Sunday, November 25, 2018

The blurry lights of Berlin

October 27 - November 15

Germany has been on the must visit list from the first day we arrived in Europe.  Our initial plan was to go to Munich for Oktoberfest for large steins of beer of course!!  Between the Belfast trip and going to Barcelona, we could not get the schedule worked out. I can't believe I just wrote that.  Until 9 months ago our biggest travel conflicts were fitting in a Woodburn Walmart trip in between a visit to Vernonia City Park and shopping at Washington Square.  Fortunately, Nike has an office in Berlin and I needed to take trip there to meet the local team and tour the area.  Though not the foamy steins of beer, loud music and wearing lederhosen (yes I have a pair) that we expected, Berlin was a wonderful experience.  As we have traveled, we have found most cities in Europe have extremely rich and interesting histories that date back hundreds of years.  Berlin also has its share of old history, but it’s more recent history including WWII, the cold war and rise and fall of the Berlin Wall is captivating.   

We decided to stay in ANOTHER 25 hour hotel.  No balcony tub here but there was a sauna room just down the hall.  We decided to go for a sauna fairly late at night and I had the bright idea to get comfortable and remove my contacts so I could close my eyes and relax.  I didn’t realize that the sauna had a glass wall that overlooked the city.  Cheryl told me it was an amazing view and was oooing and ahhhing and I just saw blurry images that looked more like a kaleidoscope than the lights of Berlin.  Then just as we were leaving, a couple came in and enjoyed the sauna the European way (if you know what I mean.)  Again, I just saw blurry images, but from the report Cheryl gave there was not much to ooo and ahhhh over.  To quote famous line "They were real but they weren't spectacular!"

We took another Hop On, Hop Off bus to tour Berlin.  I must say, we really enjoyed driving through Berlin.  It is the capital of Germany and home to 3.7 million people.  Though it has a long history dating back to the 12th century, its recent history is what was so fascinating to Cheryl and I.  The symbolic significance of Berlin as the Capital of Germany during WWII and the many buildings that still show damage from the bombings and then the building of the Berlin Wall in 1969 and finally the reunification in 1989.  As we drove past Checkpoint Charlie into the former East Berlin, you can see a definite change in architecture.  The East is more utilitarian with simple, efficient, square buildings.  Even the landmark "TV Tower" which served an important function, but was also meant to represent Communist power is quite plain and simple.  

We definitely enjoyed the food.  It was as expected, in terms of lots of meats, potatoes and heavy sauces.  Our Nike site lead recommended a place called Schnitzelei.  They have a long list of appetizers/tapas that all looked very good so we ordered 9 of them.  OMG, it was delicious.  Of course there was a lot of bread to go with it so between the loaf of bread and 9 tapas and of course a beer (or two) I felt like Augustus Gloop.  Staying true to tradition, we had to try the local pub and bar scene.  We eventually "stumbled" upon a cool bar called the House of Gin.  It's located in the Hotel Palace Berlin and has over 150 types of gin on their shelves.  The drinks are very creative.  My Old Smoke Fashion was served in a smoke filled lantern.  

We were also able to see all the other sites including the Brandenburg Gate, Reichstag (German Parliament building), TV Tower and Berlin Cathedral just to name a few.  Our favorite attraction was the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  It is a breathtaking place.  It covers 200,000 square feet with over 2700 individual concrete slabs.  A very impactful memorial.    

No more big trips planned until the family comes over for Christmas so we will hang out in Amsterdam and getting ready for the Holidays!!  Until next time........

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Balcony Tub and Game of Thrones!

October 5 - October 26

Seriously, how hard can it be to update a blog?  Sheesh, I am so far behind.  Between all the traveling, food and alcohol tasting and trying to at least fake like I'm doing something at work, I have fallen very far behind on keeping up to date on the blog.   A friend mentioned to me that they enjoyed reading about the Istanbul trip and I thought Istanbul?  That was forever ago.  We've been to Western Germany, Northern Ireland and Berlin since then.  I guess I'd better grab a Heineken (or 3) and start typing.

After that terrific trip to Istanbul we decided to stay a little closer to home for a couple weeks which for us means not flying.  We still wanted to go somewhere new by car or train.  Where to go, where to go.  How about Germany?  Only a 2.5 hour trip by car to the border.  Sounds good!  We settled on a stop in Dusseldorf for a night then to Cologne.  We didn’t put much thought into it (our typical procedure involves a coin and flip), but figured they must have beer, food and old buildings to look at so how can you go wrong?  As a special bonus, the historical Rhine River runs through both cities!

The first learning as we crossed the border was no speed limit.  As you know, I am very gun shy when it comes to speeding following my 3 speeding tickets for going less than 5 km/hr over the speed limit in the area outside Amsterdam.  I didn’t see any of the familiar red, white and black signs so I set the cruise control at what I figured was a safe 100 km/hr and moved over to the right lane with grandma and grandpa.  Much to my surprise, cars were flashing their lights and blowing past us like we were standing still.  I mustered up the courage to go 120 km/hr but that was it and we turned on a “How I built this” podcast and settled in for a nice drive to Dusseldorf.

Dusseldorf is a very nice town of about 600,000 people known for telecommunications and art and fashion (I still wore sweats and a T-Shirt).  We stayed at a fun/trendy hotel called 25 Hours and had the option to pay an additional 5 euros for a soaking tub on the balcony and of course we went for it.  Nice that the weather was still warm so there wasn’t too much shrinkage going from the tub to the room.  I signed us up for a boat tour on the Rhine River as I thought it would be a terrific way to see the city.  We decided to go early to ensure we knew where the pier was.  We’d then walk the park and city until our tour started.  What a great plan!  We went to KD Pier and saw one tour boat there and figured we were at the right place and off we went exploring.  We returned 10 minutes before our scheduled departure and as we approached the boat noticed that there were no people boarding.  In fact there were no people at all.  Hmmmmm.  Not a good sign.  So I double checked the location and verified we were at the right pier but upon closer inspection the “pier” is essentially the entire East side of the river bank and our boat was 3 km away!  So much for the boat trip!

On to Cologne.  It is about 45 km from Dusseldorf so an easy and quick (with no speed limit) drive.  There are 1 million people who live in Cologne but it didn’t feel that big.  We stayed at another 25 Hour hotel (our new favorite) in a central location with an easy walk to many fun places.  It was also the weekend of the Cologne marathon.  I was going to run it but unfortunately entry was closed (and if you believe that…).

We of course hit a market and had to have a German beer and Bratwurst.  From there we took a walk to see the Cologne Cathedral.  What a magnificent building!  The area around it has become a central square and many musicians playing and artists producing beautiful drawings on the walkway.  We decided to have dinner looking right at the Cathedral.  I don't even remember how the food tasted.....

My team at work had an off site planning session in Barcelona at the new office facility there at the beautiful La Rotonda building.  It was a quick trip and Cheryl decided not to join me.  The team got a lot accomplished, ate at a nice restaurant and enjoyed some authentic Flamenco dancing.

The next weekend Cheryl and I got itchy to fly somewhere so we decided on Ireland before it got too cold.  We settled on the logical choice and were headed to Dublin.  A couple weeks before, we were strolling around Amsterdam and walked into an Irish bar for a beer (big surprise there).  While bellying up to the bar, we struck up a conversation with the bartender and he convinced us that Belfast was a better place to visit.  So we changed our plans and headed to Northern Ireland.  Though I'm sure we would have enjoyed Dublin we had a terrific time in Belfast.

There is a lot of history in Belfast. It is a city with a population of about 300,000 but in its hey day in the early 20th century was over 450,000.  It is a town know for linen production, tobacco, rope manufacturing, and of course ship building.  The Titanic was built in Belfast in 1912 by the famous ship building company Harland and Wolff.  There is a wonderful interactive museum at the site where the Titanic was built and Cheryl and I had a great afternoon there learning about the terrible, yet fascinating tragedy.  Yes we even paid the 10 euros for the cheesy staged photo.

We also spent a day wondering the city center with all of the historical buildings including City Hall (which was very cool).  Two of the oldest buildings in Belfast are pubs, so of course we had to check them out (Dirty Onion 1680, Kelly's Cellars 1720).

One of the prettiest drives in the world (at least that's what the locals say) is the Causeway Coastal Route.  This drive consists of beautiful countryside and rugged coast line with castles to see and other points of interest.  Unfortunately the weather didn't cooperate and we had to deal with the rain the entire day.  This, coupled with me having to drive on the left side of the road had trouble written all over it, but we survived.

We visited the Carrickfergus Castle, Bushmill Distillery and the Dark Hedges.  Bushmill Distillery was granted a license to produce whiskey in 1608 and built the distillery in 1784.  The official tastings were closed for the day when we arrived but that didn't stop us, we just split shots!  Too bad I had to drive us home (that left side of the road thing too) and the tasting was cut short.  The Dark Hedges was also a fun stop.  Many of you may know it from the Game of Thrones which is filmed in Northern Ireland (another fun fact brought to you my the Winkler European blog!)

Cheryl and I are really enjoying our time here trying to maximize this opportunity which fills up the days.  We miss the family a lot and CAN NOT wait for Christmas when they will all join us here in Amsterdam.  It is going to be sooooo much fun.

Until next time......