Tuesday, December 29, 2009


First and foremost we would like to thank the Brusevold family for hosting us on our recent trip to Oslo over Thanksgiving weekend. Jan and I went to UT together, and at the Scharnell wedding this last summer, he was kind enough to invite us to come visit him and his family for the holiday.
We flew into a small airport about an hour and half south of Oslo right along the coast. As we came in for the landing we were rewarded with some beautiful views of the famous Norwegian fjords and their rocky coastline. We took a bus to the central station in Oslo and met Jan and Hope there. They gave us a brief tour of the city as we walked to the ferry to catch our ride to Jan's parents' home for dinner. We boarded the ferry and chatted away during the 20 minute commute over the fjord to the area where they lived. Jan's mom picked us up and ushered us home to a meal she had prepared for us. Not just any meal mind you, but a Norwegian specialty...moose. It was delicious, and we had a wonderful dinner sharing time with everyone.

On Saturday, we woke up and Jan and Hope took us to Oslo to tour the city. Oslo was filled with excitement due to the visit from Barack in two weeks' time to collect his peace prize. We saw city hall where the ceremony takes place (pictured above). We toured the Nobel peace prize museum, which was very interesting and had a wonderful exhibit on the transition from the time of MLK to the time of Barack. Each of us won a Nobel peace prize while we were there, only ours were better than Barack's because they were filled with chocolate.
We saw the royal palace and the impressive new opera house. We saw Norway's parliament building and the University of Oslo. Then we took a boat cruise around the harbor, which dropped us off at different points of interest. We toured the viking ship museum, the Con Tiki museum, and the Fram museum (which is the first ship used to explore the poles in 1892). We went at sunset to the Vigeland sculpture park with its numerous nude statues showing different stages in the circle of life. From there we went to eat a nice dinner and then headed back to the Brusevolds to try to take in the OSU/OU game for Shea. Unfortunately, we didn't get the game, but luckily it wasn't a bad game to miss.
On Sunday morning we were invited to a wonderful breakfast at Jan's cousin's house. She lives in an apartment near the Brusevolds so we were able to walk through the neighborhood and get a good sense of the area to take some splendid pics of the harbor. From there Jan and Hope went with us back into the city where we toured the Christmas market, visited the Norway World War II museum located in the Akershus Castle, and then did a few minutes of shopping. Shea and I then jumped on a bus back to the airport to catch our plane to Frankfurt.
We had a wonderful visit with the Brusevolds and really appreciated their hospitality over the holiday weekend. It reminded us of home, and we are thankful to have such great friends.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


We know what you all are thinking, but no we didn't take part in "everything" Amsterdam has to offer.
On November 20th, we were supposed to wake up early and take a direct speed train to Amsterdam to meet Seth (Shea's brother) to celebrate his birthday weekend. But ya know how sometimes alarm clocks don't work like they are suppose to...ya, that happened. So after several hours of transfers we finally arrived in the late afternoon. Fortunately, it gave Seth a chance to get lost for a while and get a sense of the place. From the train station we all headed back to the hotel to check in and drop off our bags.
We all freshened up and then went for a walk through the canal-lined streets. As it was raining cats and dogs we huddled under our umbrellas until we found a tucked away bar in the "Jordaan" district. The Jordaan district is an artistic and residential area in Amsterdam known for its quaint shops and friendly atmosphere.
We hung out with all the locals in the bar and the bartender was helpful in picking out some traditional foods and beers to try. As we were all a bit tired from our full day of travel, we headed home about 10 and were soon fast asleep.
On Saturday, we woke up to clear skies and mild temperatures...alright! We had a 10:30 tour appointment at the Anne Frank museum, which is located in the building where she hid for two years during WWII and wrote her world-renowned diary. We learned about her life, both before and during the Nazi occupation of Holland. We were able to tour the cramped spaces that 8 people called home and were struck by how difficult life was for them all.
After our tour there, we stopped for a bite of lunch and then headed to our 1:00 walking tour of the city. We met the group at the train station and then walked to the front of the royal palace in the heart of the city. From there we toured through the red light district and learned about the history of the city and its liberal leanings toward prostitution and marijuana. We were shown underground Catholic churches that survived during the Reformation and the Dutch East Indian Trading Company, which was a model for much of our modern corporate structure. We walked through a portion of the Amsterdam Historical Museum and visited the Jewish quarter with its 1960's architecture. Taxes used to be assessed according to the size of the front of your home, so we were shown the narrowest home in Amsterdam - which wouldn't allow you to lie down sideways - but did have a lovely view of a canal.
After the tour we enjoyed a great dinner to celebrate Seth's birthday on Sunday. He had done a little research and wanted to visit a popular jazz club in town. We figured out how to get there and headed out for a night on the town. We found the place and had a great time listening to some live mellow jazz and drinking some local Holland beer. We left and got some late night pizza and then caught a late night bus back to the train station near our hotel. Great times!
On Sunday, we woke up late (imagine that) and headed back into the city. We found a mass to go to that was in Latin...very pretty, but after the late night we had had it was rough for all of us to keep our eyes open. From there we headed over to Vondelpark, which is a beautiful park in the interior of the city. We left there and went to the Van Gogh museum where we toured and saw his many famous works. Don't tell Shea but the chewed bubble gum I gave her is not the found portion of his ear. Another late dinner and we called it a night. Happy Birthday Seth!
On Monday, it started raining again, but we went to an underground church museum and then walked for a while through the city, taking in the canals and the beautiful architecture of the city.
We headed back to the train station to make our train and left Seth to enjoy one more night in town before his plane back to DC in the morning.
We had a great time in Amsterdam, and we really appreciated getting to see it with Seth.

Monday, December 14, 2009


Sorry for the delay in updates. Over the next few days I will be writing about several trips we have taken this Fall.
In late October, we took a day trip to Marburg, Germany. It is a quaint university town with one of oldest Gothic churches north of the Alps, St. Elizabeth. The university was founded in 1527 and is most famously the school that the Brothers Grimm attended and where they collected their fairy tale stories. Marburg is also the home of the Marburg Colloquy, which were meetings between Martin Luther and Zwingli to develop and establish the Protestant church.
Shea and I arrived and first visited the cathedral. It was very beautiful with amazing stained glass and a handcrafted tomb made entirely of gold. We then toured through the hilly city streets and enjoyed the half-timbered houses and shops. We followed the streets up to the castle, which dominates the city. Though not quite as big as the castle in Heidelberg, it was still impressive and offered beautiful views of the city and river valley below. From there we walked through the university district and felt a little old seeing all the university students who looked like they could pass for pre-teens.
It was a nice day trip to a pretty little town with some interesting historical significance.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Mustaches vs. Cancer

Ladies and Gentlemen- to the absolute repulsion of my wife, I have endeavored upon a great mission. What mission you ask? A mission to grow the meaty-est mustache any of you have ever seen.
I know what you are thinking..."Why, Tom Selleck, what are you up too?"
Some people run races or marathons, some compete in triathlons, some come back after retirement and finish 3rd in the Tour de France...all in the name of raising awareness and money for the research of a cure for cancer.
I have taken up a much less athletically demanding crusade for trying to raise money for cancer research. I simply signed up at http://www.mustachesvscancer.org/ and vowed to grow a sweet stache to help raise money to aid childhood cancer research because, as they say, "kids can't grow mustaches, and they shouldn't have cancer either."
So, the benefits of this event are two-fold, I get to increase my rugged handsomeness and (more importantly) raise money for this great cause. The second part of the two-fold equation is where you come in.
I hope that those of you who read our blog would do me a favor and swing by http://www.mustachesvscancer.org/ and drop a few dollars into my collection (you can type my name into the search function or just look for 'Sir Stachalot'). All the money goes to the charity and you get to watch my mustache progression with weekly photo updates on the website. As long as I receive $10 in collections each week, I promised to keep the mustache. So as long as you guys promise to keep putting a few dollars in...I can promise you a shockingly hairy upper lip...that, as a Keller, I can guarantee. The event kicked off on Monday, October 5th, with all entrants clean shaven and then ends November 25th...that is when Shea will be seen with me in public again.
So...after you check out the website and put some money in the collection...feel free to ridicule your hairy lipped friend here- My mustache promised to defend me from all negativity.
(November final product pictured above)

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Oktoberfest Munchin 2009

For my 33rd birthday this year Shea treated me to a trip to Oktoberfest...yep- "the" Oktoberfest filled with lederhosen, women in dirndls, and big beers...what a cool gift.
Now, if I could only remember it.
We left Frankfurt on Saturday, Sept. 26th, on a train at about 10am and arrived into Munich at 1pm. As soon as you step off the train you are surrounded by people dressed in the traditional garb. The Oktoberfest grounds are just a 10 minute walk south of the main train station in Munich and our hotel was situated directly between them both...so to say we were in the middle of the mayhem would be absolutely appropriate.
We checked in and immediately changed clothes..."into what" you may ask...that would be my lederhosen and Shea into her dirndl! Yep, we were all decked out!
We headed over to the Oktoberfest grounds and were impressed by the size and number of people there. The best way to describe it is to equate it to the State Fair of Texas, but instead of having the fair halls filled with the baking competition winners, hand sewn prairie skirts, and next years line of Chevy's...fill them with tens of thousands of beer drinkers looking for a party. Unbelievable.
We walked around to get a lay of the land, and unfortunately by the time we got there in the afternoon, the beer tents are packed full and security won't let any new revilers in. That simply meant that partying inside a beer tent would have to wait till tomorrow and today we would have to party at one of the outdoor beer gardens.
Looking the part, security assumed we were locals and quickly allowed us into one of the Hippodrom beer gardens. We sat at a large table with a collection of Bavarians who we shared the evening with drinking beer, eating, and having a great time. They were super nice and gave us all the insider scoop on how best to enjoy the festivities. Now, Oktoberfest starts everyday at 10 am and then ends each night at 10:30. We didn't want to ruin ourselves for Sunday so we called it a night about 9 and went and got some dinner. We headed back to the hotel room and could hear the party leaving for the next several hours...people were having a good time.
We had been told by our new Bavarian Oktoberfest friends that we wouldn't need to worry about getting to Oktoberfest super early on Sunday to get in a tent. Usually, people start lining up by 8 to get in the tents on the other days. We followed their advice and got to the festival site a little after 10:00. We were able to walk around and duck in all the beer tents and get a few pics of them and decide on which one we wanted to try first.
When we stepped in the Hofbrauhaus tent at 10:30, it was packed and there were already people dancing on the tables and singing. Decision was made for where we would hang out first. We found a table, made quick friends with our table mates, and ordered our first round of giant beers (1 liter each).
At noon, we were already into our second beer and had eaten a roasted chicken for lunch. All us Oktoberfest-ians were ready and in marched the band which started the next 10 hours of ever-repeating German drinking songs. We finished our second beers and decided we wanted to go ride some of the rides and see some of the areas we hadn't been able to see yet.
We rode a huge ferris wheel which offered great views of the festival and of Munchin. We then slid on the giant slide and ate some dessert. After that, we said enough of the rides it's time to get back to business.
We headed into Augustiner beer tent and sat down at a table. Our table mates this time included 3 guys from Holland who were hilarious and made for great comedy over the next several beers. We had our own party going on that included our table and all the ones surrounding us. Great fun!
We had to leave at 8 to walk back to the train station to catch our train back to Frankfurt. We made it in time and fell asleep for our 3 hour trip home.
It was a great time and a wonderful birthday and we hope to get to go again some day.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Gonzales European Vacation

So our close friends Adrian and Kelly Gonzales came to visit us all the way from Georgetown, Texas. They arrived on Friday, September 4th, and stayed through Sunday, September 13th, and did a bunch of traveling in between.

They got into Frankfurt around 7 am on Friday, and I picked them up from the airport. We came back here to the apartment to drop off their luggage, and then out the door we went to see some of the sites in Frankfurt. They saw the Roemerplatz, the Main River, the Dom cathedral, and the Zeil shopping galleries all before 2pm. To say that the Gonzaleses were ready to get their "vacation-on" would be an accurate description. We came back to the apartment and packed up because at 6 we had a train to catch to Berlin. We met Shea at the train station and took the 5 hour train ride to the German capital city. We hopped in a taxi to our hotel and then watched the Gonzales's pass out after 26 hours of being awake. Gotta love jet-lag.

On Saturday, we got ready and headed into the heart of the city. The weather was cool, but clear, and we were ready to see what this historically significant city had to offer. We decided to take a walking tour that included all of the major sites like the Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie, the last remaining section of the Berlin wall, the Reichstag (German Capital Building), Hitler's bunker, the Memorial for the Murdered Jews of Europe, East German Government Buildings, the location of the Nazi book burning, and numerous museums, churches, and memorials. We were all thankful we did the tour as the history and significance of the sites just wouldn't have been the same without the perspective the guide was able to impart to the group. After the tour, we headed back into what used to be East Berlin and had dinner at a traditional German restaurant, before heading back towards our hotel and closing down a bar.

I, for one, was feeling a bit rough on Sunday, but we headed back out to more thoroughly investigate some of the sites. We went back to Check Point Charlie and walked around for quite a while checking out the history of the wall and its significance in an outdoor museum. It told the history of the end of WWII, the division of Berlin and Germany by the Allies, the development of the Cold War and construction of the wall, some stories of successful and deadly escape attempts, and the final re-unification of Berlin and Germany. It brought a whole new understanding to the video images we could all remember from our youth of the German citizens standing on the wall with sledgehammers and pickaxes destroying the symbol of division. From there we went to the Memorial for Murdered Jews of Europe museum. We toured the facility and we were all silenced by the atrocities history must never forget. From there we walked around a while and then headed back towards our hotel and enjoyed a late Thai food dinner.

On Monday, we headed back to the Reichstag, which allows visitors to tour the glass dome that sits atop the legislative chamber. After standing in line a while, we were then treated to a view of Berlin from on high, as well as, a lesson on Germany's representative Democracy. The building itself has an interesting history, and we were glad to have gotten to take the tour before our train headed back to Frankfurt early that afternoon.

On Tuesday, Shea went to work, while Adrian, Kelly, and I went to Heidelberg. We took a 9am train and got there in time to meet an old friend of Adrian's from high school, who lives and teaches in Heidelberg. We met him, his wife, and newborn son and enjoyed a nice lunch, before touring the old city of Heidelberg and heading up to the castle. We took the tour of the castle and enjoyed the beautiful views of the surrounding landscape.

On Wednesday, we toured Frankfurt some more and gave Kelly and Adrian a chance to do a little shopping downtown. We then repacked and caught an afternoon train to beautiful (yet expensive) Zurich, Switzerland. We got in late and went to bed, then woke up Thursday morning to nice weather. It wasn't quite as clear as we had hoped, but as the day wore on we were able to make out more and more of the Alp summits to our South. We took a train to the top of one of the surrounding mountains that overlooked Zurich. We climbed to the top of an observation tower and looked out as far into the horizon as we could. We then headed back down to the city and walked through the shopping avenues all the way to the lake. There, we boarded a ship and were treated to a short cruise around the lake. People were out sunning and swimming and enjoying the last bit of summer before the altitude and change of season takes hold. After the cruise, we walked through the old city of Zurich and enjoyed the quaint feel of the older sections of town.

On Friday, the weather was a bit cooler and cloudier, so we rented bikes and made our own bike tour of the old town and around a portion of the lake. We stopped for some lunch and then ate it lakeside, doing our part to feed the swans, ducks, and seagulls. We then toured some of the old churches of the city, seeing magnificent stained-glass windows that were created by the artist Chagall. Friday night, our friends Brian and Tiffany Mooney from Dallas arrived in Zurich, after they had just completed some traveling through Italy and Switzerland. The 6 of us went out for dinner at a nice Italian restaurant and enjoyed each others' company. It reminded Shea and me of good times back home.

On Saturday, we all met up with the Mooneys again and had some lunch, before we headed back to the train station and then Frankfurt. We got in to Frankfurt and enjoyed some good ol' American burgers, beer, and college football at a local sports bar and toasted what was an exciting week with good friends.
We had a wonderful time having them here, and Shea and I were sad to see them go. But we were glad to have gotten to experience those places with them and hope that they get to come again soon.

Monday, September 21, 2009


Hamburg is the second largest city in Germany and is one of the largest shipping hubs in all the world. Everyone is quick to point out that Hamburg has more bridges than Venice and a colorful history that includes pirates, kings, WWII devastation, the Beatles, and high fashion.

Being that Hamburg is in the very North of Germany and has a close association with the water and sea, Shea and I decided it was definitely better to visit during the summer than in it would be to visit during the colder time of year. We took a bullet train from Frankfurt to Hamburg which took a total of about 4 hours and got us in at about 9pm on Friday, August 21st. We headed from the train station to our hotel to check in and drop off our backpacks. Our hotel was just outside of the city center and was located in a building that was once the home of the city's gas production. The hotel and surroundings had been re-done in an ultramodern design that kept some of the industrial look and feel which added up to a unique hotel atmosphere. We had a late dinner and then headed to sleep to prepare ourselves for our walking tour the next day.

On Saturday, we stuffed ourselves on hotel breakfast and then headed downtown to city hall to begin a walking tour that included all of the major sites and historical markers in Hamburg. We toured City Hall, a visit to the top of the St. Nickolai Church WWII memorial, a visit to the centuries' old warehouse district, a walk through the design district with its modern shops and high-fashion stores, a stroll down the boardwalk at the harbor, and finally an "interesting" wander down Reeperbahn in the St. Pauli district (which is considered Europe's largest red light district, and was where the Beatles got their first real start in the early 1960's playing in several of its brothels). We finished the night off with another late meal and made plans for a harbor cruise on Sunday to enjoy the great weather.

Sunday, we headed back downtown to the harbor and jumped on a short tour ship. It showed us some beautiful views of the city from the harbor, beautiful parks, and multi-million dollar homes sitting adjacent to the water. We sat by the harbor and enjoyed some ice-cream and a live rock concert before heading to the train station to make our trip back to Frankfurt. Hamburg was a great city, and we are glad we got to visit it during the warm summer. Here are some photos for you to enjoy.

Friday, August 28, 2009


Well, the weather sure has been amazing here this summer. We have to admit we haven't missed the Texas heat a bit.

When my Aunt and Mom were here in March, my Aunt was kind enough to get us a gift certificate to a restaurant in Wiesbaden for our anniversary. Shea and I held onto it until the weather got nice this summer so we could head over to Wiesbaden and enjoy it.

We went on a Saturday in July and had a great day. Only 45 minutes away by train, Wiesbaden is the capital of the German state of Hessen and is known for fashion, it's elegant spas, and ritzy casino. We ventured over and took in the sites and enjoyed an outdoor lunch at the wonderful restaurant (Thanks Aunt Marianne!). After that we indulged in an hour massage just to completely pamper ourselves. We really enjoyed our visit there and will definitely be back.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Romantic Road

Hugs and Smooches await you if you completely read this post....that should set the stage and put you in the right mood for the tale of our trip down the Romantic Road.

The Romantic Road is a series of small two lane roads that run from the Main River (about an hour East of Frankfurt) south all the way through Germany into the Alps. The trip takes you through river valleys, beautiful fertile fields, through vinyards, over crystal blue lakes, through forests, and then into the breath-taking mountains. Along the way you drive through numerous medieval towns and small villages, and you are rewarded with stunning views of castles and peeks into quaint German life.

We rented a car and left Frankfurt on Wednesday, June 17th, in the afternoon. We got out of town a little later than we had hoped so that meant that I had to do my part and see what this little rental car could do on the Autobahn. As it turned out, it wasn't much, but we were happy to be together on an adventure. The Romantic Road-Warriors consisted of Shea, her Mom...Elaine, and Dad...Rob, and me. (Her parents have been party to our adventures before...See Hola Barcelona post and posts around Christmas 2008)
Once you turn onto the Romantic Road from the Autobahn, you are immediately amazed at just how dramatic the landscape is. We were greeted by the most beautiful open fields that stretched as far as you could see. Pretty soon we started to recognize that the entire way of living is different from what we are used to. About every 5 miles you entered a small little village that probably wasn't home to more than 250 people. There would be several homes, a beautiful church that dominated the village, maybe one local restaurant, and a Bed and Breakfast. That was it. Adjacent to the people's homes would be there their barns where they kept their farming equipment and tractors. Almost all of them were open this time of year and we could see people working together and filling their lofts with hay. It made us realize how peaceful it was here, and we were all amazed at the beautiful simplicity. Farmers pedaled their bicycles in their overalls down the road, who knows, maybe to check their fields or to go drink a beer with someone in the next village over. Super cool.
After traveling for about two hours, we made our first stop in the medieval city of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It is a well-known city that sits atop a hill overlooking the Tauber River, and it is completely surrounded by an enormous stone wall. We parked and went inside one of the gates and were struck by the beauty of this place. It is the ideal romantic image of ancient living. Historians have been drawn to this place for hundreds of years, and it is easy to see why. We only had about an hour and a half to spend here because we had a Bed and Breakfast reservation to make 2 hours down the road. We were all a bit hungry, though, so we decided to eat here. We found a marvelous little restaurant and were told the only available seating was inside at the "English Conversation Club" table. We all looked at each other and said, "We certainly have the prerequisites down" and were ushered to the table. We made room for ourselves and were quickly engrossed in conversation with people from all over the world. We came to find out that every Wednesday night this club has been meeting at this restaurant for the last 25 years. Started by local Germans from Rothenburg who wanted to work on their English, the famous travel personality from PBS Rick Steves stumbled upon this club many years ago and writes about it in his travel books about Germany. The German members of the club were very proud of that fact and told each of us about it close to a dozen times.
I was more intrigued to hear the stories from the two elderly German men in their mid-80's seated next to me. I spoke with them several minutes when they started talking about "the War". They were very open and honest and told us about their time in the Nazi Army and what their jobs were and where they were stationed. They told us matter-of-factly about their time in American prison camps and later French prison camps, and how they came to arrive back in Rothenburg. They both expressed admiration for the United States, its military, and its way of life, and I felt amazing pride. Thanks "Greatest Generation"!
We all ordered dinner and thought that if we could eat quickly we would be able to get out of town and make our reservation. One of the 80 year olds leaned over and said to me "Oh, you ordered dinner? Guess, I will see you here next week", we all then knew we might be here for a while. Dinner finally arrived and we ate quickly and made for the door. Though it took a bit longer than we expected, it certainly was a night filled with stories we will remember.
We hit the road and called our Bed and Breakfast in Donauworth (about the half-way point of the Romantic Road) for the night. Fortunately for us, the owner was extremely generous and waited up for us as we ended up not arriving till well after midnight due to my amazing ability to get us lost and then even more lost.
The next day we continued our road trip south and started entering some different landscape with tree filled rolling hills and grazing land for cattle. Rob is an honest to goodness Oklahoma cowboy, so he was in heaven seeing the cattle surrounded by such a beautiful backdrop. The weather was amazingly clear on Thursday and as we drove south checking out the scenery...all at once it seemed that we were struck by the panorama of the Alps laid out before us. Simply breathtaking!
We continued driving until we reached the town of Fussen near the German and Austrian border. Fussen is home to the castle Neuschwanstein, which is the castle Walt Disney based the Disney World castles on. We took our time and stopped at the most cystal blue mountain lake in Fussen and took some stunning pictures of the landscape, before heading into the town and then on to tour the castle.
We ate some lunch and then made it up the mountain to the castle for our tour. The castle is pretty remarkable but the views from it and its surrounding trails are just as exquisite. After taking some time to soak it all in, we headed back down to the car and drove from Fussen, through Austria, to Garmisch, Germany. Garmisch is the home to the tallest mountain in Germany, the Zugspitze, and a cable car is available to take in the Alps from the summit.
We were all looking forward to the views but didn't quite make it in time to be able to get to the top on Thursday. Come on Friday weather!
{Bass drum rolls and cymbals crash} Unfortunately the clouds started dumping buckets early on Friday and prevented us from our summit possibility. We asked around and everyone said that it would be a complete waste of money to go up because we would be encased in clouds, so we missed being able to take in the mountain view. So…looks like we will have to make the trip again in order to see it? Anyone up for it?
We hung out in Garmisch for a while on Friday and then decided that since it was going to rain all day, a trip to Munich would provide ample opportunity for Rob and Elaine to take in a giant beer and scratch their Polka music fetish...so off we went. We drove into Munich and hit the big sites quickly, Glockenspeil-Check, Dom-Check, Haufbrauhaus-Check. During lunch we devised our gameplan, back to Garmisch to gamble on the weather for Saturday or back to Rothenburg...All in favor-Rothenburg. Everyone had so enjoyed it there that we wanted to go back and get to tour the entire city. So, a hotel reservation was made and off we were. We got back into Rothenburg and spent Friday evening and Saturday morning walking the cobble stone streets and touring the town with its wonderful sites.
After lunch on Saturday, it was back to Frankfurt to pack up Rob and Elaine to send them back to the States road weary and German beer drunk.
All in all, it was a wonderful trip, and we would love to take some time to tour it again.
As promised for those of you who finish this blog here our your coupons for your Hugs and Smooches…please see Shea for reimbursement.

Hola Barcelona!

I know, I know...I've been slacking off and this post has been a long time coming- Sorry for the delay.

So, on Thursday, June 11th, Shea and I met her parents in Barcelona, Spain, for a few days of sightseeing and sunbathing.

Let me start by saying that Barcelona is incredible. There is so much to see and do...and when you throw a beach in the mix the mathematical "This place is really cool" quotient jumps up a few points. Barcelona is located in the Catalunya area of Spain, were you are just as likely to hear Catalan as Spanish. It is home to around 3 million people and is nestled between the Mediterranean Sea and Collserola mountains, making for a picturesque city with many beautiful views. It is most famously known as the home of the architect Antonio Gaudi and his masterpiece La Sagrada Familia Cathedral, the 1992 Summer Olympics, and lots of Sangria in our tummies.

We arrived a little after lunchtime and caught a taxi to our hotel set on the boardwalk of the Mediterranean. Perfect spot to enjoy the beach and easily catch a bus into the heart of downtown. We met up with Shea's parents at the hotel and decided to head for a walk down the boardwalk. We caught a late lunch and a pitcher of Sangria. Delicioso!

We then headed to the beach and quickly noticed that even my vast Speedo collection would be over dressing for this beach. Shea's Mom turned about the color of our recently imbibed red-wine Sangria's. Hola Bare-buns-celona!

After we all took in the sights for a few minutes (wink-wink), we decided to head back to the hotel to freshen up before going downtown for a few hours of sightseeing and dinner. We took a bus to the center of town and enjoyed walking through the beautiful buildings and fountains. We walked for a bit and came across the historic Catholic cathedral in the center of the city. It was undergoing a lot of renovation so we meandered on by and zig-zagged our way through the small streets of the older areas of the city. We discovered the main government buildings, as noted by the large demonstration going on out front. Everyone was a little tired and jet lagged from the day's travel, so we headed back to the hotel and called it a night.

Friday was beach day! So, after a nice breakfast on the boardwalk we headed down to soak up some rays. I got to swim in the Mediterranean for the first time and Shea got to sunbathe in the warmest weather we had seen in 10 months. With the surfside bar serving Sangria less than 50 feet away, we may have been heard uttering,"this is the life" a time or two. The sun was definitely hotter than we were used too, as it did a pretty good burn number on Shea's Dad. So, after a few hours we headed back to the hotel before heading downtown for another nice meal in the city. We made our way into a tucked away restaurant with a large courtyard. We enjoyed a quiet meal together...that is until a marching band made its way into the courtyard and started serenading what seemed like the whole city. We finished up dinner and strolled through some shops were the ladies did only a little damage, wrapping up a wonderful Spanish evening.

On Saturday, we took a hop-on/hop-off bus tour. There was so much to see and we certainly didn't want to miss anything. We started the tour bright and early at 9 and didn't finish until 5. A full day at the office. We saw all the beautiful sites of the city including the Olympic area, the National Museum, a Castle of the royal family of Catalunya, Futbal Club Barcelona's home stadium, the Port area, and numerous parks. We decided to take the special tour of La Sagrada Familia Cathedral. The Cathedral has been under construction for over 120 years and still has another 30 to go. It will be the tallest Cathedral in all of Europe once completed. Gaudi was inspired by nature and his designs for the church make it like none other in the world. It was really amazing (but they still have a long way to go!) We also saw numerous other buildings designed by him as well.

On Saturday night we followed a suggestion and tried a seaside restaurant called La Fonda Del Porto Olimpico. It was an amazing meal, and we all truly enjoyed our last night in Barcelona before our early departure on Sunday.

We had a great time and would love to get back and travel around outside the city and enjoy more of the Catalunya culture.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

It's the little things...

Shea and I were talking the other day and after our first 8 months here we can certainly notice that we are growing more accustomed to German life. Don't get us wrong our German is still terrible, but the differences in culture that were at first so prominent, now are just part of everyday life.
But you find it funny some of the things that you notice you miss. Of course family and friends, but the other stuff you would have never thought of...I'll give you an example. Up until about two weeks ago, we had seen plenty of rain in our time here, but no thunderstorms...no lightening, no rumbling of thunder...the sounds us Texans and Okies are well accustomed to falling asleep to (and blaming for knocking-out our power and explaining why we are an hour late to work...wink).
So, today I am sitting in the apartment 16 floors up and watching a thunderstorm head our way...makes me feel kinda excited, just like it used too. I could see the "Blitz" (German for lightening) lighting up the sky, hear the "Donner" (thunder), and smell the "Regen" (rain). It was a great little taste of home topped-off with a little rainbow treat.
Tschuss for now.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Roughing it on the Rhine

Last weekend was a holiday weekend in Germany with no work on Monday. Some good friends (see same crew as Football Game) plus some additional folks invited us to go camping on the Rhine River about an hour North of Frankfurt.
We got there Saturday night and stayed through about midday on Monday. The campsite was amazing, set directly beside the river, in the mountain valley, with a castle perched above us. It was an ideal scene and the weather cooperated with us...the temperatures warm during the day and cool at night. We did a bit of hiking, rock climbing (Shea made it all the way to the top on her first climbing attempt ever!), and Shea went on a bike ride for several hours into a neighboring town. We had a wonderful time with everyone and really appreciated the opportunity to get out of the city for a bit and enjoy the beautiful surroundings. Here are a few pics to show you what me mean...Enjoy.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Carcassonne, France...Bonjour

So, Shea and I bounced on over to France for a couple days courtesy of Ryanair and their 1 Euro airfare specials. Ya...super sweet cheap airfare...but as we all know everything comes at a price, and in this case it meant a 2:30 am wake-up to make our flight out. Ouch, that's a kick to the oui-oui. (Tasteless pun intended and all comments/remarks can be sent to my editor at sheabey@hotmail.com)
So, we arrived in Carcassonne early Thursday morning. Carcassonne is a town in the south of France surrounded by the Pyrenees Mountains and has been around since before the Romans took over. The small walled-in city sits above the Aude River and overlooks rolling hills filled with vineyards and fields. When the Romans took control in the 1st century, they heavily fortified the city because of its importance along several trade routes. Throughout the next several centuries it was fought over and passed between differing conquerors with each one adding to the fortifications of the city. Starting in 1226, the city was taken over and held through the Middle Ages by the Trencavel dynasty. The Trencavels improved the fortifications, which remain today and provide us a sneak peek at what life was like 700 years ago during the Middle Ages in France. Not one Wal-Mart or 24 Hour Fitness insight...that and the black death, would have been a challenge.
We had a great time and were lucky enough to book a hotel within the walled city itself...no kidding, a Best Western. We toured the castle and wandered the tiny streets of the walled city. We ventured in a grand Catholic church with amazing stained glass windows. Through the morning the walled city is amazingly quiet with most shops not opening til 11:30 but by noon it is packed with visitors. We were shocked by the number of French families vacationing there. In the afternoon, we escaped the crowds and enjoyed a stroll down into the larger city stretching out below the castle and along the river. We headed back up to the walled city for dinner and tried some local specialties, with mixed results. After dinner we headed to our room and got some much needed zzz's.
On Friday, we slept in French style, and then went for coffee and pastries. We took a long walk around the walls and then went down into the lower city again for some French window shopping. We spent most of the day there exploring. The good thing about this trip was it was in a smaller town so we could walk the whole place no problem.
We headed back up by our hotel for dinner and found a great restaurant with a friendly waiter. The food was wonderful there and we had a great time enjoying the cool evening air together.
On Saturday, we woke up and caught our 9:00am flight back to Frankfurt and put a fork in Carcassonne. Au Revoir for now!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Under the Tuscan Sun

Ciao...Buonasera! So, Shea and I celebrated 4 years of wedded bliss on April 9th with a trip to Florence, Italy. It was a wonderful trip that included amazing food, Chianti wine, beautiful weather, and historical sites. Known as the birthplace of the Renaissance, Florence was home to all those famous artists we have all heard so much about (before they were ninja turtles) Leonardo, Donetello, and Michelangelo. It is also known for the Uffizi art gallery, the statute of "David", the Duomo cathedral, and the Ponte Vecchio bridge.
We left Frankfurt on an 8:30 flight direct to Florence and arrived there around 10:30. We took a bus to our hotel, which sat about 100 feet from the Arno River and only a 20-minute walk from the Duomo (their famous cathedral which dominates the city). We were a bit early for check-in, so we dropped off our bags and headed toward the city center to do a bit of sightseeing (via every gelato stand we could find). We strolled along the Ponte Vecchio, which was built in 1345 and was the only bridge spared in Florence in WWII. It is lined with jewelry shops built out over the bridge and is packed with people taking photographs. We then visited the Palazzo Vecchio, which is a fortress turned town hall and in its courtyard stands numerous marble statues and a copy of Michelangelo's "David". Adjacent to the Vecchio hall is the Loggia dei Lanzi, which has a gallery of even more statues. Needless to say, there were marble willies everywhere, and I had a hard time covering Shea's eyes and taking pictures for all of you! Behind the Loggia stands the Galleria degli Uffizi, or Uffizi museum. We waited to tour it until Sunday when we were able to get reservations rather than having to wait then in long lines. We visited the Plazza Repubblica and all its trendy shops and headed to see the Duomo cathedral and its baptismal building. We checked on mass times for Easter and decided we would tour the inside after mass. The cathedral was huge and was unlike any other cathedral we have seen. Florence is close to Italy's marble mines, so everything is constructed out of the stuff. The church gleamed with all its intricate detail and seemed to glow white and green.
We started getting pretty hungry so we ended up in a little side street restaurant that served delicious salads, pizzas, and wine. It was next to the Basilica di Santa Croce, which also has a beautiful marble exterior, library, and plaza. It was great place to watch the world go by. The restaurant had the Father in kitchen, the Mother waiting on the guests, and their little daughter playing around outside entertaining the patrons with her dark curls and pick-a-boo games. We sat at our outside table and enjoyed the slow pace of the city that you can't help but come to adopt. After soaking it up for a while, we headed south of the Arno River to the Piazza (Plaza) Michelangelo, which sits on a hill just east of the center of Florence. From there you get an amazing view of the Florence skyline and the surrounding landscape. Florence is nestled in the river valley but immediately outside starts the Apennines Mountains that run down the spine of Italy. We took way too many photos but couldn't help ourselves!
We bought a beer from a vendor and lounged on some steps cut into the side of the hill. There, we and about 100 of our new closest Italian friends enjoyed a concert by some musicians playing their guitars and flutes through sunset. Great afternoon!
We left there and headed back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. We had received a recommendation from Shea's colleague that this restaurant served the best meal she had ever eaten...a place called Il Latini.
We arrived at our reservation time...9:30...to encounter a swarm of people outside this place trying to get in. Seriously, it was like a preppy mosh pit outside the front door, so we knew at that point it had to be good. We did out best Posh Spice and David Beckham impersonations and luckily they let us through to our table. This place was great. There are no such things as menus. The waiter brings stuff to you and you eat it. Wine is on the table and you serve yourself. He asks what type of entree you want (...we went with the veal) and they bring you a mountain of it. Each course seems to be followed by different glasses of wine the waiter keeps bringing by. The place was lively and the food was incredible...we had an absolute blast!
We had noticed throughout the night that when it was time settle up the waiters bring the owner of the restaurant to greet the patrons and then the owner himself delivers each bill. So, now it is our turn (mind you it is now getting close to 12:00, we have been indulging at every turn, and we are a bit afraid of what our tally is going to be). The waiter tells the owner what we had...and that it is our anniversary. The owner slaps me on the back and tells me what a lucky man I am to be with such a Bella, and he pulls a number out of his head and hands us a bottle of wine. Simply amazing! We ate like kings for the price of paupers and left with a parting gift to boot. Great anniversary day that we won't soon forget!
Friday, we slept in a bit and decided we wanted to check out some other areas of Tuscany. We took a bus to the train station and hopped on a train to Siena about an hour's ride away. The trip showed us countless vineyards, hilltop towns, forests, and grassland before we arrived in Siena.
Siena is quite a bit smaller than Florence, but every bit as charming (if not more so). The old city sits atop a hill and is surrounded by a great wall. It is one of Italy's best-preserved Renaissance cities and is beautiful in its small, quaint way. You walk down narrow streets and discover amazing views and buildings at every bend. The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo (or town square) houses the Palazzo Pubblico and is known as one of the most beautiful public spaces in Europe. It is also famous for hosting the Palio horse race twice a year. (If you saw the James Bond movie "Quantum Of Solace" it is the horse race Daniel Craig interrupts in the middle of the big chase scene). We took our shoes off and sat around in the Campo with all the locals, licking our gelato, and loving every minute of it. We visited the city's beautiful cathedral and then slowly walked back through the streets doing a little window-shopping. Shea says that Siena may be her favorite place we have been in all our time here!
On Friday night we decided to lay low a bit, so we took our free bottle of wine and went across the street from our hotel to a little cafe that has nothing but outdoor seating on the Arno. We ordered some pizzas and enjoyed a night by the river and our wine. Ahhh Tuscany.
Before we had left Frankfurt, we knew we wanted to do a wine tour. So, on Saturday, we had a little breakfast and then met our tour from tuscantrails.com at 10:15. It was us and 2 other couples on an 8-hour tour of the countryside that included two vineyard tours and tastings. Our tour guide was a woman from California who knew way too much about wine and olive oil, but had a great sense of humor and showed us all a wonderful time. We really enjoyed that day as the weather was perfect and the views and countryside were incredible. We bought two bottles of Chianti and learned how to categorize Italian wines...and yes, we did come home with red stained teeth. A little more pizza and opening up one of our bottles from earlier in the day and we had a wonderful night to polish off a wonderful day.
On Sunday, we woke up early to go to 9 am mass at the Duomo for Easter. When we got there, the police had guardrails up all around the exterior of the church. We finally found our way in and were treated to Easter mass in Italian. The church's dome was elaborately painted depicting God ruling over all creation, and it reminded us a bit of the Sistine Chapel.
We walked outside around 10:00 am and immediately heard the pounding of drums. We looked up a few blocks and found a parade headed straight for us. Men and women dressed in impressive period costume carrying flags and centuries old weaponry. We were soon flooded with onlookers as the parade ended between the front entrance of the Duomo and the baptistery. Come to find out, we had stumbled upon a tradition dating back to the Crusades where soldiers march and have a chariot pulled by two white oxen to the steps of the Church. They then proceed to blow up the cart with fireworks or as it is known in Italian..."Scoppio del Carro". A white dove (read firework) is shot out of the front doors of the church and the chariot starts a firework display. It was pretty incredible and just dumb luck that we ended up with the great spot to see it all. Here is a link to a videotaping of a past event just so you can get a better idea of what went down:
After the excitement of the fireworks, we headed over to the Uffizi museum for or 11:30 reservation. We toured it and saw works by all the masters. We were impressed with the work, but unfortunately a lot of the museum was shut down for construction, so we saw what we wanted and hightailed it.
We still had one more bottle of wine from our wine tour to finish and we had enjoyed the view from the Piazza Michelangelo so much that we headed back over.
We relaxed, laughed, and enjoyed another sunset from there. We left and had a bite to eat and then called it an early night for our early morning wake up call the next day to catch our flight.
All in all Florence was a great trip, and we really had a nice relaxing time for our anniversary!
Ciao for now- next stop in May...the South of France and then in June- Barcelona!
Bring on the beaches!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Das Feuerwerk

So, Shea and I are just chillin' in the apartment over the weekend, and all of a sudden we start hearing these popping sounds.
"Shea, you making popcorn?"
"Nope...Geoff, you sitting on bubble wrap?"
We look out our window and bamm...German fireworks display.
There is a small carnival that set-up shop last week in the parking lot of an arena near our apartment. It must have been opening night because they put on a pretty impressive display to kick it off.
We sat outside and watched for a while and thought about good times on the 4th of July. So, here are some firework photos because, hey, who doesn’t like fireworks.