Monday, March 30, 2009

Rhine Tour

So, everyone decided they wanted to see as many castles as possible and fortunately enough we live super close to the Rhine River where there are around a dozen castles within about a 2-hour stretch.
During the summer months (April through September) you can take a cruise up the Rhine from Frankfurt to enjoy the medieval sites and vineyards. Seeing as though we didn't have that option, we took the next best plan. There is a train that runs along a good portion of the river from Mainz to Koblenz, Germany...about a 1 1/2 hour trip. We saw at least a half dozen castles along the way and vineyards spread across the cliff sides everywhere.
Once you get to Koblenz you encounter the second largest fortification in Europe perched high above the city.
We enjoyed a couple of hours in Koblenz and visited the "Deutsche Eck," which is a giant statue of an early German King sitting atop his horse at the split of the Rhine and Moselle Rivers. There we had a nice late lunch looking out over the river and enjoyed the first warm winds of Spring. So, for those of you coming to visit and also wanting to take in a bunch of wine tours, pretty views, and ancient architecture- come between April and September and we'll do some cruising- German style.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Céad míle fáilte romhaibh

Means "100,000 Welcomes" in Irish, and we would have to say we all felt incredibly welcomed by the people of Dublin on our recent trip. We also felt incredibly welcomed by the weather...nothing but sunny skies and mild temperatures during what is generally a cold, rainy time for Dublin.

Mom, Aunt Marianne, Shea, and I arrived in Dublin about 9:30 on Sunday night March 15th. We all cleared customs and headed to the taxi queue. Our taxi driver loaded our bags and immediately wanted to know where all us "Yankee Doodles" were from...Aunt Marianne said Michigan and we said Texas..."Who killed JR and let me see yer beltbuckles?!" he replied. He kept us rolling on our 25-minute drive through Dublin to our hotel (whilst driving on the wrong side of the car and the road- very hard to get used too). He showed us all the major sites and filled us in on where we should spend our time and how best to enjoy St. Patty's Dublin style.

We checked in to our hotel and were really impressed with our accommodations. Definitely the nicest hotel we have stayed in in Europe. We really lucked out and if anyone plans on going we have a great recommendation.

So, on Monday, we woke up and jumped on a bus downtown. We walked along the River Liffey and made our way to O'Connell Street that runs through the heart of the city. There we jumped on a guided tour bus to see the sites Dublin had to offer. On the tour we would get off the bus and visit the sites we wanted to check out thoroughly.

Just to name a few things we saw Trinity College, St. Patrick's Cathedral, Christ Church Cathedral, the Irish White House, the Jameson distillery, their Parliament house, and the O'Connell Monument. As I know many of you are dying to know...Yes, we did tour the Guinness Factory. We ran through the tour and then shot up to the 7th floor bar that sits atop the factory. From there you get a birds-eye view of Dublin and can see the beautiful old city (without any skyscrapers). We each enjoyed our pint of Guinness with a shamrock delicately imprinted in the foam by the bartenders. Great times!!!!

From there we took the tour bus to Ryan's Victorian Bar (a famous bar in Dublin) where we enjoyed a few more pints and some dinner. Afterward, we headed back down to O'Connell Street where we stocked up on supplies for St. Patty's Day. We bought shirts, scarves, snacks, and beer.

The St. Patty's Day parade starts at 12:00 and we were told that if you want to get a spot anywhere close to the barricades you need to be out there early. So, we packed our supplies and headed to the parade route for 10:00. We scoped out a spot directly across from a grandstand and only had one row of people in front of us. They were super friendly and came down for the parade and to get away from Belfast on this rowdy day. At around 11:30 a couple local personalities started warming up the crowd. They walked around the grandstand and baited people into singing songs from their homeland. We heard the Canadian national anthem, the Swedish anthem, the Yellow Rose of Texas, and of course as he walked past us, Mom grabbed the mic from him and belted out our National anthem. It was great and everyone around was thoroughly impressed.

The parade started and countless bands, bagpipers, floats, clowns, and drunk Irishmen made there way down the route. When it ended we crossed the street into a Pub and got a pint and some hearty Irish stew. From there we joined the celebrations in Temple Bar. Temple Bar is not a Bar, but rather an area, similar to Bourbon Street in NO or 6th Street in Austin. It was packed with St. Patty's Day revelers…most decked out in green and goofy tall hats. We had a great time just watching the celebration. We found a bar and went inside...met some people from Michigan, via London, a couple French guys, and some Aussies. People come from all over for this event just to say they were there...including us!

We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the party in Temple Bar and then along the River Liffey. We saw the Half Penny Bridge and after a big late dinner we headed back to the hotel.

We hit the sack as we had an early wake up call for our 6:30 flight the following morning.

We all had a great time and really enjoyed the city and the people in Dublin. Shea and I would love to get back and explore outside the city and see the countryside of this welcoming "green" isle.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Football Game

So, this last Saturday we were invited by some friends to go to a professional football (soccer) game here in Frankfurt. The crew included Steve, an OU grad who married a German, Christina, Steve's wife's good friend, Jens, Christina's boyfriend, and Shea and me.
All professional German league games are played at either 3:30 or 8:30 on Saturday and Sunday. We were catching the 3:30 Saturday game of the fighting team from Frankfurt known as Eintracht Frankfurt against the rival FC Schalke 04. Both teams rank around the middle of the top tier German league of football.
Jens was the one able to get everyone the tickets and of course he is an avid (read crazy) Schalke fan. We ended up with great seats on the first row of the middle level of the stadium, almost directly above the visitor section, with a great view of the game.
Let me start by talking about the game. Not being the biggest soccer fan before coming, I'd have to say having now been to a live game I'm pretty hooked. Shea really had a great time too. Watching it live really makes you appreciate the strategy of the game and the athleticism of the players.
Schalke scored first just before half time. Frankfurt was able to tie it up with about 20 minutes to play, but Schalke headed-in what was the game-winning goal with about 15 to play. Schalke took the 2-1 victory and serenaded the Frankfurt fans on their walk out with their songs of victory.
Now, how best to describe the atmosphere directly below us in the visitor section...let's see...did everyone see Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome? Seriously, it's that intense.
I say this and it is not a joke- the visiting fans are put in a caged off section of the stadium, and they go absolutely monkey-butt crazy for the duration of the game. There are no seats in the section, no bleachers, no nothing that anyone can destroy or throw. They wave team flags and raise banners ridiculing selected opposing players. One member of their crowd sits atop the cage throughout the game with a megaphone and leads the crowd in chants, songs, cheers, and whistles from the player introductions until it was over. I don’t think they stopped for half time. It is like the Aggie student section on steroids, with all the arm in arm singing and cheering. There are security guards stationed every 5 feet in the visitor section, who are basically there to ensure no one is trampled to death by their fellow fans.
We were originally supposed to have different seats, so we asked Jens, "Jens where were we suppose to be originally?"
He points down to the visitor section and laughs.
Shea and I must have been pretty good recently because karma awarded us with not having to experience all that.
Needless to say, beer is served throughout the course of the game, and though the weather was probably in the 40's, there were a growing number of fat guys without their shirts on as the game progressed into the second half.
All in all, we had an awesome time and though that one section was rough, we never felt unsafe. Even, with Jens wearing his Schalke jersey and scarves as we left. We certainly hope to go to another game- it was a lot of fun- oh, and we learned how to insult ref’s in a foreign tongue.