A turkey-free Thanksgiving

Angie was back for her second visit in November 2010, and this time our friends Mike and Steve joined in on the fun, too.

During the first few days of their visit we toured around Wiesbaden, watched The Sound of Music to get ready for upcoming adventures, spent a fun afternoon at Kloster Eberbach tasting wine and cheese, and had a great time at the first night of Wiesbaden’s Christmas Market:

Grieschische Kapelle
Wiebaden’s Grieschische Kapelle

Mike & Steve
Mike & Steve at Kloster Eberbach

Sternschnuppenmarkt
Twinkling Star Market

The next day we took a train to Munich, where we rented a nice little townhouse.

dining car on the train
me & Angie in the dining car

And on Thanksgiving, Mike & Steve toured around Munich while Angie, Big D and I spent the day at BMW World. We all met up for dinner and later checked out Munich’s Christmas Market.

BMW HQ and Museum
BMW World

BMW World
Big D, Angie and I had so much fun at BMW that we went again the next day. We took a factory tour (in German, not English…) But thanks to all of the things to see (and eat. and drink!) we never did make it into the museum there. Next time?

Marienplatz
Snowy night at the Marienplatz

Steve, Mike, Damon, me & Angie
Steve, Mike, Big D, me & Angie – hot cocoa for everyone!

The next morning we were up and out the door early so we could head to Salzburg, Austria for our Sound of Music Tour. Too bad we walked right by this sign, announcing the train we planned to take was cancelled.
Please note...

But we made it there eventually, and it was worth the hassle:

Leopoldskron Palace
Remember that scene in the Sound of Music when Maria and the children are on the row boat?

How about the scene with Liesel and Rolf dancing in the gazebo:

Sound of Music gazebo

Sound of Music gazebo

The whole day was amazing:

Frohnburg Palace
Frohnburg Palace

Salzkammergut Lake District
Salzkammergut Lake District

Salzkammergut Lake District
Salzkammergut Lake – it was as cold as it looks.

Mondsee Cathedral
Mondsee Cathedral

And who could resist another Christmas Market?
Salzburg Christmas Market

The boys headed to Amsterdam the next day while Angie, Big D and I drove home via Rothenburg ob der Tauber for yet another market:
Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Back in Wiesbaden, Angie and I relaxed at my favorite spa and were surprised with beautiful snow when we walked out a the end of the day:
Hotel Nassauer Hof

Wiesbaden Kurhaus

I’m excited for Thanksgiving this week and so anxious for the Christmas Market season to kick off soon!

More photos from our Thanksgiving 2010 adventures are on Flickr.

Paris? Oui, s’il vous plaît!

Before we even knew if we were really moving to Europe, I got up in the middle of the night (Florida time) to IM with my pal Ally (who lives in LA) so we could buy tickets to see U2 in Paris the moment they went on sale. That shizz isn’t easy, even when it’s not in French! But it all worked out and in September 2010 I set out on my first trip to the City of Lights.

When I first arrived I stowed my bags at the hotel, grabbed my map and headed to the Champs-Élysées. My first stop? The Virgin Megastore. But that was a happy accident. I strolled to along the Champs, had lunch, and climbed to the top of the Arc de Triomphe. And it was there that I had my first ever glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. And I burst into tears. Because, really!?

Suffice it to say, I am really appreciative of the experiences I’m lucky enough to have here in Europe.

atop the Arc

I took a Fat Tire Bike Tour that afternoon, which was fantastic. If you’re ever in Paris, Berlin, London (or Barcelona, which I haven’t visited yet) take one of these tours!! Each has just the right amount of history, architecture, lightheartedness, and beer or wine.

Jardin des Tuileries

Did you know that the tower freaking SPARKLES at the top of every hour? I did not. Imagine my surprise and glee when I was laying in bed, smiling about the day I’d just enjoyed and excited for what was still to come when lo, out of the French Doors (or are they just ‘doors’ if you’re in France?) I saw sparkling and twinkling. I couldn’t believe it!


a video by elysia1 on Flickr.

Basically, the whole trip was magical.

Double rainbow over La Seine

And that’s without evening mentioning crazy things like seeing Roman Polanski pick someone up in his Smart Car. Or you know, the actual reason we were there: U2.

Roman Polanski and Emmanuelle Seigner

reunited and it feels so good

360° - Paris

We walked miles and miles over the course of the next two days and saw more things than I could even begin to try to detail here. After we parted ways, my traditional Post Concert Letdown (which I had at Gare de l’Est) was monumental. So big in fact, that I got in my car and drove to Brussels a week later to see U2 with Ally one more time. But that’s a story for another day.

I was THRILLED when Jen & Gary planned New Years in Paris last year. Because of course this meant Big D and I could invite ourselves along – and Angie flew from the States to join, too!! I was able to do things I hadn’t the first time around including touring the Louvre and enjoying a fun night at the Moulin Rouge (where we saw Karl Rove and Harry Whittington, more commonly known as The Guy Dick Cheney Shot in the Face.)

Karl Rove at the Moulin Rouge
You’ll just have to trust us. It really was Karl Rove.

Moulin Rouge

We took the Fat Tire Bike Tour:
me at the Pyramide du Louvre

Eiffel Tower

We turned into the Griswolds:
Griswold family vacation

And we quietly rang in the new year:
hmmm...
Bonne année!

And in March of this year? When I just had to see Snow Patrol on their last European tour date and made a the spur of the moment decision to jump on another train with Tricia? Yep. Paris was the destination. A few years ago, I’d never dream that I’d go to Paris, yet here I was, enjoying a third visit. I still can’t believe it all.

Untitled

I’ll make at least one more trip there – I haven’t toured the Musée d’Orsay yet, I’d like to see the catacombs… and I’ve never met an escargot (or a glass of champagne) that I didn’t love.

Tons of photos from adventures in Paris on on Flickr.

Adventures with Angie: Everything Else

One of the reasons Angie visited during August was to attend Rheingauer Weinwoche – the annual Wiesbaden Wine Festival. And attend we did!

Our first visit on Saturday, August 11th, was with a heap of friends – some old, some we met as the night progressed. It goes without saying, but for the record: We had a great time, lots of food and a ton of wine.

Wiesbaden Wine Fest

The Rheingau Wine Festival has turns the centre of Wiesbaden into the “longest wine bar in the world” – and represents an attraction for more than ten thousand visitors. At about 100 stands, winegrowers present their wines and bubbly sparkling wines.

Angie & Christian

All of the travel and wine caught up with us and Sunday, August 12th marked the start of our new preferred schedule: We’d sleep until about 11:00am, play too many rounds of Scramble With Friends on our iPhones, drink coffee, (maybe have an Advil or two?) and watch Downton Abbey before getting on with our day (i.e. more wine.)

The two of us hit the fest that afternoon (and spent most of our time people watching. We texted Jen: “We are at the corner of Snarky McStrasse and Passing Judgement Weg. This is better people watching than an airport!) and were home in time to watch the Olympic Closing Ceremony, which ended much later than we anticipated. Staying up late helped cement that new schedule, by which I mean I turned off the alarm and slept much later than we planned the next morning.

So… Monday, August 13th had us revising our itinerary. After we finally rallied, we took the train to Frankfurt to tour, shop, and… you guessed it: enjoy a glass of wine on the river banks before returning home for more Downton Abbey.

Frankfurt

Frankfurt

We were finally rested (sober?) and got up early Tuesday, August 14th, to head to Soufflenheim, France to shop for pottery, have lunch, and visit a Cora “hypermarket.” Think SuperTarget, but rather than regular grocery items, it’s full of French wines, cheeses, baked goods, etc. YUM.

And now that I think of it… in the non-YUM department: A guy seated at the table next to us ordered a tartare dish including an elaborate table-side display of beating a raw egg and mixing it with raw ground beef and herbs, which was mounded into a giant patty and served to him with a big spoon. We were equally intrigued and grossed out, and I’ll spare you the photos. Your mental image is probably accurate, though.

Soufflenheim, France

On the way home that afternoon, we wondered just why Angie would leave on Thursday, since I was convinced she wouldn’t be productive at work on Friday. She agreed and after a few phone calls to her office and the airline, she changed her ticket and extended her visit. I was thrilled!!

We were back to our regular sleep in / coffee / Downton schedule on Wednesday, August 15th. We visited Schloss Johannisberg for a late lunch where the scenery, food and wine (yes, more wine) were all equally fantastic.

Schloss Johannisberg

lunch view at Schloss Johannisberg

Schloss Johannisberg vineyard

That evening, we grilled out with Jen & Gary, who had just returned from Ireland.

And speaking of Jen & Gary: Wine Fest visit number three was with them on Thursday, August 16th.

Guess where we are...

Wiesbaden Marktkirche

One of the factors weighing into Angie’s decision to stay longer was that Big D arrived home from a few months in the States on Friday, August 17th. He napped to get over the jet lag while Ang and I… you guessed it: drank coffee and watched Downton Abbey. And that evening, we hit the fest a fourth and final time.

It’s particularly rare for Big D and Gary to be in town at the same time. And apparently, even rarer still for them to both smile in the same photo.

Wiesbaden Wine Fest

Wiesbaden Wine Fest

Big D & me

But after the drinks flowed, the jokes were told, and general craziness ensued, the whole night looked like this in our fuzzy brains:

final night at the Wine Fest

And I loved every minute of it.

I was so sad when it was time to take Angie to the airport the next morning. Thankfully, as soon as Jen & Gary have New Years plans inked in, we’ll crash them. Or we’ll figure out something to do on our own. And I’m positive more great times are in store.

Adventures with Angie: Belfast

After a sleep so sound Angie supposedly considered holding a mirror under my nose to see if I was breathing, we had a final breakfast with Jen & Gary and on the morning of Thursday, August 9th, we took a taxi to the train station and made our way from Dublin to Belfast.

train from Dublin to Belfast

The folks at The Merchant Hotel were kind enough to store our bags and point us in the right direction for shopping. I was thrilled to see an old favorite from the States, where we both bought a few things.

Yep. We shopped.

We wandered downtown for a while noting places we’d like to stop back at, and climbed to the Victoria Square viewing platform.

Albert Memorial Clock, Belfast

Victoria Square, Belfast

Next up was High Tea back at The Merchant, where we took clandestine photographs:
Merchant Hotel High Tea

Since Northern Ireland is part of the UK, and London was hosting the Olympics, we were technically in the host country. So, a giant public viewing area was set up on the City Hall lawn. We wandered in and sat down just in time to see local favorite Katie Taylor fight and win the (first ever) Women’s Light Weight Boxing Gold Medal. The crowd was nervous for her and cheered like mad – I am thrilled we had the opportunity to watch with them.

Belfast City Hall

Katie Taylor winning Gold

We shopped a bit more and Angie coordinated a Black Taxi tour of the city. Oh, Belfast! Your history (“The Troubles”) is fascinating and confusing, and your future is full of promise.

We stopped at too many places to cover here, but standouts included the new Titanic Museum, with sections built in the same dimensions as the ship, which was built there:
Titanic Museum

A stop at the Crumlin Road Courthouse:

old Belfast courthouse

If buildings have memories, Crumlin Road courthouse must harbour more emotions than almost any other in Belfast, having been for decades an epicentre of the Troubles in the city. The courthouse is where more than 10,000 republicans, loyalists and others were tried by the Diplock non-jury courts. At a rough guess, the judges who heard these cases handed down sentences that totalled more than a quarter of a million years.

We were overwhelmed at stops along the Shankhill / Falls Peace Wall, and embarrassed we weren’t more familiar with Irish history. Thankfully, our driver offered fantastic explanations. And, we’ve vowed to read up on it all now that we’re home.

Angie at the Peace Wall

Belfast Peace Wall

A series of separation barriers in Northern Ireland separate Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods. The stated purpose of the barriers is to minimize inter-communal violence between Catholics (who are mainly nationalists that self-identify as Irish) and Protestants (who are mainly unionists that self-identify as British). The barriers range in length from a few hundred yards to over three miles (5 km). They may be made of iron, brick, and/or steel and are up to 25 feet (7.6 m) high. Some have gates in them (sometimes staffed by police) that allow passage during daylight but are closed at night.

We saw a lot of murals depicting the Belfast’s political and religious divisions:

Belfast murals

Belfast murals

And we drove by Queen’s University:

Queen's University, Belfast

After dinner at the Crown Liquor Saloon, we headed back to The Merchant. Here’s a tidbit about the hotel we learned on the tour, though I hesitate to use these names in a post as I wonder what kind of traffic it will bring to my blog… Belfast hosted the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards. Though many guests made reservations and were settled in at The Merchant, JBeebs himself, Justin Beiber, and gal-pal Selina Gomez arrived and bought out the hotel, offering guests unaffiliated with their entourage money for vacating their rooms in addition to paying for their new accommodations and offered to pose for photos with those they displaced as they vacated the hotel. Oh, I how wish I had been there so I could have been the holdout, refusing to leave…

Another bit of interest we learned from our driver is that the hotel’s bar appears in the Guinness Book of World Records, since they have the world’s most expensive beverage: a $1,300 Mai Thai made with very rare rum. Our tab wasn’t quite that much, but we did enjoy two different cocktails each, so we could taste four total. And we loved them all so much we bought copies of the menu, which are really nice books.

Champagne cocktails at the Merchant

Of course, after all of those drinks, some hijinks ensued once we were back in our swanky room:
Late night hyjinks

After a hotel breakfast on Friday, August 10th, we crammed as much into our remaining time in Belfast as humanly possible! We shopped for souvenirs and gifts before heading to St. George’s Market, where I wished I wasn’t so full:

St. George's Market, Belfast

We sped through the Ulster Museum, raced through the Botanical Garden and managed to have a final pint at Crown Liquor before it was time to take the train back to Dublin.

DSCN3308

Crown Liquor, Belfast

snoozing on the train

A quick Boxty dinner in Temple Bar, a flight at 8pm, arrival in Germany around 11pm and we were back at home a little after midnight.

I’ll wrap up our time together in the next post!

Adventures with Angie: Dublin

Trying to sort out my thoughts to start this post is overwhelming – I still can not believe show much we crammed into two weeks. I think I’ll have to break it down into sections…

Angie arrived on Monday, August 6th. We drank coffee, she napped to conquer jet lag, we watched The Today Show together (In person! On my couch! Instead of via texts and e-mails as usual!) and eventually we wandered downtown for a stroll and dinner. The night was sign of things to come: Just lovely!

Wiesbaden Marktkirche

We were up early Tuesday, August 7th to meet with Jen & Gary so we could all catch a fight to Dublin. Jen did the itinerary planning and it was great to follow along rather than be the coordinator for a change.

After lunch (during which Gary and I enjoyed our first of many pints of Guinness) we wandered Grafton Street, and toured Trinity College to see the Book of Kells and the Long Room.

first of many pints

Trinity College

The Long Room, Trinity College, Dublin
Shhh! Photography is prohibited in the Long Room.

Next up was a quick visit to the Bonavox store (inspiration for a certain singer’s moniker), a trip to the Abbey Theater where Angie & I bought tickets for a play, a light dinner at the Oliver St. John Gogarty, and finally, a musical pub crawl. Two fun, engaging musicians performed at three pubs while explaining Irish music, theories, and traditions. We all really enjoyed it.

me at Bonavox

Musical Pub Crawl

Wednesday, August 8th found us up early for shopping, a visit to St. Patrick’s Cathedral and five hours at the Guinness Storehouse. Who knew we’d be there such a long time? Lunch, touring, learning to tap the perfect pint (Gary and I are certified now, so watch out!) and this, where I had “a moment.”

St Patrick's Cathedral

me, Gary & Jen

Gary learns to tap

After more shopping, Angie and I raced to the theater to see a compelling, sometimes confusing (thanks to the subject matter and the accents), and very entertaining production of The Plough and the Stars. We were worried that those seated around us could hear our stomachs growling during the final act… Midnight room service club sandwiches brought our Dublin adventures to a close. Recapping all of this reminds me just how exhausted we were.

A few hours later, after an early breakfast, we were on a train headed to Belfast for two more jam packed days. Stay tuned for more posts about the rest of our time together. For a preview, a giant set of photos from the whole two weeks is on Flickr.

Sláinte!

In Bruges

Angie’s first of three visits (with hopes for more) was quite an adventure. She was brave to trek around with us as we were new at just about everything European back then.

A review of old e-mails shows the itinerary I planned out for us, and I must say: Dang, I’m good! I’ll just paste it here, and add photos and comments…

Saturday, May 2
Soccer game – Nap for jetlaged tourist…followed by a walk through Wiesbaden and yummy Italian dinner at a favorite spot.
Sunday, May 30
Drive to Brugge (about 4 hours)

Brugge, Belgium
Here’s the view from our table, where we enjoyed snacks and Belgium beer.  My husband and one of my very best friends, in Brugge, drinking beers on a sunny day, with three more years of European adventures awaiting us – I’ll admit it: I was so happy I cried.

Kwak - a local brew

Beer, waffles, chocolate… Belgium is delicious!

Big D and Ang ready for boat tour

Neither of them will love this picture, but I do. Big D is only kind of joking when he says he “doesn’t like people.” It’s obvious how much they love goofing around and making each other laugh.

Brugge, Belgium

Brugge was breathtaking and we had a blast. The trip was marred by a weird situation during which Angie snapped a fantastic photo of guy in a full length leather coat riding a bicycle down an alley. The coat was blowing back behind him, the scenery was beautiful, the picture was outstanding. Sadly, the dude (whose attire should have been a giveaway) was… well, let’s just say unstable. And he was not pleased that a stranger took his photo. It’s funny how one 90 second incident can have an impact on a trip. Anyway: we recovered and made our way to the North Sea for lunch.

Monday, May 31
Return home; Dinner at Big D’s favorite pub (vow of secrecy required!)

Big D, me & Angie

Tuesday, June 1
(We did not stick to the plan but went to Mainz to tour around and got food poisoning instead. Lesson learned. Next time: stick to the plan!)

Wednesday, June 2
Wiesbaden Farmers Market in the morning followed by…a day at the Spa.
(There are no spa photos. You’re welcome.)

Thursday, June 3
Tour around Heidelberg

Heidelberg

view from the castle

Entirely too much food!

Tricia’s friend Christy and her mom were visiting from Georgia at the same time Angie was visiting from Alabama. We joined southern forces and toured Heidelberg together. And ate entirely too much food.

Friday, June 4
Wiesbaden Wilhelmstraße Festival
Wilhelmstraßenfest

Wilhelmstraßenfest

stinky cheese bread

Flaming stinky cheese on thick bread. So fantastic!

Saturday, June 5
Drive along Rhein River w/ stops at towns like Rudesheim, Bacharach and more.

GPS and Rick Steves book = ready for touring!

I’m only including this goofy photo because it shows all of the necessities: Rick Steves tour book, GPS, black shirt (everyone’s uniform here) and my Reisenthel bag. I take that thing everywhere.

Harley Rally

We had no idea we were wandering into a Harley festival along the river. Not really our thing, but great for people watching!

Rhine

panoramic from Bacharach Castle

Sunday, June 6
Eltville Rose Festival

Rosenstadt Eltville

Rosenstadt Eltville

Big D, Angie, me, Jen & Gary

Opa! Jen & Gary joined us for the afternoon and we rounded out Angie’s visit with a great Greek meal. This might be the first picture ever taken of all five of us together. If only we knew what great times really did await us…

More photos from Angie’s first visit are on Flickr.