Thursday, July 23, 2009

We're off to Serfaus again!

Today is an exciting day for us. We are returning to the spot where we vacationed last summer. It was such a wonderful trip, we are doing something we have never done before - return to the same place two years in a row.

After Serfaus we will have a few days in Devon, England visiting family, followed by the Isle of Wight for more family visits and lastly 2 nights in London before flying home again.

When we return, I will be posting about our adventures which I hope will include riding an electric-assisted bike, hiking, Traditional Austria specialties and dancing, Zorbing, a West End Show, a BBC Studios tour and more.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Insider Secrets for visiting Washington DC

Yesterday was a beautiful day in the Washington DC area and I spent the afternoon indoors watching a play at the Warner Theater. Afterwards as I walked back to the Metro, I couldn't resist taking two quick photos in the bright sun.
The first is of the Post Office Pavillion - our insider secret for getting a birds eye view of Washington. So much better than the Washington Monument because it's free, never a long line, and at the top you have huge windows (instead of tiny, peepholes) and lots of fresh air.

The second is a rare picture of the curved archways leading to the Federal Triangle Metro stop with no people around. I thought it looks majestic and peaceful.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Next Stop: Philadelphia and Delaware

Now that the weather is improving and spring is not far off, I am finally making plans to do some short local trips. April 25th I will go to Philadelphia for the day to take photos and see some historic sights.

We are also planning a day trip to Wilmington, Deleware. The date isn't set yet, so it could happen before the Philadelphia trip.

I will update this blog with stories and photos as soon as I return from the trips.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Was the Muesli made of gold flakes?

This trip to Germany was an amazing trip with surprisingly few problems considering that I traveled on a holiday weekend (Sunday after Thanksgiving) and traveled in winter snow and rain. The first minor problem was a road accident on the Autobahn that made poor Silvia two hours late picking me up at the airport. I was fine with the wait, but she, poor thing, spent double the hours expected on the road.

The second problem, again happened in Frankfurt on my last morning. Although it wasn't serious or disruptive, it really bothers me because it feels so unfair and criminal - my breakfast at the Sheraton Hotel cost me - are you sitting down? - $50!

I have blogged about it on my other blog so I won't repeat all the details here, but no one should be allowed to charge that much for breakfast unless the muesli is made of gold flakes. And then, even if it is, the hotel should be required by law to post the cost in a prominent location for all customers to see BEFORE they chose to eat. Finally, they should offer an a-la-carte option for those who don't want to pay $50 for a quick and light breakfast.

I plan to write to the Sheraton to complain and I will post the response I get on my other blog.

For now, my trip to Germany to visit friends and experience the German Christmas Markets is over and although I am happy to be back home with my family, I am sad it is over. I improved my German over the week (I could FEEL my vocabulary growing daily) and wish I could visit more often.

Now, I just have to wait for my next wander. Wonder where it will be?

Bad weather made me early - really!

Today was my last day in Bremen. Most of it was spent buying some last minute items and visiting with Regina and her husband. The two main things I wanted to buy were Klaben (see photo above) for my parents and a new German/English dictionary for me. I was successful with both and managed to get my bags all packed and ready to go with plenty of time to spare.

Even though Bremen airport is small, I asked to be taken there two hours before my flight. This turned out to be fortunate for there had been fog delays all day in Frankfurt. This sounds like it would have made me late and not early, but because the earlier flight was so delayed, my flight was canceled and I was rebooked on the earlier but delayed flight. As a result of this complicated rescheduling, I not only had just a 20 minute wait in Bremen airport, but I arrived in Frankfurt 1 hour earlier than scheduled! Not a bad trick to arrive early in bad weather.

My hotel was connected via a bridge directly to the airport (selected for this very reason) and so within minutes I was in my room at the Sheraton. I immediately went back to the airport to buy a sandwich for dinner and returned with it to my room to watch "Wer wird Millionaire" - the German version of "Who Wants to be a Millionaire.."

I stayed up rather late, knowing that I didn't want to wake up too early and have time on my hands. The room was comfortable and I made use of this last opportunity to immerse myself in the German language by watching German TV.

Immersion Bremen

Today we visited the Focke Museum in Bremen and I ate a traditional dish. It was a day for being immersed in all things Bremisch.

The museum has everything from the history of Bremen itself from its earliest days, to art, and collections of objects organized from A to Z. And I mean this literally. Part of the museum actually has a sections labeled with all 26 letters of the alphabet and each letter stands for a word such as "spiele" for S which means "games" in German. This section was filled with collections of toys and games through history.

The first part of the museum showed a 3D model of Bremen color-coded to show what parts existed at various points in time.

Some other favorites that I saw include scale models of typical Bremen houses like giant dollhouses, the thumb screw collection (ouch!) and the care package from America shown above.

I took many photos, but my camera was acting up and many didn't turn out. These are the best of the rest.

After our visit to the museum, I kept myself busy while Regina helped her daughter with her homework for awhile and later that evening she prepared us a typical Bremisch speciality for dinner. This dish called "Knipp" looks like this when you buy it in the butcher shop.....
.... and after it is cooked and served with boiled potatoes, it looks like this....

Even though I had no idea what it was made of, it tasted absolutely delicious and smelled delightful. I recommend it if you are ever offered it, unless you happen to be vegetarian. Although I don't know the ingredients, it is definitely not vegetarian.

Walking in my Grandfather's footsteps

Today Regina's husband drove us north to Bremerhaven. This port on the North Sea was the starting point for many immigrants who arrived at Ellis Island at the end of their journey and my Grandfather was one of those immigrants in 1922. There is an excellent museum here called Das Auswanderer Haus which means the Emmigration House. Similar to Ellis Island you can (and I did) look up your ancestors to see which ship they sailed on and who they traveled with, but it is also more of an "experience."
As you walk through the museum there are two key elements. First, you carry a small card with you that assigns you a real emmigrant. Throughout the museum you can use this card to activate interactive stations and learn more about this person's personal history from their decision to emmigrate until their ultimate fate. I was assigned "Martha Hüner" and I learned that she came to America the year after my Grandfather and at the end of her life she returned to Bremen again and died in Germany.
The other key element is that as you walk through the museum you are actually walking through a replica of the emmigration experience from standing on the pier waiting with crowds of other immigrants and stacks of luggage, to boarding the ship via a gangway, to walking the halls of the ship and visiting the sleeping and eating rooms. The floors sway slightly as if you were at sea and through all the portholes you see moving ocean and nothing else. As you progress through the ship you see and learn how the living conditions improved over the years and the travel time went from 12 days down to 5. When I paid my entry fee, they were aware that my first language was English and my card activated everything in English which is good for those who want to visit, but don't speak German.
After our museum visit, we walked along the waterfront to get to a new shopping Mall called Mediteraneo. Inside it is made to look like you are wandering the shopping streets of Italy. It was pretty, but the shops were not that enticing. They were all very expensive. However, today was a special day in Germany - St. Nikolaustag. This is the day that St. Nikolaus brings gifts and fills stockings for Children. The Weihnachtsmann (equivilent of our Santa Claus) comes on December 24th. This day is also a bit like our Halloween. Children visit shops in the afternoon with a bag and sometimes wearing a costume. At the shop, they must recite a poem or give some sort of small performance and they are rewarded with free candy. I witnessed St. Nikolaus wandering the Mall and talking to children in Bremerhaven and later that day back in Vegesack's Hafen Hööv Mall I saw the children collecting their rewards.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Oh my aching feet!!

Today Regina and I devoted our entire day to exploring Bremen and its Christmas Markets. We started in the Viertel (The Quarter). This part of Bremen has a main shopping street with up market shops along with some seedier areas that haven't yet been revitalized. We stopped to see if one of her friends was home, but she wasn't ready for visitors, so we just explored the area looking in shops and buying a few cards and trinkets.

Eventually we reached the Schnoor area of Bremen which I had seen on my prior visit so we just passed through until we reached the central part of the Old Town where the hear of the market was. Again there were so many things to see, smell, try and examine. We took our time and I looked at many ornaments or decorations thinking I might buy them, but they were either pricey, too big or the stall too crowded so I didn't buy too much. I did find a Smoker that was reasonable and looked good. The one thing that I have already bought that catches my eye everywhere are the German "Sterne" or stars. This stall shows what the look like and I just LOVE them. I bought a red one and a white one.

Despite the lure of the chestnuts, Wurst, Steaks, roasted sugared almonds, chocolates and Flammkuchen, we decided to rest our feet and have a lesiurely lunch at the Spaghetti Haus. However, just a short while after lunch, Regina was anxious for me to try another new food - Flammkuchen - which I readily agreed to. It turned out to be a bit like a pizza. The crust is super-thin, almost crepe-like, and spread with creme frais, diced bacon and cheese. It is served already cut into small squares on a cutting board and boy is it delicious!

It gets dark earlier in Germany than in Virginia, but it was raining off and on today also which made it darker even earlier. As it got darker, the markets seemed to come more alive. The crowds grew, sparkling lights appeared and the entire atmosphere was jolly and festive.By wandering around we managed to find a Gluhwein stall without a crowd and I finally had my first authentic Gluhwein. Very delicious and warming.
Our last adventure was a stroll along the riverfront that is called the Schlachte. Here there were two markets, one medieval. My photos didn't come out well, but this is where we found the biggest crowds. Lots of work groups were out for a "happy hour", but again, the atmosphere was incredible.

At last we reached the end, walked on our poor, aching feet back to the Hauptbahnhof and caught the next train back to Vegesack. It was a fantastic day despite the weather and I had a blister to prove it!

A day packed with typical Bremen Activities

Thursday was my first full day in Bremen. I was staying with Regina in the northern part of the city in an area called Vegesack. This day was jam packed with typical Bremen activities. It started with a trip to the library with her friend Petra. It was quite interesting (and amazing) how many books they had in English. You'd be hard pressed to find many books written in German in my library!

After the library we had cappuccino at Petra's house before strolling through Vegesack's pedestrian zone and Farmers' Market. It was cold, but so interesting to see all the different foods and things for sale.

We returned home in time for Regina's daughter's return from school and we ate delicious baguette sandwiches from a shop just next door. After a brief Skype call with my husband back in the States, we had an enjoyable hour playing a driving game on the Wii! Boy was I bad at that! I think my German friends might be afraid to ride in my car after that performance.
Regina's husband returned from work a short while later and he drove us all to a new mall called "Waterfront." On the mall grounds was a small Christmas Market, but it was raining and cold so we didn't really stop to see it. We just ran through it to get to our real aim - an Ice Sculpture Exhibit. The exhibit was incredible and amazing but also incredibly cold. We later saw a piece on TV about how difficult it is to carve in ice because you can't see shadows on it like you can with wood, stone or metal.
Here is a sampling of some of the amazing pieces - the photos don't do them justice.
After this chilling experience we actually found it felt much warmer outside than it had before. The ice hall was kept at below zero and it felt bitterly cold in there.

Our last stop for the day was for a typical Bremen specialty - Kohl und Pinkel. This dish was prepared just for me by Regina's mother and it was a highlight of my trip so far. The table was covered with platters and bowls filled with smoked pork loin, sausages, boiled potatoes, Grünkohl (Kale) und a special stuffed sausage called Pinkel. You have to take some of each of the meats and cut them up on your plate along with the potato. You top it with a big ladle full of kale and then spoon out some of the Pinkel from the casing on top. It was a wonderful dining experience and boy was I full afterwards. Traditionally people take a long walk in the winter weather before eating this meal and this event is called a "Kohl and Pinkel Fahrt." I probably needed the walk to work off the calories, but after that cold ice hall, I was glad I didn't have to "walk for my dinner."
The PinkelThe pork loinMy filled plate!!! Yummy

Snow in Siegerland

Today I awoke with my alarm a little after 7am and when I looked out of the window of my hotel, I was surprised to see that it was snowing. The view was breathtaking. I am staying in a small village called Freudenburg that has narrow, quiet streets flanked with black and white, half-timbered houses. Businesses have quaint, curly iron signs and the streets are decorated with stars and greenery for Christmas. Add the snow that fell this morning and you have a winter wonderland that is quiet and mystical.

Thankfully, this snow did not prevent Silvia from driving me us to Münster. Our plans included touring Münster before my train to Bremen and the second part of my trip. The Siegen area was covered in snow and traffic had to go slow because if it, but by the time we had reached Münster, the snow was non-existant and all was dry.

Münster's old town is very beautiful and you would never guess that most of the lovely buildings were destroyed by Americans during WWII. Unlike some other destroyed towns, this one was rebuilt in the same old style that had been there before instead of the ugly, cheap 50's style that many other cities in the world rebuilt with.

Münster is also a town of bikes. Both the abundance of bikes and the architecture reminded me of Amsterdam. There were hundreds of bicyclists going this way and that way all over the town and they were my kind of bike where you can sit up straight and see the view.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Christmas Markets and Köln

(Along the Rhein in Köln)

So far my trip is fabulous! Yesterday my arrival was smooth and I explored Siegen with my friend Silvia. The Siegen Christmas market was so nice, but today I saw two more in Köln and each is better than the last.!

Before we left by train for Köln today we first spent an hour in Silvia's English class where I answered questions about America for her fellow students. Next we made a brief visit to the Upper Castle in Siegen which is high up on one of the 7 hills that make up the town. The castle is very pretty even in the gray weather we were having, so it must be beautiful on a blue-sky day.
(The Upper Castle in Siegen)
The first thing we visited in Köln was the Dom (Cathedral) which was incredible. It is so unbelievably tall and because of this is was nearly as cold inside as outside, but incredibly pretty too.
(Floor mosaic in the Dom)

I also visited a chocolate museum today which I thoroughly enjoyed. This museum is really interesting and everything was in both English and German. I had planned to visit this place on a previous visit and never made it there. I am so glad my friend Silvia took me this time.

We had cake and coffee at the museum before exploring and I had my first Latte Machciato.
The museum was super. You learn everything about chocolate from where the beans are grown and how long it takes to grow them, how they are harvested, how they have to be fermented to make chocolate, how the people who grow these beans surprisingly don't eat chocolate much if at all, and how the Lindt company's invention of a special machine that improved the texture of chocolate is why it is so smooth and creamy in modern times.
(A chocolate fountain in the museum where we were given a taste.)

After the chocolate museum we visited two Christmas Markets. The first was a medieval one where were bought and ate some delicious roasted chestnuts and the second was a traditional market where we ate Reibekuchen mit Apfelmuss (Potato Pancakes with applesauce). Both were hot, delicious and added to the market atmosphere. It was dark already and all the stalls were lighted, jolly and amazing aromas filled the air.
(Reibekuchen mit Apfelmuss)(The Christmas Market in Köln)

(Köln Cathedral in background with Christmas market in foreground)

Sunday, November 30, 2008

On my way!

My German christmas market adventure has officially begun. I am waiting to board my flight to Frankfurt. I hope to be able to do some short posts along the way from my phone. I'll write more and add photos next week.

From my phone

Sunday, August 24, 2008

A day full of history: Friday August 8, 2008

After an excellent breakfast buffet this morning that included anything you could possibly imagine, we took the tube to Wimbledon. Here we bought train tickets and switched to a main line train for a twenty minute ride to Hampton Court. We arrived just as it opened and we already had tickets that we had purchased on-line before we left the USA.

I had expected crowds and lines, but the place was nearly deserted. We made a beeline to the Maze, but the operator was late for work and we had to wait about 5 or 10 minutes. The maze was fun, but smaller than I had envisioned and we made only 1 wrong turn and it was over within minutes.

In the palace we joined a costumed guide's tour of the tudor kitchens which was very interesting, but for the rest of the castle, we used individual audio guides which were also free (included with admission). We had to keep one eye on the clock because we have another tour booked at Wimbledon, so reluctantly around Noon, we went to the palace cafe and had lunch and then caught the train back to Wimbledon.

Wimbledon, the tennis club, is actually two stops back the way we had come on the tube at Southfields. From the tube stop we had a 1/2 mile walk until we found the tennis club. Along the way we passed our niece's apartment where we would be going to for dinner after our tour.
Our tour was scheduled for 2:30 and we arrived around 1:45. It took awhile to get the tour paid for because they were having computer problems and then we were able to tour the museum for 30 minutes before our tour. The tour was very interesting and the rain that was threatening only lasted about 5 minutes. The tour is long - 90 minutes - and afterwards we returned to the museum and stayed until it closed at 5pm.

Next we walked the 1/4 mile back down the road to Lisa's apartment. We spent a few hours with her and she served us a delicious dinner. The olympics began in China today so we saw parts of the opening ceremony on the news - very spectacular. The best I can remember seeing.

Finally we returned to our hotel in time to pack up our cases and watch a bit of television. I will be happy to see my kitties again and sleep in my own bed, but I already miss Austria and there are so many things to see in London, but all my time is up.

This has definitely been one of the best vacations we've had. Nothing went wrong, everything exceeded our expectations and the weather, for the most part, cooperated.

The only thing left to do, it decide where to go to next.....

London Calls: August 7, 2008

We left the Isle of Wight on the 11:15am ferry and traveled to London Waterloo. Here we caught the Tube to Paddington (15 minutes on the District line) and to our hotel (The Hilton) located above Paddington Rail station. The hotel was nice, but our welcome was lukewarm. We were not made to feel welcome by the front desk staff. Our package rate included breakfast both days and dinner on our first night, but the free dinner didn't start until 6:30pm. We had theater tickets for Billy Elliot at 7:30 in Victoria and there would not be enough time. The first desk clerk was not very helpful, so we returned to the desk later and asked if it would be possible to have an earlier dinner because of our timing issue. He didn't smile, but did call the restaurant and they agreed to allow us to start at 6pm.

Despite the earlier dinner, we didn't have time for 2 of our 3 courses. We both had the salmon and "crashed potatoes" and it was delicious. On the Tube there were further problems as the planned direct train was delayed. Thanks to the electronic signs, we realized our train would not come in time and were able to figure out another route via Oxford Circus and we arrived at the theater 15 minutes before curtain time.

Our seats were the last two seats in the very last balcony row. This proved to be a good thing because this old theater was built when people were shorter. Our knees were pressed into the seat in front of me the whole first half and it was very uncomfortable. At the intermission we stood up and realized that there was a wall behind us that was quite a bit taller than the seats. So for the first bit of the second half, we stood and leaned on the wall. This gave us some relief. However, the theater is also very steep, and so it was a bit scary looking down. Eventually we sat back down. The show itself was magnificent. I loved the music. Graham felt he couldn't hear the words very well, but I was more familiar with the music which probably helped me.

We retraced our steps back to the hotel on the direct route and prepared our things for a quick start in the morning. We will be doing a lot tomorrow and need to be on the train by 8:30am.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

A Fishy Picnic: Wednesday August 6, 2008

We spent a fruitless morning attempting to get our train tickets for tomorrow up to London. In past years, it has always just involved a quick trip to the bus station in the center of Newport to buy a ticket that includes the ferry connection to Portsmouth as well.

We were warned that the bus station no longer sells the train and ferry tickets, but were told we could go to the tourist office. We had to wait an hour for them to open at the incredibly late hour of 10am and wait in a queue only to learn that you can't get them there either. The only option is on-line or in Ryde or Cowes.

We had already decided to change our plans and not leave as early as planned tomorrow so we will have time to buy the tickets just before we board the ferry, but it is really inconvenient with this new change.

The picnic did happen. It took coordination and 3 cars again. Graham and I rode with Jake in Gaye's car. Gaye and Graham were discussing which way to go and we ended up on a route that had a road closed and had to drive a bit out of our way. As a result, we were the last to arrive at the fish and chips shop which was extremely busy. It took awhile, but eventually we all had our orders and we drove up the hill and onto Boniface down with wonderful views in all directions. We spread ourselves out on chairs and blankets and dug into the most fantastic fish and chips. Because this is a treat we only get once a year, I really savored mine and made them last.

This time the crowd included:
  • Mum and Dad
  • Gaye and her kids Alice, Jake and Josh
  • Brian and his kids Georgina and Brendan
  • Sam (his family are still out of town)
  • Graham and me
At one point after the food was gone, a challenge was issued for a foot race between Graham, his brother and most of the kids. There were two races in all and Graham was chuffed to be victorious in both.
After the picnic, Graham took his dad's car with me and Alice and Jake while Brian took his two in his car. These two cars when to Yaverland beach while Gaye drove her parents home. This beach was fantastic and I wished I had my swimsuit with me. It had nice big waves, a sandy beach (no stones) and the air was warm. I had to content myself with taking photos while wading in knee-deep and keeping an eye on Alice who was having a ball.

That evening Alice and Georgina slept out in the back garden in Alice's new tent. It was a big adventure for her.

Creative Endeavors: Tuesday August 5, 2008

Gaye had to work today and so Alice, Jake and Josh were spending the whole day with us at their Granny and granddad's. Alice brought her craft box and she and I spent all morning making a "room" on a sheet of paper that turned our quite nice. We also played "madlibs" and wrote stories and drew pictures. It was actually quite a lot of fun - Alice is really nice to play with.

After lunch, Graham, Alice, Jake and I all went for a circular walk from the house. Despite a brief shower and more cars on the lanes than we would have liked, we had a great walk. Jake is fun to talk to and as you can see from the photo, Alice and Graham had a "skipping" good time.

This evening, Graham and Jake caught a ferry to the Mainland to watch a Southampton Football pre-season "friendly." While they were gone, Graham's brother Brian and his children Brendan and Georgina arrived from the Mainland. They will be staying here at the house also for a few days.

Brian offered for me to join him and the kids to go somewhere in the evening. Somewhere turned out to be the beach. The sun was going down and it was windy and I thought it would be too cold for me to swim, but I went along and took photos and filmed them diving into the cold sea. Afterwards, we had a drink at a pub before returning home.

Tomorrow the plan is to try again for a picnic with the famous fish and chips we have been anxiously awaiting.

Newport my old friend: Monday August 4, 2008

I started a tradition many years ago. Each time I visit the Isle of Wight, I like to have a morning to explore the shops of Newport on my own. Today was the day on this trip. Graham, his dad and Sam dropped me off near the church on their way to play golf. The weather was great and I really enjoyed walking around the town and shopping. I had lunch, per tradition, a baguette from French Franks, while sitting on a bench in St. John's Square.

I walked back home around 1pm and ended up getting a lift from Graham and his dad for the last block as they happened to be returning at the same time.

Later Graham and I did a walk along the river Medina to a pub called "The Folly" where Graham's Dad joined us for a drink before driving us home again.