A Bright Spot

Today has been a better day. I am still trying not to be overly optimistic and still prepared for the worst to happen, but today has been better.

The people at the emergency vet where my Snowball cat is being kept have been more than kind. They've welcomed my phone calls with patient details recounting her status and sympatheized with me being so far away in Scotland. They've worked with me on several occasions, getting bills and contact information figured out, and they've even agreed to transport Snowball themselves to the regular vet office tomorrow morning. I couldn't be more grateful.

This morning saw the tiniest bit of improvement when the poor kitty managed to get down only a few bites of food. While her insulin levels, due to the diabetes she's recently developed, have become a bit more stabilized, she has simply been too weak to show any other signs of improvement. Basically, she'd gotten so malnourished that she'd lost the will to eat or live. My cat was literally starving to death.

This is too ridiculous a reason to disregard the opportunity to give her a chance to recooperate and try to gain her strength back. The vet agreed, saying the diabetes can be treated and isn't the true danger as is her level of strength and lack of nutrients. I can only enormously regret that she had wasted away to the point that she was before being taken in.

So earlier this afternoon, they inserted a feeding tube into her little neck and in less than an hour had fed Snowball her first full meal and were keeping an eye on her as she groggily came out of the anesthesia. It was in question that she would have even survived being sedated, but my sweet Snowball is a fighter and has faced a life-threatening incident before and I can only hope she'll make it through this one.

I can hear some people scoff at me for talking about a cat like a human being. For many, a feeding tube sounds like an absurd measure to go to. But to me, it's the least I can do. I won't let my cat die of starvation. She can struggle against a disease or cancer, but this was too simple a step not to take. I have done a lot of research online the past few days about cats with diabetes, which normally develops when they are 10 years and older. Snowball is 12 this year, so it's not surprising that this has happened. She probably wouldn't be struggling nearly as much if she weren't so emaciated. So we continue to hope and pray that this will be a turning point for her and the nutrients will help.

Being thousands of miles away as I am, I still deeply love and care for my pets. There is just something about the bond you can develop between an animal. They just get you. They don't talk or argue or ever cease to love you. And when you've had them for as long as I have, it's something you learn to cherish.

It's still a bit stressful thinking about what's to come and how she'll be doing when I pick up the phone to call the vet each time. She'll be transferred tomorrow so I'll be working with new doctors and hope they can continue to care for her just as well. We leave for Italy in a few days so I'm trying not to worry too much about how we'll get details figured out by then, there's quite a bit to take care of. I sincerely appreciate the support of all my friends and family who have reached out during the past two days, it has made all the difference.

The Love of an Animal

This post comes with a heavy heart as I fear the worst. After a long night working the 400-person gala I produced on Saturday, I came home to discover that my sweet 12-year-old white cat, Snowball, had become deathly ill. My cousin, who is caring for my two kitties, took her to the ER vet where they began trying to stabilize her. It seems she has developed diabetes over the past few months (or might have always had it) but has taken a downhill turn more recently. Her little body is wasted away to skin and bones - not something that happens overnight and that I wished I had known sooner.

She is still at the vet and her glucose levels have improved but she still isn't eating and her white blood cell count is alarmingly high. They've got an IV hooked up to her to continue to get her hydrated and I can only hope and pray that she starts eating soon to gain her strength. I feel a recovery might be quite possible if that can happen. If it doesn't, she will become too weak to survive.


I'm in angst because I don't want her to suffer and I know putting her to sleep will need to be an option if she doesn't improve. But how long do I wait? Nursing such a sick creature back to health can take awhile, so I don't want to decide too soon. She's being transferred to the regular vet office Tuesday morning and I will wait to see what they say as well. Far as I know, the doctors have been taking excellent care of her and have been very kind in giving me detailed updates when I call to check in.

Mike and I are leaving for Italy on Friday and I'm torn because I want to be sure she is okay, but we're gone for 10 days and it will be even harder to check on her during that time. But if she is in the vet's care, perhaps it will be a long enough period to truly decide whether or not she can recover. And I do want to be able to enjoy this trip - it's one in a lifetime. But it's just so hard.

Some of you may think this is a lot to go through for a cat, and I agree. But I am beyond attached to these two critters, they have meant as much to me as a pet can mean to anyone. My two cats have been there with me nearly my whole life. Snowball is part-persian with large pinks ears and big blue eyes, and she's been a healthy 12-year-old up to this point. July is my 17-year-old mackerel tabby who was just put on thyroid medication and is now doing better than ever.


They grew up with me as a child (I got them when I was 7 and 12, respectively) and they've made every move with me from city to city. When I was lonely in a new apartment or a bit nervous starting a new chapter in my life or entering a new university without knowing a soul on campus, those kitties were my constant. They slept on my bed every single night and still follow me around the house whenever I'm home. Normally, when we moved into a new place, they were always a bit timid and shy before deciding it was okay to venture out of their cat beds and explore. Snowball always went straight for the fireplace, she liked hiding in the dark black hole while boxes were moved in. But unfortunately it always turned her into a gray furry mess by the end of the day. Then I'd have to pry her out and put her in the tub to wash her clean. The oddest part was that water didn't bother her and she'd sit there calmly while I bathed her. July, on the other hand, is a crabby old woman and doesn't prefer the bathtub one bit.

When we moved to our new house in Katy, they seemed to take an instant liking to the place. There was no hesitation, before we'd even unloaded the first set of boxes they had made themselves right at home, sprawled out in the middle of the living room floor as they observed our hard work. It was the one place they seemed to love right away, and so did we.

It was exceptionally hard to leave Snowball and July behind (as well as our two dogs, Shiner and Jersey) as we set abroad for an entire year. I have been nervous since before we got on the plane that something would happen, since both cats are quite aged. I just figured July would be the first to experience any problems so it never crossed my mind that Snowball could become ill.

I am praying every day that she can make a recovery and that God would allow me to keep this loving creature for a few more years. It is so very difficult to be thousands of miles away and unable to care for her myself. I am indebted to my cousin for taking the time to make vet runs and feed them their medications. I just wish I could be there, wish I could take care of everything so someone else wasn't being put through this. But I've been up till 3am the past two nights researching possible conditions, treatments for diabetes and calling the vet for updates. I can only hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.


Home Decor To-Dos

Like all my best posts on this blog, this one shall start with a dreary weather report. It's raining. Again. In fact, I decided to actually look at the atmospheric lineup for the next five days and there's no inkling of sun on the radar until Monday. Drat.

How can one feel inspired in the midst of all this bleary, rainy, overcast, dismal and persistent climate?

So glad you asked.

I've been keeping a running list of all the things I'd like to do upon returning home. Many of these include home decor or improvement projects (we'll see how much we can get away with should we end up in a rent house), as well as homemade gifts. All the crafty DIY blog entries I admire on a daily basis have crowded my head with thoughts of jeweled stemwareseashell-inspired decor, and a new appreciation for white spray paint.

The latter being most prevalent.

Every day on my way to work, I pass by two charity shops (thrift stores) that often have unique little gifts or trinkets cattily displayed in their store windows. The last couple weeks I took notice of an elegant glass vase and a few candlesticks. So yesterday I finally snatched them up - for only a few pounds - secretly praying that they'll fit into our shipment back to Texas.

I love having fresh flowers in the house but I don't like having to cut the stems very short. This vase is perfect since it's so tall and I love the graceful curving lip at the top.

You can see I've now got a modest collection of thick wooden candlesticks. The two newest are the cream and the cream-and-brown patterend ones. I plan to spray paint them all a fresh coat of white and use around a fireplace or a prominent shelf in our Texas home. (Please ignore the turquoise wall paint and hideous trim. Compliments of our assigned flat over here in Scotland.)

I also have an old brass lamp much like this one that Centsational Girl revamped, which has been sitting in our guest room in the past. One coat of white paint and a snappy shade and that thing'll be good as new. Check out her before and after:

Image from CentsationalGirl.com

I'm also eager to try out Shermin Williams' new removable wallpaper. Blogger Layla of The Lettered Cottage talks about it here. It's a great way to change the look of a rent house if you're not willing allowed to paint. I'm curious to know if it really truly sticks, but we'll find out this fall when I smack some of that badboy up on the wall! I love the samples Layla picked out - the soft blue and white striped pattern would be great for a seashore-themed bathroom or guestroom.

So there you have it! A decent list to get me started so I can make home feel like home again. I just knew there was some inspirational silver-lining somewhere in those clouds...


Nutella & Weekend Tales

I might be a little bit behind the game, but I just tried Nutella for the first time and wowers, that's good stuff! I knew it was made of some kind of nut but I didn't know it involved cocoa, resulting in a heaven-made rich chocolate-y taste. It's a health hazard that they sell the stuff in massive gallon-sized jars.

For now, I'll limit it to my small jar size.

Otherwise I run the risk of overeating it and turning into a chocolate hazelnut.

And then I wouldn't be able to update this blog, and you'd all be sad.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Besides my adventurous Nutella-tasting, we've had a couple exciting weekends that I've neglected to include on the blog. Shame on me, I know.

Let's dig in, shall we? Please pass the Nutella.

Our first foray into fun was trying out the Mexican food at La Bamba. We hadn't been there before, but since there's only two places to choose from when it comes to Scotland's "authentic" margaritas and fajitas, we were in. (We've already tried Chiquito's and after their wierd sour-cream-that-wasn't-sour-cream, I was done. And don't get me started on the guacamole!)

Apparently if you order a two- or three-course dinner, you can get the "party pack," which involves a shot of tequila and, well, a party pack packed with balloons, hats, leis and facial accoutrements.

The guys apparently loved it.

Especially the stick-on moustaches. Si señor!

Meanwhile, I was busy sipping my strawberry margarita and piling chicken into a tortilla. It's the closest thing to On the Border I'll get until August 6. That's day we return to the US. And no, no one's counting. Okay, maybe we are...

The next adventure involved an outing to the Perth Races. It also happened to be Ladies Day, and so I knew I'd be competing with all the ridiculous lavish hats and flowers that women deem necessary to stick on their heads for said event.

Let's get something straight - I am not a girly girl.

I don't wear bows, pink, dresses or flowers. Unless it's hot pink nail polish in the summer time. Or a sundress I bought for Italy. But other than that, those are the rules.

Wouldn't you know I ended up in a peachy pink ruffled top with a big white flower-embellished headband. It was the best I could muster and was, in my opinion, a solid effort!

We had tons of fun at the track - Mike loves betting on the horses and he won back everything he spent that day. There were many drinks consumed on the bus ride there, many more during the races, and many, many more afterwards. It would be a lie to say no one was inebriated. So I won't lie.

The following weekend, and the most recent, involved a leisurely afternoon at Duthie Park. It's Aberdeen's main park attraction, 44 acres of lush green grass, beautiful landscaping and gardens. In 1881, Lady Elizabeth Duthie of Ruthrieston - who purchased the land for £30,000 - donated the park to the city council in memory of her uncle and brother.

The park's pièce de résistance are the David Welch winter gardens, a spacious set of tropical and arid houses that apparently contain Great Britain's second largest collection of  bromeliads and giant cacti.

And here's a picture to prove it.

The greenhouses were originally opened in 1899 and celebrated by a giant parade on Union Street. Plus, the day was declared a local holiday. They must not have had many parks, or this one was just a reaaaallly big deal.

Unfortunately severe storm damage demolished nearly the whole thing in 1969, so the gardens were rebuilt and reopened. Several of our Scottish friends said they went recently and that, on a sunny day, it is "absolutely roastin'" inside the greenhouses. When Mike and I went, we realized they were mistaking the humidity for heat. It felt like a spring day in Houston. Wonders!

I just love hydrangeas. Sigh. I want to plant some when we move back to Texas.

To conclude the weekend, it was time for some cocktails with the ladies so we headed out on the town (aka Union Street) for girl's night. It was loads of fun and I even managed to avoid dropping any cash at the casino. Because I opted not to go, despite the strong desire to hold a stack of chips and pick out my favorite numbers.

Beer and roulette really gets me going.

Here I am at Soul with the gorgeous gals.

This coming weekend won't be so eventful. Or at least I'm hoping not. I'm managing a 400-person dinner in Fraserburgh for work - my first big event! It's a black-and-white ball. Should be fun.

I'll have to eat some Nutella before I go.

You know, to stave off those hunger pains and all.


Here Today, Hail Tomorrow

I haven't really posted much about the daily ongoings for us in Scotland, though it isn't always that exciting. But the little things are what has set our life apart here in the UK, so humor me and read on!

I think I counted four consecutive days of sun last week/weekend, which must've been the limit. Today it hailed! The temp has dropped significantly since Sunday, unfortunate for me because I've been dying to break out my shorts and new sandals forever now. I actually put on my shorts to make a happy hour last Friday (an Italy-inspired, summer-worthy shopping spree might have taken place recently). But I had to change before I even got out of the house that afternoon because the rain clouds were looming and the cold wind had set in. When there is no sun, there is little warmth.

Where there is sun, however, it sticks around for awhile! The sun doesn't completely set until about 10:15pm these days and is already on its way up again by 3:45am. How do I know, you ask? Because it starts peeking around the corners of our bedroom curtain and finding its way into our faces. Fortunately our curtains keep it just dim enough to sleep comfortably, but the chirping birds that sing around the clock make sure we're completely aware of the hour. I would love to put up blackout shades but have determined that they don't work well with the types of windows used in the flats here. The windows don't slide up and down, like in American homes, rather they swing back toward the inside of the room to open. So the window would have to be shut to use a blackout shade. And since there's no air conditioning in our place (as goes for most of the UK), it gets a little muggy when that happens. Dilemma, dilemma!

Here's our street at 9:45pm on a cloudy day...

Today after work and a seriously intense body conditioning workout at the gym, I braved the hail pebbles in the Micra and went and grabbed some grub and a few beauty essentials. Apparently I'm a big fan of Neutrogena - I made it out of Boots with three of the brand's face washes! I swear by the face scrub, in the middle. It works wonders on skin and it keeps mine clean and fresh.

This evening I made a Greek salad for dinner - salad, black and green olives, roasted red peppers, feta, garlic cloves and marinated artichoke hearts. Mmm mmm good! Now I'm trying to figure out how to update my blog's layout to give me a little more space on this thing while sipping wine, catching up on the latest gossip/fashion magazines and baking some banana bread for the husband. Oh, and watching a little 007 on the "tele." It's from the Pierce Brosnan era (Die Another Day), so a little cheesy but still among my favorite films.

I just ordered these postcards I made to send to close friends and family - it's important to us to keep in touch! We just made our first plans with friends back in the US, an Aggie fall football game! It feels good to be included and we are getting very excited about moving back. I've been pretty homesick this week..

I promise to get back on the blog more often! I'm working on adding some pages as well, so keep an eye out for changes over the next few weeks. Bask in the glorious sun rays that might grace your day and send warm thoughts our way...


British Airways Photo Contest!

Over the course of our nine months living abroad and traveling Europe on weekends, we've gotten some really great photos. Many of our flights have been on British Airways and in the last issue of the in-plane magazine, they were promoting a travel photo contest. So Mike and I have both entered!

My photo is from a September walk in Aberdeen and Mike's is of the Eilean Donan Castle in Dornie during Western Isles road trip.

"Tunnel of Dreams"

"Castle in the Glass"

Simply CLICK HERE to go and cast your vote for my photo, and CLICK HERE to cast your vote for Mike's.

You have to register to be able to vote and I know that's always a pain. But we appreciate you taking the time, we need a lot of votes!!! The current highest ranked photo is over 1,000 points (each vote is rated 1-5 points). There will be monthly drawings for a Nikon camera, and two grand prize winners will be decided by highest number of votes and one picked by the judges.

Please share these links with your friends and colleagues so we can rack up those points. Thanks for your support!!

Sheepshagger Country

Yup, this is a post about sheep. I can only get away with this 'cause I'm living in Scotland...

There's nothing cuter than baby sheep. They are so adorable, tottering around on their little wee legs and their stumpy tails start waggin' ninety to nothing when they're feeding from their fat mamas. It seemed that sheep bearing season occurred a few months ago, tons and tons of little lambies started appearing in all the fields we drove by out in the country. You can be outside of the city limits for not even five minutes before you spot hundreds of sheep. They are absolutely everywhere, unlike in Texas where you're lucky to see a couple cows!

I finally uploaded these pictures from my friend's camera, taken a few weeks ago during a drive to Stonehaven. My goal was to touch a wee sheepie because they just look sooo soft and fluffy. And they are! I lucked out and found a friendly little guy craning his head outside the gate bars trying to get the bits of grass that were definitely way greener on the other side. See the cuteness for yourself...

The sheep here aren't raised as much for the wool, we've been told, as they are for the meat. I think the wool industry has taken a hit in modern times, though it certainly still exists. And there's quite a science to keeping sheep; it's not just a bunch of wooly haired baa-ing animals eating up your grass. They are marked and herded and fed and sheared and tended carefully during birth. The average "sheep mom" bears one to two babies each season - judging by the sheep population boom we noticed in early spring. Every once in awhile though a sheep might have three lambs, so the farmers will take the third little one and introduce it to a momma sheep with only one baby. That way they can better feed and care for two versus three. The process is normally very successful and the sheep take to it with little problems. It's like the too-many-sheep adoption program!

And just for good measure, here's some nice scenic shots from our drive back into Aberdeen. When the sun's out, it really does make for some pretty Scottish views that are, uh, baaaa none.


My Recipes: Cajun Shrimp & Veggie Pasta

I haven't done a recipe post in awhile and thought this might be a good time to interject some food. Hence the following hodge podge of ingredients for a meal I totally made up tonight when I decided that I really wanted pasta. And shrimp. Together. But I didn't have any sauce handy and I didn't feel like going to the story. It's amazing how creative one can get when one does not want to walk to the grocery store. And one didn't. Here's what you need to know...

Cajun Shrimp & Veggie Pasta
Serves 2 hearty portions
Cook time: about 20 mins

1/2 bag of pasta, any kind
7 or 8 ounces of peeled shrimp (or really just whatever amount you feel like cooking)
1 red onion, chopped
1 yellow bell pepper, chopped
1 bunch asparagus, chopped and steamed
Chopped garlic, spoonful out of a jar or 3-4 cloves
Salt & pepper
Cajun-mixed seasoning, your choice
EVOO (extra virgin olive oil in Rachael Ray-speak)

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and add pasta. While pasta cooks, add about a tablespoon EVOO to a large sautee pan and throw in your onions and bell pepper. Sprinkle lightly with cajun seasoning and stir often, until vegetables begin to soften and pieces start browning. Then add shrimp, 1/2 of garlic and asparagus, seasoning liberally with salt and pepper. (I like using sea salt and then a bit of Lawry's Seasoning Salt at the end for a better flavor.)

While shrimp cooks, combine about 2 tablespoons EVOO, spoonful of garlic and liberal amount of salt and pepper in small bowl then whisk with fork. When shrimp is opaque white (usually 4-5 minutes cook time), drain pasta then add the pasta back to its pot. Stir in shrimp and veggie mixture and EVOO sauce and toss well. Enjoy!


The World of MacBride

You might have heard about my obsession with Stuart MacBride and his books. I think I mentioned him here and here. I read all five tomes in his Logan McRae series at lightening speed and then nearly went into a brief depression when I realized there were no more. But fate smiled upon me, and his sixth and newest installment in the Aberdeen-based detective series has hit the shelves. You bet I've got my copy, ahem, booked at the local Ferryhill library (they're so popular you have to reserve them or you'll never see 'em).

For good measure, I ordered up an additional novel of his, this one apart from the series. That way I'll have two juicy reads to entertain me over the next 2-3 weeks. Or maybe just for the plane ride to Italy and back. Because that's how fast I read them. I have to order two at a time, which is probably why the librarian plunks them on the counter when I walk in. Who else reserves two big stacks of pages twice a month?

And now I've just discovered his blog. Praise Heaven. It's like a satirical gold mine of punch lines - dark humor, witty banter and snippy one-liners all twisted up in Aberdonian accents. I love it. He makes me want to use the expression "sodding about" every 15 minutes.

Stuart MacBride is a tremendous writer, and possibly one of the greatest I've ever discovered. He's certainly my favorite. His gritty crime novels are just my thing, like glorified CSI episodes set in Scotland and loaded with fish and chips and tins of Irn Bru.

Without further ado, ladies and gents, take a peek into the mastermind that is Mr. MacBride, courtesy of his newly renovated web site which you can view in full here.


Stuart MacBride was born in Dumbarton, but ran away to join the circus at the age of nine, where he specialised in wrestling bears for money (Going on to represent Great Britain at the Atlanta Olympics). In 1975 he won the Nobel Peace Prize for his revolutionary work on Irn-Bru, then went on to create the world's biggest ball of bellybutton lint. In 1989 he joined the secret intelligence service, but was later invalided out due to a back injury sustained while performing a reverse-overhead-piledriver on a grizzly bear. Now confined to his pyjamas, Stuart whiles away his time writing crime novels set in Aberdeen and lying to journalists.


 Or at least, that's the version of events I gave Trend Magazine. They published it too...

In real life I was born in Dumbarton -- no one knows why, not even my mother -- and moved up to Aberdeen at the tender age of two, dragging my mother, father, and a pair of wee brothers with me. There followed a less than stellar academic career, starting out in Marchburn Primary School, where my evil parents forced me to join the cub scouts (specialising in tying unnecessary knots in things and wearing shorts). Thence to Middlefield Academy for some combat recorder practice.

Having outstayed our welcome in Heathryfold we stopped thencing and tried going hence instead. To Westhill. To a housing development built over the remains of a pig farm. Sounds a bit suspect, but that's what the official story was when all the householders found teeth and bones coming to the surface of their neatly tended vegetable plots. Pig farm. Right... Eventually I escaped from Westhill Academy with a CSE in woodwork, a deep suspicion of authority, and itchy shins.

"If you've never tried it, I can wholly recommend giving it a go..."There followed an aborted attempt to study architecture at Herriot Watt in Edinburgh, which proved to be every bit as exciting and interesting as watching a badger decompose. If you've never tried it, I can wholly recommend giving it a go (watching mouldy badgers falling to bits, not architecture). So I gave up the life academic and went a-working offshore instead. That involved a lot of swearing as I recall. Swearing and drinking endless cups of tea. And I think I had Alpen every morning for about a year and a half. Can't look at a bowl of the stuff now without getting the dry boak, sod how regular it keeps you. After my stint offshore I had a bash at being a graphic designer, a professional actor, an undertaker, a marketing company's studio manager, a web designer, programmer, technical lead... Then last, but by all means least, finally circling the career drain by becoming a project manager for a huge IT conglomerate.


Anyway, while I was doing all that IT stuff, I wrote a wee book about an Aberdonian detective sergeant and his dysfunctional colleagues: Cold Granite. HarperCollins bought it, and overnight I went from a grumpy project manager caterpillar to a writing butterfly. As long as you can picture a six-foot-tall, pasty-white, bearded butterfly with no wings, that spends all its time hanging about the house in its jammies.


'Till I Hear You Sing

The passion of Phantom of the Opera continues in Love Never Dies.

He received a standing ovation when we attended the performance at the Adelphi Theatre in London.

The words move you and the music of the night soothes you.

And years come and years go
Time runs dry
Still I ache down to the core
My broken soul
Can’t be alive and whole
Till I hear you sing once more...

Switzerland, Germany & Austria: Das Good!

After five days galavanting around Germany, Switzerland and a snippet or two of Austria, we came back to Scotland reminding ourselves that the people here do speak English and we could stop over pronunciating our words. We could also eat vegetables again. The Germans believe in a meat-and-potatoes diet and nothing more. Starch overload... somebody get me a carrot!

But all kidding aside, the husband and I got to take in some breathtaking views of Germany, some elaborate Swiss banks and cuckoo clocks and a foggy, hazy view of the Alps along with the Disney-inspiring structure, Neuschwanstein Castle. Piqued your interest, have I? Grab another cuppa (Scottish "slang" for a mug of tea or coffee) because more of our "Texas Tales from Europe" are coming 'atcha!

It took about six hours for us to get from Aberdeen to Zurich, and it was late night and raining when we arrived. We easily grabbed a taxi from the airport to our overnight digs at the Leoneck Hotel, which was decorated in an odd combination of cow themes. But our room was plenty big enough (UK and European hotel rooms run notoriously small) and we dropped off our bags then went for a walk in search of the city and dinner. We took in a few sparkling nighttime views from a bridge near the rail station and stopped in at Mickey D's for some food. Sometimes, when all else fails (or is already closed), you come to appreciate the consistency of the familiar American Golden Arches.

rainy arrival in zurich

dinner a la mcdonalds

our cow-themed hotel

Our next day I was up and ready to go explore Zurich! I've been looking forward to visiting Switzerland for a long, long time. One large hot tea and a blueberry muffin at Starbucks later, we were headed for Bahnhofstrasse, the main shopping street in town and also home to the headquarters of Switzerland's two largest banks, the famed Fraumünster church (more on that later) and yummy chocolated-lined shelves at the delicious Confiserie Sprungli chocolate shop and cafe.

We browsed a couple stores, took a bunch of pictures and stopped for some truffles du jour at Confiserie. Then we headed into the Fraumünster since I wanted to see the gorgeous stained glass windows created by 20th century legendary artist Marc Chagall. They did not disappoint - they were beautiful! The church is one of three main cathedrals in the city of Zurich and was founded way back in 853. The actual building that stands now was created in the late 1800s, I believe. There are five breathtaking Chagall stained glass windows in the choir, each depicting a different theme and specific color. Of course, we weren't allowed to take pictures inside the church but I managed to get a pretty dang good secret snapshot of three of the windows! From left to right, they depict Jacob, Christ and Zion.

After a tasty local Italian lunch (and much needed beer break), we wandered over to the edge of Lake Zurich for some pictures and nature watching. There were tons of swans and beautiful mallard ducks swimming around everywhere. Two odd looking duck-creatures in some sort of funny mating ritual captivated our attention for a good 20 minutes. They chased and swam around after each other, diving underwater like little torpedos, then would come face to face and spread out their neck feathers and shake their little heads at each other!

That afternoon we managed to find the Hertz office and retrieve our rent car - a giant upgrade from the little Nissan Micra we're used to driving in Aberdeen! It was an actual SUV! Once we were loaded up, we set out for Oberstaufen, Germany and enjoyed such gorgeous scenery along the way. Our hotel in Oberstaufen was actually a resort, but we stopped so many times on the road for pictures and a little sightseeing that we didn't end up with a ton of time to enjoy our place. We did find yet another good Italian place for dinner in a small town nearby, but luckily they had some native Germany dishes as well. I had some of the most delicious salmon and we tried out some new beers as well.

stopped for a drink and a snack at this charming cafe in constance

drive-by scenery

the alps!!

the view behind our resort hotel in oberstaufen

It was an early rise the next morning to give us enough time to make breakfast in the adorable hotel restaurant, pack and load and get back on the road. This time the highlight was to see the Neuschwanstein Castle, which provided the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty castle. It was absolutely breathtaking, perched high in the rocky cliffs. Your Wikipedia facts: Neuschwanstein Castle is a 19th-century Romanesque Revival palace on a rugged hill above the village of Hohenschwangau near Füssen in southwest Bavaria, Germany. The palace was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria as a retreat and as an homage to Richard Wagner. The palace was intended as a personal refuge for the reclusive king, but it was opened to the paying public immediately after his death in 1886. Since then over 60 million people have visited Neuschwanstein Castle. More than 1.3 million people visit annually, with up to 6,000 per day in the summer. The palace has appeared prominently in several movies and was the inspiration for Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle.

We opted not to go in for a tour but rather admire it from the ground below, becoming only mildly distracted by some highflying gliders who were partaking in the Hang Gliding World Championships 2010. Uh, that would be kind of a big deal. There was a festival of some sort set up just down the ride to celebrate the competition so we stopped off to check it out, and ended up riding a toboggan down the hillside. Who said we aren't a fun bunch? Hang gliders sure are.

Our next overnight stop was in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. This little resort town, right near the Austrian border, was, as its name suggests, formerly two separate cities. A little history nugget for you, courtesy of Wikipedia: Garmisch and Partenkirchen remained separate until their respective mayors were forced by Adolf Hitler to combine the two market towns in 1935 in anticipation of the 1936 Winter Olympic games. Today, the united town is casually (but incorrectly) referred to as Garmisch, much to the dismay of Partenkirchen's residents. Most visitors will notice the slightly more modern feel of Garmisch while the fresco-filled, cobblestoned streets of Partenkirchen offer a glimpse into times past. Early mornings and late afternoons in pleasant weather often find local traffic stopped while the dairy cows are herded to and from the nearby mountain meadows.

the view from our hotel window

streets of partenkirchen

The streets of Partenkirchen are charming, indeed, with beautifully decorated buildings. But there was hardly a person in site as Mike and I went for a stroll. We stopped in what was probably the only busy bar (and by busy, I mean more than 1 person not counting the bartender), grabbed a beer and found out from the locals that there was a festival going on in Garmisch that evening. Of course we had to check it out, which ended up being a great time and we spent our night sipping local German brews, sampling Bratwurst, flan and mojitos (from now on, I'll leave those to Mexico!) and enjoying some live music. I felt very German! Our taxi driver was also kind enough to drive us by the old Olympic stadium; it's really amazing to think about the many memories made there back in 1936. Apparently Garmisch-Partenkirchen has put in a bid for the 2018 Olympics, to be supported by surrounding cities Munich and Schönau am Königsee. (There are only two other competing bids coming from France and South Korea, supposedly making up the lowest number of Winter Olympics bids since 1988.)

eating up the festival in garmisch

the 1936 olympic stadium

We were up and at 'em the following morning to make it to Munich in time to return our rent car and explore the city before night fell. We checked into the Marriott, which was the most "Americanized" and modernized hotel we've stayed in our entire time abroad. Thank Heaven for USA-inspired digs. The weather had graced us with bearable temperatures and even some sun, so we enjoyed perusing the city which included an overabundance of Bavarian pretzels, beersteins and architecture. We landed in Marienplatz square, a central city spot in Munich, marked by the stately New Town Hall, built in the late 1800s and explemifying the typical Gothic Revival architecture which dominates so much of Europe. Here, we watched the building's Rathaus-Glockenspiel chime the five o'clock hour. The Glockenspeil is a two-story clock of sorts equipped with 43 bells and 32 life-sized figures that rotate as the bell dongs out the time. Each half of the "clock" tells a story, the top portion depicting the marriage of the local Duke Wilhelm V, who also founded the world famous Hofbräuhaus.

st. michael's cathedral in munich

After a sun-drenched meal of beef noodle soup and salad and a couple beers and one dessert stop at the Ratskeller restaurant (underground eatery beneath the New Town Hall), we stopped back by the hotel to freshen up then headed to said Hofbräuhaus for dinner. Another two-story creation, the brewery was inititally established in 1589 and serves up a storied past which you can read about in detail here should you wish. We drank litres of their dark ale and ate to our heart's content while special performers entertained diners with everything from traditional German dancing to playing "Appalachian Spring" on the ricola trumpets! (Actually, it's really called an alphorn. See more here.)

hofbrauhaus large white building on left

inside the old restaurant brewery

Before we left the following morning I got in a bit of shopping and a little more people watching... there's nothing that quites makes your day like seeing a grown man in lederhosen (leather pants) at 10:30 in the am. In fact, there's actually nothing at all like seeing Munich, Germany at 10:30am on a Monday morning. Or Zurich, Switzerland three days before that.  Or flying back to your "home" in Aberdeen, Scotland. Funny how something that once seemed so foreign can become much less strange over time. Speaking of less strange, I'm off to find me some vegetables for dinner. Not all things familiar need stick around...
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