Ich bin ein Berliner

When friends ask, “What’s the best city you’ve visited?” I always reply the same way. Other than our German hometown, Wiesbaden, it’s a tie between Paris and Berlin.

Memorial Day 2011 found Big D and I exploring the city where old and new are truly meshed as one:

Locals call her "Chick on a Stick"
The Berlin Victory Column, or Siegessäule, is affectionately referred to as The Chick on a Stick – I immediately recognized it from the U2 Stay video.

Faraway, So Close

Statue of Victoria

The view from the top provided a fantastic preview of what we’d see throughout the course of the weekend:
view from the Victory Column

Day two started with one of my very favorite things: Keith Haring artwork!
Haring sculpture at Potsdamer Platz

Anhalter Bahnhof
We strolled by the Anhalter Bahnhof without knowing what it is and later learned that not only was this where Mussolini would arrive by rail, but it was also used as a deportation station for Holocaust victims. All that remains is the façade – a soccer (or football, depending on where you’re from) field is behind it.

I'm in the West, Big D is in East Germany
Big D stands in the former East Germany, I’m in the West.

Checkpoint Charlie and an iPad2 ad
I loved the juxtaposition of Checkpoint Charlie and the iPad 2 advertisement.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe is plain, moving – and controversial. Read more about it here.

We saw a lot of these sights while we took the Fat Tire Bike Tour. I’ve done the tour in all of their cities (Paris, London, Berlin and Barcelona) and Berlin is my favorite.

Fat Tire Bike Tour

Reistag Building
Reistag – capitol building

Berliner Dom
Berliner Dom

If you’ve been following this blog for even a small amount of time the following phrase won’t surprise you a bit… We visited the Hamburger Bahnhof Museum to see their Keith Haring collection and (here it comes…) I walked into this room and I burst into tears.
I was overwhelmed!

Big D was so patient as I wandered through the museum gasping at each piece even though he doesn’t really appreciate this particular kind of art at all.

Haring Mask

I was lucky enough to be back in Berlin last July with Tricia. Our visit was part of a whirlwind trip (Köln on July 4 to see Snow Patrol, Berlin on July 5 to see Pearl Jam, and back at our respective homes on July 7 – that’s more than 900 miles by train in 4 days!)

Fat Tire Bike Tour
We took the Fat Tire tour with friends we met at the show – and I’m looking forward to seeing some of them in Chicago for more Pearl Jamming this summer!

Checkpoint Charlie

Tricia

me with a piece of the wall

Brandenburg Gate
Brandenburg Gate

Keith & me
Berlin! Someday I’ll return, if only to stand here one more time.

Europe’s most content city

When our trusted Cheese Man (That’s right, we had our own Cheese Man!) suggested Jen and I visit Maastricht, Netherlands because it’s the supposedly the most content city in Europe, we knew it would be delightful. Was it ever!

The town, which we quickly dubbed Happy Land, is situated on the River Maas.
Maastricht, Netherlands

We were treated to a tiny parade while we had breakfast. Or I guess more accurately: a single band played and marched by us.
A one band parade

We spent the day exploring the pedestrian area, shopping at a church rummage sale, and touring the North Caves at Fort St. Pieter.
Jen at the North Caves entrance
Jen at the North Caves Entrance

Caves of St. Pietersberg map

The caves formed over many centuries by the quarrying of the local marlstone. Originally there were some 20,000 passages with a total length of 200km/125mi. During the Second World War some of the passages were enlarged, a well was dug and storerooms, a bakery and even a chapel were constructed, providing accommodation in which most of the town’s population could take refuge. (According to our tour guide, treasures were hidden in the caves during WWII, including Rembrandt’s The Night Watch.)

I enjoyed our day trip so much that when Big D returned from deployment a few days later, he and I went for the weekend.

Our first stop was the Netherlands American Cemetery & Memorial.
Netherlands American Cemetery & Memorial

And then we strolled through the town:
Maastricht, Netherlands

Basilica of the Virgin Mary
Basilica of the Virgin Mary

We were thrilled to find a very nice hotel situated on the river that honors the US Government rate. Its affordability made us frequent guests.
River Maas

Big D & me at dinner
Dinner at our Dutch home away from home

view at dinner
View during dinner

We soon learned that Tongeren, supposedly the oldest town in Belgium and home to the biggest antique flea market in the Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg region, is only nine miles from Maastricht. Since flea market shopping is an early morning venture, we’d drive to Maastricht to explore on Saturday, shop in Tongeren on Sunday morning, and be back at our home in Germany in time for dinner. I’ve lost track of how many times we visited, but I have lots of treasures from each trip.

view from sports store window
It’s Christmastime in the city…

carnival in Maastricht
Carnival

Carnival decorations
Carnival

our hotel was decked out
Carnival colors lit the night

Florida school bus!
You have to agree that it is CRAZY that city tours are conducted on an old Florida school bus!

fun statues in Maastricht

And in all honesty, this is how we spent a lot of time in Maastricht:
Carnival in Maastricht is tasty!

Maastricht, Netherlands

City of Sekt and Roses

Hello from yet another hotel room, this one in the Toronto, Canada suburb of Vaughn. Big D, Fletcher, and I made the trip from Germany to the US, spent 10 days in Virginia, and signed a lease on a townhouse in Old Town, Alexandria. Since our move in date isn’t until the first week of May, Fletcher and I are here in The Great White North with Big D while he takes a class to master yet another aircraft. Stay tuned for details on what will be our new hometown…

But while I’m here, I am really going to try to finish up posting about European adventures.

Etville is one of the first little towns we explored in the Rheingau and it quickly became a favorite. We included stops there whenever we hosted out of towners, we attended plenty of fests hosted by the town, and when I needed a pick-me-up because one of Big D’s deployments was extended, Tricia knew a stroll there was just what I needed.

Eltville celebrates 22,000 examples of 350 different species during its Rose Festival each June.

Rosenstadt Eltville

Rosenstadt Eltville

Eltville

In 2010, we celebrated Tricia’s birthday at Piccolo Mondo – a restaurant frequented by Sean Connery when he stayed in the town while filming in In the Name of the Rose.

Tricia & Big D

Eltville

Later in 2010, I was lucky enough to pick grapes during the harvest at Weingut Eberbacher Hof:
Weingut Eberbacher Hof

Team Virginia-Straße

a small part of our harvest

Even when the roses are gone, Eltville is beautiful:
Eltville

In spring 2011, we enjoyed a guided walking tour of the town:
oldest cobblestones in Eltville, Germany

Eltville, Germany

Crooked little house in Eltville, Germany

We were back again that fall with Big D’s mom:
the Rhine in Eltville

And in the spring of last year? You guessed it: more roses!
Eltville

I’m not going to say things at the Eltville Sekt Fest got a little wacky, but….
me & Grayson Barbara

Michael me & Grayson

I think its fitting that I took this photo in the Hattenheim neighborhood on my last visit to the area:
Ahhhhhh!

Cruising

I started this blog with the intent of recapping adventures of the last three years before we return to our real life in the States. Only six days remain until we make the long trip across the pond. In fact, I’m writing this surrounded by luggage, boxes of items to donate, and party favors for Saturday’s farewell soirée. I won’t even come close to blogging everything I wanted to in our short time left as ex-pats, but I’ll continue once we’ve settled somewhere in the greater Washington, DC area.

And now, a post I have really been putting off writing since I’m not sure how to break it up: The Cruise.

Angie, Jen & Gary, and I had fairly low expectations for our first port call: Bari, Italy. And we were right. It’s a pretty town, but there wasn’t much to do, everything was closed since we were there on a holiday, and we knew “free” drinks awaited us back on board the ship.

Old Bari Port

Next up was Rhodes, Greece.

Rhodes, Greece

We visited the Acropolis of Lindos and St. Paul’s Bay, where it is reported the apostle landed during a storm.

me, Angie, Gary & Jen

Lindos, Greece

Gary tried a local beer at each stop on the cruise, and since I hate to see a guy drink alone, I did too.
he enjoyed a local beer at each port

Jen got a tip from our tour guide and we headed to Hatzikelis Fish Taverna for what is the best lunch I’ve ever had in my entire life, hands down. Rather than show us the menu, Vasileioi, our fantastic waiter, took us into the kitchen to show us what was fresh and ask us how we’d like it prepared.

Jen & Gary

We shared an eggplant appetizer that each of us now duplicates on our own grills many times each summer. That day, I had mussels:
my entree

Dessert was Baklava and oranges that I think were handpicked minutes before we ate them:
Baklava and fresh oranges

Cats begged (and were fed), octopus hung drying on a line above our table, we drank wine, and of course, we laughed. I’ve considered going back to Rhodes, just to eat there again. And some day, I will.

Jen, Gary, Vasileioi, me and Angie

Our next stop, thanks to an itinerary change necessitated by the Arab Spring (maybe someday we’ll visit the Pyramids?) was Ephesus, Turkey. It’s one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, and is likely where the Gospel of John was written.

Odeon

Ancient Ephesus Theater

Just a short ride away was the church built on what was the Virgin Mary’s house (Photography is prohibited inside, and I didn’t take many photos outside as I was a bit overwhelmed.)
Virgin Mary's House

Back in the port city of Izmir, a Kurdish Rally was underway.

After a local brew (which I drank while I e-mailed my U2 BFFs: I am in a bar in Izmir, Turkey and they’re playing One!), we made our way through the thousands of riot police (Thousands. I am not exaggerating!) and eventually, we were safely back on board thanks to Gary’s map reading/lady herding skills. “I CAN’T SEE THE BOAT, GARY!?” Is still a catchphrase we utter when we’re confused, lost, or just trying to be funny.

Didn't want Gary to drink alone

Kurd rally

Turkish Police

Our next stop was Ahthens, Greece. I couldn’t believe we were touring the sites I studied in my high school Latin class:

The Acropolis
The Acropolis

me at the Temple of Athena
The Temple of Athena

Angie, me, Gary and Jen at the Parthenon
The Parthenon

Parthenon
The Parthenon

Tiny Angie
Angie at the Temple of Zeus

And we saw a changing of the guard at the tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Evzones changing the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Next up was Olympia, Greece where we learned all about Architecture and the Ancient Olympics from our slightly crazy tour guide.

Our crazy, hilarious and informative tour guide

Palaestra

ready to race in the Olympic Stadium
Gary and I ran the distance in the Olympic Stadium!

And finally, we made it to Dubrovnik, Croatia. Sadly, somewhere along the way I picked up a major sinus infection. So while the photos from this last stop look familiar, I don’t remember much other than feeling so bad that I cried at lunch. Sorry, travelmates!

Fort Lovrijenac, Dubrovnik
Fort Lovrijenac

Dubrovnik

Dubrovnik

Angie & Gary
Angie and Gary enjoying cocktails at what is supposedly Bill Gates’ favorite bar (not pictured: my mental breakdown.)

There are so many terrible cruise stories in the news right now. Luckily, other than my (non-cruise related) illness, all I have are fantastic memories.

breakfast on our balcony
We had breakfast on our balcony every day,

some entertainers after the show
we saw a show every night,

view from cabin 9187
And we had tons of relaxing fun.

The Tourists

Like many other trip reports, this one begins with “Some friends planned a vacation, and I horned in…” But this one has a few twists.

Jen & Gary booked a Mediterranean cruise so they could visit the Egyptian pyramids. It sounded like fun to Angie and me, so we made reservations, too. We made these arrangements months before the Costa Concordia disaster, and years before the recent Carnival cruise ship ‘covered in poo floating aimlessly in the Gulf of Mexico’ debacle, yet Big D knew that cruising isn’t for him. His take on cruising: “Why don’t you just lock me in a mall for a week? UGH!” He joined us for a few days in Venice, Italy where we all explored together before we set sail.

I always feel like waiting for luggage at the airport is a crap shoot, but apparently it’s more like betting on roulette:
Luggage roulette at Marco Polo Airport

I was thrilled to maneuver our way to the Rialto Bridge for dinner the first night, and again each day we were there.
Gary & Jen
Gary & Jen

view from Rialto Bridge

Our hotel was in an adorable area. In fact, meandering through Venice feels like walking through a post card:
canal near our hotel

near our hotel

gondolas on the Grand Canal

We spent a fair amount of time in St. Mark’s Square:

Piazza San Marco
Photo credit: Angie

St. Mark's Basicila exterior

St. Mark's Basicila exterior

And I snuck some photos inside the Basilica:
Pentacost Mosaic at St. Mark's
Pentecost Mosaic

St. Mark

I loved that ancient meets modern in a few places around the city:
scultpure at the San Marco Vaporetto stop
sculpture at the San Marco Vaporetto stop

And like most trips, in addition to the architecture, what I remember the most is the food, drinks, and laughs. We had a lot of all three when we visited Harry’s Bar:
Harry's American Bar

Bellinis, delicious chicken cakes and olives
Don’t ask how much one round of Bellinis will set you back. But each comes with “free” chicken cakes and olives. It’s worth it, though!

We had our fair share of Limoncello, which brought on the usual hijinks.
Ang & me enjoying Limoncello after lunch

And Gary made a silent, breadstick plea at lunch:
Gary and his breadstick plea for help

Venetian rain: one night it’s beautiful, the next day it’s a total pain in the ass…
Calle Vallaresso

terrible weather on departure day

But eventually we made our way on board our ship, though not quite to the Pyramids. But I’ll save that for another post.

More pictures from Venice and a day on Murano are over on Flickr.

Helau!

I’m not specifically referring to anyone in this post. But if I did, their names would be changed to protect the guilty.

Fasching is Germany’s version of Carnival. The season begins each year on November 11th at 11:11 a.m. and finishes on Ash Wednesday. Wiki says this about Fasching: “In the Rhineland festivities developed especially strongly, since it was a way to express subversive anti-Prussian and anti-French thoughts in times of occupation, through parody and mockery.” We didn’t know any of that when a neighbor invited us to a Fasching party, and we had no idea what to expect. We should have guessed by the pandemonium at the costume store that things were about to get crazy.

The details of our Fasching story are a bit fuzzy.

Here’s our group at the start of the evening. Think of this as the “before” photo.
ready for the fun to start

Thankfully, there are a lot of fun “during”, but no “after” pictures to share.
Jen & some bees

What the... what!?

their pyramid headgear lit up!
These “Egyptians” were wearing light up pyramids.

Fasching party
This guy was dressed up as a Wine Stand!

Fasching party

The evening ended with one of our partygoers in the emergency room thanks to a suspected broken ankle, and another resting her head on the cool concrete sidewalk outside the hospital.

But everybody was in good enough shape to check out the Wiesbaden Fasching Parade later that weekend:
Big D, Gary and Jen

In addition to lots of marching bands, there were some crazy floats:
Google Street View float

And some things we just couldn’t figure out…
Wiesbaden Fasching Parade

The party continued late into the night, at Big D’s favorite bar.
the party went on late into the night

What were the chances I’d run into another guy with a crustacean hat?
my Crab Hat twin!

And the next day, a bunch of us checked out the Rosenmontag Parade in Mainz – it was huge, lasted for hours and hours, and we came home with giant bags full of candy and treats.

Mainz Fasching Parade
GAH! CLOWNS! No, thanks. Man, I hate clowns.

Cindy had a lot of fun!

There were some political floats that I didn’t understand:
political stuff I didn't understand...

And more inappropriateness:
Mainz Fasching Parade

Mainz Fasching Parade

I loved this PacMan dude:
Mainz Fasching Parade

Mainz Fasching Parade

This year’s festivities are right around the corner. Who knows what will happen!?

More pictures from our first Fasching are on Flickr.

Heaps of Sheep

I started this blog intending to recap our European adventures before we moved back to the States. I can’t believe we only have about 50 days remaining here! Looks like I’ll do some reminiscing from the other side of the pond.

And speaking of reminiscing…

Big D and I tagged along on a trip to Killarney, Ireland with Tricia and Lee over MLK weekend in 2011. We arrived early on a Friday morning and headed right to a pub for breakfast. And then we spent the day driving around the Dingle Peninsula:

me & Tricia on Inch Beach
Tricia and me at Inch Beach

Dingle Marina
Dingle Marina

Guinness is good for you!
I looked like this during most meals

Big D and Lee were quite patient and stopped our rental SUV every time Tricia and I wanted to take a million photos, which was every few kilometers. But it was worth all of that pausing!
Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula

Slea Head
Slea Head

I was especially excited to visit the Gallarus Observatory, one of my sister Kara’s favorite places:
Gallarus Oratory

The next day was rainy, but that didn’t stop us from exploring the Ring of Kerry:
Ring of Kerry Ladies view
Ladies View

Big D at Staigue Ring Fort
Big D at the Staigue Ring Fort

On Sunday, we trekked to Blarney and Kinsale:

Blarney Castle
I had no idea that the Blarney Stone is located at the top of the tower. And there was another new bit of information: kissing the stone doesn’t give you luck – it grants the gift of conversation. I think everyone would agree that I do not need any help in that area. Good thing, as there was no way in hell I was going to lay down to hang my head backwards so I could kiss a dirty rock. (Did I mention I expected it to be a beautiful emerald? Guess I should have done my homework…)

The town of Kinsale is beautiful and dinner there at a delightful restaurant called Fishy Fishy Cafe was so fantastic we bought their cookbook on our way out.
Kinsale Yacht Club
Kinsale Yacht Club

We spent our final day driving through the Gap of Dunloe and hiking to a waterfall in Killarney National Park:

Gap of Dunloe
Gap of Dunloe

It was fun to see the same view from a few days prior, this time with great weather:
Ladies View
Ladies View

Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park

Lee, me & Big D
Lee, me and Big D at the Torc Waterfall

We spent a lot of time laughing on this trip, and I kept notes on my iPhone. These may not make sense to you, but I’m going to post them for Big D, Tricia & Lee’s benefit:

  • Those are pretty small sheep. They must be for kid sized sweaters.
  • It’s hard to make a living if you’ve only got a dozen sheep. You must just stand there saying “grow” to them all day.
  • In order not to delete any of the heaps of sheeps, there’s a hedge at the edge of the ledge.
  • What if we saw a llama wearing a yarlmuke?
  • You want to sit on my lap and talk about… Wait, did he just say poptarts?
  • At the last pub I had the pope staring at me. Here it’s Jesus…
  • She’s 101 years old. So she’s not on Facebook? Nope, but she tweets like a MF’er…
  • *scrape* *scratch* “It’s a rental!”
  • Nope. That’s Scottish.

More photos from our fun weekend are over on Flickr.