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.