Eighteen Days In The US

I traveled to the US with a series of lists.  I had places to go, people to see, food to eat, and crap to buy.  In eighteen days, I drove my rental car over 1200 miles across three counties.  Here’s why:

I had a Culinary To-Do List, because there are just some foods that have no good analog in Germany.

  • I ate at Friendly’s with Lorrie on my first night back in town.  After a year in Germany, it was a little bit jarring to be handed the check before were finished eating.
  • I got my diner fix, including the aforementioned Friendly’s visit,  the Moonlite Diner with Vicki and Ilona, iHop, and Denny’s (in which I ate the Gandalf’s Gobble from the Hobbit Menu.  Hilarity ensued.)
  • I got proper Thai food, having dinner one weeknight at Chaiyo Thai with Vicki.
  • Plenty of good burgers were eaten, including Jack’s Old Fashioned Hamburgers, and Charm City Burgers, where I also fulfilled my tater tot needs while lunching with Marc.
  • I had lunch at Muddy Waters with Karen.
  • I met my Tex-Mex cravings by joining my brother and his boyfriend for Taco Tuesdaze at Tijuana Flats.
  • I had Sushi with Holly at Katana, a fantastic tiny Sushi place in North Miami Beach.
  • I had a proper and delicious steak with my elder brother at the local Longhorn.
  • I finally got around to trying The German Bread Haus, a German bakery on Commercial Boulevard, East of I-95.  I brought some pastries into the office with me, and they were quite good.germanbreadhaus
  • I also ate at the Cheesecake Factory, the Melting Pot, Rotelli, Miller’s Ale House, TGI Fridays, and Jimmy Johns.  I may be forgetting a few places-  this trip was all about the food.

I had an Acquisitions To-Do List.

  • I stopped at Costco to get a ginormous bottle of Excedrine and some Flintstones chewables for myself.  I also picked up some generic Sudafed, another thing I haven’t found a satisfying version of over here.
  • I managed to find a pair of New Balance shoes I liked to replace my aging and slightly less comfortable pair.  I also picked up some more work pants and long sleeved t-shirts in Target.
  • I went back to the ski store in Delray Beach to get another scarf and wound up buying an awesome neck fleece that I already love beyond all reason.
  • I went to Abercrombie & Fitch to get a pair of sweatpants that Jenny asked me to bring back to Germany.
  • I also went to the grocery store for some other requests- I came back to Germany with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, Nerds, and A-1 Steak Sauce.
  • As an aside, shopping makes me kind of looney.  This results in bad product based puns.  For example:noway

I had an actual task-based To-Do List.

  • storageI successfully moved my stored stuff from a 5×10 unit in one location to a 5×5 in another facility.   The place I was using claimed to be climate controlled and pest controlled, but it was near a canal and the doors weren’t sealed very well. As a result, I had various droppings and former insects, frogs, and worms in and around my stuff, along with live silverfish in the books.  As if that weren’t bad enough, there was already humidity damage starting to show on some of my books.  The new facility is immaculate and completely indoors.  Also, the smaller unit in the new facility will save me roughly $65 a month in storage fees.  You can see what’s left in storage in the picture to the right, including my beloved coffee table.
  • I snagged an International Driving Permit.  I don’t drive here, but if I need to, this could be handy.
  • I got a haircut at Kathleen & Company, the place I went to for eight years before I moved to Germany.   I can get a haircut anywhere, but this place deserves loyalty.
  • I worked a week in the Florida office.
  • I went back to my Neurologist for a followup.  I haven’t made the time yet to find a Neurologist in Germany.

I also had a Gatherings To-Do list, which originally contained just a few shindigs, but wound up including much more.

  • I drove out to Wellington for my sister’s fabulous Thanksgiving Extravaganza.  In the past, our family has sometimes splintered off into different directions for Thanksgiving, but this year most of us were all in the same place.  A small portion of the group is visible in this photo, including both of my parents, one of my brothers, my brother-in-law and his brother, my nephew, both  nieces (2 and 22), and my niece’s boyfriend.  Not pictured, but present:  The other brother, my sister and my sister-in-law.  Like I said, it’s a big and convoluted family, but we’re a fun group.thanksgiving
  • I went to a “Friendsgiving” dinner that was being held by John, another long time friend.  I arrived between their dinner and dessert courses, which was perfect timing for chatting and being social.  It also gave me the opportunity to give him one of the two Bavarian beers I brought with me from Germany.  He was pleased.
  • I had a pair of birthday shindigs- one with friends, and one with family.  The friends party was held on the Saturday night before my actual birthday-  I had friends join me for a fantastic dinner at one of my favorite restaurants, Season’s 52, followed by some drinks at a Ft. Lauderdale Irish pub.
  • My aunt, uncle, and cousin were in Miami for a wedding and since the timing matched up, they joined part of the family for brunch on that Sunday.
  • Sunday night was the second birthday shindig- my father put together a dinner at another restaurant and I got to see more family there, including a few who weren’t at Thanksgiving dinner.
  • I have a lot of friends outside of Florida who I wanted to see, but I only had the time to travel to one other state.  I took the dart-board approach to selecting who to visit, and I wound up going to Minneapolis to hang out with Debra, another old friend there.  We had dinner in the Mall Of America, which I had never been to.  That place is HUGE, and has a theme park in the middle of it.  There are roller coasters.  In a mall.  Amazing.

Last but not least, the most important to-do list item of all was to remember to come back to Germany.

frosty

A Weekend In Köln

Continuing on my longstanding trend of seeing new cities because there’s a concert there that I want to see, I went to Köln (Cologne) to see Owl City.  I’d seen them once before, in Orlando, and the previous show was bigger- more people on stage, real stringed instruments for the violin and cello bits, and so forth. This time around, it was in a smaller club with a smaller lineup.  Still a great show, though.

There’s more to Cologne than a happening concert venue, though.  While I didn’t see the entire city by any stretch of the imagination, I did see some nifty parts of the city.  Here are some interesting things about Cologne.

The Beer Is Tiny:

The local beer, called Kölsch, is a pale and tasty drink which is usually served cold in very small cylindrical .2 liter glasses.  The picture below is an abnormally big one.

In pubs in Cologne, the common practice is to immediately bring you a new one every time your glass is empty without any prompting.  To make the beer stop flowing, you have to leave your glass half full or put your coaster on top of it.

It Has A Pretty Neat Bridge:

If you arrive to Cologne via train as I did, you come in on the Hohenzollern bridge, which crosses the Rhine river.  This is the most heavily used rail bridge in Germany, with around 1200 trains passing through it every day.

The bridge also has a pedestrian walkway alongside the tracks, and since 2008, the fence between the footpath and the train tracks has been covered in love locks much like the bridge here in Regensburg.  While I was taking these pictures, a couple got married a few meters away from me, and then placed their own padlock on the bridge.

Their Cathedral Looks Just Like Ours*, Except Way Bigger:

You can’t miss the Kölner Dom when you come out of the train station.   The cathedral is enormous and it was constructed in Gothic style, just like Regensburg’s Dom*.  As a result, the look and feel of the place is very similar.  It’s just much, much larger.   It’s huge.

No, really, it’s enormous.  Here’s a closer shot to give you a sense of scale.

Climbing the spire is a pretty popular tourist attraction.  It’s 509 spiralling stone steps to a viewing platform just over 322 feet above the ground.  They’ve put in fencing to keep people from dropping stuff, but even with the fencing, the view is pretty spectacular.

Tour Groups Everywhere:

Look, a Segway tour group!  I swear, I’m gonna ride one of those things some day.

They Have A Cable Car:

The Kölner Seilbahn has been crossing the Rhine river since the late 1950s.  With my previously established love of tall places, it’s a given that I had to ride it across.

They Have A Chocolate Museum:

Of all the museums I’ve been to, the Schokoladen Museum is my current favorite.  The actual history of chocolate wasn’t all that interesting to me, but the place has functioning chocolate manufacturing processes which can be seen at various steps.  One part is an entire automated line which made the small chocolates that are given to each visitor as they enter the museum. The machine below is constantly turning molded chocolates in various shapes as they dry and harden.

One Last Thing About Köln:

The city is adjacent to another nearby town, Brühl, which is the home of the  PhantasiaLand theme park.  That’s another post, though.

One Week In The UK, Part Two: Edinburgh

From King’s Cross Station, it took roughly four and a half hours to get to Waverley Station in Edinburgh.  The train ride was pleasant enough.  I had splurged a tiny bit on a first class ticket for this ride, so I got a nice window seat and my choice of sandwich and chips during the journey.   Some of the coastal views along the way were pretty spectacular.  At one point, I even saw a bright yellow helicopter hovering over the ocean just off the coast.  Alas, I have no telephoto lens.

On my arrival into Scotland, I checked into the hotel and then wandered around a bit.  I didn’t really have any plans for that first night, and I wound up going to the movie theatre and catching the Dark Knight Rises, which had been released that very day in the UK.

That night, I had a conversation with my partner-in-crime Jenny via text message.

Jenny: How is Edinburgh?
Me: Edinburgh is… under construction.

It wasn’t all of Edinburgh that was under construction, it just seemed like it.  The platform at the train station was under renovation, and the street my hotel was located on was also under significant construction.  It turns out that Edinburgh is undergoing significant work to put in a tram system.  Tracks are being laid down, traffic is being redirected in different places, and construction barriers are everywhere.

Edinburgh had a large set of Olympic rings set up in a park near Royal Mile, the stretch of road that leads to the Edinburgh castle.  Plus there were bagpipers all over.

Imagine my surprise to discover that they still have Police Information Boxes in Edinburgh!  I kept my eyes peeled for Timey Wimey things, but I didn’t see anything else out of the ordinary.

This gruesome looking tower is the Scott Monument, for Sir Walter Scott.  If you climb the 287 steps to the top, you get a spectacular view of Edinburgh.  Also, if you’re tall-ish like me, you get a pretty good whack to the noggin-  the archways are somewhat low.

From the top of the Scott Monument, you can see Arthur’s Seat in one direction. A lot of people make the hike up to the top, as it’s not all that far away.

…and in the other direction, you can see Edinburgh Castle and the buildings along Royal Mile.  As a side note, this is one of the single best photographs I have ever taken.

I was only in Edinburgh from Friday afternoon to Sunday morning.  My entire focus for going to Edinburgh was to see the Hitchhiker’s Guide Live show, which was pretty keen.  This edition of the live show included Neil Gaiman as The Book, and had a special guest appearance by John Hodgman as the meat of the day in Milliways.

After the show, I went to a pub next to the theatre for a drink,  where I bumped into John Hodgman in the men’s room.  This led to a brief and hilariously awkward conversation during which Hodgman was thoroughly polite despite the ridiculousness of the setting.

The next morning, before I headed to the airport, I went in search of a famous statue of Sherlock Holmes, only to discover after wandering around the place it was supposed to be that the statue was moved to storage in 2009 because of the tramworks.  It was supposed to have been replaced in 2011, but the tramworks are very, very, very behind schedule.

One Week In The UK, Part One: London

“Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.”
— Samuel Johnson

Ever since I was eleven years old, I’ve wanted to see London.    My fascination with the city started when I would come home after school, running from the bus stop to catch the second half of the day’s broadcast of Dangermouse on Nickelodeon.  For the uninitiated, Dangermouse is the world’s greatest secret agent, a mouse in a white jumpsuit with an eye patch.  His assistant, Penfold, is a hamster in a tiny blue suit.   The link above is part of an episode.  To date, Dangermouse is still my favorite cartoon.

As I grew older, the UK criss-crossed my personal pop culture landscape.  Many movies I loved were filmed, in part, in Pinewood Studios about twenty miles outside of the city.  Here’s a very short and in no way complete list:  Superman and Superman II, the original Harryhausen Clash of the Titans, Pink Floyd: The Wall, Legend, the James Bond movies, Little Shop of Horrors, Aliens, the first two Hellraiser movies,  the 1989 Batman, The Fifth Element, Stardust, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (the single finest movie adaptation of a stage musical ever made), and The Dark Knight.  Granted, most of these didn’t showcase London, but they were made there, and in my brain, that counts.  Sweeney Todd has an entire song just about London, though.

I read every Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy book as it came out.  Tom Baker was my Doctor until 2005.  I watch Love Actually at least once a year.  A hefty portion of my regular television viewing comes out of the BBC.  My favorite living author is British.

My point is that I was predisposed to love London even before I ever dreamed of traveling there.  And I did, of course-  dream of traveling there.  When I finally got my passport back in 2006, it was with the intention of making it to London.    I was just waiting for money, time off, and someone to travel with.

As I gained more seniority at Mr. Company, the money became less of a constraint, and the time off became easier to come by.  I was still waiting for a travel buddy though, but it never quite worked out.    Meanwhile, I went to other places.  I traveled widely in my own country, visited Canada, and spent two weeks in Hong Kong for work.   Then in late 2010, my life reached “Do-Over” status-  I found myself single again and temporarily without an apartment of my own.  In that time of upheaval, I made a promise to myself that I would reach London before my fortieth birthday.

Fast forward to April of this year.  I’d been in Germany for a scant five months, and I saw a link on Facebook to a Neil Gaiman post.  The surviving cast members of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio shows were doing a live touring version of the radio shows. Neil himself would be the voice of The Book in the Edinburgh, Scotland show on the 21st of July.  Twenty minutes after I read the post, I had already purchased tickets.    Thirty minutes after I read the post, I had compared the dates of the Olympics to the date of the show, verified that the week leading up to that event was a full week before the crowded Olympics began, and requested my vacation time.    The trip formed from that point forward.

On Saturday, 14 July, I flew into Heathrow Airport, with an Oyster Card, a LondonPass, and a very basic travel framework locked in.  I had a ticket for the London production of Wicked on Tuesday.  I had a rail ticket to go from King’s Cross Station in London to Waverley Station in Edinburgh by rail on Friday.  I had the aforementioned HHG Live ticket, and airfare to go from Edinburgh back to Munich the following Sunday.  And finally, I had a list of things I wanted to see, based on a lifetime of absorbing the UK into my soul like so much mercury on the skin.  I had a terrific time, and I took nearly a thousand photographs.  I’m only going to share about two dozen of them here.

Photos and such are behind this More tag

Amsterdam

I took hundreds of photos in Amsterdam, because there’s just so much to see and do there. I already put up a few pictures of the locals celebrating the Euro 2012 championships, so I’ll leave those out here.   I’ve selected twenty-seven photos out of the hundreds that I took, and I’ll just talk about the individual photos in lieu of a “first we went here, then we went there” styled trip-report.

Ready? Go!

There are twenty-seven photographs after this More link.