Next stop, Barcelona

September 29th 2014

While we thought a 10am flight would mean plenty of time to sleep in before heading out the door, we clearly were not thinking about the time on public transportation to get to the airport. As with most European cities the airports are located on the far outskirts of town and there is usually just one our two lines that head to the airports which translates to, multiple transfers. For us this meant taking a 6:40am train to make it to the airport at 8.

It was a quick flight and we were in Barcelona before lunch. We decided to take the train to the metro which was the longer but cheaper route to our Barcelona home. And when we arrived in the city our phone ran out of minutes as we tried to answer a call from our host. We easy found the place, but in our fog from the last few days (aka hangover) we didn’t realized the apartment number was in our email. It only took us about 15minutes of standing in front of the building and trying to think of what to do next with no cell service or wifi for us to realize we had all the info we needed. At that point I think our host thought we were probably silly Americans who could not read an address. We settled in quickly and began making plans for our short stay in the city. We booked ourselves an evening tour at the Sagrada Família. This would be my third visit and Adam’s second to the ever evolving and still under construction church. The church should be completed in 2026; just 144 years after construction began. And now it is a basilica as the Pope gave this once cathedral this title about a two months after our last visit here. As we walked in we found ourselves pointing out all the things that had changed and all the new details. For the first time it looked and felt like a church and not just a construction site. The architecture is like no other building, let alone church, making it one of our favorite places to visit. Even though the prices to enter continue to rise, it is well worth every penny. And with the evening entry, just before we were about to leave we realized we were just one a handful of people inside so we took that opportunity to just enjoy the silence and find new details in the building.

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It had been a long day so we decided to keep it local for dinner. Lucky for us we had picked a home that was just around the corner from a handful of tapas bars so we headed to la tasqueta de blai for a great selection of tasty tapas. And while I had sworn off alcohol just a few hours earlier, I couldn’t pass up a glass of cava.

Today’s Travel: The early morning train from Watcherhof to the airport where we hopped on Veuling Flight #VY1813 to Barcelona where we caught the train then transferred to the metro to Parallel before walking up the street

Accommodations: Airbnb.  This was a perfect spot for our short stay in Barcelona. To stay within our budget we went with the private room option on AirBnB which meant we had the downstairs extra bed and bathroom of a lovely couple. We could spend a sunny afternoon or late evening out on the terrace is a great way to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city. Plus you are just a few steps away from some of the best tapas in the city, a short walk to the beach, the gothic quarter, and the metro line is at the corner for trips across the city. But it really is hosts like Alba and Gian who make Airbnb a great choice when traveling. From the moment we booked we had instant information on how to get to their home, a response to my questions within moments and upon arrival in the city it felt like we had local tour guides. They provided information on places to see outside of the ‘must-see,’ gave recommendations on places to eat and treated us like old friends as we traded travel stories. Next time we are in Barcelona we will be back!

Oktoberfest: round 2

28 September 2014

We initially hadn’t planned on going to Oktoberfest for a second day, but with the slightest bit of arm twisting we were making our way back to the festival grounds to the Augustiner-Festhalle tent. With this being a Saturday the tents get extremely crowded so we set our alarm for 6:00am so that we’d be able to make it to the beer tent nice and early to be sure we would get a seat (nothing like starting your beer drinking before 10:00am).

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We entered the beer hall which was already packed and managed to find some seats next to some friendly canucknucks and ordered up some beer. Unlike the last beer hall this one was family friendly. There were strollers and babies everywhere and the crowd was fairly reserved.

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And when the few that tried to chug their beers stood up on a bench to show their talents to the world they were quickly pulled down by security. There were just a few that were positioned far away from security to chug their whole liter. This time we were smart enough to have more than just oatmeal for breakfast so we weren’t so inebriated after our liters. The best laugh of the day came when everyone discovered that I may have a little bit of difficulty with being able to wink and everyone proceeded to have a good laugh mocking my lack of winking skills.

The closest to a wink I've ever achieved.

The closest to a wink I’ve ever achieved.

Explaining that I can't wink

Explaining that I can’t wink

How I normally wink

How I normally wink

And now the mocking begins

And now the mocking begins

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We hung out in the beer tent through the early afternoon before we made our way out into the sunlight to wander around the festival gardens before heading downtown to stroll around for a while and grab some dinner.

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Today’s Travel: The train from Watcherhof to Munich central and a walk to Oktoberfest

Accommodations: Airbnb.

Cinderella, Cinderella….

27 September 2014

Needless to say, we had a slow morning and didn’t get going until late morning. Today was the day we were taking our day trip to Neuschwanstein Castle and it was also the day that public transportation was not on our side. We missed the train at Watcherhof by only a few seconds, our tickets were printing as the train arrived and the process was completed as the train pulled away. Since we had to transfer this missed train now meant we added about an hour on to our already long travel day.

As we headed out of the main station we were soon greeted by corn fields, cute community gardens, suburban homes, more rolling foothills and fields and then suddenly the foothills became the Bavarian Alps.

After about four hours, on trains, buses and a few short walks, we finally arrived at King Ludwig II famous Neuschwanstein Castle.

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The plus side of the long journey was that all the walking and travel in the fresh mountain air did make us feel like a human again, that and the mid-afternoon brat we picked up for a snack.

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Once we had wandered around the castle for a while we of course we had to make our way to Marienbrücke (St Mary’s Bridge) to snap our own pinterest worthy shots of the castle.

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While on the bridge we did a quick time check and realized that we would need to make our way back to the bus stop to catch the 5:05 train. And to continue with our not so great travel luck for the day, we missed the bus by three minutes, so being the first in line we noticed that the next bus would not arrive for another hour so we decided to set out on the 3km walk back to Fussen. Well I think it was more like 4km which meant that we arrived after the 5:50 train so we had to wait until the next train.

We finally arrived back home, exhausted around 8:30 and our plans to meet up with friends went out the window. Tomorrow we were crazy enough to head back to Oktoberfest so we were at least smart enough to make sure we got some sleep.

Today’s Travel: On the train from Watcherhof to Munich central to Fussen then on the bus to the bottom of the hill and a walk up to Neuschwanstein Castle

Accommodations: Airbnb.

With love, from Oktoberfest

26 September 2014

While I have read that the traditional anniversary gift for a fifth wedding anniversary is wood or maybe a modern day gift of silverware, or hey if you are a traveler maybe an airline ticket or a cruise. Well I am here to say that the new trend that we have started is a celebration with a few thousand strangers (plus one of your bridesmaids) in a beer hall drinking a few liters of beer at Oktoberfest in Munich.

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Not only did we get to celebrate at Hackerbräu-Festzelt we were able to meet up with one my best friends and one of my bridesmaids, Diana so it was just like a mini-wedding celebration! While D and her friends arrived around 9am to check out the sites and get us a table when the halls which opened at 10, we arrived at the beer hall about 11:30am, which we soon realized was a little late as the place was already packed. Thanks friends for still not adjusting to your new time zone! We quickly joined in the fun and one liter of beer soon turned to three.

Reunited and feels so good

Reunited and feels so good

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Hmmm....delicious

Mmm….delicious

And when we just had a small bowl of haferflocken (oatmeal) the beer goes straight to the brain. We were smart enough to order some brats after liter number two, but that didn’t help too much.

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Soon enough we were being kicked out of our seats as the group that had reserved them for the four o’clock time frame had arrived.

We left the hall, made a quick tour of the carnival rides and headed to Karlsplatz U-bahn to grab a doner before heading on the train back home. I got us to the train station and on the right train and Adam got us off the train and home. This is what happens when one person drinks faster than the other. And clearly it worked well for us. Somehow we made it back home!

Today’s Travel: From Watcherhof to Oktoberfest

Accommodations: Airbnb.

Das good, back to Deutschland

25 September 2014

Waking up before the sunrise and pulling into a raining Munich train station I was ready for a nap before the day was even beginning. However we had planned to hit the ground running with a full day of wandering around the city before we made it to our home. The weather on the other hand didn’t want to cooperate with our sight-seeing adventures so our first few hours were spent in the train station. It did provide some excellent people watching of the people drinking off yesterday’s hangover in their lederhosen or passed out on the staircase. We ventured outside a few times hoping the weather would clear, but it wasn’t until 8am that the rain turned to an on and off again drizzle that we began our tour.

We were both tired so inevitably it took only ten minutes before we were arguing over directions.  Just to prove a point we walked all the way back to the train station to follow the signs which took us back in the same direction, this time however I was put in charge which took us by St. Paul’s church. The weather wasn’t so great we decided to take a quick tour to get out of the rain before making it to Oktoberfest (the next day we realized we walked almost to the next station when we got lost on our first attempt). While the ride operators and food vendors were just arriving to work, there were plenty of attendees beginning to line up to get into the various beer halls. To me it looked like one giant fair with lots beer hall tents. I guess I never realized that there was more to it then just beer. There were more rides and food options than I have ever seen at any US fair, plus the food actually smelled good.

After our short visit there we headed off to the main tourist center, Marienplatz. As with any city’s pathway towards the main tourists’ destination, the streets are lined with shops. There was everything from the Apple store (and yes we did stop in to see the new iPhone 6) to the Gap.

Continuing on with our aimless path we arrived at Viktualienmarkt. There we laughed at the crazy prices for fruit juice drinks, looked at the shops and let our nose take us to a small stand where we bought a sausage and potato plate.

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After our morning in the city we made our way out of the city center to the suburbs. Within twenty minutes the landscape had changed to cornfields and wide open spaces. When we got off at our station we were surrounded by a wooded forest and farmlands. After making ourselves at home we headed out for the evening to Watcherhof which was a twenty minute walk past cornfields and horse stables. While there were a few Italian restaurants, we decided to go with the local beer hall for warm and hearty meal. Just half way thru my meal, I could feel the meat sweats starting. But I would expect nothing less from a traditional German meal.

Today’s Travel: From Munich HBF, walking around sites downtown and out to Watcherhof

Accommodations: Airbnb. We continue to have great luck with our Airbnb rentals. Our home in Hohenbrunn about 30 minutes outside of Munich was perfect for short stay. The walk to the train station was only 10 minutes and the efficiencies of the trains here it really made it nice have the city and countryside experience. The apartment had everything we needed; a comfortable bed (even though it was a futon the cushions were great), a washing machine, a kitchen, a big bathroom and plenty of storage for all of our stuff. And our host was very accommodating giving us info on places to eat and accommodating any of our requests.

Getting ready for winter

19 August 2014

With our last day in Berlin we decided it would be a good time to prepare for our upcoming two weeks in Iceland by playing catch up on laundry and writing. I think I washed almost every article of clothing in my bag. And for the first time in months our bags and clothes all smell great. After doing what felt like 20 loads of laundry it was time to make our way to the airport to catch our midnight flight to Iceland. We were lucky enough to have Julius and Ulli take us to the train station for a heartfelt goodbye before we were on our way. We of course stopped to grab the Berlin staple a Döner for dinner to eat at the airport.

Our time in Berlin could not have been more enjoyable. From the tourist sights and local specialties to the home cooked meals and amazing hospitality we could not have asked for more. To Julius and Ulli and both of your families, thank you for making our time in Berlin one we will never forget and we look forward to see you again 🙂 (hehehe).

Today’s Travel: A short walk around Hönow before taking the U-Bahn to the bus then onto Air Berlin flight number AB3546 to Reykjavik

Accommodations: Kex Hostel. A super hipster place, this hostel worked well for the six hours of sleep before we had to get on the road. The four bed dorm room we had was nice and had a great view of the ocean. The communal showers (gender specific) were a bit odd, five showers in an open room, but there was plenty of hot water and towels were included. While the price was high, we paid the exact same for a hostel in Sydney overlooking the harbor and opera house in a private double room with a bathroom; here we had a four person bunk with toilets and showers down the hall.

Experiencing East Berlin

18 August 2014

After breakfast we left the house to run our errands which included haircuts for the both of us, a stop to drop off a package and pick up a few last minute items the next portion of our trip. One of those stops included the grocery store bakery to try a Cruller, German style of course, with a sugary glaze was gooier and the dough just slightly more dense than the US counterpart, and some Waldmeister Jello since we had some Waldmeister liqueur the other night we had to taste the family friendly version of this dessert.

With errands complete and full of sugar we rode the U-Bahn downtown to go the DDR (aka GDR) museum.

East German crossing signal

East German crossing signal

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The museum was full of information on life in the GDR (East Germany) and covered everything from the more historical point of view like the East German economy, the Trabant (pretty much the only car available in East Germany), the Berlin Wall, and Reunification, to the more common everyday items like a replica of an East German apartment, clothing trends, and the popularity of nudist beaches.

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It was great to go through the museum with Ulli as she grew up with a lot of the items that are now museum pieces and as we were walking through a replica kitchen she pointed out a blender that her mom still uses to this day (she later showed us). We also had a good laugh when looking at the menu of the museum restaurant which features typical East German fare. They had some of the delicious dishes Julius’ family had made for us as well as the culinary specialty Sugar Noodles. Thinking that Sugar Noodles must just be the name for a dish that has many ingredients and is complicated to make, Adam asked Ulli what are Sugar Noodles, to which she replied, it’s noodles and sugar. Yep, sugar plus noodles equals dinner and later we mentioned this to Ulli’s mom and she said the kids loved it. Maybe we will have to give it a try at some point.

And because we couldn’t leave the city without one more traditional family style meal we were back at the Pfohl’s for some sour eggs. Having no clue what to expected we were both pleasantly surprised that there was no sour taste at all, just poached eggs cooked with bits of bacon in a delicious vinegary gravy sauce with lots of onions and a few bay leaves, was served on top of a pile of creamy mashed potatoes.

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This could easily be the best hung over brunch menu item. One day when we open a restaurant this will be on the menu.

Today’s Travel: Around Berlin from Hönow to the DDR museum and back out to the ‘burbs

Accommodations: The Schmidt Residence

Palace No Worries

17 August 2014

We woke up a bit tired, slightly hung over and could no longer come close to pronouncing Hönow but it was time for another day of sightseeing. While we had thought about going to the flea market to start the day our late start to the day put a kibosh on that idea so we skipped that stop and carried on to the Sans Souci Palace, aka The No Worries Palace.

The buildings throughout the palace grounds and the San Souci palace itself were lovely but the star of the show was the gardens.

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Even the designs of the buildings themselves were structured to make the gardens the focal point. And when we arrived at the Chinese House we had a good laugh as the design and décor was a mix of many different Asian countries but somehow it was named the Chinese House.

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With all the walking and knowing that we had a family dinner to attend, we needed a sugar fix. So when we needed to transfer trains we made a quick ‘sugar shock’ stop. This time we tried the glazed version of the Berliner Pfannkuchen and Quarkbällchen. Oh, Quarkbällchen it was love at first bite, but it took two more to realize that you tasted just like angel food cake. I expected a fluffy donut hole but was surprised to enjoy a dense angel food cake ball.

That evening we headed back to the Pfohl’s for a Sunday night family dinner.

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This evening menu was rouladen, which is best described as meat wrapped with meat (beef rolls stuffed with bacon). And it was soooo good, plus it was great fun to hang out and chat before and after dinner. It kinda made me miss home and hanging out with family. But what I do know is that after all this great homemade food I am thankful for stretchy skirt waistbands.

Today’s Travel: On the train to Sans Souci Palace

Accommodations: The Schmidt Residence

Who knows how to get to Hönow?

16 August 2014

*When trying to say Hönow, think ‘who-know’ with an ‘eewww’ like emphasis on the o/ö

It was a lazy morning for us today as we left the house for the first time for a family lunch of kasseler at the Pfohl’s. Kasseler is a hunk of pork (in our case the side of the pig) that is then cured in salt before being smoked. The end result is basically one of the best pieces of meat you can imagine.

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If we can find this cut and or figure out how to smoke and salt the meat before we prepare it, we just might have it for Thanksgiving this year. And just like Thanksgiving I could not say no to a few more helpings.

Once we were fully stuffed we headed out for our tour.  It has been beyond amazing for us to just sit back and follow along with the plans for the day and really take no part in figuring it all out. We have been so well taken care of here it is like we are on vacation. I guess this is why packaged holidays are so popular, there is no thinking involved, you just sign up and go.

Today’s tour was all about the West side of Berlin. We started our tour near the Berlin Cathedral where we snapped a few pictures before heading down the street to check out a cute shop called Pylones.

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The shop was just around the corner from the AquaDom we decided to take a quick free peak at the tank from the outside and skipped out on paying 20 euros to ride an elevator thru the large cylindrical aquarium. We were all still in a food coma from lunch so we made a stop at the entrance to the Hackensche Markt before walking thru the beautiful courtyards (side note: just to give you an idea of how awful our English has become we had to use google translator since we could not think of the word, courtyard, based on the very accurate description we were given) of Die Hackenschen Höfe. Today the courtyards are full of cute shops but the design of the buildings and all of the open space it was a nice place take in some people watching. As we were about to leave the courtyards the skies unleashed a downpour so we made our way back into Starbucks to wait it out. Once the skies cleared it was then off again to our next destination the synagogue and from our guides learned that this was also a popular spot for hookers, locals are much better guides than any hired city guide. From there we wandered along the backstreets and saw more of the university buildings including one where German physicist worked on the atomic bomb.

We stopped at the main train station to see city’s skyline including all the important political buildings and the Swiss embassy.

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And because we were still tired from so much food we stopped into a bakery to try Berliner Pfannkuchen (pancake). The Pfannkuchen was almost like a jelly donut; with the only difference being there was less jelly and it was much denser when comparing it to its US counterpart.

To wrap up our city tour we stopped at Bikini Berlin, the hipster approved new mall, to take a peek at the zoo’s monkey park from the center of the mall. Then we made our way across the street to check out the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gedächtniskirche, aka Gedächtniskirche. This church was bombed in WWII, and left in its post-bombing state as a memorial.

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It does make you stop in to think how much this city and the people have made the choice to move forward with their lives as you look around and see a modern city has grown up around the church.

That evening we went to one of Julius and Ulli’s friends housewarming party. We spent the night speaking in broken german-english drinking BerlinAir (peppermint schnapps) and bloody mary shots and having a great time. Thankfully we had picked up the Berlin hipsters drink of choice, club-mate so I could cleanse the palate between each beverage. Soon we realized we had to head out to make sure we caught the train home. We decided then that it was the perfect time to practice how to say Hönow. I think we said it about 100x’s between the walk/run to the train station and on the train ride home. Adam almost came close to the correct pronunciation. I still just make a stupid face as I try to over emphasis the ö and I just look like a turtle sticking its head out of its shell.

Today’s Travel: Around the West side of Berlin

Accommodations: The Schmidt Residence

The East Side Tour

15 August 2014

Last night we had made our plans for the day so after our hearty breakfast where I ate almost all of the mustard and both of us found out we loved liverwurst it was on to the train to start our day of exploration on the east side of the city.

Tour guides at work

Tour guides at work

When we heard that there was a black light mini-golf course in the city we knew we had to go. It started about six or seven years ago on Catalina island, when we found a mini-golf course there and since that time we have had a fiercely and hotly contested competitive mini-golf rivalry (Adam wants it noted that a true rivalry means there is competition; whatever).   To get to the Schwarzlicht Minigolf we first had to walk thru Görlitzer Park. This might win as the most interesting part of the day. Here drug dealers and users openly sell and use, they don’t even make any attempts to be sly. After coming in dead last and Adam beating all of us, ugh, it was time to go see some more sites.

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We took the train to what now looks like the re-gentrified hipster cool area where sections of the wall still stand. It was a cool but eerie experience to see the wall up close and admire the street art that now makes the wall such a tourist draw.

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All our walking and the intense game of mini-golf made us hungry (kinda-I was still full from breakfast) so we made our way to the famous Konnopke’s located under the Eberswalderstrasse U-Bahn station for a lunch of currywurst.

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With some much history in this city we continued on our tour of the wall. We made our way to the Berlin Wall Memorial where from the entrance to the museum we had a unique perspective of the wall and border sections. Looking down at this area I could only imagine what it felt like to be stuck on one side of the city disconnected from friends and family and having to make a choice as to what side to stay on, if you were fortunate enough to even make that choice.

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The area around here also had modern art pieces designed as the wall and check point stations. In one section where homes once stood before slowly being destroyed to build they wall there were information placard about the people who once lived here and the stories of how their lives quickly and dramatically changed at this time. To read these stories of escape and confusion at that time was surreal as I stood looking at the former foundation.

Because we were near the area, we stopped into Julius and Ulli’s favorite cake shop. After one bite, I knew why which meant after the first one we decided to split a second.

Back in the neighborhood where we picked up lunch, we wanted to check out the old The Kulturbrauerei (Culture Brewery) and in doing so we just happened upon the Audi Klassik Open Air and a rehearsal of what appeared to be a symphony or just professional musicians performing with Keimzeit.

Love

Love

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According to Julius, Keimzeit was a popular group during the GDR days. We sat in the sunshine enjoying the music and occasionally having a laugh as the musicians would stop and make request, getting pretty fired up while doing so.

Later that evening we met up with one of Julius and Ulli’s friends for some cheap drinks and tasty Indian food. After our second drink we began to wonder if we were going to go bar hopping or go somewhere to have some more drinks. We learned that our American ways were not the norm here. People find a place to eat and drink and they stay put at their sidewalk table for the evening. Just another day and so many new things we learned.

Today’s Travel: Around the east side of Berlin

Accommodations: The Schmidt Residence