Zebra Crossing

So we are driving around in Kampala one day, and I see a sign for Zebra Crossing.  I am reminded of the many deer and other animal crossing signs we had back home, and for a split second allowed myself to hope that I’d see a zebra crossing the road.  Then I realized my foolishness and understood that zebra crossing was referring to the pedestrian cross walk.

But a month later, on our nature walk at Lake Mburo, we did see zebras crossing. IMG_3246 copy

and zebras eating.

and zebras running.

and zebras walking.

and zebras playing.

and zebras drinking. IMG_3227 copy

(click on any of the pictures below to see them bigger)

After our nature walk, we headed back and showered and packed.  I should probably mention that this was the view from the shower: IMG_3350 copy

If our safari had to end, this was the perfect way to do it.

(well, truthfully, this is the way it really ended.  which is still kind of perfect because these cattle are everywhere in Uganda…)

IMG_3359 copy

Thanks for safari-ing along with me and Rachel!  We’ve loved sharing our Uganda roadtripping adventures with you.

And thanks to Joseph and Rafiki Adventures for taking us on the trip of a lifetime.

Roommate Exchange Day

This morning we are heading to the airport so that I can exchange roommates.  Allie, my roommate for the last two weeks is heading home to Chicago, and my sister is arriving to see the ministry I’ve been a part of this summer and to go on a safari with me!  So exciting!  (the exciting refers to the Rachel section of this paragraph, not the Allie leaving part).

I’m writing this ahead of time, but I’m fairly decent at predicting the details of events, so I’ll just go ahead of and tell you about me and Rachel’s reunion.

The weather changes quickly in Uganda during fake rainy season, so even though Rachel’s flight came in at 7:45 am, we’d already experienced sun, rain, wind, and a brief blizzard.  When she finally stepped off the plane though, it was sunny and 85 degrees Fahrenheit.  A perfect day in Kampala.

I wore my African headdress, and will all the freckles I’ve gotten while here, I pretty much look like a local.  I’m not surprised that Rachel didn’t recognize me when she came through the arrivals door.  Thankfully I’d written this blog post ahead of time, so I knew that she wouldn’t recognize me.  I planned ahead and printed off a sign with her name on it so that she would know which group was waiting for her.

You’d never think that Rachel had spent the last 24 hours traveling.  She looked like a model.  Her hair was in perfect waves and she was wearing an elegant evening gown.  I wasn’t sure if I should tell her that in uganda, everything turns the color of red dirt, and she might not want that look fo her silver sequin high heels and turquoise mermaid dress.  But then again, maybe she DID want that look.  In the end I decided that as a local (and her summer tour guide), I should fill her in on these sorts of things.

She sure wowed us with her response.  Without even saying a word, she unzipped a small zipper, spun around twice, and suddenly her evening gown had magically transformed into khaki pants and a green safari shirt.  The smal monkey perched on her shoulded really completed the look.  I guess she was more prepared than I gave her credit for. 

After a tearful hug and jumping for joy 17 times, we loaded her luggage into the van.  She sure overpacked for 10 days in Africa – I mean, goodness … does a girl really need 44 suitcases??  (Oh, this is my fault because I kept giving my mom a list of things to get for the orphanage?  Sorry for blaming you unnecessarily, Rachel!)

Once we got in the car, Rachel surprised me be pulling out a peanut butter cup blizzard from Dairy Queen.  I don’t know how she managed to get it from Minnesota to London and then to Africa without it melting, but it sure was a delicious surprise!

The End.

Sister Spa Day!

As you may or may not know, Rachel surprised me on Friday with a delicious brunch downtown and then a day at a fancy spa (the spa is cousin’s with The Westin, my favorite hotel chain.  She knows me well) where we pretended to be fancy ladies of leisure.

I don’t have any pictures of the event, but don’t worry, I DO have pictures of a similar completely different spa-like experience that we had four years ago outside of Tokyo.  I will do a little compare and contrast with you.  It will be like we are making a venn diagram with our words. (this sounds exciting!)

That spa was called 

This spa was at the Ivy Hotel.


At both spas we got bathrobes to wear.  Although, they looked a little different. 


At that spa we bathed in red wine 

At this spa we showered at the end with fancy bath products.


At that spa we met Kung Fu Panda. 

At this spa we met a hilarious couple of guys who were getting pedicures before heading up to the cabin for the weekend.


At that spa we had Doctor Fish eat away all the dead skin off our feet.

Yes, I realize my sister isn't actually in this photo. This is in Okinawa with the other missionaries at OCSI. A few weeks later I introduced Rachel to Dr. Fish.

At this spa we got pedicures.


At that spa we bathed in green tea. 

At this spa we had the opportunity to drink green tea or any other kind of tea you could imagine.


At that spa we bathed in coffee 

At this spa we got facials.


At that spa we swam in Rose Water. 

At this spa we got manicures.


At that spa we stood under tiny waterfalls. 

At this spa we got massages.

So in summary, I guess I’d say our experiences were more different than similar.  Huh.

Was it amazing?

Do you even have to ask?

Thanks Rachel!  You are so thoughtful and generous and basically just the best ever.  I’m so glad that you survived February and I finished grad school.  And I’m so glad you are my sister!

(even if I do push you out of pictures we take together) 


When I think of the word closure, I think of season two of Friends, when Rachel is out on a date, forcefully/drunkenly borrows a stranger’s cell phone, and leaves Ross a message about how she now has closure.  The next morning he is checking his messages, Rachel remembers what she did the night before and jumps on his back in a desperate attempt to get the phone from him.  I love this episode – specifically the end of it, at the coffee shop, with the rain and all the locks.

surprise! this is me, jumping out from behind a hedge to surprise you with the news that this post is about Europe. New and different, right?

However, this is not a post about closure of fake tv relationships.  I’ve had some complaints lodged about the abrupt ending and lack of closure to Spinster Sister Vacation Part 2: Europa.  In efforts to help you find closure and the strength to move on from my vacation, I would like to share two things.

1: A link to the Women at Hope blog where I highlight some moments from being on holiday.  I am handing out awards like they are candy.  Click here.

2: A viewing of 12 days of vacation in 4 minutes flat.  (it is not actually 4 minutes flat.  It is four minutes and some odd seconds.  Four minutes flat just has a nice ring to it.)

I hope this helps, and that now you will be ready to move on to other things, like cupcakes, paddleboating, and fireworks.  If not, you can schedule a private viewing of the slow motion (not fast forward) version of my vacation slideshow, and I will regale you with stories you may or may not have already heard.

3.  You should read this advice.  It has nothing to do with traveling or closure.  But starting now I will strive to be as funny as this girl… amusing link

All good things must come to an end…

Today is the last day of our trip.  While I will be sad to say goodbye to the beauty and age that is Europe, if I were to continue traveling, I would need a vacation from vacation.  Or a holiday from being on holiday.  (Doesn’t holiday sound so much nicer than vacation?  I remember thinking that during college in London as well).

We once again had a slow start to our day, which we loved.  Have I mentioned my newfound love for putting a little Nutella on my banana?  Probably not a good choice for daily consumption, but a great choice for the last day of my trip. 

Today we headed to Prague Castle.  If you are like me, you might be wondering what the difference is between a castle and a palace, since we saw several of each on our trip.  I will save you the googling effort, and say that a castle was built for defensive purposes, while a palace is built to be a luxurious dwelling place; an ostentatious display of wealth. Word on the street is that Prague Castle is the biggest castle complex (in the world??).  I should really start googling these facts I am telling you to double check them, but instead I just litter my posts with parenthetical question marks. 

Well, the castle grounds sure were impressive.  So impressively large, that as usual we had no idea which direction to head, and picked the wrong way.  It is a wonder that we made it to all our destinations AND home again, with our extreme navigational difficulties this trip.  We toured the St. Vitus Cathedral, full of beautiful stained glass; St. Peter’s Basillica, simple stone beauty; Golden Lane, the adorable tiny row of houses where the king’s guards used to live; and we think we also saw the royal gardens.  We ate apples and siesta bars here.  It was quiet and peaceful.

St. Vitus Cathedral

St. Peter's Basilica

Golden Lane: So tiny and cute!

Despite our seemingly late start and disorientation, we managed to beat the crowds, which was so nice.  Then we found our way to Petrin Hill.  Not an easy task, as Prague likes to camouflage its public transportation stops.  We took the funicular to the top of the hill, where we first found the rose garden.  I use the term “found” loosely, as basically we exited the funicular directly into the garden.  We enjoyed the garden, also with some pigeons and a nice Czech woman, who’s picture I took in front of the flowers.  She then let us in on a little secret botanical garden nearby, hidden from the main path.  This garden is what I imagine The Secret Garden to be like.  It was out of a dream, and overflowing with beautiful flowers.  We fell into our normal flower roles: me taking pictures and Rachel reading, before heading to see Prague’s miniature Eiffel Tower.  I wanted this to be a cuter stop on the trip than it was.  We then wandered along the hill top and stopped to read on a bench that overlooked the city.

at the rose garden

in the secret garden

We enjoyed some people watching from our perch.

People Watching Memorable Moment #1:  Seriously – why do so many people walk carrying bags together – each holding one handle of the bag?  Our favorite couple that did this jointly carried the bag in the middle and each held a GIANT jug of water in their other hand.

People Watching Memorable Moment #2: A biking tour consisting of a family of four and a local tourguide stopped right in front of us.  Here is their exchange:

Mom: Are we going to go across the St. Charles Bridge?

Guide: No.

Mom: Can I ask you a question about it then?

Guide: No.  Bikes are not allowed on it.

Mom: [begins asking question anyways] How… ?

Guide: [cuts her off]: No.  All your questions will be answered later.  [and he gets on his bike and then all follow him, pedaling away]

Our View.

We then walked down a charming street back toward the city.  We passed by a man getting a ticket for driving the wrong way on a one way – but there was a bit of a language barrier, so it was a little amusing. We then stopped for dinner on a cute patio.  My view was of two 14 year old girls dressed in white robes, performing mediocre music on the street on their flute and violin.  Rachel’s view was of a creepy marionette shop with an even creepier puppet outside their front door.

We spent the rest of the evening packing, taking a gelato break, watching a movie, and heading to bed before flying home the next morning. 

I’d count Spinsters Sisters: Europa Edition a successful trip!  Thanks sister!

A bit of culture. A bit of regret. A bit of wonder.

We had a couple of cultural/theater experiences planned for the Prague segment of our trip.  We would have liked to experience more culture in Vienna as well, but as I’ve said, all the talent was on holiday while we were in Vienna.

We were quite excited for the Black Light Theater.  It seemed to be a theater experience unique to where we were traveling, and different from anything we’d seen before.  It sounded so excited: black lights, puppetry, dancing, acrobatics, video imagery.  And I guess it did include those things, but not in a “wow, what a visual treat for my eyes” sort of way, but rather in a poorly done high school theater trying to be artsy sort of way.  (enphasis on the poorly done of the high school theater genre.  I’ve seen some great high school theater productions.  This just would not even qualify for that sort of rating).  I found this video online.  If only we’d watched that prior to our ticket purchase. 

And this was before the baffling partial nudity in the second act, which left everyone confused, and probably wishing they’d left at intermission (at least that is what we wished).  Seriously Alice, put your shirt back on.  What the heck.

Here is the “before” and “after” of our experience.

Before: our eyes are full of promise

After: what the heck??!? make it stop.

The next night was a much, MUCH, more enjoyable cultural experience.  We went to the ballet!  The Best of Swan Lake was wonderful and beautiful, and captivating, and all we could have hoped for.  We never fancied ourselves as the ballet-attending type of girls.  Apparently we are?  We would gladly go again.  It was the abridged version – under 2 hours – and we wished it had gone on so much longer.  Beautiful.  We loved it.  When can we go again?

Before AND After: loving it

Karlstejn: A fairy tale? Or a misspelling of my last name?

Today our agenda primarily involved a day trip out to a castle.  The reasons we chose this day trip are two-fold.

Fold #1: the tour book told us this castle is like a fairy tale

Fold #2: the name of the castle reminded us of our last name, or more specifically, ways our last name could very well be spelled by a pizza delivery or on junk mail, or by my horrid boss at Old Navy back in the day.

Clearly, this was meant to be part of our Europa Adventures.

Because up until now we have traveled, learned European history, toured, experienced, seen, and feasted ourselves into a state of tourist exhaustion, we were feeling quite pleased with ourselves that our Prague days were not filled to the brim like the rest of our trip has been.  We took full advantage, and slept in (until 8:00) and leisurely made our way out the door (after 9:30) and worked our way to Karlstejn.

Let’s just say it is a good thing we planned to take our time, because this day wasn’t among the simplest.  But it was among the loveliest.

Sometimes when you are standing on the platform at the train station, you think to yourself, “I wonder if this is really my train I am getting on”.  Well, it usually is, so no worries.  Today we didn’t really have time to even ask ourselves that question, as we got to the tracks 2 minutes before our train was scheduled to depart.  So we hopped on, crossed our fingers, and hoped for the best.

Let’s just say the jury is still out on what exactly went wrong.  I’m not entirely convinced we were completely on the wrong train.  Although if a kindly woman across the aisle from us hadn’t spoken English, we probably still would be wandering the Czech countryside.

hmm... this doesn't look like Karlstejn... confusing.

The train was headed the right way,  Apparently it just wasn’t heading far enough.  We got off at the end of the line (per nice woman’s directions) and waited about 35 minutes for the next train to come through.  We got on that one, rode two more stops, and found ourselves in Karlstejn.  Tricky, no?

Rachel says, "If you fall down that hill trying to take a picture of that flower, I'm not coming after you." What kind of a sister is she??

The tour book told us that the Karlstejn Castle rises up on the hill like a fairy tale castle.  When I looked at the pictures of it, I wasn’t convinced.  So I won’t take it personally if you feel the same way looking at our pictures.  However, it was in fact like we were in Sleeping Beauty (or some other such tale).  I loved it so much: the turrets and parapets, and imposing grandeur.

this castle is almost named after me

The hike up the hill began to disillusion us.  However, just when we thought we were a third of the way up and would likely die before reaching the top in this heat, we discovered we were there!  We didn’t want to pay to go in (I mean, we’ve toured approximately 1,792 castles, palaces, and churches at this point in our journey) but we did wander around the castle grounds and enjoy the view of the village below.

I love me some ivy on a wall

I especially enjoyed this little pocket of flowers brimming with butterfly/moth/something pretty fluttering about.  I will not subject you to the series of 43 butterfly/moth/something pretty fluttering pictures that I took in the next 3 minutes.  You are welcome.  I will however share this one. 

We walked down, stopping in little shops, being mistaken for a couple of Danish girls on holiday, and then bought hot dogs from a vendor for lunch.  They drilled a hole in a loaf of French bread, dropped the dog down into it, and put it in this jovial paper bag. 

We found a cute bench and sat down to enjoy our “feast” and then headed back toward the train station.  We arrived two minutes before the train back to Praha (Prague to you non-German or Czech speakers) and enjoyed the scenic ride back to the city.  One of our favorite scenes was that of a medium sized, extremely fluffly, white dog being toted about on the train in the tinest of wicker baskets.  How it fit in this basket, I do not know.  Why it sat so well in its cramped quarters I also do not know.  What I do know is that I regret not getting a photo of this for you.

We treated ourselves to some gelato from the Restaurant U Prince gelato stand (per my friend Liza’s recommendation) once we got back to Prague.  I had the cookies flavor and the caramel flavor.  It was the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted.  Especially when accompanied by watching this small child single mindedly chase this pigeon all around the square (seriously, where were his parents?  This is the most crowded spot in the whole city).  Yes, I’m a creeper who took a picture of a child I don’t know.  But seriously, it was an amazing bit of people watching.  He truly had mad pigeon chasing skills, which is impressive as he was not big enough to even have pedals on his bike. 

A Day of Beauty: An Ideal Last Day in Vienna

We woke up with mixed feelings about it being our last day in Vienna.  We felt like there was so much we hadn’t seen, and wondered if we would have enough time.  But I will say that everything we did today exceeded our expectations, and we had the best time.

Our first destination: Schoenbrunn Palace, where the Hapsburg Dynasty summered.  I read in a tour book that this is the only palace that comes close to rivaling Versailles.  I have never been to Versailles, but I can imagine the grandeur now that I have taken in Schoenbrunn.  For me, the highlight of this stop was the palace grounds.  There were lanes of carefully sculpted trees leading to impressive fountains or courtyards.  There were carefully sculpted flower beds filled with color, and huge regal buildings everywhere you look.  We even took in a maze and a labrynth filled with “games to play at your own risk”.  Here are some of the beautiful sights of Schoenbrunn Palace: 

One side of the main gardens at Schoenbrunn

gotta love a good hedge maze!

Sorry I didn't get the photo of Rachel after she climbed to the top of this pole. I got distracted by a panda bear that wandered by...

I am in love with these tunnels.

Did I mention that it was a little bit windy??

We also toured the inside of the main building, seeing about 40 of the rooms.  They were naturally indescribable, but trust me when I say it was a sight worth seeing.  Our little handset audio guides helped us along our way.

Next up: the State Opera House.  Since one of the things closed in July is the Opera house, we couldn’t take in a performance, but did still absolutely love the tour.  One reason is that the Staatoper is an incredibly grand feast for your eyes.  Another reason is that we loved our tourguide.  She was so effortlessly graceful and elegant and charming.  I would like to take in some high tea with her.  Not only did we get to see the reception rooms, and also the actual auditorium where the magic happens, but we also were able to go on the stage.  Ticket prices range from around three Euro for standing room rush tickets to over two hundred Euro for the prime seats in the house.  We learned that the Opera House puts on over 50 different shows during the season, there is a show every night, and there is never the same show two nights in a row.  Impressive, no?  I can only imagine how much work that would be. 

We then went across the street and enjoyed some original Sachertorte and Wiener Melange as a true Vienna resident would do (although I’m guessing that the locals don’t often frequent the fancified café we visited).  Sachertorte is a specialty chocolate cake that originated in Vienna and Melange is a coffee drink in Austria.  It was delicious, and the waitresses wore old fashioned maid uniforms.  They were adorable.  (Although I couldn’t help but thinking that if I worked there, I would not be overly pleased with the uniform).

Sacher Torte

Wiener Melange: an Austrian Coffee

Before meandering down the shopping street – a mix of high end fashion and tourist shops – we watched the police and a pedestrian scuffle.  We found the scenario highly intriguing and wanted to know more about what was going down.  In my mind, and with my limited vocabulary, I think this guy was walking somewhere he shouldn’t have, perhaps jay walking, and the police called him out on it and then his temper rose and he refused to comply.  But who really knows what the real story is.

We stopped by the train station to get our tickets to Prague, then rested up from the busyness at the hotel before grabbing dinner.  We had a magical meal in front of the Rathaus.  There was a giant movie screen set up, and they would be showing a taped performance from the State Opera house.  The outdoor park area just beyond the provided seating area was filled with vendors offering international cuisine.  We were so happy to fine Kaessspaetzle – a German equivalent to macaroni and cheese – which my college roommate Rachel had recommended to us while we were in Munich.  It was served on real plates and we found a standing table to eat at, when the rain started.  The whole atmosphere was fun and energetic, and we were sad that we needed to pack and go to bed for our early morning trip to Prague, because we desperately wanted to stay for the full experience.  However, the sun sets ever so late here, and we could not stay up till the crack of dawn.  Selfishly, we hoped the rain would not stop so we wouldn’t feel sad about walking away.  After 14 drops, the rain subsided and we headed back to the hotel like the responsible (or just exhausted) tourists that we are.

Wienerschnitzel under a Ferris Wheel

Rachel and I were at the hotel attempting to recover from all the horrible heat along the Danube, and we needed to find some dinner.  I approached her saying, “You can say no, because I know we are tired, but…” and her response was, “Oh no…”

but turns out my idea was genius, and she thought so too.  We took the U-Bahn just a few stops away to Prater amusement park, home of the Riesenrad, the world’s oldest(?) ferris wheel.  I had also read that there were lots of food options in the area, so we kept that in mind as well.  We went on the ferris wheel and enjoyed the views of the city as it neared sunset.  I was surprised that there were little cabins you rode in, not little seats.

Wiener Riesenrad and the yellow umbrella restaurant below where we ate dinner

Then we ended up eating dinner at the restaurant below the ferris wheel, because they served a reasonably priced Wienerschnitzel, which was on our list of culinary Vienna goals.  I had intentionally not eating Wienerschnitzel in Salzburg, because I wanted to save my first experience for in Wien (Vienna) having just days ago made the connection between WIEN and WIENerschnitzel.  Upon looking at the menu, I saw that it was translated into both English and Spanish.  I also saw that in Spanish it is called Milanese, which was one of the delicious things I’d eaten in Buenos Aires, under the guidance of Miranda.  I loved it there, so I was excited to eat it again, this time in Vienna, but I also was amused that I had been so intentional about not eating it previously on our trip so my first experience would be in its home, but then to realize my first experience was a world way, in Argentina.

It was a delicious meal, accompanied by a delicious wine from the Wachau Valley, which we had just lazily drifted through earlier in the day.  Here I am, the picture of class: Wine and Wienerschnitzel under a Ferris Wheel.  

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

Rick Steves told us to go cruising down the Danube and biking along the way.  He made it look so easy.  Then we tried to figure out the logistics, and well, let’s just say it was a logistical nightmare involving hours of fruitless research.

it all looks so effortless... why isn't it??

We took the train the Melk (mostly easy enough, once we asked at information and were told we would need to change trains, and once the train ticket checker guy told us that the tiny little single car was indeed our next ride).  We, as usual, took the scenic route, walking through Viennese campgrounds trying to find where we could buy ship tickets and rent bikes.  Once we FINALLY found it, the really nice rental girl gave us the student prices!  Win!

the abbey in Melk

We circled around a little shack that had posters of bicyclists on it to try and figure out if it was a place we could rent a bike.  Then we felt nervous and so we went back to ask our friend at the ship tickets.  She said that yes indeed they did rent out bikes at that odd little shed (my words, not hers).  So we headed back over there, and a woman who I thought was just a customer of the little food stand, put down her sewing and rented us some bicycles. 

We set out down the Danube. At first it all was going swimmingly.  The trail was relatively flat, the view of the Danube was lovely; there was even a castle in the distance.  Then suddenly, things took a turn for the worse.  We encountered a giant hill of death.  We thought we would never arrive at the top of it.  I was excited to go downhill on the other side of it.  But then I realized we would be turning around at some point and would have to go up any hill we went down.  This spelled trouble, because basically the whole next leg of the trip was downhill.  Yikes!

We stopped for a picnic lunch along the Danube, gazing out at some vineyards.  It was quite lovely.  Then we prayed for strength to go back, because all we could think of was all the hills we went down, and how we were feeling a bit tired.  Well, prayer works – we only had one giant hill to go up, and then the rest of the ride was a breeze!  We were ultra confused that we did not go uphill most of the way.  It was such a pleasant bike ride!  And we had fun bells on our bikes.  So when other bikers weren’t around (we didn’t want to confuse them and make them think we were passing them) we rung our little bells to our hearts’ content.  Thanks Rick Steves.  I’m sorry for saying mean things about you earlier in the day when we were feeling so lost.

the site of our picnic

After dropping off our bikes, we walked to Tom’s Eis Café on the Main Street in Melk, and sat outside under an umbrella, enjoying some lemon ice cream (sherbet?  Italian ice? It is hard to say.  But lemon ice cream doesn’t sound that great when you call it ice cream) and preparing for the boating portion of our day.  It was a little tricky to order.  I knew that I wanted Zitrone Eis, but did not see just scoops of ice cream on the menu.  After some German, some English, some sad looks, and some smiles, we figured it out and we enjoyed a refreshing treat.

PTL for lemony refreshment.

The boat cruise along the Wachau valley was so incredibly beautiful.  The only downside is that the sun was blazing hot at this point in the day.  We figured out that despite the sun, it was actually quite lovely on the roof deck of the boat, because there was a strong breeze when the boat was moving.  The scenery was heavenly.  We were in a valley, with rolling hills on their side, lined with vineyards, old churches and tiny villages.  I MAY have taken a few pictures 🙂

gorgeous vineyards and small towns in the Wachau Valley

love the Wachau Valley. Pretty.

We arrived in Krems and immediately set out in the wrong direction.  After a miserable tour in the Bermuda Triangle of our trip, we broke free from the Krems University of Applied Sciences and made our way to the picturesque town.  At this point though, we were so miserably hot, we had nothing in us to give toward meandering through cute shops, and mostly just wanted to go home to our air conditioned hotel room.

the adorableness that is Krems. We wanted so badly for it to be a magical place of adorable meandering. Such potential. Such heat. This is the most half-hearted photo I've ever taken. Slowly, in monotone: "I guess I should take a picture. That street is cute."

Overall, I would give the day 3.7 stars out of 5.  The high points were really high, but the low points were really low.