Germany – Part I

Our short trip to Germany in November 2012 was a much-needed getaway. Both of us were feeling the stress of living apart and trying to sell our home, so we really needed this time together. I booked the time off work knowing that we wouldn’t know if we were on the flight out of CFB Trenton until 48 hours prior. We figured that if we weren’t able to go to Germany, we would still use our vacation time and go somewhere tropical instead. The reasoning behind Germany was that our friends are still posted near Tüddern and we wanted to visit them one more time before they come home in Summer 2013.

I had just over a month to save up some cash, and unfortunately I was only able to put aside $500 CAD. Once turned into Euro, that chunk turned into a measly €375, which I knew from our previous trip in 2010 would not get us very far. My darling husband agreed to withdraw cash once my money was used up, though, as the trip was his idea and his “treat”.

On November 3rd (coincidentally my sister’s birthday) we found out that our house was SOLD–I signed the papers at work–and that we were confirmed for a November 4th departure out of CFB Trenton to Köln-Bonn, Germany! Talk about an exciting day. The stress I had about the house selling and my worries about not being on the flight all culminated into a burst of happiness that day. And then I had to rush home to pack! Good thing I had already drawn up an itinerary, including a list of things to do and see. I do love TripAdvisor. 🙂

Once we leave Ontario, all times listed reflect local time in Germany (6 hours ahead). And so, my journal:

{November 4 – 8:30 am EST – CFB Trenton}
Here we are sitting in the waiting area at CFB Trenton. After quite the eventful drive (aka the search for diesel and an open gas station extremely early in the morning en route), we finally got checked in. And even that part wasn’t easy. A slight hiccup occurred and I almost wasn’t allowed on the flight due to my husband not putting my name down on his leave pass that his boss signed off on. Luckily they were pretty easy going and allowed him to login to something-or-other to show proof that I am indeed his wife. Crisis averted!

After check-in, we drove over to long-term parking and then walked over to the Mess Hall for breakfast. Since it was so early I couldn’t eat much, just a bagel with cream cheese. Jordan ate lots. Then we bundled up again and walked to the MP shack to register our vehicle. And yet another walk from there back to the terminal building. They really need a shuttle service in the winter!


Germany

{November 4 – 11:00 am EST – Quebec}
Short flight from Trenton to Quebec. I think we are in Montreal to pick up more soldiers. We are so lucky to be allowed on this military flight! The plane we are on is like a normal Air Canada plane, except that we can sit wherever we want. Just waiting around while the plane is refueled, then we will continue on our way. Next stop, Köln-Bonn Flughafen.

{November 4 – 5:10 pm EST – In the Air}
Just ate our second meal on the plane. The first meal was sweet n’ sour meatballs with rice and assorted veggies. The second one was a sandwich, cole slaw, gouda cheese, juice, and a package of “Ah Caramel”. We should be landing in about 1 and a half hours, sometime after midnight local Köln (Cologne) time.

{November 5 – 2:45 am – Köln-Bonn Flughafen}
Not off to a great start! We had a mishap with the train ticket machine and of course as it’s wayyyyy early in the morning there was no one around to help us. At first the ticket machine was not working at all… blue rebooting screen, loading screen, then it kept repeating. Finally the stupid thing loaded properly and we bought 2 tickets for the 1:30 am train heading to Berlin, only to find out that that train had already come and gone while we were struggling with the machine. We were very tired and irritable at this point. Now we are waiting for the 3:15 am train, hoping that we can still use the €194 tickets. So expensive–there goes most of my cash!


NH Alexanderplatz Breakfast omelet Single rose

{November 5 – 5:15 am – Near Düsseldorf}
At last we are on our way to Berlin after yet another issue. We are finding the tickets to be slightly confusing to decipher. First we jumped on the regional train to Köln Hauptbahnhof (HBF) and then transferred to the ICE to Berlin. We had to pay an extra €45 to stay on that train. Jordan was not impressed, especially after all the problems we’d encountered so far, and he tried to explain our situation to the ticket master (machine not working, original train leaving while we were in the midst of purchasing tickets, waiting around for hours in the cold, etc). I handed over the cash as I just wanted to sit in peace for the next few hours and not have to worry about changing trains during the journey. (The train ride from Köln to Berlin is about 5 hours.) The first ticket master couldn’t understand English but he got another one who could and after speaking with him he encouraged us to go to the customer service kiosk in Berlin since we had photographic proof that the ticket machine wasn’t working properly. I seriously hope we have no more problems because I want to enjoy this beautiful country!

{November 5 – 11:30 am – Berlin}
Berlin! We are sitting down to lunch near our hotel, the NH Alexanderplatz; starving and exhausted! Once we reached Berlin Hauptbahnhof, we purchased Welcome Cards (72 hours / Museum Island) that we plan to use tomorrow. The cards include unlimited use of the city’s transportation system in ABC zones, entry into the Museum Island museums, and discounts at other attractions and restaurants for €36 each. Jordan filed a complaint at the Deutsche Bahn customer service kiosk.

(Side note: We didn’t receive a refund for the extra €45, however a few weeks after our return home we received a DB voucher for €45. That’s great, but we can’t use it as we are in Canada. I ended up mailing it back to Germany to our friends’ place so that they could use it.)


Our room (NH Alexanderplatz) Hawaiian pizza from "Rocco" Halo sign

From the main train station we hopped on Bus #142 and got off at the base of the hill (Landsberger Allee) near NH Alexanderplatz. Our room wasn’t yet ready but they said to come back in a couple hours and it would be. Off we went to find something to eat! I can’t remember the name of the restaurant, but the waiter was very exuberant and literally scooped us off the street and into his restaurant before we could protest. A huge cheese omelet and Sprite for me; cheese and fruit platter for Jordan.

{November 5 – 11:30 pm – Berlin}
After a very long nap (I think we slept 8 hours), we showered and around 10:15 pm headed out to find dinner. Apparently this is very late for eating, but we were starving again. Got on tram M4 at the base of the hill (€2.40 each) and got off at Hackescher Markt. Found a pub but they were no longer serving food. Walked over to “Rocco” and the guy there said the kitchen was closing soon but we could order pizza or pasta. We ordered a Hawaiian pizza, iced tea, and a Strongbo for €17. Not sure how much we’re supposed to tip around here.

{November 6 – 1:45 am – Berlin}
After eating we walked around for awhile to tire ourselves out. Not too cold, just wintry enough that we needed thin mittens and a hood to cover our ears. Walked by three prostitutes, which Jordan found amusing. Saw a Starbucks advertising lebkuchen latte; might have to try one of those! Finally we made our way back, on foot, to Landsberger Allee.


Ready for our first Berlin day

{November 6 – 11:30 am – Berlin}
So much for getting up early! I’m so jet-lagged, it’s unbelievable. All I want to do is sleep. Finally we are heading out for the day. Plan for the day: Find breakfast, er, lunch and visit some museums.

{November 6 – 9:10 pm – Berlin}
We spent the entire day walking around and exploring the city. I will write about our adventures once we return to the hotel. Right now we’re sitting down for dinner at “Roma” on Friedrichstrasse near the Orianienburger U-bahn stop. I ordered tortellini with tomato sauce, smothered in cheese, with a Sprite; Jordan had chicken and broccoli pizza and fries. The food is good but I’m so tired that I can hardly eat. After the waiter cleared our plates, we waited another 10 minutes and finally asked for the bill. Time to head back out into the drizzle and head home.


Statue in the lustgarten Berlin Cathedral Unter den Linden Pergamon Altar 087_2012_11_06_5534 Sitting with part of Pergamon Altar Ishtar Gate Vessels Islamic horn

{November 6 – 11:30 pm – Berlin}
Now that we are back, I will write about the day. Once we left the hotel this morning we walked to the grocery store at the base of the hill and purchased yoghurt with granola, 3 beverages, and a snack-size baguette sandwich filled with ham, mayo, tomato and lettuce. With our tummies full, we used our Welcome Cards to catch the tram to Hackescher Markt. From there we slowly walked over to Museum Island. Strolled through the lustgarten by the art museum and took some photos. Somehow we ended up missing the Pergamon Museum, which is what I really wanted to see, by walking right past the kiosk for the Neues Museum and turning down a long path lined with tall trees. The path lead to the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral). We kept walking and eventually turned right onto Unter den Linden; after walking past the DDR Museum I realized we were going the wrong way. Sat down on a bench to consult our map and figured out that we needed to head back toward the Neues Museum kiosk and then keep going down the road to the Pergamon Museum. (All the construction going on is confusing.) Entry to the Pergamon Museum is included in the Welcome Card. We spent most of the afternoon in there, perusing all the neat artifacts. Photography is allowed so I took quite a few pictures. Bought a couple postcards and a bookmark on the way out.


Berlin Cathedral

After the museum, we wandered over to the Cathedral and for €4 per person (discounted with Welcome Card) we were allowed inside. Once we entered the sanctuary it was very quiet and awe-inspiring. The domed ceiling is beautiful. Non-flash photography is allowed. We sat in the silence for awhile, then continued our exploration of the cathedral; there are a lot of exhibits and things to see. Finally we walked up to the dome of the building using the indoor walkway; once outside, the views are unbelievable! Jordan took quite a few pictures. After that we did a quick visit of the crypt and then bought a couple cookies from the basement cafe.


Domed ceiling Town hall seen from Dome View from Dome 211_2012_11_06_5661 Brandenburg Gate at night The Reichstag at night

Back outside into the cold. Hopped onto double-Decker Bus #100 and got off near Madame Tussaud’s and walked to Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate). As it’s dark, pictures are difficult without a tripod. Walked by the Reichstag government building as well. Back-tracked a bit and discovered the outdoor Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The stelae are different heights and seem to go on in a maze. Once again, pictures were difficult in the dark. We ended up getting lost trying to find Checkpoint Charlie and ended up walking around the Sony Centre and the Topography of Terrors building. The outdoor exhibit was closed so we went into the Documentation Centre to warm up and use the free washroom. We viewed some of the exhibits but there is so much information to read that it would have taken us all night.

Finally found Checkpoint Charlie at Friedrichstrasse. Not that impressive. Decided to get dinner first before going in the museum. We walked and walked and couldn’t seem to find any restaurants that weren’t fast-food until we came upon “Roma” close to Orianienburgerstrasse. We decided not to return to the Checkpoint Charlie museum due to tiredness.


Berlin Wall memorial Sony Centre Reading info at Topography of Terrors Checkpoint Charlie Cheesy tortellini from "Roma"

After dinner we just missed the M6 tram and ended up walking back to Hackescher Markt. Caught the M5 there which goes past our hotel. However we didn’t realize that the tram doors don’t automatically open at each stop; you have to hit the “STOP” button to open the doors. Seems straight-forward now, but at the time we assumed the “STOP” button meant the tram would stop and the doors would open. We ended up going 2 stops past our hotel before we figured this out, and as soon as we managed to get off the tram we couldn’t stop laughing about it. Maybe the button should say “OPEN” instead of “STOP” for silly tourists like us?!


Reflection (iPhone)

Reflection (iPhone)


Back in our room. There is only one towel in the bathroom and the duvet on the double bed is twin-size. During our nap yesterday we must not have realized how little the blanket was. And there’s no way we were sharing one towel. I went down to the lobby and asked for more towels and a second blanket. The guy at reception didn’t seem to think it was strange that our double room only had one towel and one twin duvet, but more were sent up later.

***Continued in next post.

Christmas Day 2012

The site has been down for a bit, or very slow, due to some issues that Surpass has now fixed and I’m finally able to login to my WordPress. I’m happy that they did their best to fix the issue and kept me updated during the whole process without my having to ask.

Since I have very little time to devote to fanlistings like I used to, I have closed them all and now Quicksylver.org and Figuristka.org both redirect to this blog until I figure out what I want to do with them. I may let Figuristka.org expire at the end of January.

Anyway, Christmas 2012 was spent at my mom’s.


Christmas flowers

Christmas flowers

Goodies to snack on!

Goodies to snack on!


My mom planned a sort of “drop-in” event, meaning that between 2-4 pm anyone was welcome to show up and have some Christmas treats. There were all sorts of baked goodies and drinks available. After everyone left, my mom had turkey dinner for Jordan and I, my two sisters and their significant others, and my nephew. The food was amazing! Later, we Skyped my brother in Newfoundland.


Crystal and Ashe

Crystal and Ashe

Pumpkin rolls with cream cheese filling

Pumpkin rolls with cream cheese filling

Ashe @ 17 months old

Ashe @ 17 months old


This was Ashe’s second Christmas and he was spoiled with gifts! He loved gift bags and tissue paper more than the gifts, I think.

Our move date is looming closer! Pack Day is January 30th. I only have a couple weeks left at work. This is crazy! I’ve contacted our phone company, cancelled our current internet provider, and booked another one for the new house. There is still plenty of things left for me to organize or worry about. I hope this move goes smoothly.

I’m currently working on a cute cross-stitch pattern for Michelle’s baby that is due in May. It’s coming along nicely and keeping my mind occupied. Sucks that I won’t be around when the baby is born.

Upper Canada Village

First off, finally got my hair chopped off! It was way too long and getting hard to manage.


New hair cut (October 2012)


Thanksgiving weekend turned out to be great! The in-laws stayed with us Friday night. I made a delicious teriyaki stir-fry for dinner. And then on Saturday we drove up to Morrisburg to spend the day at Upper Canada Village. The weather started out rainy, gray, and cold, but in the afternoon the sun came out. I brought along only one camera, my Canon 60D, and carried around that heavy thing all day. I’m glad I did because the pictures turned out really well.


Pumpkin Inferno

The church

Purple flower

House

Posing in front of the school house


After hours of walking around the grounds, we had a late lunch at the hotel. You need reservations to eat there. They served a turkey dinner for Thanksgiving. The food was amazing and I’m glad we decided to eat there. After lunch, we finished exploring and by the end of the day (I think the place closes around 5:30 pm) we said goodbye to Jordan’s parents and headed back home. We didn’t stay for the nighttime Pumpkin Inferno event but it was cool to see all the pumpkins during the daylight.

Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – Part III

***Continued from previous post.

{February 14 – 1:10 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Went down for breakfast at 10:00 am. Had my morning donut, yum! After eating, we headed out to the hotel shops to check out some prices on souvenirs. Cloudy sky, very warm, yet with a lovely breeze. Then we walked down the long, winding road that led to the resort gates, and left the property. Crossed the street to the “Steve’s Bar” side and continued to the right, passed Plaza Bavaro, and found ourselves at another plaza called Bavaro Shopping. Prices a bit higher here. If the vendor didn’t like our haggling, they shook their heads and just waved us away. Only bought one item here, a lovely picture frame for $15.00 USD. We decided to give Plaza Bavaro another shot.



We returned to the shop there that had originally asked $65.00 USD for a purple Punta Cana beach bag I really liked. Ended up buying the bag, 3 magnets, and a shot glass for $35 USD. No other good deals so we left. Crossed the street and looked in some more shops, trying to ignore the pushy vendors. Jordan struck up a conversation with one guy, who ended up giving us a magnet, playing cards, a shot glass, and a pretty stone turtle for $10 USD! I would have spent more money in his shop since he was being so fair but we were getting very warm and wanted to move on. Another young man asked us into his shop so we shrugged and followed him to his stall. I was definitely in a shopping mood as I hadn’t spent much on souvenirs, and that’s one of my favourite things to do while traveling. Bought 3 small paintings for $35 USD, which Jordan picked out. This guy told us he was from Haiti, but he was a little hard to understand. We talked to him for awhile. I picked out 2 larimar stone bracelets for $15.00 USD and he ended up giving me a set of matching earrings included in the price.



We made it back to the resort by almost one o’ clock. Stopped in the lobby for a “Melisa” cocktail, which turned out to taste very good! Back to our room to change into swimwear. Had a delicious pannini for lunch.

{February 14 – 5:50 pm EST – Punta Cana}
No available loungers on the beach so we laid towels in the shade of a tree by the main pool, close to the pool bar. Both of us read, napped, ate some French fries as a snack. Then around 4:00 pm we packed up our stuff and went back to the beach. We found a couple empty chairs.


Ron Barcelo advertisement


Back in our room now. The fan is on but the room feels humid still. I don’t think the air-conditioner is working. It’s our last full-day so it’s not a big deal. We have reservations at the Oriental restaurant at 6:30 pm tonight. It’s Valentine’s Day.

{February 14 – 9:20 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Dinner was rather disappointing. The grouper fish in my first course was too chewy and tasted like a block of salt. The sweet n’ sour pork was very tough to chew. Jordan also didn’t like his meal. We skipped out as fast as we could and went to the buffet for banana crepes. Valentine’s Day theme everywhere, including a guy dressed up as cupid running around the grounds. We ran into the couple who had been on the excursion with us the day before, and talked to them for awhile. They were from New Brunswick, no wonder they were so friendly.



Had our last “Victor’s Special” drink and one more mochaccino from the lobby. Back to the room to pack!

***End of journal.

We spent check-out day lounging around, waiting for our bus to pick us up. It was very hot and sunny. A few pictures from that last day:


Leaving the island

And some souvenirs:



Punta Cana, Dominican Republic – Part II

***Continued from previous post.

{February 11 – 11:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Slept in until 9:00 am! Yet another omelet and banana milkshake for breakfast for myself. Changed into swimsuits after eating and grabbed some beach towels from the hut. Cloudy but blue sky, very warm with a slight breeze by the water; better yet, no rain! We found two broken loungers on the beach and pulled them over to the shade of a palm tree. We only needed them for less than 10 minutes, though, as a family nearby vacated their spot and non-broken loungers. We pounced on them right away! Ah, nice to relax under a palapa with my Kobo in hand.



Around 12:30 pm we headed back to our room to freshen up and go to the 1 o’ clock lunch buffet. Had the alfredo pasta yet again. Jordan tried some this time, too. After lunch, as we were walking by the main pool, I spotted 2 empty loungers in the shade. Jordan saved them while I ran back to the room to collect towels, sunscreen, and my beach bag. We hung out there enjoying the beautiful weather for the remainder of the afternoon.

Strolled back to the beach again in the evening. Jordan grabbed a beer, then swam in the ocean for a bit while I took some photos. Then we went to dinner at 8:30 pm. Not much of a fan of the dinner buffet because I haven’t found anything that I really enjoyed. Ate the lasagna and calzone again and had a few sips of red wine. I had a craving for something sweet n’ sugary and found what looked like a tater tot but what was actually a really delicious, sweet … something. No idea what it was but this was the only night they were available!



Once again, a mochaccino from the lobby bar to end the night. Watched some of the “Copacabana” show at the theatre. Jordan went to the bar next to the pizzeria and tried “Victor’s special” drink – finally an alcoholic drink that tastes fantastic! All I know is that it tasted like grapefruit and quickly became our favourite.



{February 12 – 4:20 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Went for breakfast at 10:00 am. Just had a banana milkshake, donut, and random items this time. Found loungers by the pool and remained there all day. Figured we might as well take advantage of having them for once! Ate lunch around 2:00 pm and returned to our place by the pool. After an entire morning and afternoon spent lounging, we decided to head down to the beach for a change of scenery.



{February 12 – 9:45 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Tired out from a full day in the sunshine. We did end up hanging out at the beach for awhile. Jordan swam; I read. We ate dinner at La Taqueria this time. The chicken quesadillas are to die for! Ordered “Victor’s special” drinks again. Jordan’s meal didn’t quite fill him up so we moved over to the pizzeria side and he ordered himself a pepperoni and blue cheese pizza. After eating we went to the theatre to listen to the live music. The woman who sang has a beautiful voice. Her rendition of Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” was lovely.

{February 13 – 6:00 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Up bright and early at 6:30 am to get ready, pack our beach bags, exchange for clean towels, etc. Ate a quick breakfast at 7:45 am. Today we are going on an excursion: Outback Safari, the full-day tour. I was pretty excited as I’d read many reviews about this tour. We waited at the main entrance of the lobby for our pick-up until we realized that the hotel has a special excursion pick-up zone across the lot. We ran over there and waited on the benches, and talked to the other couple who would be going with us. At 9 o’ clock the Outback Safari open-air jeep pulled up and we were introduced to our guide, Jesus. Unfortunately, today’s weather was not so great. I only had a light, long-sleeved top on over a tank top and shorts so the ride was a cold one. I assumed the weather would clear up but boy was I wrong. The roads were very bumpy but there was plenty of scenery to watch.



First we stopped at a local school. Jesus explained that both Haitian and Dominican kids go to the school. He also told us how to distinguish between the Haitian and Dominican peoples. We said hello to the kids and some of us gave cash donations. Then we climbed back into the jeep and drove through more lush landscape, finally arriving at a ranch. Here, we ate a hearty meal of salad, rice with beans, potato salad, dried sweet potato, dried plantain, and the most delicious fried chicken I’ve ever had! For dessert, coconut cookies. While we were at the ranch the sky opened up and down-poured. I took as many photos as I could while trying to keep my camera dry. Jesus showed us around the ranch and talked about growing bananas, coffee, etc. We even saw some crocodiles.


Dragonfly

Later, we pulled up to a plantation to see how a local Dominican family lives. We walked through their living quarters and then everyone piled into a large open-air hut to sit on benches. We learned about the production of coffee, cacao, and sugarcane; sampled the island’s famous mamajuana drink (tasted like cough syrup to me), as well as real cacao hot chocolate; smoothed coconut oil into our legs; and tasted the incredible local vanilla. All these products were available for purchase. I ended up leaving with 2 bottles of the spicy, sweet-smelling vanilla, a bottle of honey, cacao, and coarse sugar for $20 USD total.

The final part of the afternoon was spent at Macao Beach. It was cold, rainy, and very windy! Jordan and Jesus went boogie-boarding while the rest of us stayed on the beach. There were lots of people there, some also in the water. It looked cold but I enjoyed watching Jordan fighting the waves. The excursion was definitely worth the money!



{February 13 – 9:15 pm EST – Punta Cana}
Just back from dinner at “Via Venneto”. We were a little late as Jordan was slow to wind down from the excursion and get dressed for dinner. Once seated, I ordered the penne carbonara, which turned out lovely, and Jordan had the pasta with salmon. Afterward, we walked to the very crowded lobby for mochaccinos. Couldn’t find any free chairs so we pulled a low coffee table over to a desk and sat on the coffee table. A special check-in area was being prepared for some visitors from Spain. Advertisements for “Ron Barcelo” rum were everywhere, as well as women in really tiny dresses. We people-watched while sipping a White Russian and Spanish coffee. Finished our drinks and walked down to the theatre to listen to some live music before returning to our room for the night.



There was a free 350 mL bottle of Ron Barcelo rum waiting for us in our room.

***Continued in next post.