One Crazy Summer

Good grief, what a summer! We had a lot planned, and fit most of it in with a few twists.

My elderly mom, who lives in Arizona, was hospitalized and eventually transitioned into an Assisted Living Facility. So far, I’ve made two unexpected (both very stressful) week-long trips to the surface of the sun.

She's shrinking, and I'm exhausted. But here's a snap before we said farewell this morning.

One more.

Big Ds cousin and his wife visited for a long weekend:
Cousins.

Big Ds brother dropped in for a fast overnight visit:
And away they go...

There was BIG excitement here when Germany won the World Cup.

Here we go!!

Big D’s sister and our niece visited for a long weekend – we had a blast hitting some tourist sites I hadn’t yet explored, including Madame Tussaud’s:
We tried to warn Abe...

Jen, my BFF from Germany, made two visits. During the first, we ran a fun 5K, and toured around (so if you’re keeping track, I visited the Lincoln Memorial every Sunday for a month!)

We're ready to run!

upload

Somehow, I squished in a trip to Raleigh, NC to see a Matt Nathanson and Gavin DeGraw concert with our other BFFs (and even managed to stay an extra day.)
pre-show selfie

And we got to meet Matt after the show:
Carey, Matt, Jym & me

I was lucky enough to spend a few minutes with Matt in Frankfurt a few years ago, and he was just as kind and hilarious when Carey, Jym and I met up with him this time around.

Last weekend our whole Germany gang and our constant travel companion Angie were reunited for the first time in years. Thanks to the Army, our time together was far too brief, but it was great to be together!
the whole gang

Big D is talking, not frowning. But this is the only non-blurry photo snapped at Bryan HQ.

Jen, me, Tricia & Angie

And to cap it all off: Jen, Tricia, and I trekked to Baltimore where more fun (and many beers) were had. Yes, this was my third concert in a week.

Gavin DeGraw

Tricia, Matt & me
Tricia finally got to meet Matt, too!

And now, our house is so quiet that its eerie. I’m looking forward to our first weekend in ages (nine weeks?) without a single plan.  As always, tons more pictures than you’ll probably care to see from everything I mentioned are over on my Flickr page.

I need a nap.

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.

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag

I am three years older than when we arrived in Germany.

Lunch at the Domaine
I had an extra treat during my 2010 birthday lunch when I received a Breaking News e-mail that Will & Kate were officially engaged. So nice of them to consider me when making their big announcement!

Later that night, I hosted bunco – the invitation asked everyone to wear a hat. Karin taunted me with a homemade cap featuring my nemesis, Tom Brady:
me & Karin

Thirteen fabulous ladies in this photo – and just two years later, Jen and I are the only ones who still live on our street. Thankfully, Kirsten is a short drive away and Tricia can get here in two hours.
Birthday Bunco - with hats

And for the record, Tricia was the big winner that night:
Tricia's big winnings

For last year’s birthday, Jen and I road tripped to Tricia’s for the weekend:
Jen, me & Tricia at Paulaner

me, Lee and our new glasses
Lee and I figured out we could carry pilsner glasses in our coat pockets.

Yesterday was a great day – Heather and Josuha delivered this:
Birthday

Jen, Kirsten, and a new friend, Chris, indulged me and a good time was had by all at The Irish Pub:
Birthday

Birthday

And at the end of the night? As we walked through the Wiesbaden Marktplatz under the recently erected and not yet lit Christmas Tree? We figured out that the electric box was unlocked. And for a few minutes, just for my birthday…
Birthday
We turned it back off before we left.

Here’s to another year full of love, laughs, and adventures!

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.

Prost!

I am so glad that in July, Jen and Tricia coordinated a trip to the Drindl and Lederhosen factory outlet in Stuttgart so we would be properly attired for fest season. And somehow, we all ended up with matching outfits. Big D wasn’t in town for the shopping venture and as it turns out, he’s away now, too. So, I am technically the fifth wheel, though my friends would never make me feel like one.

As luck would have it, this year was Wiesbaden’s first ever Oktoberfest, which provided a chance to take our new gear for test run last weekend. After just a few hours in the tent that night I realized that chinching my dirndl A.) is painful and B.) makes ‘the girls’ look huge (they are not.)

Despite the fact that breathing was difficult, I had a great time. We laughed, drank, ate chicken and danced (on the table!) to songs you’d never expect like Smoke on the Water and Sweet Home Alabama.

I know it looks like a permanent structure, but trust me – it was a tent!

Untitled

This weekend in Stuttgart was so much fun – We had two large reserved tables and I think there were fourteen of us! We never got a big group photo but there are tons of fun pictures like these:

Tricia, Jen & me

me & Gary

Jen & Lee

The tent had chicken decorations throughout:

Stuttgart Volksfest

This post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the song that is sung between every second or third other song: ein_prosit

The whole crowd sings the lyrics:
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemütlichkeit.
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit
Der Gemütlichkeit!

Followed by an invitation to keep chugging:
Eins, zwei, drei, g’suffa!

And then everyone chants:
Zicke, zacke, zicke, zacke!
Hoi, hoi, hoi!
(As it turns out, it’s not just from The Man Show!)

I Googled around to see what Gemütlichkeit meant after our first weekend’s adventures – it seems you can’t translate it directly to English but the closest words are “coziness”or “good cheer.”

Thanks to our matching outfits Jen kept saying, “We look like we’re getting the band back together!” So when we ran into this group of matching guys, we stopped them for a photo.

Stuttgart Volksfest

I commented that if we were a band, we’d be like the singing sisters on Saturday Night Live, and I’d be the one with the tiny hands…and then I thought of this all day:

After I posted pictures on FaceBook, my friend Ed said we looked like a missing scene from National Lampoon’s European Vacation and offered this:

I keep trying to think of reasons why the five of us need to get our gear on again since it’s so much fun!

Tricia, Lee, Gary & Jen

More photos from Stuttgart Volksfest are on my fickr page.

Stuttgart Volksfest

A toast, a toast
To cheer and good times!
A toast, a toast
To cheer and good times!
One! Two! Three! Drink up!