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Skiing in the Swiss Alps

Just like accomplishing anything great, you usually have to overcome a mountain of obstacles. In our case we considered it a huge success that we even made it on the mountain at all. Upon arriving at our resort, we discovered that due to the recent weather the ski runs would only be open on the weekend. Then we ran into the problem that the bags with all the ski stuff were lost by the airline and we didn’t get them until Sunday at noon. We made a quick decision and decided to go for it. We coordinated a ride through our hotel to the base of the ski lift, dressed quickly, ran to the rental store, and ran back. Well, I guess we weren’t fast enough and our French-speaking van driver was in a sour mood. She was yelling all kinds of French profanity (or so we guessed) and pointing to her watch and quickly made it known that we needed to get on the van or she was leaving. I learned through this experience that in Switzerland – just like in many parts of Europe – that lunch starts at noon and then is followed by what is usually called “siesta.” I’m not sure what it is called in Switzerland but we were obviously keeping her from her much needed nap time.

Ten minutes later we had our lift tickets in hand and were in line to go to the top! Our hearts were pounding with excitement and anxiety. This was Haley and I’s first time skiing together and I had not skied with my brothers in 10 years. As we got closer to the lift we realized it looked a bit strange. The chair we were “supposed” to sit on looked a bit like a pick axe with a bungee cord tied around it. Now a few of us in the group had seen a T-lift that “could” maybe be compared but this one was much more rudimentary. The girls put on their brave faces and gave it a shot. I think it took all of us at least two tries to successfully get ourselves attached to it and none of us made it to the top on our first try. It was seriously the longest T-lift I have ever seen!

The beautiful scenery of the Swiss Alps quickly became lost in the snow that started to down pour. I would like to refer to the next few hours on that mountain as a time of “building character.” We may not have gotten down the mountain like the pros would have, but we all learned a valuable lesson in patience and endurance.

Nevertheless we made it happen and we all felt very proud to be able to say we have SKIIED IN THE SWISS ALPS! Check that one off the bucket list!

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Newton is ENGAGED!

She said YES! We had a huge celebration after meeting up with my two brothers in Switzerland. It was just such an awesome experience getting to be a part of my brother asking for his girlfriend’s hand in marriage. We took a day trip to the city of Lausanne where there is what is considered one of the most beautiful cathedrals in all of Europe. It was perched on top of the city and we had an incredible view overlooking Lausanne and the Swiss Alps. I was a nervous wreck thinking through all the details, but Newton was so cool and calm about it. He handled the situation perfectly, told her he loved her, got down on one knee and asked her to marry him. It was such a magical experience to be doing something like this in Switzerland. We took a ton of pictures to celebrate the moment and the completion of the Thomas family with now all three brothers finding their wives.

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Running in the Beauty of Interlaken

Seeing how Interlaken is the adrenaline seeking sports capital of Europe we felt we needed to do something. Unfortunately, Interlaken is so expensive we couldn’t find a single activity for less than $150 a person. Then we looked around and saw the incredible beauty of the town. While there was snow on the ground, the sun was shining and we felt inspired seeing those who were paragliding down from the mountains. We suited up and went for what has to one of the MOST AMAZING runs we have done on this trip!

We have done a lot of runs during this trip, especially during those months preparing for the marathon. Our most memorable runs have been (1) Running 10 miles in Dublin through Phoenix Park, crossing the Samuel Beckett Bridge and passing the Great Famine statues; (2) Running along the beach in Barcelona, (3) Running Haley’s first half marathon in Rabat, Morocco, (4) Wearing my headlamp while we ran in the mountains of Andalucía at dawn, (5) Running past the Colosseum in Rome, (6) Running 16 miles in Tuscany at Sunset, (7) and completing my first marathon in Athens, Greece on the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of the Marathon.

I have loved this trip so much and am in awe of all we have been able to see. I love that somehow living in Chicago the last three years convinced me to get into running. It has added so much more meaning and added so many great memories to this trip. Just sitting here and thinking through my favorite runs, I feel compelled to thank Jesus for how His amazing provision and blessing.

You can view our best of Interlaken photos at

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=589841&id=648610330&l=792691c472

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Motzart

DO-RE-ME-FA

SO-LA-TI-DO!

The Hills Are Alive with the Sound of Music…

and it’s not Frauline Maria making music in Salzburg, its Mozart! The beautiful town of Salzburg, Austria is the birthplace to music’s most famous composer and the town does everything in its power to not let you forget it. There are streets, plazas, buildings, chocolates, and even colognes named after him! Jackson and I visited one of the homes that he grew up in where they have a lovely, informative museum about Mozart’s childhood and early career. I learned a lot about the man Mozart, though he was a genius and extremely talented, he was also quite prone to the ridiculous. We weren’t sure if the movie Amadeus was correct, but after visiting the museum and seeing some of the letters he wrote to his father and sister, you really get the impression that he was a bit perverse. Mozart (along with his sister) was a child prodigy and traveled all over Europe performing concerts. It was interesting coming to Salzburg after Vienna which also seems to adopt Mozart as its own. We chose not to attend a Mozart concert in Salzburg since we already went to one in Vienna.

Of course, this is not what drew us to Salzburg in the first place. Since childhood, I have always dreamed of visiting the place where Maria and the von Trapp family sang Do Re Mi, I am Sixteen going on Seventeen, The Hills are Alive, Edelweiss, etc. Many of the sites from the movie are found throughout Salzburg and though it was snowing like mad, I still made Jackson do the unofficial tour with me. We went to the Mirabell Gardens (which was basically a blanket of white snow when we arrived) and ran through the grassy arch and around the area where Maria taught the kids Do Re Mi. I ventured out my own and visited the building where the family sang Edelweiss and climbed a mountain (not “every mountain”) to visit Nonnberg Nunnery where Frauline Maria was a problem to be solved.

Salzburg was a beautiful city with jutting mountains everywhere you looked and friendly people on every corner. In fact, we met a woman who had known Tom Cruise and gave us a pic of  her with the great actor and talked our ear off. She showed us where Tom stayed and shot the movie “Knight and Day” in Salzburg.

Christmas was certainly in the air along with the smell of hot wine and of course Christmas stands, trees, and lights everywhere you looked!

You can see our best of Salzburg pics at

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=589288&id=648610330&l=e58b4f3398

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Breakfast in Croatia, Lunch in Slovenia, and Dinner in Austria

Three meals, three countries! We really cranked up the speed since we are short on time and need to see as much as possible before we have to head back to the real world. After sharing my story of survival in Croatia with Haley we just crashed at our hostel called Hobo Bear. It was the 2nd hostel we stayed at that had a collection of American movies. We watched a bit of Taken and a little bit of the new Indiana Jones with the two Australians in the common room. Australians seem to always be traveling. We have met so many during our time over here!

During my time out at Plitvice Lakes, Haley did some research and found out a way for us to squeeze in another country into our itinerary. We ate breakfast at our hostel and then caught a train to the capital of Slovenia – Ljubljana. We spent most of the train ride trying to figure out to pronounce it but feel we have it down now – “loob – lee – AH – nah”

Ljubljana really reminded us of Vienna’s architectural beauty and on the train ride we thought we had made a mistake and were entering Switzerland. We enjoyed a great lunch and then took in the famous bridges of the city. They have a Triple Bridge comprised of three bridges converging into the main square. They also have a really awesome Dragon Bridge with four dragon statues. After snapping a fair share of photos we began our snow hike to the top of the city so we could see the castle and take in the great views. We then made our way down to enjoy an afternoon coffee in the main square to warm up before catching our 4:30 train to Salzburg and settling into the satisfaction of seeing three countries in a single day.

You can see our best of Slovenia pictures at

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=589257&id=648610330&l=ae0e8474f1

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Jackson’s Big Adventure: Hitch Hiking in Croatia – Part III

Well sitting in the snow wasn’t going to do me any good and that kind of self-flagellation only lasted a few minutes because it was so cold outside. I had to get up and at least move my legs and arms to stay warm. I decided since I had nothing better to do I would just wait by the bus stop in case another bus just happened to come by. I then decided I needed to make a sign to increase my chances of clearly communicating with a bus driver since I had such a bad experience with that first bus. I’m not sure at what point the idea of hitch hiking came into my head, but after standing by the side of the road in the middle of a snow storm holding my sign and waiting for a bus that may not ever come, I realized I might as hold up my sign when cars drove by and see if one would stop and give me a ride.

At approximately 3:45 and after standing outside in the snow storm for almost 3.5 hours, the Begic Family pulled up in their silver van of salvation. Ivona popped her head out, said Hello and waved me in. Now, I should pause here and say that while I had made the sign and I had held it up when cars passed by, I wasn’t sure how committed I was to the idea until that moment. Those who know me well would attest that at times I act before I think. Hitch hiking certainly does not always have the best connotations surrounding it, but from the very first minute I got in, the Begic family really reassured me that this was a good decision. There are two sisters, Ivona and Anna, who introduced themselves and their parents, Katarina and Thomas. At hearing that their father’s name was Thomas, we enjoyed a few minutes of translating friendship since my last name was Thomas. They live in Zagreb and were driving home from spending the weekend with their grandparents performing a family tradition. At first translation, I thought it was some sort of a Croatian style BBQ, but Ivona clarified that each year around this time they help their grandparents slaughter a pig whose meat will be used to feed the family during the long winter.

The drive home was not easy since the snow just kept pouring down, but that did not slow Thomas down. He explained to me that he had been driving in these conditions his whole life and the reason all the people in front of us were going so slow was because they grew up in the city and did not know how to drive in the mountain snow! What concerned me though was how we continued to see cars that had spun out and ended up in the ditch every half hour or so. We even saw one bus that must have lost control as it was stuck halfway up on the guard rail. Not long after seeing this crashed bus, Thomas all of the sudden became very excited. He turned on the overhead light and began looking through the glove box frantically. He then started digging into the side pocket of his door and produced a glass jar filled with a lemon colored liquid. Ivona and Anna explained to me that he wanted us to share a glass of Medica which is a type of Rakija. Rakija is a strong liquor drink that seemed comparable to something Haley and I have experienced several times along this trip. In Italy it is called Grappa, in Greece it is called Raki, and here in Croatia it is called Rakija. Ivona and Anna taught me that “Zivjeli” means “Cheers” and so we all said “Zivjeli” and drank up – even Thomas!! It was all so unbelievable!

Well, we made it home and they even drove me all the way to my hostel. Praise God! It was an absolute miracle and I kept telling Thomas that he and his family will be famous with my children and grandchildren. They will all know of the Begic Family and how they got Jackson back to Haley in the middle of a snow storm in Croatia.

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Jackson’s Big Adventure: Hitch Hiking in Croatia – Part II

 

After the Big Waterfall, we walked a little further to catch a boat to cross one of the bigger lakes, but discovered that they had closed due to the increasing snow. So our group turned around and headed back to the main entrance. While I wanted to see more, I felt the trip had still been a success and going home might be the best idea. I just missed the 11 bus so I grabbed some food and got to the bus stop at 12:20. I wanted to make sure I arrived early because the next bus was not until 5PM and I had heard from several people that sometimes the buses don’t stop! I was a bit worried, but thought that surely this wouldn’t happen to me.

Well, at exactly 12:51 a bus comes roaring by and despite my flailing of arms and yelling, it just blew right by. I can’t describe the anger that welled up in my gut. I was so pissed. That was just so ridiculous, I looked the bus driver in the eye and he just waved his hand! For good measure, I stood there for another half hour before walking the 50 feet to the ticket booth where I was going to voice my complaints. I explained my situation to the woman behind the desk. In words that I won’t soon forget she said, “oh, well they’re running late due to the weather. You see that bus (points with her finger), that’s the one you need to take.” I turn my head only to see it driving away from the bus stop! I flew out the door and chased it in vain, but it was gone. Not another bus for 4 hours!! And what if this one was even later since the snow was getting worse? I checked into any other ways home, but the only thing available would be a taxi and that was going to run me $200. Things were not looking good.

I was so upset I just sat down next to the bus stop (see photo) and let the snow build up all around me. I couldn’t move. I was just so paralyzed by the horror of missing my best chance of getting home by literally 30 seconds or so. What if I had waited just one or two minutes more before walking over to the ticket booth?? What if the bus had been one or two minutes later? The lady would have told me to go back and wait and I would have most likely made it. What was the deal with the bus that came by at 12:51 then? All these thoughts and more ran through my head.

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