Monday, May 28, 2007

Karyn's Picks and Pans: Delft

My next assignment is to do a travel guide of Delft (so I've been told), so I know I'm going to get sick of writing about it. Unfortunately, brevity is not my forte (even if it is the soul of wit).

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Delft's Market Square - Town Hall

* Delft Porcelain - Before you buy, you should know that most of it is now made in China. There are only 3 places in Delft that actually produce the pottery from start to finish…most stores sell pottery that was shipped over from China and hand painted in Delft. It is priced accordingly. Whatever you do, DO NOT buy your Delft at the 2 major factories in town. They overcharge, because that's where the tour busses drop off the passengers, and the tour companies have a special partnership with them. Go to any of the other stores in town (particularly on the market square), and look around. We bought the variety of Delft that was only hand painted there. The store was in the market square, and it was called "Genuine Delft Blue" or something like that. It was next to the "Koninklijke Porceleyne Fles" (Royal Delft), which is the store based from one of the local factories. Anyway, the lady at this store was super super nice, and the stuff was reasonably priced. She is friends with some of the painters of the products she sells, and she has a good variety.

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If you're buying gifts, make sure to get something that is particularly useful, like candlesticks or a cheese plane (for those who like paper thin slices of cheese).

* Vermeer - Aside from porcelain, Delft is primarily known for Johannes Vermeer, the painter of the very famous "Girl with a Pearl Earring," which was recently further immortalized in novel and film (she's all over the Delft pottery too…I bought a trinket box with her painted on the lid in Delft blue). To see his real paintings, you need to go somewhere other than Delft (our girl with the pearl is in nearby Den Haag), but they do have the brand spanking new Vermeer Center, which is an interactive museum that tells you more about his work and his life. It's so spanking new that they're not even done building it yet…we got in for half price because the construction workers were still assembling things. It was noisy and smelly. But it looks like it's going to be a very cool place when it's's not your average art museum. The Vermeer Center is located in the building that once housed the Painters' Guild, of which Vermeer was a member.

You can also see his grave at the Oude Kerk (Old Church). It's very unremarkable though, for as much fame as Vermeer has brought to this small city. It's just a square with his name engraved on it, but the church has it specially marked so you can find it. It's a neat old church anyway, and certainly worth exploring.

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The equally creatively named New Church is located in the market square, and I'm sure that's also worth looking at, but we didn't go in…we just enjoyed the sound of its carillon music as we roamed the town.

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* Leonidas Lunch-Tearoom - If Leonidas sounds familiar, it's because it's the name of a world-famous Belgian chocolate manufacturer. And thusly, this has the chocolate shop next door, and is run by the same company. You can eat anywhere your heart desires here. If you want to eat out on the sidewalk, you may do that. You can eat inside too (which we did, because it was pretty chilly that day). Or you can eat out back in their beautiful little garden, which I kind of wish we had done. Ask for an English menu…they aren't widely accessible. They had a lot of tasty looking items. I got the "Luxe Mushroom Soup," which was "luxe" because it also came with a giant baguette sandwich that was slathered in baked mushrooms and herbed cream cheese (as if the mushroom soup alone didn't satisfy my mushroom cravings...not that I particularly crave mushrooms or anything). I had way more food than I was capable of eating (more than any mere mortal is capable of eating, really). But it was delicious. And cheap too…under 7 euros. Sue and I ordered the unlimited tea for two, but only managed to get through one teapot before we called it quits. I wish I had ordered what Sue did. She got the brie French roll, and everything came disassembled on her plate so she had to put it together. It was bread, brie, raw ham, some herbs, and herbed cream cheese. It all looked very very good, and she really enjoyed it. Lori just got the cheese French roll, but she really liked it. Lindsey got the tomato soup and the tuna mousse on toast. I really liked the atmosphere of this place…and judging by a Google search, it seems to be a fairly popular choice in Delft. It's close to the market square too…just off of it.

* Super Markt - That's the name of this place...pretty simple. It's on the market square, and we stopped there to grab drinks for the road. The reason why I'm writing about it is because the guy running the place was really nice. I pointed out to Lindsey and Lori that they might want to pick up a tin of stroopwafels to take home, since I know their sister really likes them (I brought home a package once for Thanksgiving 2005…it was instantly inhaled…I think Lisa had 2 of them). They said that they didn't remember what stroopwafels tasted like. Well, the guy working there just happened to have an open package of them sitting on the counter, so he gave one to each of us. Really very kind of him to do so. And because of that, I want to give his store a little plug. If you need a drink, an ice cream bar, or some candy…get it there. Heck, mention stroopwafels while you're there and see if he'll offer you one.

Karyn's Picks and Pans: Brussels

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Grand Place - Hotel de Ville (Town Hall)

* Hotel Sabina - I booked the cheapest place I could find that didn't get absolutely heinous reviews. This was adequate, and quite by accident, it was also very close to the autobahn where we came in, so it wasn't a very long drive in town, which was good for my sanity (I didn't drive, but the traffic still freaked me out, and I had to help navigate - HAHA! - which is no easy feat in Brussels). The hotel was a bit shabby and dingy, but at least it was cheerful and sanitary (I hope). We had a quad room, which was up on the top floor (8 flights of steps), and they had an elevator, but it was a bit dubious, so we took the stairs each time. We had a private bath…shower and sink in one closet, toilet in another. There were 4 twin beds, two of them pushed up together so that it was king size. Otherwise, the room was quite cramped. This place, like our hostel in Berlin, was popular with backpackers. The service was friendly. Breakfast is included in the price, and it's your standard European breakfast buffet which I've described more than once before. I think we paid roughly $30 each for one night here. Not bad. It was located fairly close to the Grand Place…less than 20 minutes by foot. One night here was fine, but I don't think I would like it for an extended stay. It was near a hospital and we constantly heard sirens throughout the night, so noise was an issue. Parking is also an issue, but we just got lucky. There was a parking space on the street on the block where our hotel was located, so we just parked there. Because our rental car had Netherlands plates, we didn't get ticketed, because they can't make us pay it. So our parking was free.

* Greedy Lunch - This place was right down the street from our hotel (by where we parked, actually), and we found ourselves here because we got to the hotel half an hour before our room was ready, and we had time to kill, and well…it was noon. There was a line out the door, but if you go inside and seat yourself, it's a full service restaurant. They had a huge variety of sandwiches, soups, salads, and even pastas…most everything was customized to your specifications. Sue and Lindsey shared a Salad Niçoise, which they declared to be very good, even though it didn't come with dressing. I had their sandwich version of the Salad Niçoise, so it was basically a tuna sandwich with olive oil, and there was the added element of green beans, which was most interesting (I did not get potatoes, egg, or any of the other components of this salad on my sandwich, and for that, I guess I can be thankful…although egg would have been good).. Lori had a roast beef sandwich with shaved parmesan. My sandwich was edible, but I would not order that particular sandwich again. I would, however, eat here again (if I ever had reason to), because everything else looked really really tasty, and it's obviously a very popular place to eat. It's on Rue du Nord, but I can think of no reason that tourists might venture here, unless they are already staying at Hotel Sabina.

* Devina Finest Belgian Chocolates - This is the place where I got my chocolates on my first trip to Brussels, and this is where I came back. The service is impeccable. The ladies working behind the counter were generous with the free samples. They were also extremely charming and funny, and they let us know what chocolates they personally didn't like, something that I find remarkable in customer service (you would expect them to say that all their chocolates are good, right?). We spent quite a bit of time here, and they were very patient and helpful as we made our selections. It is certainly true that good customer service results in good sales. Even though we purchased a couple of pieces at Neuhaus earlier in the day (I was really interested in trying their violet flavored truffle…in a word - blech!), we bought most of our chocolate here. Although I'm sure all the chocolate shops in Brussels are excellent, this is my personal favorite. (Located on the Rue Marché aux Herbes…right behind the Grand Place).

* La Maison du Miel - I made it a point to come back here, after having dropped some euros here on my first trip to Brussels. As you might expect, "The House of Honey" sells honey (in various flavors), but they also offer bath products, candies, and even honey flavored liquers. This time, I splurged on a jar of their chocolate honey, and a container of their excellent hand cream. (Located on the Rue Marchè aux Herbes)

* Rue des Bouchers - This narrow, cobbled alleyway will entice you with its fairy lights and quaint sidewalk cafes. Don't be fooled. This street is not for the faint of heart. This is an alley containing ONLY restaurants, and while it might seem a good bet for finding dinner, be aware that you will be harassed by the waiters as you walk down the street. "Madame, you must eat here! Four courses only 12 euros!" Ad nauseum. The restaurants are all basically the same and they all basically offer the same menus for the same price (the first few restaurants after you enter Rue des Bouchers were charging 18 euros…go further back for the lower prices). After being accosted by nearly a dozen waiters, my aunt finally told one, "We'll eat here for 10 euros each." He agreed, but only if we were seated inside.

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Rue des Bouchers

This restaurant was Le Petit Bedon. As the name suggests, the menu was primarily French. We were first given an aperitif - a small glass of white wine mixed with blackcurrant. I enjoyed it very much. Next came a starter (and a basket of bread and butter), and we had a small range of choices. I got the smoked salmon, which came with diced raw onion and dill. I remember there being salads and soups as well, and Lori had shrimp in garlic butter for her starter. For the main course, I got lamb chops, which came with fries. They weren't great lamb chops…they were very fatty and there was actually very little meat. The fries were good though. Lori had a pepper steak, Lindsey had grilled chicken breast, and Sue had the grilled salmon. They all enjoyed their meals more than I did. There were also mussels on the menu, which are a Belgian specialty (just not this time of year…it's mostly a winter delicacy). Dessert was included too, and this was a crème caramel…and not very good, really. All of us ate only a couple bites and then pushed it away, but then again, I've never been a huge fan of flan. But still, we paid 10 euros for our meal, and our waiter was great. His name was (swear to God) Fatty, and he was Tunisian. He was so interested in talking to us, because his wife is getting ready to move to America. He was really funny too. A Black-Eyed Peas song came on while we were eating (Shut Up), and he sang very loudly along with it as he served customers. We were cracking up.

Anyway, if you're looking for an exquisite meal, avoid Rue des Bouchers. But if you want a French meal for a reasonable price that gives you some variety, this is a fine place to go. Don't be afraid to haggle - 12 euros is a great price for a 4 course meal, but 10 euros is even better. If you end up at Le Petit Bedon, say hi to Fatty for me.

* La Cure Gourmande - This place is EVIL. EVIIIIIIIIIL. It's bad enough that there are hundreds of chocolate shops in Brussels, but now you have this place. They sell gifts on the second floor, but before you can get there, you have to walk through a first floor of caramels, macaroons, and something they call "chocolate olives." I bought 6 caramels here…SIX…and they cost me over 9 euros (in USD, that's more than $11). They were large caramels, but still…wow. I got 2 each chocolate, vanilla, and a salt flavor. Anyway, I have tasted all 3 flavors by now, and they weren't worth the price. Good yes. Nine euros worth of good? Absolutement non! I should've spent the nine euros on more chocolate. It's a fun store to look around in though, and I was particularly drawn to the smell of the coconut macaroons (which they don't actually call macaroons there, but that is more or less what they are). It's right off the Grand Place, so it's hard to miss.

Is it any wonder I gained 3 pounds on this trip?

By the way, at this moment, I am eating a Granny Smith apple drizzled with that chocolate honey I bought in Brussels. Ah. Mon. Dieu. God bless those little chocoholic bees. ;)

Karyn's Picks and Pans: Cologne and Vianden

We spent a few hours in Düsseldorf on the way home from Berlin, but there is nothing particularly noteworthy about it. We ate at a fine doner kebap joint in the Altstadt that was basically like any other, and we had a rather pricey spaghetti ice at an Italian Eis Café on the Rhine Promenade…that spaghetti ice, while tasty, was certainly not the best I've had. As far as museums go, we visited the K20, which is a museum of 20th century art. I've been there before. Contemporary art is so not my thing…the Pre-Raphaelites are about as recent as I like. But they had a Picasso exhibit going on, and I do enjoy some of his works, so I paid the 10 euros admission charge to go in again (highway robbery, I tell you!). Sue and Lindsey seemed to like this art museum in particular…Lindsey was particularly excited about all the Paul Klee works.

Okay, so moving on to Cologne…

* Café Scholl Am Dom - Whilst Lance and I waited for Sue, Lindsey, and Lori to climb the 509 steps to the top of the cathedral tower (I was NOT doing that again with my bad knees!), we sought out a place to do lunch. This fit the bill. It's near the cathedral, although you can't see the cathedral from there (we could, however, hear loud and clear when the church bells rang). They have a nice variety of things on their menu to suit all tastes. And they have great looking cakes, although we didn't eat any of them. Lance and Sue had omelets, and found them more than satisfactory. Lori and Lindsey had "toast Da Vinci" (Da Vinci is a theme in the café, which is odd since the café is not Italian, nor were we in Italy), which is a salami, tomato, and toasted cheese sandwich. I had the ham rolls with potato salad, and what the menu failed to mention, which was a delightful surprise, is that the ham is rolled around tender stalks of white asparagus laced with some kind of cream. Delicious. We were serenaded by a canary in a cage right behind our table. This place is also not too touristy…there was a mix of locals and tourists. If you get the Cologne Welcome Card, there is a coupon for this place…for a free espresso, I think, if you order a meal.

We did stop at another place similar to Café Scholl for cake later in the day…I wish I could remember the name of it, or what street it was on. They also sold chocolates and homemade jams. I know it's in the vicinity of Groß St. Martin. Lance and I ordered the same thing…it was some kind of chocolate cake with a white chocolate coating and some marzipan layers. It was pretty good. I know that doesn't help you. Sorry.

Vianden, Luxembourg

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Damn, now why can't I remember the name of the café where we ate lunch? A little voice keeps saying over and over "Café des Arts" (does that make me sound Schizophrenic?), but I tried to look it up and only see one in Luxembourg City. So that can't be right. I think I'm getting mixed up because we ate at so many different places and because I've been writing so many travel guides…everything is swirled up in my brain. I really should've written all this stuff down in my notebook that I always carry, but Sue was recording everything, so I suppose I can just ask her. I'm afraid I was a terrible journalist on this trip. I had too many other things to think about (being housekeeper, personal chef, tour guide, translator, chauffeur, etc.).

Anyway, if you're ever in Vianden, it's right off the end of the street that runs along the river. There are a few cafes there, but this one caught our attention because it served crepes (it was the first one we encountered that did so). And crepes were exactly what we hungered for, we just didn't know it until that moment. The service was laidback, to say the least. Don't expect quickness. But it was not unreasonable. My only real complaint is that they gave everyone else a little bowl of peanuts to munch on while they waited for their food, and our table didn't get one. But the huge crepes were more than filling, so the little peanut starter wasn't necessary anyway. I highly recommend what I had, which was a bacon and egg crepe (lard appears prominently on the menu with this choice, and there is something to that, actually…this was super fatty bacon). The crepe was stuffed with bacon and served with a fried egg on top. Lori ordered the same thing and picked out a lot of the bacon. Lindsey ordered a dessert crepe, which looked like a work of art. Lance got a cheese crepe. Sue got the vegetarian, which she said was spicy. I had a nice Moselle Riesling with mine. Lance drank Leffe Blonde, a Belgian beer. I think Sue and Lori got the Diekirch. You should know some French if you come here. We had an English speaking waitress who took our order, but the lady that served us our food and brought us the bill only spoke French (and perhaps a smidge of German, because I seemed to communicate with her better when I switched from French to German). We managed. I had 5 years of French in high school and college and Sue knew it well enough from all the time she spent in France.

Also, have ice cream at the café next to the chairlift. It's nothing fancy, but they have soft serve, which is a nice treat. We got a kick out of their soft serve machine. You choose a small container filled with ice cream…whatever flavor pleases your fancy. They insert the container into the machine and swirl the ice cream into the cone. I've never seen anything like it. The kids will love it. Either that, or we're just easily impressed.

A note about the chairlift: it does NOT take you directly to the castle. It's a fun ride, but then you must hike down the hill a bit to the castle, which is already on a craggy cliff overlooking the town. This hike was steep, and really hurt my knees. And if you get the return trip, of course you must hike back up.

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View of Vianden from the chairlift

We did pay for a round trip, but opted instead to hike down from the castle through the street that leads into the center of town. This was a better option, because we got to see more of the town that way. And if any place in Europe oozes charm, it's Vianden.

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walking through town

This place is like a fairy tale (if you could overlook the insane amounts of motorcyclists everywhere). So do the chairlift, but just do it one way (and be sure to smile at the top…they take your picture!).

Karyn's Picks and Pans: Berlin

Here is a handy thing if you are ever planning to travel to Berlin. I review where we stayed, where we ate, and what we did. It helps to know my experiences with these things, right? After all, people wouldn't have need to read travel writing if it didn't help them plan their vacations.

- BaxPax Downtown Hostel/Hotel: This is a fairly new hostel that opened about a year ago and is ideally located in the Mitte, convenient to Friederichstrasse (a major public transportation station), and very close to the Spree River. Also very close to the Museum Island, where Berlin's major museums are located, and right around the corner from Unter den Linden and Orienenburgerstrasse…two major tourist areas. We had a quad room with a private bathroom. The toilet was actually in a little closet out in the hallway, which wasn't terribly convenient at night, but at least it was our private toilet. We had a shower located in the room. The quad room had a bunk bed and two singles. It was spacious and clean, but very spare and basic. Three nights cost us about $78 per person, and the service was very friendly. It was surprisingly quiet too, for as many people that were staying there. Sheets and towels cost extra (3,50 euros for the whole stay), and we had to pay a 5 euro deposit on each key card that we needed. Breakfast was an additional 4,50. It was buffet style (cereal, breads, meats, cheeses, salad, tea, coffee, juice), but since we didn't really eat much of it, I thought we could've gotten a better breakfast deal somewhere else…Berlin has about a million Dunkin' Donuts, for example. Anyway, if you want to travel cheap, this is certainly a place to consider.

- Our first night there, we ate at a German pub called Anna Koschke. I'm not quite sure where it is, except it was some side street off Orienenburgerstrasse. It's a local dive anyway, and probably not comfortable for people who don't know their way around a German menu. I liked it. They had few choices, but the girls and I ate meatballs with potato salad and pickles, and ordered a side of garlic bread. Sue had ham and asparagus baked with cheese, and a starter of potato soup with sausage, which she really loved. The food was cheap and incredibly generous and the service was excellent. There was only one guy working there, but he spoke great English and he told us about the history of the pub. We walked out of there totally stuffed, but my cousins got a great introduction to German food, which can sometimes be a scary thing for those who are not into breaded and fried things. (in German only)

* Unter den Linden - walk down this amazing street, where at one end, you are greeted with a view of Brandenburg Gate. At the other, you get to see the magnificent Berlin Dom, Opera Palace, and Humboldt University.

* Reichstag - go after dark to see views of Berlin from the glass cupola on top. Admission is free, but you will have to wait in a long line and go through security (it is the German Parliament building, after all). It's open until 10pm, but we were there just before 10 and they were letting in people later than that. Anyway, it's incredible…just don't look straight down if you have vertigo (which I do).

* Berlin Zoo - always worth seeing. Got to see Knut's first show of the day…from a distance though. And the crowds were insane. But we still got a pretty good look at him from where we were. Behold:

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I also got a very close-up look at their one remaining Giant Panda (the other one died recently), and we had a funny encounter with a King Vulture that still makes me giggle every time I think about it. He just stood there for several minutes with his wings outstretched, and he kept turning around…like he was modeling for photographs. Lori and I were in hysterics watching this.

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Berlin Zoo is the best zoo I have ever been to. The grounds are beautiful, with lovely gardens and sculptures. The buildings are unique and don't look like typical zoo buildings.

* Charlottenburg Palace - I have to admit, I was very disappointed with this. Lance and I tried to see the palace on our first trip to Berlin, and we were unable to. The insides are just fancy wallpapered and furnished rooms. It might be interesting if you've never seen a palace before. But since we have, I thought it was pretty boring…I've seen far better. The outside is nice and the gardens are worth a look. On your way there from the subway station, watch out for angry old men on bicycles…or just don't walk on the bike path.

* Maredo Restaurant - This is a German chain restaurant that you'll see in several major cities. It's Tex-Mex, I suppose, and a steakhouse. I've found tacos and quesadillas and the like to be quite disappointing in every one of these types of restaurants I've encountered in Europe (not Maredo, specifically, but any Mexican restaurant), so I stuck to a basic grilled chicken with fries and sangria. Adequate and not too expensive…not mind-blowing. The service was good, and the restaurant seems to be fairly popular. We ate at the one at Potsdamer Platz, but I saw another one at Unter den Linden. We all had the chicken fuego, which was tender and juicy…but again, nothing special.

* Wintergarten Cabaret - Very very much a tourist trap, but so incredibly awesome! The show we saw, Rizoma, is only playing for a limited time, but it was very similar to what I've seen in Cirque du Soleil. And the soundtrack for the show was AWESOME. Dude, a contortionist performed to Portishead. You can't get much cooler than that. They had a photographer there to take our picture when we came in…the souvenir photo was 5 euros. It was a great photo, so I bought it. They do offer food there, but it's seriously overpriced. The drinks are also incredibly expensive. But order something while you're there, even if it's just a beer and nachos or something. The food looked really good, but I'm glad we ate elsewhere before the show. We were given postcards of the show during intermission, which we could send to anyone anywhere in the world at their expense. I sent one to myself, with a reminder to remember that evening always. Also, we wore jeans, but most people there will be dressed up. But even if you come as you are, they are incredibly friendly and warm to you. Cabaret is a huge part of Berlin's history, so it's really one of those things you have to do to get the whole Berlin experience. My cousins said this was probably their favorite thing about Berlin (aside from the Pergamon Museum...more on that later).

* East Side Gallery - If you're going to see any part of the Berlin Wall, this would be the part to see. It's a bit out of the way, but it's the longest and most artistic part of the wall. The art is really amazing. As for the other wall-related sites…skip them. Checkpoint Charlie is a tourist trap and totally not worth your time. If you decide to go, skip the museum and just check out the bustling crowds on the outside. It's mildly interesting. There is also the Topographie des Terrors exhibit - about the Nazi movement in Berlin - but my cousins seemed rather bored. I had already seen it once, so I wasn't that interested. It's mostly in German, anyway.

* Pomme de Terre (Arkaden, Potzdamer Platz) - AVOID THIS PLACE LIKE THE PLAGUE! It's in the shopping mall in Potsdamer Platz, so it's a typical food court type of place, except they, theoretically, are supposed to be full-service. I say theoretically, because we sat at our table…and waited…and waited…and waited. We were ignored. And the woman who was seated after us was nearly done eating by the time they even came to take our order (we didn't leave because Sue was engrossed in journal writing once we sat down, and far be it from me to interrupt that). This place specializes in German potato pancakes, but you can also get boiled potatoes or baked potatoes with various toppings. The food was okay. But because of the rotten service, you want to stay away. My three travel companions got their food finally…and they had entirely forgotten mine. So they were nearly done eating by the time I even got my food. And then they forgot to give us the check! We put money on the table and left. It should not take 2 hours to eat at a place that's supposedly fast food. Our service was so bad that a nice woman who had been dining alone grabbed the waitress's attention and chewed her out on our behalf. If you want potato pancakes, find somewhere else to go. Far and away, the worst (non)service we got on this trip.

* Berliner Dom - Very pretty on the inside, but I was more interested in the sarcophagi - particularly those of Sophie Charlotte (of Charlottenburg Palace fame) and her husband. The crypt is nice and creepy.

* Operncafe - I wrote about this place in my Berlin travel guide (for, and since we were waiting for 6 pm to roll around in order to get into the museums for free, I thought we should try it, since it was very close to Museum Island (you'll find it at the Opera Palace, across the street from Humboldt University). This café's claim to fame is its cake buffet. Germans have "kaffee und kuchen" - coffee and cake - think of it kind of like the late afternoon British tea. Operncafe has at least 100 kinds of cakes. If your brain doesn't explode from all the choices, you tell your selection to the waiter, who will then serve you. All four of us had something different, but we tasted each other's cakes. I had the Sacher Torte (chocolate cake with a layer of apricot filling), which was everyone's favorite. The cakes don't taste quite as sweet as they look, but they are still delicious, and the atmosphere of the café is great…it's very elegant (except for the 80's pop that was playing, which seemed contradictory to the ambience…we were in an opera palace, after all).

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket Mmmmmmmmm...cake!

* Museum Island - If you want to see the museums here, wait until after 6 pm on Thursdays, when admission is free. We went to two: the Alte Nationalgalerie, which my artist aunt and former art major cousin didn't particularly like (sorry, German painters), and the Pergamon Museum. If you see no other museum in Berlin, you MUST SEE THIS ONE! We were blown away by the sheer size and scale of the exhibits in there. It's Greek, Roman, and Middle Eastern antiquities that have nothing to do with German culture, but there is no other place on earth where you can see this stuff. I hear the Bode Museum is also very good, but we were done once we left the Pergamon...we just wanted to find a place to eat dinner and then go back to the hostel to relax.

* Fuoco - This Italian place on Orienenburgerstrasse was just picked at random. We were in the mood for pizza, so we went to the first place we could find that had it. I was surprised how long it took us to find an Italian restaurant...there were so many Indian and Thai places on that street. Anyway, I liked it. They brought out some munchies with our olives and I think bread (don't quote me on that...we ate at SO MANY places). The prices were good. The food was pretty typical of any Italian place you go to here in Germany. The service was nice. What I really liked were the cushy black leather seats we sank into at our tables...perfectly relaxing after such a long day. What really impressed Sue, I guess, were the Turkish water pipes that people kept smoking there. They had hookahs on the menu, with various flavors of tobacco, and we seemed to be the only ones not smoking one. The restaurant filled up with the aroma of weirdly scented tobaccos, but it was actually more tolerable than cigarette smoke. Anyway, I liked the ambience of the was really warm and dark.

Okay, more later. Subsequent posts will be shorter, because the rest of our trips were only day trips.

Friday, May 25, 2007

When Relatives Visit

My aunt Sue and cousins Lori and Lindsey left yesterday, after an 11 day visit. Here was our itinerary:

Sunday, May 13 (arrival day): drive up the Rhine to look at castles, with a stop in Rudesheim
Monday, May 14: Thorn, Netherlands
Tuesday, May 15 - Friday, May 18: Berlin, with a few hours spent in Düsseldorf on the way back
Saturday, May 19: Cologne
Sunday, May 20: Vianden, Luxembourg
Monday, May 21: Brussels, Belgium
Tuesday, May 22: Delft, Netherlands
Wednesday, May 23: rest day, but we spent a few hours in Sittard
Thursday, May 24: back to Frankfurt airport

The weather was pretty chilly the entire time they were here. The nicest day was, of course, yesterday. HA! But we did have a couple of warm days so they could wear the summer clothes that they packed.

Since I've been to all but two places on the list before (Delft and Vianden were new to me), I'm not going to do a write-up that's like my previous trip reports. Instead, I am going to post memories about specific things during their visit.

So...without further ado...

Vending Machine Sex in Düsseldorf Airport

I hope my cousin will forgive me for posting this, but she shouldn't be embarrassed by this story, because it says more about my character than it does about hers. Anyway…

On their second full day here, we left for Berlin. I booked us a flight from Düsseldorf Airport. Once we found our gate and had a seat, Lindsey and I had to visit the restroom. As we were washing our hands, I noticed the vending machine hanging on the wall. Sure, it sold your typical assortment of condoms and tampons, but it also sold thongs (of the panty variety), and something called a "Lustfinger," which was basically some rubber spiky thing that fits over your finger. Use your imagination.

Being the immature sort that we are, Lindsey and I were laughing quite heartily at the vending machine offerings…particularly at the Lustfinger. We came out of the restroom and I looked at Lori (who is attending a wedding this weekend and was going to the wedding straight from Germany) and said, "I know the perfect gift to get your friend who is getting married." Lindsey was almost choking on her laughter when I said this. Then I explained the Lustfinger and told her it was 3 euros. We all pitched in some euro cents, but Lori was afraid to go in the restroom alone to buy it. So I went in with her. She started to put change in the machine, but we heard someone coming in. So we looked away and pretended to wash our hands, cracking up all the while.

Finally, Lori bought the thing, and we walked out of the bathroom laughing hysterically. She stuck it in her purse, expressing gratitude that we had already gone through security.


At the end of the trip, as we boarded the plane in Berlin, I noticed a stack of German Playboys sitting there with the newspapers, free for the taking. HAHAHA. That's the first time I've ever seen an airline give out Playboys with their free reading material. But they didn't leave out the ladies…no, they didn't have Playgirl (not that I would've wanted one anyway)…but they gave out free chocolate on the flight! This is Air Berlin, by the way, for anyone who is interested.

A Couple Pickpocketing Attempts?

I've lived in Europe now for 3 1/2 years. Never in that time have I encountered pickpockets. Yet while my aunt and cousins were here, I may have encountered them twice.

The first time was in Cologne. We were getting ready to leave, so we were standing at the platform in the train station, waiting for our train. Suddenly, I feel a hand graze my butt, and I look to see some shady looking dude in a dark coat hurrying down the steps. I mentioned it to Lance, and he was ready to chase the guy down and clean his clock. But instead, Lance examined my backside.

"Did you have your back pocket zipped when you put your pants on this morning?"

"Probably. I never use my pants pockets."

"Well, it's unzipped. He was probably trying to steal something."

So, apparently, the guy wasn't trying to get his jollies. He was just trying to get some quick cash. But I guess I will never know.

Another strange encounter happened in Brussels. Lori was in a souvenir shop, and Sue, Lindsey, and I were standing just outside the entrance. We were on a pedestrian street, and there weren't very many people, so there was plenty of room for people to get around us. Suddenly, this guy just walks right SMACK into my aunt, like he never even saw her. He seemed stoned to me, so I doubt he was a pickpocket. But once he shambled away, I told my aunt to check her purse and make sure nothing was amiss. They have weird tactics like that to divert your attention so you don't see them taking things from you.

Anyway...weird. At least there was no butt-touching, that time.

As for pictures...they were all compiled collectively into one online photo album, which is my aunt's. Because several of the pictures feature her and my cousins, I'm not posting them, out of respect for their privacy. I have a CD of the photos, so at some point, I am going to get them online, at least the ones that they don't appear in.