Salaam Fes

From Kristen:

The plane took off over the Mediterranean and I gripped both arm rests as hard as I could. “What are you doing?” I asked myself. “You were lucky in Turkey, this could be like India…are you ready for what could happen?” My breathing becomes a little quicker. I look over at Charlton to gauge his reaction to leaving behind the comforts of Europe, and he is sleeping soundly.

The flight goes by quickly and luckily I am able to get some rest. I have a feeling I will need my wits about as soon as we land and don’t want to be drowsy. We quickly grab our bags and make our way into the terminal. As soon as the guards see our U.S. passports we are led to another room. “Uh oh, it starts,” I thought. Just a quick additional H1N1 form, no big deal. I can practically fill those out in my sleep now. Passport check goes smoothly, and we collect our bags. The terminal is spacious and clean, and with an ATM right through the door. There was a moment of panic when the first group of people waiting did not have a sign for us. “We don’t have the address of the pension! We don’t have their phone number! What are we going to do?” Then there is a moment of relief when we see our driver just on the outskirts, “phew!” The bags are loaded into the van, the door closes and we are headed toward the medina.

I pictured the drive to Varanasi, or even Cambodia. Where there would be honking and chaos. What I got was a fairly leisurely drive through the new city to the old city. Traffic signals were followed, it was such a surprise. The van stopped on the outside of the city walls, cars cannot fit through the narrow streets of the medina. Loaded with our bags we followed our driver through the maze-like streets to a humble looking door.

Once the door opened, it was like stepping into an oasis. The dusty sun-bleached streets were left behind, in favor of rich wood and tile. It was like stepping into Topkapi Palace in Istanbul…but this is where we are staying! Our own palace! Words simply cannot describe its beauty. We sat down in the center courtyard to admire the craftsmanship and were promptly given glasses of delicious mint tea.

After we had settled into our room, we were lead to a nearby restaurant for lunch. The interior there was even more opulent than our pension, which is hard to believe. Nestled on some cushions in the corner we had an amazing meat and prune tagine (served in one too!) I sopped up every morsel with bread not wanting a drip to go to waste.

Full and happy we made our way back to the streets of the medina. Knowing it is like a rabbit wandering we did not feel adventurous enough to walk along the side streets. We knew that we would get a guided tour tomorrow, so figured it was best to stay in the high traffic areas. There was shop after shop selling every type of handicraft: leather bags, lanterns, jewelry, shoes, etc. Everything is so bright and colorful. Then you come across the stalls selling food staples: couscous, beans, spices, dried fruits. And I can’t forget the food stalls and butchers with lamb shanks hanging at the entrance or camel feet or spice carts loaded with mint. It is so hard to take it all in.

We came back to the pension to relax a little and the entire staff was gathered around a courtyard table having a late lunch. They asked us to join them and when we told them we were full they insisted we try some and pulled over chairs for us. They had a large platter of chicken with olives, another specialty here, and bread. The olives were not purchased but pickled by them. It was one of the most amazing dishes I have ever had. Even though I had a full belly I could not stop eating.

After I licked every morsel off my fingers, the owner brought over a beautiful Fez picture book and told us about the city. We chatted for awhile over glasses of mint tea before we headed to our room for a well deserved nap.

Awakening refreshed we decided to walk around the medina a little more. As we were about to head out the door, the owner said if we waited a little he would have one of the staff take us to his other house so we can get a better view of the medina. We headed to the rooftop of the pension to wait, and took a few pictures. The view from here was pretty fantastic, I could only imagine what the rooftop of the other house was like. We made our way through the streets, until we came up to a small little door tucked between two shops. After going through a dark hallway it opened up to another amazing riad courtyard. Climbing the tile steps we treated to more beautiful tile and woodwork. Once we reached the rooftop, the whole medina opened out in front of us. There were miles of twisted buildings and structures. Green tiled towers were visible on the horizon every once in awhile, giving away the location of a mosque. On an adjacent roof, a man was funneling rose water into bottles. It was like out of another world being up there. Off in the distance you could see olive trees growing on the hillside. A platter of fresh melon was then brought up to us, and it was the sweetest melon I have ever tasted, which is why I almost cried when the wind tipped the platter over knocking all the melon to the ground. After we cleaned up the mess we headed back down to the streets of the medina.

We then were on our own and tried to make our way to the Blue Gate and see where all the restaurants and cafes were. There were more shops and stalls along the way, never a moment that something doesn’t catch your eye. We found one gate, and attempted to ask a police officer for directions to the famous Café Clock that we had read about. He was unfamiliar with the place so we tried to find it on our own. After wandering some of the streets and not finding it we settled on trying to have our guide show us tomorrow, and then we caught a glimpse of the sign! We walked down a dark alley and came across the entrance.

The view from the café is said to be fantastic, so we made our way to the rooftop. Once there we saw how spoiled we were after visiting the owner’s other house. Café Clock does have a nice view but it’s nowhere near as stunning as the view of the whole medina we had had earlier. We found a corner seat and ordered some drinks and a bowl of Harira to split. It was delicious and was served with dates and a sample of a Moroccan sweet. After wiping the bowl clean we headed out as it was beginning to get dusk and we knew we would never be able to find our way back at night.

So a little less than 12 hours here in Fez and so far I love it. I don’t know what tomorrow will be like, but if the rest of the trip is like today, I think we are in for a real treat.

This is Charlton's post:

Journey to Africa

It’s a new day and a new continent. A week ago we were in Northern Europe, a day ago, Southern France and today, North Africa. More specifically we took a Ryanair flight from Marseille to Fes here in Morocco.

Unfortunately for us, it was another early morning. Awake by 6:00, out the door by 6:45. Next time when I plan a trip, I see later flights in the cards. Anyhow, we got to the airport, checked in and suffered through the typical Ryanair indignities. “Check in online or pay us forty Euro per ticket to print”, “no your seat will not go back, nor does it have pocket to put anything”, “are you done reading that magazine, either take it or give it to me. I’ll be mad if you leave it” and all the like. Ryanair is an adventure in itself.

Once through our flight, we made it to Fes by noon. As soon as we stepped into the airport from the tarmac we were identified as U.S. citizens. This meant we had to be taken aside, had to fill out a questionnaire and had to get our temperature taken. Whatever it takes to prevent H1N1 I guess.

Afterwards, we met up with our taxi and began our journey to the old city of Fes. Prior to our trip both Kristen and I were a little nervous. We were going to an ancient city, with thousands of alleyways, lots of people etc… From reading about it, we had visited a similar city, Varanasi. While that was a worthwhile experience it was also very tiring and we weren’t sure if we were ready for another round of it so quickly. Fes is a different place fortunately. In a way it looks similar, narrow alleyways, lots of people, but it is different. It’s slightly calmer, has somewhat fewer people (though more donkeys) and isn’t as dirty. So that was a relief.

Once we arrived to our pension we had our best surprise of the day. The pension we are staying at is absolutely amazing. While walking down narrow alleyways and streets, we didn’t know what to expect when stepping into our place. But once we did, it was like stepping into a new world. The craftsmanship here is excellent. There are woodcarvings done by many individuals over many months, wall carvings that rival the best I’ve seen on this trip and doors which wouldn’t look out of place in a royal palace. It’s that beautiful.

Our hosts provided us with some mint tea and sent us off to find lunch. Kristen and I split a tangine filled with beef and prunes for lunch. The food was excellent as well as the décor in the restaurant. I felt as if I were eating in a palace.

When lunch was finished we headed off to walk the alleyways of Fes. We took special care to keep track of where we were walking so that way we could find our way back. All the while we had to dodge donkey, touts, and many people. We also had a new experience of a nine year old begging for some money. While that wasn’t a new experience, when I didn’t give him money, he kicked me and told me to f-off, which was a new experience and a unique one at that.

We then returned to our pension where our hosts were busy eating a chicken with caramelized onions, olives and bread. They immediately invited us to sit and have some, where we added to our already full stomachs. After, we did some much needed relaxing and spent some time gearing up for our city tour tomorrow.

Around dinnertime we decided to go for a little walk. We were invited by the owner to visit his other house down the street. By down the street I mean down a confusing labyrinth that if we weren’t guided, we’d be lost. However once there we were treated to an amazing view of the city. It was breathtaking and absolutely enjoyable.

Afterwards we went on our walk and had a quick bite to eat at Café Clock which is a highly recommended restaurant here in Fes. We got a local staple, Harira, which was delicious. On the way to the restaurant some kid cursed me out again, so I’m up to two for today. It’ll probably happen about six times during our stay here. We’ll see.

Overall I am pleased with Morocco so far. Yes it’s a little bit rough around the edges, but many interesting places are. I’m looking forward to the next few days as we get more comfortable with our surroundings we’ll be able to soak in the infinite number of sights and experiences that are encompassing us.

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Photo Catch Up

June 26 - The Way to Dijon

June 27 - Dijon to Aix

June 28 - Aix to Monaco to Cannes to Aix Once More

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Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

The camera pans over azure waters, golden beaches, bronzed beauties and brilliant sun. Boutiques and Michelin star restaurants flash across the screen. Robin Leach steps into frame on the beach along La Croisette.

Robin: Welcome to Lifestyles of the Rich and the Famous. I am Robin Leach, your host. Today's show we will be following two young and fabulous travellers, Kristen and Charlton, as they explore the French Rivera's hot spots Monaco and Cannes.

Fade to Kristen and Charlton crammed in second class from Nice to Monaco. Being shoved as people attempt to break down the door of the train. Flash to Charlton having to fork over 3 euros for a bottle of water so not to pass out during the changing of the guard. Transition to Kristen and Charlton eating chips and candy on the train station floor when the Monaco McDonald's is too rich for their blood.

Robin: I guess everything can't be champagne wishes and caviar dreams! Looks like for these two its more like cheeseburger wishes and Coke Zero dreams!

After a difficult night in our hotel (very loud), we woke up at 5:45 and headed to the Aix train station to start our French Rivera excursion. First stop was Monaco, and after transferring trains most of the morning we arrived at around 10:30. The weather could not have cooperated any better, it was a gorgeous day to walk along the coast. We first made our way to the casino, took a few pictures of the outside and then headed to the other side of town to check out the palace courtyard for the changing of the guard. We then wandered the streets of the old town before attempting to get lunch at the McDonald's nearby. That plan was quickly squashed when we found out each value meal cost 6.80 Euros! We tucked our tails between our legs and headed back to the station and ate the snacks that we packed hoping we would find some more afforable options when we got to Cannes (you can start laughing now, I know how ridiculous this sounds)

Our train got into Cannes around 2ish and we walked from one end of the beach to the other. We saw our share of topless sunbathers and the like (and no they aren't all worth seeing, think Magda in Something about Mary) Charlton went for a dip in the Mediterranean and then we headed back to the train station to try to find a quicker train back to Aix. No dice, so we found a boulangerie that was open (hard to find on a Sunday) and split a tart slice before settling under a tree along La Croisette and people watching.

We caught our 6:30 train, putting us back to Aix around 9. We didn't even come back to the hotel we headed straight to find food. Not finding many affordable options in the places open we thought we were in heaven when we came across a Quick Burger that was open. We got some bugers and FRENCH fries and then came back to the hotel to relax.

Living fabulously is HARD work ;)

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Ahh, Provence!

We checked out of our Dijon hotel this morning and made our way to the Les Halles, the city's covered market. I was in heaven! We wandered through the rows of pastries, cheeses, and meats (skinned rabbit anyone?) We picked up some pain aux chocolate for breakfast and grabbed some goodies for lunch and then slowly walked our way to the train station making sure to stop in the Jardin Darcy to eat our breakfast.

Today was another full day of train riding as we made our way from Dijon down to Aix en Provence. We took the shuttle from the train station to the city center and settled into our hotel. Hooray free wi-fi! After some much needed relaxing made our way to Cours Mirabeau and walked along the famous street. We poked our heads into a couple art shows and got a free jazz concert and a bit of a choir recital. We picked up some pastries for dessert and ate them Place de la Rotonde.

We turned in early to relax some more and do some laundry in the hotel sink, you would love our jerry-rigged clothesline! We are hoping to get to bed soon so we can get up early for a day trip through the rest of Provence and the French Riveria. Should be très magnifique!

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The Lull in Travelling

Starting off, in no way I’m complaining. Today was just one of those days. Every time I’ve travelled for an extended period of time I’ve had a day or so where I think, “maybe I should be at home”, “maybe my trip is too long” and similar thoughts. Today was like that.

The day started off a little drab. We had gotten up early to be ready for breakfast when it opened right at 8am. However, all the other guests in our hotel had the exact same plan. When 8am rolled around I was busy messing on the computer trying to place an order on Amazon using some gift cards which are about to expire. This made us go into breakfast at 8:05 and by that time our ravenous co-guests had cleared out pretty much the whole place. All the milk was gone, the fruit had all disappeared, there was an empty plate of cheese, and the salami was distributed on everyone’s plates but ours. No matter, we settled into our seat with a bowl of cereal apiece with no milk and waited for everything to be restocked.

Once finished we headed to the post office to mail back some items that we didn’t need anymore on our trip. This was a costly adventure, about $100 but our backs will thank us at the end of the trip.

Next, we got on a series of trains bound for Luxembourg. It was supposed to be Brugge to Brussels-Nord, then on to Luxembourg. The train was late from Brugge and we missed our connection to Luxembourg. So when we caught our next train to Luxembourg, instead of having two hours there we had about a half hour. Once we got to Luxembourg we did a quick lap around the train station and hopped back on the train. It’s the quickest I’ve been in and out of a country. We checked that box and nothing else there!

It was then off to Metz. Metz was actually enjoyable for the half hour that we were there. The train station was a beautiful old Gothic style building. We also walked around the city a little bit. It’s nice being back in France and seeing all the shops selling pastries, chocolates and sandwiches. In a way its funny how close it is to Germany, yet so absolutely different. So bonjour France!

We finally arrived in Dijon at 8:30pm and went off on a hike through town looking for good cheap food. We finally found it and had a gillette apiece. Tomorrow, we'll run through Dijon for a bit then it's off to Aix-en-Provence.

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In Brugge

Another day, another train ride. We awoke in Hamburg at 5:30 this morning to make our train ride to our newly determined destination: Bruges, or Brugge or Stupid Flanders.We decided to visit Brugge rather than Brussels because it looked like all there was to see in Brussels was some boy pissing.

We were glad we made this choice. The hotels here in Brugge are cheaper and there is a lot more to see. It's a beautiful place with fancy architecture from the Middle Ages. Plus it is a lot calmer than all the capital cities we have been running around in for the past few days. On top of all that since it's Belguim we got chocolate, and fries with mayonnaise. We even splurged and went on a boat tour of the canals of the city.

All was well until Kristen lost her sandal getting off the boat. She had resigned all hope and was planning to go the rest of the trip with only one sandal until her savior, Charlton, fished in the canal and got her nasty sandal out.

All was well once again.

Tomorrow we ride the rails once more to and through Brussels on our way to Luxembourg with a final destination of Dijon, for real.

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Sitting on Trains

Early mornings. I’ve gotten more used to this as our trip marches on. We had to get up at about 6am this morning to catch a series of trains from Oslo to Hamburg, Germany. The night before was considered the longest day of the year in Oslo. Being such, the sun didn’t set until about midnight and even then it never really went away. At about 4am it was as bright as usual. So we were pretty much assured an early wake up call.

After trucking down to our train which took us from Oslo to Gothenberg, Sweden, I immediately fell asleep. As I drifted in and out of sleep I would see very beautiful sites typical of what one would expect to see in Norway. You know Viking ships, salmon, the normal stuff. In reality, it was endless amounts of beautiful countryside. Endless green space, houses on the water and lots of trees.

Four hours later we arrived in Gothenberg. We had a layover of 2.5 hours so we went straight to the tourist information to find out how to maximize our time. The lady working there said the best itinerary would be to see a famous statue, a food market, a fish market and old town. We did all four. The highlight of Gothenberg for us was going to the food market. It was like a smaller version of the Westside Market in Cleveland, Ohio. What especially made it for us was cheap food. As we’ve said the Scandinavian countries are super expensive, so when you can get good food for about five dollars per meal, you go for it. We shared an order of Swedish meatballs and an order of fried fish. Both dishes came with the berries typically found on the side of any meal ordered at Ikea (lingonberry, I think) as well as a tiny salad and mashed potatoes. The food was good, we were stuffed, we were happy.

Once seeing the other sites in Gothenberg, none of which are worthwhile to call out, we were on our way to Copenhagen. The train ride was fun, partially because we got to ride in first class. We got to try to communicate with an old Swedish couple, tried to read Swedish newspapers and tried to see into the cockpit of the train. Quite amusing.

In Copenhagen we narrowly made our train to Hamburg. Once again we were in first class and were in a private compartment with only one other lady. This woman turned out to be exceptionally nice. She had been returning from a conference up in Denmark and appeared to be itching to talk to someone. So we all chatted for the rest of the way. She also had some sandwiches and chips she gave to us vultures, so it was a good score for us.

The highlight of the journey was when in the middle of our train from Copenhagen to Hamburg, the woman in our compartment started to pack a few things up. She told us that the train was getting on to a boat and we had to get off. Naturally, I was dumfounded…train on a boat?! That proved to be the case as we loaded the train on the boat with cars and trucks next to us as we went from an Island in Denmark to Denmark on the mainland. The boat they loaded us on to was nice as well. It was like a cruise ship with restaurants and stores. It was all a very unique experience to say the least.

Finally, we made it here to Hamburg and are plotting our plan on how to get to Marseille so we can make it to Morocco by next Monday. And the trip continues…

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So we got into Oslo bright and early Tuesday morning. We had three objectives in our first few minutes there: obtain reservations for the trip back to continental Europe the next day, find a map and get a hotel room for the night. Reservations were easy, the office was open just a few minutes before we got there and we were able to get information on all our connections for the next day as well as 1st class reservations (originally we were going to head to Brussels, but scrapped that plan as we didn’t want to have to change trains at 3 in the morning – we will be spending the night in Hamburg instead) Next, it was off to the tourist information kiosk to hopefully get information on hotels and a map. We left a few minutes later with a map and a list of budget hotels, check & check. We made our way through town to the first recommended hostel, checking at a Clarion on the way (uber expensive) at the hostel we found out they had no rooms. We made our way to the next listing…only dorms left and we would have to be separated. Um no. Then a few more places all about $200, eep! We were about to give up and head back to Sweden or at least somewhere other than Oslo.

Charlton left me at the internet café at the train station and went to get money and found a gem of a hotel about 2 blocks from the train station (and with a name like Budget Hotel, how can you go wrong!) The place was very clean and it seemed like we had the whole floor to ourselves. 4 nice big bunks beds all for us and a shower across the hall, it was heaven. Although, I would have taken anything after 3 night trains without showers. $100 a night, FINE! Can’t believe how expensive it is there.

After dropping off our bags we asked the guy at the desk where we could get some cheap Norwegian food. He pointed us to a little café with Norwegian meat open faced sandwiches. Both of us were still hungry after but couldn’t afford more so we took our snacks we packed and at in front of the National Theater. Then we walked to the palace garden where I harassed some of the guards (all for a photo op) and then we headed toward Oslo University. There they had an exhibit on Oslo – its past, present and future. It was incredibly interesting and gave us a lot of background on the city. We then walked to the city’s memorial cemetery before heading back to the hotel to check in and have much needed showers and naps.

After relaxing for a bit we wandered out to get dinner, we ended up at a place down the street where we got some fried fish and french fries, still pretty expensive but at least it was more reasonable. Then we headed down to the pier area to watch the fishermen and boats. Then we walked down to Aker Brygge where there are a lot of new condos and restaurants, was a really neat area. Then it was time to head back to the hotel…although it wasn’t even dark. All the literature in Oslo said the 23rd was the longest day of the year (um, isn’t that supposed to be my birthday?!) it didn’t get dark until around 12:30 when we finally headed to bed for our early morning train ride back to the continent and more reasonable prices.

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Catching up

Here are pics from the last couple days, enjoy!

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Cheese Danishes and Swedish Meatballs

After a long night train we woke up in Copenhagen. We got reservations onto Oslo, Norway and then stored our bags and got a free map of the city.

We passed Tivoli (the second time this trip!) and then made our way to the Christianborg Palace. I was kind of palaced out and didn't want to take the tour. However, when we were looking for the admission information we found out you can tour the ruins UNDER the palace! Right down our alley! So we headed underground and got to see ruins of the old castles that were built on the site. We also got a peek into some of the palaces colorful history (2 fires!)

Then on the quest for food we walked along the Nyhavn district (way too pricey!) and had a snack before visiting a church. Then it was off to see the Little Mermaid and a nice walk through the park and another church visit. After peeking in tons of restaurants and everything WAY OUT OF OUR BUDGET we finally got a shrimp and egg sandwich at a grocery store.

We then walked trhough the king's gardens before heading back to the train station...for a trip to SWEDEN!

We hoped on a local train across the bridge to the Swedish city of Malmo. It was absolutely beautiful and very relaxing. We had a lot of fun seeing the Twisted Torso and just relaxing at the park near the beach. We then grabbed dinner at 7-11 of some swedish meatballs and mashed potatoes. One of our favorite meals of the trip! Then we made the way back to Copenhagen to pick up the bags before taking the train back to Malmo (this time it was delayed 30 mins) before we hopped on our night train to Oslo. This time with our own private 6 bed coachette, SCORE!

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...or did you get lost in Amsterdam?

So last we left we were heading to Amsterdam for my birthday. We were excited to see some windmills, the canals and some wooden shoes. And it was some place different that neither of us had been to. We hopped on our first night train and got to Amsterdam from Munich around 9 in the morning.

We got reservations for our next train and then stored our bags at the train station. The next stop was to find a map of the city so we could go exploring. First shock of how expensive things are up north...they wanted €2 for a city map! Are you kidding me?! So we took as many canal handouts we could that would give us a general map of the city and then set off.

We walked through somewhat of the outside skirts of the red light district, then went to the Anne Frank House. The museum they set up there was really moving and put a lot of it into perspective. They did an excellent job with it.

Then we grabbed lunch at a grocery store, as everything else was super expensive, and ate along one of the canals. We then started toward the Van Gogh Museum, making stops at the flower market and cheese shop for some samples. We walked through Museum Plein and then was in for another shock...the museum cost €15 per person! Um no thanks, we can look at Van Gogh posters at the stands outside.

We were kind of over Amsterdam at this point, it was pretty but still kind of dirty and some of the people were sketchy (what do you expect with legalized prostition and marijuana) so we hoped on a local train to Haarlem, a little town outside Amsterdam. We walked around there for awhile and then headed back to Amsterdam so we could grab dinner at the train station.

My birthday dinner was some meat and cheese pastries from one of the shops at the station, with some pigeons as our fellow birthday party guests. And just because you are not at home doesn't mean you can't have cake! Charlton was super sweet and snuck off and bought some appelkuchen (apple cake, but it was more like pie) It was perfect!

We then hoped on our next night train en route for Copenhagen!

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Holy Guacamole!

We are currently in Oslo, Norway. Unfortunately, we have found out that while continental Europe is uncomfortably expensive, the Nordic countries are deathly expensive. Cheapest hotels are about 150USD per night, food is at least 15 to 20USD per meal. Way too much. We don't know where we are going from here, but it will certainly be some place a little bit more frugal!

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On the Way to Meet Crazy Ludwig

There once was a king
He was as crazy as can be
A fancy castle he wanted
A fancy castle he got
The Germans wanted him gone
A drowning is what he got

That is Neuschwanstein Castle, one of the most picturesque, photographed buildings in the world. The princess castles at the Disney theme parks are based on this castle. In comparison, the Disney castles look like the outhouse for Neuschwanstein. We figured before our departure from Germany to ???, it would be a perfect day to visit the Castle.

We got up early this morning to get breakfast at out hotel as well as a little surprise. The little surprise was that our breakfast cost 17 Euro per person. Some surprise. This meal of ours immediately vaulted itself to first place in the contest for most costly meal on the trip. This also meant it was back to sandwich meat and bread for lunch. The bread was taken from breakfast, so we showed them. Not really.

Afterwards, we took a series of trains to Fussen, gateway to the castle. Once there it was a quick bus to the base of the mountain the castle is on, then a thirty minute hike to the top. Once up there we had about two hours to kill before our scheduled tour time. We occupied that by going higher in the mountain to overlook the castle. At first there were a huge amount of tourists, and then less and less the further we went up. Finally I reached the peak (not the top one, that was too far!) after a hard climb up. My reward was a nice view that I didn’t have to share with anyone. It would have been even better if it were fall, and if the castle wasn’t being renovated. I got the picture though and it was nice.

The inside of the castle was impressive as well, as it was something only a crazy man could do. King Ludwig had a fascination with Swans and you could see them painted, sculptured and drawn all throughout the castle. All in all it was quite picturesque and while a little bit touristy, very much enjoyable.

Rather than take the bus back to Fussen, we decided to walk our way back. This walk, while four miles long, took us past many sights that only the locals see. This included Swan Lake plus many amazing views. I would come back to Fussen just for the hiking it was that beautiful.

That takes us up to now. Right now Kristen and I are travelling first class, on a train back to Munich. Outside are a bunch of country houses as well as too many cows to count. It’s a nice relaxing ride, perfect after a long day hiking and sightseeing.

Right after I wrote that, a roving band of Germans came through our car. It was a bachelor party. Apparently in Germany there is a tradition that the groom has to walk around like a beer vendor at a baseball game. Instead of beer he has to sell all sorts of alcohol, trinkets and other junk. He’s not allowed to stop until everything is sold. Kristen and I took pity on him and bought a small soccer ball in appreciation for the unique experience. They were all pretty amusing.

Tomorrow is Kristen’s birthday, so we will be some place special. Actually it’s some place neither of us has ever been. Amsterdam.

Auf Wiedersehen, Deutschland. For now.

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The Longest Day

Wow. We are both immensely tired tonight. This is account of starting our day at 2:30am. Silly me, when I had booked our flight I saw that it left Istanbul at 6am and thought nothing of it. Thought nothing of getting up at 2:30, thought nothing of catching the shuttle at 3:00, thought nothing of arriving at the airport two hours early at 4am, evidently I didn’t think of a lot. While it was rough getting from flight to flight we finally got to our hotel here in Munich at 1:30pm or 2:30pm Istanbul time.

Normally I don’t talk too much about hotels; however this one deserves a special mention. The brand is called NH Hotel and they are nice. First of all, we are paying 49 Euro per night which is phenomenal for an expensive place like Munich. Next, the room is modern and well put together. The best part however is the size of the room. This place is huge. It has a kitchen with a bar, as well as separate bedroom and shower. Plus there are two TVs. Great place and too bad we’re not staying more than one night.

After getting cleaned up we headed off to Munich’s Marienplatz to check out the old town here. My initial impression of Munich is that it is pretty awesome. For getting majorly blown away in World War II, it has done a phenomenal job of rebuilding itself in the best way it once was.

The only unfortunate part of checking out Munich today was that it was pretty rainy, so I wasn’t able to take as many pictures as I wanted.

Our first stop was the Englischer Garten which is a huge park/garden as the name suggest. Before we got there we took time to watch the river surfers who were taking advantage of the strong “surf” due to the rains. And yes, I did say river surfers who brave the strong river currents and surf. For those in San Diego it is like the wave house in Mission Bay.

After that we walked around the city checking out the palaces and other architectural highlights of Munich. We got to see numerous castles, hundred plus year old architecture and more. One of my favorites was Asam Church. Inside it was breathtaking and slightly scary. It appeared this church was designed during the gothic period, so not only was there Jesus and all the other usual suspects, but different things such as skulls, skeletons and even a baby throwing up a sunbeam.

Once finished there we went on a quest to find the one place we had to eat in Munich, the Hofbrauhaus. Once we found it we strolled in to find the expected pomp and circumstance for a place like this. The band was playing loudly, the tourist and locals were trying to outdo one another for drunkenness and we had to find food. After asking a local person how to order, he suggested the “crispy pig knuckle”, a Munich specialty. We got this and it was good. Imagine a piece of slow roasted pork about the size of a softball. I’ve learned that Germans know how prepare a pig.

After dinner we booked it back to our hotel. It was a long day that started early and we had to prepared for another long day down to the Neuschwanstein Castle.

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Turkish Food Recap

As Andrew Zimmern says, "if it looks good eat it!" and there has been little here that we haven't eaten so that tells you a lot about the food here in Turkey...it's GOOD!

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…It’s Nobody’s Business but the Turks

Today was our last day in Istanbul. Having done everything we wanted to do in the Old Town we thought it was about time for us to explore some of the New District. After our enjoying another rooftop breakfast, with our view of the Sea of Marmara, we made our way back to Eminonu. Instead of stopping at the ferry docks we headed across Galata Bridge. While crossing we got to watch all the fishermen along the bridge hoping for a bite.

On the other side of Golden Horn, we hoofed it up the hill to Taksim. We then made our way down the main shopping street in Istanbul, Istikal Caddesi. We poked our heads into a lot of places, but the only major purchase was a pair of Mavi jeans for me (Turkish brand) as I had to throw out my jeans I brought with me when I tore a HUGE hole in them in India. We grabbed lunch at a donner place on a corner near Galata Tower, and had our best sandwiches to date. We got some ayran as an after lunch snack and enjoyed it on a bench in the shadow of the tower.

We then made our way back to the Old Town side, and poked around the Spice Bazaar for a small backgammon board to take with us (backgammon is huge here) We finally found a travel sized board along Hasircilar Alley and now we just need to learn how to play!

Then it was on to the Grand Bazaar, which just blew threw on the way back to the hotel. We took naps and showered and then headed out for an early dinner. We went back to Ozlem Karadeniz (where we ate last night) for more kebabs, and they did not disappoint. After we headed to Locom, a candy shop down the street, to pick up some helva (since it was one sweet we hadn’t tried yet). Then it was time for one last walk through the Blue Mosque’s courtyard before we came back to the hotel.

We are turning in early tonight as our flight leaves around 6, and our shuttle picks us up at 3. Good night Istanbul, it’s been fun!

**Note: Ozlem Karadeniz is located on Terzihane Sok., up the street from the Hippodrome (on the Blue Mosque end) It is across the street from a DIA Supermarketi…so if you want some good cheap kebabs while you are in Istanbul Suksri, make sure you stop here!**

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Hey Columbus! We found the RIGHT way to get to Asia!

By taking a cruise down the Bosphorus Straight! Again we were woken up by the call to prayer, but didn’t get out of bed until 7:30ish just in time for some blog updates and some breakfast upstairs (with a guest appearance by our hotel’s resident cat)

Following the tram line from Sultanahmet to Eminonu, we bought tickets for the cruise at the Bogaz Iskelesi terminal and waited for our ferry. Once it arrived it was free for all to get the best seats. Having read ahead in the book, we secured some great seats on the boats upper deck on the left hand side that would allow us the best views.

The ride was very relaxing and a lot of fun. It took us 1 ½ hours to get to the last stop Anadolu Kavagi, right at the mouth of the Black Sea. We had 3 hours there before our ferry would head back to Eminonu, which would allowed us time to see the ruins of Yoro’s Castle and have a picnic. As we knew we were going to be travelling we made sure to pack a few snacks for the boat ride so we didn’t have to pay the inflated prices at the snack bar. But we needed a main dish, and the guide book recommended trying a Black Sea delicacy, hamsili ekmek (an anchovy cornbread with leeks, tomatoes & peppers), so we stopped at a bakery near the dock and picked up a loaf and made our way to the ruins. The hill to the castle was pretty steep, and it had gotten pretty warm out so we were out of breath by the time we got there…but it was worth it! The view was spectacular and allowed us to see down the Straight and the Black Sea. We found a shady spot near one of the walls and had our lunch watching the boats head to out to sea. After we hiked around the hilltop and Charlton climbed the castle tower. Then it was time to head back to the boat and we made our way back into town. Once again it was a mad dash to get seats, but we lucked out and got our same seats so we could see the other side of the Straight on the return trip.

Back in Eminonu, we headed to the Pet & Plant Market that is nestled near the Spice Bazaar. We saw all sorts of birds (parrots, peacocks, chickens & pheasants), bunnies, puppies and kittens. They also had all sorts of plant seeds and seedlings. It was really interesting. We had thought about getting a snack at the Spice Bazaar but we were both so full from the anchovy bread, so we headed back to our hotel for a nap.

We headed back out in search of dinner a few hours later determined to find some good kebabs that were cheap. We avoided the tourist areas near the center of Sultanahmet and went toward the DIA Supermarketi we frequent. We found a place we had passed the other day that had a few people inside and had some decent prices. Charlton and I both got kebabs (chicken for me, lamb for him) and they were delicious! Our favorite meal so far in Istanbul, we are planning to go back for dinner tomorrow! We then headed across the street to get some snacks (chocolate, ayran and leblebi sekeri) and then made our way to the park above the hippodrome to eat them. One the way back to the hotel past the Blue Mosque, we were treated to free Whirling Dervish show at the Dervish Café since the stage faced the sidewalk. Good way to say goodnight to Istanbul.

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Thoughts About Istanbul

Before Kristen and I arrived to Istanbul I wasn’t too sure what to expect. This is one of the few places on our trip I had decided to go based on the reputation I have heard from others. It seemed like those who had gone, had found the city captivating and amazing. Those who hadn’t wanted to go to see what the buzz was about.

Starting off I can see why the people who have been here enjoy it so much. After stepping off the plane I was slightly on guard. After being in India recently it was difficult not to be. I was still in the mindset that everyone was out to get my money. In a way it is true that there are people here who want you to come to their store, eat at their restaurant etc… however unlike India, its bearable and somewhat enjoyable. It doesn’t consume your experience, rather it adds to it.

Once we got our bearings the beauty of Istanbul began to show. Part of it may be that we came at the right time when the weather is fantastic (like San Diego) as well as all the great sights that Istanbul has to offer. There is also a good balance here. There are all the Western conveniences which can be expected from a modern city as well as little details that remind you that the past wasn’t really that far off. The past and the present intermingle well in this city, for instance in the Grand Bazaar one of the oldest and largest “shopping malls” in the world, there are shops selling antique jewelry and cell phones in the next.

Another pleasant aspect is the food. This is probably the Asia coming out in Istanbul, but there is food everywhere. Chestnuts, corn on the cob, nuts, grains, doner, kebaps you name it, you can get it. The best part is its all delicious. On top of that if you pay as much for a meal back in San Diego you can sit on the rooftop and get views that are unmatched by almost anywhere else.

The last thought that strikes me is the location. Istanbul has the Bosphorous Strait running right through it. Very similarly to Hong Kong you have one city split by a huge body of water with hills on each side. This waterway means that the city has been around a while (as a port, invaders coming through, etc…), plus seafood, plus amazing views from one side to the next.

All in all, I understand now why everyone who comes to Istanbul loves it. It’s a great vacation spot and I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone. I just need to plan for the next time I can explore more of Turkey.

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Spice, Spice Baby!

Bright and early, we were awoken by the call to prayer from Aya Sofya. Luckily, we could fall back asleep and get a couple more hours in. When we finally got up, we headed back to the hotel’s terrace to enjoy another yummy Turkish breakfast. This time with Turkish coffee, SCORE! Then we headed out to explore the rest of the old town portion of Istanbul.

First up, Aya Sofya. It looked like we were going to have to wait a long time, but there was a bottle neck at the security point and then we could go at our own pace. Armed with our guidebook from the hotel’s book exchange, we were able to get a lot more out of our tour. Making sure to hit special spots in the nave like the Miracle Column of St. Gregory (the column supposedly sweats!) While very beautiful, its hard to take in all of the church/mosque/museum completely when there is scaffolding in the middle.

Next, we headed across the street to the Basilica Cistern. The giant underground reservoir was quite interesting. We walked all the way to the back to make sure we saw the famous Medusa columns. Once at street level, we made out way to Divan Yolu to grab some Donner pitas for lunch (meat for Charlton, chicken for me).

We then headed back to street level to tackle Rick Steves’ Old Town Back Streets Walk. We poked our heads into a cemetery and then made our way to the Grand Bazaar. Now that we had a map it was a little easier to get around and see some of the major spots in the Bazaar. After hitting all the landmarks, we wandered for awhile and was able to do a little shopping (and when I say little, I mean little) Then we wandered out the Beyazit Gate to the Old Book Market.

After reading the guidebook we were really looking forward to our next stop, the Mosque of Suleyman the Magnificent. Supposedly it gives the Blue Mosque a run for its money. So I got all gussied up in my borrowed pashmina and skirt to find out most of the mosque is closed and we couldn’t see the inner courtyard. At least Charlton got a good laugh at me playing Islamic dress-up.

We then wandered down Uzun Carzi, a local shopping alley. Lots of things to see and great people watching. Once we made it to the end we stopped at Rustem Pasa Mosque, for more Islamic dress-up for me and a really pretty mosque.

We were starting to get close to the Spice Bazaar, and I was excited! Along Hasicilar Alley, we began to see some dried fruits, spices, coffee and tea. At the corner of the Eminonu Square we grabbed some sucuk (nuts dipped in molasses) and sat down to watch the pigeons. We then headed inside the bazaar, where we got to sample Turkish delight and had merchants calling after us in Spanish. We saw stall after stall of beautiful spices and teas. Following Rick’s advice again we stopped at Gulluoglu Baklava to have some baklava and kadayif. They did not disappoint (although we both liked the baklava best).

We then walked back towards Sultanahmet, making sure we stopped for some snacks at a grocery store. We picked up some ayran (salted yogurt drink), some candy and chips and spread out our towels in a grassy patch over looking Aya Sofya. Then it was time to scoop out some dinner locations. We walked toward the Blue Mosque and checked out two places and fell in love with Doy Doy’s menu and vowed to come back at dinner time.

We wandered through Arasta Bazaar on the way back to our hotel for a nap and some blog updates. Once the sun was beginning to set, we headed straight to Doy Doy’s rooftop terrace, with a gorgeous view of the sunset over the Blue Mosque. We had a delicious dinner of the Doy Doy Mixed Kebab, that gave us a sampler of different kebabs, pides and lavas (puffed flat bread). The restaurant began to fill up halfway through our meal, so we got there at the perfect time for seats right in the corner.

Then we headed out looking for dessert. We got some Turkish pistachio ice cream and had it while overlooking the hippodrome and obelisks. We set off again to look for some more ayran and then headed back to the hotel to end the night.

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German Food (to Date)

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, each of these meals is worth a thousand calories.

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Indian Food Recap

Don't be shocked at the lack of variety and adventure. We preferred not to see the inside of an Indian toilet.

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Skyrockets in Flight, Turkish Delight!

We got up this morning and headed upstairs to breakfast at our hotel’s rooftop patio. There were rolls with rose jam, salami, cucumber, cheese, olives, honeydew, plums, cherries, yogurt, cookies and Turkish tea. After taking some beautiful pictures of the Bosphorus, the Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya, we headed out to explore the old part of the city.

First stop was the Blue Mosque. It was absolutely stunning. Personally, I think it rivals the Taj in regards to beauty. After only minor difficulties with my borrowed wrap, we headed inside to get a peek. Then we made a brief stop to the Tomb of Sultan Ahmet I, which is right next to the Mosque.

Then we walked across Sultanahmet Park to see Aya Sofya. Once there, we discovered that it was closed. *insert sad trombone sound here* So we headed across the street to see the Basilica Cistern, but after seeing the price gouging they were doing if you paid with Euros we decided it was time to get some Turkish Lira. It took us forever to find an ATM that would take our cards but after waiting 10 minutes in line we were finally 200 TYL richer.

Next we did a brief tour of the Grand Bazaar. It being the oldest and largest covered market there was no way we would be able to visit all 4,400 stores. We wandered for a bit and then found a restaurant recommended by Lonely Planet, Havuzlu, where we had stewed eggplant and beef. With full bellies we headed out to find Topkapi Palace.

We didn’t leave the bazaar the same we came in, leading us to wander the streets for awhile trying to get our bearings. But once we came to the palace it was worth the wait! Per our guidebook’s recommendation, we headed straight to the harem for the tour. It was completely different from anything I had ever seen before. It was really neat to see. We then made our way through the rest of the palace, making sure to see the Topkapi dagger and Spoonmaker’s Diamond in the treasury.

After relaxing in the shade Mecidiye Kosku, we left the palace and split a water in Gulhane park. After resting for a bit we walked along the Bosphorus on Kennedy Cad before coming back to our hotel for a nap.

The hotel’s book exchange became a real life saver when we found Rick Steves’ Istanbul book. While we had a few copied pages of Travis and Yvonne’s Lonely Planet, Rick has great walks of the city. I ran upstairs and grabbed the book I had acquired back in Hidelburg and hadn’t read and traded it right away. With knowledge now in hand, we made our way across Sultanahmet Park to grab some dinner.

We first headed toward a restaurant Rick had recommended, but thought we could find something cheaper and headed up the street. We didn’t have to walk far! We found a great Donner restaurant and got Chicken Pide Pitas. Delicious! Then for something sweet we walked a little further and got a sampling of Turkish Delight which we ate overlooking Aya Sofya and the Blue Mosque. Then we crossed back into Sultanahmet park to get some roasted corn.

While the sun was setting we made our way back into the inner courtyard of the Blue Mosque for some more pictures. Then we walked along the Hippodrome and viewed the obelisks there.

Then following Rick’s recommendation, we got apple tea at Havuzbasi so we could see a whirling Dervish. It was definitely an interesting experience. Charlton and I are both hooked on the tea now too! We slowly made our way through the streets of Sultanahmet back to our hotel before we called it a day.

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Trains, Planes and Automobiles (In That Order)

The day started out with a good ol’ McAhren style breakfast of biscuits and gravy. We packed up the last of our newly washed clothes and headed to the Stuttgart train station. We grabbed a sausage pretzel for the journey on the ICE and settled into our 1st class seats.

We only had one transfer in Pasing, and then we were supposed to ride the next train all the way to the airport. Thank goodness we had left a lot of time for ourselves! The train stopped one stop away from the airport where all the passengers were instructed to disembark and ride a shuttle bus into the terminal. HUH?! So after a major cattle call, up the stairs and halfway to the grass field next to the autobahn, we were then told that trains are running again. Then it was back up the stairs and to the platform…it was almost like we were back in India with the crowds. Finally got on the train and made it to the Munich airport!

From Munich we boarded our Alitalia flight to Rome. And when in Rome, what do two travelers eat?! Pasta of course! After filling our bellies we hopped on the last leg of our flight to Istanbul, Turkey.

While we already had a really late flight, leaving at 9:40, the plane was delayed another hour or so the tarmac. Fun times! Alitalia kept the lights on in the cabin for most of the flight, so we only got a little sleep. We finally arrived in Turkey only 10 minutes or so after we were slated to (yay!) but had to wait a long time to get our backpacks. Our hotel sent a driver who picked us up (and knew where he was going, finally!) We are near Assofya and the Blue Mosque, so in perfect position to explore the city.

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Oh Lord, Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes-Benz?

Today was our first full day in Stuttgart. We slept in and had breakfast here at Travis & Yvonne's and then hopped in the car to hit the town.

Our first stop was Ludwigsburg to see the palace. It was absolutely gorgeous! We spent a lot of time wandering through the gardens. where I got to ride the carousel. From there we made our way to one of the other gardens where they were having a classic car show. We got to see a lot of neat cars, BMW Isetta anyone? There we all grabbed lunch of brats and currywurst. Then it was off to the tour of the palace. We got to see some beautiful rooms exhibiting the palace's Baroque and Classical styling. It was really enjoyable and put some of the other tours we have been on to shame.

Then it was time for us to head back to Stuttgart to visit the Mercedes-Benz Museum. Eight amazing floors of beautiful cars and automobile history. The musuem was really put together well, I could picture my dad spending days and days in there. We loved it there!

After they kicked us out of the museum, we headed back to the house for some grillin'! Travis and Yvonne prepared an awesome spread, yum!

Tomorrow we head to Istanbul! Baklava here I come!

But first, here are some photos:

From Charlton:

Ok so Frederick of Württemberg lived in the Ludwigsburg Palace. This guy was a big dude. He was 6'11" and weighed 440 pounds. His wife was also a hefty lass, coming in at six feet and 300 pounds. Clearly, our tour guide didn't give the impression that these two were viewed that favorably. In a way it sounded like Frederick was lazy (he liked to have animals captured for him to hunt), dumb (didn't like to read), and fat (he weighed a ton). Basically, he was a drain on society. However he maintained a pretty swanky castle.

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Life o.d.T (on the Tauber River)

How about some romance? Well not the swanky, cheap hotel kind... Today Kristen and I were headed to Rothenburg ob der Tauber which is one of the main stops on the Romantische Strasse or Romantic Road here in Southern Germany. No it isn’t a bunch of people making out or the like, but rather it is a series of medieval villages and cities with castles, churches and all the usual trappings.

Rothenburg o.d.T as it is known is considered both one of the most beautiful as well as one of the most crowded stops on the road. However, we lucked out today. First, we are staying at a bed and breakfast run by this German couple which is cheap and very nice. Next, today is Corpus Christi, a national holiday here in Germany. What that meant for us was many of the tourist shops were closed as well as a limited number of tourists milling about. So in a way it was perfect storm to end up here in Rothenburg.

After leaving Heidelberg we arrived inside the old city wall at about 2pm with just enough time to grab lunch at a local tavern. You know it’s local when you walk in all the patrons turn to stare at you. We had a good lunch of an egg, cured ham, butter and bread. Once we finished our first calorie bomb of the day we went off to explore the city.

The first impression of this city is that it is very beautiful. Like movie set beautiful. Walking around the old buildings, you get the feeling if someone tried to break the mold and build a modern building, they would take him to the marketplatz and flog him. All the buildings were built between 1500 to around 1800 and have German sayings painted on the side plus amazing brass work and other ornate details. In other words, it is very picturesque.

Another unique feature Rothenburg has is the city wall. The 1.5 mile wall surrounds the old city. While a city wall isn’t unique, the fact you are able to walk on the top of this city wall is unique. It was very enjoyable today being able to walk around the city all the while enjoying good views.

After wandering around for most of the day we had dinner at a local hotel which was recommended to us. We had a nice meal of two giant bratwursts with some veggies and bread which added back any calories which were burnt today. This was the second calorie bomb.

When we were all finished we walked around the city more until about 9pm when we headed home to try to get some much needed rest.

Tomorrow, Stuttgart.

Auf Widersen!

Oh wait. Tomorrow is so soon! Soon as in right now! (long post alert)

This morning we were heading off to Stuttgart. Fortunately we had the energy from our massive German breakfast. The Germans do breakfast right. Our spread included the following: a roll, Nutella, five kinds of jam, liverwurst, Baby Bell cheese, salami, turkey, more cheese, yogurt, hard boiled egg, watermelon, kiwi and finally some delicious garlic-meat paste which I have never had. So pretty much needless to say, Kristen and I were stuffed after breakfast.

We then headed into Rothenburg for about an hour to get one final sight of the old city. Along the way we met a giant cat who took a liking to us and followed us partway into the walled city. Once we shook the cat off our tail, we proceeded to join the numerous throngs of tourists patronizing the junk, I mean souvenir shops. Once finished it was off to Stuttgart in first class.

Once arriving in Stuttgart, Travis and Yvonne (Kristen’s cousin and his wife) took us around the city. We saw the main areas of the city and visited one of the main parks here. The day itself was very beautiful and was perfect to take a walk like we all did. I even had time to climb on the massive playground equipment that they have set up in the park. Afterwards, we went out for a fantastic dinner at a Greek-German restaurant where we dined on spatzle, pork and moussaka. Overall, the day was a great treat as the weather, food and company were incredible!

On a side note, I am utterly impressed with Travis and Yvonne’s travel credentials. They have been to countless countries plus they live in Europe. They make this trip seem like a trip to the end of the drive to collect the Sunday paper. Now that’s impressive!

So many days have gone by without photos. No longer…

Well, if you've made it this far I'm impressed. I'll even offer a reward.

"If you are a vegetarian, don't come to Germany."

That is all.

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OH HI-delberg

Two days ago. I wanted to go on a long hike through the German woods. A week ago I wanted the same thing. A month ago I wanted the same thing as well. Today I finally got my wish.

After we finished breakfast we took off with a goal of seeing three things. First was the Thingstatte. This was a Nazi built amphitheater for their numerous propaganda event. To get there we took off and began hiking to the top of the mountain which Heidelberg is surrounded by. The hike up was amazing. The weather was cool and beautiful so it was very relaxing and just what I had wanted. After about two hours we reached our goal. The Thingstatte was very interesting. It was difficult to think that we were standing in the same place that Joseph Goebbels was spewing his nonsense. Also on the top were a few old churches and a great view of the entire city of Heidelberg.

Once down we took of to check off our second site-seeing destination. The philosopher's walk. The walk was a completion of our hike up the hill. It was worthwhile because in snakes along the side of the valley so you can see the entire city as you walk by.

After was lunch. For me it was a fish sandwich from Nordsee and for Kristen a brie sandwich from Kamps.

Once finished we took off looking for the student prison, our third goal. Back in the early 19th century Heidelberg University had a prison for students who committed such atrocities as yelling while drunk or chasing the townsfolk's pigs AND piglets. While these students were dealing with their sentence, they took time to mark the wall with graffiti. What is left now is a museum of some pretty amazing 20th century artwork. Very worthwhile to see.

Once finished there we had some hazelnut and chocolate ice cream and took a long break to rest our weary legs.

Afterward, we hiked up the other side of the valley to see the schloss gartens once more. Like yesterday it was very beautiful. On the way down we had the luck of finding a slide down the hill. Never before have I been on a two story slide. Now I have.

To cap off the day we had a grocery dinner again. Ingredients as follows:

- 2 cans delicious soup
- 2 yoghurt
- 2 1.5 litre bottles of soda
- 1 Ritter Sport bar

Mix together and have one full belly.

It was a very good dinner to finish a very good day. Tomorrow off to Rothenburg ob der Tauber.

See you there!

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Understanding India... Like Whoa!

The GangesAs I'm sitting here right now, less than 24 hours have passed since Kristen and I were in India. Now is probably a good time to write down some of my thoughts regarding my visit there.

Before I went I had heard many things about India. Dirty was the main adjective used to describe India as a whole. Sure, it's a little dirtier than the U.S. but maybe we're just over-clean. Truthfully, the dirtiness that did exist didn't really bother me. In fact it wasn't too much different than Thailand in some regards. The unfortunate part of the dirtiness is that it creeps into the food preparation. Countless times Kristen and I saw things that were done to food that would cause a restaurant to close back home. The result of this was that we were tentative when it came to deciding on a restaurant.

The next difficulty was with some of the people. Kristen got groped in Varanasi. Anywhere else that guy would be in trouble. In India, he just slinks off into the crowd like a coward. Plus, there are countless of times when you have no personal space whatsoever. Through a combination of staring, people begging or trying to sell you something it can get quite tiresome.

A great example and experience for me was right when we got to Delhi. Kristen and I went to go get some food at a very modern train food court. To order you have to pick what you want, pay for it and give the receipt to the person with the food. Easy right? Wrong. To pay for the receipt you have to shove, push, jostle your way to the front of a line with a single cashier who could care less about what you want. All the while everyone behind you has the exact same goal in mind. Get to the front of the line. Doesn't matter if you were the last person there. Shove your way to the front. No lines, no queues, just chaos.

On the plus side, there are many beautiful aspects of India. Most of the people are very nice and will go out of their way to help you out. Also, for me the photography there was excellent. In no other place will you see opportunities for captivating photos (I just need to upload some more). Since India was and is such an important crossroad, there is an enormous amount of history in the area. From the Taj Mahal, to the Red Fort, to the Ganges and so on there is a story behind each one. Those are stories in conquest, deception, elation and much more. What India lacks in modern convenience of most U.S. cities is more than made up for in the history surrounding you.

Overall, it was an enjoyable trip looking back. If and when I go back to India I'll make sure of a few things. First, I'll go in the cold season there. There is so much to take in while you are there and adding the pressure of dealing with the heat isn't a smart decision to make. Next, I would book a tour. I'm not a tour person, however in India there is so much planning which has to be done from a health standpoint that adding the pressure of dealing with hotels, transportation and the like can be very difficult and overwhelming. I think with those changes I would be a lot more satisfied with my trip. To sum it up basically, I'm glad I went I've always wanted to go. I saw a lot, sometimes things I didn't necessarily wish to see. I did a lot, something things I didn't necessarily want to do. It wasn't life changing, but it certainly was enjoyable.


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Who Likes Thai Food?

A recap of all the food eaten in Thailand.

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Guten Morgen Deutschland!

We touched down in Frankfurt around 8 this morning, and I felt like a kid in a candy store. A huge weight was lifted from our shoulders now that we have made it to Europe. The jetway was cool, like 18 degrees Celsius, and it was raining! Love it!

We powered through the terminal and made it to the train station where our Eurail passes were validated and we were directed to the platform to get us to Heidelberg. Since we aren't spring chickens anymore we had to spring for the first class passes, but are they worth it! The seats are more comfortable than the trains in Japan, and they gave us CHOCOLATE! Enough said!

We got into town around 9:30 after a quick transfer and got to our hostel. We left our bags and went and explored the city. It is absolutely gorgeous here! Everything is so green and all the buildings are beautiful. We spent a good few hours walking through the old town window shopping. We picked up the most delicious sandwiches from a little bakery, Gundel, and ate in the middle of one of the town squares with a view of the castle.

With full bellies, we had enough energy to hike up to the top for some spectacular views of the city. With admission we were also able to visit the Pharamecy Museum and a giant wine vat. Then we walked through the castle gardens before walking along the river . We stopped at the train station to get reservations for our next stop Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber on Thursday, then made it back to our hostel where we discovered there is a cheap grocery store downstairs, SCORE!

So happy to be here!

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Last Day in Delhi

So yesterday was our last day in Delhi (and in India) We had breakfast at our guesthouse with one of the other guests then headed out to cross off the last few things we wanted to see before we left.

First, we went to the Central Cottage Industries Emporium. It is a HUGE warehouse of all sorts of Indian handicrafts, fabric, furniture, etc all under one roof. They had some amazing pieces but we were able to show some restraint and not part with any of our rupees.

Next, we headed to Khan Market. Our guest house owner recommended the place and it seemed really cool. I found a shop that I absolutely loved, Good Earth, that I may be ordering some stuff from. After walking around for a bit and working up a sweat, we ducked into McDonald's for some McVeggies.

We then headed back to the guesthouse to cool off and relax. After we were well rested we made our way back out to visit Lodi Gardens. We walked around for quite a bit, chased chipmunks and were able to see a lot of the parakeets that call the park home.

Then it was time to head back to the guest house and get cleaned up and packed. We left at around 8 PM and got to the airport, where we were denied entry by security for not printing out a copy of our boarding pass. That forced Charlton to go into total Amazing Race mode to get us into the terminal. He spent a good 20 minutes running everywhere since people were giving him conflicting information. Once inside we still had a few hours before we could even check in, we passed the time by watching some girls try to get their bag under the weight limit by proceeding to put on every article of clothing in their suitcases. After we finally checked in, it was time for me to get felt up one last time by an Indian security guard before camping out at a coffee shop for some disgusting sandwiches before we boarded at 1:55 and said goodbye to India.

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Sunday at the Mall

Almost a typical Sunday at home for us...except we had to take an autorickshaw to get there!  Yesterday we decided to take it easy after our whirlwind trip to Agra to see the Taj so we headed to Select Citywalk, one of the newer malls in Delhi.  Once we did some window shopping, had lunch at KFC and saw Star Trek (we loved it!)

Then it was off to visit the malls flanking either side of Citywalk, DLF and Metropolitan.  We got dinner at McDonalds at DLF and then headed home to have some of the snacks we picked up at the grocery store.

All in all, a very relaxing day that let us to recoup a little before our last day here.

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One of the Wonders

Last we left off, our weary travelers were traipsing around India. I had managed to see everything I wanted to see up to this point (snake charmer, Ganges, cow in the street) other than the Taj. That changed yesterday.

Kristen and I took an exhausting trip to Agra yesterday where the Taj Mahal is located. As everything else in India it was quite the experience. Originally, it was supposed to take about four hours to get there including a stop for breakfast. Unfortunately, one of the people on our bus was sick and we had to stop many times for him to take care of business. Eventually him and his friends got off the bus at a McDonald's to get him back to Delhi.

We arrived at Agra at around 2pm and stopped first at the Taj which was equally crowded as well as stunning. Before we arrived I was telling Kristen that seeing the Taj was pretty inspiring as this was something that we have heard about our whole lives but never thought we would actually have the chance to visit in person.

After we headed to Agra Fort which is a UNESCO site and was very stunning as well.

One story I liked about the Taj and Agra Fort was the guy who built the Taj (which is a tomb for his wife) wanted to build a black one on the opposite bank. This was going to be too costly so his son overthrew him and stuck him in jail (Agra Fort) where he lived out his days staring at the Taj which he built.

After finishing up in Agra we had a six hour bus ride back to Delhi where we got dropped off in the middle of nowhere and had to scavenge to find an autorickshaw. After twenty stressful minutes of waiting we were driving around the streets of Delhi at around midnight back to our hotel.

Post script: We almost died as well. Our bus was about two inches from rear-ending a tanker truck full of gasoline which was stopped in the middle of the road. That was thrilling!

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India Pictures

Hyderabad -

Varanasi -

Delhi -

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Sarnath, One of the Big Four

A few days ago we made our way to Sarnath which is near Varanasi. This sacred site is where Buddha gave his first sermon after achieving enlightenment. To get there all we had to do was negotiate with the hotel manager for a few days for a rate which was high above the going rate, turn that rate down, catch an autorickshaw, kick out the guy who "helped" us book the autorickshaw, drive to the edge of the city, get sold off to another autorickshaw driver and take thirty minutes and drive there. Simple as that.

Once there we got to see the ruins of Sarnath, a pretty good museum with Buddhist artifacts and see the temple which was built on the site of Buddha's sermon. In addition we got to see some messengers of god (ie deer) as well. We stopped at the Thai Buddhist temple on our way back so I could get one last taste of Thailand before heading off. We stopped at McDonald's on the way back so I could try my new addiction of Maharaja Burgers...mmm...

All in all it was a good excursion from the craziness of Varanasi.

Later in the day we decided to take an evening boat ride. It had cooled off somewhat by then so it ended up being a very relaxing cap to our trip in Varanasi. Our boatman was very nice and was recently married to a Japanese woman (I'm not sure of the authenticity of this story, but whatever). After we returned to our hotel relaxing and ready for our long day to Delhi the next morning.

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Daytripping in Delhi

After Varanasi, we were both really anxious to see what Delhi would hold for us.  We didn't get settled into our guesthouse until about 9 or so and still hadn't had any dinner.  Ajay, the owner, pointed us in the direction of the local train station (not more than a 5 minute walk) where they had a food court.  Charlton got to pretend that he was on the stock market floor and had to push his way through a mob of people to order our dinner.  Fun times!  After gobbling down our dinner and getting some cash, we headed back to our room to try to get tickets for our trip to Agra on Saturday.  After searching every possible train and still ending up 20th on a waiting list, we decided we would try our luck with the Delhi Tourism Company.

The tour company also has day tours through Delhi and since we got in so late we didn't have a chance to see if they had any openings for today's tours.  So we woke up bright and early and called the office and were able to get seats for today's full day tour as well as their Saturday trip to Agra (score!)  We scarfed down the breakfast that Ajay put together (muesli, yogurt, juice and toast - yum!) before he wrangled us a tuk tuk.

We arrrived at the tour office in great time, where they promptly loaded us on a bus for a whirlwind trip throughout the city.  Our guide would have been a perfect personal trainer for as hard as he was pushing us in the 100+ degree weather.  "Ladies and gentlemen, it is now 10:00 you will be back on the bus at 10:20.  Now get off!"  Although we made great time and were able to see the following:
At each place it was like we being followed by the paparazzi, we had tons of people asking to take their pictures with us.  And you also had the pack of guys that just like to stare.  It's like they have never seen a sweaty white girl before.  haha.

Lunch was uninspired veg biryani from the local greasy spoon, and when I say greasy I mean GREASY.  Although, we faired better with our choice than our fellow Aussie traveller Laura, whose veg sandwich was a slice of cucumber between white bread.

After an exhausting day, the bus dropped us off near Connaught Place.  Charlton and I were craving McMajaraja burgers since we first had them in Varanasi so we were watching the windows like hawks so we could backtrack to get our dinner.  I was so excited for my value meal I slipped coming out of the bus and got a nice big welt on my forearm, go me!  Dinner didn't disappoint though.

Then it was time for us to make our way back to our room and take it easy, watch some old American Idol and get cleaned up and ready for our big trip tomorrow.  Our guest house owner is even packing us a lunch so we wont have to be stuck eating icky food tomorrow, so refreshing to find someone to watch out for us here.  Such a welcome change from Varanasi.  But time for some shut eye, we have an early morning and full day ahead!

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