Friday, July 30, 2010

Third Time's a Charm?

And it very well could be.. but I don't think I'll be visiting Ibiza for a third time to find out.

Let's think back. First Ibiza trip - we got stuck (for the first night at least) in a crappy, ghetto hotel with no locks on the door or hotel security (yes, we switched hotels and wound up having a great time). But I got back up on the horse and just returned from my second Ibiza trip. Second Ibiza trip - first night, we got robbed in our NOT ghetto, NOT crappy hotel.

This trip, I went to Ibiza with two girlfriends, Mary & Meredith, and we met Matt and his two friends, recently back from their deployment. We stayed right on the beach, Playa den Bossa, in a pretty nice hotel turned into an apartment style deal. Our first night out, we came back to the hotel around 5am, went to bed, and set our alarm for 10am - waking up, only to go back to sleep on the beach. Around 8:30am, I heard Meredith, who was sleeping on the pull-out in the living room scream. Turns out, a man broke into our room, but accidentally woke up Meredith in the midst of his burglarizing. Because of her screams, he luckily only got to my wallet, filled with credit cards AND 320 euros. Sweet.

While Ibiza is a very fun, very beautiful place, I will not be returning. My Ibiza luck has officially run out.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Cinque Terre: Travel Recommendation

While I don't want Cinque Terre to get TOO packed with tourists, I'll let you all in on a little secret.. Cinque Terre is a great, I mean the best, place to go for a holiday. In fact, it's gotten Alex and I's stamp of "favorite European city." Yes, it's that good.

Summer is a hot time in Cinque Terre, but it's nice to be able to get in the water and swim. I would never recommend going to Italy in the summer, especially since the apartments are NOT air conditioned, but do go when you can enjoy the water (it's very, very warm).

* I would recommend purchasing the Cinque Terre card while you're there. It includes free train rides between the towns and the walks between the towns.
* Cinque Terre cuisine: You MUST MUST MUST eat the local anchovies (even if you don't usually like them), pesto (would recommend cooking a pesto pasta dish at home -
skip at night at the restaurant), stuffed mussels (a local specialty), wine (of course),
focaccia for lunch (another local specialty - topped with whatever you could ever want,
probably the best thing I've ever eaten ever!)
* Cinque Terre National Park: there are walks between each town. While we haven't done the walk between every town, we did walk between 3 towns. Riomaggiore to Manarola is called Via dell' Amore (the walk of love), the shortest of the walks with the greatest views.
* There are very few hotels, but lots of holiday apartments to rent. This way you have more room, can stay with multiple people if you'd like, and can buy local food and wine to eat in a night or two.

Riomaggiore: the first of the five towns. I stayed there on my first visit. Plenty of holiday apartments to rent, but as with the rest of Cinque Terre, expect a steep walk up hills/stairs. Gorgeous marina, buildings, and a fabulous restaurant, Il Grotto, with the best stuffed mussels I've EVER had!

Manarola: the second town that we stayed in on our latest visit. It has great deep-water swimming, great Italian seafood dishes, and a very local feel. After visiting all five of the towns, I think we made the best decision to stay here. There are plenty of holiday apartments to rent and lots to do - both night and day. Alex's 'favorite gelato ever' was had here - double chocolate... eaten multiples times a day!

Corniglia: Adorable town, but would not recommend staying here. In order to get to get to the town, you have to walk up about 300 stairs.. with luggage. Thanks, but I'll pass. Definitely worth an afternoon visit. The walk from Manarola to Corniglia is about an hour and gorgeous - great views

Vernazza: beautiful town with a small beach for swimming. The walk from here to Monterosso is the hardest of all the walks, but the views are well worth it.

Monterosso: more of a typical beach resort town, but LOADED with study-abroad college students. A bit too crowded (mainly with Americans) for my taste. While I think everyone should see all five of the towns, if you wind up missing Monterosso, no biggie.

the Local Cuisine
gelato, of course
dinner at the apartment - fresh pesto from the local deli & table wine
focaccia - my favorite one
Anchovy al limone, a local, amazing cuisine - we had every day, sometimes multiple times a day
Local, fresh focaccia - deliciousness

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pisa, Italy

Pisa - Yet another city that gets a bad reputation. Everyone I know that has been to Pisa says something along the lines of, "only a tower there, nothing else to see," or "DON'T stay there, nothing to see/do." Wrong and wrong again. While I would never recommend going in the heat of the summer and tourist season (ahem, July), we found it to be a cute, typical Italian town with lots to offer.. and we were only there for the afternoon.

The Leaning Tower itself, not incredibly impressive.. and, like most European monuments, UNDER CONSTRUCTION, of course (see the scaffolding?)! But we got to see it, mark it off our list, and explore the town (in 100F degrees- - eesh), in between our stays in Verona and Cinque Terre. While the Tower itself was only so-so, it was quite an entertaining people-watching scene - all those tourists pretending to hold up the tower with their hands, feet, bum, or anything else you can think of. Imagine, hundreds of people on a green lawn, right in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa, posed in some comical position to take a goofy picture. One person, not so funny. Hundreds = hilarious.

Of course, the only picture we got of ourselves in Pisa is above, with the tiniest portion of the actual tower in it. I guess that's what you get when you ask a half-blind, 80 year old Italian woman who doesn't speak English to take your picture! But seriously, who takes a picture of the tower horizontally?! Oh well.

Is the Tower in there anywhere?
the Leaning Tower of Pisa: Under Construction

Verona, Italy

Verona was our first stop on our anniversary trip to Northern Italy. We stayed for the night to see the outdoor opera, Madame Butterfly, in the Arena. Who ever heard of a B.Y.O.B opera? Well, this was.. your own drinks and food! So we loaded up... on wine of course, which made the experience even more enjoyable.

Verona is nice. A cute little town, but a bit pricey and not too much to see other than the outdoor opera. Not sure if I would recommend going, unless of course to see the show.

As for the opera.. It was enjoyable, but a bit long for us opera-newbies. We really enjoyed the first half, but half-way through the second half we were about done. The set-up was gorgeous, the weather was perfect, we had wine and pizza (and of course good company), but 3+ hours of opera is, well, a lot.

Outdoor Opera - Madame Butterfly
Verona by Day

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Two and Counting

Happy 2 Year Anniversary to us.. Well, not until July 25, but we'll still be in Italy!

We've decided to travel somewhere each year on our anniversary. Last year, we went to Bodensee. This year, Northern Italy. We will be seeing the outdoor opera in the Verona colosseum (Madame Butterfly), training to see the Leaning Tower of Pisa, then training to the Italian Riviera/Cinque Terre to spend 4 days in the Italian sunshine!

Schönes Jubiläum!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

How to Spot a German: Gym Edition

1. Always carrying a glass (recyclable) bottle of sparkling water around. Bubbles after working out? Not so refreshing to me.

2. Men: wearing capris. WHY WHY WHY!?!

3. Women: Do not own sports bras. They work out in regular bras only.. and on top of that, ALWAYS have it showing. When will one learn, that is just not cute?!

4. Women: hair down, no ponies.

5. Odor. Enough said.

6. Here's what kills me. You see people working out REALLY hard, covered in sweat, and on their lunch break. Then you see them hit the 'showers,' (which costs .50 euro cents/2 minutes... maybe it should be free?). They emerge, about 2 minutes later, shower-less, back in their work clothes, and back to work. There again, odor.

Friday, July 16, 2010

the Skin We're In

Just as I was about to write about my observations on the topless beaches of Spain, Rick Steves goes and does the same thing :)

Here's his:

And here's mine..

Last summer, my German neighbors (Axel, Michaella, and Jill) returned from a multi-week vacation to L.A. and the surrounding areas. Upon their return, they told me tons of stories about their adventures, but the same story that repeatedly came up was about how everyone was REALLY REALLY skinny, or REALLY REALLY fat.. and Botox injections available on the beach. I nodded and agreed, but didn't really 'get it' until our beach trip to Southern Spain.

Men in speedos has become quite a regular thing, seeing as I'm at the pool 3-4 days a week. Topless women on the other hand, not so much. Of course, vacationing in Southern Spain, that changed rather quickly. There are so many topless women, it's hard not to get used to it (and it gets easier and easier not to stare.. trust me!). The kids, both boys and girls (up to 10+ years old), usually swim and play in only bathing suit bottoms, making it slightly difficult to tell whether you have a girl or boy on your hands. You can always pick out the Americans, however - the man in swim trunks, the woman in a bathing suit that has both a top and bottom, and the little girl in a two piece!

Walking down Chiclana de la Frontera beach in a swarm of speedos and boobs, Alex and I noticed (and remarked at the same time), everyone seems to be pretty average. Not too big, not too small. You don't see any one person who sticks out and makes you do a double take for being so big, for being so small, or being so fit. They're all confident enough to walk around in speedos/topless and confident enough to not give two hoots about what other people think or how they're dressed. They're comfortable. I mean hell, they're not wearing a bathing suit top - how could you NOT be comfortable?! Their comfort though, adds to the outsider's comfort, at least it did for Alex and I. We too, are just average and no longer have to be self-conscious. No one is staring at the jiggle or the dimples, they're just vacationing at the beach, relaxing, & minding their own business. That's the life.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

tis the Season for Festivals

....and festivals, and festivals, and more festivals!

July marks the start of the festival season in Europe. The Europeans (especially zee Germans) just love their holidays, or really, missing work. A festival is a great excuse to do this, so the summer season in Deutschland (and the rest of Europe) is simply full of fests.

Over the weekend, we went to the Trier-Mosel fest. It was held right along the Mosel and set up almost like a fair. While there are plenty of rides for the kiddos, they also have great food, drinks, live music, etc. Turns out, our favorite cover band in Germany, Chock-A-Block was playing AND they were shooting off fireworks. Since we didn't see any for the 4th, we decided to stick around. Let me tell you, these were by far the best fireworks we have ever seen (we BOTH agree - no exaggeration here!). Year after year, I always find the 4th of July fireworks disappointing. But the Trier Mosel fest did it right. There were a ton, they were done well, they were in a great location (right over the river) and were really close (almost on top of us!) so they seemed huge! I know, I know, fireworks are just fireworks, but really, they were great!

Some other festivals that we have attended in the past include the Bitburg keg rolling festival, Bernkasel wine festival (one of my favorites), Wittlich Pig festivals (another favorite), Kasel Feurwehr 50th Anniversary festival, Bad Durkheim wine festival, Trier Altstadt fest, Kasel wine fest, Oktoberfest of course and more. July to September, look around, read the signs, and I guarantee there WILL be a festival coming up, no matter where you are.. it IS festival season!

Sunday, July 11, 2010

365 Days and 54 Cities Later

While it seems like only a few weeks ago, it has really been ONE WHOLE YEAR since we moved to Germany! Can you believe it?! It's true. We arrived July 7, 2009.. and with it being the 11th.. well, you do the math. Collectively, we traveled to 54 European (and one African!) cities. Quite an accomplishment, if you ask me! Let's hope we can (at least) one up it this year.

Alexander's favorite city so far: Amsterdam
Mine: eeeek! I'm still undecided. Maybe I'll be able to decide 365 days from now!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Rock

of Gibraltar, that is.

On our 4th of July 5 day trip to Spain, we took a day trip to the Rock of Gibraltar. We heard some bad things about the area, so we decided against staying IN Gibraltar. While I LOVED the resort that we stayed at in Chiclana de la Frontera, Gibraltar was awesome.. Yet another place that gets a bad rap.

The portion of Spain leading into Gibralter.. not so nice. But Gibraltar itself was sweet. Turned out to be a small English town with all the perks of being in the UK (most importantly, that the language is English, but also the red telephone booths, fish 'n chips, cute shops, English accents, the beer, etc), but placed so far South that while enjoying the luxuries of England, you can also lay on the beach, get a tan, and sight see (and without the rain)!

Apart from the cute little town is the actual Rock of Gibraltar. You can drive the whole thing (for a small fee.. or not quite SO small, seeing as their currency is the pound) to see all the hotspots, including the Barbary Apes, St. Michael's Caves, a world memorial, and a great view of the city below. My ABSOLUTE favorite part was the Barbary Ape Den.

I'd heard multiple stories about the apes 'robbing' tourists of whatever is in their car/hands, so I was slightly nervous about taking my camera.. especially when we pull up and our car is immediately attacked by two apes. They kept smushing their faces against the windshield, trying to find out what goodies we had inside that they wanted! Hilarious! But they turned out to be the sweetest, cutest little guys you will ever see. It is just crazy for me to see apes running wild along that part of the Rock, living freely but partly domesticated - it was just great.

I would DEFINITELY recommend going to Gibraltar. An overall fabulous day trip!

Up Close and Personal - a Barbary Ape family

Friday, July 9, 2010

The Heat is On

I thought we might miss it this year, but no. Summer has finally hit Germany – 90F three weeks in a row. Yes, we lived in Biloxi, Mississippi, last year so you think we would be a little more prepared, but let me tell you, Summer temperatures without air conditioning are a little harder to handle! The windows are open, the blinds are pulled, and we are still sticking to our couches and sweating our heads off (the cold tile floors and fans are the only things saving us!). And compared to the gym, our house has the non-existent AC set at 55F. A bunch of smelly Germans piled into a single room with no AC and no deodorant – yum!

I never, ever would have imagined we would experience 90-94F degree weather without air conditioning! Seriously, what are these Germans thinking?!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Tangier, Morocco

Living in foreign country is a culture shock. Germany is no different. The lack of deodorant, the line cutting, the blunt talk, not to mention the difference in language. But the culture shock of living in Germany is nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to eating/shopping/visiting (and can you imagine, living?!) in Tangier, Morocco.

Let me paint you a picture. A hot, lovely, weekend getaway in Andalucia, Spain with a day trip to Morocco, Africa! A new country, a new continent - I could not have BEEN more excited! I'm a planner, so before our trip, I figured out the ferry (location/time/etc) and decided that I wanted a tour guide to make the most of our trip (EVERYONE online and in real life, suggested that we get a guide). After lots and lots of searching, I could not find an online tour company. Oh well, I thought, it'll work out, there were only three major things I wanted to see while we were there - we could figure it out on our own.

In our rental car, we drive to Tarifa, Spain, on Monday morning to catch the 10am ferry to Africa. Everything goes according to plan and we make it to Morocco, still without a tour guide. After all the customs/passport (very, VERY strict) regulations we went through, we were immediately bombarded with Moroccan people, of course, trying to sell something, anything.

The first Moroccan man trying to sell his tourist services, we immediately turned down (we were, or we thought we were, too smart for that!). A strange man in a foreign country with no association to a tour company, no thank you. The next, well we weren't so smart. We got roped in. He convinced us that being in a foreign country where the people speak a different language and live very differently, with no map and no idea of where anything is, was a very bad idea (well, we knew that much already, but yea). He convinced us. For thirty Euros, we could have our own personal tour guide through Tangier, including the snake charmers, the Kasbah, and the Medinah (all the major things I wanted to see!).

We meet our tour guide's cabbie friend and hop in, up to the Medinah. The cab, sketch city. I immediately look to Alex for some reassurance and he begins to open his cab door to make sure it opens from the inside (we've seen too many scary movies). No luck. He begins to frantically (his version of frantic. Mine would have been much, much more frantic) try to open with the door with no such luck. No way to roll down the windows either. GREAT. We both look at each other with slight panic. All we can do now is hope. The Moroccan roads/way of driving was also NOT reassuring. We could have gotten in an accident (since there were no roads/people were driving erratically/people were hanging out in the middle of the streets) at any point and been STUCK in our tiny, ghetto little cab. Thankfully, the cab dropped us (and the tour guide) off in the Medinah, safe and sound! (Yes I know, we were too quick to judge).

Our tour guide was extremely knowledgable and made us feel safe(r) and almost comfortable in an uncomfortable situation. Everything was going well (not TOO overwhelming) until the dreaded carpet shop. My lord do they push the Moroccan carpet sales on the unsuspecting tourists. At this point, we'd both about had enough and informed our tour guide that we would like to take the next boat back. Two other carpets shops (of course!) and many jumped through hoops later (seriously, the passport/security checks are tight), we made it back on the boat, and 30 minutes later, back to Europe (and I hate to say it, but MY version of civilization).

Morocco was a great experience, but a major culture shock. Of course, Tangier is not ALL of Morocco and I am still looking forward to visiting Fez, Casablanca, and Marrakesh in the near future.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Running out of Gas on the Autobahn is Illegal, you know

So thankfully, I was only on the B50.

Let me preface this by saying, I'm always one to "push it" gas wise. You know, drive on the very last drop. And yesterday, I did.

First of all, Alex's car is in the shop.. Something is wrong with the ignition and it has been out of commission for over a week. We've been sharing. Not convenient. He drove the car to Ramstein the day before yesterday to fly. He was SUPPOSED to stop and get gas while on base - that didn't happen. THEN he was supposed to stop on the way home to get gas - that didn't happen. He drove home on Empty.

So yesterday, on my way to pick up one of my friend's in Bitburg for a pool day, I realized we were close to empty (I had assumed he filled up). I called A to see what he thought about making it to Bitburg. He said oh yea, no problem, you got it. I thought so too. Well, after a horrible traffic accident, lots of construction, and stop and go traffic for 45 minutes (SHEESH, it should only have been 20), I was sitting amongst a ton of Polizia, all in the area for the accident, thinking to myself, hmm, maybe I should stop and ask one of the Policemen if he has a reserve gas tank in his trunk. JUST as I get up the nerve to ask, my car turns off. I am officially OUT OF GAS. FABULOUS! My windows were already rolled down (even though it was a scorching 36C outside - I was trying to preserve the gas), so I yelled out the window to the closest cop, asking if he had an extra tank in his trunk. Yes, he said, in perfect English. I continued to tell him my situation (umm, I know it's illegal to run out of gas on the Autobahn, but I was on a slightly less major highway and just sitting in traffic). Very quickly, he pulled out his 4L reserve tank from his trunk, filled me up and said, "It's illegal to run out of gas on the Autobahn, you know. You're lucky I'm not giving you a ticket." WHEW! Traffic finally let up and I got to the nearest gas station as fast as possible.

But let me tell you, running out of gas, on a major highway, in a foreign country, by yourself, when it's illegal.. nope, not the best situation.