United States: Manhattan, New York City
Our trip officially started the night of Thursday May 23 when our flight to New York, with a layover in Toronto, left Vancouver. We landed at JFK airport in New York mid-morning the next day with little to no sleep (I managed an hour or so on the short hop from Toronto, but Luke got none). It was wet and windy for the first two days so our main activities were visiting the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan museum. The highlights for me were paintings by van Gogh, Picasso, Mondriaan, Gris, Braques, and Pollack. I was also excited to see Brancusi's sculpture "Bird in Space", whose photo I fell in love with in my art history class many years ago.
After the umbrella we bought from the MOMA gift shop on our first afternoon broke a few steps out the door, we tacitly agreed to make do with our rain jackets for the rest of the trip. This strategy worked for the most part, though we took shelter in the FAO Schwarz store at one point to dry out. It had some cool toys, like a workshop where you could build your own muppet, but none to rival the life-sized X-wing starfighter we saw in Times Square, the world's largest Lego model.
The rain eased up a bit after our interlude inside the store, and we spent a lot of time walking through Central Park on Saturday. We wandered up to the Belvedere Castle then headed across to visit the Natural History Museum, but found the line was a few blocks long so we walked back through the park to visit the Met instead. A few hours later, we retraced our steps across the park to have burgers at the Shake Shack, mostly avoiding another downpour.
Sunday morning finally delivered clearer skies so we took the subway west to High Line Park. A line closure disrupted our ride, prompting us to walk over to the Flat Iron district to see that iconic building. We then walked the rest of the way to High Line Park, which afforded us a distant view of the Statue of Liberty as we sat and ate our lunch. Thankfully, the park also had its own Blue Bottle Coffee stand to fuel my tired feet. We took a bus to Newark NJ and looked across the water at the Manhattan skyline that evening before boarding our flight to Munich.
Germany: Munich & Bavaria
In Munich, we were inauspiciously dropped off on the tarmac and crammed into a bus to get to the terminal. After a train ride into the city, we checked our bags at the hotel around 11am and headed out to explore the historic centre of town. It was soon clear that we were out of steam. More cold and rainy weather, and a second sleepless overnight flight were more than we could handle. We went back to the hotel, slept for a few hours, and emerged feeing much better. Our excursion earlier in the day was not totally wasted, as we managed to get back to the city hall in time to see the glockenspiel play (which we had missed earlier in the day after getting lost).
The next morning, we left Munich early and picked up the rental car that would be our transportation for the next week. Luke was a bit nervous about driving on the autobahn, but he was able to drive the standard car right away and we had an easy drive south to Bavaria to visit the castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. We got a tour of many small German towns on the way to our hotel in Kufstein Austria that night, and learned the GPS was optimistic in its calculation of the speeds that could be attained on rural roads, even when there were no farm vehicles ahead of us. Nevertheless, the narrow windy roads and ever-changing speed were probably in our favour, as they helped with the biggest challenge of all: staying awake.
Austria: Kufstein & Salzburg
Falling asleep was not a problem that night, but I woke up a few hours later with my throat burning from the cigarette smoke that filled in our room. Opening all the windows helped, but the rest of our time there was spent in an ongoing battle to keep the air in our non-smoking room reasonably clear. My allergies were bugging me the whole trip, probably not helped by the ubiquitous down comforters, and definitely not by the Austrians, which our guidebook informed us smoke on average the most cigarettes per person day in Europe. Overall, this was the low point of our trip. We had chosen this town specifically as it had access to many hiking trails, but the weather did not cooperate; the mountains were completely shrouded, and even our attempt to tour around in the car was thwarted by closed roads. In the end, we walked around a couple of lakes in town.
It was still raining the next morning so we drove to Salzburg, toured Mozart's residence, and walked through the old town. We were tempted by the Mozart pretzel made with chocolate and jam, but ended up eating salmon at a cafeteria right next to the house where he was born. As you'll see in the video, there also was a classic car show going on. We stayed just outside Innsbruck that night in preparation for our drive down to Lake Como the following day, and finally saw some mountains peek through the clouds. Our room in this guesthouse was mercifully smoke free, and we would definitely stay there again if we go back to Austria.
Italy: The Dolomites, Verenna & Milan
As our first attempt at hiking had failed, we thought we would try again in the Alpe di Siusi, a large alpine meadow in the Dolomite region of Northern Italy. It was much colder than we expected and we saw some snowflakes, but we stuck it out for a couple of hours and were rewarded with some glimpses of the mountains as the clouds blew by. Driving south towards Milan, the weather got warmer and warmer and we discovered that the AC button in the rental car only turned the fan up to full. This did not help the stress of trying to follow the 50-step directions to Lake Como, and then being re-routed through congested city streets after missing a turn in a roundabout after a toll booth...and then being parked on the road for an hour just outside Varenna for some unknown reason...and then driving up the one lane road on the side of the hill to our hotel and navigating the 180 degree turns to get into the parking lot.
The sunset, however, was gorgeous, and the town was so picturesque. I particularly loved the black iron lanterns on the colourful houses. We strolled through the town many times to get dinner, gelato, train tickets, or just enjoy the promenade along the water. A few months before our trip, we booked tickets for a tour of Milan in order to see da Vinci's Last Supper, so we somewhat reluctantly boarded the train the next afternoon to keep this appointment. Back in Varenna, we ate our dinner on a patio at the water's edge and were treated to another spectacular sunset. On our last day, we rode the small passenger ferries around the lake for a few hours before driving to Chamonix, France.
France: Chamonix & Paris
Our newfound luck with the weather continued in Chamonix, where the skies were mostly clear the morning we rode up to 12605 ft at l'Aiguille du Midi station on the flanks of Mt. Blanc. We enjoyed the panoramic views of the Alps and watched braver souls climbing, skiing and hang-gliding for a few hours until I realized that the fingers on my right hand were going numb, so we headed back down to the valley. In the afternoon, we rode a cog railway up to the Montenvers glacier. The ice cave was not yet complete, so we couldn't walk down and into the glacier--but we couldn't regret the timing too much as our next stop was Paris and the French Open, whose dates anchored our trip. After another frustrating experience with traffic jams and confusing streets in Geneva the next morning, we dropped off our rental car and took a TGV to Paris.
It was such a relief to be back on public transit. Our studio rental was only about a minute away from a Metro stop, which gave us easy access to some old favorites (Notre Dame, the Louvre, l'Orsay, the Eiffel tower) and some new places: Sacre Coeur, l'Orangerie, the Coulee Verte and Roland Garros. We had French Open tickets to see a women's quarterfinal and men's quarterfinal on Wednesday, and both men's semifinals on Friday.
I tried not to get high hopes of being able to watch Roger Federer play, but it was still quite disappointing to see him lose his match on tv on Tuesday afternoon. The Wednesday match-ups that we watched were Sharapova vs. Jankovic and Nadal vs. Wawrinka, which was over quickly. On Friday, we witnessed the epic 5 set match between Nadal and Djokovic (a re-match of last year's final). I don't know how they survived for four and a half hours. It was so hot in the stadium that I had to take a break early in the 5th set, and felt a bit dizzy after walking back up the stairs. The second semi-final between Tsonga and Ferrer was less exciting, as Ferrer won in straight sets in just over 2 hours.
And that was it! Thanks for reading.