Quick day in Ancona

Well, Ancona was our first stop in Italy. It is a port town, and it is not super touristy from what I can tell. Lindsay and I stayed in a super nice hotel (one of the most expensive places we’ve stayed on this trip), only because it was the only practical option for us as nothing else was available for a single night. The hotel, called the “Seeport Hotel” had a fancy worldpool shower, and we got a chocolate on our bed. And in general it was just really nice with a great view of the port. Also, the included breakfast was super fancy, with fancy cheeses and fancy other stuff. It was fancy. And fancy.

Ancona, well, sadly I don’t have many photos, and there isn’t much I can say that’s exciting. We were only there for a single day and Lindsay was tired as she didn’t sleep all night, and feeling a bit sick, so she ended up sleeping at the hotel. I left, and had quite the adventure. I didn’t do anything particularly exciting, but I did a TON of stuff. I actually tracked it, I walked something like 12 kilometers, and I walked to any and everything that I saw that looked interesting. I walked to old churches, I walked up big hills that overlooked the port where I read for a while in a bench, I walked through old city ruins, I walked into museums (though just through the door, I didn’t pay to actually go in). I even somehow found myself in what felt like the countryside walking through a VERY VERY old cemetery where all of the gravestones were written in Hebrew (?). And I got my first (at least on this trip!) Italian gelato.

Overall, it was an amazing day. It was also warm and sunny on this particular day, which was great and not the norm. I did take a few photos (film), so once I develop them I’ll try to post them here, probably.

For now, here is Lindsay looking great getting ready to move onto our next destination:
IMG_1994

 

Our next destination being VENICE! Which we traveled to via blahblahcar where we first met up with our rideshare partners (Pablo and Alfredo) at IKEA, of all places.

Kevin with our train tickets in front of IKEA
IMG_1999

IMG_2006

Lindsay orders a BEER at IKEA
IMG_2001
 

Ferry from Split, Croatia to Ancona, Italy

We took a night ferry from Split to Italy, in large part because Lindsay thought it would be fun to take a ferry somewhere, but also because it’s a pratical way of getting from Croatia to Italy. The original plan was to go to Arcona, then go to the South of Italy and then head back North, on the way down sticking to the East coast and on the way back up sticking to the West coast. That has since changed because we realized that it was probably a bit crazy to go in a circle around the country, so we’ve instead decided to go North to Venice, then work our way South to Sicily and then finally fly to France (Marseille) from there. Basically, only go South (except to go North to Venice from Ancona).

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

We walked with our packs from our AirBnB apartment in Split to the port of Split, which was roughly one kilometer, not to bad. Then we walked around until we found the pier that our ship was leaving from.

The Ferry was sort of like a cruise ship, except the entire bow of the boat folds down and makes a huge ramp for cars and trucks to drive in. So it’s bit more utilitarian then a normal cruise ship, and holds more semi-trucks. Before we actually got on the cruise ship we had to wait and pass through imigration which is always sort of fun and exciting, especially when it’s with a new form of transportation (airports are all pretty much the same, but the ferry was a bit different feeling).

Getting onto the ferry is also a lot different then getting on a cruise ship because you walk through the GIANT part of the ship that is for cars (the bottom level), and again it feels very utilitarian. But then you walk up stairs into something that looks like the lobby of a cheap hotel, if that cheap hotel was on a ferry. There was a reception person and everything.

This was a bit strange for us, because as far as I could tell everybody on the boat had a reserved cabin for the trip. There are a few different types of tickets you can buy, ranging from ~70ish dollars to ~170 dollars a ticket. The cheapest are the “deck seating” which we had, and then there is the “cabin” which is what everybody else seemed to have. The cabin is basically, as you may have guessed, a cabin with a bed, etc. The “deck” is basically, as far as we could tell, “sit anywhere you want as long as somebody doesn’t tell you that you can’t sit there.” This sounds easy enough, but when you get on the ship it’s a bit disorienting and I felt what I imagine the third class passengers on the Titanic must have felt like. There were lots of people directing passengers to their cabins, but there wasn’t a person directing deck people to their decks, you just sort of had to figure out where you could/couldn’t sit.

We ended up walking up some stairs and findng a big room with a bunch of tables and chairs in it. It looked sort of like a mess hall or something, or perhaps a cheap restaurant seating area. We said, “maybe THIS is the deck?” Again, sounds simple enough, but it wans’t clear if this room with tables/chairs was the place we were supposed to sleep that night. But, on the end of the room was a big bench with a comfortable enough cushion, so Lindsay and I put our stuff on the cushion and made it home for the night.

One thing I’m sad about is that I didn’t really walk around the ship much, or go out and enjoy the brisk sea air. This was in part because I was worried that if I got up I’d give up my seat, and in part because it was freezing cold outside and we pretty much went straight to bed when we got on the ship to try to get a full 8 hours of sleep.

One highlight on the trip: the tables in this room ended up filling up with a bunch of men who ate dinner at the tables, and after dinner they all sang songs. For like 3 or 4 hours. It was slightly surreal. Lindsay and I are on the bench at the end of the big room on this boat, each in our silk sleeping bag liners, with eye masks on (the lights are on fullblast all night), and then the rest of the room is filled with men eating dinner and singing songs. I guess they were in some sort of choir, apparently traveling to Italy to sing or something. It was pretty cool. Eventually I had to put in earplugs, because these were not quiet songs, they were loud, full on choir songs until after midnight. Video/audio recording hopefully will be posted here.

Around 7:50 AM, after my alarm went off but I apparently didn’t hear it, somebody nudged me and said “Ancona” – and sure enough, we were docked in Ancona! Like magic! So I woke Lindsay up, we threw our stuff in our packs and ran down the stairs and got off the boat, while we were still waking up.

Croatia in words

Croatia in a few words

I haven’t been so great at writing blog posts lately, not for any really great reason, I just haven’t been spending the time. Part of the issue, I think, is that we’ve been in the mindset that when we move from one country to the next we’ll write a blog post, but I I think I end up trying to type too much or we don’t type nearly enough.

Anyway, hopefully I’ll starting writing more frequent blog posts. This one is not really one of those though, because it’s another “catch up.”

Croatia was a pretty great country. I’d recommend you visit it if you get a chance. Zagreb, the capital, where we started, felt like a small-ish city compared to a Paris or a Munich, but nice. It sort of reminded me of what I remember Prague to be like I guess. We did a few noteworthy things there:

  • We went to the “museum of broken relationships” – basically a bunch of items from various failed relationships (most of them romantic, but not all). The stories behind the actual items were the most interesting part of the museum. I was/am very happy to have found that the museum felt “authentic” to me, not like people had edited a bunch of stories to make them incredible when they weren’t. There were just a bunch of real feeling, often sad, thought provoking little stories to accompany the items.
  • The mushroom museum. This was difficult to find. We took two days to find it actually (not searching the entire time of course!). The first day we asked the tourist information area where the museum was and they drew the location on a map and said “Next to the Hypo Bank.” We found the bank easy enough (it was visibile from the tourist office), but found not a single sign that indicated that there was a museum there. We ended up walking around the building, but found nothing. The next day we went back, did the same search again, but this time we went into a random door that looked like it led to a closed down building. You walk in the door and it was dark, sort of like a large apartment building that was condemmed or something. But we walked up the staircase (the museum was supposed to be on the second floor), at this point having no idea if this was the correct place or not (having seen no sign). On the second floor, sure enough there was a sign that said something about the something-something society, not exactly “MUSHROOM MUSEUM IS HERE” or anything, but it sounded like something that might be related to a museum so we knocked and it ended up being the right place. The museum itself was small-ish (two rooms or so), but really really impressive. Hundreds of different types of mushrooms, all well preserved. Plus it was free.

Otherwise, in Zagreb, we spent a lot of time walking around the city, eating different foods (things were very cheap having flown from Netherlands), and walking more. I did some work on my website project, Lindsay and I watched a few episodes of Deadwood (a great show by the way).

We also went to see Interstellar in a movie theater. This was for us both I think a great experience because

  1. It was the first American movie we’ve been to on this trip (we saw two movies in Hindi in India, but those were Bollywood films)
  2. I had wanted to see the movie for a long time, in theathers, and had assumed I’d miss the opportunity but for whatever reason the movie was still playing in Zagreb
  3. The movie was awesome I thought, and Lindsay thought
  4. It was pretty cheap – I think we paid around 7 USD for two tickets
  5. I very much enjoy going to the movies in general, and going to the movies in a different country is always an interesting experience I think. Sort of like eating at McDonalds in a different country, it’s similar but the differences make it so interesting

We ended up heading to Zadar next after Zagreb. Zadar is a small coastal town, and the photos if you were to google look amazing. Zadar was very beautiful, but for me at least more then most cities we’ve visited recently it wasn’t really well suited for tourism during the winter. There are a bunch of places we’ve visited that are sort of “dead” during the winter, and often time that’s OK (even nice sometimes as you feel like less of an annoyng tourist and more of a crazy tourist). But Zadar was really really dead.

Honestly I can’t exactly think what we did in Zadar at this point, except that Lindsay liked the city because she ran every day and there were a bunch of nice routes. I did a fair amount of programming I believe, and I drank some coffee and ate musli.

We also saw the Sea Organ, which is basically a cement structure created so that air is forced up over the holes in the concrete structure when waves come in. So it’s like an organ or some other wind instrument. The cool thing about it is that it’s quite large, and it’s actually built into the sidewalk that goes along the water.

Anyway, our time in Zadar we stayed at the “Sea Gallery” apartment, which was a small apartment with a bunch of water colors the owner painted hung up on the walls. It was a pretty nice little apartment. As I mentioned, I’m unsure of what exactly we did in Zadar, but whatever it was we did it for a few days and then moved onto Split.

Split was probably the easiest town to love, and probably the most popular tourist destination I’d guess, but that didn’t stop me from loving it. It’s on the water, there is a park right near the city area, the entire city feels like the sea/water is part of the everyday life, and in general it was just a cool town.

We did a lot of walking in Split, which isn’t abnormal, but we had a few days of beautiful, warm sunshine and it felt like heaven. I went swimming one day, which was great. Well, it was good, maybe not great. It felt great to get in the water, but honestly the water was the coldest I’ve been in in a while. The type of water that is difficult to stay in for long because you get a headache the second your face goes under. Still, even in the shallow water (2-3 feet max?) I brought my mask and saw a bunch of beautiful sea anemones (which is a nearly impossible word to spell by the way).

Lindsay and I ate out one nice meal in Split. The photos you’ve seen already, but we had the black squid ink risotto. I actually thought it was really really good. I also talked to the bartender/waiter for a while about it and asked him if it was just a tourist gimmick, and he said no, and that he didn’t eat it all the time but normally once a month or so.

I also really liked Split because it felt a bit like a gateway to other awesome water areas of Croatia. For instance, the island of Vis. We didn’t go, but I talked to a guy in a freediving/spearfishing shop about places to spearfish and apparently Vis is one of the top spearfishing and scuba diving places in Croatia. This I found exciting.

Another thing I really enjoyed about Split was sitting outside with all of the locals (mainly men) along the water drinking a beer at 1 in the afternoon. Seriously, there were guys that would sit outside all day long on these benches with their friends and their dogs and drink beer. I remember on day Lindsay and I sat outside and drank a beer in the morning, then we walked around all day and did whatever we did, and then on the way home that night, after dark, the same group of guys were sitting exactly where they had been before, still drinking beer and chatting.

There was also a fishing area (best way I can put it), where there were a bunch of small fishing boats and nets and things laying out drying, and there would always be a group of guys sitting around. One particularly memorable day there was a group of guys who I think had been fishing, and they were sitting around on a picnick bench in their fisherman gear, and somebody was grilling up some fish, and then they all started singing. It was awesome. It was like, a fisherman song, I like to think. Maybe they were singing about the sea, and how beautiful it is, and how they love fishing and the sea air. I have an audio recording of it actually, maybe I’ll try to post it.

In closing, let me say that I’d recommend anybody go to Croatia. I would likely recommend visiting in the summer (though I think Split in particular is crazy with tourists at this point, a bit different from the chill atmosphere we had!). I think I’d like to go back to Croatia one day, and when I do I think I’ll probably stick to the South and to the islands.

Next up, a ferry to Ancona, Italy.

Croatia in photos.

(***Forgive me in advance for the worst blog post yet, but we’ve already done so much since Croatia and time’s a wastin’! In the effort to get caught up, here’s a short and sweet version of our time – but I’m not going to do this beautiful country justice!***)

So, when Kev and I decided to visit Croatia, we went to escape the Schengen region visa restrictions, hunker down, save some money, see some beautiful sights, but again really, to avoid digging into our visa time. I have wanted to visit Croatia for years, since one of my best pals, Brian, mentioned it to me as a possible rock climbing destination during college. Croatia turned out to BLOW our expectations, and will be somewhere we without question visit in the near future (hopefully in the summer) to scuba dive, spearfish and enjoy the absolutely pristine, beautiful water. These photos are backwards given our (sadly!) very basic route due to the way they uploaded, but you’ll see a glimpse of what made this country so incredible.

Split:IMG_4547IMG_4515

Squid-ink risotto (a local delicacy) color created by, you guessed it, a perforate ink sack of a squid. Kinda made my stomach turn (seriously, imagine eating across from those lips pictured below). Kinda delicious.IMG_4550IMG_4554

IMG_4551IMG_4500IMG_4504IMG_4493IMG_4526IMG_4491IMG_4509IMG_4498Sunsets like you would not believe.IMG_4540IMG_4529IMG_4539IMG_4528IMG_4544A couple photos for our dear friend, Nicola.IMG_4564IMG_4562IMG_4527Kevin (being a bad ass), doing something even the locals refused to do…swim.IMG_4502

Zadar.

I told you, the sunsets, right?! I got to run on this boardwalk every day. Heaven. Heaven, I tell you.IMG_4476IMG_4460IMG_4475IMG_4466

Zagreb.IMG_4438

Mushroom museum.IMG_4418IMG_4417IMG_4393IMG_4428IMG_4427IMG_4375IMG_4370IMG_4384Museum of Broken Relationships (yes, you read that right). It was awesome.IMG_4453IMG_4451IMG_4452IMG_4437IMG_4442IMG_4440And another 2 weeks zip by, off to Italy we go!IMG_4576

 

Amsterdam

From France, we went to Amsterdam via bus which was uneventful. Lindsay slept the whole way, I did some programming stuff, I got a coffee, and we ate great salads that we bought at a grocery store in Paris (mine was some sort of smoked salmon + rice + wasabi mayo, Lindsay’s was some sort of quinoa/hummus/edamame something-or-other).

We arrived in Amsterdam around 8 in the morning and took a train from the bus station to the central train station. One pretty nice thing is we had some random guy come up to us and give us a train ticket that was good for a week (though only during non-rush hour) for free. I think he was a fellow backpacker. It was nice of him.

IMG_4319

Amsterdam is a city that I really like, and Lindsay also really likes now. She says it’s the most beautiful city she has ever been in. Grated, she still hasn’t been to all of Europe yet, but still, I have to agree, it is pretty beautiful. For me, having never been to any of the Nordic countries, I imagine this is a taste of what it would be like. Everything is sort of, I don’t know, Ikea-ish, but in a super quality sort of way.

The food was great, there were bikes and young people everywhere, it was super walkable, and the Anne Frank museum was worth the trip alone (according to Lindsay). I didn’t go to the museum because she bought a special “Anne Frank tour” ticket online, and there only happened to be one ticket left during the days we were there. She had read online that there is typically a line wrapped around the building that people stand in for hours to get in (which it turns out there was, in the sleeting/snowing/crappy weather), and to avoid that, and get the most of her visit to the museum (she was really interested in it for her teaching stuff) she bought the ticket for herself and I decided I’d go hang out and do something else, which I felt good about.

IMG_4357

So, below is a random picture that doesn’t really demonstrate what I’m talking about (in regards to the awesomeness of the city) unfortunately (we didn’t take many photos on account of there being a lot of snow/sleet and trying to keep the camera dry), but basically Amsterdam has what I imagine is a taste of what some of the Nordic countries have. BTW, I know we would both love to go to Iceland, Sweden, Norway, Finland, etc, one day.

IMG_4355

Anyway, upon arriving in the city proper we walked a kilometer or so to our hostel. This hostel happened to be Intersail hostel, which is a boat. I sadly didn’t get any pictures inside of the boat/ship, but it’s pictured here on the right side (you can’t see it super well :().

IMG_4267

Before I type more, let me say that I agreed to not bitch too much about Intersail Hostel here. Lindsay told me “two sentences max as this is water under the bridge, and isn’t what we really care to remember about Amsterdam”, but it’s going to be a few more than that. I’m typing this out mainly in hopes that if somebody ever googles for Intersail Hostel Amsterdam Reviews they might find this and at least know what happened!

When we arrived at Intersail to check in, I was told by Christian (sp?) that we had booked two rooms. I said, “I don’t think so.. I’m pretty sure I only booked a single room for two nights!” Christian, being a nice guy, said, “hmm… ok!” and showed us around the boat. You can see me in this exact moment:

IMG_4269

Click here for more about this, if you are bored or want to hear me bitch

We were in Amsterdam for 1.5 days. It was amazing. We ate more fries with mayonnaise then I can believe. We walked around and explored the city. Lindsay bought “cute boots” at a flea market. She went to the Anne Frank museum and ran around the water canals.  We ate pizza. We met a bunch of cool people and drank beers and chatted in the hostel.

I found a sign that said ajax.
IMG_4346

We ate little “pancakes” with syrup on them
IMG_4321

We watched the sunset on the water
Untitled

We ate from one of those FEBO machines, even though I completely forget that they were a thing until I saw them.
IMG_4342

We ate a TON of stroopwafels, which (hello Mom, if you are reading this!) my Mom loves, or at least used to love (though I don’t you’ve made them as much the past few Xmases? Perhaps they are a ton of work, if I recall correctly). They have since become Lindsay’s favorite sweet treat.

IMG_4358

And, although Dave may not be reading this, I thought of Dave (who I went backpacking with through Europe in 2003 for 5 weeks after high school!) and found Vla, which many people don’t believe exists (I’ve even talked to people I’ve met from the Netherlands who have no idea what I’m talking about). It’s basically drinkable pudding, by the way, and I think it’s great. This container was like, USD 0.90.
IMG_4359

We also did a lot of the standard Amsterdam things, like walking around the Red Light district which was as surreal as ever. Honestly I enjoy it because it’s such a surreal experience and at least in my life it’s a pretty strange thing to be walking next to a family with kids who are on their way home, past windows with nearly naked people in them.
IMG_4337

I feel like I’ve done a bad job explaining our time in Amsterdam. I’m sorry.

It was short, it was beautiful and special and different from other cities. The food was great, the Anne Frank museum was great (again, according to Lindsay).

And then, after this crazy terrible blog post, we flew from Amsterdam to Zagreb, Croatia.

Pariiiiiiiiiiieee

We arrived in Paris an hour earlier than planned (5:50 am) to pouring rain, a dark morning sky and garbage littering the streets (which thrilled Kevin beyond belief). We had another opportunity to stay with yet another awesome friend, Adrienne, who lived in the “red light” area of Paris, Piagelle. Despite the fact that we could have probably had a lot of fun at the Moulin Rouge, or cruising a dance floor somewhere nearby (which were quite possibly still open!), we opted for the lame route (not surprisingly :)), and went to get coffee at a little kebap place near her house. After making friends with the Algerian dudes working there, they refused to let us drink any more coffee (because it was bad for us) and instead loaded us down with the most sugary-sweet tea IMAGINABLE, which was definitely bad for us in a completely different way. On a sugar buzz like you would not believe, our morning turned out to be quite a lot of fun – a great start to the city that never sleeps!Untitled
Amazing trash find in Paris!After refueling with (yet) more coffee at Adrienne’s and settling down in her amazing flat, she took us on an amazing tour of the city, and was seriously quite the tour guide!

When I think about Paris, I imagine accordion players serenading the lovers walking along the Seine River, cute girls and little old men wearing berets, artists painting scenic landscape portraits, and people of all ages eating croissants. Turns out in January, only the croissant thing happens to be true. There was no music, there were no artists, and only the tourists wore berets. That said, despite the rain, and despite the cold, I could not help but gawk at the beauty of this city, and can only hope that we can visit again one day when the weather is warm, the skies are blue and when people (other than us!) are singing Aux Champs Elysees 🙂

 

IMG_4085

One of our first stops was the beautiful, Sacré-Cœur, a beautiful Catholic cathedral, my first “real” one since being in Europe! It didn’t disappoint.
IMG_4032Sacre_Coeur_-_Choeur,_Abside_et_Mosaique

IMG_4039
IMG_4101Walking down the Seine, we happened across the Pont des Arts bridge. In the city of Love, it’s no wonder so many people latched on to the idea of hooking their “Love Locks” to the bridge to leave behind in Paris… That said, these photos can’t even begin to display the INSANE number of locks on this bridge. Recently “Love Locks” have been banned because this bride is near collapse due to the extra weight of the locks, if that gives you any idea of how many locks are actually on this thing. It’s insane. Untitled

Bridge LocksWe were lucky to visit two of the most infamous museums in Paris, one being the Musee de Orsay, which just now happens to be my new #1 favorite museum I have ever been to . The museum houses the most impressionist and post-impressionists pieces in the WORLD. While we weren’t able to take photos inside the museum, we were able to stand literally inches away from masterpieces from Monet, Van Gogh, Seurat, Renoir, Rodin, Degas, and hundreds more. I mentioned this the day we went, but I literally got a bit teary eyed standing so close to such iconic pieces and was truly humbled and in awe of what we saw there. Mankind is truly incredible. This is a photo just as we left the huge Impressionist floor exhibit. It seemed like the perfect photo to capture our day.

Untitled
Untitled

Walking around the streets, there were amazing sculptures and random art pieces everywhere we looked.

Cool Mer-men FountainIMG_4058

We also visited Notre Dame!
IMG_4127

Dad, this photo is for you. Found literally one foot step outside Notre Dame.
IMG_4117
IMG_4099
IMG_4088
The stain-glass work was INCREDIBLE. I can’t even begin to wonder how many hours went in to creating these…
IMG_4109

And then, there was the food…the buttery, rich delicious food….

(Scary pic, but!) My first legit Crepe!IMG_4123Eating World’s best CroissantIMG_4040Voted best baguette in Paris.Best Baguette in Paris 2007

Love Mural (taken for Corie Brown).
IMG_4026

Outside Lourve (taken for Sai the dog).
IMG_4068
IMG_4065
IMG_4071

The Lourve is the WORLD’S LARGEST MUSEUM. It was originally built as a royal fortress, but was officially opened in 1793 with an exhibition (of mostly confiscated church property). There are more than 70,000 pieces in the museum, and we could have literally spent 4 days there and not given it the justice that it deserves.

These were a few of my favorites of the day (which specifically reminded me of Anthea Marie Mitchell, for whatever reason :)):
IMG_4163

One section of the museum was called “The Napoleon Apartments,” which (per Adrienne’s suggestion) we might have never even seen (again, the museum was THAT big). Room after room was insanely and decadently decorated. Honestly, no photo can do it justice. Can you imagine living in a space like this!? These are the times when the “1% holds 99% of the world’s wealth” becomes more tangible than I would otherwise understand – even if it is just a replica!
IMG_4179
IMG_4182

Also, I have to say, there were pieces THIS BIG in the Lourve. I mean, Seriously, look at Kevin next to that thing. I am not one for art history, but I would be VERY interested to know JUST HOW LONG something like this would have taken to paint. Not my style, but look at that detail!
IMG_4150

And then, there she was.  99% of the reason we came to the Lourve to begin with, Mona.
IMG_4155

Paris Highlights…..

On the street in Pigalle.
IMG_4192

A romantic French dinner (per Corie’s suggestion!) celebrating us.
IMG_4194

A “King’s Cake” night!
IMG_4197

And I won (by finding this little guy in my slice :))
IMG_4199

A bourbon and beer tasting extravaganza, courtesy of Adrienne’s guy, Paul!
Untitled
IMG_4121

Shakespeare and Company bookstore (no photos allowed inside, but damn. Heaven. on. Earth.)
IMG_4120
Where Napolean was Buried.

IMG_4205

And last but certainly not least! Paris wouldn’t be complete without the Eiffel Tower!!!!
IMG_4220
IMG_4234
IMG_4210All in all, despite the not-ideal weather conditions, Paris turned out to be pretty darn swell. For the life of me, I can’t seem to find the photos of the delicious Britannia food (fish soup, mackerel pate, etc!) Adrienne cooked for us, or the duck, but man, were they delicious! We were quite lucky to have had such a great friend host us (yet again) in such a beautiful city.

Stuttgart, Castles and Spas!

There are a number of popular ride sharing sites in Europe and we used one to book a trip with a guy to Stuttgart. Slightly mind blowing, but the guy we drove with ended up being a developer, and specifically he is an Intershop developer! Some may recall that last year I did a training with Intershop, which is not exactly a hugely popular piece of software. The company lives in a city called Yenna. The guy we drove with actually knew the guy that ran the class that I attended! It was crazy! Anyway, we talked about programming for about 2 hours (or at least as much as I could get him to talk with me about!) and it was awesome.

We arrived in a strange part of Stuttgart quite early (8:30 or 9 AM perhaps?) and spent a few hours trying to figure out exactly where we should go to find something to do. After a number of false starts (I think that’s the expression/phrase) (which included an awesome breakfast of coffee, breads and pastries in a little back alley, and a Burger King for a bathroom and ANOTHER coffee) we found ourselves to the city center and ended up going to a Starbucks to do some trip planning and to wait for Lars to get off work so we could go home with him. It ended up being quite a productive afternoon, as we ended up booking a number of things, including a bus to Amsterdam and a flight from Amsterdam to Zagreb.
IMG_3894
(This would be a good point to mention that a friend of mine, who despite not having seen in many many years and even then only briefly, is likely one of my earliest childhood friends. Julia, whom I had really really hoped to visit in Berlin, offered to host us and I am incredibly sad that it didn’t work out. Julia is one of two daughters of family friends Wolfgang and Grobie (sp?) and these were the people who introduced me to Kinder eggs. Wolfgang visiting on a business trip was very near to Christmas for me as a child as it always meant a box of Kinder eggs. Those of you who know me know how significant this is to me! Anyway, I don’t know Julia well other then her travel adventures I’ve read about on facebook (I probably last saw her when I was in middle school or high school, and even then only briefly) but I have a feeling we may have been kindred spirits. I was really looking forward to getting to know her and perhaps having a connection as our parents did when they were younger. Anyway, I want to say this because I really am very sad that it didn’t work out to visit. Berlin would have been an amazing city to see of course, but most of all I was looking forward to getting to better know Julia. It’s on my list of important things to do, so I hope I have an opportunity to hang out some other time and perhaps we can host Julia and her partner if/when they visit the US next.)

Anyway, back on track. We met Lars at a train station (10-15 minutes late I think! The second time that we didn’t realize that there were multiple stops of the same name in slightly different places depending on the type of train you take (S-Bahn vs U-Bahn)). It was SOOO nice to see Lars at the station. Lars is a friend that I worked with at Infield Design, we spent a number of stressful nights together working on a Magento module and we like to consider ourselves core-committers ;). Anyway it’s been years since I’ve seen him, but it felt like we had just seen each other yesterday, it was so nice to see him once again.

OK, so a thing I have to point out: Lars and Saskia live outside of Stuttgart by an hour or so drive, near/in the Black Forest in a small town called Bad Liebenzell. After all of our travels, as I believe we’ve mentioned in other blog posts, sometimes it is nice to get away from a city and be somewhere smaller. Lars and Saskia’s place was 100% amazing and perfect for this. It’s difficult to describe exactly but basically driving to Lars and Saskia’s was (for us) like driving into what you picture an old small German town should be. Beautiful forests covered with snow, fresh air, old houses in the traditional German style (beams of wood with stones between in a checker sort of pattern). Bad Liebenzell is down in a sort of valley and surrounded by hills/trees and it just felt amazing. As you may have noticed this blog post is getting a bit long in the tooth so I feel like my words are failing me, but I hope some of the photos will give some idea of what I’m talking about.
IMG_3911
IMG_3898
IMG_3913
When we arrived at Lars and Saskia’s place we were so excited to be there, and their apartment is awesome. You can literally see a castle up in the forest from our bed. It felt sort of like a combination of Houghton/Handcock and Germany, to me. The air was so fresh.
Our bed at Lars and Saskia's

Anyway, again, the highlight here was seeing Lars and Saskia, but we also did a ton of fun stuff. For one thing, I walked to the bakery with Lars or Saskia every morning which was awesome. Walking through a small German town to buy bread for breakfast is basically like a dream for me and I got to do it every single day.
IMG_3905
IMG_3908
First night Lars and Saskia took us out for a traditional German dinner where I had snitzel and Lindsay had kase spaetzle. We also had a huge Radler beer (mixture of something like sprite and beer) made from the beer brewed at the restaurant.
Untitled
Untitled
Untitled
Untitled

Second day we had an amazing breakfast, then hung around the house for a while (Lars had to work, Saskia very kindly took the day off to hang out with us!) where Lindsay and I did a bit more travel planning for Croatia.

After that we went on a beautiful walk in the forest.
IMG_3920
IMG_3930
IMG_3923
IMG_3942

After this was a highlight for me: we went to a very awesome spa. Generally in the past when I thought of the word “spa” I generally though “girls go there and it’s expensive and I don’t want to go there” but in many parts of the world “spa” is sort of like “relaxing place where you can swim and sit in a hot tub or take a nice hot shower and sit in a steam room.” This particular spa that we went to was seriously crazy awesome. We don’t have any photos really, but the best part of the spa for me was an outdoor swimming pool that was really fancy with different bubble areas. It was heated, and there was a bit of snow falling, and it was very beautiful/clear/very little chlorine water. Lars and I did some “dive training” (swimming around holding our breath) while Lindsay and Saskia did a water exercise class.
Not a great photo of the outdoor area, but you get the idea. This is a view looking down from the apartment:
IMG_4013
Honestly I could spend an hour explaining how awesome this spa was. In the end, it was sort of like the German version of an Onsen in Japan I’d say. Different, but similar in many ways and very relaxing.

For dinner Saskia made us a traditional awesome dinner, spatzle and sausage with a type of bean sauce on top. I forget the name, but it was amazing. We also drank a few new types of beers. As I hope is clearn, the theme throughout the last 2 blog posts is: “amazing hosts.”
Untitled

We went to a bar the Lars used to frequent when he was younger and we got to meet the owner which is a friend of Lars. I drank my first beer with coke, which was good (though a bit sweet for me I think).
IMG_3945

The next day we had another amazing breakfast and then took a drive to a Hohenzollern Castle. Honestly, it was like something out of a fairy tale. It was foggy, and snowing and that, coupled with our amazing walk up to the castle itself was out of this world. We had a great small lunch (soup, hot wine) at the castle and went on a tour which was really cool.
IMG_3961
IMG_3965
Untitled
IMG_3969
IMG_3971
IMG_3979
IMG_3983
IMG_4002
IMG_4006

That evening Lindsay made some very great pasta for dinner and we finished the night hanging out, chatting, and watching the second Hobbit movie (which, and this seriously blows my mind, I somehow hadn’t watched yet. I normally see “big” movies like this in theaters, so I’m not quite sure what happened.).

Sunday, the last day, we had another amazing breakfast and then Lars/Saskia brought us back to Stuttgart as they had a vacation planned previously. We were very sad to say goodbye to Lars and Saskia. I truly hope we’ll get a chance to see them again soon, and as with Babsi and Peter I hope to do a better job keeping in touch with them.

We spent our last day in Germany in Stuttgart, coffee shop hopping. Sadly being Sunday there weren’t a lot of places open, so we ended up spending about 8 hours in various Starbucks on that day. It was good though as we got quite a bit of planning for our trip done, and also I got to do a bit of programming work…we even got a geocache in…
Untitled

That evening we took another night bus to Paris! It was a bit stressful figuring out where we would go, and there was an hour period of panic when it wasn’t 100% clear if we’d make our bus (frustrating considering we had literally all day to get there but we misjudged the time it’d take to find the bus pickup).

Finding the bus was stressful as I mentioned above, but it got even worse when the bus arrived. The bus driver, who as far as I can tell was just a huge dick, point blank said that we couldn’t get on the bus without a ticket. The thing is, we of course did have a ticket, but it was an “eticket” emailed to us. I’m not going to play dumb, the reality is that it’s not crazy that the bus driver expected the ticket to be printed out, however generally if a ticket needs to be printed it will say so somewhere on the ticket “not valid unless printed” “please print and give to driver” “TICKET MUST BE PRINTED” or something of the like. But this ticket, which again was in large bold letters called our “e ticket” (to me even further making it seem reasonable for us to keep the ticket on our phone). Anyway I hate to be the person who comes off as immature because I feel like I’ve been wronged when I really haven’t, but there was just something about the way the guy spoke that made the situation what it was. He’d look at me, say something in German, scowl. “This isn’t ticket (pointing at the phone), this is ticket (pointing at a printed out ticket.” I said “Sir I’m very very sorry, it says “eticket” and we need to be on the bus!” He’d scowl and shoe us away. Then other people would get on the bus (all who of course had printed their ticket).

Eventually I literally begged the guy, with my hands in the begging position. I said “sorry” and “please” in my best German I could. Lindsay was honestly annoyed because (while understanding the situation) could not believe how we were being talked to/treated. He looked at us like garbage, and was unmistakably clear how stupid he thought we were. He eventually let us on the bus a solid 5 minutes of begging and him looking/speaking to us in very disgusted German.

I’d like to take a minute to point out that Lindsay and I have now taken a nearly countless number of buses, and have never once printed out the ticket. We generally show our passport, or show the ticket on our phone, or some combination of the two. This is the first and only time we’ve ever had any troubles, not to mention the first time in my life I think I truly had to be in such a pitiful begging position like garbage.

Anyway, the lesson is this: print the ticket, or don’t and hope you don’t have to deal with this sort of thing but realize you might.

And with that, we were off to Paris!

Deutschland (Munich!), and how we wish we could have stayed there longer

The title of this blog post is a work in progress. I was going to just say “Deutschland” because that seemed pretty cool, but then my fingers got itchy and I just couldn’t stop typing and I ended up with the title you see above.

Let me say this first: the absolute best part of Germany was seeing our friends: Babsi, Peter, Magdalena, Simon, Lars, and Saskia.

And now let me say this: We are incredibly grateful to these people for sharing their homes with us, feeding us, teaching us, and generally just making us feel welcome, warm, and like we were with family.

These things said, we had an awesome time in Germany :). To start at the beginning, I think, we traveled from Hungary to Germany via bus. The bus trip was a night bus, and as is somewhat normal the bus trip was not particularly pleasant, but also not particularly eventful. One special feature that made the trip somewhat notable was that the chair that I sat in had a broken “recline” button/mechanism. Basically the chair reclined or unclined (what’s the opposite of recline?) at will, which is to say when the bus accelerated the seat reclined, and when the bus decelerated the seat “unclined” (as I guess we’ll call it). This was very annoying to be honest, and cut into the already few hours of sleep I normally get on a bus. Additionally, the bus was blaring some terrible American movies with dubbed Hungarian so loud that with our ear buds in, we could hear the movie perfectly. Sometime around 3 or 4 AM I ended up switching seats with Lindsay because I wasn’t getting much sleep (given the movie (that was still playing) and my “fight” with the seat trying to get comfortable, which kept her awake and I could feel her ire even in the slumberish state I was in.). Anyway, once we switched I think I slept better. Small aside: I hear about people having blot clots from sitting too long in seats and such on airplanes and buses, and when I sleep on a bus I get a bit paranoid about this because I’m generally in some strange and uncomfortable position that results in my lower extremities falling uncomfortably asleep, and I imagine I’ve somehow cut off all blood flow to my legs.

So, after arriving in Germany I must say that we were quite excited. Our bus arrived at 4:57 AM (to make matters worse!), and we didn’t want to arrive at Babsi/Peter’s in the middle of the night, so Lindsay and I had a cup of coffee at the train station. Which reminds me to tell you, we were at a train station. I think it was Hacker-something station.
Untitled
It was pretty exciting actually, because we got off the bus and there were real, live Germans coming out of a bar that was at/near the train station. They were drunk, which was great and added an air of festivity to our arrival. There were also a lot of slick looking people with skiing equipment, apparently catching a bus or similar to go skiing for the day. I’m guessing these details aren’t of particular interest to you, but I want to mention them anyway. We also spent some time this morning watching the floor sweeper do his thing, and I got my first look at a Germany grocery store (Ledl – spelling might be wrong?). We bought some museli at the grocery store which I’d like to add was one of our favorite foods in Germany on account of there being lots of non-sugary museli that tasted healthy.

Ok, small break for a joke:

Q: Why was the little boy crying?

A: Because he had a frog stapled to his face

OK, back to business.

We took the S-Bahn to Babsi and Peter’s house, which was so warm and welcoming. They have a great new fireplace which is super cozy and it was great to sit around at night and drink a glass of wine or the fancy beer. This was our first time meeting the kids, Magdelana and Simon, who were great. Magdelena taught us the names of a few different animals in German (my favorite being either Shark (“hi”) or squirrel (who’s name is fun to say but complicated so you’ll have to trust me). It’s worth noting that the house we stayed in was the same as the house that I visited 12 years ago when I came to visit in 2003 after high school, except they’ve moved down stairs to a larger apartment. We actually slept upstairs in an unconnected room (future Magdalena’s room) which I came to learn was actually the same room that Babsi and Peter used to sleep in when they lived on the top floor.
So, Munich itself we spent roughly 5 days in. The first two days were Saturday and Sunday and for the most part we hung around the apartment with the family. Babsi prepared a wonderful German breakfast the first day we arrived, and the second. (I’m typing this without internet but I hope a photo of this breakfast will go here.)
Untitled
We babysat for Magdalena and Simon on Sunday evening which was actually a lot of fun (also, the easiest babysitting I’ve ever done as Babsi/Peter left around 7pm, and the kids bedtime is 7:30). We brought them a few little food kits/toys from Japan and we made them with the kids (mini doughnuts, slime that was supposed to be gummy candy, and chocolate mushrooms).

One other small memory: one night we were putting the kids to bed and I was supposed to read a bedtime story to the kids. Except it was a chapter book in German. So I tried to read the book but after two or three sentences trying to pronounce the words Magdalena had to help me out and ended up reading an entire chapter to herself and Simon, which was quite impressive in my opinion, and let me off the hook.

The next day, we explored Munich. I can’t say we saw everything, but we did do a few key things. We walked around a lot and walked through the English Garden where we sat next to a lake and split a beer.

We walked around the English Garden some more and saw a surfer (though we didn’t actually see any surfing happening unfortunately). Overall though, the sun was shining, and it was an awesome day.

**We had taken a lot of photos of the English Garden, the kids and a ton more on this day, but apparently they are no where to be found! :(**

Later that day while exploring Munich, Lindsay and I were very hungry. We actually (this is sad perhaps) walked 3 kilometers or so to a ramen restaurant that had great reviews (we both had been craving ramen) but just as we arrived it was closed until dinner. So getting slightly grumpy considering our hunger and the disappointment of walking for nothing we walked towards a train station. Then, out of now where, there was a huge bar/beer house/restaurant! It was fate I guess and we ended up going to eat there. We felt great about eating authentic German food, and it was fun to eat in a giant beer/food hall. It was not the cheapest food we’ve had on the trip but it was quite good. Interestingly, it turns out that years ago, I found a bunch of old slides that I scanned of some random guy and his travels (from the late 50s/early 60s, I believe). After talking with Babsi about the dinner, I realized that this guy had taken a photograph of the place we ate at during the Oktoberfest, as this place was a big brewery – so that was pretty cool.

On another day, we visited the Dachau Memorial (former concentration camp) which is in the town of Dachau and I’m not sure if it’s technically “Munich” but regardless we went there. We had an awesome tour guide (per Peter’s suggestion) who walked us around for something like 3.5 hours. Which is crazy I think, because 1) it was only 3 euro a person and 2) The tour is only supposed to last 1.5-2 hours 3) The person is actually a volunteer.
IMG_3811
IMG_3812
IMG_3814
IMG_3848
IMG_3836
IMG_3852
IMG_3853
The lady who took us on the tour also talked with Lindsay a lot about various books that she might be able to recommend to her students next year, and was overall just really passionate about the subject, which made the time fly by. Also, she gave us a ride in her van to a bus station (which was super nice/sweet/awesome, although it ended up being a bus station that didn’t go where we needed to go so we ended up walking to a different bus station and getting lost on the way and then walking around for an hour or so – but I did manage to purchase some long johns en route).

Another day, we visited Christina (Babsi’s sister) and her husband Heinz (spelling?) and their child (whose name is sadly escaping me at the moment!) which was great. It was really nice to see Christina after so many years (I saw her last 12 years ago in Munich when I visited with Dave) and see her life. It’s a bit crazy to think about life when you have a 12 year chunk of time you’re dealing with. 12 years ago I visited Christina in downtown Munich in a very awesome loft apartment, and she was living by herself I believe. Now, she is married, has a child old enough to walk and talk and play outside, has an apartment that’s more like a house, etc. Christina cooked an awesome apple strudel also, and Heinz made us some great tea. We also got to see his knife collection and their place of work, which was really interesting (various clothes).

Another highlight, which I’ve sort of already mentioned, was the food that Babsi and Peter provided for us. One night we had a traditional German feast including meat and a sort of ham bit + cabbage + vinegar salad (which was awesome) and (spelling this phonetically) “ca-noodle” which are round balls of something or other. For those of you that don’t know I sort of enjoy collecting nicknames for Lindsay and canoodle quickly made the list.
Untitled

We also went to a bunch of Aldi, Ledl, and other grocery stores. The general rule was “if you see an Aldi, go into the Aldi.” I’m not exactly sure why this is but Germany (and other countries, but especially Germany in my opinion) has amazing grocery stores. I mean, large fresh balls of mozzarella for .55 eurocents. Milk for less than 1 euro. Etc. AMAZING vanilla pudding of all sorts. And so forth. There is also a machine in Aldi now that when pressed spits out a croissant for like 0.35 eurocents. It’s crazy! And a HUGE selection of wine and beer most of which can be had for less then 2 bucks (wine) and less then a buck for beer. I would kill for an Aldi like this in the states. It makes Trader Joes seem like a joke in my humble opinion.

We also met another friend of Babsi/Peter’s named Michael, who was a German native living in NYC. We had a great soup and wonderful bread and again a wonderful night of talking and drinking wine and fancy champagne and beer. Keep in mind the cozy atmosphere and great friends and the fireplace. It was really nice :).

On our last day in Munich (based on Babsi’s recommendations) and we touched the lions (so we should be back to Munich soon we hope!), walked around the Munich Residenz, Marineplatz, ate more delicious food, and saw more awesome churches and grounds. We had such a nice time and will (are!) missing the family already. I’m hoping we’ll be able to keep in touch with Babsi and Peter better then last time around!
IMG_3878
IMG_3881
IMG_3871
IMG_3885
IMG_3865
IMG_3886

And then, before we knew it, our time in Munich was up, and it was time to go visit Lars and Saskia!