikes patiently waiting for their riders outside
the central train station one night.

The canals after dark are magical.  THIS is Amsterdam.

WAR-MIL-AMS: Days 3, 4 & 5 - Northern Italy

Saturday, May 19, 2012:  Happy Anniversary to us!  We woke up early this morning and made our way to the Warsaw Airport for a short LOT flight to Milan, Italy.

As shown here on Ashlee's I-Phone, we were lucky that each of the cities we were flying to on this trip are in the same time zone and seven hours ahead of CST.  With an overnight flight that we were able to sleep on, and a restful first day in Warsaw, we were not feeling any ill effects of jet-lag.
Our Doubletree Hotel wasn't close to downtown Milan (but it was free thanks to some Hiltion points Ashlee had acquired).  So by the time we landed, rode the Malpensa Express Train (the airport is 30 miles from downtown) and took a short cab ride to the hotel, and then a cable-car ride (photo above) downtown, it was already mid-afternoon.

Once we got downtown we checked out the Milan Fortress (Sforza Castle) and its
surrounding park and had  a few glasses of wine in an outdoor cafe there. 
A very nice introduction to this busy, busy city.
We got back to the hotel and changed for our anniversary dinner.  Instead of slogging back downtown, we decided to try a place within walking distance, an Italian bistro called L'Imaggine, which got wonderful reviews.  We completely agree!!  What a wonderful place!  Excellent food, good service and a ton of "freebies" including a welcoming drink, table sweets, succulent meatballs (our favs) and even a shot of strong grappa on the way out the door.  Wow!  What an experience!  We were so stuffed (their lasagna is amazing) and so "happy" from all the alcohol, we were afraid to tell them it was our anniversary or we would have never got out of there!



Yes, we felt it as we lay in our bed on the 4th floor at about 4 AM local time.  Thankfully, the epicenter was 60 or so miles north of us and we were not affected other than being creeped out a bit.

(Editor's Note:  May 29, 2012:  Ten days later disaster struck again in Northern Italy with 17 more deaths from another strong quake.  Our hearts go out to these folks in this beautiful region.)

Sunday, May 20, 2012:  Our first of two scheduled day-tours out of Milan was set for today.  We were headed north toward the Italian/Swiss Alps and the beautiful resort area of the huge Lake Maggiore.

Just over an hour out of Milan is the charming little resort town
of Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore.

Isola Madre on the amazing Lake Maggiore

As the weather threatened, we took a great little boat ride on Lake Maggiore
out past Isola dei Pescatori (Island of the Fisherman).
We landed at Isola Bella (Beautiful Island) and toured the Palazzo Borromeo,
an amazing palace of exquisite artwork and beautiful rooms built by the Borromeo Family
which owned all of this area at one time
Our favorite rooms in the palace were the six grottoes in the bottom floor
which were decorated from ceiling to floor in intricate patterns made
of stones from the lake itself.  It took 20 years to complete these rooms.

The palace gardens were equally impressive albeit a little harder to enjoy now that
the rainy weather had settled in quite stubbornly and we were forced to view them
from under the protection of souvenir umbrellas we bought at the book shop.

It was then over to Isola dei Pescatori for lunch and some shopping.
After lunch we encountered our first ducks of the trip on the narrow wet streets
of the small town.  Ducks would become a theme for this trip for some reason.

We did some praying for the rain to let up, but they went unanswered...for now.
Back in Milan, the rain continued as we did a little shopping downtown
 with the Milan Fortress looming in the background.

Now this is how you do a mall!  The Milan Pilazzo was full of shops
(and shoppers) and, best of all, protected from the persistent rain.
Monday, May 21, 2012:  Our second day-tour out of Milan was scheduled to go south to the coast.  After two hours of driving through torrential rain through winding mountain roads, the outlook was kind of bleak.

Our first stop was the big port city of Genoa.  The rain had slacked up some,
but we still needed our umbrellas to enjoy the beautiful architecture.

Genoa has done an interesting job of conforming former private city palaces into government
offices and businesses.  The history of the city is preserved and the business of today
goes on without a hitch.

Amazing frescoes from circa 17th century are free to view in many different
public buildings in Genoa.

The exquisite use of marble in all different colors adorns Genoa's
San Lorenzo Cathedral.

This WW II bomb dropped through the roof of the Genoa's San Lorenzo Cathedral
 but did not detonate.  Church officials declare this a miracle and seeing
actual evidence of a miracle definitely makes it much easier to believe.

The blending of the new and the very, very old is never more evident
than in Genoa as a part of the original city gate is dwarfed by
a modern high-rise in the background.  Somehow, it all works.

Christopher Columbus' boyhood home.
That's right, he was Italian.
He only went to Spain for financing.

There actually are blue skies  in Italy!!  Our hopes began to rise as we stepped out into this
main square in Genoa to see the heavy rainclouds starting to disperse.
A bit of the Genoa waterfront.  This replica ship was built for a movie and is
now a tourist attraction along with a nice aquarium.

We continued east from Genoa along the beautiful Italian coast to the resort town of
Santa Margherita with it's beautiful crescent-shaped bay.

I call this one "The Miracle at Santa Margherita."  Our prayers are answered today as the heavy rain clouds
broke free in glorious wonder revealing the awe-inspiring Italian coastline.  Official weather reports called
for a 90% chance of rain for the entire day for this area.  I guess miracles do happen.

After checking out the town a bit, we boarded a ferry and headed due south along the coast toward
the small village of Portofino.  The views were amazing.  This is the Italian Riviera at its best.

Portofino - easily on of the most beautiful places we have every visited.
Pictures do not do it justice.
We hiked up to the Portofino Lighthouse and were rewarded with this fish-eyed
view of the village in all its glory.  Truly, an amazing place and the weather
could not have been better.

While Portofino lies in a protected inlet with only lapping waves, the pounding of the Ligurian Sea
is relentless just on the other side of this point of the Italian coast.

The ride back was just as good.  The rain was gone for good and we enjoyed a beautiful
ride home north back to Milan.

It was back to L'Immagine for dinner tonight.  How could we not?  Here's just a sample of some of the freebies you get with dinner...clockwise from front:  cherries & apricots, delicious little hard candies with liquid centers (we took a handful of these for our future flights), lollipops, homemade licorice, a bottle of limoncello liqueur (and two shot glasses), some kind of candy similar to Easter peeps and peanuts (we have yet to figure that one out).
Tuesday, May 22, 2012:
Flying out of Milan back east toward Warsaw for a plane change to Amsterdam.
The snow-capped Alps stretch out in the distance over the green of Italy.
Millan and northern Italy were awesome despite some bad weather.  We have loved all of our trips to Italy with Venice still remaining our favorite place we have every visited (although Portofino and the Italian Riviera are a very close second now).  We can't wait to come again and discover more of this amazing country.