Monday, September 29, 2008

Michelle is to Scrapbooking as Kate is to Popcorn

Hello! I guess I should start where I left off. This is a long post! I apologize for only having a few photos posted but Ill add more when I get to a location where I can.

Two Saturday's ago Jess, Josh, the kids, and I piled into the car and drove 3.5 hours Northeast to Dresden. Josh suggested it since his co-worker mentioned how beautiful it was. We arrived in Dresden and walked to the amazing Zwinger Palace. The kids loved the water fountains and we had a great time taking pictures of them.

We made it a priority to visit the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister inside the Zwinger Palace. The gallery is one of the most well known for having over 700 old masters paintings. I could barely believe that I stood in front of paintings by Raphael, Tinteretto, Titian, Botticelli, Rembrandt, Vermeer, Durer, Ruebens, and Van Dyck!

We walked around the altstad (old city) for a while and enjoyed the beautiful clear and crisp evening. Then we had dinner in a cute biergarten just minutes away. We had a great time surrounded by German's enjoying their Saturday night. Our drive back to Illesheim was safe and spent with quite a bit of napping.

Sunday as Sebastian's 3rd birthday so Jess baked delicious sugar cookies. We sang happy birthday and watched presents being opened. Both kids got scooters so we played outside but it got cold very quickly It was so much fun watching the family play. I prepared for my trip to Berlin for the next morning.

Jess & I left very early on Monday morning so I could reach Berlin by train by 11:30am. The Berlin Hauptbanhof (main station) was incredibly big. when I read that it was overwhelming I had no idea! They have 16 train platforms, endless stores to shop in, and many floors. I admit I did get a little lost but with the help of my Rick Steves book, I was on my way to my hostel, East Seven. They were helpful in answering my questions and getting me checked in. They even made me a reservation at another hostel for the following night since they didn't have any vacancy.

I took a bus to Hackescher markt where I met up with a bunch of fun people and a great tour guide, Lisa, from the Original Berlin Walking tours. I took the "Discover Berlin tour." It was 4 hours of walking around and hearing so much history. It was well worth the 9 euros (discount with Welcome Card) for the tour. I really liked chatting with the people and the security the group had. I was able to take a ton of photos and meet people to have dinner with afterwards. It is so exciting to hear people speaking English so it was great getting travel advice.

It is common to share a table with others at restaurants. My favorite part of the evening was sitting with the locals. Our waiter made fun of me for ordering egg noodles with a salad. He told me I was too old, that it was a kids meal. The family sitting with us explained it to me and the funny part was that the father was having the same thing!

I had to switch to a hostel the next morning called the Circus. It was brightly painted and also got great reviews. I dropped off my luggage and then walked to Museum Island. I saw Queen Nefertiti's bust in the Egyptian Musem. I saw a lot of other beautiful pieces of art work as well. I visited the Berliner Dom and sat in awe for a little while. I climbed to the top of the dome for some panoramic photos too.I walked down Unter den Linden and back to the Memorial for murdered Jews of Europe. I didn't get to go into the museum underground when I was on the walking tour, so I made an effort to go back. It was dark when I came out. I got really excited because everything is lit up beautifully. I took photos of the Brandenburg gate and then queued at the Reichstag building for about 30 minutes. It was well worth the wait, but very cold. The view was incredible! I did have a teenager slide right into me (on the way down) because they were playing on the rails while I was taking a photo.

Wednesday morning I packed up my gear and rode the train to meet Nat in Hamburg. I missed my train but I was very lucky that another one came just one hour later. Nat took me to her neighborhood where we enjoyed the beautiful weather and clouds over hot drinks. We had so much fun talking! Then we rode the train to Landungsbrücken. We spent time on the platform testing different camera settings for proper exposures for cloud photography. We walked around the warehouse district and through cute alley ways to amazing canals. Nat helped me back to my train and I met up my cousin Kate to go stay with her.

My cousin had just flown in from Beijing and we celebrated his birthday with my other cousins. Dinner was incredible. We had a homemade cake with meringue frosting. They set me up with a computer and webcam so I could talk with my family. It was great!

I slept in a bit Thursday morning since it was really hard for me to sleep in a mixed dorm the two previous nights. I had my own room and bathroom. It was great! I had a few things that I wanted to shop for so Kate took me to the Europa Passage and the shopping district of Hamburg. I got a double scoop gelato. One scoop mango and one scoop white chocolate. Delicious! Kate took me to a huge grocery store called Toom. I was curious what one looked like.

Rested a bit back at the house and then went back out with Kate to the Reeperbahn. The Reeperbahn is the red light district in Hamburg. We met up with Kate's friends at a London pub. One of them happened to be a local from Hamburg so they played tour guide for me. We took photos out in front of Herberstrasse, which is closed off to men under 18, and women. We got some fun photos at Beatles platz and visited Indra, the first place that the Beatles played in Germany.

Kate pointed out a few prostitutes after we passed. They were dressed normally and it surprised me. They wore puffy down jackets, tight jeans, and tennis shoes. They are pretty aggressive with men. I had Kate recording me doing my first shot in a bar. The local guy form Hamburg "initiated" me into the Brotherhood. Essentially you link arms and drink. He caught me off guard when he kissed me. My reaction was pretty funny. I do have the video on flickr but you have to be a friend or family contact to view it. We danced a little and then decided to go home.

Talked on skype with my family on Friday and had a lot of fun. Visited my cousin at her work and then went out to dinner at a cute restaurant boat floating on the water (attached to a dock). Then Kate & I went to Nat's for some wine. We had such a blast telling her about the night before. She laughed so hard that she started choking. I seriously thought that fluid was going to ocme out of her nose. She had a beautiful house and an amazing roof terrace. She gave us a tour and we loved her craft room. She's so talented! I was thrilled to meet up with her a second time.

Saturday we went on a walking tour (all the cousins) through a part of Hamburg called Altona. It was really cool to learn about the history and how they made a collaborative park with grafitti artists. Saw a really cool toy in the playground that was a skateboard on tracks shaped like a half pipe. We stopped at a biergarten in Aiese Hallen for some creme brulee and drinks. It felt so great to enjoy the sun and good company.Kate's parents dropped us off at St. Nikolai Kirche which was bombed during World War II. Its ruins are left as a reminder. We took the lift up 97 meters to the top for another great panoramic view. The scariest part is that its a translucent elevator and I have a growing fear of heights. We walked down the street and looked in St. Michaelis Kirche. No cameras were allowed. :( Then we went to a classy biergarten near their home for dinner. We were originally planning to go to a special event at the Planten un Blomen but it got to be too late so we went back to the house.

Sunday morning my cousins sat with me at the train station until my train picked me up at 6:40am! I was supposed to meet Fauve in Amsterdam around noon but something much more important came up so we had to cancel. My friend Per was waiting for me at the station when I arrived. We took the tram to the hotel and rested a bit before heading back out to walk along the fashion and shopping streets. The canals and buildings are so fairytale! Also saw the red light district that was very different from the Reeperbahn. Women sit in windows and try to entice customers to come in. I didn't take any photos for fear of losing my camera. We also toured the Rijksmuseum to see some famous paintings by Vermeer and Rembrandt. It was so cool to see how big they really are! Had tomato soup for dinner along the canal, ran into a reggae concert on the way back, and saw a bizarre video in someone's front window of a little girl jumping rope.

Accidentally overslept on Monday. Tried a Belgian waffle for breakfast and it was yum! I got a new phone since I paid 10 euro for a conversation with Jenna (roaming from Germany). We shopped around a bit more and then grabbed a salmon sandwich for lunch. I visited the Anne Frank House which was really special since I read her diary in 8th grade. Went to the public library and caught up on email since our hotel was charging 27 euros for internet! Had an over the top dinner at an Indonesian restaurant with 17 plates (small plates).

We rented bikes on Tuesday and rode along the canals and all over Amsterdam's downtown. They have a great system and TONS of bicyclists. Rode through Vodelpark and looked at old hosues from the 18th century. Had lunch at a cute little place called Wilimenia. It rained towards the end of our bike ride. Had dinner at an Italian restaurant because they were pushy and convinced us to pick them over Chinese food. They got our order right which was surprising since days previous were all messed up.

Woke up early on Wednesday morning and picked up a rental car (they lost our resrvation which delayed us a bit). We packed up and left for Kinderdijk. There were 19 windmills lined up in 4 rows. It was such a cool thing to visit. We went through the inside of one but several appear to have people living in them! We spent the remaining day driving to Munich (Munchen). We got a little lost since we didn't have a Munich specific map and the iPhone's battery died. Celebrated Per's birthday with a quick cosmo in the hotel bar before going to bed.

Thursday we visited the Munich Hauptbanhof to check out some vendors and then headed to Oktoberfest. We walked around and looked into a few tents. There were a lot more people there than I expected by noon. Took the S-Bahn to Marienplatz where we roamed through the Rathaus and then took the lift to the top of the tour. We walked through Viktualienmarkt, a famous produce market. Stopped for lunch at a beirgarten and had potatoes with Weisswurste and beer. It started raining pretty hard so we found cover in Starbucks. :D They have them in the larger cities. Once the rian calmed down, we walked back and visited the Frauenkirche Cathedral. It was huge!

Per & I debated over buying costumes for Oktoberfest and decided to save our money. Rested up a bit at the hotel for a little bit. Tried to go swimming in the beautiful indoor pool but only made it to the hot tub. Went to Oktoberfest to get dinner aroun 8:30. It was so crowded from people standing in the tents all over the place. We saw a guy hurt pretty badly. We decided to try getting food in a different tent and were going to leave when this guy lightly placed his beer stein on a bakery display. The entire glass thing broke into a million pieces and three security guards were there immediately. Saw a guy get sick right outside.

Tried a few more tents that were equally full. We decided on grabbing a bite from the street vendors in the festical. They had rides with music that were lit up and very pretty. I had a field day with my night photography. Saw a tall thin guy play that game with the hammer and the bell. He won over the short stumpy guy. I was surprised! We saw a guy try to smuggle out a glass beer stein and get caught. It was pretty amusing. We walked around and picked up some candied nuts that smelled like heaven. It was a great night. Per made fun of me for not having beer at Oktoberfest. He didn't either!

Friday morning we packed up our gear and headed out to see the Nymphemburg Palace in Munich. We had to get gas because we had less than 16km left and managed to get totally lost. We found out that it was 20 minutes outside of Munich in the wrong direction so we scraped that idea. I decided stopping in Innsbruck for lunch was more important. The drive through southern Germany was like driving through a European Yosemite. It was absolutely gorgeous! It rained a bit so I don't have the best photos through my window.

We arrived in Innsbruck, Austria around 12:30pm. We shopped around for souvenirs and gifts for a little while. We had lunch outside in the beautiful sun for quite a while. It had been quite a few days since we saw the sun. Per had never been into a Swarovski crystal store so I took him in. I knew there was a museum somewhere in Innsbruck and I wanted to know how far away it was. We had passed it on the way in to the city. Oh well! Got back in the car and drove for 3.5 more hours. We drove over a really cool bridge and had a bit of a problem with the ticket both not working properly. Arrived at a friends house in Padova. I was in three different countries in just one day!

Bought a new sim card for my phone since I didn't have one for Italy. Then we went to dinner at a cute little restaurant. I thought it was pretty quite considering that it was a Friday night. It was explained to me that Saturday is really the night that people go out because some have school on Saturday morning. They also eat later at night and have several courses for their meals. I had a bean soup with pasta and some wine. We grabbed some lemon gelato after dinner and walked all over the centro storico (historic center) of Padova. I had a field day with everything lit up. We got back to their house after 12am. I was quite tired.

Saturday morning we went shopping and picked up some clothes for Per. Had a great Italian lunch back at the house. We had fresh thick noodles that reminded me of spaghetti. Its from the Vento region and its called bigoli. The next course was a cheese platter with goat cheese, two aged cheeses, and cow cheese. I learned that aged cheese doesn't have lactose and I went to town! Had bread with honey, salami, and salad too. I'm not used to this new style of eating but it is introducing me to lots of different foods! Went out for a walk around the town before dinner. Doing laps is a pretty common thing in Italy. Had a great dinner that lasted two and a half hours.

Sunday I took the train from Padova to Luzern which was nearly an 8 hour ride. It was by far the most beautiful train ride I've experienced. Off to enjoy the city.

Monday, September 22, 2008

safe in Munich!

Hallo from Munich! Per & I drove the 8 hours today from Amsterdam. Have a ton to share but we are very tired as it is 11pm now. Will share more shortly. If not tomorrow then maybe Friday or Saturday. Guten nacht!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Happy Birthday Sebastian!

Sebastian turned 3 today. I felt so lucky to be part of Jess's family celebration. They have been so warm and welcoming to me. I'm sad to be leaving them in just a few hours to embark on my next part of my trip. I'll be in Berlin in 11 hours. Internet access will be limited for me from now on. I will try to blog as frequently as time and money permits. Didn't want to carry a laptop.

Friday, September 12, 2008


Wow, thanks for all of the great comments. Makes me all warmy and fuzzy. Keep 'em coming! :D I must give warning that spell check doesn't work here and I'm too tired to run it through a word processor.

Celebrated my 24th birthday on Monday. I had a great celebration filled with lots of birthday wishes. One more year until I'm mid-twenties. I always tease Dan that he's a quarter of a century. Had cards to open from my mom, my friend Jessica from home, and a hand made card from Jess, here in Germany. I really loved having such lovely flat things to bring with me. Got a photo from elementary school when I was a girl scout and a lovely chipboard album taht spells out travel.

Went to the small town of Bad Windsheim. Its pronounced "Bad Vindshime." Quiet town without any tourists (except me). Saw these cool glass domes that we could view underground. Turns out that the town went to rennovate the town center and found graves under it in 2000. Apparently it was part of the churches graveyard, just a few feet away.
Found a couple of cute things to use for scrapbooking in a few stores that we went to. Visited the bakery and the 1 euro store. Euro is really pronounced "oy-ro." Got a phone that works in Germany and then I'll get charged for roaming once I leave. If you need to text me, send me and email and we can text a little. Its about 20 cents from the states to me. Jess made brownies for dessert (see first photo). YuM!

Started off Tuesday by playing with Jess & the kids on the soccer field. Had some fun goofing off and getting rid of some energy. We went to the train station in Ansbach so I could validate my eurail pass and make a reservation for a trip on the ICE train (super fast) to Koeln for Thursday. Walked to the scrapbook store to find it closed. Only open on Friday-Sunday. WTF? I admit, Jess & I were both dissappointed but we decided to find out what kind of touristy things they had in town. Here is a cool scultpure in the town center. They had a lot of sculptures all over. Went to see St. Gumberus Kirche which was right around the corner. It was recently rennovated. The kids call churches castles since they kinda do look like them.

On the way back, we stopped at a local bakery to pick up some dessert. We had chicken & dumplings. Jess is a great cook. I also got my first text message from Dan. I'm so lucky that we've got modern technology to keep in touch. Next week I won't have a computer so easily available to me, so I apologize ahead of time if I don't get back to your emails right away.

Wednesday we went to Bamberg. I was really interested to see the town hall since I read that they couldn't choose which side of the Regnitz river to build it on. They choose to build it in the middle of the river to avoid a town fight.

It rained for a good portion during the day but we avoided it by choosing inside activities. Went to the Imperial Church and saw some relics. Every church claims to have some special relic. Jess took a photo of me outside in front of their huge doors. We toured the Neue Residenz next. It was incredible! I stole this picture from Jess's camera. She loves to take photos from the hip. I do too, but I haven't mastered them in mirrors yet. The Residenz was so beautiful and it had a ton of windows which makes for great natural lighting. Here is my favorite room: We toured the rose gardens briefly and then returned home. Jess woke up with me at at 5:30am on Thursday morning to take me to the Illesheim train station. I made three train transfers and arrived in Koeln a.k.a. Cologne at 10:30am. Walked around the Koeln Cathedral to asess the lighting. Visited the Museum Ludwig and saw originals by Picasso, Dali, Warhol, Lichentstein, and Magritte. I sat and people watched while I snacked. I had a very low key relaxing day. Decided to go into the Cathedral and wait for the lighting to get a little better. I think I spent three hours walking around slowly and photographing the church and how the people interacted in it. It was really my main interest so I loved it! Here is one of my many candle shots. The church is so huge that I wanted to show the size of the people in comparison to it.
This church is so huge it has 9 chapels inside of it! I loved this stained glass section. Saw the reliquary with the three wiseman's remains in it. It was behind bars. Check out my flickr account for those. Its a big gold box. I will continue to upload about 150 photos each night as a sleep. So check back often. I am a little overwhlemed since I think I've shot about 2500 photos in the week that I've been here.

After I roamed around the church, I paid the student fee to climb 509 steps or 98 meters up to the top of the south tower of the Cathedral.I was so exhausted but it felt great to be up high with all of the views. I also got to see their bells. I accidentally time it at 2:45pm and they rung! The return trip was pretty uneventful. Had a seat in the front of the ICE train which was pretty cool. I didn't think second class what have such priority. Jess picked me up and I pretty much crashed when I got back. Had a relaxing day recooperating from my long excursion (over 7 hours of trains).

Random things:

  1. Saw a dog prancing around outside of the Cathedral wearing orange sunglasses (and they were glass, not plastic). He was too fast for me to get a photo.
  2. Saw people bring their dog on a leash into the Cathedral. Thought that was odd.
  3. Learned that its cheapest to use restrooms in museums. They charge in the train station.
  4. Also learned to use lockers in the museum instead of at the train station. Also cheaper.
  5. Learned that I really can't get all that lost. If I'm not constrained to time, its just an adventure.
  6. Learned that black tape from the 1 euro store isn't going to hold up like real duct tape.
  7. A backpack is a much better idea for a day trip instead of a shoulder bag. Putting too much weight on one side just makes me lean to the side.
  8. More German's speak English than they want you to know. They don't think they know much and are nervous. Speak slowly and do not use contractions.
  9. Public transportion is so much easier to use here its ridiculous.
  10. American tourists got their reputation because they are loud. You can see one in a crowd because they act like a fish out of water.

I'm trying my best to not stand out like an American. I don't mind being labeled a tourist because I have my camera around my neck and not many locals happen to cary their DSLR everywhere. Thanks for reading if you got this far. Hope you liked the photos.

And finally, Dan purchased a ticket to Heathrow and is meeting me in the middle of October. I'm really happy about that. I think we're going to make it to Belgium, then Paris, Italy, and then back here. Wee!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Hallo! from Deutschland

I'm happily sitting in Jessica & Josh's lovely home. Their children are so well behaved. Sebastian just gave me a great big hug.

My flight arrived safely in Frankfurt and I was excited to exit onto the tarmac. There were shuttles waiting, but I wasn't sure if I was supposed to get on them or where to get off. They had German recordings and I felt huge culture shock, especially when I got to the gates and didn't know where to go. Luckily the people at the info desk are really helpful and speak English. They directed me to the non-EU citizens gate where I got my first stamp in my passport! I was so happy to see Jessica and her kids. She even brought me a bag of chips! Thanks Kelly. She drove me around Frankfurt and then took me back to the base. I was super jet lagged so I took a nap and felt better. We went out to dinner at this cute little restaurant outside of the base.

Went to the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber and walked through St. Jakob's Church. They have a beautiful organ. We visited the Criminal Museum and saw some very interesting contraptions. Bought a schneeball or "snowball" and ate almost the whole thing. Climbed to the top of the town hall tower for a panoramic view. Stopped at a "Blumen" garden. Took some of my favorite photos of Anberlin with a sunflower. Ate some delicious pot roast cooked by Jess. Went back to Rotenburg and got the most amazing surprise ever. Saw an incredible parade and fireworks for the Imperial city festival. Took lots of night photos on a photo walk. Found Capri Sonne Kristi!
Spent our Saturday afternoon in Nuremburg. We started out at the German National Museum which was partly in an old church building. Saw a lot of church art work and a few paintings from my text books. I also got to use my "youth/student" discount which saved me 2 euro.
Next, we grabbed a pretzel and headed over to St. Lorenz Kirche which is a lovely church that we couldn't take photos inside of. From there we walked around and saw Frauenkirche. Isn't that fountain incredible? Its called Schoner Brunnern or Beautiful fountain. The original one was in the museum we visited just before arriving at Hauptmarkt. We saw lots of fountains and bridges. Jess & I went to Kaiserburg castle on top of the hill. We were lucky since it rained both ways, but never rained on us.

Jessica played tour guide with me in Wurzburg today. We toured the Wurzburg Residence first. WOW WOW WOW! An incredible palace that was dubbed "the nicest parsonage in Europe by Napoleon. We began in Hofkirche, the Court Chapel where my jaw completely hit the floor when I entered. I have never seen such a beautiful church. My first Baroque church experience was just wonderful.
Next was the actual palace. They wouldn't take my International Youth Travel Card & student ID for the student discount. I'm beginning to wonder if it was worth it to bother getting the IYTC. We had to store our purses and cameras in a locker since cameras, cell phones, and other items are not allowed in. WARNING: The following photo was taken against those rules. Yes, I break the rules when it comes to photography. I snuck my little point & shoot in my pocket. Turned off the flash and all beeping noises that it makes. ;p
So I got caught when my flash that I had turned off, flashed anyway. I was told that I couldn't take photos and I apologized. Nope, didn't get kicked out. I love warnings. :D I was good for the rest of the tour. There were only two rooms after that I wished I could have photographed. I'm pretty happy that I got the photos that I did. The gardens were lovely too. Thought about my mom and how much she would have loved to be here.

After the gardens we walked downtown where a wine & musical festival was unfolding. Street preformers were everywhere. Such incredible buildings are on every street. Found a few more cool churches, one was turned into a museum. Walked along the Alte Mainbruke, the second oldest bridge in Germany (15th century). The weather was beautiful. The clouds are drool worthy for any photographer.
I've been really lucky with weather so far. Mornings start out overcast and then it turns into a beautiful & warm day in the afternoon. Jess is making an amazing dinner and it smells yummy.
You can see more of my unedited photos on flickr, but only if you are a family or friend of mine. I have it private because I am using flickr to back up my photo in case of any accidents. If you want to see my pictures, add my account. :D I'm having a blast, can you tell?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

And I'm off!

Monday night we had my mom's side of the family over and a few people from Pacifica stopped by to say bon voyage/happy birthday. It was a great evening filled with silly dancing and apples to apples. I tried to upload the dancing video but it got rejected. Maybe some other time when I want to be random. :) So here is a our normal birthday dessert photo. I know, I always post the silly ones but I thought I've posted so many recently that I'd post the normal one.
I got an email from my friend Per that told me he's joining me for sure in Amsterdam! So that means that we'll have a whirl wind two weeks through the Netherlands, head to Munich for Oktoberfest, hit Northern Italy to visit Sita, Steve, and their kids, and maybe stop in Switzerland too before he has to go back to work.

Well, my flight leaves this afternoon, which means I have to shower, finish up some last minute things that need to be packed, and head out. I'm going to miss all my usual blog rounds but know that I will do my best when I find time. Check back here to see random things that I experience, and if I'm lucky, maybe even a photo or two. Love all of you in my blog family!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Lots of Partying

Dan had Friday off since he's working today. We headed over to his father's in Danville and hung out in the air conditioned house since it was a lovely 107*. Worked my triceps at Costco by pushing one of his families two shopping carts. I had way too much fun getting all the free samples since we didn't have much of a lunch. Played a pretty decent game of wii golf. They kept making fun of me because "a small breeze would come up" and keep me from swinging. Really, I just kept taking my finger off the A button by accident. Had an impromptu birthday party with delicious fruit tart dessert. Was such a fun send off.
Dan's wonderful friends from Iowa came to visit us Saturday night. We met George, Megan, and their 5 month son, Steven at Linda Mar Beach. We had such a great time playing but it got cold and windy after the sun went down. Naturally, we moved the party back to my house and got a few good photos. I have to say this is one of my most favorite photos. In fact, probably my favorite family portrait I've taken.Celebrated my Grandfather's, Mom's, McKenna's, and my birthday at Vivace in Belmont. A bunch of the cousins thought it would be fun to make silly faces.
Hope everyone is having a great day celebrating Labor day!

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