Sunday, June 27, 2010

Auf Weidersehen Deutschland...Howdy Texas Party

On Friday, June 26th, we hosted a going away party at a local restaurant to say "Tschüss" to all of our Frankfurter friends. A number of Shea's coworkers, friends from church, and German friends we have made along the way, came to wish us farewell and that we all intend to see each other again along the way. We hope that is true, as we have greatly enjoyed all of our time and experiences here. We both feel we have learned a great deal about ourselves and a little bit about the world we all share from our years in Deutschland.

Thank you everyone!

Sailing on the Edersee

Shea and I were invited by one of her co-workers for a day on the Edersee. The Edersee is a lake in a nature preserve about a two hour drive from Frankfurt.

We woke up early and met her co-worker and the captain of the ship at the main train station. From there we all drove together to the lake, where we meet the last of the group and boarded the roughly 30-foot sailboat. We spent the rest of the morning and afternoon enjoying the beautiful landscapes of this pristine area, while letting the wind do all the work. We had a nice time "learning the ropes" and taking our turns at the helm.

We really enjoyed our time on the lake and Shea is now planning to purchase an eye patch and parrot.

Agadir, Morocco for Shea's 30th Birthday!

For our last big trip before heading home and to celebrate Shea's graduation from her wild 20's to her super-wild 30's, we stepped over to a new continent for us...Africa. We caught a flight for a 4 nights stay in Agadir, Morocco at a wonderful beach resort. Usually on our trips we race to see as much as possible, but the vibe on this trip was set to lazy. We ate, drank, and sunbathed to our hearts' content.
Each day we would head down to the beach and get a chuckle out of the diverse cultural differences between the Europeans and their choice of bathing attire (or lack thereof) versus the Moroccans and their beach burqas. Neither influence offending the other.
On Monday, for Shea's big day, we made reservations at a Moroccan restaurant to get an authentic taste of their cuisine. They treated us like kings and made it a very special special evening for Shea, with a bottle of champagne, cake, and an interesting version of "Happy Birthday". Each night we would wander down the boardwalk and try to walk off a bit of our overeating. We weren't successful.
After a couple of days of rest, celebration, and relaxation we bid the resort "adieu" and headed home for our last few weeks in Frankfurt.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


Shea and I flew over to Edinburgh, Scotland from Friday, May 21st through Monday, May 24th. We arrived around lunchtime and took a bus from the airport to our B&B hotel near the heart of the city. We dropped off our bags and headed back into the city for a 3:00 walking tour that took you along the famous Royal Mile. They told us a lot about the history of Scotland and Edinburgh as they showed us the Edinburgh Castle, Prince's Street gardens, Greyfriars Cemetary and Greyfriars Bobby, William Wallace and the Stone of Destiny, the home of Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and of course for you Harry Potter fans the original Hogwarts.
Known for its bad weather, we were treated to nothing but bright sunny skies and warm temperatures throughout the length of our stay. We thought the city was amazing with beautiful views and wonderful old tenements all leading up to the castle seated atop the hill. After the tour, we headed to a local pub to reward ourselves with some traditional Scotland cuisine...haggis, neeps, and tatties. Haggis is sheep, but I will spare you what parts, neeps being turnips, and tatties are mashed potatoes. We had heard that most Scottish cuisine was based on a dare, but we found the food to be delicious.
After filling our stomachs, we headed back to Maggie Dickson's Pub and sat outside and made our first Scottish friends until it was time to head to bed.
On Saturday, we started the day with a traditional Scottish breakfast...blood pudding, beans, egg, hashbrown, ham, and spam (our arteries will remember this trip longer than we will). We then headed to the Edinburgh castle for a tour of the inside. We arrived as the military was on parade with baggers and kilts everywhere. We took the tour of the castle, which took several hours to complete. Then we walked back down to the other end of the Royal Mile to see the Royal Palace and the new modern Scottish Parliament building. From there, we wandered into the "New City", which is the more modern area of town dating back to the Enlightenment period when Edinburgh became known for its writers, poets, artists, and culture. We were rewarded with some amazing views of the city from here.
That evening we had some dinner, then stopped into a pub to watch the end of the European Soccer Championships. We were quickly adopted by some new Scottish best friends, who proceeded to show us all the best pubs on a makeshift pub crawl. After hours of laughing, drinking, dancing, and trading stories, we headed home for bed in preparation for our Highlands tour the following day.
On Sunday, we woke up early and headed into town to catch a bus for a Scottish Highlands tour. The tour guide drove us into and through the Scottish mountains, with breathtaking views of waterfalls, lakes, and mountain summits. Along the way, we were introduced to some shaggy haired Highland cattle and Shea took the opportunity to feed them while doing her best William Wallace impersonation. The tour then drove us North to the famous Loch (Lake) Ness, where we boarded a boat to do some Nessy hunting. Unfortunately, we didn't get a glimpse of the old girl, but we did get to enjoy some natural splendor and a taste of some local whiskeys. The tour went as far North as Iverness, before we headed back to Edinburgh and over the Firth of Forth, finishing a 12 hour mad dash through the middle of the country.
Monday, before the rain started to come in, we caught our flight back to Frankfurt. We had an absolutely wonderful time in Scotland. The people were out-of-their-way friendly and the landscape was historic and beautiful. We would love to get a chance to go back someday and experience it even more.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Luxembourg & Mosel River Trip

Thursday, May 13th, was a holiday here, so we took the long weekend opportunity to rent a car and drive to Luxembourg and through the western wine district of Germany.
Shea tells a story about a map project she did in elementary school and how she always remembered thinking that Luxembourg was soooo small and that it was funny that its capital city and country shared the same name...well, you made it to see with your own two eyes kid.
We drove in our rented Fiat Panda to Luxembourg city and toured around the beautiful city for the afternoon. We then headed over to the WWII American Military cemetery, which is home to over 5 thousand fallen American soldiers including the famous General George S. Patton. From there we headed back into Germany, where we checked into our hotel in Trier...the oldest city in Germany dating back to the Roman era over 2000 years ago. We visited the ancient Roman coliseum, toll gate (Porta Nigra), Constantine Basilica, and the birthplace of Karl Marx...quite a history for this little city.
We headed out in the Panda alongside the Mosel River to drive from Trier to Koblenz, Germany on the Weinstrasse (or Wine Road). The road follows along the river with steep hills/mountains on both sides that are used as the vineyards for the famous Riesling wines. Every several kilometers you enter a small quaint village with not much more than a couple of vineyard B&B's, a few restaurants, a beautiful old church, and a castle just up the river.
Shea and I took our time stopping in several small villages along the way. We hiked up a couple mountains and through the vineyards to visit a few castles to try some wine while taking in the wonderful views. We stopped for the night in a small village called Ernst, where we checked into a small B&B. We were walking through the village when an elderly man peeked his head out of his vineyard barn and invited us in for a taste test of his personal vintage. We sat around his wooden table with another couple from Belgium and listened to his life stories while he poured glass after glass of delicious wine and practiced our German. Before we knew it...we had been there for hours and knew it was time for dinner.
The next day we finished our drive up the Mosel to the city of Koblenz, where the Mosel and Rhine Rivers meet. We then crossed the Rhine and followed it south back toward home while making a few more village stops along the way.
We had a really nice driving trip over the 3 days and got to take in some amazing scenery, castles, and delicious wines. It's a place you feel lucky for having gotten to visit.


To complete our busy April travel schedule we popped over to Prague, Czech Republic, on Friday, April 30th for a three day stay. We had heard amazing things about Prague (being very pretty, relatively inexpensive, great beer, etc.) and were really excited to check it out for ourselves.
Known as the city of a thousand spires, we arrived in Prague late on Friday night and got to bed for our early tour of the Stare Mestro (Old Town) on Saturday morning. The tour started in the old town square at the famous astronomical clock, the Kinsky Palace, The Church of Our Lady before Tyn, and St. Nicholas Church. Our guide did his best to narrate the Prague history associated with this public square and its status amongst medieval Bohemia, the Roman Empire, the Nazi, and the Communists.
From there we headed to the Estates' Theater where Mozart famously premiered Don Giovanni in 1787. The city still takes great pride in that fact, and visitors can still catch shows at several theaters around town. Afterward we visited Wenceslas Square and learned more about the Communist occupation of Prague. From the square you can see the expansive National Museum, where several student protesters martyred themselves in the 1960's against the Communist regime. Today, the Czech's treat these students as national heroes, and their memorials were definitely worth a visit.
Next, we swung by the Powder Tower (old fortification that used to hold all the gun powder) on our way to the Jewish district. Here we stopped to learn about the Czech Jews and their fates during WWII, before heading over to the famous Charles Bridge and a beautiful view of the Prague Castle.
From here Shea and I took the opportunity to walk over the Charles Bridge to the New Town, located at the foot of the Prague Castle. We had some afternoon snacks and enjoyed our first taste of the some local beers. We decided to take another tour for the Castle and New Town on Sunday, so we headed back to the Old Town to inspect some sights more closely. We toured some of the churches and wandered through the quaint streets and learned about a 20 year Independence celebration concert that night. We decided to attend after some local specialties for dinner, which included goulash for me and Shea with some wild game...both of which were really good. We then headed over to the concert and partied with the Prague-ians.
On Sunday, we headed back to the Astronomical Clock tower and watched the centuries old top of the hour trumpeting. We then headed to the top to get a view of the city from up above...and were treated to a spot to take some really great pics.
Next we headed over to our New Town tour where we were shown the world's largest medieval castle that has ruled over Prague since the 9th century. We visited the palace just a few weeks after Barack was here to sign the nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia. We went to the Strahov monastery and brewery, where both Shea and I agree we had maybe the best beer ever...too bad that is the only place you can get it. We were shown the "garden of eden", the Black Tower, Mozart's house, and lots of other interesting spots.
From there we headed back to collect our belongings and then headed on to the airport.
We really did enjoy our weekend in Prague and would rate it toward the top of the list of the trips we've taken. The people, the scenery, the history, the food, and the beer (and the prices!) add up to one great trip.

Brussels- Our 5th Anniversary

Mussels in Brussels: check
Belgian Beer: check (with Shea tending bar)
Belgian Chocolate: check
Belgian Waffles: check

For our 5th anniversary, we headed over to Brussels, Belgium. We arrived on Friday, April 9th (our anniversary) and stayed through Sunday night. After checking into the hotel, we headed over for some massages that Shea had set up. We both really enjoyed being pampered and then we headed back to the room to freshen up before walking to a very nice French restaurant for dinner. We celebrated reaching 5 years and talked about all our experiences and then wondered about what the future has in store for us...good times, of that we are sure.
On Saturday, we headed into the heart of Brussels. It is an interesting city, balancing both centuries old history and traditions with the future as the headquarters of the European Union. We started our tour with a visit to the Royal Palace. From there we walked through gardens to the Galeries Royales St. Hubert, which could better be described as an old European shopping mall. After some window shopping, we headed into the Grand Place. The Grand Place is the old main square in town (a portion seen above). On one side is the impressive municipal building and across is the Musee de la Ville de Bruxelles (Museum of Brussels). The square is completed by a grand hotel and across from it centuries old homes with splendidly decorated facades. After taking in its sights, we walked the few blocks to see the well-known water fountain known as Manneken-Pis. It is, as you see above, a toddler doing his thing. Belgian humor.
We then headed into a Belgian Beer Brewers Museum, where we learned about the evolution of Belgian beer making. Of course there is no better way to end a museum tour than with a beer. They teach you how to properly pour a Belgian beer, and of course Shea volunteered to play barkeep after her instruction.
From the museum, we headed over to St. Micheal's Cathedral. We wandered around inside then came out to find a Belgian waffle with chocolate sauce calling our names. We answered. Delicious.
Next we headed into another area of town where we found the Belgian war memorial, dedicated to the soldiers killed in WWII. Located just down the street from this monument is the European Union headquarters building with its grand fountains and surrounding Parc de Bruxelles. We walked through the park back to the elegant Royal Palace. We then headed over to the Notre Dame du Sablon chapel and toured around inside. After the visit, we stopped in and bought a box of Belgian chocolates to keep us company for the rest of the evening. Also delicious. Our final tourist stop for the day was the Justice Palace seated atop a hill looking over the city.
After a full day of walking we decided it time to eat some dinner. So, when in Brussels it's time to devour some mussels...and as you can see above we did exactly that.
After a night cap at a Belgian bar sipping on some Belgian beer we headed for Belgian bed.
On Sunday, we woke up, put our bags together, and started back into the city. Along the way while changing trains on the subway, a woman stopped us and told us our backpack was opened...uh,oh. We'd been Belgian burgled. They got away with Shea's wallet when we weren't looking. So, we quickly called and cancelled our credit cards and bank cards, and fortunately (thus far) have had no problems. We did actually get the final laugh though because Shea had exactly 10 cents in her wallet. They probably thought they were getting some rich tourists and haha...10 cents- suckers.
After a couple hours of getting that all cleared up, we toured some other areas of the city we had yet to see. We then headed on to the airport and caught our flight back to Frankfurt.
Even though we had a bit of bad luck on Sunday, overall, we had a great trip and really enjoyed our little Belgian celebration. 5 years long and going strong!
(How many times did I use "Belgian" in the post? First, correct answer gets a Belgian beer on us...)


Recently voted the number one city to live the world, Shea and I flew down to Vienna, Austria from April 2nd to the 4th for Easter to see what all the fuss was about.
To get our bearings, our first stop was St. Stephan's Cathedral (pictured here) founded in the 12th century in the center of the city. We took an elevator to the top of the north tower constructed in 1579, which offers a panoramic view of the city and the Danube River. We then set out for the Schönbrunn Palace (pictured above) just outside the heart of city. It was the seat of the Hapsburg dynasty, and is an enormous palace with over 1400 rooms. We opted for a tour of the Imperial apartments, and with their 24 carat gold ornamentation and porcelain, we were able to see how royal society lived. After our tour, we strolled through the amazing gardens and soaked up some of the warm Spring sun.
Vienna is known for its cafes, so we headed from there to a famous one known as Dommayer near the palace. This place is known to have some of the best sacher torte (sacher torte is a traditional cake made of chocolate with an apricot jam filling) in the world. After getting our caffeine and sugar buzz going, we headed back into the heart of the city for the afternoon. We headed over to the Spanish Riding School to see about tickets for Sunday. Unfortunately, we couldn't get in, but what we could do was walk over to the stables and see for ourselves all the white Lipizzaner horses. We then visited the opera house and Mozart park. This place lays claim to Mozart, even though he wasn't from here, but you find statues, stores, and buildings dedicated to him everywhere. We then walked through the Hofburg palace area, which houses the royal treasury, art museum, royal city apartments, and impressive courtyards. The size and beauty of these buildings were amazing, and you could see why the Prussian dynasty lasted for so long...they had all the money!
After a day on our feet we were ready for a nice heavy meal. We headed to a traditional Viennese tavern where we rewarded ourselves with some true wienerschnitzel. Though the German's adopted the wienerschnitzel, it is actually from Vienna, so we had to test ourselves to see if we could taste any differences. It's a taste test I could repeat I love the stuff (thats picture is me about to 'do work'). We capped off the meal with some apfelstrudel before heading back to the hotel.
Sunday was Easter, so we headed to an English mass at 10:30. After mass we went back into the heart of the city, where we strolled around city hall and the Hofburg theater. From there we visited the Votivkirche (Votiv Church) with its beautiful centuries old gothic towers. We made our way from there through an outdoor Easter market where we sampled local cuisine and checked out some artists at work. We then walked over the Danube and caught our bus back to the airport.
We had a lot to see in our short amount of time there. Their city was very beautiful, and both Shea and I felt it certainly rivaled Paris in terms of majesty. The only thing we wish we had gotten to check out was the Vienna's Boys choir, but I told Shea she could karaoke with BJ and hear the same high notes.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Look kids...Big Ben!

My sister, Jocelyn, and b-n-l, Stephan, arrived in Frankfurt the morning of Friday, March 12th, ready for a European vacation. I picked them up from the airport and ran them around Frankfurt showing them the all the sights before they crashed from the jet lag. The next day we hopped a train and headed down to Heidelberg to let them check out the castle and wander the quaint city there. During these first two days of sightseeing, Shea and I were sure to get them walking as much as possible, so their legs would be numb to all the hoofing we would be doing in London!
On Sunday, we woke up early to catch our flight to London. We had to take just about every mode of transportation imaginable to make it (minus, maybe...unicycle) but we got there all the same. In London we found our way to our hotel in the Marylebone area of town, very near Hyde Park and only about 2 kilometers from all of the well-known tourist attractions. We checked in and freshened up before taking the world-famous Underground (a.k.a. Tube, a.k.a. Subway) to Piccadilly Circus. There we walked around London's equivalent to Times Square with the enormous neon lights and billboards touting all of the world-class shows in town. From there we walked down to Trafalgar Square, where we stumbled upon the St. Patrick's day festival for the city. Everyone was decked out in green and double fisting Guinness Stouts around the world famous National Gallery and Nelson's Column. We didn't witness a single person jump into the fountains, but then again we didn't stick around till the end of the celebrations either.
After making our way through the party, we headed south away from the square down Whitehall Street. Along this street we snapped pics of the Admiralty Arch, the Horse Guards Parade and Cavalry Museum, Downy Street (where #10 Downy Street is located, which is where the PM stays but you aren't allowed anywhere on the street), and the Cabinet War Rooms-where Winston Churchill met with leadership underground to discuss strategies to defeat the Germans while the city took waves of bombings during WWII.
After making our way down the street, we found ourselves standing at Parliament Square, with the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben to our left, Westminster Abbey directly before us, and the King's Court to our right. A very impressive sight to behold.
From there we headed over to the river Thames and crossed over Westminster bridge to the London Eye (which is best described as an over-sized ferris wheel). As sunset was nearing, we decided to take a ride and were rewarded during the loop with a magnificent sunset and seeing the beautiful lights of the city turn on and brighten the sky.
After our view of the city from on high, we headed back across the Thames and came across the Texas Embassy restaurant. Joc and Stephan were kind enough to let Shea and me enjoy our first quality Tex-Mex since leaving was great and the ice cold Dos XX's also tasted amazing. From there, we headed back to the hotel room to get some rest after a long day of travel.
On Monday, we headed out and walked along Hyde Park to meet up with a walking tour at Wellington Arch. We saw all of the military monuments to the British colonies that fought for the Empire. From there we headed down Constitution Hill to Buckingham Palace, where we took in the changing of the guards. Impressive display. Unfortunately though, the Queen wasn't in, otherwise, I'm sure Shea and Joc would have been invited in for tea. The tour then led us to St. James Palace, which was the original home to the royal family, before upgrading to Buckingham Palace. Outside we each took turns playing the part of soldier in the guard shacks and having our picture taken. The tour then wound us through the a number of the same sights we had seen the day before, but only this time, we were able to learn about the history of what we were seeing. Very interesting and definitely worth the time. After the tour, it was time for lunch, and we all decided it was time for some traditional English flair. We headed to a restaurant and rewarded ourselves with fish and chips (fried fish and fries), wrapped in (simulated) newspaper, (almost) like in the old days. "Jolly good lunch, Governa"
After lunch we headed over to the Covent Garden area of town, which is a trendy area with plenty of shopping, but also home to many of the theaters of London. We decided to take in a show that night and were able to buy some cheap seat tickets to one of the big name shows in town called "War Horse". We wandered around that area of town for a while, and then headed back down to Westminster Abbey to take in a prayer service/choir performance at 5:00pm. We got to sit and enjoy the wonderful choir, while at the same time soak in the 1000-year-old cathedral. After the service, we grabbed a bite to eat before heading to the theater to make our 7:30 curtain call. We all really enjoyed the show and after it finished caught a late night Tube ride back over to our hotel and called it a night.
On Tuesday morning, we headed over to the Notting Hill area of London, famous not only for the Julia Roberts/Hugh Grant movie, but also for the Portobello Road Market, which is a mile of shops lining the street with antiques, collectibles, food stalls, top designer and vintage clothing. Stephan and I were very thankful that we had afternoon plans and were able to get the ladies out of there before any credit damage was done. Although the refrain heard through the rest of the trip was "do you guys think we can get back over to Portobello before we leave?"
So, from Notting Hill, we headed back into the city to make our bus to go and see Stonehenge. It took almost two hours to get there, but we were able to watch the city fade away and then see the beautiful English countryside stretched out before us. Let me say here that we were amazingly lucky with the weather in London...we had nothing but clear bright skies and temperatures in the 60's during our entire trip. Unheard-of weather for London in March, but Joc and Stephan were kind enough to bring some of the Texas sun along in there pockets and share it with their English speaking brethren.
We arrived at Stonehenge and took the audio tour around the site. We were pretty amazed at the size of the stones, and it is remarkable to think that we don't really know how or why the ancient people brought them there around 5000 years ago. Best guess is as an ancient sundial calendar...although Shea is sticking with her guess of ancient ice-age drinking Jenga blocks "make fire or drink 5" (+2 GK bonus points for all readers who get that joke). After our tour of Stonehenge, we took the bus back into the city and decided it was time for a night in a famous London pub.
We headed to the "Cittie of Yorke", which has operated as a pub since 1430 and claims to have the longest bar in all of England. We headed down to the cellar where we grabbed some English pub grub, which let me say, does a great job of sticking to your ribs. We then headed back upstairs to indulge in some more of their tasty adult beverages. We had a great time chatting it up, and I can honestly say that we closed the bar down, but don't be too impressed because London bars close at 11 pm.
On Wednesday, we headed over to the oldest parts of the city of London. There we quickly peeked in St. Paul's Cathedral and then walked over the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern Museum. We didn't have time to tour the Museum but kept that on our list of places to hit next time. We walked over to the reconstructed Shakespeare's Globe Theater and then popped in the infamous Clink Prison museum...ghastly what medieval people would do to each other. We then took the "Queen's Walk" down the Thames to the Tower Bridge and over to the Tower of London. The Tower is best known of course for being the place of imprisonment and beheading of Anne Boleyn and also for housing the crown jewels. Seeing all these things allowed us just enough time to blow through a souvenir shop and then head for the airport to catch our 8 pm flight back to Frankfurt.
London was an amazing trip and though we saw lots of stuff, we feel like we were really only able to scratch the surface. It is probably one of those places that you would have to live in in order to have the time to take in all it has to offer. Maybe that is were we need move next...
Just kidding moms.
We got back to Frankfurt and packed Joc and Stephan up to send them by train off to Paris for a romantic getaway. They really enjoyed their time there together and then they headed out from Frankfurt Saturday morning back to Dallas. It was a great trip with them, and though they likely needed a vacation after their vacation, we got to see and experience many new things together!

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Istanbul...not Constantinople

Istanbul, Turkey is one of the largest cities in the world and is the only one that sits on two different continents. It has acted as the gateway from Europe to Asia for thousands of years. It is pinched between the Marmara Sea to the south and the Black Sea to the north, and the Bosphorus Strait connects the two seas and at the same time divides the city and two continents. Istanbul has been fought over, passed around, and claimed as the capital of the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire, the Latin Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and today the republic of Turkey.
So, we jumped on a flight on Friday, February 26th to check this place out for ourselves. We arrived late that night and caught a taxi to our hotel, which was located in the heart of the city and within walking distance of the major historical and tourist sights. Along the drive we drove past the ancient walls that have unsuccessfully protected the city for centuries and the Marmara Sea. We checked in to our hotel and got ready for our sightseeing the next day.
On Saturday, we headed out early and went first to see the hippodrome. The hippodrome was once a big stadium for chariot races but today all that is left are several obelisks that mark the course the chariots would race a scene out of Ben Hur. From there we went to the famous Blue Mosque immediately adjacent to the hippodrome. With its imposing 6 minarets, the mosque's interior is adorned with blue tiles giving it its name. Shea and I took off our shoes and were able to walk around inside and check out the beauty of the building for ourselves. From there we visited Hagia Sophia, which was a church for 916 years, then a mosque for 481 years, and now a museum for the last 80. It was incredibly interesting with a mix of Christian symbols, including stucco paintings of Mary and baby Jesus and gilded mosaics walls of Christ next to Islamic symbols of faith with their Arabic scriptures painted into the center of the dome and Islamic pulpit. It was amazing to see how the building was adapted over the ages for use by the differing religions rather than destruction of the religious art.
After taking the morning to visit some of the big tourist spots, we then grabbed a lunch of some ever-popular Turkish doner. If you have been able to visit us in Germany, than you already know that the doner has been integrated here and is more popular than MickeyD's. After lunch we visited the basilica cistern. It is an underground palace with rows of decorative columns that has collected water for the people of the city for centuries. Some of the decorative columns from the roman period include large sculptures of Medusa with her hair of snakes.
After the cistern we walked through a new beautiful city park. The flowers were in bloom and many people were out enjoying the warmer weather. We stopped and snapped several pics of about a half dozen Muslim women, covered head to toe, with only their eyes visible playing volleyball. Not something we had ever seen before! We walked through the park to the Topkapi Palace. It was a home of the Ottoman Sultans and included a large harem chamber for the Sultans' many wives.
From the Palace we headed to the Grand Bazaar or what could also described as the first indoor mall. Since 1451, tradesmen have been selling all sorts of rugs, spices, fabrics, jewelry, pottery, and metals in this location. You could haggle as much as you like here and were expected to give it back as good as they gave. After some haggling we decided to sit for a while and refresh with some tea, local specialties, and desserts. We tried some handmade breads made by women hard at work over the stove. It was very similar to tortillas, filled with your choice of potato, spinach, or cheese.
After catching our breath, we ventured up one of the main streets in town and were rewarded with some beautiful views of the surrounding city and sea. We found a historic Turkish bathhouse and decided that we would return Sunday morning to experience it firsthand.
We headed up to a rooftop bar and relaxed with a beer as we watched the sunset and the city lights come to life.
We had found a restaurant earlier in the day that offered belly dancers as entertainment during dinner. The owner had a great personality and promised there would be a male belly dancer as well for equality purposes, and that Shea would really like it. So, we decided to return and see what this was all about. The restaurant was small with only about 7 tables and we were rewarded for our return with a table by the cozy fireplace and a wonderful 3 course meal with wine. At about 9:45 the female belly dancer came out and performed her show. It was fun, but then as she finished the owner comes bouncing in and starts belly dancing. He is blowing the female belly dancer out of the water and has the whole restaurant clapping and laughing hysterically. He pulls Shea and several other women up and proceeds to put on a belly dancing clinic. Everyone was having a blast. Come to find out after the performance, this restaurant owner was actually a professional bellydancing instructor and taught for years all over the world in places like Australia and Germany. It topped off the night, and Shea's laughter as she was belly dancing in the middle of this restaurant are awesome memories. We got back to our hotel room about midnight and racked out hard after a full day.
On Sunday morning, we woke up early again and headed over to the Turkish bathhouse. We were shown to our separate sauna areas. This bathhouse has been in existence since 1581, and you are directed to lie on heated marble platforms that are suppose to purify your system and relax you. There are warm and cool water basins where you splash water all over yourself when you get to hot. Then if you want, you can be given a bath by an attendant who massages you as you lay on the heated stone. Shea and I went with the self service sauna, as hey, this was our first experience and we didn't know how friendly these Turks would get. After you are done relaxing in the sauna, you are able to take showers and dress followed by an offer of tea or water to rehydrate. We both really enjoyed it and felt really relaxed after our time there.
From there we headed down to jump on a hop-on hop-off city bus to get outside of the downtown area. We were able to see the Sirkeci train station, which was the last stop of the Orient Express, the Galata tower, which protected the ancient port of Istanbul, and a bunch of other large mosques. We got off at the Dolmabahce palace and took a ferry boat across to the Asian side of Istanbul. We ended up in an area call Kadikoy and experienced our first visit to Asia! We wandered around some of the open air markets and the shopping district before stopping for some lunch. After several hours, we then got back on the boat and headed back to Europe and our bus. We then saw Taksim square and its shops and famed restaurants. We were able to take in some wonderful views of the "Golden Horn". The golden horn is the natural harbor that is formed by Istanbul and is named for the golden hue the setting sun makes on the water there. We then saw the Golden gate, which is the main entrance gate to the ancient walls of Constantinople, or what is present day Istanbul.
We hopped off again and headed to see the ancient Roman Aqueduct before jumping back in a taxi and heading back to the airport for our 8pm flight.
It was a crazy fast trip, but we had an amazing time there. The people were incredibly friendly, and the food and atmosphere were wonderful. We would definitely go again and spend more time there!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Köln (Cologne) Karnival

Lent is upon us, so it is time to get all our partying out of our systems. In Germany, Cologne is to Karnival what New Orleans is to Mardi Gras, so of course we have to go check it out firsthand.
We took a fast train the little over 2 hours to Cologne. As soon as you disembark the train at the main train station, you find yourself standing in the shadow of Cologne cathedral, which is one of the largest in the world. Outside people are dressed up in all sorts of elaborate and colorful costumes. If you recall, Shea and I went to Mainz last year for Karnival, so we were able to re-use our costumes. Hello, Poncho Villa and Old blue-haired Lady...good to dust you off again.
We followed the bands of musicians through the streets and stopped in any number of bars where the local beer is flowing. Heck, if the bar was too crowded to get inside you just party right there in the street.
Cologne is known for its Kölsch beer, which is very strong and served in small glasses. We definitely helped ourselves to our fair share. We checked out several different bars and had a great time dancing, singing, and meeting people from all over the world who came to Cologne to celebrate.
After partying ourselves in to the late night hours, we headed to our hotel and hit the sack. We woke up Sunday feeling really could call it a Köln Karnival Kölsch Kater ("Kater" is German for hangover). We had a little lunch and then caught our train back home.
Next year, we'll meet you all there!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My Big Fat Greek Vacation

Frankfurt is cold...cold and snowy. The snow is fun for a while, but eventually it's just yuck.
So, what better idea than flying on down to Athens, Greece, to soak up some sun and check out some ancient history.
After a nice long flight delay in Frankfurt due to the aforementioned wintry precipitation, we arrived in Athens a little before midnight on Friday night January 29th. We found the right bus and headed into the heart of the city where our hotel was located. From the main bus terminal, we then walked the short distance to our hotel, woke the night desk-man, and checked in. We debated heading back out, but decided to settle-in instead and rest up for the weekend.
On Saturday, we woke up to sunshine, bright blue skies, and warm weather. Ahhhh, we were definitely ready to welcome some sun-kissed cheeks.
We headed first thing to a pastry shop just across the street for some breakfast. Shea ordered a Greek coffee, which neither of us had ever tried. The coffee is definitely more of an acquired taste, but the shot of rose liqueur and square of candy that are served accompanying the coffee more than made up for stout java.
From there we walked to the Greek Parliament building to pay some respect to the founders of democratic government. As we approached the front of the building we noticed a large crowd of people gathered to watch the changing of the guard at the Greek tomb of the Unknown Soldier. It was an interesting display with lots of high leg kick marching and timing - and men in skirts. We toured around the outside of the Parliament to the National Gardens. There was beautiful foliage and rows of orange trees. We noticed that there seemed to be enormous amounts of fallen oranges that were going to waste and we wondered why no one was putting them to use? We selected two from a tree and put them in our backpack for a later snack. We then finished touring the gardens with its small zoo and headed back into the heart of the city to the ancient market area.
At the market area, you find yourself at the foot of the plateau with the Acropolis sitting atop. The Acropolis and Parthenon dominate the city, and you are easily able to see why it has been heralded for thousands of years.
We were going to head on up to the top, but when we went to enter the historical park, the ticket office told us if we came on Sunday, the park was free...see you tomorrow Acropolis.
Instead, we went and visited an ancient amphitheater and then toured the Acropolis museum, which houses artifacts from the site. We decided to enjoy our oranges and after one bite the burning from the acidic slice was enough to show us why nobody was eating these things. After several hours on our feet we had a late lunch and enjoyed meeting and talking with a nice older couple on a world tour from Norway. For dessert, I had my first taste of baklava...I loved it and was determined to have it at every meal for the rest of our time there.
After our late lunch, we toured around the more modern shops of Athens and headed back to the hotel to freshen up for dinner. We followed our guidebooks suggestion and headed to a traditional Greek restaurant for dinner. It was wonderful with fresh vegetable, salads, and seafood (and of course baklava). We tried some of the local wine and tried a digestive of the world-renowned ouzo (whoa - and we thought the Greek coffee was stout.) After dinner we toured around the historical roman agora (roman plaza) and then headed into a club to enjoy a nightcap before heading to bed.
On Sunday, we woke up to the sound of church bells from the Greek Orthodox Church across the street. We grabbed some breakfast, which included some Greek yogurt for Shea. Shea really enjoyed it with the wonderfully sweet honey. From breakfast, we headed up to the Acropolis and walked around the ancient site taking pictures of the modern city laid out before us. We walked around the Parthenon and were amazed at the size and age of the structure. We toured the ancient park and walked through the remains of the ancient legislative buildings the Greeks used to develop democracy.
We then decided to head over to the port for lunch. We thought we might be lucky and get to stroll along a beach, but to our misfortune, the port of Athens is a very busy dock and not much of a spot for romantic strolls. We were able though to enjoy a great lunch of gyros, so much so that I had two. Opa!!! (Greek for hooray)!!!
We then took the subway over to the site of the 2004 summer Olympics. The site had a beautiful view of the surrounding mountains, and we enjoyed seeing the more suburban lifestyle of the Athenians. We headed back into the city to watch the sunset from our rooftop balcony and enjoyed a late dinner.
We really enjoyed our short trip to Athens - the city, the people, and the food were all warm and friendly. We were able to get a slight rose on our cheeks just as we had hoped. During the trip, Shea and I decided that I must look Greek, because at least a half dozen times people speaking Greek politely asked me questions that all I could do was smile back and reply, "sorry, but that's Greek to me."

Sunday, January 10, 2010

New Years- Italian Style

Happy New Year! Buon Anno!
Welcome to 2010! Benvenuti al 2010!
For New Years we decided to head south to bring in the new year in a more romantic locale. How about Venice? Perfect.
So, we had an early morning flight from Frankfurt on December 31st to Milan, Italy. In Milan, we jumped on a train and took the 3 hour train ride along the southern Alps to Venice. We weren't the only ones to have this idea, as the train to Venice was packed, but luckily I had booked us a room for two nights in Venice and then one night in Milan.
As we got off of the train in Venice and made our way to the boat to head to our hotel, Shea and I quickly noticed that many people were walking around in waders...weird fashion statement we thought, but hey their Italians, they know fashion, right? We made our way to our bed and breakfast, which was only a two minute walk from the famous Piazza San Marco. As we checked in, excited about the concert in the Piazza that night and being in such a wonderful location, our hotel owner told us we timed our trip perfectly for the flood that was coming in that night at 11:00 with high tide.
Oh man, time for Shea and I to jump on the Italian-wader-fashion bandwagon!
So, we headed out into the city and did a bit of sightseeing around Piazza San Marco. We found out that the concert was still to take place, so we went to invest in a few items...1) some bottles of wine 2) two sets of waders.
Problem was that waders were running at a premium, as every tourist in town was in the market for them, so we went with the heavy grade trash bag glued into a plastic sandal waterproofing-system instead.
We were impressed with the city. Even though it was cold and rainy (and ready to flood) the city had a certain romantic charm that was unlike anywhere else we had been. The canals, gondolas, beautiful churches, gelatto, and wine create a wonderfully romantic environment to bring in 2010.
After some sightseeing, we headed back to the hotel room to dry out before heading back out at 10:30 to celebrate with everyone.
At 10:30, we headed over to Piazza San Marco and found a place to put on our waders. We then ventured out to the one of the higher points in the Piazza and danced our wet way into the new year with several thousand of our new closest friends.
The next morning after properly drying out our shoes (the heavy weight trashbag waterproofing-system finally gave out to the floodwaters and dancing near the end) we enjoyed some breakfast and waited for the tide to roll out about 11:30am. Once it did we were high and dry for the rest of the day. We toured the inside of St. Marco's, visited Doge's Palace, Gallerie del Accademia, St. Maria Del Salute, and Campo St. Stefano. We loved just slowly wandering through the sidewalks and taking in the canals and beautiful scenery. We had a nice long meal that night that included several courses and acted as a nice end to the first day of the new year.
The next morning we woke up and packed our bags to head to Milan. We were treated to a nice tour of the city via our boat ride through the Grande Canal to the train station to catch our 12:50 train to Milan.
In Milan, we checked into the hotel and then headed back downtown to the famous Duomo Cathedral. Our timing couldn't have been better as we arrived just as the sun was going down, and we were able to take in the beautiful cathedral in the darkening blue twilight. The stained glass windows shown brightly and gave the cathedral life (see photo above). We walked inside and noticed it was 5:28, and that 5:30 Mass was about to get underway. We acted liked we belonged and took some seats in the pews to take in mass in the 4th largest cathedral in the world. After Mass, we walked through some of the famous shopping areas adjacent to the Cathedral. We found a restaurant to eat in and had some good pizza and pasta.
On, Sunday we checked out and deposited our bags at the train station, where we would pick up our bus to the airport. We headed back to the center of the city and toured through the Duomo in the light. We then headed over and toured the Castello Sforzesco (Castle Sforzeco) and happened upon a winter festival, complete with bunny hills for skiing. We left the castle and walked down the main shopping street to the famous La Scala Opera house and Galleria Emanuele II. Unfortunately, the museum housing Leonardo's "the Last Supper" was closed the entire month of January, so we were unable to see it, but we were able to head over to the mecca of shopping in the Via Montenapoleone fashion district. Shea window shopped through all the major fashion designers of the world, and I felt happy to not have to keep up with these Jones's. We found a local market and before heading back to the train station, we enjoyed a Cannoli and our last few minutes of Italy. All in all, it made for a wonderfully memorable New Year's celebration...flooding and all.