Europe Wrap-Up

Whew. So Simeon and I made it back from Europe (obviously) last week and I am still reeling from the trip. I just barely got over my jet lag, finished all my many loads of laundry, and caught up with stuff around the house. I have been spending any and all spare minutes I come across hugging and playing with my baby, who I am never leaving ever again. Anyway, sorry it’s taken me so long to finish posting about our Europe trip. So here goes:

We spent our last day in Berlin at the Pergamon Museum, grabbed a final German meal then headed over to our hotel at the airport. We caught an early flight out of Berlin’s Tegel Airport and flew into London’s Heathrow Airport. We had a couple hours to kill before catching the “Chunnel” (the Channel Tunnel that runs under the English Channel) from London to Paris, so we met Sim’s friend Mark for lunch. Mark lives in England and works right in London so he took us to a great pub for a bite to eat before we caught the Underground to Waterloo Station and boarded our train.

Everyone we talked to about visiting Paris had said not to book our hotel room in advance, just to find an area we were comfortable and there were always rooms available. Not planning ahead is totally not our style, but we wanted to have fun and be flexible. It was just our luck that the one time we didn’t reserve a room, Paris would be hosting the Rugby World Cup and hotels were totally booked. After walking around from hotel to hotel for what seemed like days (but was only a couple hours), we finally sat down in a restaurant and started calling every hotel we could find until we found a room. Luckily, a hotel a few blocks from the restaurant just had a cancellation so we rushed over to grab the room. It was small, but quaint, and we were just so happy to have a room. And we were in Paris! While we were going from one hotel to the next, we did find one that had a room for the rest of the nights we were there so as soon as we got checked in to our room we called and reserved the room. Boy did that take a lot of stress out of the rest of our stay! Apparently we don’t do “spontaneous” very well.

The rest of our time in Paris was packed full to the brim. We got more than our fill of art at the Musee d’ Orsay (highlights were Monet, Van Gough, and Renoire) and the Louve (Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo), walked along the Seine River, toured the Catacombs, enjoyed gelato while walking through the Luxembourg Gardens, took a walking tour of Paris, saw Napoleon’s tomb and enjoyed the view of the city at sunset from the top of the Arc de Triomphe. Oh and all the fabulous food! Although the menus were quite intimidating and hard to translate with our pocket dictionaries, we were never disappointed! The pastries, baguettes, and espresso alone made the trip totally worth it.

Then we got up early the next day to take the Chunnel back to London. We met up with Mark once again and he graciously gave us the “local’s tour” of London. Being the giant Harry Potter fan that I am, no trip to London would be complete with out a stop at Platform 9 & 3/4. We visited Platform 4, where they filmed the movie, but they even have a little Platform 9 & 3/4 set up complete with a trolley half-way through the wall. It was fabulous. We also walked through Trafalgar Square, took a boat ride down (maybe it was up?) the River Thames, among other things and finally grabbed a gourmet burger and a couple pints for dinner.

The next morning Sim and I decided we were done walking and took a double-decker tour bus around the city. We saw the London Bridge, Tower of London, Paul’s Cathedral, Big Ben, Hyde Park, Westminster Abbey, and a million other things I will never remember. Then we had a fabulous Italian lunch before touring Buckingham Palace. It was actually perfect timing because there was a special exhibit celebrating the Queen’s 60th wedding anniversary, displaying her wedding gown and tiara, gifts they received, etc. We weren’t allowed to take any pictures inside the palace, so that was a little disappointing. On our final evening in London we went to the Apollo Victoria Theatre and watched the musical Wicked. It was wonderful to just sit and be entertained for a couple hours. The next morning we got up super early to start our almost 20 hour journey home.

The trip was exhausting, but totally worth it. You can see all the pictures on my Flickr page. It was easier to upload them to Flickr when we were abroad (when we actually had Internet, that is). We took just over a thousand pictures, and it took me this long to get them all uploaded there, so it may be awhile before I get them transferred to my own gallery. Some day, I promise!

Germany Part II

After my post yesterday Simeon and I walked across town to take an English walking tour of Berlin. Along the way we stopped to grab a soft pretzel and a hot dog from a friendly street vendor. Mmmmm (that’s German for Yummy). We arrived at the location where the tour was to meet and didn’t see anyone around. Simeon instantly panicked thinking he read the pamphlet wrong and we were to meet at 2:30pm instead of 3:00pm. As it turned out we were perfectly on time (the 2:30pm was the tour on the other side of the city) it was just a smaller group and we didn’t notice them among the crowds. The smaller group was preferable to me, as it brings a more individualized, intimate feel to the tour. Julie, our guide, was fabulous and had lovely anecdotes which made the tour very interesting and memorable.

The most entertaining thing about Berlin is while it looks like a grand old city, it is very new. So much of the city was destroyed during WWI and WWII and has been rebuild to look like the original structures. They even went so far as to copy the styles of architecture from other ancient cities to give it a more “old world” feel, which I believe they have accomplished. Since the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, a mere 19 years ago, the city has slowly been working to rebuild itself. Being an impoverished city, it has taken decades to repair the damages. Even as we walked the streets, we can see much of the buildings are under construction to repair the wounds inflicted decades ago.

I am not a big history buff, and can honestly say I had no real expectations of our stay in Berlin. But I have been so moved by the devastation and oppression the city has experienced and fought to conquer; WWI, the holocaust, WWII, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. While the majority of the buildings and monuments are very elaborate and decorative, I think the site that really impacted me the most on our tour would have to be one of the simplest: the monument in Bebelplatz Square. In the center of a cobblestone courtyard is a pane of glass. Below the glass is a lit library with rows and rows of empty book cases. It is to commemorate the scene of the Nazi bookburning in which 20,000 books written by Jewish authors were all destroyed. There is a plaque that reads “In the center of this place on 10 May 1933 National Socialist students burned work by hundreds of free writers journalists, philosophers, and scientists.” Perhaps more moving than the empty library is the quote by Heinrich Heine: “where books are burned, in the end people will burn.” If only Heinrich knew just how true that was.

But our tour was not all doom and gloom. A more humorous monument would have to be “The Pope’s Revenge.” The Fernsehturm, Berlin’s Television Tower, is a very noticeable monument that can be seen from much of the city. (In fact Simeon and I saw it from the air as we landed in Tegel airport–we thought it resembled a Christmas tree topper and kept referring to it as such.) When the sun shines on the Tower’s shiny “disco ball” the reflection creates a sort of cross. There was massive religious suppression as a result of the Communist governments atheist undertones which went so far as to ban all crosses. Though they have tried and tried, there is no stopping the reflective cross from appearing on sunny days, thus Berliners call the cross Rache des Papstes, or “The Pope’s Revenge.” You gotta love a religion with a sense of humor! I just never would have thought it would be the Catholics! (Just kidding….kinda.)

Anyway, we saw way more of the city than we ever imagined on our tour and as a result are taking it easy today. The weather has been quite drizzly and wet, so Simeon and I took the opportunity to sleep in and spend some time relaxing in cafes, drinking rich coffee, and enjoying German cuisine. It doesn’t get any better than that! Later today we may take advantage of our hotels fabulous spa before venturing back into the city again. I am determined to find me some Lederhosen…..

(Once again, all pictures are in my Flickr.)

Guten Tag aus Deutschland!

Or “Good morning from Germany! Simeon and I are having a fabulous time. We keep reminding ourselves we are on no one’s schedule but our own and just trying to enjoy our vacation. We arrived yesterday (after layovers in Chicago and London) and managed to find our way out of Tegel airport, caught a bus to the subway and found our hotel. We took much needed showers (after 22 hours of traveling it was quite necessary!). Normally when we stay in hotels we have two concerns: the shower and the bed. The bed was heavenly (literally. We are staying in the Westin and the have the “Heavenly” beds.) and the shower was amazing. Its one of those rain shower heads and Simeon and I have to practically force ourselves out of the shower otherwise all we would see in Berlin would be our hotel’s bathroom!

Then we wandered out to find dinner in an authentic German restaurant. Sim ventured out of his comfort zone and ordered a leg of rabbit served with pickled onions, cabbage and bread dumplings (or, as the menu read, “Zart geschmorte Kaninchenkeule mit Spitzkohl und Serviettenknodel”). I veered to the safe side and decided upon the grilled “Nurnberger” sausages with sauerkraut and mashed potatoes (Nurnberger Wurstchen mit Sauerkraut und Kartoffelpuree). Sim tried some beer while I enjoyed a wine that went straight to my head! We rounded out the dinner by sharing two desserts: A mousse of Berliner Weisse beer with chocolate crunch and raspberry sauce and luke-warm cream strudel with vanilla sauce, vanilla ice cream and cranberries (I will spare you the translation). Then we walked back to our hotel and went to bed at a very civilized 10pm (Berlin time- or 1pm our time).

We slept in this morning til 9:30am and only woke up then because the sun was streaming in our window. But I was officially woken up when I realized I was leaking and desperately needed to pump! (My body misses Ana as much as I do!) Then we got ready and went to this lovely little cafe and enjoyed a yummy pastry, a “Hawaiian” sandwich (it had ham and pineapple on it, thus the Hawaiian name) and some much needed espresso. So far we have really adjusted well to the time change and aren’t experiencing any jet lag which has been wonderful. I think the fact that we only manged to sleep for an hour or two on the planes really helped in that area! Then we wandered around for a couple hours checking out the beautiful buildings and marveling in the architecture.

We came back to the hotel to rest for a bit, check email and sunscreen up before we head out this afternoon. We have plans to take an English walking tour of the major sights of the city. We figured we should have someone telling us what things are and their historical significance rather than just admiring the beauty of the buildings. A little learning never hurt anyone, right? So I will post more pictures and document our adventures more later. I am uploading all my pictures of the trip to Flickr until I am back stateside and can upload them to my gallery, so check my Flickr for all the pictures!

Auf Wiedersehen! (Good bye!)