Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jetzt, geht's, Los: Cologne

After a whirlwind trip through England & Wales, apartment searches & scams, Greg's visit, Copenhagen, Italy, we dreamed of a sleepy vacation on a sunny beach somewhere. That takes planning. That we didn't do.

Soooooooooooo...we're off on a totally different tangent renting a car, visiting Thomas in Cologne, traversing Belgium and France, and returning triumphantly to Berlin. I'm pretty sure it will be awesome. Or a disaster. Either way- fabulous!


Made it to Cologne! Thomas leaves this month for his service in Mexico City. Unbelievable that he won't be just across the country anymore. Damn world travelers ;) Trip to Mexico City anybody?

1st trip to Cologne 2007

Ian & Thomas Weihnachtsmarkt 2010
We are trying to firm up plans for what the next week will bring. Vague ideas of Belgium breweries, Champagne from Champagne, and Colmar- city south of Strasbourg. Let's see what we can do...


Thomas liked Mexico so much, he dated it!... or the lovely Ivonne form Mexico City anyways. He finally came back to Germany and visited us in Berlin where we searched for ingredients for a Mexican fiesta. He is currently back in Mexico on a long vacation, so we really have to work on a way to visit him over there.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Bologna by Towers

Ratings of our  trip through Italy continue, from Bergamo to Venice to.... 


Transportation in Bologna


4 Towers - My feet were the transportation, but after a fine new pair of Italian sandals they enjoyed it much more.

3 Towers - Very walkable city. Can’t say I used the transportation. Buses seemed convenient and frequent. Vespas abound- ciao!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

VENICE - Less Bridges than Berlin, Just as Romantic

I have important news to talk about (new bunny, another visit from Thomas) & old news to record (4th of july) BUT editing down the album for Venice has me waxing on about it again. So, a few more featured pics....

island venice

Murano is a series of islands off of Venice. Just 45 min from the city and reachable by the Vaporetto. We wanted to go to an island, but I though Murano would be old people and touristy glass pieces. I was wrong. It also had a quieter atmosphere than Venice, the place greg finally bought a glass piece, and an awesome glass sculpture.

A steady diet of gelato kept us happy

Doge's Palace (note: you can take pics of he building, but not the interior. Not that it stopped many people)

venice window
Meow in Italian

cicchetti venice italy

Steves strikes again! We are a follower of Mr. Rick Steve, even if we do cringe when we are in the army of book carriers. he led us right here, recommending we try a cicchetti bar where you can eat a bunch of small bites for just a euro each. We had:  
Artichoke heart
ham with pesto
seabass spread
anchovy & onion

Ian got adventures at the grocery store and got us tiny octopus.  Greg & I were nervous, but not bad!

riot venice italy
We came around a corner and a subtle rumble became a penitentiary screaming and clanking. Right outside of Venice! I've tried to find info on it, but not knowing the name everything re-directs to the Doge's Palace etc. A mystery

Our .50 cent gondola ride, just across the river
love locks italy
Love Locks are apparently a custom all over the world. Sweethearts put a lock on a bridge to symbolize their everlasting love.

lamp pigeon shadow
Pigeon kings

What's not allowed in Venice? EVERYTHING

Last look at the square

It was awesome

The complete album if our ridiculous photo taking amuses you. And our ratings of Venice. And video:

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

One of the most Romantic Cities in the World...with your Father-in-Law

Just the side of Saint mark's is lovely
The ratings continue as our amateur testers- us- run around Italy and give scores that reflect our views. And just to once again confirm that these ratings are just personal perceptions, the porn proprietor Larry Flint:

Opinions are like assholes, everybody's got one.


Transportation in Venice

4 Gondolas - Water taxis (vaporetto) aka water buses. What a novel concept! Lovely way to see the city and surrounding area.

4 Gondolas - Everything was very accessible. Only drawback was that vaporettos were very expensive. But who needs that when you can walk everywhere?

3.5 Gondolas - Train station is a bit far from things, but the vaporettos make moving around easy. They are a pricy option, but entirely necessary to truly see the city. Plus they take your out to islands which gives a unique look at the place and a brief respite from the crowds. Walking is the best way to get to know a  city and walking through alleys, along canals, and over arched bridges..."È una bella città"!

Accommodation in Venice

Map in the lobby
4 Gondolas - Accommodations were wonderful. Intriguing decor, fascinating building. Only drawback was night clerk was rather snotty.


4.5 Gondolas - Awesome building with antique furniture. Air conditioner was a bit weak, wifi only on main floor, and lack of common room were the only shitty thing.

4.5 Gondolas -  The Pensione Guerrato was right off the Realto and fish market, this was one of the best locations I have ever stayed. Paired with true antique decor and lovey Italian breakfast (chocolate & coffee) I see why rick Steves recommends. Down-side is that Rick Steves recommends so there are many a Steves book around and it's like mini-America. Also, air conditioner & wi-fi could use a boost.

Sights in Venice

Doge's Palace
4.5 Gondolas -  From alley to bridge, to Grand Canal- stunning with every step.

5 Gondolas - Everywhere you turn is a postcard. The actual sights themselves are absolutely amazing.

4 Gondolas -  As romantic, decadent, and rotting as one could hope. Even as a motley crew of Porters, it's magic. The Doge's Palace was overpriced, but Ian helped by talking them into giving one of us a student price- well done Ian!

Also- great Steve's tip: Check your bag at the Ateneo San Basso, a former church just around the corner and down the Calle San Basso from the Basilica's main entrance. and you can skip the line.
The only thing that hides it's loveliness is the throngs of us tourists.
These guys own the city & know it

 Dining in Venice

4 Gondolas - Highlight for dining was lunch on Murano. Welcoming owner, very attentive, hands-on.  Many tidbits of Venice flavors. Quite delightful

3 Gondolas - Overall, a culinary disappointment. There was however, a lovely lunch in Murano. We sat next to Keith Richards- a little more salt on that salad?

4.5 Gondolas -  Tourist menus are always enticing, but dissuading. But what is the real Venice for cuisine? We chickened out and had lots of groceries and little meals, which I think did us a dis-service. Should have got our hands dirty and gone in for a big splurgy meal. Still, gelato greasing every meal and snack time helps. And Ian forced us to eat a bunch of little squids (video coming) which was a highlight.

And Murano's lunch was perfect!  Wandering in when most things were shut for siesta, we were warmly welcomed by the owner who charmed us all through lunch and served cuttlefish & Bolognase on spaghetti, wine, and we even tried Grappa (Fermented from the peels, seed and stems of grapes, it is clear in color and of high alcoholic gradation. This beverage is very popular in northern Italy and is normally consumed as an after dinner digestive drink).


4.75 Gondolas - Beautiful city, extra bonus Murano. Getting Murano glass ornament from Keith Richard’s shop- priceless.

5 Gondolas - It’s Venice. It truly lives up to it’s expectations, even in the middle of July. 

Doge's Palace
4 Gondolas -  We counted how many mask/glass stores Greg went in before buying something. I think it was 15. BUT it was fun to see the city, every nook & cranny. We had serious fears about prices & crowds at this time of year and both were manageable. I like to get away from the crowds, but this was a city I was glad to see with the guys.

Looking out from the Square

Friday, July 15, 2011

Greg Porter Everbody!

Greg came, he saw, he conquered, and sadly- he's now left. It was an amazing two weeks of 3 countries, 7 cities, many meals, and incredible sights.

We certainty got on his nerves a bit, and he got on ours every once in a while, but everyone was on their best behavior and it was a joy to have him here (although I may seriously strangle the next person who wants to go shopping). He easily amused all of our friends as I uneasily tried to remember if there were many actually embarrassing stories we had told about him(ask about the watermelon story). Luckily, just laughs were had as he told ridiculous jokes, made inappropriate gestures, and described for me what "tender vitals" referred to (ewww!). It has been 8 months since we saw our friends & family. Damn that's a long time! C'mon over folks - the water's fine.

Along with the post and pics of Copenhagen, here are some pics of Greg in Berlin.

After a beautiful spring & start to summer, the weather was awful the whole time he was here. Luckily, Berlin thrives in gloom.

Greg & I visited Ian and his class and the boys were all over both of them.

Greg gets to know Darius who speaks with a British accent. "Do it again! Upside down!"

The great, the only- Hühnerhaus,

Templehof Park - the former airfield is perfect for jump shots
We went old person and did the boat cruise. It was awesome.
When he got on the plane (another close call, although not nearly as tight as the flight to Italy), he teared up, immediately causing us to cry. We watched him enter the security gates with his bags of goodies, and thought of the long gap in time between seeing those you love as an expat. The pay-off of European living, loving, eating, and drinking is worth it...but it's close. 

Complete album of Greg in Berlin.

Update:  Greg had a horrific flight home, but is finally there safely.

"I just got home. The flight from Amsterdam was late, so I ended up missing my flight as did most of the people on our plane, and every other plane that came in on that day.  There was crazy rain and bad wind and it ended up closing the airport.  KLM was awful.  I was in line for over14 hours trying to get a ticket. Ended up spending the night in the airport and not getting out until 10:00 on Friday.  Had to fly to Portland, then Seattle and andy and granny picked me up.  Yikes....what an ordeal!"

Lesson learned - never leave Europe.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We bought the Baloney in Bologna

portico & Porters
As a transition from the extremely unique Venice and Cinque Terre, we choose Bologna. That has proved to be a good choice. The city is gorgeous! Bologna fun facts:
  • Oldest university in the world, University of Bologna, founded in 1088.
  • America's baloney is somewhat similar to the Italian mortadella (a finely hashed/ground pork sausage containing cubes of lard. 
  • The statue in the square was considered so risque the church covered up his man bits
  • Tortellini and ragù alla bolognese are from here
  • The city has many porticoes (covered walkways). The reason they are so common is because they were primarily offered as a tax incentive to estate developers because it was considered a service to the town. Some of the richest families chose to build without porticoes to prove their status.
  • It is informally the culinary capital of Italy, nicknamed -Bologna la grassa ("Bologna the fat")
  • The market in the city center is one of the largest in Europe
Creepy Restaurant sign

Local specialties include:
  • Tortellini in brodo- Meat tortellini in a broth
  • Tagliatelle al ragu- pasta with meat sauce
  • Lasagna Verde alla Bolognese- Lasagna composed of green spinach pasta sheets with meat ragu and a cream bechamel sauce
  • Mortadella- Pink Italian sausage often served in sandwiches or before meals
  • Bollito- Boiled beef
  • Zuppa Inglese- A colorful dessert of cake and cream
  • 1st Bologna gelato
  • Mascarpone- A very creamy and sweet cheese dessert

However, on our walk back to our hotel several weird things happened:
  • Persistant beggar that would not take "no!"for an answer
  • Meditation on the steps of the cathedral (St. Petronio) held by American teen with translator
  • Woman asks the classic "Do speak English?" and proceeds to tell us she needs money for an "exam"
  • Foot Locker salesman barking at passerby and holding a small megaphone to his crotch
Square, risque statue, and site of our many mallings
We also just discovered "Aperitivo" or Italy's version of Happy Hour. Every night between around 7 and 8:30 most of the bars and lounges host a complimentary buffet of sandwiches, salads, and appetizers with drinks. Plans for tonight- done.

    Saturday, July 9, 2011

    A Bergamo Beginning

    Once again, we are rating our travel experiences independently for y'all to enjoy (or deplore, either way). Bergamo was the first stop on the Italian week-long tour and while it was largely chosen because it  is a Ryanair hub for Berlin, we were more than pleasantly surprised. 

    4 Cappuccinos - Late take-off, on-time landing. Funicular was like an E Ticket ride.

    3.5 Cappuccinos - Easy access on the bus. Funicular was great. Didn't use it other than that.

    5 Cappuccinos -Notwithstanding our near miss on the flight, it was basically on time, comfortable enough, and got us to Italy. Success. Buses and trains in & out of the city were inexpensive and easy-to-use, and the funicular was able to be used on the same ticket. The attendant even waved us on when we were slightly out of time. Love that side of the Italians, especially coming from Germany.


    4.5 Cappuccinos - Gracious hostesses who greeted us with a family-like welcome. Fresh cappuccino & newly renovated flat with a fantastic view.

    5 Cappuccinos- Our very own B&B?! What more could you ask for.

    4.5 Cappuccinos -B&B Donizetti opened in the last month and I hope that with success, it does not lose it's sincere charm. The ladies were genuinely sweet and a cappuccino and snack as soon as we arrived was  sorely needed. A shared bath would have been less desirable had there been other guests, but we had the entire place to ourselves and had full use as well as the living room.

    4 Cappuccinos - An evening walk about in a fairytale town with charming lights, beautiful flowers, and tile roofs as far as the eye could see. Me thinks me in love. 

    4 Cappuccinos - Beautiful old town that was a nice way to get thrown into Italian flair.

    3 Cappuccinos - The old town called as it sits atop the hill. Gorgeous! The city was such a welcome change, so Italian. A really great first look into Italy. However, it's "sights" are limited and I wouldn't spend much time here, but would love to come through again.


    4 Cappuccinos - Sorry Papa Murphys, real Italian pizza can't be beat. Top it off with a beautiful setting and I'm in gastric heaven.

    4 Cappuccinos - Pizza was great and just the right amount of gelateries and bakeries to keep me happy. 

    3.5 Cappuccinos - Lots of touristy options (menus in English & German) which is bad & ok. A liter of wine lubricated the delicious pizza meal. Buffalo Mozzarella makes my world.


    4 Cappuccinos- Although it's small, it was full of charm and the welcoming people made it a place easy to return to. 

    3.75 Cappuccinos - Beautiful old town with an overall great experience. A great way into dip your toes into the craziness that can be Italy.

    4.5 Cappuccinos - I loved this. Really. Especially after the stress before the flight, it was such a relief to actually be back in Italy and enjoying the adventure we were on.

    More pics of our Italian adventure 

    Tourists on the Run

    It was time for the BIG TRIP TO ITALY! I was lucky enough to go on a European adventure when I was 16, and Ian and I had raced through the country on our European tour, but Mr. Greg has never been & was very excited to make it to his #1 destination in Europe. As our flight was in the afternoon, we leisurely prepared (especially after a surprisingly boozy 4th of July. Don't worry- terrible, but edited -pics will appear).

    Before leaving Berlin we're all smiles

    Ian got back from work around 12:30 and took a nap as I began to get nervous. By the time bags were packed & we were heading out the door, we were a little late. After errors at the print shop for our boarding passes and errors buying an extension on the U-Bahn we were really late.

    We missed the first train to the airport. Starting to panic, we anxiously boarded the sweltering train. Willing it faster, we sat in tense silence for most of the ride & Greg tried to retain faith in our guide abilities. As we continued to slowly glide, we gathered by the door & gave Greg the grim estimation. We would have to run.

    At 4:45 the train arrived at the airport. The gate closed at 5:00 & the flight as 5:30. One of the wonders of Ryanair that we always boast (besides the wonderful prices) is that they are almost always on time. I was cursing that as I literally sprinted toward the airport. Sweating profusely and now coughing from the run, we checked in as the German (rightfully so) tsked tsked us. We raced through security and ran to the gate. I thanked my lucky stars as a I saw the line to get into the waiting area. We made it! I don't know how, but we made it. I asked about 5 times to make sure we were in the right line and sweatily hugged Ian as the clock struck 5. We were going to Italy.

    Utter relief in Bergamo
    Now in Bologna, we spent a night in Bergamo (surprisingly gorgeous), Venice (expectedly awesome), and will continue to Cinque Terre after this. Pics & ratings to follow....

    Sunday, July 3, 2011

    Rate the Danes

    Along with more pics of beautiful Copenhagen...

    Copenhagen  Crest
    Copenhagen Crest

    Copenhagen theme park Disney
    Tivoli Gardens
    Porters in flight

    Porters on the prowl

    Copenhagne City Hall Denmark

    ...we have some ratings from 3, awesome independent visitors - us. A bit about your reviewers:

    Greg recently turned 50, Father/-in-law from Eastern Washington. He likes gardening, fine wine, and demon dog named Fritz.

    Ian is a 28-year-old lover of the German language, kitty cats, manly beers, and manly beards. He likes making up new words in German that Germans claim to not understand and landing safely.

    ebe is an expat writer, beverage connoisseur, and increasingly technology dependent individual. I miss my cats Bellatrix & Sternburg, my horse Houston, Seattle...and oh yeah- my family. (Just kidding mum!)

    Ratings will be done in herring. These are the opinions of our fine raters in not any official capacity.

    Transportation in Copenhagen

    3 Herrings - Compared to Berlin, not as user friendly.

    3 Herrings - Very walkable city with transportation there when you need it. Only drawback is that pricy ticket. And only one hour?! Wooooooo!

    3 Herrings - A single 1 hour ticket was about 4 euros- ouch! We came in through a bizarre entrance, but system seems quite clean and spans the area nicely. Also - a point for having a train station that is located in the center of town.

    Accommodations in Copenhagen


    3 Herrings - Lovely pool & sauna. Nice buffet. Room was a tad small and shower and bathroom light were hard to figure out.

    4 Herrings - Nice room, klein aber fein. Awesome pool area & access to central station. I thought it was a nice hotel, considering I didn't pay for it!

    4 Herrings - Lots of options for ok prices considering the cost of living. Tivoli Hotel had a fancy pool, ok view of waterfront, an expensive but delicious breakfast buffet, and an avante garde theme. BUT a bunch of tourists and the awful Harlequin boy & girl dressed up like the mascot- not so awesome. Also- further from station & Tivoli Gardens then I thought it would be.

    Sights in Copenhagen

    4.5  Herrings - Incredible gardens at Palace. lovely way to spend your 50th, with someone you love. 

    3.5 Herrings - Absolutely love the architecture- spires are something from Super Mario.Not a lot of must-sees, but the town is the sight.

    4 Herrings - Quaint. And expensive. Like everything there. Christiana was pretty sick, but I think you need to know someone to make it truly enjoyable.

    Dining in Copenhagen


    2 Herrings - Didn't experience a lot of Denmark's cuisine, as time was short and prices were tall.

    1 Herrings - 15 euros for half a sandwich? Methinks not.

    2 Herrings - (Once again) Dammmmmmmmmmmmmn- Look at those prices! And while fish is not my fav, the mandatory herring dishes were excellent. But beer prices & quality were not. I did dig the 7-11 slurpee, but how is 7-11 big in Scandanavia?



    3.5 Herrings - Enjoyed the visit, be it brief. Beautiful green spaces and mix of architecture. Not for the budget conscious.

    3.5 Herrings - Awesome city to stroll around in and I imagine an amazing place to live, but time I see a Dane visiting Berlin I'll make sure to charge them 1.5 times normal price.

    3 Herrings - Lovely city that I think is probably awesome to live in. However, on a visitors level it only gets mid-herring.

    To find out about more cities we've visited and how they rate, click on the ratings tab below the post.

    We're Back in Berlin Ja!

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