Saturday, August 10, 2013

Europe - Deutschland

On June 13th we drive from Belgium into Germany. As we drive we can see the Kolner Dom (Cathedral) in the distance. Love! As I said in my last post, this is one of my favorite cities in Germany. I love how clean and inexpensive it is, and the Rhein is so beautiful. We visited the Cathedral and decided to climb to the top. I have done this twice before, and each time I say I am never going to do that again. Well I did it, haha! Jon and I walked up 509 steps to the top of the bell tower and then we took some incredible pictures of the city. The view and the breeze were both very nice. Then we had to come back down to see the rest of Cologne.

We ate at a small restaurant called Oma's Kuche. I had schnitzel and Jon had a special with sausage, sauerkraut and an egg. It was very good and I got to practice ordering in German! After lunch we went to see a free concert at the Kolner Philharmonie. This was a beautiful concert, but it was interesting because we were dressed in street clothes, and so were the musicians. They played beautifully. 

We only had about an hour left before we had to leave, so we took a quick tour of the Lindt Chocolate museum. Here they explain where the chocolate comes from and show you how it's made. We like learning about how things are made, and of course eating chocolate. 

On our way back to park we saw an Eis shop and got some Spaghetti Eis. This is vanilla ice cream that is pushed through a mold that makes it appear like spaghetti noodles. Then they put strawberry sauce (to look like tomato sauce) and white chocolate shavings (like Parmesan cheese). This was one of my favorite things when I studied in Germany, so it was so nice to have it again.

We left Köln and drove through the forests to Friedrichsdorf, just outside of Frankfurt. This is where one of the LDS Temples is. We got to attend the temple there which was a really neat experience for us.
From there we drove toward Stuttgart. We had made plans to stay with a friend of Jon's from High School. Maike was a foreign exchange student at Jon's high school in Ault, and they have kept in touch, so instead of staying in Stuttgart, we decided to go stay with her and her family just outside of Stuttgart.

We arrived about 9pm to a wonderful Swäbian dinner, roast meat, späzeln with sauce, and vegetables. Maike's parents and boyfriend were very nice and hospitable. We chatted for a bit and then retired. Our room was very nice and the house was incredibly huge for Germany.

The morning of the 14th we had a wonderful breakfast with Maike and her parents. We then headed out to see the Mercedes Benz Museum in Stuttgart. Maike drove us so we can look around while we go. The museum was extensive. It took you through the history of the automobile and what was going on at that time around the world. I really enjoyed the museum and the cars were nice! 

We headed to Ludwigsburg and ate lunch at a traditional restaurant. I had käsespäzlen and it was very good. Jon had a dish that was noodles stuffed with vegetable mix and sausage. The idea was that on Fridays one couldn't eat meat, so they made this noodle dish where you couldn't see the meat because it was wrapped up, that way you could still eat it and be in harmony with God's law. ;)

After lunch we went to a palace in Ludwigsburg that housed the Schwäbian kings. We went on a tour, which was entirely in German, so I got to practice my listening skills. :) I though I did pretty well for being as rusty as I am in German. The palace was just stunning and the artwork incredible. Maike was very kind and translated for Jon.

After our tour of the Palace, we got some eis and then headed back to the house. We took a quick stop at a supermarket for apfelschorle and schwipschwap and also chocolate and an ATM. 

After we got back to Maike's we started our journey to München. This was a 2 hour drive only because the autobahn is awesome! My top speed was 180 kph (112 mph). We arrived about 10pm and didn't do much there but sleep. 

Saturday in München was great! First thing in the morning we went to Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial. This was a great exhibit and very sobering. When you see the site and all the barracks that were destroyed and where the prison was, it was just haunting. We also saw gas chambers disguised as showers (which they say were never used for mass killings but maybe for experiments) and then the crematorium, where countless dead were cremated. Dead from starvation, beatings, shootings, maltreatment, or exhaustion. 

Dachau was a reminder never to forget the atrocities of mankind lest we make the same mistakes again. I'm glad we went and experienced that, it made the day sobering, but was a good reminder.

We returned to Munich and ate at Augustiner Brau. They had a bier garten, but we opted to stay inside because there were no spots in the shade. The food was great and we enjoyed the atmosphere with the waiters and waitresses wearing traditional Bavarian garb. 

On Saturday, Munich has an open air market, so we got to eat through the Crowded streets and purchase food and items from market stalls. It was a lot of fun. 

In Munich we saw a couple churches and went to the Residenz, where the dukes of Bavaria lived. This was an extensive building, much like Schloss Ludwigsburg. We were there for some sort of music festival as well. The atmosphere was much like you would expect in Bavaria. 

We left Munich about 6 pm and headed to a little town called Kolbermoor, just outside Rosenheim. We decided to stay the night here because it is halfway to Salzburg from Munich. We ate at a small cafe restaurant run by an Italian man. I had pizza with spaghetti as a topping and prosciutto. It was delicious! Jon had much fun talking to the man, and he didn't know much German, so it was interesting. It started raining while we were there, but we didn't get too wet. 

We stayed the night at a nice comfy home in Kolbermoor and left early the next morning, Sunday the 16th to drive to Austria. Just two more days until Praha!

Friday, August 9, 2013

Europe - Netherlands and Belgium

When we arrived in Amsterdam it was quite late, and so we didn't have much time to do the things we planned as museums close around 5 or 6. So we kind of did a whirlwind tour of the city center. We went to the Rijks Museum and saw some incredible pieces of art. My favorite were the boat replicas and the China. 

Then we went to the VanGogh Museum. They had a display called VanGogh at work. It walked us through his early career to the latter. We thought his self portraits were so interesting and enjoyed examining the art. We heard a German tour/class go by and listened to what they were saying about the painting. I was glad I could understand most of it!

Then we went to catch the canal boat to the Anne Frank Huis, but the canals were closed. Huge bummer as we had paid for this tour and didn't realize that they closed so early (it was only 6pm). We had to walk to get there and we're already so tired but it was a good place to see. It was cool to walk through the house and the annex part and see where they lived. I've been to Amsterdam before and was able to see Anne Frank Huis, but it is always a good reminder of the holocaust and a good experience.

After that we left Amsterdam to go down to our home stay in Oegstgeest. Because of these airbnb homestays, we don't always stay in the main city. It was kind of cool because we got to see a little bit of the small town aspects of the country as well. We asked Robert, our host, for a place to eat, but it was already 9:30. We had to drive onto Leiden, and found a Turkish Place called Ak Mir. We ordered just before they closed. Then we got completely lost trying to find our way back, and eventually had to follow signs pointing towards Oegstgeest to make it back. We arrived back late and decided to sleep a little later the next morning.

This Airbnb experience was a little different than the last, more like a hotel and less like a bed and breakfast. We still enjoyed our stay and slept very well. We left about 9:30 June 11th for The Hague. This place was so much better than Amsterdam in my opinion. We arrived about 11 and ate lunch at Juliana's Cafe, we then set out to see the Binnenhof, which is the equivalent of a Capitol building in the Netherlands, where they hold Parliament and other ceremonies. We were too late for the tour, so we went to the Humanity House. This is an incredible place where they take your name and photograph and create a very personal experience for you so that you know a little of what it's like to be a refugee. It was very moving and some parts were difficult to watch. 

We still had time before our tour so we got some snacks outside the Binnenhof. We got herring (haring) on a bun and also salmon salad (like tuna salad but with salmon). The herring was as expected, salty and slimy, but the salmon salad was delicious! Then we got some Italian ice to wash it down.

We then went to our tour of the Binnenhof with a movie about the history of the Netherlands and how they became an independent nation with a monarchy and a democracy. It was super interesting. The rest of the tour was in Dutch, but we got to see the Ridderzaal where the prinsendag ceremony is held. It was a beautiful room in a beautiful building with lots of historical significance. 

Next we went to the Museum von Escher. This place was incredible! We were able to see many of Escher's famous works and it also had some interactive exhibits. My favorite was the metamorphose. The museum had it arranged in a circle so you watched it change as you walked around. We took a picture that made me look huge and Jon look small in a slanted room. It was one of our favorite things on this trip so far. 

We tried to go to another exhibit called the Panorama Mesdag, but it was closed by the time we arrived. (Something you should know about Europe. If they say they close at 5, they mean 4:30. Places literally close down early so their employees go home at closing time. Just FYI, you'll be disappointed when you arrive somewhere 30 minutes before closing and they are already closed) We then set off on our journey to Prinsenbeek and Breda. Traffic out of The Hague was terrible, but that's what happens when you leave at 5...whoops!

We had a wonderful Dutch dinner with Erik and Kim (Charlie's Dad and step-Mom) and of course Charlotte and her brother Jules. We had asparagus with potatoes and ham and butter sauce. It was delicious! We talked for a long time with our friends and then retired around midnight. It was so wonderful to see Charlie in her home environment, to visit with her parents and to see their home. We loved the Netherlands. Such a wonderful place.

On June 12th we got up early to go to see Monique and Tjalling's home in Breda. This is Charlie's mom and step-dad. We had a lovely breakfast with them and also with Charlotte and Rachne. We took a short tour of their house and chatted for a bit before leaving. They are such kind and wonderful people. We can't wait to go back to visit our friends!

We then went to see the Mentos factory in Breda. We figured they wouldn't let us in, but wanted to try to visit anyway. Erik had tipped off the HR director there that we might stop by, and so as we walk up to security the guard says "Hummers?" and he let us in! We waited for a little bit to meet with the HR director, Jon's face at this moment is like a little kid at a candy store (candy factory?). We did meet with him, and he chatted with us for a bit and took us to the sample room where he filled our bags will all sorts of Perfetti Von Melle candy, including Mentos. We left with huge smiles on our faces as he called us "brave Americans" and left Breda a little later than we planned. Totally worth it.

We still had Antwerpen and Brussels to go! Antwerpen was a neat little town in Belgium. The architecture is so quaint and inviting. We visited the Bourla Theater but it was closed for tours. We then found a place selling Beligium waffles and had to get one! They were delicious! Check off our food bucket list! Next we went to Rubenshuis, the house of Ruben, a famous painter. His house and garden were very beautiful and they filled it with his paintings, which were still life and very interesting; lots of dead animals and religious themes. :)

After that we set out to find Vlaekensgang, a small quaint alley which has preserved original architecture in Antwerp. It is difficult to find, but luckily Jon and I found a map with it labeled and happened to see a small sign for it. It wrapped around through buildings and had a small restaurant in the middle. 

Then we bought some Belgian chocolates and headed back to the car. On to Brussels! Here we went to tour the European Union Parliament building, but it was closed for tours, so we went to the parlimentarium, a museum all about the EU and its formation as well as its Parliament. It's was an extensive museum. You could have spent all day here and still not seen everything there was to see and hear. You had headphones where you listened in your own language to the displays which would change as you approached them. It was very cool. If you are ever in Brussels, don't miss it!

We tried to go to Herge Museum, but couldn't find it in time, and also missed the Mini Europe display. Instead we stopped at a Japanese Garden which was the Museum of Japanese Art. The museum itself was closed, but we enjoyed walking around the gardens nonetheless.

From there we drove to Maastricht, Netherlands and had a quick dinner in the city center. We were too late to do anything we had planned, but it was a beautiful town and I'm glad we got to see it. We left Maastricht to head toward Liege, Belgium where we were spending the night. We found it by a stroke of good luck because our GPS couldn't find the street only the general area. This place was basic. :) it was a tall building with treacherous stairs and we slept on an air mattress on the floor of an old room. Not the best place, but not the worst. We only paid $20 for it, so that's what you get!

In the morning of the 13th, we walked to a French bakery for breakfast and then headed to off to Germany. First stop is Cologne. This is the city in Germany that I am very familiar with because I spent much of my time in Germany there back when I was a teenager. Stay posted for more about Germany!

Monday, August 5, 2013

Europe Part Two - Departure, Ireland, Arrival

We stayed up almost all night Friday June 7th, getting ready for our trip, packing and cleaning and buying last minute things. I only got to sleep 2 1/2 hours! Lisa picked us up at 4:45am and took us to the airport. Flight from Wichita to Chicago was at 6am and we made good time. 

We were about to board our flight to London when American Airlines told us that something was wrong with the plane. They then explained they would have to get a new plane and that we couldn't leave until 4:30pm. Our flight was supposed to leave at 9am! Essentially we were delayed 7 hours. So Jonny and I decided to leave the airport and see Chicago since our London plans were ruined. The plan was to rent a car in London and drive around during our overnight layover. Instead we got a train ticket and took an hour ride into the city of Chicago. (still in America, peeps. I know, disappointing!) We went to the Sears Tower, which I guess is now called the Willis Tower. We went up to the SkyDeck and looked out over Chicago. It was pretty neat, but seriously, we waited in 5 different lines! Crazy how many people were there. 
 Thar she be!
 Me with Chicago (can't see me very well)
 Nice view!
 Jon with Chicago in the background (can't see Chicago very well).

Us standing out on the ledge


 I told you, crazy lines!

We then went to a small pizzeria and got some deep dish Chicago style pizza! We rode the train back to the airport in plenty of time for our flight.

Jon with the pizza.

On the train!

When we got back to to the airport, we had Macaroni Grill because the airline paid for lunch. :) We still had 2 hours before we finally boarded the plane to London. We were expected to arrive about 6am in London, so our layover is not long enough to see London, but long enough to catch our flight to Dublin. We were super bummed out about this, (Jon more so than me, I've been there before) but it is what it is. 

Hours Pass....

So we are enjoying enduring our flight to London, watching movies, sleeping, etc, when about three hours into our flight there was message that popped up during the movie asking if anyone on board was a licensed medical professional. I'm not sure what happened, but a woman got up and went to the back of the plane. About a half hour later the pilot announced that there was a medical emergency on the plane. We had to land in Newfoundland (seriously, we are only in Newfoundland after three hours!?) for a spell to unload the person and their party. This ended up taking a long time and were worried about missing our connection to Dublin! We ended up being on the ground for 2 1/2 hours! They had to remove the bags of the people who got off the flight, reweigh all the bags, and refuel based on this calculation how much we would need to get to London. This delayed our flight considerably and so we did end up missing our connection. The flight was one of the worst I've been on because of the two delays and because of how sick I became near the end. In the last 2 hours I felt nauseous and about 30 minutes before we landed, my whole neck suddenly tensed up and I had a splitting headache. It was as close to a migraine as I've ever been. I took some Advil and tried to sit still so the pain would go away. The plane had to circle for a while before landing which only made things worse. Just after we landed I lost my breakfast (and whatever else I ate that day) including all of my water intake. Luckily it all landed in the barf bag on the plane. This was pretty disgusting, so also lucky for you, I don't have a picture ;) I feel bad for the people who were sitting next to me, and the flight attendants. Ewwww

Photo Credit:
Here's a nice picture for you :)
Since we missed our connection, the airline booked us on another flight, which we had to fast walk run sprint to catch. The flight was scheduled to leave at 11, and we had landed about 9:30. Definitely not enough time, especially in LHR. London Heathrow is the worst airport I've been in. It is HUGE and not very friendly to connections, yet there are hundreds of thousands of connections that go through here. I don't understand it. It is not convenient, and the worst airport to have to be in a hurry. 

Photo Credit:
Here's a map of the terminals. We came in on Terminal 3, and of course, we had to go to Terminal 5. That bus ride is LONG! And see how there is no post-security bus at Terminal 3...ugghhh. Also, see that ominous arrow that points to the right by Terminal 5...that indicates that Terminal 5 continues...forever...

We had wait times for busses that were about 15 minutes, then the long bus ride itself, crazy security lines (mind you we never left the airport, so why did we have to be scanned again?) biometric scanning, and LONG walkways to terminals and gates that never seem to end. We made it, but only because Jon is the best and ran really fast to hold the plane for me (We cannot hold the plane, sir. My wife is RIGHT behind me!). I was wearing flip flops (bad idea) and was completely out of breath, and dehydrated from my episode on the last flight. My throat was completely dry, and I was miserable. Let's just say I was NOT right behind Jon...

I do make it, and we enter the flight minutes before takeoff. On top of all of this, I'm feeling sick again on the next flight, still dehydrated and had no chance to get some water in the airport, or even rinse my mouth. The flight charges for ALL items, even water. A wonderful attendant had pity on me when I asked if I could please have some ice chips. I explained what happened and she brought me tap water, ice and crackers. :) Aer Lingus: 1 American Airlines: -3 (Delayed flight, emergency landing, booked us on a flight with not enough time to get there). I did not get sick, but still felt awful this whole flight.

Arriving in Dublin we spent the next 1 1/2 hours in line at border control, (met some awesome Midwesterners in line, though) and go to get our bags. Guess what? Yep, AA is now at -4 for losing our luggage. Aer Lingus is at 3 because they get another 2 points for finding said luggage and sending it to the place we were staying. :) The man at the lost luggage desk was so nice and helpful!

Now for Dublin. I love Ireland. I love the Irish people. I really wish we had a whole trip dedicated to this beautiful island (and UK too, maybe). We really just got a taste of this place, and I've always wanted to go here since I have the Irish heritage and all. It was great! We rented a car (without GPS) and we made it through alive. Yay! We went from the airport to the car rental place. You have to catch a shuttle, but a nice Irish Budget employee offered us a ride. Jon drove us and I navigated. We don't have WiFi access or 3G/4G so we had to rely on our atlas, maps from the airport, and the screen shots I had on my iPad. Crazy day. We drove on the left side of the road, which was a trip! It was weird to adjust to that. But I think we had a good time. Side note: I have no pictures of the car...bummer!

It is now June 9th, and we've been up for over 24 hours. We are exhausted and our feet hurt like hell, but hey, we are in Ireland, for less than 24 hours. We are going to make the most of it. We first went to Kilmainham Gaol. We learned a lot about Irish history and really enjoyed seeing the old jail museum. 

The chapel in the jail

Cell door

A ceiling of one of the hallways.

These were cells that housed leaders of Irish rebellions. They were imprisoned here and executed by the British. 

Jon in one of the hallways

This was an area where the guards stood watch because you can see every cell 

Jon in a cell

Mallory near the ladder up to the second and third floors

Another view of the courtyard area

This guy in the middle was our guide. He was awesome. He could speak Gaelic and did a wonderful job on the tour.

Our group, mostly English speakers with one German couple.

The Irish flag with our group.

After the jail, we took a walk in a beautiful park down the road from the jail. There was supposed to be a museum down this way, but it was closed or we didn't go to the right place. Who knows!

Us in the park

Me with Ireland in the background

The museum

Jon with flags

 Then we headed to city center where we saw Christchurch and St Patrick's Cathedral.

Jon in Ireland



St Patrick's Cathedral

St Patrick's Cathedral

St Patrick's Cathedral

Sign in the old well (Near here is the reputed site of the well where St Patrick baptised many of the local inhabitants of the Fifth Century A.D.)

We then set out to find where we were staying. We decided to use Airbnb for most of our stays during this trip, which is a website service where users rent out their rooms to others. Like staying with a local, but paying them like you would a hotel. Our hosts were great! Romi made us dinner (I love gnocchi) and we talked for a couple hours with her and her husband Joey. They had two beautiful girls who stole our hearts. It was wonderful staying with a real family and getting to know local people instead of a sterile hotel. Definitely recommend using this service while traveling. :)

The morning of the 10th, Romi and Joey made us breakfast, Irish porridge with nuts and fruit and bagels with cream cheese and salmon. It was delicious and so kind of them to make us food. We slept well and really enjoyed our stay in Dublin. 

Irish Breakfast

Our homestay!

We arrived at the airport at 9am, dropped off our car and headed in to check in. We ended up being fairly early, so once through security we looked around at the shops and waited for our gate. 

The plane ride was fair, we slept through most of it, and we collected our car at Amsterdam. 

Jon at the airport
We found out that we are covered only in certain countries, and guess what country is NOT covered? Czech Republic. This is where we are spending the most time while in Europe, so we hoped and prayed that nothing bad would happen. We even concocted a plan that if the car was stolen there we'd make up some ruse where it was stolen in Germany...yeah, it was silly :) We decided not to get a GPS (we'll see how that goes) just because of the sheer cost of it (we could have BOUGHT one and paid less) and drove into Amsterdam using pictures I took off of Google Maps on my iPad and our atlas. 

We now have 7 days to tour Europe before we have to be in Prague. Let the real adventure begin!

(If you missed it, part one can be found by clicking on the link!)