Dogs, Dogs, Everywhere!

 Europeans love their dogs. It isn't uncommon to walk through a department store and see someone toting a dog. Dogs of all sizes are allowed in pretty much any public area except grocery stores or indoor markets where food is sitting out.

 Yesterday, Chris and I went into Louis Vuitton, and one of the women shopping had her Yellow Labrador with her. I found this very amusing. This woman was dressed very chic, and here she had this big clumsy looking Yellow Lab instead of your typical little designer dog. He was so cute, but he did look a little out of place among the €1.500 handbags and shoes (side note: Europeans use a  . instead of a  , to separate the thousands, and a , as a . such as €39,99. It can get confusing). Every time his owner would stop to look at something, he would sit down and scratch his ear with his back paw, I think he was a bit bored with shopping. I tried to imagine bringing my Chocolate Lab, Zoe, into Louis Vuitton. I don't think my hyper farm dog would have been as well behaved!


Strasbourg, France

 Last weekend Chris and I took the (what was supposed to be) hour and forty-five minute drive to Strasbourg, France, but the Autobahn was one big stau (traffic jam). I think it ended up taking three hours just to get to the French border, but it was worth it. France is such a beautiful country. The first thing we saw were rows of picturesque cottages in many colors, but they all seemed to coordinate with each other. 

 It's really odd when traveling within the European Union, we thought we would get passport stamps with every country we'd go to, but there is no checkpoint of any sort at the country borders. We've been to three countries and still don't have a single stamp from this journey in our passports!

 France, like every other European country has very narrow city streets. Sometimes I wish we would have gotten a Smart car instead of our BMW. The BMW is shorter than my Dodge Stratus back home, but sometimes it feels like we are driving around in a Suburban!
When we finally found our hotel for the night, we had to park in an eight floor parking ramp. Each floor had only enough space for six or seven cars, and there was only one lane to use for cars leaving and entering the parking ramp; it was madness. I held my breath the whole time.

 The hotel's website made the rooms look really chic and modern... not exactly the case when we actually arrived. The room was tiny, had two twin beds, a 13 inch television mounted in the corner of the room like a hospital waiting room, and bathroom/shower that was the size of my closet back home. It was GREAT! Chris and I couldn't stop laughing for about a half hour! I was actually happy it wasn't a perfect room, it was more fun this way! 

 Since we got to Strasbourg on Armistice Day, pretty much everything was closed. There were a few department stores open and dining places, so we wandered around a bit, bought roasted chestnuts (amazing by the way), and found a place to eat dinner. The waiter talked Chris into getting this stew that was something they were well known for and I got roast beef with potatoes (very French, I know, but it was recommended). We also order escargot as an appetizer. The escargot was delicious! Chris kept second guessing his choice of stew the entire time we were waiting for our meal, but when it finally came he realized it wasn't like stew back home. It was a huge bowl of meat and vegetables with a little broth. They cooked the stew with the bone in to add to the flavor. He couldn't finish it! My meal was great too, the beef was tender and had this amazing sauce drizzled all over it, I can't even begin to describe it.

 Soon after our meal we went back to the hotel to get some rest. The next day we woke up fairly early and went downstairs for breakfast. It was so cute how the hotel had breakfast set up, there was a fresh squeezed orange juice (yes you read that right, fresh squeezed, no Tropicana here!), baguette and croissant at every setting. The French know how to do breakfast, it was so delicious.

 We spent the rest of the day wandering around the city. There was a huge flea market going on, so we checked that out and got a little Christmas shopping out of the way. Strasbourg is such a pretty place, and the people there were very warm and welcoming. I took only one year of French in college, but I was surprised at how much I could remember. Most people there spoke French and German, but we got along just fine with our French phrase book. When people realized we weren't fluent in French, they would try to communicate in any English they knew, while we would try in the little French we knew, and the combo worked.

 The Strasbourg Cathedral is a beautiful piece of architectural art. You could stare at the intricate exterior for hours and still find something new. Majestic is the only word I can think of to describe it. I got chills every time we would walk by it or hear the bells in distance.

 Since we are only about two hours (if we leave at the right time of day to avoid the staus!) we will definitely be returning to Strasbourg. It's a nice little vacation at the end of a long week! It would also be a great place to take any visitors (hint hint)!



On Saturday November 5th, Chris and I went on a USO (United Service Organizations) tour to Amsterdam, Netherlands. The bus left Saturday at 12:30 AM and we arrived around 8:00 AM. Our tour guide took us through a quick walking tour of a part of the city, then we went to the Anne Frank Museum . We actually walked through the building where the Frank family, the van Pels family, and Fritz Pfeffer, lived while in hiding. As I walked through the hiding place, I was suprised at the size of it. While it was definitely small for the number of people living together, it was bigger than I had pictured in my mind. Throughout the building there were quotes from Anne's diary, some were happy, some sad, and some were so insightful for a young girl to write. I had an enormous lump in my throat throughout the tour. When you stop and thin about what these people went through for so long, what awaited them in the end, I can't imagine living that way. 

After the Anne Frank House, we had the rest of the day to explore Amsterdam. It is such a neat city! Cobblestone streets, the department stores in 200 year old buildings, the crazy bicyclists, everything had so much character.

We made it to the Vincent Van Gogh Museum. I have loved Van Gogh for as long as I can remember. I still remember the first time I saw "Starry Night". The way Van Gogh uses colors and shapes is so interesting and beautiful, he  could make the most usual object come to life and move you in a way you never thought possible (my personal favorite is "A Pair of Shoes").

As soon as we made it into the museum (tip: go to the Diamond Museum across the street and get the prepaid tickets for the Van Gogh museum, it will save you a good 45 minutes to an hour of waiting in line), I got that lump in my throat again. Here I was, standing inches from works of art I thought I would only ever dream about seeing. It was incredible. I could get right up to the painting and see the strokes Van Gogh had painted. I could have spent hours in there.

After the Van Gogh Museum, Chris and I wandered around the rest of the city, we found an art school that was having an exhibit on the art of computer hacking, so of course Chris went through that! I personally didn't understand most of it, but he really enjoyed it.

We had a really great trip, and I would love to see more of the Netherlands!


Laundry Day

Today my big adventure was doing laundry. How difficult could that be you ask? Well I spent a good chunk of my morning with Google Translate and pictures of the of the washing machine/dryer trying to figure out what cycles were what. I finally get it figured out, wrote it down everything, and think I'm ready. But when I get there, I can't find the start button! I started pushing random buttons and eventually the water started running. I probably shouldn't have used Chris's dress shirts for my trial run. Oh I hope this turns out!



Priority Road Sign
Not too much happened today, I drove to the commissary to get a few groceries. I am still a little ify about driving here, especially with a manual car. Also, Germany has so many signs! And the right-of-way seems a little odd to me sometimes.You really have to pay attention to all the signs. The one that always gets me is the Priority Road sign (see  left). It makes sense, the sign helps people know who has the right-of-way when coming up to a main road (hence, Priority), but when you're already a bit nervous about driving in a foreign country it doesn't seem to be that easy! The stoplights seem to be in odd places too, I am stopped at a red light (behind the line) I have to twist my head around to so I can see the light. Also, there is no right-on-red. It is a green arrow light instead.  Every time I get in the car to drive somewhere I say a little prayer to get there safely! I'm sure in no time I will be driving like one of the crazy Europeans here, I guess that is kind of a warning to my friends back home!

Auf Wiedersehen!


Different Little Observations

Here is a little list of things that I've noticed about German culture:
  • Elderly people (like 75+) riding bicycles all over the city.
  • Cloth seats in BMWs and Mercedes.
  • No matter what age, people are generally very tidy.
  • When at a cafe, people clean up after themselves by sweeping the crumbs that may have fallen on the table on to their saucers and bring their dirty dishes to the counter.
  • Separate duvet covers. I guess this is so no one is stealing the blankets from the other person!
  • Traffic lights go to yellow at any change. Yellow to red, and yellow to green. When driving a manual car, I have noticed that this transition really helps!
  • Much of Germany was destroyed during WWII. When they rebuilt the cities, they kept the original look instead of tearing it all down and making all buildings look more "modern".
  • And of course, the narrow streets!

17 October 2011 - I'm really in Europe!

I had just off the U-Bahn (one of the German public transportation trains), and decided to get a cup of coffee. I stood outside enjoying my cup (German coffee is amazing, no need to get espresso) I could hear a faint accordion in the background, I almost didn't hear it. It was as if it was a song playing the soundtrack of my day in my head. When I finished my coffee, I headed to my destination. As I walked down the steps to the underground walkway, the accordion music slowly got louder and louder. There was the musician, he was playing to a nearly empty arena, with a smile on his face.