Monday, December 24, 2007
The stunning conclusion of the third day of London is long overdue, and the trip to central Germany hasn't even been addressed- so here it goes:
As our first day of engagement dawned, Ian and I were all smiles. After an almost American breakfast of cereal, peanut butter toast, and coffee, we headed out to the Imperial War Museum. We weren't sure what we would find at this large FREE museum, but from the moment we entered it was onvious that this museum was going to be a favorite. Aircraft, tanks, and bombs adorn the entry with in-depth discriptions adding insight. A maze of history takes you through Imperial England's long and varied history pre- 1900's, in WWI, WWII, and more. Too odd to explore the history of Canada and India in WWII or see these events from an English perspective. The two ends of the museum had been put together to form interactive exhibits. One side had trenches that smelled like earth with mannequins adding a realistic and slightly terrifying quality. A special exhibit showed War time posters and propaganda "Buy war bonds" repeated in a variety of surroundings and creepy "loose lips, sink ships". We could have spent the entire day, but our time was dwindling...
Our last hours in the city of London took us to Tate Modern. For the anniversary of the Queen's Coronation a couple of years ago she made all the State Museums free and as of yet they maintain their free status. The Tate Modern branches off from the original Tate Museum which was overflowing with artwork. Now divided into Tate Britain (all British art), Tate Modern (modern art), and the Tate. Entering the building, there is a huge crack running along the cement floor. Ahh, art. We saw installation pieces of wires cutting across a whole room, little black kid holding an AK-47, and a video of a dog running into a man from the angle of the dog, the man, and the opposite corner. One of its best features however, lies just outside the building. On the top floor there is a balcony off the cafe, where all of London is laid out before you and a giant spider. Yes- giant spider. An outdoor sculpture sits on the Thames with tons of vistors staring up at its spiny legs in awe.
With one last wander over a bridge we boarded the Stanstead Express and flew back to the mainland. We will be back, when Ian proposed he told me he had done it here so that we have even more of a reason to return.
Our next excursion was a run through the heartland. After Berlin, all the cities seem a little sleepy and slow but for my birthday, my parents and Ian had arranged for us to see an FEI event (top level horse riding) held in Frankfurt. On our way, we stopped in Hamburg to check out Germany's second largest city and most important port. Bodies of water surrounded us once again and Christmas cheer could be seen in the markets and Tannenbaums throughout the center. The Rathaus was massive and surrounded by these crazy trees with odd balls. We wandered on down to the main terminal on the water and marveled at the classic old ships and the mist rising off the water. A trip by the church also introduced us to a lone trumpet player whose instrument poked out the huge huge bell tower to announce the coming of another hour. On the other side of town we came across the infamous Reeperbahn in the St. Paulie District. Stripper boots galore! Since it was still 10 in the morning, there weren't many working girls "working it", but I think we got the idea. A little more skeevy then Amsterdam, but still fascinating. It also raised an interesting question- if just about every city has a red light district, where is Berlin's? hmmmmmmm.....
On the way down to Frankfurt we hopped off the train to check out Gottingen, a cool college town with some old city charm. There was a completely unique marker system of using the planets and the distance between them to map out the town. Pretty ingenious, especially paired with the lights and gluhwine of the Christkindlemarkt.
Finally- off to Frankfurt am Main. The town is sometimes referred to as "Mainhatten" for its location next to the Main River and its big-city skyscrapers. Though we had come to watch the horses, we took all day Saturday to explore. First- the hotel. The place was close enough & cheap enough, but for a little added flair had an adult bookshop right next door with a neon lady drinking a beer visible from our window- classy! The city itself truly has a diffrent feel from much of Germany. It is an international city, which has led some to label it as souless. The truth is that the city was able to re-build quickly because of the big revenue the city brings in through finance. This worked somewhat to their deficit in that modern buildings shot into the sky and Frankfurt was left off the tourists maps.
One of our first areas of interest- downtown introduced us to their Christkindlemarkt, a long strip of food stands and shops. Hello commercialism! Skyscrapers, hamburgers, department stores. Tons of young kids drinking in the streets- yea Germany. We wandered the streets hungrily until Ian had found and devoured a sausage and I had found a sandwich at a Woolworths (yes- they have them over here). Ready to relax until the next day of exploring we went back to the hotel and settled in for the night.
The first stop was the historic section of town, admittedly small but with some impressive history. We crossed by the Church that once crowned each new King, saw one of Germany's first Parliament buildings, and admired the old town Square complete with Christmas tree. We followed the weekend crowds around the market then crossed the bridge for a vibrant Street Fair. Old ladies and young men hawking their wares in one of the largest Street markets either of us had ever seen. An older lady reeled in and tried to persuade him to buy an original version of "Mein Kopf". Enticing to own a but of history, but a but too spendy for our beggar's pockets. A quick look at the Frankfurt Stock Exchange and Financial district gave us a better view of the cities disticntive place in Germany. We wandering back to the hotel for a break catching the setting sun over the river Main.
After some crazy German TV we braved the cold and crowds yet again to see the market and city at night. Maybe we just came during a cold snap, but Frankfurt was one of the coldest cities we have been in! Luckily (or maybe not) the crowds kept us insulated as we tried to catch the Christkindlemarkt in action. It was still pretty early in the evening, but people were already getting rowdy on a Saturday night. We squeezed out of the crowd to try a local treat, Apfelwine, and take in the scene. The apfelwine we had was terrible- maybe a bad batch?- but the cup we got was awesome and the night was another exciting adventure into somewhere we had never been before.
The next day was a day I have been waiting for my whole life! A FEI Equine Event. And is was awesome. We arrived just in time to a man from Spain riding a musical freestyle Dressage test. I was in heaven and even Ian had fun. A picture is worth another 6 paragraphs of me typing so I will just refer interested readers to the pictures on Flickr and the videos on Webshots. If you have nay interest in horses and are ever able to see one of these events (few are held in the USA, especially the NW) GO!
My dream finally satisfied, we left Frankfurt with a fond farewell and took the train to a tourity, ut lovely town called Rothenburg. We stepped off the train without a place to stay but almost immediately encountered a little old woman sweeping the street in front of a Pension. Sold!! How old school German could it get? After dropping our bags we entered through the medieval walls. Rothenburg was a prosperous medieval city with an excellent location between the trading routes, excellent farming, and medieval walls to protect the goods. Unfortunately, that wasn't enough to insulate the Protestant town from the Catholics during the 30 year war. The city held strong, well prepared for such an event...until one of their own accidentally had a fire in the ammunition room! A huge hole in the wall ended their resistance and the city fell into poverty for many years.
A very merry Christmas to everyone! Cooledge arived safely from Seattle yesterday. We tore up the town visiting Christkindlemarkts, Farmer's Markets, doner stands, and Salamas (our favorite place to watch American football). Today we are attempting traditional German fare from Goose with apple stuffing, Knodel, Rotkohl. Tommorow brings Schnitzel, German Potato Salad, and Kaisershamm. Betty and Greg are also arriving today to kick off this holiday with some real merryment. This picture marks our third month and Europe and the first time we can really say we are living and working in Europe. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all- we miss you.
Saturday, December 8, 2007
To facilitate all our London dreams we had purchased a one-day London Pass which allowed for free access into many attractions, but only for one day. Thus, a starategy was needed: hit Shakespeare's Globe Theatre right at open, take the Tube over to the Winston Churchill Museum War Rooms, make brass rubbings beneath a church, ride over to the Tower of London and explore the grounds, then finish off with a view of the city at Tower Bridge- Break!
First- the theatre! Though the Original Globe burned to the ground in 1613, this theatre is a pretty close replica on the exact same spot. Our tour guide- Annette- was amazing & gave a great low-down of the dirty, dark past. Apparently the area the Globe is in was originally the town of Southwark, just across the river from the city of London. This had important consequences, like not being under the strict social and moral codes of London proper. It was in Southwark that all the fine businessman and others came to enjoy the unsavory side of life. Theatres and brothels alike benefited from these visits by Londoners, but had to deal with a curfew. The only way over was on a rowboat (not easy to do in the dead of night across the mighty Thames), or to walk across one of the bridges and suffer the consequences of the gate-keepers. To help communicate across the waters, the Globe would put up a flag on days with a show & the proper Londoners would come right over! The theatre itself is awesome as is the reconstruction. They have taken pain-staking efforts to keep the theatres vibe similar to back in the day with a few added safety features- like sprinklers. Oak beams support the building with plaster and goat hair creating the walls with the classic thatch roof atop. It is the first modern building in London with a thatched roof! We got to wander in front of the stage just as groundlings (theatre-goers who could only afford standing room) did back then & do today. The stage is fairly authentic not using modern lighting or stage tricks, but relying on the strength of the actors. The tour was amazing & we will definitely be back for a play.
Next on the itinerary, War Rooms! These were the actual rooms Winston Churchill commanded from as bombs rained from above during the war. Great care had been taken in restoring most of the rooms back to their original function and the effect was exhilarating. Everywhere in London had this feeling of wonder at walking the same historical grounds as other great men & women before us. The Churchill Museum actually was the star with really cool interactive displays and quite a character to educate us upon. Churchill's cigars, suits, paintings, and letters were all on display and we really got a view of the Man.
Next stop- brass rubbings! Replicas of famous tombs are made and then people are able to rub this part metal half wax and make an imprint to take home- pretty interesting.
The off to the Tower of London, "Palace and prison of the English monarchs for 900 years". William the Conqueror created the massive fortress in 1067 to protect himself from angry subjects. The place is surrounded by two sets of enormous stone walls complete with towers. The Byward Tower has a bell that has rung the hour of curfew for over 500 years. The White Tower was once the armory & is now a museum of some deadly pieces. Guns, Knives, canons, armor for knights & horses, and sharpened sticks- it's got it all! Most mysterious is the Bloody Tower, where Richard III may have imprisoned his two young nephews (around 10 & 12) and eventually murdered them to usurp the crown. It is just wild to walk around on the same ground as all of these devious happenings. The Tower of London is also the home of the Crown Jewels where we saw some of the most valuable shiny stones in the world (kinda brings into question Ian's judgement for later that evening, but I will get to that in a minute). This is all about the place, but what made the whole castle experience was the people. As we wandered through the towers we literally stumbled into the King's bedroom where the Queen & her daughter (not really silly!) were preparing for her wedding. They cordially offered us a brief history of coming events and introduced themselves. Ian put forth a meaty American hand & prepared to shake the hand of the Queen (really). Dismay & horror registered on both their faces and Ian was made aware of the great dishonor he had placed upon the Queen & subsequently forced to get down on one knee & kiss her hand before we escaped through a narrow spiral staircase into the next room. Our next encounter was just an enlightening, but a little less embarrassing. Beefeaters could be seen walking around the castle giving tours, but as we are more of the self-tour types, we just stopped to ask one a question as he was sitting in a booth listening to the radio (yes, they really wear the outfits). There was an area of the castle roped off with blue doors and a lot of very homey touches so we asked who lived there. With a chuckle like Santa he answered that he did, along with his fellow Beefeaters. "You know how every man's home is a castle? Well, mine actually is!" Sweeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeet. Apparently some Duke or Earl or Governor or some nonsense also lives there, but my new hero is the Beefeater.
We reluctantly left the Tower of London to check out the bridge towering overhead- the Tower Bridge. Often mistaken for the kinda plain London Bridge- this is classic London. Painted blue and gray with huge towers of civilian walkways on either side the bridge is quite unique. We were briefly security wanded and had our bags x-rayed (common place in London) and then were whirled upwards 140 feet to gaze over London from glass enclosed walkways. The view was amazing, as day quieted to night and the city was set ablaze in light. The bridge has got some history with tons of crazy facts like an airplane flying between the two towers in a daredevil maneuver and that it was not destroyed during WWII because the Nazis used it as a geographical marker.
The craziest thing was something I knew nothing about until we came to the end of the second walkway and Ian drew me away from the rest of the people to try to take a picture of Big Ben. As I peered out the windows, up on the metal steps, Ian started out, "Ebe, I love you." I gave him a look and started to step down, "I love you too." "No, I really love you." My mind and actions slowed to try to comprehend what was happening and I realized I couldn't look directly at him and struggled to untangle my thoughts. As I tried to look him in the eyes he got down on one knee and held something shiny. I started blubbering the most inane sentences like "Are you joking!?" "Oh my God!" and "Wow, I really love you." I said yes and he slid on the ring. It's official, overlooking the city of London Ian & I decided to change our title and have a party- what can I say? I love him.
After that it was all a giddy blur. We really did have fish & chips and Yorkshire Pudding on the Thames, checked out some awesome sports photography in an outdoor display, wandered Chinatown and Picaddily Circus, and went to the cinema in Soho. All of it was awesome.
Thursday, December 6, 2007
Well, well, well... despite my fears of being flown into the House of Parliment in a terrorist attack, we've made it back safely to good ol' Berlin. I must admit, it's nice to get back to Berlin's grittiness. As far as our trip, we saw so much; therefore, we shall tell you of our adventures in London by the day.
We woke up bright and early Tuesday morning in Berlin, after a night of heavy cleaning (and a weekend of heavy drinking)... Our apartment mistress was coming back to reclaim her land for a few days, so we wanted to make it quite smashing for her (notice the English flair). We awoke in the early morning dawn and made our trek to Schönefeld Airport, where our RyanAir flight would soon be departing. We boarded the plane without any cavity searches (much to my disappointment) and were on our way to jolly ol' London Town!
After only and hour and twenty minutes, we landed at Stanstead Airport. After a brief inquisition into our reasons for visiting Britain, we were allowed to enter the country and boarded the Stanstead Express to London. Ebe kept looking for Platform Nine and Three Quarters, but I insisted we not spend one of our days at Hogwarts being made fun of for being muggels. Anyway, back to reality. The train ride into Liverpool Station lasted around 45 minutes, and we got to hear the lovely accents of the British people. It was weird not hearing German and took our ears a while to get acclimated to hearing English again... especially such silly English as what the Brits speak! Liverpool Station was beautiful, and Ebe and I were awestruck as we left the station and stepped into London's financial district. Buildings with old world charm stood next to shimmering sky scrapers; one of which was shaped like a huge pincone! We decided on our way to the station that we would take a walking tour and try to see all of the big sites on our way to our hostel.
After leaving the financial district, we promptly entered the City of London. Back in the day this was London, which was surrounded by many other towns and villages (such as Westminister, Bloomsbury, and Southwark), which have today become part of London. The sidewalks were much smaller than any other city we've been in thus far, and the city itself much denser. We zig-zagged our way through the center and saw St. Paul's Cathedral rising in front of us. It was quite a site to behold. Thanks to some handy plaques, we learned that St. Paul's has the second highest free standing dome in the world, outside of the Vatican! Pretty impressive eh? We continued on our way to Covent Garden, which is a little "old" world shopping center. We were a little bummed to see that there wasn't a Christmas Market as we had expected, but it was still fun to see musicians playing the classics such as Handel and Mozart. We wandered around for a while, but it wasn't really quite our thing, plus we had to get to Piccadilly Circus to pick up our London Passes before the tourist office closed.
The closer we got to Piccadilly Circus, the more touristy the area became. On every corner were souvenier stands and McD's, with even a few Starbucks scattered here and there. The square itself at Piccadilly's is kind of comparable to Times Square in New York we've heard, so try to imagine that with a little English flair and not the huge skyscrapers. We picked up our London Passes, went to a British supermarket named Temco, and procceded to a little park named St. James's Square, where we had a tasty sandwich with cheddar cheese (finally some cheddar) and ham. After looking at the map, we realized we weren't too far from Buckingham Palace, so we decided to drop in on the old broad. After walking up to the gate, we realized we couldn't just walk in and say hello, as there were soldiers standing guard outside the gate... along with some policemen with badass guns. Now you may be thinking that the guards here are the ones you always see on TV and in the movies, who are wearing red uniforms with the huge black hats that make them look like a giant's q-tip, but unfortunately they were dressed in more "present day" garb. After watching them "walk up and down the square," we told the Queen bye bye and headed to Westminister Abbey and the Houses of Parliment.
We walked through St. James's Park on the way there, and saw some cool things: some boxers sparing one another, crazy squirells, and geese that were more curious than George! Westminister Abbey was quite a site to behold, but just beyond it stood Big Ben, which I think took a little bit away from the Abbey's splendor. Big Ben is part of a huge building of the Houses of Parliment. It's a grandiose building with beautiful architecture. Probably my favorite site in the city. It was really neat being next to Big Ben thinking that years ago Peter Pan flew by with the Darling children on their way to Never Neverland. Needless to say, we took a few pictures and headed over the Thames toward our hostel in Kennington.
After many wrong turns, and seeing a little street fight, we finally made it to our hostel. We caught our breath, put our junk away, and headed out to an English pub for some tasty British ales. We found a neat little local place not too far from our hostel and grabbed a pint. We sat down next to a charming man with a lovely mullet and continued to watch soccer with the patrons of the bar. After many "bloody hells" and "fuck offs" yelled at the TV screens, Mr. Sandman was coming to collect his dues. We said "cheerio" to this lovely crew and headed back to the hostel to catch some much needed Z's.
Coming up... Will Ebe and Ian get lost in the maze of the Tube? Or will they get caught up in a good ol' English hooligan soccer riot? Maybe they'll even unfoil the plot of the British dental epidemic...
Monday, December 3, 2007
We are going to London! Tuesday we take our first ride on a jet plane since arriving here and set foot in my motherland. Because of how ungodly expensive London is we are doing a 2 night, 3 day whirlwind tour but are excited to see all we can. Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Globe Theatre, Tower of London, plus Christmas markets! Friday will see us back in Berlin- with pictures!