Monday, August 31, 2009

Stockholm

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The train ride to Stockholm was pretty uneventful after the initial awesomeness of going over a gigantic bridge from Denmark to Sweden. Mostly pine trees interrupted by the occasional red farmhouse, lake, or town. Interestingly, the train announced the temperature at the next stop.

When we arrived, we made it easily to the place we were staying - a room found through guestroom.se which is an enormous savings over the usual expensive accommodations - because they had included very explicit instructions in the booking confirmation email! Yay! By the way, I can't emphasize enough how great that website is. You look over some rooms, choose your favorites, and email them. They'll book you in the highest one on your list that is available, and if none are available, they will offer you something else to your specifications!! Most of them are in great locations, too - ours was a bit further out because I was late in booking.

We immediately liked Stockholm better than Copenhagen. When we stepped off the bus in the neighborhood where we'd be staying, we saw a falafel joint and McDonald's which were both way cheaper than anything we saw in Copenhagen. The area, near Odenplan, felt like a real city.

We stayed in a room in the apartment of an older artist and shared her bathroom. The building had mail delivery to each apartment individually! Our room was a bit cluttered but comfortable. We went back to the falafel joint and got two falafels with bread, fries, and a drink to share for the equivalent of 8 EUR. It was like an enormous burden was lifted.

Breakfast the next morning was pretty similar to a German breakfast - cold cuts, egg, and bread - only the bread was really different from German bread. There was also a cookie and a bit of evangelism from our host. You never know what you're going to get when you stay with an artist.

We took the train to the center - it's the equivalent of 20 EUR for an unlimited 72-hr ticket in Stockholm county - and checked out Stockholm's old town, Gamla Stan. It's situated on a small island. Water is everywhere - on one side of the island, it's fresh water, and on the other, salt water. Gamla Stan is beautiful, and in the morning, it wasn't too filled with tourists yet. Check out the pictures!

Stockholm Aug 09

By the way, both in Copenhagen and Stockholm, they just sell the coolest stuff. Really cool papers, for one thing. I guess they are into paper - I've never seen so much great paper anywhere. They also sell these little paper cutout things called scraps or bookmarks that you can collect/trade. Interesting! I love paper and splurged on some origami paper there and that was the end of my buying - bigger paper would have been hard to pack.

We wandered off toward Södermalm, a large island south of Gamla Stan which is supposed to have lots of cool restaurants, shops, and venues. Well, we didn't go too far before finding something better than a cool restaurant...a fast food Tex-Mex restaurant! I've never seen one of those in Germany. We had tacos that were totally middling, but we take what we can get! :)

After lunch, we decided to check out City Hall. It's situated on the tip of Kungsholmen, an island just west of the mainland, and you can climb the tower for great views of all the islands. I can't think of a nicer place to have a building. Along the water is a plaza where you can just sit and look out at the water and islands. Pretty arcades face the plaza from the courtyard. We couldn't climb the tower because they were closing early and only 30 people are allowed in at once - we left it for the next day but ultimately never had time. Still, it was more than worth the visit. The views are amazing even from the ground. Stockholm is just incredibly beautiful.

We had coffee with a friend who lives in Stockholm, then had Indian food in Södermalm. So far everyone had been as friendly as could be and that never changed throughout the trip, with one possible exception - on the train that night there was a super-jolly trashed guy who just started talking to us in Swedish and wouldn't stop, even after it became clear we couldn't speak a lick of it. He seemed friendly but by the end he was almost certainly mocking us, despite not acting like it! I tried so hard to understand anything because when reading it, a lot of Swedish is close enough to German that you can pick some things out. But speaking? Forget it. It's completely different!!

The feeling of friendliness that Stockholm exudes might be a little bit more so for Americans because the Swedish word for 'hello' is 'hej' - and it sounds exactly like 'hey'! So any time someone says hello, it feels very familiar and casual and like they are really glad to see you! And saying 'hey' back puts me in a good mood too, kind of fooling myself into thinking I've found an old friend.

Friday was our museum day - we hit the two most-recommended museums, Skansen and the Vasa Museum.

Skansen is an open-air museum where traditional settings from all over Sweden have been recreated using actual old buildings which were taken down and rebuilt piece-by-piece in the park. So they're not fakes, but the actual thing moved to a fake location. It's full of actors pretending to live out the regular daily lives of the people who originally lived and worked in these buildings. It sounds corny as hell and I was a little skeptical - past experiences with this involved horrible accents, scenery-chewing actors, and boring moral lessons - but actually it came off really well. The actors were very well-cast and not overdoing it at all. Some of them were so friendly - they wanted to talk about not just the setting where they work, but some sports event going on in Germany or Swedish pop music or whatever you felt like gabbing about! Some of the jobs looked really hard - women were cutting tiny one-inch pieces of wood off logs with a tiny knife and hammer and making linen from raw flax! Check out the pictures to see some of the buildings. I was really impressed with an 1850s farmhouse which was filled with original murals in all the rooms. What a cool place to live! The only place that was really subpar was the zoo section (filled with native Swedish animals), but I usually find zoos depressing anyway. The gift shop had very cool stuff but it was really expensive. Sadly, I left Sweden with no Dala Horse. They are painted by Swedes, not people earning nothing in a third-world country, so they are expensive for a good reason.

The Vasa Museum is incredible. It was built just to show off a ship called the Vasa which sank in Stockholm's harbor almost 400 years ago. The ship was on its maiden voyage. It had been built with two gun decks, but the design did not compensate for this fact with a wider hull with room for more ballast. So, as soon as a little breeze touched the ship on its way out to sea, it went down. It was found by a hobbyist in the 1950s, and 333 years after it sank, it was hauled up from the floor of the harbor. For decades it was restored and something like 95% of the ship is original material! The rest has been replaced with new parts. Even knowing what to expect, walking into the musuem is, dorky as it sounds, a 'wow' moment.

We asked our bus driver on the way back to the main part of town for a bookstore recommendation and he had a great one. They had a good selection of name books. The most academic looking one was unfortunately out of my budget at the equivalent of 40 EUR (who is going to pay that for a name dictionary!?) but I got one that looked pretty good for 16 (again with the hardcover - weird!). The bookstore had way more English titles than any German bookstore. Maybe since Swedish is a smaller language some things are never translated.

For dinner, we had Swedish food at a place near our accommodations that was recommended by our hostess. It was nothing to write home about, but just fine, and it didn't break the bank. Sadly, the next morning we had to leave, despite having a zillion more things we wanted to do there. The Arlanda airport terminal was beautiful and well-designed and actually a pleasant place to be! Best airport ever.

I love Stockholm.
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Sunday, August 30, 2009

Copenhagen/Kopenhagen/København

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In Hamburg, we caught the train to Copenhagen. It was a little bitty ICE (fast train) with only three cars! Why so small? This train has to fit on a ferry!

The train goes to the little town of Puttgarden on an island that is still part of Germany. There are tons of train tracks at the Puttgarden station, but most of them looked weeded over and disused. Then it rolls right into the bottom level of the ferry. The ride takes around an hour, then it rolls right off and back onto the tracks in Denmark!

We didn't really know the procedure for the whole ferry thing so we really tried to listen while the announcer went over it on the train, but ran into one of these odd aspects of human behavior. While the announcer was going over everything in three different languages, the people on our train car were yapping, yapping, yapping. We couldn't hear anything. When the announcement stopped, everyone got quiet. We decided to follow the old ladies sitting near us because they always know what's going on. ;)

On the ferry, everybody has to get off the train and go to the upper decks. It's a madhouse - you come out of the stairwell into a narrow hall full of perfume shops - the hall packed with other people who don't know where to go. It's like being in Heathrow. Damon got a little seasick (oddly enough...usually it's me) so we just sat out the ride in one of the cafeterias.

After the ferry ride, it's two more hours to Copenhagen. The train station there is really cool (see the pictures). It's all maroon and looks like it's completely wood. We were so tired when we arrived, and wanted help figuring out our best transit option to where we were staying, so we went to the tourist info office, which is only about a block from the station. There, when we asked, she gave us the brilliant answer, "Take the train." Then she just looked at us like that would be all we needed to know. We pried for more information and got an idea of which train to take and which stop might be best.

As it turned out, it was totally the wrong train station. The station was close to our place, but there was no exit on that side of the station. It took us about half an hour to walk there. At this point we were already feeling a bit crabby with our hostess - we were staying in someone's house to save money because Copenhagen's accommodations are revoltingly pricey - for not putting directions to the place on her website. So imagine how we felt when we finally arrived, as it was starting to rain, and no one answered the door. We called and no one answered the phone. We were in what felt like a suburban wasteland and now we didn't know what the hell was going on with our room! We tried the door one more time before I started to cry, and finally she answered. She was genuinely surprised we were there - apparently there was some confusion about the time and she thought we were coming later. (It was already past 8pm.) Then she asked us to wait outside in the rain for a few minutes while she did something. Unglaublich!

I think she was simply inexperienced. The room was nice (except there was no bathroom rug) and she gave us helpful information when we asked. We got the idea that her mom also does this and was encouraging her to do it too. It's a great alternate market for accommodations in Copenhagen, and when we had the right information about public transit, it was only a 3 minute walk to the bus and 10 - 15 minute ride to the heart of the city (about 3 EUR per person). Still, the location was really awful. We were really hungry by the time we got there and she recommended one of the closest restaurants. It took us half an hour to walk there through an industrial area. Note: tap water was free at this restaurant, and I took that as a hint to order just water on the rest of the trip to save money. We each had a bowl of pho, a beer for him and a water for me for the equivalent of 21 EUR.

We spent the following morning walking around a route suggested by a map we picked up at the tourist office the day before, with a diversion here or there to get a bakery snack or look at something that seemed interesting but wasn't on the route. Lunch was 14 EUR for tiny bits of really bad Chinese food and for Damon, a beer. I was using the dehydration policy to keep us from spending the whole vacation searching for clean toilets.

In the afternoon, we took a boat tour from Nyhavn. A friend recommended this and it was the best thing we did. At 8 EUR each for almost an hour and a half, it was also the best deal we got the whole time. A guide talked about everything in Danish, English, and German. The tour covers the canals in Christianshavn (a neighborhood across from the main part of Copenhagen), boats and modern architecture around the harbor, plus some other things. You can see a lot from the water and the views from there are especially nice. Copenhagen really is an attractive city overall! It's also fun to go under the bridges, which are all very low, and at high tide, you might have to duck!

København Aug 09

After the tour we went over to check out Christiania, a supposed commune in Christianshavn where the laws of the EU do not apply. Honestly, I had some reservations about going to look at a freaking commune that bills itself as a tourist attraction, and alas, it was approximately as lame as I expected. There's one section where they don't allow photos, purportedly to protect people who are making drug deals there, but there was nothing to take pictures of except them hawking Christiania t-shirts to tourists. Yay? Damon's assessment was that it looked like a "party that went on too long". If you imagine an outdoor music festival that just sort of never ends, and starts to get kind of boring and dirty, that does sort of describe it.

At this point, despite my dehydration efforts, I really had to pee. We tried a bakery and they had no toilet, but the ultra-friendly workers there told me there was a public toilet in the library across the street. We went over there and waited 10-15 minutes while someone locked themselves in the restroom and shot up. NICE. The library just ignores it because there is nothing they can do except install a needle drop box in there.

We then searched around for my usual souvenir - a name book for my collection. Another ultra-helpful girl, this one running a coffee kiosk, told us where to find the biggest bookstore. She also assured us that "Everyone speaks English" in Copenhagen, thus beginning our dilemma. Is it more offensive to ask someone if they speak English and insult them because they think only an idiot wouldn't, or to not ask someone if they speak English and be a presumptuous asshole native English speaker? Three years of experience says: You can't win.

At the bookstore, they only had one name book. It was hardcover (read: expensive) and focused on babies rather than being a good dictionary, but since it was all they had, I got it anyway. When we asked for help finding the book the guy looked at us like we were nuts and kind of tossed it at us when he found it. Then the girl at the desk was rude when she discovered I didn't speak Danish. I guess next time I should pretend the book is for a friend who speaks the local language.

We walked around some more, through some pretty gardens and to Kastellet, a well-preserved fortress north of the center. In the gardens, we saw a bunch of guys, too old to be doing this, very obviously and continuously mocking a woman who was doing yoga stretches there. Then on the bus on the way home, two girls (again, too old for this) were loudly, obviously, and continuously mocking Damon for looking at the bus map.*

For dinner, we walked around until our feet were sore looking for something affordable. We saw a Mexican restaurant. A burrito was 20 EUR. At another, chicken cordon blue was 25 EUR. It came down to deciding between paying 4 EUR each for soggy old convenience store sandwiches, or 12 EUR each for the most basic dish at a Thai restaurant. The sandwiches were so utterly depressing that we went for the Thai. They charged us extra for rice and tap water. Yeah, tap water.

In the morning, we stopped at a place called Cafe Bjørg's because they advertised free wireless in the window. We really needed to find some internet access because I'd forgotten to print out our flight itinerary for our return to Germany and didn't even know the time of the flight. Before ordering Damon confirmed with the waiter that they had free wireless. Guess what? It didn't work and we paid 15 EUR for two bagels and a coffee and tap water. Again, they charged us for the tap water. The waiter argued that the tap water price went to charity. Also, it turned out that around the corner in the restaurant was a terminal with free internet access, but he never saw fit to tell us about it, even though we had been asking him for help with the connection since it wasn't working. By the time we saw it, some regular had settled in for a long morning of staring at the screen.

At this point, we were not pleased with Copenhagen. Every moment we were worrying about paying for food and trying to find something cheaper rather than just enjoying ourselves. People like this waiter and the people at the bookstore and the jerks in the gardens and on the bus were not helping. Our next destination was going to be an expensive Scandinavian one too and we were getting pretty cranky thinking about spending three more days like this. I feel terrible about it. Copenhagen is a beautiful city, and would be a great place to live if you were rich (really nice shopping). Also, it seems it's a great place for kids. Kids and shops selling kid stuff were everywhere. But our experience was seriously mixed.

We walked around some more - walking is free - and had 10 EUR left to spend on lunch before getting on our train out of there. We got some horrible thing called a "French hot dog" at the train station, along with a drink.

Then we got the hell out of Copenhagen.

*Lesson: In Denmark it's okay to be a total dick. Is this true? Of course, it probably isn't. These people never asked to be representatives of their country, but it turns out, that's what they were anyway. People should really always be thinking about who might see their shitty public behavior. We modifed the lesson to come up with this Danish experience: the nice people we met - as an example, the helpful bakery and coffee ladies, but there were more - are the nicest people you might ever meet. And the jerks are the biggest, most pathetic and miserable jerks you might ever meet.
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Friedrichstadt, the North Sea, and a little bit of Denmark

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We had booked a room in Friedrichstadt, way up in Schleswig-Holstein, for that night, so we had a ways to go. The GPS took us right through Hamburg, which is always awesome because you get to see glimpses of the big port there!

As we went further north, it started to feel more and more like the end of the the earth - lots of empty country. Friedrichstadt sits on the Eider river, pretty near to the North Sea coast. (To be fair, Schleswig-Holstein is pretty narrow, so pretty much everything is sort of near the coast.) We can credit a combination of Regensblog and PapaScott - based on this post and its comments - for the idea to visit this town. I'd originally been looking along the coast and was having a hard time finding something cheap and available. That was no problem in Friedrichstadt.

Friedrichstadt was actually settled by the Dutch and is very different from the other towns we'd seen. It's full of canals and the main part of town is a perfect grid of perfect brick houses on perfect brick sidewalks with perfect stone streets.

Friedrichstadt Aug 09

We stayed at Gästehaus Mertens, in a sort of 50s-looking neighborhood outside the oldest part of Friedrichstadt, but still within easy walking distance of it. The room was only 17 EUR per person per night because the bathroom is shared, but it's only shared with one other room and is a really nice bathroom! I would definitely recommend staying there. The whole neighborhood appears to be populated by retirees who rent out their rooms for something to do.

It was way too humid in Friedrichstadt, but Frau Mertens told us that in Heidelberg the weather was in the upper 30s, so we were happy to be away from there!! (When we returned to HD there was a lot of dead grass along the river - guess it really did get hot!) We walked around town and found what appeared to be the cheapest non-doener meal in town at a place called Black and White.

The following morning we had a nice breakfast - the only problem being that I prefer hard-boiled eggs to soft-boiled, and you never know what you are going to get at a German Pension. I think Germans prefer soft-boiled. I know that every time I open an egg to the disappointment of finding it soft-boiled, a German is opening his or her egg and is filled with glee to find it soft-boiled. In another only-in-Germany moment, we discovered there weren't salt and pepper shakers on the table - only salt and salt!! :D

We decided to go cross the Danish border to find a town I had just learned was the hometown of one of my great-great-great-grandfathers on my mom's side. It looked to be only about an hour away according to the GPS, so why not? The town, Abkaer, turned out to be really small and barely a town. It kind of reminded me of a lot of places near where I'm from, except that it had no bar or cafe or postbox. We also visited nearby Haderslev, where we walked around the center hoping to find a bakery, but had no luck. The center was completely dead and closed down, as it was Sunday. We did find a bakery on the drive out of town, though! Delicious baked goods ending up being lunch!

Abkaer, Haderslev, & More Aug 09

We came back to Germany and put Nordstrand in the GPS. We thought it was the name of a town, but I guess it's only the name of an island, because the GPS took us right to the heart of a town called England in the middle of an island connected to land by a wide causeway covered with grazing sheep. The town even flew English and UK flags! They had some kind of minor festival going on, so we decided to stop.



Ahoj ahoj ahoj ahoj ahoj! After leaving England, we wandered over to the waterfront at Norderhafen, which wasn't much of a waterfront at all! The tide was low, and it was mud flats as far as the eye could see. Cool!

More Schleswig-Holstein + A Couple in Hamburg Aug 09

There's not much in Norderhafen - some resorty-looking giant buildings, and some small restaurants. We moved back to the mainland to check out the Eidersperrwerk, flood gates between the Eider River and the North Sea to prevent flooding and the buildup of silt along the Eider. By the way, the whole time it was windy as hell. Considering all the wind turbines, I'm guessing that's a permanent state in Schleswig-Holstein! We watched a little tiny sailboat go through the locks on the flood gates to return to the Eider and they seemed to be having a bit of trouble in all the wind!

We then moved on to St-Peter-Ording, hoping to find food. We never found it. St-Peter-Ording probably has some interesting spots in it, but they must have been on the other side of the dike*, and we never made it that far. It's the type of town I dread finding out I've planned to visit, only to discover it is a resort town with nothing historically interesting at all....only lots of new and uninspired buildings, summer houses, expensive restaurants, and hordes upon hordes upon hordes upon hordes upon hordes of slow, ice-cream-eating tourists. Auuugh!!! (Damon wasn't so harsh on it, though.) We went back to Friedrichstadt for dinner at the Hollaendische Stube, which was not too exciting but pretty alright - and we got a complimentary appetizer. :)

*The whole peninsula on which SPO sits was land created from mud flats by building dikes all around it! So there is something historically interesting, but you don't need to go to SPO to appreciate that, since the peninsula is big and has plenty of other stuff.

By the way, there is this really adorable blue and white china pattern which seems to be endemic throughout northern Germany - there are copies of it all over. It's interesting that it seems to be so widespread and copied. Anyone know anything about it? Here's a picture - but this is actually from England, so I guess it might not even be a German pattern. Here's another.

The next morning, it was time to turn in the car and hop on the train for the next leg of our adventure - so it was off to Hamburg Hbf (train station)!!
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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Lüneburger Heide

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Aside from Hildesheim, which had already fallen by the wayside, our second goal in visiting this area of Germany was to see Lüneburg and the Lüneburger Heide. Well, we made it to one of them! We set the GPS to take us from Celle to Undeloh, a town in the Heide where we were assured we'd be able to find a bike rental.

We wandered there through a lot of pretty, flat land. We drove through Bergen on the way. It was tiny. (For those who know it, it kind of reminded me of driving through Lake City.) I wonder if they will ever be associated with anything again other than Bergen-Belsen. There were potatoes for sale everywhere...and more trees and crosses at the roadsides.

For lunch, we were in a hurry and ended up at a really horrible Burger King off the Autobahn. There were only two places to eat - there, or a sit-down trucker restaurant, and we thought BK would be faster, but it probably wasn't. Apparently the area has a huge demand for fast food on Saturdays, because the line was enormous - and slow. I had the unfortunate experience of working at BK in the past and they worked differently and more slowly at this one. The bathrooms were pretty nice, though. :)

When we arrived in Undeloh, we stopped at a tourist info office to find out where to rent a bike. The woman operating the place was watering the flowers outside when we arrived, and did not see fit to stop watering them just to help us. It was too funny. She just saw no reason to help until she had finished with all the flowers, returned to the office, and adjusted the blinds - she wasn't trying to be a jerk. We got our bikes at a place called Smes Hof for 5 EUR each and rode off down the path toward Wilsede, some town out in the Heide which is said to have stayed in the past. No cars go out there. We thought we might stop there and ride around a few other places too. If you don't want to bike or walk, you can also ride in a horse-drawn cart out there. Undeloh had tons of places offering rides.

Undeloh & Wilsede Aug 09

The rental bikes weren't so hot and the path was either cobblestone or dirt/gravel/dust the whole way, and we had to dodge zillions of pedestrians on the same path, so biking actually turned out to be less pleasant than expected! I never got a cheap bike rental before and the bike paths around HD are usually paved, so I was totally naive about it. The scenery was gorgeous, though - not as purple as what we'd seen near Hermannsburg, but completely idyllic. We made it to Wilsede, which was composed of a few restaurants and barns and a museum. We had a drink and just headed back to Undeloh. On the way there a car came down the road. No cars, eh??

By the time we were done, we decided that we couldn't make it to Lüneburg. It wasn't that far away, but considering how much time driving around to the Altstadt and getting parked had taken in Celle, we thought it wouldn't work out. So we plugged our next destination into the GPS and headed north...
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Monday, August 24, 2009

Celle

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Our hotel for the night was near Hermannsburg, north of Celle. The GPS directed us all the way there from Goslar without going onto the Autobahn. All the roads in the area are lined with trees!! It's really beautiful, but I couldn't help noticing all the roadside memorials to people who died in car accidents. Are the trees dangerous too, or is the area just really activist about marking these to remind people to drive carefully?

As we were puttering down one of these roads at the same speed as all the other drivers, we think we were flashed by one of these camera things that picks up speeders. Argh!!! The camera takes your picture as you speed and then sends it to you to confirm that you were driving. Then the driver has to pay. I hope we were just imagining... Also, uh, I hope I don't look really stupid in the photo.

We stayed at Hotel Zur Alten Fuhrmanns-Schänke near Hermannsburg to save money over the price of a room in Celle. What I didn't realize when booking is that it's out in the woods! Our room was in an adorable little four-room building on the second floor, and it had slanty ceilings! (Also, soap included, unlike the previous night.) The hotel has its own restaurant which is kind of expensive (for cheapskates like us anyway, plus the saving up for later destinations as I mentioned in the Wernigerode post). A dilemma ensued. Eat at the expensive restaurant so we didn't have to get back in the car and find something in a town to eat? Or go look for something cheaper in the car? Staying put won out. We just didn't know what else we could find nearby or what the prices would be. The food I had was actually really good (but it stated it was vegetarian and contained bacon so beware if you're a vegetarian - but you probably already know that if you've tried to eat vegetarian in Germany before). Damon, alas, ordered the Menü (a pre-set three-course thing you can usually get at a German restaurant), which was a little absurdly potato-heavy!! It was potato soup, followed by a plate of boiled potatoes with some sweet sour-cream-and-cucumber-based sauce, with Rote Grütze for dessert. He has sworn off boiled potatoes for the foreseeable future. The service at the hotel and restaurant were both consistently not very good. They seemed to be really disorganized. But at check-out, the woman was really great. She gave us a free map of Celle, too. And the breakfast included with the room was really impressive!! The room was full of retirees enjoying Sekt (champagne) with their breakfast and having a great time. Man, I want to retire in Germany.

So, Celle. We were iffy on whether to stop there or not, but since it was so close, we decided to go for it, with a slight detour on the way to wander into some Heide looking for blooming heather. We really found it - see the photos!!

Celle Aug 09

Celle was a lot like Hann Münden - tons of half-timber houses with chain stores on the first level. It was packed with Saturday shoppers. I think at this point we were starting to burn out a little on this whole thing - it was hard to top Wernigerode and Goslar's buildings, and parking was a headache, so we left feeling pretty neutral about Celle.
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Goslar

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Our original plan for this trip had been to visit at least Hildesheim on the first day. At some point I'd gotten it into my head that there was some significance to Hildesheim, which by the time of the trip I could no longer remember for certain, and the guide book wasn't helping. (Note: later looked it up and I'm pretty sure it was because its cathedral has UNESCO status.)

But on the way to Wernigerode we were distracted by some of these really common brown signs at the sign of the road advertising nearby places of interest. They advertised the town of Goslar, another UNESCO World Heritage site that we'd never even heard of, and we were intrigued. As we left Wernigerode, we realized we only had time for one more destination that day. Our hotel that night was way up past Celle, so we wouldn't be coming down this way again. It had to be either Goslar or Hildesheim. I could no longer remember what drew me to Hildesheim, and the Green Guide made Goslar sound slightly better, plus it was closer. Goslar it was.

Goslar is, like Wernigerode, located on the north side of the Harz Mountains, but neither town feels like a mountain town because they are on the fringe. Goslar gained its glory through mining in the Harz. The mine there (now all out of ore and closed) and the area of the Altstadt have UNESCO status. The mine is outside town and we didn't have time to go, but we did get to have a look around the Altstadt.

Goslar Aug 09

We found free parking somewhere on the fringe of the Altstadt and wandered in. Goslar's houses (lots more half timber) have some special features - the wood is often carved with interesting half-circle designs, the kind I like to doodle at work when I need to clear my mind, so they were right up my alley. There are also many buildings covered in slate tiles! I wonder how often they have to replace those. There are some examples in the photos. The Marktplatz is enormous, and a smaller nearby Platz, the Schuhhof, is full of Eis cafes (ice cream shops) and places to sit. It was just an incredibly pleasant little place to be. I'm sorry we missed Hildesheim but definitely don't regret stopping in Goslar.
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Sunday, August 23, 2009

Wernigerode

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Wernigerode made our list of central/northern Germany travel ideas because Dixie Peach posted a picture of it that never left my mind. I hadn't heard of it before then. When we were looking over the map, we noticed it was just across the border into Sachsen-Anhalt, one of only two German states we hadn't visited yet, so that added a little additional attraction. It was a little over an hour to drive there from Hann Münden - there was a lot of road work on the way.

We found parking in a garage and our first experience in Wernigerode was to wander from the garage into a hideous, crappy mall. Ew! But, looking around, I was happy to be across the former west/east border again, because people tend to be dressed more casually in the east so I feel like less of a frump in all my 3-4-year-old clothes. (Any spare money goes to travel now. MUST TRAVEL before possibly being isolated and trapped in the US with no vacation time.....)

The mall was forgotten when we arrived in the very adorable Altstadt. Like Hann Münden, it's full of half timber buildings, but the style is different. Most of the timbers are at 90 degree angles and filled with bricks which are painted or left exposed rather than covered over with mortar or stucco. It makes for an entirely different look from the half timber we have seen in most places we've been. The Rathaus is probably the cutest one in the world.

Wernigerode Aug 09

It was about time for lunch so we started looking around at menus. Everything in the tourist center seemed a bit jacked up and we wanted to spend a little less, knowing that our itinerary included some really expensive places in the next few days. We wandered behind the Rathaus a bit until we found a place called Pizza Box where the pizza prices were about half of what they were only a block away!! Yay! They messed up the order and the pizza wasn't the best, but we were fine with it for the great prices.

I thought it was even prettier than Hann Münden, although Damon disagreed. I was also in a good mood because I found a shop selling embroidery supplies and there is apparently no equivalent in Heidelberg (except the Kaufhof selling a few colors of floss), which is a much bigger town. How is it that HD is so big but never seems to have what I am looking for?
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Hannoversch Münden

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This year's anniversary trip (six years now!) evolved from a little weekend trip to a city I've been wanting to visit for a long time into an absurdly complex 9-day adventure I dreamed up in my office when I was supposed to be concentrating on work, involving almost every mode of transportation still commonly used.

We began with a rental car picked up in Heidelberg on Thursday night. The first place we wanted to visit seemed too far away to drive to that night, so we'd gotten out a map to look for alternative places along the way to stay the first night. Nothing on the map was very inspiring (Kassel?) so we got out our handy Green Guide to see if any of the recommended sites were on the way and convenient to the Autobahn. It had the perfect answer for us: Hannoversch Münden (for short, it goes by Hann Münden)! It's right off the Autobahn and a short enough drive from Heidelberg to leave HD after work and arrive before it's crazy late.

Our rental car was, alas, a crappy Fiat Panda. (Germans joke that Fiat stands for Fehler in allen Teilen - essentially, every part is defective.) Who names a car Panda!?

Thankfully we managed not to get killed in it on the ever-terrifying Autobahn. SCARY. As we were puttering along at about 110 km/h (68 mph), we were passed by a Porsche going more than double our speed. We barely saw it coming before it was gone. Amazing. For a brief moment, I understood why the Autobahn has no speed limit and Germans don't want to make it have one. A car like a Porsche is pointless in the US, where it can never legally be driven as it is built to drive. Still, for me I prefer a speed limit!!

We left the Autobahn and descended down a few dark, foresty hairpin curves into Hann Münden, where we were the last guests to arrive for the night at Hotel zur Fulda in the Hann Münden Altstadt (50 EUR/night for a double including breakfast). The trade-off for such a great location and free parking is a super-basic room - not even one of those combo shampoo/bodywash/handsoap dispensers you often see in cheap German hotels. It was fine for us!

In the morning I discovered that despite confidently crossing it off my packing list, I'd forgotten to pack any underwear. Oops. Tchibo to the rescue - there was one right by the Stadtkirche!!

Hannoversch Muenden Aug 09

When I read about Hann Münden - a well-situated village at the confluence of the Werra and Fulda rivers with over 700 half timber houses - it had sounded a little touristy, but it didn't feel that way to me. The streets weren't too full, and most of the people we did see appeared to be locals going about their usual business. Unlike a lot of towns we've been to, there weren't just a few streets or a couple of squares of half timber houses - nearly every house in the entire, large Altstadt was one! They don't seem to treat it like anything special, though. The houses have Pennys and Tchibos and all manner of common German chains with their big ugly signs in them, and there are cars everywhere, a scruffy, weedy riverfront, and a lot of curious stares at tourists. It's partly disappointing that it's not the picture of storybook perfection that you might imagine, and partly awesome to see such an old town not overdo the tourist thing and just feel like a regular place, moving ahead while still preserving the past. The little details on the houses are fascinating. Check out the photos!

From our long list of places we were considering visiting, our next destination has already been guessed in the last post - Wernigerode. Coming soon!
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Saturday, August 22, 2009

Where we've been the last 9 days

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Can you identify the towns/cities/places in these photos? (Click for a bigger version.) Leave your guess(es) in the comments!

Place #1:

Place #2:
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Place #6:
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Place #8:
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Monday, August 10, 2009

Do I Miss Horrific Storms?

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I shouldn't. This one was really terrible by all accounts from back home.

But.... kind of.
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Friday, August 07, 2009

Hiiiiiiiieeeeeerher Fischlein Fischlein Fischlein Fischlein!!

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One of the best ever Bert and Ernies, even better auf Deutsch.

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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Midweek Tidbits

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* I finally got my master's certificate in the mail, and needed to forward a copy on to Renate Schmidt^ in the human resources department at work. I picked up a reusable interoffice envelope, put in a note and a copy of my certificate, and started to address it. R-e-n-a-t-....then I paused and looked at all the previous addresses on the envelope. Every single time, it had been addressed to Herr this or Frau that...never using a first name. Oops. Some things take a long time to sink in.

^no, it's not her real name

* The readers of my thesis wrote comments about what they thought of it and gave it a mark. I thought these comments were going to come in the mail along with my certificate. Before the certificate arrived, I emailed the secretary in Mainz to see if she could just email them to me. She wrote back to inform me that she was "not allowed" to send me the comments, and if I wanted to see them, I had to come to her office in Mainz and look at them there! Obviously going to Mainz is no small thing for me, plus this was just baffling anyway. I wrote her back, told her I didn't live in Mainz, and asked her why she couldn't send them to me. After all, the point of writing comments is lost if the student can't see them and learn from them, right? I guess she didn't want to argue. Two days later, the comments arrived by email.

* My colleague/office roommate showed up last week with a nasty cold. The week before, the guy in the desk across from her had been sick. She explained to me that she was sick because the previous Thursday, she got soaked in the rain on the way to work and then sat in the office, where there was a draft. Funny, I also got soaked in the rain on the way to work that day and then sat in the same drafty office she did, but I didn't get sick... I don't suppose being right across from the other sick coworker was the real cause. ;)
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