Tag Archives: travel

A recent adventures update

The time has come to return to Honolulu on the final leg of our most recent epic travel adventure.

For the past three weeks, James and I have had the most incredible series of adventures with some of the best travel companions and friends we could wish for. Our trip kicked off with a one day adventure in NYC with one of my earliest and best childhood friends, Matthew. We explored the #highline and reveled in the gorgeous summer weather. Next stop was London, where we were welcomed to stay at the lovely flat of our favorite British blogger and proverbial “hostess with the mostest” Carla (check out her cool blog Zoubisou). After a truly amazing five day stay in the UK (which will be recapped in an upcoming post), we were off again to Bergen, Norway to rendezvous with our intrepid traveling companions Emily and Pat and received the warmest of welcomes by our favorite Norwegian, Mari. Not only did she open her home to the four of us, but she took on the roles of tour guide, translator, navigator and entertainer! (In traditional Norweigan national attire no less- but that’s a story for another day.) Bergen is a beautiful city and I look forward to sharing our adventures there after I have a chance to process some photos at home to illustrate the stories.

After Bergen, our party of four headed north, flying first to Bødo and then boarding the Hurtigruten MS Løfoten to the magical islands of Løfoten, north of the arctic circle. The awesomeness of our experiences here under the midnight sun are hard to put into words, so I will wait to share more details when the photos can lend some visual punch to my experiences of awe and joy.

After what seemed like the blink of an eye, we were all back in Oslo for our final night before parting ways. James, Pat, Emily and I stayed together sharing laughter, wine and the History Channel’s #vikings until the last possible minute (James and I grabbed the last train of the night from Oslo back to our airport hotel).

A flight from Oslo to Newark and a long overnight layover allowed for one more night with Matthew and his wonderful husband Bobby. We managed a nap and got to sit in on a Mathieu Blue rehearsal for an upcoming performance of his on Monday! It was surreal and wonderful to be a part of the behind-the-scenes with an awesome band and creative team as they launch my best friend’s lifelong dream of performing his original songs (and some rocking covers too) live in New York City. The night wasn’t complete until we grabbed our NYC slices to go and hopped in a cab back to Harlem.

Fast forward to the current moment, and James and I are side by side aboard our #united flight back to Honolulu. I reflect on the past few weeks with a heart full of friends and adventures and can’t wipe the grin off my face. What a trip it’s been. The sharing has just begun my friends, there are stories and memories galore to explore. But first, two more episodes of Vikings, a blanket and a nap are necessary to top it all off.

#summerinnorway was #epic

-Meagz

Atop Reinebringen
Atop Reinebringen Photo credit: James Brogan
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We made the list! 17 Hawaiian Instagrammers Show Us Why Hawaii Is The Most Vibrant Place On Earth by Kate Siobhan Mulligan at the Matador Network.

17 Hawaiian Instagrammers Show Us Why Hawaii Is The Most Vibrant Place On Earth by Kate Siobhan Mulligan. Shutter Force Photography was selected as one of the 17 by the Matador Network! Check us out and be sure to follow our photos on Instagram @shutterforcephoto.

Hot springs, long drives and surreal places in wild, wild Wyoming

Thermopolis.

Sounds like a made up place, right? Some odd mishmash of science and Greek, with a dash of fantasy. Then you find out it exists (and it’s a tiny town in Wyoming) and it sounds even more strange and unbelievable.

My husband James was born and raised in Wyoming, but I met him in Hawai’i and most people would lose a bet to guess his origins. That’s likely because there are a lot of people (and places!) in Wyoming that regularly defy the stereotypical Wyomingite. Thermopolis is one of these places.

Everytime I visit I am surprised and delighted by the uniqueness of Wyoming; a place where the west is still pretty wild, just not always in the way you think it is.

James and his family have been telling me stories of their childhood trips to “Thermop” since I first met him/them nearly ten years ago. I didn’t realize at the time they were actually telling me about a town called Thermopolis (I thought for a long time it was a theme park, like Wyoming’s version of Six Flags). So on a recent visit to the Equality State, we take a short drive to make the introduction. Just a mere 2.5 hours from Casper (a “short” drive for Wyoming natives- the state is HUGE), the trip to Thermopolis is through a whole lot of… open space. There are small little townships scattered through the plains (some with populations of less than 50 people), and antelope. And cows. And fences. And tons and tons of sky. As a New Hampshire native, I think all of it’s brilliant. James yawns.

Then we drive into the Wind River Canyon (the yawning stops immediately) and we are surrounded by towering canyon walls, some as high as 2,500 feet high, containing rock formations dating all the way to the precambrian era. That’s almost 3 million years ago. Yeah, for real. The Burlington railway snakes along the river and we scan every ledge for a sighting of the many Bighorn sheep that make these ancient cliffs their home.

Wind River Canyon. Photo by M.C.Brogan, Shutter Force Photography
Wind River Canyon. Photo by M.C.Brogan, Shutter Force Photography 2015

After exiting the canyon we emerge shortly into the town of Thermopolis, the home of the world’s largest mineral hot springs and Wyoming’s first state park.

We were able to make a reservation at a renovated historical building (now operated by Best Western) located right within the park. Perfect. We check in and make our way over to the Star Plunge, one of three recreational establishments that utilize the hot spring mineral water to fill their pools, water slides and vapor room. I don’t know if a water slide will ever appeal to me more than one with 90-100 degree water flowing inside it. There’s a faint smell of sulfur in the air (mineral hot springs, remember?) but I was prepared for it, and to be honest, it smells a heck of a lot better than Yellowstone. I’ve got a sensitive nose and was pretty worried that I wouldn’t handle the smell well, but it never took away from my good time splashing around all the pools, hot tubs and steam room and before we leave I no longer even notice it.

Thermopolis Hot Springs. Photo by M.C.Brogan, Shutter Force Photography 2015
Thermopolis Hot Springs. Photo by M.C.Brogan, Shutter Force Photography 2015

The late afternoon is spent driving around the plains within the park, where herds of buffalo and deer roam about. We eat an early dinner at Las Fuentes Mexican Food and order the local favorite, a breaded chicken breast with aioli corn and raspberry chipotle sauce, topped off with a massive (real fruit) blackberry margarita. I was thrilled.. After dinner, the calories need some walking off, so we drive back to the park, bringing our cameras down past the Smoking Waters.

Smoking Waters, Thermopolis, WY. Photo by M.C.Brogan, Shutter Force Photography 2015
Smoking Waters, Thermopolis, WY. Photo by M.C.Brogan, Shutter Force Photography 2015

We wander across the “swinging bridge” for some awesome views of the mineral springs waterfall melting down into the Big Horn River as the sun sets. After the stars came out, we go night shooting and have fun (except for the little incident that involves me attempting to sneak up on a deer and instead stepping into a hole in the dark and tumbling awkwardly down a hill onto the pavement, the fall punctuated by curses. Oops.)

Frozen Hot Springs. Photo by M.C.Brogan, Shutter Force Photography 2015
Frozen Hot Springs. Photo by M.C.Brogan, Shutter Force Photography 2015

The morning of our departure we successfully find the bison in the park (check!) and then make for the rock shop as we headed out of town. Ava’s Silver and Rock Shop is not to be missed. Even if you are just driving through on your way to/from Yellowstone, make a pit stop here to view some amazing gems and learn more about geology in 40 minutes than you might in half a college semester. Discover petrified wood from the ashes of the last Yellowstone explosion, geodes that glow under blacklight and even find fossils of dinosaur bone marrow. Ava designs beautiful jewelry and Eddy has been a geologist for over 30 years. He was even part of the team in the early 90s that discovered over 35 dinosaur skeletons in the region, many of whom are found in the Wyoming Dinosaur Center right in Thermopolis. You won’t want to leave!

Thermopolis meets the Big Horn River. Photo by James Brogan, Shutter Force Photography 2015
Thermopolis meets the Big Horn River. Photo by James Brogan, Shutter Force Photography 2015

When I go back to “Thermop”, I will be sure to return to the mineral baths, sign up for a whitewater raft through the Wind River Canyon and maybe even do a day of digging for Dinosaurs. It’s a small, unusual and wonderful place that totally validates its strange name: Thermopolis, Wyoming. Go visit! -Meagz

Quote for Today

I’ve been homesick for countries I’ve never been, and longed to be where I couldn’t be.

-John Cheever

The 6 Most Uniquely Annoying Airplane Passengers & How to Survive Them

On a recent episode of Jimmy Kimmel Live!, one of Kimmel’s guests took on role-playing the results of an Expedia poll describing the most annoying airplane passengers you might encounter when traveling. The guest actor was none other than the incomparable Sir Patrick Stewart and the sketch was very entertaining. Kimmel and Stewart shared the caustic characters of Chatty Charlie, Stinky Snacker, Seat Climber, Seat Kicker and Landing Clapper as the most annoying. This sketch got me thinking. If I were to compose my own list of annoying personalities, who would make the cut? This post features my breakdown of several special characters unfortunately encountered during my many hours spent airborne. I encourage you to check out the video here to watch Sir Patrick expertly nail the five listed above, and do read on for my particular brand of annoying passenger behavior.

Meagz’ Six Most Maddening

1. The Window Shade Blinder

We’re up in the air and I’m settling in at last for a little light airplane nap when suddenly “THWACK!” Your brutal handling of the window shade makes me visibly jump from the sound and now the inside of my eyelids are on fire. I’m forced to make my Tom Hanks face, searching for a plane from my deserted beach. It would be great if you would consider whether there might be a blinding ball of gas reflecting off the wing into your neighbor’s eyes before opening, as she is rather fond of keeping her corneas. And go slow. It is not an elastic retractable window shade and therefore should not sound like one. Thanks.

2. The Bad Parent

I’ll be forthcoming and honest, I do not have children of my own. I respect that airplane travel with said offspring could be one of the most challenging experiences for any parent. But there are some parents that are doing it right. They manage to keep their kiddos from kicking the seats in front of them, or tearing up and down the aisles, squawking loudly for attention. Basically, they pay attention. My last flight to Honolulu from Las Vegas featured a lone mother with two children who sat in the middle seat between them. Sporting her massive Beats headphones, she pretty much zoned out while they slammed armrests, worked the window shade incessantly, threw food, bounced the seats all around. Her answer to calming them down? Giving them candy and hand held video games with the sound on. She didn’t care about the sounds driving everyone else mad; she was lost in her freedom bubble, courtesy of Dr. Dre. I don’t expect kids to be the picture of good behavior, but I do expect some serious effort on the part of the parent(s). If I see you trying, you’re off the hook. If you’re wearing Beats and you have hellions; prepared to be loathed by all passengers around you.

3. The Noisy Chewer

One of the categories in the Expedia report was what Kimmel called the Stinky Snacker. I agree that is totally annoying to have smelly food on board. Beef jerky and an onion sandwich, really? However, what’s worse is having to hear it. Channel your mother and close your damn mouth when you chew. Absolutely no talking. If God wanted us to talk and eat at the same time our vocal chords would be in our nasal passages. Clear your gob hole and then we can talk. Swish it down with a beverage and avoid any possible UFOs potentially headed in my general direction.

4. The Ice Chomper

Let’s be clear right now, if the beverage mentioned above is finished, if you start chewing on the remaining ice I will grab the cup from you and hold it menacingly. I don’t quite know what I would do next since I would prefer not to get tackled by an air marshal, but it will be taken, and I will find your dentist and totally tell on you. No one can sleep/read/exist calmly when the Titanic-meets-iceburg re-enactment is on repeat in the seat next to them. Do not ever chew your ice cubes next to me. Or anyone else for that matter. It will make a sane person crazy.

5. The Farter

No one likes to talk about it, but everyone has been the unfortunate recipient of a nasty gassy on a flight before. I believe it could even be a secret factor in contributing to airplane sickness. A fart cloud might happen to you every time you fly. It might even be you creating said cloud. All I ask of The Farter is this: if you know some foods makes you leak out your rear end, don’t eat them on this plane. Bring a little pepto or beano for the long flights. Or a plug. Whatever it takes to keep it to yourself. You might be immune to your own rank stench, but I’m going green back here.

6. The Back-of-the-Plane Line Jumper

We’ve landed. Hooray! The time has come to de-plane. There’s a natural order to this. You allow the rows in front of you to clear out and then it’s your turn. If you have a short layover and you’re desperately trying to make your flight, be a human and communicate with those around you. You’ll advance much faster if you have everyone around you on your team helping you move forward. Don’t be that groaning, toe-tapping, under-breath mumbler that no one likes. And if you announce that “some of us have a flight to catch” to no-one in particular, I will be tempted to pop you in the face with my neck pillow. Stop it. The majority of my flight experiences haven’t featured all these characters at once (praise be), but I have encountered each of them on more than one occasion. Thus, I’ve been driven to develop tactical defenses and management devices for each:

I combat both the chewers and children with earplugs of headphones of my own (not Beats though, sorry Dre), the shade blinder with an eye mask, and the farter with scented hand lotion applied just under the nostrils. The ice chomper gets straight-up-spoken-to. “Please sir/ma’am, I’m having trouble sleeping due to your ice chewing. Will you please refrain? Mahalo.” Lastly, to prevent the line jumper I simply stand up and block the aisle to allow those in my row and beyond their right to exit when their turn arrives.

Or, like one should in any social situation where other people behave less than admirably, I just try to get over them. They make great fodder for storytelling and casual, comfortable complaining, but in the end, that’s all they ever are. There’s no greater feeling when flying to actually sit back, relax and allow yourself to be amazed that a plane is whisking you off to your destination, at 30,000 feet in the air. Annoyances be damned. As comedian Louis C.K. likes to say about the miracle of human flight: “You’re in a chair… in the sky.” Sometimes a little perspective makes nearly every annoyance seem trivial. Except perhaps, chewing ice cubes.

Palpable Magic

My previous post covered how fun the wedding was, and I’m still aghast that it lasted less than an hour. What powerful emotion can emanate from such a blip in our lifetime! Now I’ve had time to process the events that came after the ceremony, it’s time to try to put into words what happened next. We had a little interlude between the ceremony and the reception, some rum punch and steel drums to fill the ‘tween time. Lots of pictures and hugs from our guests, James and I took a turn on the steel drums and Max told me (after some confidence nudging from his mom) that I “looked pretty.” My feet floating on air had been touch and go until this moment. I was now positively airborne. What followed next was really nothing short of the best party ever.

The path to the beach reception was lit with luminaries and the guests made their way to the site while James and I hung back for our grand introduction. It was even more exciting because we hadn’t seen the set up and Nadia had been hinting about all kinds of surprises in store for us. The wedding party was introduced and James and I snuck around the back end of the beach where an awesome set of stone steps afforded us a secret entrance to take all the guests by surprise when we were announced as Mr. and Mrs. Brogan. Awaiting our debut, this was the first moment when it was just the two of us for more than a day and words can’t express the wonder with which we stood and stared at each other for a solid three minutes of silent expression. We were speechless as we beheld this beautiful beach that held the most incredible group of people, all of whom came together for us. The silent electricity passing between us grew as we stood there on the bluff hand-in-hand, already aware this night was the best of our lives to date, and reeling from the knowledge that it was just about to get better. That moment hangs suspended in time for us, and then the snowball began to gather speed. Next thing we knew we were arm in arm down the steps, surprising the guests, hugging everyone, dancing to the full steel drum band and then whoa, it was time for dinner!

The food was incredibly good, all full of caribbean flavor like I hoped it would be. I ate until I was beyond stuffed, but the genius of the corset dress worked its magic. Shortly following dinner it was time for speeches, and to cut the cake. Truthfully, the night was such a blur the order of events is slightly fuzzy. At least I think we did the speeches first, so as to let our Best Man get his over with. Unbeknownst to me, our Kyle (always the life of the party) is deathly afraid of speaking in public, and hadn’t been eating for the two days leading up to the wedding. Good heavens. We’d only asked him to say a few things and make a toast, but facing his fear like a true hero, he went above and beyond and shared wonderful words of friendship that brought laughter and smiles and a thunderous round of applause. My sister Laura was genuine and loving and the tears were welling up before she finished her first sentence. Then Matthew and Laura sang a duet for all of us and the well of tears overflowed. Years of adoration and love tumbled out of our eyes as we all realized this was a moment we’d talked about since we were young and green. “Someday we’ll sing at your wedding” they used to say, and this was it. My wedding!

I was as full as I could possibly be, both in my soul and my stomach. Time to cut the cake. It’s a god thing I have a dessert shelf, because that cake was magnificent. So beautiful to behold, even more incredible to indulge. James behaved himself and didn’t cover me in cake, so I followed suit, if only to make sure no bit of that deliciousness was wasted. Hit fast forward again because my next fragmented memory is Matthew calling us to the dance floor for our first dance. This was a particular delight for me, as James had been alluding for months how much he was dreading it. The first dance song we managed to keep a secret from all but each other and I wish I’d looked around to see everyone’s reaction to our choice, but when I heard Jason Mraz’s voice begin our anthem I Won’t Give Up, all I saw was James.

The song seemed to last forever and yet I feared not blink to miss it. It wasn’t until after our dance that I discovered how many of our dear friends were brought to happy tears watching us share that moment. Then James and his wonderful mother Ada danced to Rascal Flatt’s My Wish and my father and I had a medley of songs special to us ending with John Hiatt’s Have a Little Faith. The moments were so special and kept bringing us higher and higher. The dance floor opened up to some fierce dancing, and many drinks imbibed. Matthew and I devised the signature drink for the evening: a blue curaco, coconut rum and pineapple masterpiece Matthew dubbed: “I’m Ruined.” It was a huge hit and cups of blue surrounded us all evening.

A particular favorite dance floor moment was James and my dedication to all the couples there for the evening, our unusual rendition of (of all choices) Katy Perry’s Teenage Dream, performed quite romatically by Boyce Avenue. I have snapshots in my memory of our three honeymoon couples Jenny & Trevor and Matt & Callie and Laura &Gary holding each other close and all of us singing aloud with the utmost joy. Oh what a night it was!

The excitement continued with great music, fun dance antics, more drinks and plenty of cake. But the night still hadn’t reach a pinnacle until it was time for the favors to be released. James and I first released floating wish lanterns in Thailand and we found the experience so moving and romantic, we knew we wanted a part of our day. We managed to find 100% biodegradable white lanterns and had them shipped to St. Lucia. They’d already traveled the world before they made their way to our beach, having bounced around cargo bays throughout the US before heading south to Central and South America, then Turks and Caicos and finally St. Lucia. Just in time for us to send them on their final voyage.

We knew they’d be beautiful, but we could never have predicted just how much all of our guests loved the releasing of the lanterns. There is no word in any language that can capture the joy in each of the faces as they watched their lantern soar and join the others in the night. Decades fell off of faces, as each was filled with delight and rapture. The magic of these moments was palpable, we held real magic in our hands and then sent it aloft. We were a swirl of carefree believers, a community of dreamers that just watched dreams we didn’t even know we had take flight. Very few words were exchanged between the exclamations of happiness but I know this experience made the greatest impact of the evening for all. Epic joy, true love and real magic are the three ingredients for our greatest adventure yet.

I Got Rickrolled at My Own Wedding

November 10, 2012. James and I planned for nearly two years to make our nuptials something truly special to us. During those 2 years we attended a combined total of 9 weddings. Needless to say, we were feeling pretty seasoned in the weeks leading up to our own. Pretty much feeling like Wedding Warriors actually. So between the 2 years of planning, the assistance of our incomparable on-island wedding planner and our warrior mindset, we were feeling ready for our big night.

The truth is, nothing you can do ahead of time can truly prepare you for the axis-bending experience of your own wedding. It feels like a surreal vortex. It’s impossible to describe the multitude of unique emotions: the lightness of pure joy counterbalancing the weight of your awe and the depth of the humility you feel. The emotions combine with a warping of time and space, where everything happens at lightning speed but you are somehow able to zero-in on moments that went on and on into the night.

It was awe-some.

Our ceremony was magical. We picked a location that was earth-shatteringly stunning. Our wedding planner Nadia added the perfect touches to make it incredibly romantic. Our most favorite people in the world filled it up. We then threw in some unconventionality: we began the ceremony with each member of the wedding party ‘walking’ down the aisle of the ruins to the tune of their own chosen ‘theme song.’ We thought it’d make everyone relax a little and bring smiles all around. Instead, it was like a powder keg explosion of awesomeness. Our friends came unleashed at each solo entrance, dancing their faces off with their own unique styles. I thought my heart was going to burst with a mixture of delight, pride, and good old-fashioned, soul-deep laughter. From Macklemore to Queen to Steve Wonder, each new song brought new antics and a new level of delight. We were like little kids, reveling in the magic of music and friends, everyone downright giddy with the fun of it all. And yes, my little sister, ever the clever one, finished off her Matron of Honor entrance with a Rickroll just as she hit the altar. It’s a good thing I had a long walk ahead of me, so I had time to compose my hysterical laughter and take the walk with composure, as it was the one moment I wanted to savor seriously: the chance to walk with my Dad, my first hero, toward the man I’m going to spend a lifetime trying to deserve. We shared words that meant the world, our sisters shared messages of love and my beloved Godfather read our favorite message from A.A. Milne about being two balloons with our direction going up. We shared our commitments to each other, our dear friend Trevor bound us to each other by the power invested in him by, as he likes to say, “the internet,” and then James kissed me with a sincerity women (and men!) the world over spend lifetimes longing for, complete with a shower of flower petals and thunderous applause.

Magic. Brought to us that day by the letters B and C, our families, friends, music, St. Lucia, and yes, even a little Rick Astley.

-M

*Photo by the incredible Samuel Wright

Packing tips for a backpacking trip

The irony of packing for a trip of epic proportions lies in precisely the lack of stuff you are able to bring with you. Here’s a few tried and true things to bring and tips to travel light from the road less traveled.

1. Dryer sheets (laundry softener sheets)- I read this tip in a Condé Nast Traveler magazine some time back and it is by far the best piece of advice I’ve used for any kind of travel. I’m an olfactory-focused person, and the dread of the dirty-laundry smell permeating throughout my pack was a very real threat the first time I took an extended trip. Slip a few dryer sheets in-between your rolled clothing to keep the whole bag smelling light, lovely and fresh from the line.

2. A few extra large sealable plastic bags – These are terrific for temporary storage of wet swim suits and for encapsulating dirty laundry. Utilize those dryer sheets again and override the laundry smell by putting a sheet in a sealed bag (especially with the socks) and you’ll be delighted at the effectiveness.

3. Face wipes – To clean the dirty city off your skin, or to de-salt after a day at sea; for those times when a sink isn’t to be had. There’s nothing like a fresh face to make you feel instantly revived. Be sure to go green and buy biodegradable ones!

4. Hand sanitizer- Use sparingly; you’re going to want your own immune system functioning at its peak. Go all natural and avoid the alcohol-based kind. Juni Hand Refresher (www.xango.com) is my germ killer of choice: all natural, fresh smelling and moisturizing.

5. Underwear x2- There is nothing more reassuring on a long trip than having a clean pair of underwear close at hand. Just when you think you’ve packed too many pairs of underwear, pack two more. Take out a shirt or two if you need to make room. TRUST ME. You can re-wear a shirt several times, but undies, well, you get it.

6. Sarong – This was the most versatile item I used in my pack. I picked one up early in my trip to Thailand as a cover-up at the beach, but used it countless ways. It doubled as scarf, a blanket, sun protector, a temperature regulating head scarf, a pillowcase, a dress, changing screen and even a towel. I won’t travel without one.

7. E-reader – I am a book lover. The feel, the smell, the look of a real book is irreplaceable to me. I swore for years that I would never go digital. I felt like I would be betraying the books that have shaped my character to do so. And then I was given my Nook for Christmas. Best. Present. Yet. While I will never lose the pleasure of caressing paper pages, my e-book allows me to bring an entire library with me while never adding pounds to my pack. I download free e-books from my local library’s website. I even download guidebooks, maps and language books of the regions I’ll be visiting. Awesome!

8. Small dry bag – It is comforting to be sure your electronics are protected within the contents of your pack. Even if you aren’t traveling by boat or near bodies of water, rain or spilled drinks are the enemy of your camera, phone, e-book, passport, etc.

9. TSA-approved lock – If you lock your pack, TSA is almost guaranteed to break it open and then you’re lock-less on the trip. They’re really cheap but can help you avoid being a sitting duck. Just remember, anyone can cut open the pack, or take the whole thing- the lock is just to prevent you from the simple unzip-and-slip on the train or bus.

10. Baby wipes and small package of toilet paper – It is essential to have a backup plan in case things go awry. Your body might not be used to the food you’ll be eating. Just sayin’.

11. Carabiners- A few of the simple, cheap carabiners (not necessarily the weight-bearing kind) are a neat and useful tool. I use them to hang towels, hang my pack away from the ants in our bungalow, and to attach my muddy shoes to the outside of the pack after a hike in the jungle.

Go forth and adventure!

“The boat’s leaving! (Without us!)”

How a Small Misstep Led to Our Biggest Adventure in Wachau

When visiting Vienna, Austria, there is so much to do within the city it is perfectly reasonable to never leave the city limits during your entire stay. Such was the case for the first week of my 10 day trip to Wien, but an itch to see some of the countryside began to tug at the corners of my trip itinerary. My sister Laura is spending a year as an au pair for the lovely Luna in Wien’s 9th district, which brought my parents and I across the Atlantic (and the Pacific for me) to the Imperial city. After experiencing much of Wien’s delights, Laura arranged a day for us outside the city to float the Danube and witness the famed Wachau Valley. An hour’s train ride out of the city brought us to the delightful town of Krems (Krems an der Donau), thought to be one of Austria’s oldest towns. We spent about an hour wandering the streets before our boat’s departure, happily exploring narrow roads and historic houses dating back to the 1500s and before.

Laura and Dad giving directions

Just as we were about to turn back to the Pier, Laura decided to push on just a little further and we stumbled upon an amazing church rising out of the surrounding homes. A steep stairway behind the church led us to an unparalleled lookout across the down and down to the Danube.

Hallowed window

Atop the stairs we found a sanctuary, (I’m currently attempting to research its history) a beautiful Christian shrine that just felt hallowed. While circling for the best photo angles, I discovered a small window into the basement that was easily accessible and unbarred. Peering into the dank darkness below, straining my eyes for glimpses of old doors and hidden rooms, I physically recoiled in shock as I discovered the entire space below the church was filled with human remains. Yes, I said human remains, and no, I’m not kidding. Maybe it’s because I’m an American and our history and ancestors pale in comparison to the rest of the world, but I sat in a haze of shock and disbelief at the base of that temple trying to make sense of the bodies laying below. I paid my respects and began to come to terms with the staggering history of the region I knew so little about and continued the trip down the Danube with a renewed sense of respect and regard.

All aboard the MS Prinz Eugen, one of the DDSG Blue Danube sightseeing cruise boats departing from Krems, cruising to Melk and back again. We boarded the ship, certainly a bit dated but in no way uncomfortable, and settled in on the top deck for photos and wonderment gazing. I was shocked to hear loudspeaker announcements in no less than six languages, describing the town of Krems, the monastery across the river and the upcoming town of Dürnstein.

A little back story: when Laura found us the cruise, we were under the impression that the boat docked at each port listed in the itinerary and we had a certain amount of time to explore the town before re-boarding and continuing on. With that foreshadowing, and the understanding that some things get lost in translation, you can come back to the story.

Durnstein Abbey and Durnstein Castle beyond

Ahhhh, Dürnstein. Our loudspeaker described to us the historical importance of the incredible remnants of Dürnstein castle overlooking the town and we were giddy with anticipation. Way back in 1192, King Richard the Lionheart (England, in case you aren’t hip with the Kings) was returning to his home country after the conclusion of his crusades and captured by Austrian Duke Leopold the first! He was held captive there until turned over to Emperor Henry VI at Trifels Castle and held for three weeks for an enormous ransom. Needless to say, the Corlin family was rearing at the bit when the boat docked at Dürnstein, and we attempted to communicate with the boat crew about how much time we had to explore. A combination of one of the deck hands telling us in broken English that we could get off but just for a minute and then they were leaving again, the confusion of what exactly this boat tour was about, and the determined focus to get up to that castle was to prove our big downfall. After the four of us rushed across the gangway, looking for a good vantage point to take a picture of the castle, everything went wrong. The boat left. As in, bye, bye, we’re going on to the next stop and oops, you probably shouldn’t have gotten off, you silly Americans. There were a few “wait! what? oh no! this isn’t happening! He said… You’ve got to be kidding! Noooo! I thought you said…” which didn’t take long to peter out as the gravity of the situation settled heavily upon us. Where are we, exactly? And what the heck are we supposed to do now? Then, as if by magic, I see Laura speaking to a kind woman in uniform who’d been at the dock all along. She works for Blue Danube! She’s telling us the next boat is in three hours! She’s… speaking English?! Who is this saintly woman, the only person visible in the vicinity around us, calmly telling us we’re up a creek but there’s another boat due in three hours. Mom starts her fast walk, stop, throw up the hands, walk, stop, exasperated sigh. Laura’s stuck in repeat, we’ll miss our train back to Vienna, we’ll miss our train, we’ll miss our train. Dad’s thinking, hard. I’m frozen, fighting off the little voice inside that’s saying ‘now you’ll have time to go see that castle!’ with the wooden stick of logic and the need to find a solution to help the family. The uniformed saint must have eyed our motley crew and taken pity on us, for at that moment, she decided to save us. “Excuse me, but I actually have two stations and I’m bound for Spitz now. If you come in my car I can take you to the next station, we can beat the boat, and you’ll be back on schedule.” The clouds parted, a shaft of sunshine burst through, right on to our heroine’s face, a choir of angels on high belted a hallelujah and… saved. And just like that, we were packed into a VW golf and racing through the streets of Dürnstein with Elizabeth behind the wheel, narrating as if we were on a tour and all part of the plan.

Elizabeth’s chariot!

Flight of the Bumblebee playing faintly in my ears, we roll into the lovely town of Spitz, 40 minutes in front of the boat. Elizabeth’s parting words: “get back on the boat, and stay on it.”

Spitz, Austria and the Danube

The next 40 minutes we filled at a restaurant directly across from the pier, with a view far up the river to spot our boat long before it arrived. We ordered a bottle of wine (when in Spitz…) and an apricot dessert, since Elizabeth said it’s what Spitz is famous for. The wine was incredible and the dessert… more hallelujahs from on high.

Hallelujah

A strudel with apricots, syrup and meringue, I can not put the taste into words. Paid our check, bought a bottle of wine from the gift shop and an apricot jam, ran to the docks, gave Elizabeth the jam and re-boarded the boat, slightly tipsy from the strong wine and adrenaline; laughing into the shocked faces of the Blue Danube crew who were no doubt asking each other “who are these people and how did they get here before us?”

The rest of the tour was full of tears of laughter, a gazillion photos and another bottle of wine imbibed in the on-board restaurant when it started to pour outside. We saw more castles, gorgeous vineyards, clock towers, even a bandits’ lookout on a mountain top rumored to have been a site of torture: unfortunate souls were said to be marched off the edge of the small fort, plunging down the cliffs to their demise. We docked at Melk, the end of our boat trip and the site of the world-famous Melk Abbey.

Melk Abbey
Hotel Stadt and Melk Abbey

Our adventure didn’t end here however. We ate the most delicious pizza before climbing up to the Abbey, it was closing and our train was leaving soon so we just had time for a peek. Knowing this, we went in a side door and suddenly it was like time stopped. The inside of the abbey is breathtaking. Time passes. Shoot, what time is it?! Laura: “We have 11 minutes to get back down to the train station.” Here we go again! Cue up the bumblebee music: there go the Corlins! We came sprinting in to the station just in time to take a deep breath and boarded the train back to Wien.

We have never been a boring family. I wouldn’t change a thing about us, or the string of events that made up one of the greatest travel experiences of my life. Sometimes, waylaying your plans (even by accident) can be the surest way to have a real adventure and make the best memories. -Meagz

Corlin Clan
“Look what you did, you little Spitz!”

Krems, Austria – 15 Photos to Take You There

One of the most surprising and breathtaking towns to stumble upon, Krems an der Donau is a hidden gem in Lower Austria, bordering the Danube and comprising the eastern part of the Wachau Valley.

A departure point for riverboat cruises of the Wachau region; Krems harbors many wonders that emerge with a mix of adventurous wandering and a healthy dose of curiosity. The following fifteen photos toss you into the magic and mystery of Krems and will spur a desire to personally explore one of Austria’s oldest treasures.

-Meagz

Laura gets us to Krems!
Colorful houses adorned with beautiful flowers. It must be summer in Austria.
The winding and narrow streets of Krems
Cobblestones and gorgeous facades

Strolling through the streets in awe
A tower to climb to, with a view
Made it to the tower, but still feeling small
Hallowed grounds
Hauntingly beautiful
Window to the world
Let no home be not beautiful
Oops, I shot the photographer! http://www.patcorlinphotography.com

 

A street? Or a driveway? How about both.
Krems an der Donau