Saturday, July 31, 2010

Baking in Berlin

Our first city in Germany was Berlin and I have to admit that we were not impressed when we first arrived.

As you know, I do not like to be hot. Well, our time in Berlin coincided with the Great European Heat Wave of 2010. We half-heartedly traveled around the city looking at important monuments and spent our nights lying naked and covered in wet towels to cool us down (most of the places in Berlin don't have air conditioning because it never gets that hot). Not awesome.

We spent about a week and half in Berlin, trying to decide what to do, where to go and how to get there. And then we went on a guided tour.

In the past, I had an aversion to doing anything that was too "touristy". This is completely ridiculous, of course, because I am a tourist and I am specifically traveling to places to learn about them. Now I know what I have been missing: a greater insight into the place I am visiting.

We chose the free walking tour offered by Sandeman's New Europe Tours and covered a lot of history and a lot of ground in three and a half hours. Here are some of the all important highlights:

The Brandenburger Tor...




the Holocaust Memorial...



the Berlin Wall...






the Reichstag...









the Trabi's (tiny little Eastern German cars)...



and the spot where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the railing...



If you find yourself in Europe and looking for a tour, definitely consider this group. We have since taken their tours in Hamburg and Munich and have been impressed and amused by each one.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Jon's Facial Hair

Now that we are no longer living in a van where running water and electricity are in short supply, Jon decided to shave his beard. Here are the results:

Before


After


Handsome devil, isn't he?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

These Are a Few of Our Favorite Things

We had a lot of fun in Germany, the highlight being seeing my friend Anke for the first time in nineteen years! We will go into more depth about each city we visited but for now, I wanted to share with you some of the most memorable parts of our German experience.

The Fantastic German Windows

Anke teased me about my preoccupation with the windows but as you will see in this video, they are super fantastic!


Video

And not only are they super fantastic, they are in all of the hotels (and apartments), no matter what floor you are on. Can anyone imagine those windows in the U.S.? American hotel windows either do not open or do not open very far. Wouldn't want us crazy Americans jumping out of the window, right? This was only one of many, many examples of Germany treating their citizens like adults instead of truant teenagers.

The "Crepe" Pillows

Ok, they're probably not called Crepe Pillows but that's what we called them because they were the thinnest pillows we had ever seen!


They were also square which was fortunate because by the end of our time in Germany, I was folding mine over twice to get the height I needed. They were, however, extraordinarily useful for blocking out noise as you could easily wrap it all the way around your head. Kind of like a head burrito.

The Super Secure Locks

The first time we encountered the locks, it seriously took us several minutes to figure out how to open the door. Fortunately, we learn quickly and eventually came to appreciate the security and solidity of the locks.


Video

We may have seen the Berlin Wall, listened to the largest Baroque organ in Europe and drank beer at Munich's oldest brewery but it is the little things that we will likely remember and which make me smile when I think of Germany.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Romance of Europe by Train

We are on the move! We decided to buy Eurail passes and spend the next month and a half doing a circuit of Western Europe, Morocco and some of Eastern Europe.


We love traveling by train! Video here.

Our tentative schedule is below and has also been updated on the Europe map link under "Where Are We Going".


If you have been to any of the locations we will be visiting, please let us know your favorite (preferably free) activities and sights!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sounds of Sunday

This morning, we went to church in Hamburg.



video

More specifically, we went to St. Jacobi. We didn't get much out of the sermon (in German), but we enjoyed listening to the largest surviving baroque organ in Northern Europe.

Listen for yourself!

Download MP3

Friday, July 23, 2010

Back in Action: Ellen Finally Buys A Netbook

I have gone for three loooooong weeks without a computer and I am happy to report that today I became the proud new owner of a (previously owned) netbook. The only...let's call it hitch...in my beautiful and practically perfect netbook is that it is a German netbook. And the keyboard looks like this:


I am baffled as to why the z and the y are switched. However, on the flip side I can now tzpe...I mean type...ä, ö, µ, €, and ß with total ease. I know, all you Americans are jealous.

Now if only we could figure out how to change the Windows XP OS from German to English...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Hey Everybody! We Went to a Wedding in Holland. Isn't that Weird?

In case you are wondering what the title of this post is all about, here you go.

Despite the silly stereotype, we met some of the nicest people in Holland while attending Henk Jan and Fleur's wedding as we were fortunate to meet and get to know their family and friends (some of whom were from Switzerland, too).

So, how does a Dutch Wedding compare to one in the US? Let's review...

It started at at 11AM at a church in Borger.

Waiting for a Wedding

The bride and groom arrived by convertible BMW.



We greeted them and then filed into church, accompanied by lovely Alphorn music. Maybe not so Dutch, but definitely Swiss. The bride and groom currently live and work in Switzerland, so that explains the choice of music and the "Welcome to the Swissies" banner greeting them at the reception site.



The ceremony was performed in Dutch but, in the recap given by our new friends, we learned that it was mostly a civil ceremony that recapped the story of the lives of the bride and groom and how they met. The officiant must have told some good jokes, though, as there were many laughs and smiles.

The Ceremony

The parts that we did understand included an exchange of wedding rings (the Dutch wear them on the right hand)...

The Rings

...and, of course, a kiss to seal the deal.

The Kiss

After the ceremony, we all gave our congratulations to the bride and groom, including the "Dutch Triple Kiss". We then made our way outside where the betrothed thanked the Alphorn players and then gave the instruments a try for themselves. Not too bad!



And then, with rose petals and bubbles, we saw them off.



We all made our way to the Herberg De Blankehoeve for the reception. We had a bit of beer and wine and a light lunch while we admired the groom's wardrobe, including a shirt with the new initials of his bride...

Wardrobe: Monogram

...and fantastic new wooden glasses. No wooden shoes, though. Dang!

Wardrobe: Wooden Glasses

After lunch, they thanked us all for attending with a champagne toast...

Champagne

And then cut and shared their cake.

Cake

Cake Cutting

A bit later, Harma, the groom's sister, presented a recipe book with pages from each guest to the new couple. Our contribution - chicken fajitas - will hopefully remind Henk Jan of his time in Arizona where we got to know him. No idea what the flags were about, though...

Cookbook

After more drinking and socializing, it was time for dinner. I enjoyed some fish from the North Sea and Ellen had some delicious duck. Thanks again to our new friends for translating the menu.

Dinner

Toasts were given by Petra, the Maid of Honor and Jan Willem, the Best Man.

Toast from Petra Toast from Jan Willem

And with that, the DJ fired up the speakers and the party began in earnest.

First Dance...

First Dance

Conga Line...

Conga Line

and Bouquet Toss.

Bouquet Toss

Not so dissimilar from a US wedding, no? A majority of the tunes emanating from the dance floor were the latest hits, too. We felt right at home.

There was one particularly Dutch custom that we especially loved though. Throughout the night, some relative or another would pull out a song that they had written for the bride and groom. It would be a familiar tune with altered lyrics that they would pass out to the crowd. Of course, these were mostly in Dutch, so we just sang along like we knew what we were doing.

The party finally stopped in the wee hours of the morning and it was 2:30AM when we finally fell into bed back at the hotel. Good fun!

Thanks again Henk Jan and Fleur for the great party. Here's to you!

YES!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Ich bin ein Berliner!

I'd like to say that we haven't posted in a while due to the fact that we've been having wild adventures in Berlin, but that wouldn't be true. Instead, we've mostly been trying to avoid the oppressive heat while also trying to find a place to live for a while.

Most of the time in these parts the temperature never exceeds 30°C (86°F) and so the city is ill equipped for the temperatures (no A/C in most places). We've had to be creative with moist towels and cold beer.

The good news is that we will have plenty of time to explore Berlin as month-long residents of the city. I've landed a computer programming gig from a former employer back in the US and I need to hunker down and get to work!  As for the blog, we'll still be sharing our thoughts about living in Germany and we'll also be taking side trips to explore the surrounding country. And, yes, we'll eventually get caught up with old posts and tell you all about DC, Maryland, New York and the wedding in Holland.

Until then, here are a few pictures (and a road video) from Berlin.



Vid

Wall Line Wall Art U-Bear

TV Tower Haben Es Auf Deine Weise Hat Man

Trying To Stay Cool

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Happy Holland - Sad Holland

What a day! Henk Jan and Fleur's wedding last night kept us up until 2:30 AM.So much fun! Still suffering a tiny bit of jet lag, we were easily able to sleep in until 15:00 today. After a bit of laundry and a bit of food we were ready to give our all rooting for Holland tonight.



Movie Link

Well, sadly, for the third time in World Cup history, Holland's dreams were trampled.



Looking on the bright side of life, we are able to go to bed early tonight so that we are ready for our wadlopen tomorrow!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Auspicious Embarkation Abroad



With some navigational help from an old friend, we left Brooklyn on Wednesday afternoon with spirits high, ready to begin the next phase of our journey.  The night before leaving we checked in for our flight and opted for seats in row 6 thinking, at the time, that it was a bulkhead row and it would therefore provide more legroom for the 5.5 hour flight to Iceland. The IcelandAir website and SeatGuru had different configurations for the cabin layout and so we double checked with the counter agent when we arrived at JFK. She told us that row 6 was not a bulkhead. 


*sigh* 


We were prepared for a long cramped flight. Then, when we boarded the plane, we discovered that the "non-bulkhead" seat was actually the last row of first class, extra-wide seating! The first-class curtain had been moved forward a row. Pure bliss!


I decided to celebrate with an Icelandic beer.


Polar Beer


Since we were directly behind the "real" first class, we also had the opportunity to sneak some peaks at the mysteries happening "behind the curtain." Behold... First Class Oshibori!


Hot Towels


Our first glimpse of Iceland through the airplane window included a beautiful sunset... at 11:45 PM. This sunset probably lasted around 2 to 3 hours while we took a bus from the airport into the city of Reykjavík.


Iceland Long Sunset


The novelty of the "midnight sun" did not quickly wear off...





Movie Link


The first order of business was to procure some dinner. Unfortunately, just because the sun is out does not mean that the locals are awake and serving up food to hungry tourists. Sadly, we had to settle for Subway. But, I still managed to convince myself into believing that the tuna in my Túnfisksalat was caught by local fisherman. We can dream, right? Since this Subway franchise was inside a gas station, we also perused some other local snack options.


Corny


Bacon FTW


Our hunger sated, we went on to further explore the city. We were still struck by how odd it seemed to have the sky lit up by the sun while all the streets were completely empty. We only ran into maybe two or three people (perhaps silently returning home from the bar - or going to work at Subway?) and five or six cars while we were out and about, but indicators all around the city pointed to a group of people with a wonderful sense of humor.


Treehouse StØff House Art


Volcano Lazerz


Ties Spongebob


We also fell victim to some pranksters while walking down a line of shops in Reykjavík. A guy in a car pulled up and asked us if we knew where he could find the closest ATM. As we were explaining that we didn't know the area, his partner in crime in the backseat sprung up from his hidden position on the floor and squirted us with his water bottle. Jerk. Fortunately, we were wearing our rain jackets to keep warm and so we stayed dry. I'm not sure if this guy was a local or not, but this was a somewhat tame reminder to us to remain on guard for worse as we travel around the world.


So as to not end on a sour note, I'll add that we befriended two kittens on our walk and also ran into Leif in the middle of town.


Leif


We got the impression (as much as one can from a brief walk around the city) that Iceland was a quaint, artsy country with a lot of pride in its past. We wish that we could have stayed a bit longer to explore. 


Iceland Art


But now, we are safely tucked away in our hotel in Amsterdam and have more to see and learn in Holland!


------------


For more beautiful pictures of the Iceland countryside I have to plug Arnitr, who is a contact that I've had on flickr for a while. Great pictures!