Sunday, March 29, 2015

Thanksgiving and Christmas in Europe!

The holidays are difficult when you're separated from your family by an ocean.  It sucks to not take part in all of the family traditions, but we do realize we're lucky to live in Germany during the internet age and have the ability to FaceTime even if you have to take turns talking or you miss what the other person says (in case Apple is reading this).  If you can't go back home, take advantage of living in Europe and travel to a new place!  We chose Berlin and Rome for our holidays this past year. 
Thanksgiving - Berlin
We knew we'd be missing feasting on Turkey and all the side dishes you only eat once a year, so we decided to go to Berlin.  This city is filled with an amazing food scene run by expats.  I received most of my recommendations from my friend who has a mouth-watering travel and food blog called Leap.  Each day we soaked in a little bit of WWII history and stuffed our faces with amazing AMERICAN food!  Berlin was an important trip for us.  Berlin has an incredible amount of history from Hitler's reign to his fall to the communist rule of East Berlin.  At the time I was reading Killing Patton and had previously seen one of the best movies ever made, The Lives of Others.  Funny story - I was on a trans-Atlantic flight eight years ago and thought I was choosing a Freddy Prince Junior movie but accidentally chose The Lives of Others.  The subtitles should have been the first clue that it wasn't a Freddy movie.  After ten minutes, I was still confused where Freddy was, but I was hooked on an anything but funny-romance comedy. 
  1. If you're anything like me you waste a few hours of your life searching for the best hotels with the best rates on  I'm not saying I don't LOVE that site - it just gets a little frustrating at times.  So, for the first time ever we tried the "Secret Hot Rate" through Hotwire.  You just put your dates in and they bring up hotels and a tab with "Secret Hot Rate".  From there you're able to pick your location, price range, hotel star rating, cringe a little when you hit the submit button (this is non-refundable at this point), and voila you have a hotel!  We stayed in a 3 star hotel located across from a metro stop in Potsdamer Platz.  Suite Novotel Berlin Potsdamer Platz
  2. We enjoyed the Third Reich Tour.  We walked and bused around the city for three hours looking at historical sites and hearing about the rise and fall of the Third Reich. It's best to do this tour on one of your first days, so you can decide what to go back and see.  Oh, and if it's below freezing make sure to wear wool socks or Uggs NOT your cute walking heels. #frozentoes
  3. The Reichstag Dome is awesome and totally worth going up even in the middle of winter.  I'm not sure what they were thinking building an open dome in northern Germany where it is freezing 6 months out of the year.  Make sure to reserve tickets early and bring your passport because you will need it to get through security.  Book your free tickets ASAP to ensure you get tickets.
  4. We were able to snag really cheap train tickets by taking advantage of a great promotion Deutsche Bahn was running in November for their Bahn Card 25.  This card gives you 25% off all train tickets.  It normally costs 62 Euro for a year membership, but the special allowed you to buy a 3 month version of the card for 20 Euro and a friend would get it free. Check and see if they are running the special (fur mich / fur dich) before you buy and as always with any German subscription you must go in person and write a statement saying you want it to be shut off 6 weeks before they automatically renew your membership. 
  5. We also used the "Saver fare finder" tab to see the train times for the cheapest tickets.  It's only a 5 hour drive to Berlin, but it was nice to relax on the train instead of sit in a stau (German word for traffic jam) for once.  

    Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

    Brandenburg Gate

    Thanksgiving happy hour at The Bird!!!

    Inside the Reichstag Dome

    Blocks where the wall once stood downtown

    Did I mention that it was cold?
    The wall outside of the Topography of Terrors Museum

    Checkpoint Charlie
Christmas - Rome
We were a bit nervous about doing this trip because we were riddled with rumors that there would be nothing to eat, the crowds would be unbearable, and nothing would be open.  It was the complete opposite - We ate amazing food, had an unforgettable Christmas Eve Mass experience, saw Pope Francis, and were able to visit all of the sites in Rome! 
  1. First off, let's be real people, there's always a donor shop open - even on Christmas Eve in Rome.  
  2. If you want to be inside St. Peter's Basilica for Christmas Eve mass you must plan the summer before and mail in your free tickets request.  If you're last minute planners like us, then you will still have a holy experience in St. Peter's Square with 80,000 of your closest Catholics (Any SEC fans out there catch my reference?) and see Pope Francis on the jumbo-tron.  
  3. The "midnight" Christmas Eve mass in Rome starts at 9:30PM.  Our plane landed at 8:30 and we were so nervous we would miss it, but we arrived at 9:30PM with the masses and still got in!
  4. At 11:30AM on Christmas Day Pope Francis comes out to give his apostolic blessing "Urbi et Orbi."  Arrive at least a half hour early, so you can see him on the balcony. 
  5. The Basilica, Vatican, and most attractions are closed on Christmas Day, so take a walk to the Spanish Steps, the Trevi Fountain, or any other monument that's outside.  Plus Rome is gorgeous at Christmas with different lights on every street.  Many restaurants were open on Christmas Day (apparently not everyone in Rome is Christian - shocker, I know), so we still ate great pasta!   
  6. We stayed a few blocks from the Vatican at the ABC Bed and Breakfast Roma.  They can arrange for a driver to pick you up from the airport for a fee of 40 Euro.  Since we weren't pressed for time on the way home, we took a bus that leaves from the main train station back to the airport. 

It gave me goose bumps walking into St. Peter's Square on Christmas Eve

Pope Francis!

The Spanish Steps

The Colosseum

The Roman Forum

Michelangelo's La Pieta

The alter at St. Peter's Basilica
Christmas 2014

Friday, January 30, 2015

Bathing in the Black Forest

The first time I heard about the Black Forest was while attending the University of Georgia.  Along with five of my closest agriculture college friends, I learned about an amazing Georgia track athlete who won a gold medal in the 110 meter hurdles in the 1936 Olympic Games.  Fun fact, the UGA track facility is named in his honor, Forrest "Spec" Towns.  He was so fast that he defeated a cavalry horse in the 120 yard hurdles.  Crazy, right?  You can read more about his story, here.  Okay, back to the Black Forest and how this relates to ag (trees, duh).  Every athlete who won a gold medal at the Berlin Olympics was given an oak seedling from the Black Forest.  Spec's seedling was planted on UGA's campus after his return.  I always imagined what this Black Forest might look like, and so we took two nights to explore the area.  
We drove through the rolling hills of trees, and I couldn't help but be reminded of Georgia.  It's landscape is distinctly different from the midwest.  Trees are everywhere!  Even in the city of Atlanta.  Our final destination was the romantic bath town of Baden Baden, but we went a little further into the Black Forest to a town called Freiburg.  It was a cute little town situated in the forest but a little too busy for our taste. It felt like we were back on the pedestrian zone of Wiesbaden. We ate lunch and then made it to Baden Baden by night fall.  We arrived on a Saturday night, since Sunday is the only weekend day the spa is co-ed.   
Baden Baden
The experience was much different than when I attended the Kaiser-Friedrich Therme in Wiesbaden.  Here you go through 17 stations, and after an attendant gives you a soap brush massage you are not allowed to take your towel any further.   Say what?  At the other spa you could cover yourself from room to room.  Eek. Well, I guess they want everyone on the same playing field?  I won't ruin the whole experience for you but at the end of this 3.5 hour experience you walk into a room that looks nothing short of the Matrix.  A room of adults laying in a circular pattern on raised tables.  The attendant literally swaddles you in a warm blanket and you fall asleep (once you got over the fact that you are a grown adult who just got swaddled).  It was by far the most relaxing 3.5 hours of my life.  
  1. Friedrichsbad is textile-free and co-ed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays, Sundays, and for the romantics out there, on Valentine's Day.  
  2. For 37 Euro you can get the wellness package, which includes a soap brush massage and 3.5 hours in the Bad.  The brush massage is one of the stations, and you should do it for the full experience.  We didn't need to book a reservation in advance.  We just walked in and paid the attendant.  
  3. Be aware that your towel will be taken from you about halfway through the stations, so you won't be able to cover up when you move from room to room like at other thermal baths.   If you can't embrace the experience there is a another bad in the area that allows you to wear your bathing suit.  
  4. If you have kids you can drop them off at the kinder paradise for only 5 Euro and enjoy your time in the bath.
I hope you enjoy your experience!

Monday, November 17, 2014

The luck of the Irish - Ireland's west coast

When Sam told me he wanted to visit the Irish countryside when we were making our list of destinations, I secretly kept pushing this trip off.  All I've ever heard of Ireland is that it's beautiful but usually cold and rainy.  Eww.  My top vacation of choice is always the beach and sun, which my sun-reflecting husband always endures.  Love him.  So, for his birthday month trip we visited his top travel destination on our list.  

I'm not sure how this happened and can only chalk it up to some good old Irish luck,but we had gorgeous weather in October.  Couldn't have asked for bluer skies with the occasional sprinkle that led to double rainbows.  Instead of a pot of gold we found stones with the first Celtic crosses, real wool yarn, cliffs that were breath-taking, and of course every thing fried and beer!  I fell in love with this country to say the least and can't believe I was dreading coming to this island.  Not to mention the cute B&B's.  No more continental German breakfasts for us.  Homemade eggs, pancakes, sausage, coffee, and everything a normal American breakfast would entail.  
  1. Ryanair to Kerry, Ireland. 
  2. You need to rent a car to travel this gorgeous country.  Much cheaper to buy from other sites when compared to Ryanair "deals."  We bought the $50 insurance because driving on the wrong side of the road makes your brain freak out.  
  3. We stayed one night in Killarney, one night in Dingle, and one night is Doolin.  Loved the B&B's in Dingle and Doolin.  Stayed in more of a hotel in Killarney that could have had a nicer receptionist but otherwise was perfect.  
  4. We went from Killarney to Dingle to Doolin, and looking back it might have been better to make the long drive upon arrival because you are much more excited to see the countryside than on the day you leave.  
Killarney -
I had no clue what to do in Killarney other than drink Guinness and eat.  Can't go wrong with that, right?  We mainly stayed here because it was close to Kerry, and we knew we wouldn't be up for a 3.5 hour drive in the car after our previous night's Oktoberfest in Stuttgart. Luckily we brought some pretty cool friends along on this trip and they suggested we go out to Kerry Woolen Mills.  This is a historic wool mill is one of the last mills left in Ireland.  My friend Heidi is super into yarn and has high hopes on making her own yarn out of I think what you call pre-yarn?  I can't even begin to think about how that works, but I have no doubt that she will do it!  And then maybe she'll make me something?  Hint. Hint.  Hehe just kidding!

I don't even knit and I was excited!  Look at all that real yarn in gorgeous colors!
After the boys almost went crazy from spending way too much time in the wool factory, we went for a small hike to see a waterfall.  You could spend the whole 4 day weekend hiking in Killarney!
Couldn't get enough of the green moss

Obligatory Ireland Guinness photo-op.

Dingle Peninsula - 
We took a half day to do Slea Head Drive.  There are a ton of sights to see, and my favorites were the Reasc Monastic Site, Gallarus Oratory, and Kilmalkedar Churchyard.  We stopped to eat at The Stone House Restaurant for lunch along the way too.  That evening we were lucky enough to see one of the oldest and greatest uilleann pipe musician at O'sullivan's Court House Pub.  Uillean pipes are bag pipes inflated by the elbow.  It was an awesome experience.   Dingle is a great place to pick up souvenirs too - women be shoppin'... and eating ice-cream at Murphey's (shhhh don't tell the boys).    But this is a must do.  It reminded me of Jeni's ice cream back in C-Bus!  

Dick Steve's Slea Head driving tour 
Can you see the uilleann pipe?
Doolin -

Our hotel in Dingle was located on Conor Pass, so we took it up to see a view of Dingle, and made the treacherous ride down the other side toward Doolin. I really wanted to see the Cliffs of Moher, reads "more" not "mo-hair" if you're one of my southern friends.  Or is that just me?  Remember friends I'm a scientist not a writer!  These cliffs are jaw dropping and I'm so glad we were able to see them from the bottom by boat and from the top.  No need to purchase your tickets early.  Our B&B owner, Kate, called down to see if tours were still going out for the last time (5:30ish), and we bought tickets at the port from O'Brien Lien Cruises.   On our way back to the airport we planned to go to the visitor's center and run over to take some pictures from the top, but then we found out they were charging a ridiculous amount to just see the cliffs.  So, we went a little further up the road (Doolin towards Kerry airport) and saw a sign for a walking trail to the cliffs.  After winding down some farm roads we came to a parking lot and paid 2 Euro to park, then we walked about 15 minutes and came to the cliffs.  I wish we had more time to explore, but we were pressed for time to make our flight.  Sorry I can't be more specific on the location, but I found this walking tour, which leaves from O'Connors Pub every morning at 10AM.  Looks fun - let me know if you do it!  During our night in Doolin, we enjoyed live Irish music, the best fish and chips, and drank all types of Irish beer at O'Connors Pub!
Cliffs of Moher by boat
Happy 18th Birthday, Trevor.  Miss you and wish you could have seen these one day, but we know you were with us in our hearts.  XOXO

Cliffs of Moher from the top
It was so sad to leave this beautiful country, and I am forever a fan of Ireland!  I'd even go back if it was rainy ;).  

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Greek island anniversary

I can't tell you how incredibly blessed I feel to be able and travel for every birthday, holiday, or anniversary.  We recently celebrated our three year anniversary in Crete!  Please try not to secretly hate us after you see these gorgeous pictures of breathtaking beaches.  Instead immediately put this on your bucket list.  Make. It. Happen.  Crete is a Greek island, and it is nothing short of amazing.  There's not too much to say about it.  The pictures speak for themselves.  

  1. This was a little bit trickier of a trip logistically.  Flights are expensive out of Frankfurt International airport and the Ryanair Frankfurt Hahn location doesn't fly to Crete.  However, Ryanair Dusseldorf Weeze airport does.  It's a 3 hour drive from Wiesbaden, and the flight out on Friday mornings is 6:30 AM.  Do yourself a favor and drive down the night before and have some close-enough-to American Burgers at Beef Brothers in Dusseldorf while enjoying their awesome restaurant pedestrian zone.  The atmosphere reminded me of  a Thursday college night.  Then stay the night at Best Deal Airport Hotel, so you can roll out of bed and catch your flight in the morning.  
  2. Rent a car! You will need it to get around this giant island.  We stayed over a four day weekend and only saw the west side of the island.  Our car rental was through the Ryanair website. Super easy, no hassle.  Well the first car had to be returned because we got in the car and the gear shift knob immediately fell off, but after that we got upgraded.  I'll take it!
  3. We stayed at the Grand Bay Beach Resort on the northwest side of the island.  The staff was extremely accommodating.  They upgraded us to one of the two suites that had swim-up pool access, gave us a free mini bar restocked daily, a free 45 min massage, and upgraded our all-inclusive meal status.  Can you believe it?  It finally happened to us!  Couldn't have asked for a better anniversary weekend!  The resort served a traditional Cretan breakfast every morning that was delicious.  Be aware that while this resort is located on the water the beach is filled with rocks, so make sure to get out of the resort and check out the gorgeous beaches of Crete.
  4. Elafonisi beach is a far and treacherous drive.  Give yourself plenty of time to enjoy the beach when you get there because you will NOT want to leave.  We also visited Falasarna beach, which was a much easier drive and had gorgeous water as well.  There's still nothing like the pink sand beach.  Make sure you take the trek to Elafonisi!
On to why you come to the blog.  Pictures!  I got a fancy camera for my birthday (thanks, Sam!), so hopefully you'll notice a difference between my old blog posts and my new ones.  Probably not though, because I've only taken a 1 hour course on how to use it.  I'm open to any and ALL suggestions (I'm talking to you Jenn)!  

Blurred out background for the win!

Loved the architecture!

Sitting on our swim-up patio
Our hotel beach!

Elafonisi Beach!

We made it to a pink sand beach!

Couldn't get enough!

Falasarna Beach!

The clearest water ever!

My stud of a husband!

Of course we took the mini bar to the beach...

Trying to be like Murad Osmann

We'll never forget laying on these amazing beaches, sitting under our tiki umbrellas while enjoying drinks and food from the beach huts, and our precious time together.  Here's to three of the most amazing years and many more to come!  

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