Julianne’s Blog

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Blessed by the God of Travel 22 May 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 7:26 PM
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What a great time I had in Slovenia! Since I assume most Americans have never even heard of the country, it goes without saying that this place is terribly underrated as a vacation destination.

I spent another great afternoon with the Hare Krishnas. Not only did I enjoy talking about their beliefs and karma, but it was a relaxed way to meet the locals. I sat at a picnic table with a few other women and we all watched their kids play. I got to help one lady, Sabrina, with her beautiful 10 month old girl. My nephew Kaden was that age the last time I saw him, so it meant a lot for me for an almost stranger to trust me with her child. The entire place was filled with such trust and generosity. We meditated together, heard a lecture, and then came the feast. Such wonderful food, completely different from anything else I´ve eaten before, and all vegetarian. This is followed by singing and dancing. It was great to see the little kids running back and forth between the adults, some of who were surprisingly energetic even after an hour of sweating under the fans.

The next day I had been planning on going to Berlin after a few hours in a northern lake town, but I decided instead to spend the night at Lake Bled. I´ve been hearing about this place for months from Rick Steves, so how could I pass it up? And Rick Steves never lies. In fact, my mantra of late has been WWRSD– What would Rick Steves do?

Bled is at the foothills of the Julian Alps, called the Sunny Alps by the Slovenes. Blue skies reflect back in the clear water. The 6km path around the lake gives plenty of time to see the snow capped Alps, a castle perched overlooking the town, and swams swimming out to Bled Island. A €12 gondola ride takes you out the island, where 99 stone steps rise out of the water. At the top of the stairs is an old church, and inside there is a bell that gives good luck if you ring it 3 times. I´d met a nice Australian couple on the boat who said that when I rang the bell they heard a distinctive American twang. As I stepped off the boat and headed back towards my incredibly crappy hostel, I was glad I´d followed Rick Steves´advice.

I was thinking this thought and smiling at the puffy clouds, the snowy mountains, and the families of swans when I noticed a few men standing on the side of the lake. One of them had a large video camera, and at first I rolled my eyes at the silliness of Asian tour groups. But then I noticed one of the men, standing with his back to me, was very tall, and blond…

I pulled off my sunglasses and the stupidest grin spread across my face. The man with the camera noticed me and nudged his Nordic friend. My hands were shaking and I didn´t know what to say. Could this be? The travel dream that I thought was too stupid to even mention to anyone–is it actually coming true, and in such a fairy tale setting? Here I was, standing on the shore of Lake Bled, face to face with Rick Steves himself!

Me and Rick Steves by juliannedodds.

A handshake turned into a hug, he asked my name and exchanged some pleasantries. I told him the only reason I was there was because of him. That I watched his show and loved his radio podcasts. That my parents were going to shit themselves when they found out.  I couldn´t thank him enough, to tell him what an amazing, wonderful experience this was for me. Was it a coincidence, or was it destiny?

I just about skipped the 2 km uphill to my hostel, and after dropping my bag ran out to the nearest photo shop. If something were to happen to my camera, I needed a hard copy of this event. I needed 10 copies in fact. Every couple hours I pull out that photo and I still can´t believe my good luck.I hope that you all watch his show and see the episode on Lake Bled that he was filming as I was there, and maybe, boys and girls, if you believe, and you follow every bit of Rick Steves´advise, you too will meet the God of Travel.

Then there was some bullshit with the train system, blah blah blah, but eventually I wound up in Innsbruck. At breakfast I heard a deep voice that reminded me fondly of my Uncle Jerry, and following the sound I met a nice couple from Knoxville, TN, named John & Sue. We spent about an hour talking over pastries, discussing our mutual travel plans. I love Southern folk of a certain age. When I got up to leave John said to me, in that wonderful deep voice that reminded me of Gregory Peck and my Granddad (as well as the afor mentioned uncle), that I have gumption. Music that played in my head all day long.

So a few hours later found me riding a cable car up the Nordpark mountain. From the top of the ride I climbed up to the peak, and as far as I could see were those blue mountains. The ice caps blended in with the clouds. I don´t know how long I stood up there alone, but it was wonderful. I really don´t think I could live in the mountains on account of the winter, but every time I get into a range like that I feel so excited. Driving into the Smokies this past December I felt the same thing, and I remember how once Jason and I had reached those little Alpine towns in February that I was skipping through the snow. And the Alps, with the warm summer air blending with the chill of the snow on the ground, is truly an amazing place to be.

On the way down I stopped at a cafe where I ran into an Arizona couple I´d met on the ascent, Matt & Alex (Alex would want me to say that she is a lady, and it´s true). I ordered the same ham strudel they were eating and we shared our stories. Alex got the bill and we headed further downhill to the zoo. We saw some baby animals, quite cute, talked some more. When we headed off in our separate directions back in the Inn valley I realized just how potent the blessing of the Travel God had been.

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All of February in under 986 words (not counting the title) 2 March 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Julianne Dodds @ 5:17 PM
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So much has happened in the last few weeks. I’ve been too busy and having too much fun to be spending all day online! But mostly, I haven’t had internet access for more than a few minutes. So now where to begin?

Izzy and I convinced Jason to drive to visit us in Prague. One morning I went out to pick something up, and when I turned around the corner onto Izzy’s street there he was. We all spent a week together in Prague, doing a little bit of sightseeing, but mostly hanging out. One night we went to a bar that was actually an old train car, called the Vagon. It was strange, but the cheapest whiskey I found in Prague, and they served fried cheese (a staple of vegetarian dining in the Czech Republic).

Then Jason and I piled into his Renault truck and headed south on the small roads we found on the map. Southern Czech Republic was covered in snow, and at one point the truck skidded off the road and got stuck in a snow bank/ditch. Luckily two cars of Czechs stopped, and with the help of a big van we were able to pull and push the truck back onto the road.

Eventually we got to Vienna. We found a place to park and crawled into the back of the truck, where there was a futon mattress and two down blankets waiting for us. In the morning we went to a gas station to brush our teeth, and then hopped on the tram into the city center. It wasn’t really any colder than Amsterdam, but at least in Amsterdam I was staying in heated places where I could take a hot shower and had lights. Also, our first day in Vienna it was raining, which eventually turned into snow. The weather made the city kind of miserable. Although it was south of Prague, Austria is Alp country, so the elevation is higher. I hadn’t thought of that.

So why did we go to Vienna? Well, Vienna was the center of the Secessionist movement, whose most famous member was Gustav Klimt. I just finished my thesis 3 months ago, so I had to go and stand in front of the paintings I had been researching for months. This was the pinnacle of the 5 years I spent studying art history. I went to the Secessionist building, which was an independent gallery space for the members. Klimt has a long frieze in the basement (it was originally in the main hall, but was meant to be only temporary) and got the see the entire thing at once, not broken up into images. And then… I went into the bathroom and washed my hair. I’m pretty sure I am one of the only people in the world who has washed their hair in the Secessionist building. Of course I froze when I stepped outside, with my wet head, but I feel like I made my mark.

After two very difficult days in Vienna, we started heading west to France. We drove on the small roads and passed through so many little villages. We saw an amazing Baroque monastery in Melk, and were afterwards completely enveloped in a crazy sudden snow storm. We drove through Linz, which was Hitler’s favorite town. We detoured south to St. Gilgen and Halstaat, which was amazingly beautiful, even under 2 feet of snow! In St. Gilgen, where we spent the night, I ate a giant Austrian cinnamon roll that had me singing and skipping for the rest of the morning. We stopped in Salzburg for pizza, home of The Sound of Music, but we couldn’t really stay. Austria was too cold. We took the Autobahn through Germany, and by the next night we rolled into Bonnat, France.

Jason’s house is actually in Le Vignaud, but while he’s working on it he is staying a friend’s second home in the nearby village of Bonnat. This house doesn’t have heating, but it does have plumbing and electricity, which is nice at night. We spend all day in Le Vignaud working, about 7 hours a day. The most work we’ve done is in the yard. There were massive piles of vines, branches, and thorns that needed to be burned. The house had been uninhabited for 50 years before Jason moved in, and the front yard has been used as a dump. We’ve pulled out tons of broken glass, plastic bottles, a wide collection of whole bottles (some match), endless rusted metal, several shoes, and at one point there was a door with wood veneer (which does not decompose) and old metal fixtures. There was a bit of detective work on that one. We also dug up a hibernating toad the other day, with bright red eyes, and watched it wake up to the spring. Despite all the trash in the yard, there are also some beautiful white wildflowers that keep the honey bees busy all day.

A week of hard work and the yard is almost finished. I’ve been using a pick axe to break up the dirt, which also pulls up the rocks and exposes more garbage to be collected. We’ve leveled out the yard, removed some old trees and nasty vines, and have done some extensive building of stone walls. The transformation is really amazing, and in March it will be time to plant the clover and wildflower seeds we got instead of grass.

But for the next week I’m going up to Paris, about 4 hours by train, to meet a friend I met in Amsterdam. I’m excited to get another change, to let my muscles relax for a week, go out at night, to sleep in a heated room, and to be clean. I might even wear mascara! I think somewhere under this dirt and the layers of the same 4 shirts I’ve been wearing for 3 months I’m a girl, but I can’t be sure anymore.