Monday, November 29, 2010

Here's to you...

Today I woke thinking of one of my favorite people on earth because it's his birthday! Happy B day Daddio. You can always make me laugh, I am constantly impressed by your intelligence & sincerity, and I wish everyone could know you as I know you- the man who can fix anything.

So in honor of one of our favorite comedy heros, a little Leslie Nielsen. Here's to you Dad, and to you Shirley.





"How dare you how dare me when I how dare you, you big pee-pee head!"

Friday, November 26, 2010

Back in Berlin - An Encore

We're back! Unbelievable, but we are. 


On Tuesday we arrived. Also, my birthday. Hectic, stressful, exciting, crazy, confusing. We were tired of living out of suitcases & ready to settle in. But first- a place. Our friend Jeff was nice enough to let us shack up in his flat, but roommates, as gracious as they have been, are not exactly siked to have two homeless living in their community room. The search began...


On wednesday we got to serious work scanning ads, writing e-mails, and making appointments. We just needed to get a foot in the door. C'mon people! Give us a place! Seeming to symbolize our stress & sense of shiftlessness we witnessed a large German man with child in arms lock himself out of his car. His wife beside him, he yelled "Nein! Neiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnn!" In freezing weather, a short sleeved shirt, and his car illegally parked next to Potsdamer Platz...he was stuck.


On Thursday, our displaced Thanksgiving, we had a promising apartment showing. It was within our price range, in a hip part of town, and looked gorgeous. We showed up to a lovely altbau apartment on the first floor. Large bedroom/ work space, separate bath, kitchen, and balcony, a washer machine AND a dishwasher. I practically had tears in my eyes. It has been years, literally years, since we had a dishwasher. The rental is just for over a month, but it gives us time to move out of the living room, get some work done, and find a permanent place. 

"We'll take it!"  

Berlin Flat




German meal goose potatoes sauerkraut
Back to German cooking

Kreuzberg Graffiti

Berlin Hubertus Lounge with it's hidden club

These bells are a gift from my mom from Seattle, and one of the first things to go up in any apartment. They mean we're home.


We got a place - now let's Christmas.



 More pics of our fist Month Back in Berlin


And to symbolize that day, giddy with goodwill, we witnessed a samba band hop on the U-Bahn and ride it a stop with us, playing drums, a trumpet, and a back up speaker system. Smiling, we gave them some coins. 

Back in Berlin!

 Follow us in our first few months back in Berlin.....




Monday, November 22, 2010

Thomas's Town: Cologne, Germany

On Saturday, we finally crossed the border into Germany. Leann was nice enough to drive us over the border to avoid international charges on train fare. From there, we carried all 6 fully loaded bags and us to Koeln, or Cologne. We were greeted at the station by Thomas himself & his father, Gisbert. Stepping out under the shadow of the Dom, they whisked us through the streets in the family car (Thomas not behind the wheel). We made it to their house about 15 min to the north of the city and were greeted by coffee & cake (ah- classic German style). They also set us up in the this little apartment at the bottom so we have a bathroom & kitchenette all to our selves. Definitely some of the nicest accommodations of the trip!

That night they sent us out, with Thomas as guide, to eat an amazing Koelner dinner of schweinehaxe (pork knuckle), blotwurst (blood sausage- first time & it was good), kartoffeln (potatoes), etc. Plus appetizers of a local cheese, and beef tartar. And, of course, kolsch (the local beer).You drink it outta little .2L glasses & they bring more till you cover it with a coaster. Exxxxxxxxxxxxcelent! We also visited with some of his friends, and went to a birthday party.


On Sunday, we tromped through the city again, checking out the sculpture park, Rhein, an artist's squat, and took a ride up a skyscraper for some night views of the city.

All of us were feeling a little tired, but a family meal of beef goulash bolstered our spirits. It's a unique experience, eating with a German family & trying to keep up with the lingo.

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Today the Weihnachtsmarkt begin and Thomas was so excited!...ok not really. I had to explain the word "Scrooge" after he kept pointing out the marketing standpoint. It's important to be able to see and understand where things are coming from, but not let it rob you  of the opportunity to enjoy a glass of Gluhwein (mulled wine). He actually ended up taking us to all 5 markets- poor kid. I loved it.

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We have really enjoyed spending time with Thomas & the Brandt family. Nothing to make you not miss your family so much as spending time within another.

 

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Panaorama Amsterdam

We love this city.

It doesn't hurt that to get to Seattle from Berlin flying through Amsterdam (or London) is usually necessary. Plus, friends that used to live in Venlo made the Netherlands a safe harbor.




Musician square in Amsterdam

Johnny Jordaan plein


Bikes of the Netherlands

European wedding mobile

Amsterdam street art



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Friday, November 19, 2010

Cute Baby

Spending time in Venlo has been awesome- even as Tymen defiantly climbs over his mum to grab computer cords. Check out some serious cuteness with Tymen, Leann, & Ian.

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Airplane Movie

Icelandair was a-ok. Punctual flights, funny Icelandic written on the pillows, seats, etc, and your private monitor in which you could select what you wanna watch. You could even watch the flight pattern all the way through, facts about Iceland, and learn Icelandic.

Not bad, besides one complaints:
No snacks. Seriously, seven hour flight & nothing besides juice.

We did catch up on some moving watching-
Sex in the City 2
Toy Story 3
Simpsons episode
Modern Family
King of Persia
Lie to Me
Family Guy
American Dad
All that really matters is that we touched down. Thanks Icelandic Air!

Icelandic, more like icelandish!



Well, we had a great time in Iceland until we had to head to the airport...

We were running a bit behind schedule, but nothing too crazy when we pulled over to fuel up the car.  All of a sudden our bank cards, which had been working the entire time, decided to leave us in a lurch and not allow us to fill up the tank on the rental.  Shit.  We would have to pay a fee for not filling up the tank...

Then we finally got to the Hertz return center and a Polish guy came out to inspect the car.  He immediately went to the passenger side door with his "torch" and found a tiny tear in the door seem.  "Wind damage," he said in his broken English.  We were completely astounded, as we hadn't done any damage to the automobile.  We had used it for just 24 hours! But the wind outside the resort was fierce and the car was uncovered. I wonder if this minor damage happens all the time. We were so worried that we would miss our flight to Amsterdam that we rushed the process and had him drop us off at the airport where we finished the paper work.

Long story short, we get an email from Hertz's very own Magnus, an oaf of a man with an ill fitting suit, who informs us that we'll be charged just shy of $900 for this damage.  I must say that again, in case you think I mistyped that number, 900!  Nine-hundred effing dollars! 

Our trip has been absolutely amazing so far, but this has definitely put a damper on the mood.  The money has already been taken out of our account, but we're gonna try and fight this.  If anyone has any tips, besides blowing up Iceland, Ebe and I are both all ears.

UPDATE: 

I (ebe) was a bit beside myself when this happened. I freaked out - hard. I let it really bum me out for a while, and frantically worked with my mum across the ocean to figure out what we could do. This was our first time renting & we learned a lot about car rental, and that we had done a lot wrong.

Tips for Car Rental
  • Always inspect the car with an employee when picking it up. You can take pics, and even film this. (We arrived before the sun was up and were sent out to a dark lot to pick up the car. We looked, but it was so dark we couldn't see anything.)
  • Pay with a credit card as most offer insurance - research what exactly is covered. Credit cards will also put their team to work fighting a charge so it's not just little 'ole you. (We had planned on using our card, but found upon arrival they didn't accept CapitolOne Mastercard. Grr....)
  • Keep Cool! Bumming yourself out and everyone you are with is not a good travel plan. (Sorry Leann. I was kind of a basket case for a while.)

We had shot ourselves in the foot in several ways including signing off on the car being returned without settling the damage dispute. We had accepted a verbal "Well see what happens.." which is clearly not a good idea.

We fought the charges through our debit card company, saying they weren't authorized - which was true. When the estimate was sent to us, they politely asked if we would sign the papers and turn them back in and we politely wrote them back that they could go F*%$ themselves. (Not really, we tried to explain our case). BECU, our debit card company, accepted our claim and reversed the charges. We followed up by sending a formal complaint to Hertz (the Rental company) and waited for action....and waited, and waited. For 6 months we were on pins and needles thinking any day now we would receive a letter or have the money withdrawn again. 2 years later, I assume we are in the clear. This was a stressful experience and we learned a lot. I just wish we didn;t have to learn it the hard way.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Making the most of a Layover in Iceland

Iceland girl
Already trying to kill Ian with an icicle
Well folks, we actually made it.  We just took our first dip into the Blue Lagoon, and let it be known, it is kick ass!!!  Hate to keep it short, but we're gonna take a quick power nap before heading to Reykjavik.  We'll be back shortly...

Facts about Iceland:

  • The Prime minister is in the phone book (and a woman!)
  • There are 300,000 people and 60% live in Reykjavik
  • The country uses 95% green energy
  • It is the size of Kentucky
  • Most Icelanders can still read ancient Viking script
  • For a very hot second, I could spell "Reykjavik "
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FLY

We flew to Iceland because their recession had IcelandAir offering unbelievable fares from the states to Europe with a free layover of up to 5 days. Plus - who doesn't want to go to Iceland? This was in 2010, so I am not sure what rates are now, but I would still recommend checking it out. Warning: (as seen below) this was flying discount and everything had a charge.

CAR RENTAL

Driving in Iceland was bizarre. We arrived in the dark and timidly made our way around the narrow roads enclosed by violently jagged rocks. I don't know how you could walk across this terrain. We had chosen to rent because we were arriving very early, before the bus service started, and were excited to get started on our adventure. In addition, we had chosen to stay at the Blue Lagoon, and while there is bus service, we wanted to be able to make our plans about heading into town etc. Despite all the "Greenland is actually the land covered in ice", Iceland is flippin freezing in November. My hair froze to my face. Eyes teared and eyelashes stood on end. Fingers immediately lost feeling. I don't know how you would wait for a bus.

Freezing in Iceland
Ian - literally freezing before our eys

We had a big issue with our car rental. Everything worked out ok in the end, but I think many places may work a bit of a scam, claiming damage from the hostile conditions and then just collecting insurance money. Do your research (wish we had), and be careful out there folks!


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EAT

A hot dog costs 320 krónas (or about €2) and condiments include ketchup, sweet mustard, fried onion, raw onion and remoulade, a mayonnaise-based sauce with sweet relish. Hot dogs are often ordered with "the works," i.e., all condiments, or in Icelandic "eina með öllu".

I had heard about a hotdog stand Bill Clinton ate at. Done! That's where I'm eating. We were famished by the time we got here (no meal on the transatlantic flight Seattle-Iceland, airport stores weren't open when we landed, hotel brunch woudl only be available to us the next day, no stores until we drove into town). So it may have been a little bit of that and a little bit of magic that made this THE BEST HOT DOG I'VE EVER EATEN. If you're in town - go and devour.

We also went to the grocery store, one of my favorite things to do in any country. Most noticeable - a distinct lack of  fresh fruits and vegetables. There were some, but pickings were meager.

Iceland hot dog

STAY

Hotel Iceland ReykjavikBlue Lagoon Hotel was the closest thing to a resort we had ever stayed in. All wood and glass, it felt like the spa it was connected to. We stayed for around 80 euros in the off-season of November. This seemed like a great deal for the 2 of us in a private room, with access to their private spa (seperate from the public Blue Lagoon), plus entrance fee to the main lagoon, with breakfast. Extremely tired, jetlagged, and starving, we checked into this luxurious space with a very friendly staff. Immediately we got in the spa and were blown away by the feel of warm mineral water and the sulphuric smell of egg farts. It was lovely.

There are other places to stay in town, and the Lagoon is outside of town (with bus options), but we were incredibly happy to kick our second time living in Europe off with a splash.

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DO

There are many spas in Iceland and Blue Lagoon is the most well known, and most touristy. We were in Iceland for just over 24 hours. Let's lagoon it, baby. (plus it was included in our stay)

The place is simply magic. It was wonderful to watch peoples faces as they exited the changing area and saw the lagoon for the first time. Child like wonderment at this alien landscape of jagged rocks surrounding the ethereal milky blue of the water.

Thermal Spa

Reykjavik Spa
 
The whole drama with the car overshadowed how amazing this visit was for a while.  But since we narrowly escaped that crazy scam and time has allowed me to look back at these pics and videos in utter wonder, it is one of the places I am dying to go back to.

  For more pics of Iceland adventure:
http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=2287319&id=25905043&l=3586275e0e

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Karaoke

For a while there we got pretty into Karaoke. At the height of our addiction, we went 3 times in a weekend. We were not, however, any good (with the possible exception of Mr. Porter).

What follows here is a crime against music, good taste, and a video camera in a bar.





It's Complicated

As we get set to fly (6,5,4,3,2,1 Blast Off!), it takes a bit of hustlin to even attempt to see our relatives.


Ian & Granny at fourth of July
 Last week we absconded to Eastern Washington to visit Ian's relatives. We've spent time in Yakima with GrAndy (Granny, Greg, & Andy) and are now in Tri-Cities with Ian's ma. We've made the rounds thru a whilwind of relatives, and apologize to anyone we missed. Luckily, we had opportunities to see everyone within the past few months, but will miss everyone.

Wednesday we return to Snohomish (after a luxurious dinner at Tom Douglas- thanks Big Fish!). Packing, cleaning, and cooking will ensue for a Ball dinner on Friday and another round of good-byes. Hopefully by Saturday we will be ready to relax with our parents and enjoy each other's company. Mario Kart anyone?

Sunday the madness begins again:
11/14- 3:30pm flight to Iceland
11/15- Arrive in Iceland & rent a car (2nd time driving abroad). Traverse to Reykjavik, eat at the hot dog stand Clinton visited, and then spend the rest of the day laying about the Blue Lagoon Spa
Iceland's Blue Lagoon

11/16- Another early morning flight to Amsterdam. Spend the day in one of our favorite European cities
11/17- Take the train to Venlo, Netherlands to visit our friends Leann, Matthijs, & Tymen
11/20- Meet up with our foreign exchange student, Thomas, in his hometown of Cologne. Meet his fam & share Thomas stories
11/23- Catch our final train on my birthday... to BERLIN!



Berlin's
Brandenburger Tor


We're Back in Berlin Ja!

We're Back in Berlin Ja!
ebe & ian at Yak-toberfest 2008