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.