Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ice Bar

After a long day of walking around town and visiting the Vasa Museum, we made our way back to our hotel where we went to the ice bar. We were promptly given capes and gloves and then directed in. The floor was quite sticky from people's drinks spilling over their ice cube glasses. Holding a glass made of ice took some getting used to. During our stay there were several empty glasses on the table that would occasionally slide off and onto the floor. I am sure the bartender's don't mind not having to do dishes.

I ordered the Absolut Copenhagen - a mix of vodka, watermelon liquor, and sparkling wine.

There were so many options and it wasn't terribly cold. We had considered staying at the ice hotel in Kiruna, Sweden during this trip, but we didn't plan ahead enough. The rooms there book quickly. It's only open during mid-Dec until February I believe, so perhaps next year.

They give you 45 minutes in the bar, and the time passes quickly. We had a great time!

Saturday, December 29, 2007


We arrived last night and decided to make it an early evening. Our hotel lobby was booming, due to the ice bar that is also located here. We got a bite to eat in the bar and then planned for today.

It still takes some getting used to with the lack of real day light. It gets dark here around 3:30pm and it makes my body feel as if it's 8pm. I also noticed how fast the escalators move and a strange smell in the air that was similar to elmer's school glue. I know that's strange, but that's what it smelled like, and I have no idea why. Another funny thing is that Stefan's mom tells me that I look like Princess Victoria of Sweden. No one has been confused yet, and I hope I don't have that square of a face.

Stockholm is very charming - there are plenty of tiny cobbled streets (particularly in Gamla Stan or 'old town'). We spent a large part of the day shopping, simply because things we weren't sure if things were going to be closed in the following days. We've gotten mixed responses as to what is open and for how long. I think the stretch between Christmas and New Years is a bit difficult for people to gauge.

I've heard Stockholm is compared to the Venice of the North, and I am assuming the older buildings, combination of islands, and the cobbled roads are where those references come from. I think the history with the Nobel Peace prize is nice. I like a city that recognizes positive things that people do. Again, there is a lot of color and vibrant buildings. The architecture is also very regal and stunning.

I found a beautiful book to purchase for our 'around the world library'. It's called 'Min Atlas Jorden Runt' and is has beautiful illustrations. I can decipher some of the Swedish. I felt the same about Danish... they both seem to be on the verge of being understood, but they are slightly off.

The design shops are also wonderful. I've been able to see so many things that I've seen previously online. I think I could spend an entire day (or pay check) in many of these stores. A great one is called Design Torget. I purchased a beautiful trivet, and some great sporks from a company called Light My Fire. These are great for traveling, because it's a fork, spoon, and serrated knife all in one. There are so many times (especially when I am on a tour) where I will want to stop at a grocery, then there is the dilemma of needing utensils... not any more! Here are pictures of the spork + design torget at Sergelstorg.

I loved wandering around town and since Stefan was here previously on business he had some idea of where to find things, such as Saluhall. I love places like this - tons of foods in one area. We decided to try wraps from a place called Planet Food. While the name isn't much, the food was great. It reminded me of Chipotle with an edge. We first got the Bombay wrap (chicken, rice, vegetables, mango chutney) and then decided to buy the Malibu (avocado, lettuce, vegetables, and a little feta) + Santorini (chicken, feta, + veggies) for dinner. It was also nice because they were only about 6€ each.

Another shock to me was constantly seeing the Seven Eleven chain around Scandinavia. We stopped in to buy some drinks (water flavored with cactus and blueberry?!). We had a hell of a time finding Swedish fish. All of the groceries carried a candy brand called Malmo (like the city in South Sweden across from Copenhagen). I recognized the brand from IKEA (where we buy our Swedish fish), however there were no Swedish fish to be found. That was a disappointment.

Something else that surprised me was a vending machine in the train station that sold books as opposed to food. I got a good laugh out of that.

The weather was a little drizzly today, but we managed to stay warm and dry. The hardest part is convincing our bodies that it is still early and we should stay out. I think we did a fair job today... plus coming back to our hotel and having dinner ready, as well as English TV is wonderful.

I can't believe New Year's is right around the corner. Tomorrow we are going to be going to the ice bar, which will be fun.

spork photo: Light My Fire

Friday, December 28, 2007


We spent a lot of our day shopping and enjoying the great design stores - particularly Illums, which loves to tout that the Queen shops there. We spent plenty of time walking around and enjoying all of the colorful buildings.

Last night we had a really great meal at a Vietnamese restaurant down the street from our hotel called Lê Lë Nhà Hang. It is a modern take on street food with really fresh and delicious ingredients. It's a great place.

I started keeping a small list of things I noticed during our visit to Copenhagen...

Beautiful design - but it's the same price as home, just all condensed into shops.

The 80's is back in full force... tight pants / pants tucked into socks (no thanks).

Bright pants - even shiny spandex bright leggings (eek!) - I just kept thinking Richard Simons sweating to the oldies!

The slim fit pants are worn with low converse or vans in a variety of colors and patterns.

Expensive food - dinner is going to set you back at least 50€ or about $75, for a no frills meal.

Dividing by 7 for the price... at least things aren't deceiving - you know it's expensive when it says 700 DKK.

Christmas came and went during our visit - all the decorations were taken down so quickly.

Nyhavn is one of the most picturesque little areas with a great nautical flair. Everyone knows how much I wish my life was a musical and this could very well make a great set... but it's real life!

The grocery had alligator, spring bok, kangaroo, and ostrich meats in the freezer!

Christiania - the independent community, is dilapidated and spray painted. I like graffiti -I'm a big fan of Banksy, but this was pushing the limits for me... it was more of a squatter community than hippie area.

The best meals
were at Lê Lë Nhà Hang + Lagkagehuset (a bakery in Christianshavn and across from Tivoli). I am still thinking about this blintz.

English TV with Danish subtitles - this is why all the Scandinavian people speak English so well.

Today we had a hard time finding a children's book. Typically we buy one written in English or with a lot of great pictures, however it was not as easy to find one. We settled on a pretty little animal lexicon with the danish word for the animal written underneath it.

Our next stop was the Rundetårn or round tower, where we walked up for a decent view of the city. It was a bit foggy so things weren't very visible. After that we went to Christianshavn for a quick lunch and then the the 'Freetown Christiania', which was a big let down.

It seemed more like a ramshackle area than one that I envisioned to be like Yellow Springs back home. The dirt streets smelled of marijuana and run down 'homes' were lucky to still be standing. From all that I have read, the people that live there have fought tooth and nail to keep their subculture alive, which I have to respect. It's just difficult for me to think highly of their abode when they don't seem to care what it looks like - the spray painting is one thing, but the trash littering the area is something else.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Stefan and I arrived this morning in Copenhagen... I should also mention that we left at 5am!

It was a great start because we were able to use Stefan's Senator status and check in with first class and enjoy the nice lounge and delicious breakfast.

Our flight left at 6am and was in to Copenhagen by 8am. Fortunately we were able to check into our hotel right away and we promptly took a nap and then began our day around 11am. I couldn't get over just how dark it was - even at 9am things looked really dusky. The nap was just what we needed after waking up at 4am.

Our first stop was to the tourist info office (this is always my first stop now after learning of the great maps they have). Then we headed across the street to Tivoli Park. It was a kitschy take on international destinations such as Morocco, Asia, and India. There were a lot of carney rides and some beautiful lighted areas.

We continued walking into town and it was quite a hike! We walked past the Råthus (townhall) and down some of the shopping streets - most of which were closed due to the holiday. I saw plenty of beautiful design shops that I am sure we are going to stop at tomorrow.

After wandering about town (and being guided mainly by beautiful colored buildings) we stopped at Gråbrødretorv - a picturesque square where we were alone to enjoy it (photo was taken with the self timer). I couldn't get enough of the colors. We walked past Nikolaj church and towards Børse (the stock exchange) on our way to Nyhavn. I loved walking along the water way and stumbling upon the most serene seascapes. I also loved all of the boats and contrasting colors.

Once we arrived at Nyhavn I was in heaven. It has a lot of row homes and businesses with boats in the canals. Since it is so warm many of the cafes are still open with outdoor seating. We stopped at a beautiful little nautical themed restaurant for a mug of gløgg (similar to Munich's glühwein with almonds bits and raisins in the bottom). I don't think I could take enough photos, but it was really nice to see the sun shining on the beautiful row houses after a relatively gray day.

We walked quite far - all the way past the Royal palace (Amalienborg) and to see the Little Mermaid statue in honor of Hans Christian Andersen's story. Tomorrow we will head to a book shop to hopefully find a beautifully designed children's book based on some of his tales.

I love Scandinavia because of the proximity to water, the cleanliness, and the striking design. Stefan kept telling me that he is happy that I like beautiful things and it makes him happy to buy them for me. Then he snuck in the comments about he appreciates them too and that's why he married me. We love to say overly saccharine things to each other, but as dorky as it is we always have fun making each other laugh with things like that.

We walked all around town for about 5 hours and I was so happy to see the 'S bahn' and come back to our hotel. It also gets dark quite early so around 5pm my body is telling me it's closer to 9pm. I can already tell I'm going to sleep like a baby tonight!

Christmas came and went!

Christmas this year seemed to pass so quick. We went to Stefan's parents to celebrate 'German Christmas' (as he calls it) on the 24th.

We had a wonderful fondue and they gave us a great gift - we are all going to the thermal spa in late January. It was a great evening, and we ended it with church. I was shocked to hear that Catholic churches don't have bathrooms or heating (how could I forget the heat from last year?). I didn't forget the incense though. I think the alter girl shaking the container probably smells of that for weeks.

We got home mid-afternoon to celebrate over the web cam with my family. They had sent us so many wonderful gifts. Unfortunately I didn't have time to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas DVD they sent, but I will be doing that when we are home from our trip. We also received the gift of 'Elf on the Shelf' from the Williams', which is a great new holiday tradition. I can see that mischievous elf providing a lot of fun at the holidays. Stefan gave me the Alessi King and Queen Chin salt and pepper grinders that I loved.

Stefan's backpack was a hit and it was nice to see I was able to surprise him. He also surprised me with two upcoming dinners - one is a completely dark meal. I had heard of a restaurant in Berlin, called unsicht bar(invisible bar), where the waiters and waitresses are blind and the restaurant is entirely dark. The one in Munich is called Essen im Dunkel (literally eating in the dark). The other meal is for molecular tapas. It's really fascinating and inventive. It's a scientific take on flavor, which was started at the Mandarin Tokyo. (We will be enjoying this in Munich). I can't wait to try the various foods and experiences. There are a lot of pipettes and syringes to create the food that is then mixed for interesting combinations.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Euro shoes

I still think back to how surprised I was to walk into the cereal aisle here, and see such a limited variety. Germany doesn't lack variety in teas, honeys, jams, mustards, birkenstocks, and chocolates. Those are among the things I am asked to bring home or refer visitors to for fail proof gifts.

My fail proof gift for myself while living here, is shoes.

I don't do much shopping here outside of consumable goods. While I am decently conservative in my clothing choices (Jcrew adores me), I am not like the typical Metropolitan Münchener with dark things - I love color. I'm the girl with the bright accessories and classic styled handbags in outrageously bright colors. I do believe every woman should have a pair of red shoes. Put them on and you instantly feel happy - if all else fails, you just look down and it brings a smile to your face. That's my theory anyways.

My 'hausschuhe' (Germans love having indoor only shoes) are even red Birkenstock Madrids. I've since bought a white pair for outdoor use. Germans don't really wear Birkenstock's outside very much, but I keep that American side of me and wear sandals and flip flops as soon as the weather hits the mid 60's (15-20 celcius). That is one of the few things I have found in Germany that is significantly less expensive than back home - the quintessential Birkenstocks.

I recently saw this beautiful set of cards on etsy and I will definitely be purchasing them. I'll be framing one somewhere in my home and sending one on to bring someone else happiness. I'm all about simple pleasures.

Why, you may ask, don't I purchase other clothing items here? Call me boring (except for my color loving streak), but the clothes here are overpriced or dirt cheap. We don't have a middle of the road type of shops (ok, there is Zara or United Colors of Benetton). I don't think I am adventurous or trendy enough for many stores here. Not to mention with the exchange rate right now, I'd be crazy not to save up and go on great shopping sprees to cover the year while I am home.

Despite living here for over a year, that American consumer side of me has not left. We arrive back in the states with empty bags and they are pushing the limit when we arrive back in Germany. In all fairness, we aren't bringing back only clothes - books are always a priority as are other things I can't get here (BW3 sauces, enormous bags of chocolate chips, taco seasoning, and ranch dressing to name a few).

Of course it's great to arrive back in the states, with stylish shoes that always garner attention and compliments. Plus they make me happy.

red shoes: etsy flowerpress

Saturday, December 22, 2007

You can win!

You probably have thought you've seen it all... little do so many Americans realize, foreigners are able to 'win' a green card.

Now that I live abroad, I get pop ups (such as the one above) advertising what a privilege it is to come to the US - the land of immigrants. I believe the first time I heard of this, was when Stefan told me Burger King had a contest to win one. It's not as simple as winning however. The new 'winner' must go to the US and go through fingerprinting and investigations... then if they hope to maintain their 'prize', they have to live in the US / come back every 6 months. It still requires a fair amount of resources to sustain green card status.

I've mentioned my German language classmates before (such as the post below). I always think how fortunate I am to have two homes. I can feel safe, happy, content, and healthy in Germany or the US. Sure there are differences, but in grand scheme of things, it's merely surface and superficial.

When I consider what so many of my classmates and other permanent residents have gone through to be here it's really quite amazing and I feel for them. It's easy to be a 'privileged' immigrant. I don't say that in attempts to sound entitled or ethnocentric. Germany does have its kinks and like the US, being inundated with people willing to move here, there are some prejudices as well. I feel advantaged because I speak English. I really avoid doing so at all costs while in public, unless I'm speaking to Stefan though. I know that if I were in a dire situation the language barrier wouldn't be as difficult - particularly in a time of crisis. I don't figure the chances of a doctor speaking Albanian are very high.

At one point I considered becoming an immigration lawyer. Life is a bit too complicated for that, particularly if I am not sure where we are going to live. I also think I see the humanity side of it rather than the paperwork that it really entails. I'm still very intrigued by it all.

When we went to file for my permanent visa renewal the woman was new to the office. Even her tone was pleasant. She said it was 'an easy case' because we had a marriage license (with an apostille), and translations. She said they 'get couples from Afganistan who say they are married because her father said so'. The fascinating thing is that so many people are able to come to Germany. We have great social systems here, which does set things up to be taken advantage of. It's a tricky divide, because I believe in helping people as much as possible, but it's hard to help people who come here simply to milk the system. It's a better quality of life here for much less work for some. The German attitude varies, although it is evident there is a streak of resentment towards these families, especially when the women are oppressed and use their children as translators.

Stefan' mom and I were discussing these issues. It does make it difficult especially when you have children in a school that is diverse. Of course being exposed to other cultures is important. Stefan learned to say 'aya caba neeki' (Turkish that I phonetically spelled) meaning to tie his shoes, while he was in school. - I even said it to a Turkish guy in my class and I could see he was so happy that I would try to learn some Turkish. I'd greet him with a 'Merhaba'. It is a large struggle though, when your child speaks German and comes from a German background and they go to school with children that are there learning the language first. I have had multiple children come up to me with their mothers in tow at the train station asking me something and being the translator.

I've also been told Salzburg also has issues with wealthy Russians coming to purchase homes in the Alps for winter time. They drive up the prices and are only there several weeks a year, so many people living there grow resentful.

The struggles are interesting. It is also obvious they start young. When I was teaching Greek children English last summer I was asking who had traveled to (insert place). As soon as I said 'Turkey' they went from raising their hands to shoving them in between their legs in an act of defiance.

In being here I see things as human struggles more than pinning things on certain cultures. People with money are always going to be advantaged, those without it are going to want a better life for their families, and a lot of attitudes start young and at home.

I enjoyed my German class - it was a small group that was always kind to one another and there unspoken understandings that united us all in being foreign. There were people who unfortunately cheated themselves. They would cheat on tests or want to copy homework. At times I wondered if I was the only one that got the memo that we were there to learn for ourselves. I have to step back and realize that other cultures may take great insult to be held back in a class. It was always obvious though when someone would not be able to speak with basic conversation, or would respond to 'Wie heißen Sie?' (what's your name) with 'Ich habe' (I have).

That being said - there was still a strong religious current. The Islamic men united, and nearly didn't come to the end of the year holiday party for fear it was a Christmas celebration. Two of my favorite classmates were from Morocco and Tunisia. I quickly realize how people must hold on to what is uniquely them when they are thrown into something new. Suddenly basic things like religion and language or nationality are strong uniters. Everyone wants to be understood. I really love the dynamics of it all.

My next 100 hours (to make me half way finished with the required amount) should begin in January 08. I hope this class is able to keep pace for those of us that want to learn. Last time it was really catering towards the lower achieving / unmotivated people.

Doctor + ER in one night

I've always been a bit skeptical of the German doctors and hospitals. I know that they help people, the body is not any different here than back home, and they've done a fine job keeping people alive for eons. It's more a fear of the unknown.

Regardless of knowing all of these things it's always been a worry of mine, that I would encounter some kind of health crisis and then struggle to communicate or understand what was happening to me. I have been warned that if/when I encounter a medical issue it's common to feel a bit of culture shock or panic.

It's such a blessing to speak some German and English. I still think back to the woman in my German class that was pregnant and from Albania. A lot of Eastern European people live in communities here. The ones I have met really struggle to learn German, or simply don't care to, but are required to. That would make me a nervous wreck - but I have to remember if I can't communicate, I have a husband that can help, and I'm in a country with high standards and cleanliness. I start to realize some immigrants are not as fortunate as I am. Even with these complexities the quality of life is higher for them here. It takes a lot of faith to live somewhere like that.

Anyway... back to the purpose of this, before I go on another tangent about immigrants.

Last night was my night. I knew that I was developing a bladder infection and needed to go to the doctor after a week of trying to self medicate with 100% cranberry juice and some medication from the apotheke. When that wasn't cutting it, I knew that I had to schedule things around Stefan - my loving husband and translator's schedule. Fortunately our neighborhood doctor has drop in hours. I had to go then because with Christmas and our upcoming trip everything closes up. I shed a few tears when he came to get me - more for the fear of the unknown than anything else.

I was surprised how small the office was, however we only had to wait for a little while. It was also strange for me to see desks and computers in the doctors office where she saw me. I guess I am used to someone else doing the clerical work where I never see it.

She did some pressing on my stomach and decided that she was worried there could possibly be a problem with my right ovary or appendix. She prescribed some medication for the bladder infection and then told us to double up on birth control otherwise we could get our own 'Christkind' - a funny joke for Christmas. Then she promptly called Dr. Kern and had me sent to the ER at the Rechts der Isar Hospital for an ultra sound, just to be safe.

Yes, I got to experience all of the German medical system in one evening.

Stefan lead me towards where he thought was where the hospital was located and after a couple of wrong turns we made it. The wait wasn't very long and the doctors were all quite young (probably due to the fact that it's partnered with the Technical University here). Everyone was kind and spoke English with me. The most difficult part was finding a vein for blood tests. I was stuck twice and then my last vein dried up before the last vial was pulled, so he had to do it again.

They told us that they think I only had a bad bladder infection, however if I do have continuing pain I will need to go back. I was most concerned about missing our trip and the doctor told me I would have to be in the hospital for three days if I did need an appendectomy. They said they can never really tell unless they go in for surgery, but things looked OK. I almost felt like a tourist attraction because I had to speak with so many doctors. Another woman who worked for a butcher and dropped a 10kg roll of cellophane on her foot also came in and wanted to chat. It's nice to use my German and I know a lot of people love to practice their English. We usually end up responding to one another in our opposite language.

About 5.5 hours from the start of the ordeal we were in the taxi on the way home. We were both surprised at where we were because it's quite close to where we live, however never turn down that street. I was relieved just to be home.

I'm much more comfortable with the doctors here. Now I just have to cope with a few enormous bruises and medication. I'm very happy that our trips won't be affected. Stefan is still trying to get me to visit the German dentist, which I am leery of, because he believes that all old people get dentures. I keep reminding him that if you take good care of your teeth, that dentures aren't essential. I think I'll save the dentist appointments for visits home.

hospital photo: Chirurgische Klinik und Hörsäle

Thursday, December 20, 2007


Hearing my family talk about my dog and how they still have to be cautious at the holidays really makes me miss her. She is so mischievous and will take ornaments off the tree and run so you will chase her. She is a chronic barker and borderline neurotic. She hates things being out of place and will simply stand at alert and bark if she sees the smallest thing that is out of place. Forget trying to pack for a trip... suitcases certainly don't belong wherever you place them.

Germany and Europe for that matter, are very dog friendly. I was so surprised when someone told me that it's a Bavarian law, that dogs must wear muzzles in public. Forget that... you are lucky if they are on a leash, but the funny thing is they are so well behaved. Better behaved than the school kids who are running amuck. (Yes, I realize I sound like a 90 year old).

If only I could be there to watch Mieka tear into her christmas gift this year! I'm thinking of you kleiner hund!

No work... all play (or cookie baking)

... So I didn't have to go to Salzburg and I am spending my day baking cookies and most likely reading or watching a movie.

I went to the train station to meet up with a co-worker this morning, and one thing I am really going to miss are the characters that linger about. There is a woman that I have aptly named Gollum, because she gurgles and groans at people as they walk past. She seems rather strung out, but what is striking is how fashionable she is... one day she will have a scarf with skulls on it or something extra to accessorize with. My other favorite is the French man that works for the tourist board. He was frustrated that no one brough bread for the birds, when my co-worker she said she would yesterday. Fortunately he brought a large bag of bird seed. I loved his accent as he told her, 'zou are a very bad gurl'.

It is starting to slowly feel like Christmas... despite the fact that I didn't go to the Krampus Run this year, and I also haven't frequented the Christmas markets too much. Our little tree is up and our gifts are overflowing, thanks mostly to my family, that just sent an enormous package with lots of presents. (Photo is pre-lots of presents).

I'm still not entirely sure what to make of a German Christmas. There are a few more formalities, less Rudolph and Snoopy Christmas programs, different cookies, a more quiet and intimate dinner... simple things -that are different.

I think back to last year and the trials and tribulations to make Christmas 06 so... unforgettable.

  • Stefan wanting 20 lights on the tree... they were 2 strands of 10 -- the best part - the wiring was white!
  • When I said I wanted two strands totaling 100 lights - he said 'it was going to look like Rockefeller Center'. 
  • Christmas lights on a lasso - as if a string of lights isn't frustrating enough... they have them in a circle. 
  • The oven that wanted to make my cookie baking a memorable, but not so enjoyable experience.
  • The drying boxes that were installed after Stefan flooded the apartment installing our dishwasher.
  • My sister visiting during all of the chaos, and yes -- during the drying boxes.
  • The Krampus that smacked Stefan and many mugs of glühwein at the markets. 
  • Amy + I getting yelled at in German that we must as to take photos of things at Tollwood. Yes, I understood - no I didn't respond. 
  • The Omas having real candles on their trees. 
  • Me guessing my gift from Stefan and making him mad... (I didn't peak!)
I told him we can't have children until his stumping skills improve - who lets someone guess their gift? He vetoed guessing this year... looks like no children for a while longer. I told my sister I was going to have to rent a car and put a huge bow on it and then put his gift in the car one year.

It will be interesting to see what Christmas 07 brings.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Salzburg... noch mal

My Dad recently read that tour guiding is the worst job to have. I am not sure of the reasoning. Probably because it's so unpredictable. There was a tourist that had a heart attack and died at Neuschwanstein this year (not with our groups)... and a co-worker told me about a woman this week, that took the horse carriage up and there is a last bit that people must walk. At this point she decided to tell her that she only had one lung and a brain tumor, so she didn't think it was best for her to go in. Yes, there are quite a few steps in the castle and some serious altitude with bone chilling air. Perhaps we should put a precautionary measure on the brochure.

My last tour group was an American family living in Venezuela for 15 years, a group of 4 young girls from the UK, and a chatty Texan couple that had a lot of pride. It was a nice day and I wished I had brought my camera along. I've already got it packed for tomorrow, which probably means the tour won't go. I am also hoping that it's not so cold. I literally stopped in the middle of one of the Christmas markets and purchased some felt insoles. At the end of the day the man from Texas asked me what exactly I did for the three hours of their free time. A lady never reveals her secrets... I think I do know every chocolate shop in the city, as well as where to get some divine pastries. Not Paris divine, but they will suffice. I also spend a fair amount of time at interio, a fun and affordable design shop. I'm also anxious to try out Carpe Diem, partially owned by Salzburg's own Dietrich Mateschitz... also known as Mr. Red Bull Billionaire.

I'm still a bit behind on my cookie baking. My new favorites are oatmeal coconut chocolate chip cookies sprinkled with sea salt.

That will be my job for Friday. I am also depressed over the discontinuation of one of the best chocolates - the Domori latte sal (sea salt chocolate).

That is part of my sea salt oatmeal inspired cookies. I am still hoping that's just a rumor, although I am having the urge to start stocking up now!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Defining moments...

What is my most defining moment and what has it taught me... (the answer is probably obvious).

I would say moving to a foreign country - it's an up and down journey that has taught me a lot about people, cultures, partially another language, and most of all about myself.

I've learned...

- living abroad isn't glamorous. I spend way too much time by myself. I get lonely from time to time.

- it's difficult to fit in being a foreigner. I have gained so much compassion for those that come to the US in search of something better.

- there are kind people and selfish people everywhere. Given the chance, I still believe people are innately good.

-The US fascinates people - they always wonder how we can land on our feet, regardless of the situation. It probably sounds ethnocentric of me, but it's a place of hope for so many.

- it is frustrating to not be understood, but on the flip side, body language and mannerisms tell a lot. Smiles work wonders!

- I will never in my life feel complete, there will always be a piece of me missing... I will always miss my family back home, or Germany if/ when we move.

- it's a blessing to move to a country and not be running from something.

- friends say they will visit, some do, many don't.

- there is no right or wrong way of doing things... sure it's hard to see friends sink roots in and buy homes, when I don't know where I will be living in a couple years. As much as I envy them from time to time, I am blessed to be able to travel right now.

- it's difficult to connect when friends lead such different lives, but all in all, good friends remain good friends with plenty in common.

- I've learned to be content with experiences and not things. It's so easy to buy things in the US because it's really affordable. Here there is no middle range. Obviously I don't buy clothes here. I've learned to save a lot of money.

-I realize that even during my lowest days I am very fortunate for what I have. I'm able to really value the time that I have with people I care about.


Lately I keep seeing things about Croatia... they were just in Dubrovnik on the Amazing Race, and then I stumbled upon an insane photo of these many tiny waterfalls spilling over mossy rocks. Unfortunately the more I travel the more I want to continue seeing the beauty in the world.

I am also interested in traveling to:
Croatia > North Dalmatia > Skradin > Krka (Cherca) Nacionalni Park,
as well as The Plitvice Lakes National Park, which is halfway between capital city Zagreb and Zadar on the coast.

To get there...
The closest airport to Plitvice Lakes is at Zagreb which is about 140km away.

It takes about 2.5 hours by bus from Zagreb to get to Plitivice Lakes and 4 hours from Split. However, I want to fly into the touristy Dubrovnik, so we'll see what happens.

Approximately 30 buses pass to/from Zagreb/South Croatia daily.

photo: Jack Brauer

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

German style cooking + baking

Living abroad is fantastic, although it occasionally has it's challenges. Living in Germany has taught me a lot about cooking things from scratch as well as other 'issues' regarding baking.

I always love pumpkin dishes and it is a blessing and a curse. Rather than opening a can of pumpkin, I have to cook a hokkaido pumpkin. If there aren't small ones available we have pumpkin in every shape and form imaginable- with pasta, cookies, bread... you get the drift. I assume it's probably more nutritious not coming from a can as well. Fortunately, I have plenty of time to perfect my cooking skills and to bake my pumpkins down.

We have some of the most spectacular chocolate shops, however cakes and cookies are entirely different - they are much more dry and hard. I'd love if we could get Vosges Naga cookies here -- if you have not tried them I highly recommend it. They are a mixture of Sweet Indian curry + fresh coconut + pumpkin purée + woolloomooloo milk chocolate chip. I should also state that I absolutely love indian food. These aren't overpowering though. Once you try them they are rather addicting.

Last year when my sister was visiting we were having issues with baking Christmas cookies. It turns out Germany doesn't have the same flour or brown sugar. I think our oven wasn't the best either. I've since figured out where to get some similar brown sugar, which recipes to use with which flour (405 is like American pastry flour) and 550 is similar to all purpose flour (thanks to King Arthur). We also got a new oven shortly after.

I'm going to try to figure out a decent replication of the Vosges cookie since they aren't available in Germany. Hopefully I come up with something that's a success. Till (one of Stefan's coworkers) even brought us back some chocolate chips from Barcelona that I will try out.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

More art

I was so excited while looking at a design blog today and seeing something I had searched high and low for. There was a copy of ReadyMade , that had an artist with beautiful paper works. I didn't buy it and of course it was then off the news stands. I checked their website and couldn't find it. I seriously couldn't get it out of my head. Low and behold I saw it again today. The Miami based artist is named Jen Stark. I can't get over the simplicity and complexity of it, which is so contradictory. I also love the use of colors and basic materials.

Here are a few more images and from different angles. There is something so fascinating about it. It does literally burst with energy and effervescence. The engineering mixed with the child like element of construction paper is just genius... and visually stunning.

photos: jen stark

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Trip Around the world...

Stefan and I are considering the option of traveling around the world. It sounds like a dream come true. I have read so many travelogue memoirs that I can only imagine what an adventure it would be to live.

We were already planning a trip through Asia next summer, however it does give us more options to think about. We've also discussed if and when we move back to the US that perhaps that would be a good time. Our flights would be roughly 3,000€ each, or we could book them independently. Even though nothing is a reality as of now, it's still something exciting to think about. There are so many fascinating places to visit. We're definitely making the most of our time here... I was just thinking that November was the first month since May 2007 that we hadn't gone on an international trip together, which is pretty incredible. We'll be picking back up at the end of the month with Copenhagen + Stockholm... then the streak continues with a trip home and to Boston and /or Maine in February, and possibly somewhere in March for Easter weekend!

Friday, November 30, 2007


There truly isn't much that I want for Christmas... which also complicates matters having a birthday close to the holidays. I think last year Stefan and I decided we would simply go on trips because we don't need anything. Of course that doesn't stop me from thinking of things he needs but doesn't realize he needs (like a smaller backpack for our trips). No more waiting at the airport when we can both carry on and go!... That's gift enough to me!

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Art Appreciation

As an Art History major it is obvious if I state that I love art. I love the theory, I love the production, I love the gallery openings... all of it is very exciting. Slowly I am becoming more of a patron and purchaser. My first piece is aptly titled 'Portrait of Emily' by Joe Sorren.

My next piece if the exchange rate continues to work in my favor - or if I fall into some cash, will be Corrina. It is simple to merely think something is beautiful, however Corrina moves me. I would love to see her each day sitting in my home. I love her youthful innocence, her fresh from the ocean appearance, and her elegant features. Once again I think Joe Sorren has mastered becoming a contemporary great. Think about it... many artists have to die before they are recognized for their life works, yet here is an artist that people already realize is phenomenal. (Never mind the access people have thanks to the internet).

Living in Europe sometimes seems so contradictory. On the one hand I would really love to go back to Grad school and continue my studies in Art History, while if I am honest with myself I don't really need to do that right now.

Simply living here and being surrounded by stunning architecture, world class museums, and access to design centers is exciting. I am already anxious for our Scandinavian adventure to design capitols. I truly believe that life should be aesthetically pleasing. I feel so happy when I am surrounded by beautiful things. I think it's an intrinsic quality that people innately long for. Maybe that's just my bias coming through. That being said doesn't mean that I think art has to be beautiful. I also love gritty things that pose questions to the viewer and comment on the world according to the artists view.

While I really appreciate modern things, I also see so much beauty in design that is meant to last. I love walking down my street and seeing buildings with character and bright color. There are intricate doors and a unique meld of Bauhaus and Gothic architecture right outside my door. That alone is really phenomenal for me to think about.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The beauty of a week

I just love feeling like I got something accomplished!

Not only did we have a decent Thanksgiving after arriving late, but we also got our holiday plans taken care of and booked.

It's always funny to me how Stefan and my cultures rub off on each other. I hate to be late, while Stefan takes the laid back American approach. Thanksgiving was no different. I just missed the subway I needed and expected that Stefan would be finished with the office. I thought maybe he would greet me outside rather than me having to venture up and sit in on a discussion between him and his colleagues. Our reservations were for 8pm... we arrived closer to 8:30pm. I was having flash backs from our trip to Reims where we wanted the day to be a success but somehow weren't communicating clearly.

On our walk to the restaurant I also managed to step in dog poo. Sometimes life is so comical. As a side note, I also learned that Stefan believed that Black Friday was due to the fact that Americans 'got money' on Thanksgiving. I have no idea where he got this notion. He said 'all of these years I have been telling my brother that'.

Needless to say we made it. Our table was there... the feast was there. I think I was a little overzealous with the truffle sweet potatoes because I ended up eating way too much and feeling a bit sick. What is Thanksgiving for right?

As for our travel plans we have decided to maximize our time (seriously) by going to Copenhagen and Stockholm. We are leaving early in the morning on the 26th and arriving home late on the 1st. Not only did we manage to book this trip, I also found out about an ice festival in Bruges. I have heard such great things about the place and the ice festival was all the more reason to go. So we are going to be heading there for the weekend of my birthday.

I am really excited for all of our trips. Each city has great things to offer that I am really excited about. Copenhagen's bright row houses along the waterfront I know are going to be so beautiful for a color enthusiast like myself. I know that the Little Mermaid statue that is there is supposed to be quite small, but I am still going to go visit her.

From all of the descriptions I have read about Stockholm being the Venice of the North and having unique food similar to Japanese cuisine I am sure it is going to be fascinating. We are going to visit the ice bar and go on an ice wrecking cruise around some of the islands.

We'll have a 3 day weekend in Belgium and I know we'll enjoy the waffles, beer, and chocolate. No stops in Antwerp for diamonds this time.

The Christmas markets open this weekend and I am going to hope Stefan doesn't have loads of work and we can go to Regenburg for their market. I have heard nothing but good things about the place. It was one of the few cities that didn't get bombed during the war, so it's very old old Germany with Roman city gates dating back nearly 2000 years. The markets are so spectacular... this is from Allägu last year. I love how each city has a unique take on things, however some things are standard - like glühwein.

That is one of the exciting things about Europe - they really built things to last and with pride. I wish sometimes that America took more of an initiative to build lasting beautiful structures. People travel to Barcelona to see Gaudi's works, they go to Rome to see the coliseum, Paris for the Eiffel Tower... and while America does have plenty of natural beauty, much of the architecture is seriously lacking. Strip malls and the consumer mentality definitely feed the US. That's probably the art historian in me coming out, but I wish America was more willing to leave a legacy behind through public art. I immediately feel happier when I am in a city that obviously appreciates aesthetically pleasing structures.

I guess maybe even the strip malls give the US character. I try to view it as an outsider as I read books by foreigners who travel to the states. Everything must seem grandiose and over the top, especially considering the places that foreigners travel to - Las Vegas, New York, California, Texas, Florida. Rarely do people get a glimpse of smaller American towns. America is a consumer land. Even the Europeans go to shop there since the quality and right now with the exchange rate it's all very affordable. Days like this make me so happy not to feel the urge to join mass humanity on Black Friday or feeling the Christmas spirit through purchasing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Decisions ... decisions

I wouldn't think that figuring out a place to go for the holidays would be so complicated, yet it seems to be. We have a fair amount of time (roughly a week), so I want to go somewhere that isn't simply a weekend trip.

Stefan and I are deciding between Iceland, Scandinavia (some combination of Stockholm, Copenhagen, Helsiniki, or Swedish Lapland), or Madrid and Morocco.

I would like to go to all of the places, and since we have a slightly more extended amount of time it is complicating matters. We can't go too far, or we will end up sitting in airports and waiting on layovers. Plus, with New Years being included in our travel plans many hotels are substatially more expensive and booked. I feel like I've researched every possible outcome and concentrated on the arctic circle darkness, the temperatures, and I am still not getting anywhere.

It's already in the plans for a trip to Athens + Santorini around Easter, but we need to make that happen, because the best hotels book so early, and Easter is in March this year.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thanksgiving around the corner

It is still one of the stranger holidays to celebrate internationally. Probably because it's always on a Thursday and the world seems to keep moving here. I have seen some cranberries at the grocery and thought about making some kind of cranberry dessert. It won't compare to Dorothy Lane Market's orange cranberry mix, but it would be something!

We are going to visit Stefan's parents this weekend and I thought of doing some kind of makeshift thing. I'd probably do a modern take on Thanksgiving, but I know how Germans don't really bring things (even though I ALWAYS bring something when we visit). Maybe if I am ambitious I will make pumpkin cookies tomorrow.

It's funny how the largest part of Thanksgiving (minus being with family of course) is the Turkey, but that is not my priority. I'd rather the whipped potatos and pumpkin dishes. Last year we went to the Perkins' house and since I haven't been very active with the International Women's club we're not going to go this year. She even had trouble finding a place that had a whole bird (you have to visit a special man at Viktualienmarkt) -- and then she had the problem of trying to fit it into her oven, because the ovens are substantially smaller. And don't forget the refrigerators are also smaller, so you make food and don't know where to put it.

It doesn't make sense for me to cook things up when it's just Stefan and I. Last year Stefan told his office it was an 'important American holiday' and he needed to leave early, which was sweet of him. It makes me think about celebrating makeshift 4th of July with our cookout. The humor in all of it makes the holidays great.

I am really thinking that we will probably end up making reservations at a restaurant here called 'The Big Easy'. They try to be New Orleans like, which is even funnier - and they will have live Jazz. It almost makes me have to go because I love to see the German take on thing... such as that Mexican restaurant we went to that had (no joke) marinara sauce for chips as opposed to salsa. I could have taught them a thing or two... how hard is it to make salsa from scratch?! Needless to say we drank many maragaritas that night as we laughed about that.

Isn't the best part of the menu the 'you like' in the top right hand corner? English is widely spoken here... it sounds like something you would hear from a ramshakle shop in Tijuana.

I'm not sure what funny aspects will be this year... I guess spending nearly $100 on Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant ranks up there in ridiculousness, but I'm sure we will have a lot of fun. My other favorite is the 'Amerikanish Salate' - I don't quite know what the difference is with an American salad. I guess we don't pour tons of oil and balsamic on it, and put corn and random things in. We have an English speakers message board where people can share information about anything and everything. I could not stop laughing at one man asking where to get 'an entire Turkey dinner for take-away' - in America you can definitely get Thanksgiving catered and it's not a big deal. Finding the same thing here or even thinking you could is hysterical.

One thing is for sure - we are going to have a snowy winter, because it just keeps coming. That is unless the föhn (warm Alpin air) comes through to warm things up again for a while.


So it has been over a year since I began to call Germany home. There are definitely many idiosyncrasies that I am continually learning about. Whenever I have visitors I notice things more and miss those initial thoughts when I would ponder the smallest mundane detail such as a door knob that doesn't turn.

There are some things that Germans are known for, such as cleanliness, structure, being on time, cars, and engineering. I have to laugh when Stefan tells me about going on business trips and telling coworkers to 'stop being so German' when someone is 5 minutes late.

One thing that I do appreciate is the simplicity, design, and attention to detail. I think everyone that has visited and asked where to shop I have asked 'do you know anyone with a baby?' The reason is I absolutely love their baby toys made of bright colored wood, particularly a brand called Haba. They have produce, beads, and teethers. (I bought the flower teether for Emily's daughter Claire).

They are just so beautiful!

There is however, a large divide as well. You either have great quality or complete crap. Some of the stores I walk into and shudder as I see things that look so archaic and are yet still quite expensive. If I want to go into a time warp I can just walk into our attempt at a Meijer. It's unfortunate that we don't have something like Target that melds design and functionality into an aesthetically pleasing place. I guess Germans go with the adage of if it's not broke don't fix it. You know what you need you go to get it and you leave. Although, if you let a German loose in the US, (this was when the exchange rate wasn't even as good as it is now) you will see a child in a candy store and they are instantly converted into consumers.

I often look at many design websites and save images of things that I like so I can get what I want when I need it (maybe some of the German mentality is rubbing off on me!) I was surprised and excited to find this beautiful baby bed (don't get an ideas - we still want a few years being child free). The great part is that it not only grows with the child and is beautiful, but it also made in the Allgäu! It's comical for me to see it on all kinds of international design websites when it comes for the Allgäu. I think it will fit wonderfully into our simplistic and modern approach at decorating once it's time.

Lately we have been trying to figure out our next few years. It's a funny life that I never imagined I would lead. I feel like a nomad with a home base in two countries. I see my friends from home settling down and putting roots down, while my friends here are typically 30-35 and unmarried, but dating the same person for 6 or 7 years. Or I have the 50 something variety that are spunky and have fascinating life stories. There is something to be said about the way Europeans look at life and especially here in Germany with the most vacation days of any country in the world.

I truly couldn't ask for anything better in life. Even working here feels like early retirement!

images: haba + sirch

Monday, November 12, 2007


Spending 6 weeks in the US is a blessing that I am unsure that I will get to experience again in the near future. I could tell my family was doing all they could to make me happy and give me those simple pleasures of home, like my mom's oatmeal cookies. I couldn't have asked for a better time.

Meem and I had a great road trip up to Detroit, Frankenmuth, Bellevue, Ruggles, Ashland and Mansfield. We met up with Stefan and his coworkers, Emily + her new baby Claire, and Ryan. I was also able to do a little christmas shopping.

Target and Jcrew appreciated that I was back I am sure... as did my family.

We had a lot of fun taking Mieka on daily walks and periodically sprinting with her. I was curious what she would think of randomly running, but she loved it. It was nice to have a dog around again... even if she is slightly neurotic. I also loved being able to photograph her nonstop. Being home is one of the few places I actually take less photos. Except of course for poor Mieka. I know she would love to run like the dogs do at the Englisch Garten. I wish the US was more dog friendly, although I did see the Jeffersonville outlet mall now allows dogs. I'm looking forward to seeing Mieka and the rest of my family again in just a few months. I think the time will pass quite quickly.

Amy and I (and hopefully Stefan too) have a trip planned for Boston / Maine. I always loved the North East and I would love to go back to Stefan and my first trip together and to take Amy to the NE.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

New York City

Our next stop was from Chicago to New York. It worked out nicely because the flight was significantly cheaper to fly a multi-city than round trip from Ohio to Chicago. I was excited because that meant I would get to see Mary Beth. Our visit seemed so short, but time with her always passes too quickly. The three of us were lucky enough to have a dinner date at Amy Sacco's restaurant Bette, which was wonderful. If you go I highly recommend the truffle fries!

Stefan and I felt like we were eating our way around town. We were happy that we are accustomed to walking, so we didn't feel too guilty about all of the great meals we were having. We stopped at Mesa Grill, Bobby Flay's Southwest inspired restaurant when we got into town. We had a delicious brunch and it made me like Bobby Flay even more than before. There's something so sweet and cute about him.

New York City is fascinating and large (yes, that's stating the obvious). I love the unique areas like Canal Street in the china town, although I don't think I could hear 'hand bag, hand bag, you want hand bag?' one more time.

NYC reminded me of Paris. Too much to do and see and quite overwhelming. We loved the views from Top of the Rock and walking through the quaint neighborhoods. There was so much character and bussle that I can see why so many people love this city. It also had a European feel because you really have to know what you are looking for because there are so many little niche shops.

We stumbled upon Magnolia Bakery with their super cream cheesey frosting (they were quite delicious). I think that is part of the charm and appeal... you never know what you are going to run into. I also really like the colors... the grays of the buildings and the bright yellow cabs.

Stefan bought me some beautiful eternity circle earrings at Tiffany's to celebrate his promotion. I will always cherish those. And the interior resembles a bean, like cloud gate in Chicago! Yes, I am sentimental like that.

Friday, September 14, 2007


As soon as I got settled into life in Ohio, Stefan and I were heading to Chicago. Once again we hit the baggage dilemma. Stefan's bag was taking forever and they finally figured out that the two people waiting for their bags weren't getting them because the baggage man didn't show up to work.

We got our tickets for the 'el' and that was a bit of a shock to me. It seemed so archaic and slow that there were many points where I thought we could walk faster. We walked around the city and admired all of the public art. I really loved Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate... it is so striking and interactive.

I hadn't been to Chicago since I was about 12, and I had a new appreciation for the architecture and set up of the city. It probably helped to have quite a few friends there as well. We loved visiting everyone, eating Vosges naga cookies and ice cream, and celebrating with MK and friends.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Home sweet Home!

Some quick thinking saved me from having to fly through New York City and then to Ohio due to a delayed flight in Philly. This is the one instance in my life that I can say USAirways actually did something great for me. I made it home nearly 3 hours earlier than I was supposed to!

An error on my part of not tagging my bag plane side, meant that my dirndl would have to come out on the carousel. I had planned a great surprise for Stefan and my family picking me up to wear my new dirdnl. Yes, my second one. I guess it was a fair trade off. It was nice to be home early!

Being home is wonderful!

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Lingo and working

Today was my last day of work and I was sad to go… I think about my new colorful vocab that my Northern Ireland co-worker has taught me using irish jargon. Here are some of my favorites:

Git – idiot
Mangen – smelly
‘your man’ – reference to anyone
slapper – a trashy woman

There is nothing like standing at the train station and talking with tourists. They are always ready for an adventure and some excitement. Plus they are just happy to be on vacation. I honestly couldn't ask for a better job... and it's a great feeling to know that I don't really have to be working. In a way it is like teaching, however I have to corral around adults and occassionally an elderly person or child and listen to their stories while offering up some excitement for their vacation.

It's funny how the people that I encounter are always 35 or in their 50s... I don't know where the young people are in Munich. Sometimes I feel a bit like an outsider because I am young, have graduated from university (I am even starting to talk like them), and I'm married. I can't complain too much though. After all, I do live in a beautiful city with one of the highest qualities of life in the world, with an amazing man that I adore, and couldn't ask for someone more fun to share life with. Working does give me a sense of purpose and help me feel like I am contributing to the world in some way.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Paris + Reims

I was so surprised how quickly our one year anniversary crept up! We really had a great time in Paris (who couldn't?!), but the time went so fast. We were constantly on the move. I don't even think people who live there forever get a chance to explore everything. We did as much as possible and enjoyed the romance of Paris itself.

We did have a few hang ups -such as waiting inside the Notre Dame- for nearly an hour, thinking that tickets to the top were sold there. In actuality we were waiting for the gift shop to open. We ended up going outside and there was a huge line, so half of our morning was gone. Fortunately we stayed at this wonderful little hospital... yes, hospital, with a hotel on the top floor that was right next to it. From our small sky light we could see and wake up to the bells of the Notre Dame.

I quickly decided that my favorite time of day in Paris was early early morning, when no one was out and the streets were quiet.

Since our bus tour worked out so well in Barcelona, and gave us little to think about we opted to do the same tour in Paris.

Paris was much different than I anticipated. To say Paris is large is an understatement. We went to the typical tourist sites and visited the neighborhoods for a more intimate look at how the Parisians lived. I really expected to see well dressed fashionistas... perhaps they were on holiday, but I never saw someone that exuded style and elegance. I was also surprised to see the Gap and middle of the road shops on the Champs Elysees.

Our first night we went to the Louvre, because there wasn't much of a line and there was a light drizzle. I think the common theme to Paris was overwhelming. It's slightly discouraging to be in a city with so much art and history and know that it is not humanly possible to see and do it all.

We spent several hours there and were quickly ushered past the Mona Lisa. I was happy to also see the Venus de Milo and The Winged Victory of Samothrace. I'm sure it is this way whenever there are large groups of tourists, but it never ceases to amaze me how people love to break the rules or don't have etiquette on how to behave in museums or churches. There were cameras flashing and people taking out my personal favorite, the camera phone, to take photos (particularly at the Mona Lisa, where it is forbidden). We continued our tradition of purchasing a children's book (ok, so I bought 3!) at the Louvre museum le enfants shop.

Being so close to the Notre Dame we woke one morning quite early and were the only tourists there, which was very much appreciated. There were large Asian tour groups with children running wild and loud talking other occasions we visited. We were curious how they would respond if someone were to act similarly in one of their temples. Nonetheless we were awestruck by the beauty of the place.

The Eiffel tower was beautiful, particularly at night and with the sparkling lights on. I was happy to see it both in the day light from the Trocedaro and the neighboring park as well as at dusk and night. At night, the line was again not so long at night so we decided to venture up... we quickly learned why it wasn't so large - we had to walk. We didn't go up to the very top, however the view was still wonderful. It was probably good we had to walk because we ate nothing but goat cheese and baguettes and many pastries.

I fell in love with the La Fayette, a grocery downtown. We bought quite a bit of food there, which I really enjoyed.

My favorite areas of the city were Montmartre (home of the Moulin Rouge) and the quiet 5th + 6th arrondisments. They both had vibrant colors and narrow little cobble streets.

We decided to spend a day in Reims and visiting the champagne houses. I am so happy that we chose to do that. I was very anxious because we initially made plans to and needed reservations. Our second champagne house (Veuve Clicquot) was only available in German and Stefan saved the day by calling and getting us a tour.

Reims was also fascinating. We went to two champagne houses (Pommery + Veuve Clicquot) and they were uniquely different. We loved the chalk caves and seeing the process -- and of course the sampling! The town itself was still rebuilding from WWI. We stopped at what is now a high school where the act ending WWII was signed. It was amazing that it was not very long ago. This is also where the kings were cornoated, where Chagall has his beautiful windows, and where the one winged smiling angel greets guests at the cathedral.

Early on our last morning we finally got in line (the correct line) for our turn to see Paris from the Notre Dame. An Italian couple was trying with all their might to cut the line (there was a family of 4 in front of us and that was all). The ended up weasling in behind us and I found it so ironic that they would lie to get into a church.

After viewing Paris from above we checked out of our hotel and then went to share some celebratory champagne in front of the Notre Dame. We were both shocked to see so many people feeding pigeons and holding food in their fingertips for sweet little sparrows fluttering around. With bird flu being on the rise I couldn’t believe people were so naïve. I guess that’s why diseases like this spread… simply for the photo opt of children chasing birds or having sparrows flutter around your hands.

We enjoyed celebrating our anniversary and read our note cards that were written before our wedding and were to be opened on our honeymoon… we forgot and saved them for our one year anniversary. It was a nice way to share a special day.

After we were finishing our second tiny bottle of champagne the rain started and we headed into the subway. The ticket machine was broken so we learned a valuable lesson: buy all tickets needed for subways upon arrival! - As soon as Stefan left for coins (which also didn't work) a ticketing window opened. My suspicions were later confirmed that Charles de Gaulle is one of the worst airports I have ever been to in my life! But I'd go back, simply to be in Paris again. It's a place that grows on me.

Monday, July 30, 2007


We had such an amazing time visiting Barcelona and I think it easily has become one of my favorite cities with so much charm and character.

When we arrived I think they had a baggage issue, because we waited for over an hour for our luggage to come through. Stefan heard it once again from me that he needs to have a smaller bag that we can carry on. We finally got our bags and hopped on the bus into the city and then to Plaça Catalunya. We promptly went to the tourist information office and picked up tickets for the next day's bus tours. I would rather roam about, but a city like Barcelona is so huge that doing some kind of tour is almost a necessity during the first visit.

Our hotel was modern and simplistic - just the way we like them. It also had a beautiful courtyard with a few cats roaming about. After getting settled, we hit the town and went down to the shore and into Christopher Columbus, one of the great views that I had read about. While there was virtually no space to move I was able to get some panorama images, which I always love.

After a long day of roaming around the harbor and Port Vell area, we wandered back down Las Ramblas and through the beautiful Barrí Gótic neighborhood. I was struck by all of the 'store fronts' that were spray painted garage door coverings. The winding alley ways reminded me of Venice. There was a definite bohemian spirit through the city.

We stumbled upon a little tapas restaurant and were not sure how much food to order, however we walked away quite content with our sangria and tiny plates as we prepared for a day of sight seeing.

The next day we were awe struck by the Gaudi architecture. All of it was simply amazing and creative. We decided to bypass the other tourists and go directly to Sagrada Familia one of the most inspiring and complex structures I have ever seen. I really appreciated that the people shared Gaudi's visions and were still making his plan happen nearly 100 years later. The dripping façade was striking and had so many stories involved in it (the turtle on the side facing land was a land turtle, whlie the otherside towards the ocean was a sea turtle). Being able to enter it during the construction is also amazing.

The interior was completely organic and very much drawn from nature. Looking up you felt as though you were standing under trees and the sun was gorgeous as it shined through the windows and over head. I was very happy that we decided to go before the mass humanity came. That enabled us to go up into the steeples and get a beautiful view of the city. It was an awe inspiring moment that I will never forget. Barcelona quickly rose in ranking to be one of my favorite cities.

We also stopped at the MNAC, a beautiful art museum and the near by site of the 1992 Olympics. The olympic's site was less than amazing, but I am happy that we were able to see it. We started to talk about the Dream Team. Funny memories.

Our next destination was to Park Güell, a whimsical and colorful park built off Gaudi's imaginative designs. We walked up the hill past a beautiful violet house that I had seen a photo of online and I was delighted that I didn't have to search for it. Upon arriving to the gates of the park we were greeted with a woman dressed as the Gaudi dragon that is made of tiles. We opted to get our photo taken for a small donation. Surely she would be baking under all of that costume. We felt like we were constantly buying water.

The park was also awe inspiring. There simply aren't words to explain what a stunning and spectacular mind Gaudi had. The tourists were surely awake by this time, because we had tons and tons of people around. We walked down through the area and finished two loops of the bus tour around the city. We still had two for the next days.

I wish that we had more time to spend at the Boqueria market that we near our hotel. Unfortunately it was a Saturday and would be closed Sunday. Seeing all of the foods and commotion is neat.

We made our way to Plaça Espana and Font Majica, the colorful classical music themed fountain near the MNAC at night. The light show was beautiful and I was happy that we went. If I were to go back to Barcelona I would undoubtedly stay at the 'B Hotel' located close by. I am happy however, that we stayed right off Las Ramblas for our first visit. The Barrí Gótic quarter was definitely my favorite neighborhood (where our hotel was located).