Wednesday, September 17, 2014

the fellowship ended in Berlin

So, I fell in love with Berlin and can't promise that I won't be going back there for more. The "free tour," we found--which winds up being free, with you paying what you feel the tour was worth at the end--was amazing! I would definitely recommend this tour company (New Berlin Tours), but be advised that you should go online the night before and register, so you have a spot when you show up. There were over 100 people at the meeting place when we showed up and they split us into groups of roughly 25, those who hadn't registered weren't guaranteed a spot.

Our group had this wonderful tour guide named Alexander "Zabi," a half German, half Englishman; a fascinating fellow who knew his history (and could have been James McAvoy's cousin!), and who loved to tell the most fascinating stories (both of the history and the players) of each thing we saw. He was well versed in the history of each place and absolutely interesting as hell! And funny. And did I mention he looked like he could be James McAvoy's cousin?!

The tours are walking tours, which wind up taking about 2.5 hours, but are a great way to see the "big tourist spots," which is what I wanted to see.
  • Pariser Platz
  • The Brandenburg Gate
  • The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
  • The Site of Hitler’s Former Bunker
  • Luftwaffe HQ
  • The Berlin Wall
  • The Former SS Headquarters
  • Checkpoint Charlie
  • Gendarmenmarkt
Wonderful wonderful!

After a rest and freshen up the Germans led the way: a short tram ride, and walk to a cute little restaurant, where we sat outside and I tried to memorize everything about this beautiful city: the laid back people, the bicyclists, the grungy-punk kids with their signs, "MONEY FOR WEED + ALCOHOL!," the monuments, the smells, the sound of the trams and trains and cars...
And then the food came; I'd asked the Germans for traditional German food, or as I told Yannick, "German soul food," and they did not fail. It. Was. AMAZING. I will have to do more searching for the name of the restaurant, because this place is too good to keep a secret!! I ate boiled potatoes, mounds of sauerkraut, pork, stuffed cabbage, more sauerkraut...nom nom nom. My mouth is watering.

And since I had to be at the airport so early, we went to bed early. My last night on a lumpy hostel mattress, falling asleep to the hoots and drunken laughter of the Berlin revelers all around us.

And so the Fellowship came to an end at Tegel Airport...16 days; 6 countries: Germany, Holland, Belgium, France, Switzerland, and Denmark; 3,500 miles of driving; spent Euros, Swiss Francs, and Danish Kroners; heard loads of languages; in the end most ready to head home.

While we were getting ready Monday morning, ChicagoBoy for work, me for heading back to Sticks and my first (half) day back, he looked at me and said, "The dream's over, back to reality today,"  to which I had to reply, "But it was such a lovely dream while it lasted..." *sigh*

Friday, September 12, 2014

Denmark to Berlin

I am still amazed and envious at how accessible European countries are to one another! In no time we were leaving Hamburg and Germany behind for flat, lovely southern Denmark. Aside from the Danish signage, much of it looked so much like home.

We stopped in Esbjerg, Denmark, which is a seaport town, on the west coast of the Jutland peninsula in the southwest part of the country, where we did a little shopping, enjoyed coffee and lunch before paying $415 Danish Krones (about $40Euro) for a ferry that took us and the car over to the island of Fano.

Fano, an island in the North Sea off the coast of southwestern Denmark, is the northernmost of the Danish Wadden Sea Islands, and is absolutely gorgeous. The middle of it reminded me of farmy New England, while the sand dunes around the beach (near where we camped) and their neighboring brushy areas looked almost like the southwestern deserts that my brother A3 and I drove past on our roadtrip to California so many years ago. I hiked alone for a while and was rewarded with an amazing sunset over the North Sea--I could have wept for the loveliness of this island.

We left the land of the Vikings--did I mention we drove past one of the oldest cities (Ribe) in Denmark?! The original roads date back to the 300sAD!!--and after a quick stop in Hamburg headed to Berlin.

We are staying at the most amazing hostel, PLUS Berlin, which is only $40Euro/person for 2 nights. Pretty damn good! I also booked a FREE tour I read about in one of my library books (GO LONELY PLANET!!) which will take us to the Wall, CheckPoint Charlie, Hitler's Bunker, and many places of historical note; pretty amped for some nerdy history fun.

Can't believe tomorrow's my last day, and yet, I am ready to go home. You can only be a travel bum for so long before you miss home, no?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

mac n' cheese and our last day in Hamburg

The EPIC Mac n' Cheese
You know that feeling you get when you're traveling and you feel almost overstimulated by the amazing food you've been eating, but there's something a little not realize that what you're really wanting is some "home food." That happened yesterday. 

Yannick and I were supposed to run to the market to get stuff for dinner and today, so I offered to make Mac n' cheese--I based it extremely loosely on Mark Bittman's recipe--and what I made was pure magic! Normally I just use Vermont Cheddar, but as they don't have that here I used half Irish Cheddar, half Dutch Gouda. Oh my sweet and gentle Jesus!! WAY BETTER with real European cheeses. Nadine requested it again for dinner tonight. Yannick and I agreed. :) 

Today we'll be going out to see a few more things here, but we're going to stay in tonight and get to bed early. We want to have the car packed and be on the road tomorrow by 9a.m.; we're heading to Denmark, to one of it's islands that is a National Park, to camp and spend all day tomorrow and part of Friday.

From Denmark we head to Berlin where Magdalena will rejoin us (YAY!!) and we'll spend Friday night-Sunday morning.
Hamburg to Denmark, Denmark to Berlin, the last legs of this epic roadtrip. My vacation winding down. After today only 3 full days left. Sad about that, but a little excited to be home soon. Don't tell anyone, but I secretly miss Sticks. A little.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

my favorite photos of Europe

Beautiful 13th century architecture in Bruges, Belgium
Amsterdam at night

The best lunch EVER. Homemade bread with mustard, ham, violet creme fraiche,
gherkins; salad. Amsterdam

The Bern Munster (Church), Bern, Switzerland
Freiburg, Germany
Beethoven (born here) watches over this square,
Bonn, Germany

City Hall, Hamburg, Germany
Normany U.S. Cemetery and Memorial, France
Commemorates D-Day invasion, Omaha Beach

Sacre Coeur, Montmartre,
Paris France

The Eiffel Tower, Paris


LUSH's array of homemade soaps and more
Yesterday Yannick was able to take a break from his paper long enough to spend the afternoon with Nadine and I. I've never been in a foreign country and spent time so leisurely, normally each day is very planned out, making sure to hit all the major sights and toursity things, so this time in Hamburg has been a blessing. I've caught up on mounds of sleep--I know they say you can't catch up, but still!--and have finished all 3 books I brought along, and just feel wonderful. The word leisurely keeps popping into my head.

Getting out of the house after a slow and sleepy morning, we took the train to downtown Hamburg, mailing postcards and wandering in and out of boutiques. Nadine introduced me to the amazing homemade soap at LUSH, where I bought two hunks of soap to take home. Can we just say, my suitcase smells amazing!

Falafelstern's salads and spreads
Then we were off on a culinary journey in what Yannick and Nadine described as the Hipster section of Hamburg, noticeable by its hipster glasses and clothing, stores with ironic art and hip gifts. I follwed the Germans as they led me into an outwardly unimpressive, little falafel shop on Sternschanze, called Falafelstern, where Yannick taught me how to pronounce the dish I wanted (cursing myself for not writing down what it was called!), a falafel plate that included a little of all of Falafelstern's cold salads and falafel dips. Hands down BEST FALAFEL I've ever eaten; the plate (pictured below), piled high with an interesting and delicious mix of foods: falafel, hummus, some type of smoky chili? dip, roasted eggplant salad, pickled cabbage, tomatoes, beets, feta, steamed carrots, spiced green bean salad, breaded and fried cauliflower, and more all for only 6Euro! 
Falafelstern's sampler platter with
falfafel and a multitude of salads and spreads.
You can't hear it but I'm "nom noming!"

Unable to finish my plate (and saving room for ice cream) we kept walking, meandering in and out of shops, winding up at Die Eisbande, a cute little ice cream shop known for it's vegan options. Nadine suggested the vegan chocolate mousse ice cream: SOJA MOUSSE AU CHOCOLAT, which we both ordered. It was AMAZING! I also was able to try Yannick's ZITRONE, which was fruity tart like a creamy, citrus-y lemondae on a cone. So. Damn. Good. 

Next on the list was the perfect cup of coffee--inspired, perhaps by Gilmore Girls, which we've been watching every night before bed--and so we headed to Elbgold Kaffee, a local coffee roastery located next door to a restaurant, who's name translated into English means, The Old Girl. I was absolutely tickled by that. It was nearly closing time when we arrived, a shame since I would have loved to linger in this wonderfully comfortable and hip coffee shop. I ordered a caramel macchiato and was not disappointed as I sipped foamy, espresso-y goodness and wandered with my wonderful Germans back toward the train. A lovely day spent in slow meandering and sampling some of Hamburg's gems. A leisurely day indeed.

Lovely Elbgold Kaffee

Monday, September 8, 2014

amazingly rested

We've been in Hamburg since the weekend and are here until mid week--a little exloring of Hamburg, but mostly lots of reading and writing as my friend Yannick works on his paper. It feels so good; finally feel like I've caught up on sleep that has eluded me for months.

Yannick, Nadine, and I head to Denmark mid-week for one more camping stint and a little exploring; heard that it's beautiful there this time of year. Our goal is to be in Berlin by Friday, hopefully to meet up with Magdalena for one last hoorah, and more exploring of Berlin.

About to head out for a walk with Nadine, and a little shopping and exploring. This is the life. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

resting in Hamburg

We said goodbye to Bonn yesterday morning, taking a 5 minute ferry over the Rhine River, before heading about 40 minutes north to Cologne. I would have liked to spend more time here and see this lovely city at night, but we were all getting car weary and were looking forward to Hamburg (where Yannick and Nadine live) and rest. 

Cologne's stop was with the sole purpose of seeing the world famous Cathedral. The Cathedral is across from a very bustling train station, and as you walk in there are beggars on either side of the door (we found this at all the Cathedrals thus far), and just inside priests standing sentinel, making sure male visitors take their hats off--I overhead one priest ask a man to take his hat off and I quickly took mine off as well, pleased as punch that I understood the priest say to me in  German that women didn't have to remove their hats. I am picking up bits and pieces of the language...we'll get there eventually!

 I managed to forget my camera in the car
when we were in the Cathedral, so I will share this
image from the internet. AMAZING.

The Cathedral was breathtaking, and even Yannick, who is not particularly religious, spoke in the car later of how it's hard to not be awed by such a showing of love and wonder of God when you see how grand and detailed this church is--the very sentiment that I had been feeling as I looked upward at the ceilings, up so high that your neck has to tilt back as far as it will go to do so; humbling indeed. I couldn't help but feel very small, and childlike in all this wonder, and so young in the world. Too think of how old everything is!! I loved wandering around, listening to a half dozen different languages, staring into the sanctuaries in memorial to long dead church persons and wealthy citizens of Coln (Cologne), to stare at the detailed stain glass depicting Christ's life, to enjoy the solitude of the basement crypts. It has been such an experience to say a prayer and light a candle in each of these grand cathedrals I've been in.

After food the ride further north was mostly quiet, all of us just ready to be in Hamburg. We arrived late last night to their apartment and decided on take out pizza and tv, a nice respite from all the sight seeing. Take out pizza for 3 people was about 42 Euros, which is over $50U.S.!!! CRAZY! 

Today is a rest day, winding down from my first week and 5 countries-visited-whirlwind. Tomorrow we'll begin exploring Hamburg. 

I was hoping to get to Ireland before I left Europe, but the flights have gone up signifigantly since I first looked, so the Germans offered another roadtrip to Denmark, perhaps camping on one of it's many small islands...we shall see. 

Yesterday marked my first week here, today the mid-point of my trip. Hamburg, Denmark?, then off to Berlin where we'll wind down before I depart a week from tomorrow.