European vacay

Last week, my husband and I took a trip to Berlin and Prague. We saw many amazing sites, like Checkpoint Charlie, the crossing point between East and West Berlin during the Cold War:

Like the place where the Potsdam Conference was held, where Stalin, Churchill and Truman decided the fate of postwar Germany:

Like these skateboards featuring characters from The Simpsons:

Like a park where 100 random peacocks were wandering around, squawking at little kids and making them run away and cry, which, I’m ashamed to admit, was kind of hilarious:

And we can’t forget this bicycle outside of a yarn store that was all warm and toasty in its knitted attire:

Not to mention the food, which was mostly this:

Let’s just say I ate a lot of sausage. And meat. So much meat.

But, surprisingly, what was most amazing to me wasn’t any of these things. It was something that happened to me on the plane ride home. For 18 long years, this one experience had eluded me. For a very long time, part of me wanted to dive headfirst into it, throwing caution to the wind, but the other part of me was, frankly, too terrified that I’d lose myself. Lose what made Meredith, well, Meredith.

But on the plane ride home, I made the leap. I did it.

Ladies and gentleman, for the first time ever I watched The Sixth Sense on the in-flight entertainment system.

Since the film came out in 1999, I was terrified yet strangely drawn to it. Was I going to watch a movie about ghosts? About a kid seeing dead people? HELL NO. I remember the previews on television would make me run screaming from the room.

But for some reason, on that flight home, something clicked. While I was perusing my movie options and happened to spot The Sixth Sense on the list, it just felt right. I was ready. And it was ready for me.

And…the movie wasn’t really that scary. I have no idea why for 18 years I’d built up this idea that The Sixth Sense was the most terrifying horror movie ever to be made. I mean, there was only one jump scare. ONE.

All those wasted years. And it took a journey across the ocean to another continent for things to shift in me. I am changed. And no one can ever take that away from me. Not even Bruce Willis.

Paris in the Scary Time

 

My husband thinks I’m super paranoid. There was this one time, though, when I was JUSTIFIABLY paranoid and I totally saved our lives. No exaggeration. I’m coming back from my lengthy blog sabbatical JUST to tell the specific story that follows, proving once and for all to my husband that I am not paranoid for no reason. I am, in fact, paranoid for extremely good reasons.

Here’s the situation: A couple weeks ago my husband and I went on a super fun trip to London and Paris. One evening in Paris we decided to eat dinner at a restaurant near the Eiffel Tower. We took the subway there and came out near this little park. We needed to figure out which restaurant we should try, so my husband suggested we go sit on a bench in this park and figure it out.

Four things you should know about this park:

  1. I’m sure any tourist who wants to see the Eiffel Tower comes out of this very subway station next to this park.
  2. We arrived there at dusk.
  3. It was kind of deserted.
  4. Except for a group of 20-something-year-old men who were loitering.

Just before we went to sit down, I said to my husband, “There are a bunch of guys around here and it looks weird. I’ve got a bad feeling.”

His response: “Whatever. They’re just guys hanging out.” Which might have been followed by an eye roll.

I trailed behind him and we found a bench. We sat down and he pulled out his iPad, scrolling through, trying to figure out where we should go. While his attention is focused on the iPad, mine is on the five young men that are literally starting to circle our bench like sharks.

I say, “We need to leave right now.”

My husband became annoyed. I had to take the time to explain that these guys were getting closer to us and we needed to vacate the premises immediately (mind you they’re circling WHILE I’m making my case to him).

By some miracle he listens to me…but only walks as far as the edge of the park. He stands there with his back to the park and keeps scrolling through the restaurant descriptions. I tell him I think this is an equally bad idea. He tells me, in no uncertain terms: “I KNOW HOW NOT TO GET MUGGED, OKAY?”

Okay, dude.

I let him be, keeping watch. In less than a minute, this one particular guy from the park approaches him and stops TWO FEET BEHIND HIS BACK and stares at him.

In my head, I’m like, Enough of this bullshit. I scream at my husband, “LEAVE. NOW!”

And get this. He yells back, “I don’t want to start walking in a direction that’s going away from the restaurant. I need to know where I’m going!”

W. T. F.

I scream, this time louder, “WALK NOW!!!!” This time I motion for him to look behind him at the man who is FIVE SECONDS AWAY FROM JUMPING HIM AND STEALING EVERYTHING HE HAS ON HIM.

It FINALLY clicks and he wraps both hands around his iPad and trails behind me as I book it the hell away from this park. Once we’re across the street, I look back and see that a bunch of these guys have strategically placed themselves behind bushes every 15 feet or so, staring out onto the sidewalk at tourists strolling by, trying to figure out which ones are the biggest suckers.

I just have to say that this entire exchange between us took WAY too much of my energy. Did he want a freaking term paper on why we needed to run away from the scary men? I have no idea.

So I’m paranoid, huh? My freaking SUPERPOWER is paranoia. And I saved our asses. You’re welcome.

 

 

Just desserts

I’ve been MIA lately because I’ve been traveling abroad. I went to Germany, and I could have just said that, but I prefer “traveling abroad” because it makes me feel like I’m living in a 19th century novel.

My husband and I were lucky enough to visit Munich and then Heidelberg. It was super duper fun. What stuck out to me most during our adventure? The castles? The culture? The history?

The desserts.

Germany is not fooling around when it comes to desserts. We went to a restaurant that served, get this, a pre-dessert, a dessert, and THEN A POST-DESSERT.

What?!? Yup, you heard me right. THREE desserts, all at the end of one meal. It was spectacular. Amazing. Mind blowing. I don’t have a photo of the pre-dessert because I was so flustered I just ate it without documenting it. FYI, it was sorbet with some kind of cheese and some other stuff.

But I did have enough sense to photograph my main dessert:

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That white blob is an ice-cream-like concoction that’s frozen even colder than ice cream is. And the fruit, well, I have no idea what that was, but it was good.

 

And my husband’s:

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A chocolate mousse-like-thingie with burnt caramel on top.

AND the post-dessert:

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That macaroon on the bottom has gold on it. GOLD. Unfortunately, gold is pretty much tasteless.

And on top of all that, I had BREAKFAST DESSERT and LUNCH DESSERT. How insane is that?

I love the Europeans.

Italy: Tower of Terror Day 3

 

Halfway through our week in Italy we took a train from Florence to Bologna. My husband had a work thing there. We had to attend a dinner one night that was held in a 12th century tower named Torre Prendiparte. There was an apartment-type area inside that could sleep one couple. My husband thought it would be fun for us to be that couple. I had agreed. This was before I visited Towers of Terror 1 and 2.

We get to the tower and meet the super duper nice proprietor. He helps us lug our luggage up stairs that are pretty much a ladder. There’s a rope hanging down to be used as a railing. It is a miracle that we don’t break our necks.

aaaThe stairs/ladder opens into the second floor, which contains a cute living room and the bathroom. A tiny spiral staircase (stupid tiny spiral staircases) leads us up into a loft area with a bed. So, just in case you didn’t get that, the bathroom and the bedroom are a floor apart and can only be reached via a tiny spiral staircase (my new living hell) that has been carved out of the stone. I immediately understand that I will not be using the bathroom in the middle of the night for fear of falling/breaking my neck/stepping on jagged stone in bare feet/all around freaking out.

We settle in a bit, other guests arrive, we welcome them to “our tower” (ha ha, we are hilarious, aren’t we?) and the proprietor begins a tour.

This is what I learn – the tower is 11 floors. I will be sleeping on floor 3. Floor 5 was a prison.

Yup. A PRISON.

There are drawings on the walls from prisoners from the 18th century. I tell my husband there is NO WAY this thing isn’t haunted.

Everyone at the dinner thinks it’s absolutely hilarious to ask me what time I think the ghosts will come out while we’re sleeping. Seriously. No less than 17 people ask me that question. Comedians.

The proprietor shows us where the prisoners were put in solitary confinement. It’s a tiny space enclosed by stone and bars that ensured prisoners couldn’t lay down flat or stand up straight.

I’m officially freaking out and have accepted the fact that I’m not sleeping that night.

We wait for everyone from the dinner to leave, including the servers and chef, because since there is no door to the bedroom we don’t have any privacy. I mean, it’s a TOWER. There aren’t any rooms. Just entire floors.

aa

The prisoners counted the days until their release on the walls.

We get into bed at 12:30 am. Somehow I fall asleep, despite my DEFCON 1 state. I wake up in the middle of the night. And, of course, I have to use the bathroom. I will not go down the tiny spiral staircase. I would rather wet the bed. For reals.

I wake up on and off all night too scared to open my eyes, but FINALLY it’s morning time. I am super happy because not only did I avoid a ghost confrontation, but there’s a beautiful breakfast laid out for us in the kitchen with homemade pastries. Double score.

Towers. Terrors. Times 3. But I made it.

Italy: Tower of Terror Day 2

After the debacle at the medieval town earlier in the week, I was looking forward to climbing to the top of the Duomo, a huge church in the center of Florence. I knew there’d be no wispy almost-not-there mesh steps or ladders in this baby, so I happily paid for my ticket alongside my husband to climb the 463 steps to the top.

So we started up. There were lots of steps, but they were all sturdy stone ones with landings and windows every now and then. I could breathe in the fresh air from outside. I could take a rest on a landing until I caught my breath. It was quite pleasant.

But then at some point, the staircase turned into a spiral. Like a TINY spiral. With no windows. You’re climbing and twisting and climbing and twisting some more and getting super dizzy. There’s nowhere to rest. No windows to look out. No way to turn back. It’s just me and the spiral. And I’m starting to freak out.

But you can only go up. So up I go.

Finally the spiral staircase ends. I breathe a sigh of relief. We get to go inside the church and get a close-up view of the paintings within the dome. There are all kinds of angels and stuff, but there are also devils. Doing crazy things to people in hell. Like this:

I’m still a little freaked out, and the devils certainly aren’t helping.

And then I find out there’s still MORE to climb. And this time – I literally can’t even tell you how terrifying it was. A picture says a thousand words. So here is what I had to climb:

It’s kind of hard to tell from the photo, but THAT’S AN ALMOST VERTICAL CLIMB. Terror. To the nth degree.

Somehow I held it together long enough to climb up this, look at the devils even closer up inside the dome, climb down the vertical part and descend ANOTHER tiny spiral staircase until I reached the bottom and almost kissed the ground.

What I have begun to learn: Me + towers = badness.

Photos from Frans Vanderwalle and Robert Neff.

Italy: Tower of Terror Day 1

Ciao, all! I can say that with confidence now, because last week I learned three whole Italian words (the other two being bongiorno and gratzi). And why, pray tell, did I become almost fluent in Italian? Because last week my husband and I had the amazing opportunity to go to Italy.

Yup, we were pasta-eating, gelato-gorging, salami-devouring gluttons for 7 whole days. It was awesome.

I will recount the highlights of our trip to you via a subject that seemed to be popping up over and over again for me. The theme? Towers. More specifically:

The Towers of Terror

Today, we will cover the first Tower of Terror. This particular one stood in the middle of a small medieval village called San Gimignano, which is 45 minutes outside of Florence.

You may be wondering — yes, Meredith, I understand that it was a tower, but why a tower of TERROR?

I will tell you. In excruciating detail. So my husband and I are all, cool! A tower! Let’s climb up it! Everything is fine as we start ascending. There are very stable stone stairs. No biggie.

Then a few levels up there are no more stone steps. Now there are mesh metal steps that are completely hollow in between: mesh stairs

I kind of shrugged it off at first and started climbing. But as I got higher and higher, it looked like I was literally dangling in the air above all these stories without anything underneath me. This is what it was like to look down:looking down

I start to get freaked out. My husband is a few levels below me taking pictures. I scream down to him, “Hurry! Come up here!”

He replies that he’ll be there in a minute.

A minute is not fast enough. I scream without shame, “I’m freaking out! I’m FREAKING OUT! I’ve got to keep going! I can’t wait for you!”

So I charge up the rest of the stairs because I’m too scared to just wait there for him but I’m too scared to go back down.

And then I reach this as the final level:top

Yeah, you’re seeing a pipe, a warning, and a crazy steep ladder going up through a hole busted out of the brick.

There was no WAY I was going up that ladder into the wide open sky. I mean, who knows what’s up there?!? Bats? Gargoyles that come to life in the middle of the night? Birds whose sole purpose in life is to peck at me until they drive me to my death below?!?

I look up once, scream to my husband, “I’m out like trout!” and zip down the stairs as fast as a I can.

Terror. The entire time.

And don’t worry, the towers AND the terror just keep getting worse. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s tale.

Good as gold

On our way through Birmingham, Alabama, last week, we thought it would be fun to stop at the Golden Flake plant. For those of you who haven’t heard of Golden Flake, they make potato chips and all kinds of deliciousness. But only for Southerners. I don’t live in the South. Therefore I am deprived of all this delightfulness on a regular basis, but I won’t hold it against them.

So like I said, we thought it would be fun to go there. But I didn’t quite feel the “fun” all that immediately. Maybe it was because two armed guards stopped us before we were able to drive into the lot. Yeah, you read that right: ARMED GUARDS. Why these guys needed guns, I have no idea, but it was pretty obvious that Golden Flake is not fooling around.

I guess they liked the look of us, though, and allowed us on the premises. We were told to stay in our cars until the tour was to start at 11 am. They didn’t have to tell me twice. I had no desire to find out if those guards had shoot-to-kill orders.

We were given a list of 17 things we needed to agree to in order to take the tour. Like wearing closed-toed shoes. And taking off all your jewelry. And not bringing in, well, ANYTHING, including purses and cameras.

I changed out of my flip flops and into hiking shoes, even though it totally ruined my outfit, but kept my jewelry on. But once we got inside, the Golden Flake tour lady told us to take off all our jewelry—even stud earrings. Who knew if she carried a stun gun or something, so I did as I was told.

And FINALLY the fun began. In the form of sampling popcorn and chips hot off the production line. And leaving with three bags of snacks PER FAMILY MEMBER.

IT WAS AWESOME. In case you didn’t catch that, IT WAS AWESOME. I want to live in a potato chip factory. I want to stuff my face with warm, salty, delicious chips every day, damn the consequences.

So I say to the Golden Flake tour lady, the armed guards, everyone involved—you have got it GOING ON. I’ll do whatever you say to get back in there. And if you’re ever hiring, give me a call, even for a security guard. I think if given the chance I could handle a piece quite well.

Image from Fleet Owner.

Elvis Week Day 4: Don’t Leave Me Now

The King is dead. Or so we think. Today’s post is all about the possibility that maybe, just maybe, Elvis still lives (and not like in the movie Bubba Ho-Tep, although Bruce Campbell does play an A-MAZING elderly Elvis who battles an ancient Egyptian mummy on the grounds of his nursing home).

I did a little digging on the Internet and found, according to one website, some “concrete reasons” to believe Elvis is still alive. The following are some of the more awesome ones:

1. Elvis’ middle name (Aron) is spelled incorrectly on his gravestone (Aaron).

Why this proves he’s still alive: Elvis’ father would never allow such a blatant error. Further, Elvis was crazy superstitious and, as someone who was faking his own death, would never tempt fate by putting his full, correctly spelled name on his gravestone.

2. The pallbearers of Elvis’ coffin reported that the air around it was rather cool.

Why this proves he’s still alive: The theory is that there was a wax body—a complete replica of Elvis—inside the coffin, as his real body was still very much alive. It therefore follows that an air conditioning unit was installed inside the coffin to prevent the wax from melting. Oh, and the coffin weighed 900 lbs., ergo, there must have been an air conditioning unit inside to account for the weight.

3. At the end of Elvis’ last show before his “death,” he said, “Adios,” to the audience.

Why this proves he’s still alive: Elvis had never said this at the end of a show before. The word implies a final good-bye. He could have said, “I’ll be seeing you next time.” BUT HE DIDN’T. Obviously he knew he’d be faking his death and wanted to bid his audience one final goodbye. Duh.

4. Elvis was a pharmaceutical “expert” and, although he took a lot of drugs, he “knew what he was doing” and was “extremely careful.”

Why this proves he’s still alive: Because of this knowledge, Elvis knew which drugs would cause a death-like state. PLUS, thanks to his knowledge of martial arts, he knew how to slow his heart rate and breathing. The man could have TOTALLY made himself appear to be dead.

Still not convinced? Well, feast your eyes on THIS theory:

5. Elvis was fascinated by numerology.

Why this proves he’s still alive: Ok, stay with me here—Elvis died on August 16, 1977. If you add up all the numbers in the date (8+16+1977), you get 2001. THAT is the title of Elvis’ favorite movie in which the hero plans his immortality, all in the comfort of his own bathroom. Elvis HIMSELF spent a lot of time in the bathroom, so much so that he had his toilet converted into a reclining chair. COINCIDENTALLY (or was it?!?) Elvis’ body was found in the bathroom. Therefore, it logically follows that ELVIS IS STILL ALIVE.

My mind. Is totally. Blown.

Image from ElvisBlog.

Elvis Week Day 3: Can’t Help Falling in Love

There is no fan like an Elvis fan. I’m not talking about the I-enjoy-listening-to-“Hound-Dog”-every-now-and-then Elvis fan. I’m talking about the Elvis super fan. Because there are a lot of them. And they like to come to Graceland.

So the first super fan I caught a glimpse of was this lady:

Think you’re a fan of, say, Lady Gaga? Talk to me when you have her face tattooed across your back. Either go hardcore or go home.

Then I saw this car in the parking lot of Loretta Lynn’s Kitchen, which is 150 miles outside of Graceland:

The proud owner told me I should have waited to take my picture because she was going to add even MORE amazingness in just a few minutes.

But the crème de la crème came in the form of this guy:

There are just no words. Except that I loved him. And that he triggered a whole lot of burning questions for me: Are those his real glasses? What about his hair? Is it real? Does he style it like that every day? Where can I get a pair of his amazing white cowboy boots? And, well, why (in general)?

I may not understand it, but I can admire it. Bravo, Elvis super fans everywhere. You sure are a committed lot.

Elvis Week Day 2: There’s No Place Like Home

Graceland, y’all. The spectacle. The extravagance. The shag carpet. It was all I expected it to be, and then some.

If you recall from yesterday’s post, I was able to see Elvis’ two-room childhood house in Tupelo the day before I made it to Graceland. It’s easy to see why Elvis made Graceland look the way he did. After having grown up in such extreme poverty, who can blame him for taking all his newfound wealth and going totally bonkers, decorating his mansion in the most elaborate way he knew how?

Heck, if I had all that money I’d build a duplicate of the house from Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, complete with the breakfast-making machine in the kitchen. Just because I could.

You can say what you want about Graceland, about how green shag carpet on the ceiling is tacky, or that rooms are not meant to be completely covered in the same patterned fabric (furniture, walls, AND ceiling). I don’t care. The man earned it. He was talented. He was extremely generous and gave huge amounts of his fortune away. If he wanted to make his living room look like a jungle, who are we to judge?

I admit, I loved every minute of it. And yes, I spent the $25 on the keepsake photograph they take of you as you begin your tour. I’m going to hang that sucker up in the “free” magnetic frame that came in the package and think fondly of Graceland every time I catch a glimpse of it on my refrigerator.

Images from How Stuff Works and jefg99.

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