Friday, August 15, 2014

Thirty in my birthday suit - Roman style

Yesterday I turned thirty.  I was a bit torn celebrating my birthday knowing that my nephew would not be celebrating his this year, but if I've learned anything this past year it is that life is short and we should live every moment of it.  So this year I decided to get out of my comfort zone and do something a little bit crazy.  For my sister's thirtieth birthday she went sky diving.  Since, I'm definitely not that adventurous I decided to check out the Irish-Roman bath in Wiesbaden.  You might be thinking - how is this adventurous?  Well, in a Roman bath it's textile free.  Meaning this southern girl would have to shed her inner microbiologist and her clothes.  Eek!  I was excited and nervous at the same time.  Adam and Eve did it, so why can't I?  And to be immersed in the German culture by doing something the Romans did on this land was somewhat surreal.  We saw the remains of a Roman bath that Constantine built on one of our first trips last year to Trier.  How could I pass up this experience?  Did I make you proud big sis? 
Located in the heart of downtown near the restaurant Alex
Wiesbaden is one of the oldest spa towns in Europe and is known for its hot springs.  The hot waters are around 64.6°C and are known for their treatment and healing powers.  I'm secretly hoping the water healed my thirty-year-old wrinkles and overused basketball /runner's knees...  Actually the whole experience wasn't as scary as I thought it would be but actually freeing.  All of the Europeans are totally used to this culture and nobody is ogling.  I also figured that going during the weekday was a safe bet that I wouldn't see anyone I knew.  #awkward  It was cool for once to let go of all the social norms I'd been taught and to take on this challenge I'd given myself.  
Gorgeous, right?
The Roman-style architecture and luxury of the bath was amazing.  I enjoyed going through each area of the spa.  There was a Finnish sauna with temperatures from 85°-90°C with a new aroma poured over the hot stones at the top of every hour, a Russian steam bath where you could barely see through the steam to your seat, a stone steam room where a contraption dipped hot coals in cold water throughout the hour, a tropical ice-rain shower, a whirlpool of hot spring water, a still pool of hot spring water, and a refreshing cool water pool.  I was hoping to sum my experience up with a partial massage, but they were all booked for the day.  I still had a relaxing experience.  The most memorable being the hot sauna with the aromatic scents poured over the coals.  The spa attendant pours it over the coals and then whips it through the room with her towel.  It felt like my skin was on fire when that air came my way.  Yikes!  The funniest experience was turning the corner and seeing a man eating a banana.  Is food allowed in the Therme?  I guess when you need your potassium, you need your potassium.
The lobby before the Therme

Romans in their birthday suits
Tips for freeing yourself at the Kaiser-Friedrich-Therme:
  1. It only costs €4.50 per hour and they give you this cool watch to wear that logs your time and opens your locker.  
  2. Book any massages a few days in advance.  The massage price usually includes one hour of spa time too.
  3. Bring your own towel.  They have towels to rent if you forget one. 
  4. Some people wore robes and shower shoes throughout the Therme. No shoes in the sauna's though.
  5. When you arrive tell the person at the front desk it's your first time at the Therme.  They will give you a map (in English) and direct your toward the locker room.  
  6. In the unisex locker room, find a changing room and wear your towel out.  Put your things in your locker (don't forget your number) and head toward the female or male showers to rinse off.  Then head out and choose what you want to experience first.  
  7. When in the sauna make sure to sit on your towel (because if not that would be gross).  If you move up a few levels make sure your feet are on the towel too.  Don't bring a book into the sauna because it's against the rules.  Learned that one from personal experience. For any of the pools, just hang your towel up on the hooks and channel your inner Adam or Eve.  Good Luck!!
I'm glad I completed this challenge on my thirtieth birthday because it was definitely an experience that I'll never forget.  

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Did someone say more cowbell?

You guessed right, "I got a fever and the only prescription is more cow bell!"  My favorite SNL sketch is spot on about my love for Murren, Switzerland.  In case you need that in your life right now here's the link to the video.  Can't ever get enough of that one.  This trip was somewhat whimsical - being surrounded by gorgeous glacier silt ridden mountains, green grass, and hearing the distant sounds of bells on cows littered over the mountain tops.  We were itching to get out and do a trip that involved hiking, and what better place is there in Europe than to the Swiss Alps?  We stayed in a car-free village that only allows access by taking a cable car followed by a train ride around the mountain.  This was paws-down Emma's favorite trip.  She even earned a Swiss patch on her collar for this one! 

  1. When you enter the town of Lauterbrunnen there is a parking garage on the left that is connected to the cable cars.  Remember, the last cable car up to Murren is at 20:31 (as of August 2014).  Also, dogs are free on the cable car and train (no need to buy a child's ticket like in Germany).
  2. We stayed in a friendly hotel right across from the train station called Eiger Guesthouse.  We loved the owner, Ema.  She was welcoming, and the staff was great at giving ideas for what hiking routes to take based on the weather for the day.  Also, the owner was sweet and allowed our small dog to stay free! This hotel is also kid friendly because they have a few rooms with bunk beds and adjoining rooms.  Oh, and don't be discouraged that this hotel has shared bathrooms on each floor.  Ours was always extremely clean.  After our Venice trip, we were more confident about staying in shared bathroom hotels.  If you don't stay here, then take Trip Advior's advice and eat at their restaurant (#1 of 19 as of August 2014).  
  3. From what I've read, the weather forecast for Murren always says rain and cold weather.  All of the research I did said that it was completely different when guests arrived in Murren.  We were still a bit nervous and were hoping we didn't make a huge mistake by choosing this for our four day weekend, but the Alpine summer Gods were in our favor and the weather was gorgeous for both days of hiking. 
  4. If you have a dog, then you should definitely plan to take them on this trip.  After this trip, I can honestly say that I know Emma will die a happy dog.  My favorite part was watching her excitement as she bounded through the grass, peeked her head in marmot holes, and looked back at us to see if we were still coming as she led the pack on the trail.  

If you're driving down you should stop in Interlaken to see where the two lakes meet (Lake Thun and Lake Brienz) via the Aare river. We had a late lunch there and wandered around the city before heading to Lauterbrunnen to take the cable car.


On the wooden dam bridge

Day 1

We started our first day off with an Alpine bar crawl - because, why not?  We hiked to various restaurants on the trails and stopped for our beer reward while being immersed in the scenery.

Happiest dog on Earth

Stopped for some fun on the Children's trail

Hiking friends and our first stop on the crawl

Up we go

Leading the pack

Our hiking buddies

GI-Joe and GI-Jane for the day

Apparently Emma likes Alpine dogs, who knew?

Breathtaking sunset

Day 2:

On the second day we went to the top of the Schilthorn Mountain and ate breakfast at the famous rotating restaurant (Piz Gloria) built for the James Bond Movie in 1969.  If you want to skip the breakfast you can always go up and order a dessert.  After taking in the views of Lauterbrunnen, Junfrau Mountain, Eiger Mountain, and the Bernese Alps, we took the cable car down to the Birg station and took a hiking trail from there.  We were told by the woman selling the tickets that it would be too icy, but we made it with our Keen's and Emma's bare paws (because we're hard core, duh).  On our visit in early July there really wasn't much snow/ice, so take your chances.  If you're not feeling it you can always turn around and take the cable car back down.

View from Schilhorn 

You can see one of the lakes of Interlaken in the distance

New Bond girl

Trail from Birg station

Army crawl to the edge to check out the steep drop

Nothing our Keens can't handle

Glacier water break

Dominating the North Face trail

An usie on the Alps

The hiking trail went through this herd of cows!

More cow bell!
This cow was not happy with Emma

Giant cow bell
Paragliders were everywhere during our hikes

Can't leave the Swiss Alps without an Edelweiss

I can't get enough of the views.  I know I say this every time, but this is one of my favorite places so far.  It involved outdoor activity with gorgeous views of the Alps.  Please, take me back there!  I'll leave you with a video of the soothing cow bells - ignore the dog barking to protect the pack.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Germany and France and Family! Oh My!

This year has gone by so fast.  Before we knew it, 11 months had past since we'd seen Sam's family.  It's crazy how time flies.  We were so happy they were able to all come out to Europe and have a TRUE family vacation.  This was the first time since I became part of the family that we were all in one place for more than a weekend and it was SO MUCH FUN!!!!  While we hadn't been on a long family vacation in the past, we did manage to have fun and make memories.
House party circa 2007

Roger's graduation party

Red ,White & Boom 2009

The Nutcracker
Red, White & Boom 2011
Wedding shower

The BEST day ever!

Clarksville Beachaven Winery

Headed to the game

One of our many Sunday night dinners together; Oh, how I miss that porch!
No one can ever just have one drink at the Hey Hey

Nashville fun

Our trip to Vegas to pass time when Sam deployed

My long lost mixed sista from another mista
Yay, homecoming!

My favorite family tradition. Two years in a row makes it a tradition right?
Red, White & Boom 2013, and the LAST time we were all together :(
Are you all caught up on how much fun we've had together?  We haven't all been together in a while since everyone decided to become grown-ups and move away from home to be either married to the Army or live the DREAM in Chi-town.  Over the past seven years we've had some good times together, and I am so lucky to have been accepted whole heatedly into this family as one of their own.  

On this week long vacation in Europe, we had the full family experience by being crammed into our tiny on post apartment.  I was a little nervous about being in such close quarters but at the same time excited to get the chance to re-live my teenage years with siblings.  All of my siblings are either eight years older or eight years younger, so I basically missed out on the whole fighting with siblings over things.  It turned out to be great!  I got late night girl talk time with Stephanie where we talked about anything and everything or scanned the internets for celeb gossip/hilarious YouTube videos until one of us was literally falling asleep, and Sam got to share the couch with his bro like old times (we have the one they had in their basement growing up).  Although this time around there weren't any video games being played and The World Cup dominated their nights.   Luckily, there weren't any arguments over the one bathroom we shared, and I have to say that I'm happy to have missed out on that experience. 


When their planed landed, we didn't waste any time.  We began exploring Wiesbaden by taking our first funicular ride of the trip.  The Neroberg funicular railway is powered by gravity and the weight of water.  This takes you to the top of the Neroberg mountain where you will find Monopteros (a temple built in 1851), a Russian Orthodox Church modeled after the Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, and a spectacular view of the city.  To get to the funicular, just follow Taunusstrasse toward the hill and you'll find a free parking lot on the left before the funicular.  Who knew free parking in Germany existed?  
On the funicular up the mountain 

Russian Orthodox Church

Exploring the hot water baths from Roman times

At our favorite tapas restaurant in Wiesbaden - Bodega

Now that everyone was over their jet lag we headed to Rudesheim for some Riesling and gorgeous views.  By the end of this day trip we had taken so many modes of transportation: car, car on ferry, sky bucket, walking, ski lift, boat.  If you do the Ring Ticket tour you will use these modes of transportation minus the car on ferry part (We checked the box for getting lost on a family vacation). 
Zum Wohl!

The next day we had one of the BEST days of the trip.  It involved the oldest street festival in Germany - Wilhemstrasse fest!   During this fest, the main street in Wiesbaden is closed, vendors sell hand crafted fare, bands play, German fair food is devoured, and of course there's beer and wine!  We had so much fun, and even forgot what time it was due to the never ending summertime sunlight here in Germany.  I introduced Moira and Stephanie to the oh-so-hydrating weinschorle. A weinschorle is a common drink at German festivals and consists of half white wine and half sparkling water.  Can we go back to this day, please?   

"Wait, is that the water?"

His favorite mixed chicks

Pearly whites and a faux mustache 

After we managed to effectively DO Wiesbaden by getting in a fest, we hopped on over to Strasbourg, France!  It's not a far drive and has gorgeous canals and great food!  We saw an enormous church plopped down in the middle of a square, endured a few French attitudes, drank wine from the Alsace region, and took in the beauty of France!  
"You'll pass the church on the left that popped up over night."

Emma begged us to take her back to France

ALL of us together for Father's Day in FRANCE!!
Next up we explored Heidelberg Castle.  I saw this with my mom during the winter, and it was nice to see in the summer too.  Heidelberg never disappoints!  I've heard people have hiked up to the top, but we took the easy way out and rode our second funicular up!
Walking around a castle

Brother and sister

We spent our final day at the market in Wiesbaden and of course did a little bit of souvenir shopping.  We celebrated Mark's Birthday by eating roasted chicken from the market and home cooked spargel (white asparagus).  Spargel is asparagus that hasn't broken the ground yet to soak in the sun's rays and Germans LOVE it.  All I remember is laughing the night away while drinking cocktails made by Roger.  It was perfect!

I love this market

Women be shoppin'...
Such a lucky guy to spend Father's Day and a birthday with his grown up kids in EUROPE!
What I've learned from this trip is that family vacations are so important and necessary.  It's a time where everyone gets away from their day-to-day stress and activities to catch up on things going on in each others lives.  We see how one another has changed over time, we strengthens bonds, and most importantly we make memories.  I can't wait until our next family vacation!  
An usie a day!

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