Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Berlin - Day 3 - Celebration Day

This is probably the hardest day of my trip to write about which is why it's taken so long to get to it.   I keep thinking about this day, and what all it means to the city of Berlin, to the country of Germany, and to those of us that spent any time at all growing up there during those years that the wall was up.   When I first realized I was going to be in Berlin for the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Wall Celebration, I was so excited by the idea of going back and just being there to enjoy the celebration, to be a part of history that would take place that night, and to share that experience  with friends that I went to high school with, was just an exciting idea.   For two days prior to this day, we'd spent time traveling around the city, reliving lots of great memories, catching up on stories of our experiences and what living there meant to us... and the more we talked about it, the the more we looked at the balloons lining the path the Berlin Wall had taken, the more I felt myself being impacted again by what that Wall really did to this great city and it's people.  I had flashbacks to the many times I just went down to the Wall and  sat and stared across it, watching people on the east side of the city going about their daily lives, and those emotions I felt back then about how horrible it must have been to live trapped like that.  I mean, in a way were were just as trapped as they were at the time, only we had the option of getting out of the city any time we really wanted.

So yeah.... waking up that morning was different than any other day on my 3 week trip.  I could feel those thoughts and memories bouncing around inside my head most of the day, as a group of us went back to visit old houses and parks from our childhood.  And then we went to  dinner at a place that was high up on the list of my favorite places to eat back then....  even though it was a different restaurant now... still fueled those memories....

After dinner it was time to head down and find a spot somewhere where we could enjoy the festivities, without being crushed by the amazing number of people lining the streets to view the ceremony.   It was amazing to see the number of people there, that had traveled from all over the world, just to witness this in person.
You could feel the excitement as they waited to watch the balloons being released,  and as it got closer to the time... the crowd became  so thick you really didn't have much room to move anymore.  Our group did manage to stay together somehow and we just waited along with everyone else for the show to start.

When the time finally rolled around, you could feel the excitement and anticipation building in the crowd as everyone strained to see Brandenburg gate from where we were standing... just a few hundred yards away.
People were climbing up on bus shelters, lamp posts, street signs.... there were people on top of buildings and looking out of office windows where you could tell they had been having parties throughout the day....

Finally off in the distance you could hear the crowd roar as the first balloons took to the sky.    I have never seen so many cameras and cell phones being held up at once ...  I think every single person standing there was filming or shooting photos ...  think about that... 2 million cameras all going at once.  It was almost mind boggling.
 The crowd around us got really quiet... and you could see balloons being released one-by-one, working their way towards us.... and as each balloon drifted up into the night sky, the cheer of the crowd standing in front of them moved towards us well.... it seemed to be taking forever for them to get to us and then suddenly it was almost like watching a train go by, the balloons being released one after another, rolling past us like a freight train rolling down the tracks.... the crowd roared  right along with them which only added to the effect, but even more unexpected for me at least, was the waves of emotion that washed over me at that same time.

It was almost like watching the wall come down again.... or at least that's the best way I can describe how I felt as I watched the balloons being released and as I watched them disappear into the darkness above.  It was amazing to be there and witness that....  and maybe as crazy as it sounds... feel a lot of old baggage let go for me as well.   I can't even being to explain it....   but Berlin meant so much to me during my life, and always will.   I think I needed to be there to witness that for so many personal reasons.

Okay, so that got to be a bit much.... sorry.  It's the best way I can attempt to describe that night though... and what it felt like to be there.

We knew getting back to the hotel by U-Bahn was going to be next to impossible for at least a few hours so we made our way through the sea of humanity over to the Christmas Market going on at Potsdamer Platz, got some food, some drinks and hung out for a few hours....  it was a great rest of the night for sure. :)

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Berlin - Round 1 - Day 2

Day two in Berlin was mostly left open for us to do our own thing, as we weren't scheduled to do any reunion stuff until early evening.   There were a couple of early morning tours scheduled,  one being the underground tour I'd signed up for.... but being as I'm old and I'd signed up for things so far in advance, I'd totally forgotten I'd paid to go on that tour.   Instead, I did a little walking around town while the others went on the underground tour.... and just waited for them to get back and see what the plan for the rest of the day would be.

Since we had time to get in some more sight-seeing,  the three of us from the night before, along with our reunion photographer decided to head downtown and take one of the city bus tours, which would allow us to see as much as we could in the shortest period of time.... knowing we had to be back to the hotel in time for the social ...

The bus took us around the city, stopping at a number of spots and letting you jump off the bus to take photos if you wanted. or to do some shopping and other things before jumping on the next bus that came along.

Since we were on a limited time schedule we just decided to stick with this bus and only jump off when the bus was going to sit for 10-15 minutes here and there.  Here are a few of the shots I got during the tour.

It was a very fun time on the bus ... we did a lot of talking and laughing during the tour, saw a lot of sights and got some history lessons along the way.

Once the tour was over, we decided to head back to the hotel and get ready for the get together that night....  the rest of the night was just spent catching up with old friends, having drinks, meeting new people and telling stories from our time in Berlin ... as kids... since many of us were there during different years.  It's always great hanging out with other Berlin Brats and always feels more like a family reunion than a school reunion to me.

Tomorrow is the big day... the 25th Anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall.  For most of us that lived there when the Wall was up, it was hard to imagine it would ever come down.....  now it's hard to believe it's already been gone 25 years.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Berlin - Round 1 - Day 1

It's been a few weeks since returning from  Europe and I've been meaning to get around to writing about the first part of my trip,  to finish this story in true Pulp Fiction Style as I'd promised in the first post.   Climbing into the way back machine and hoping my memory is working well enough to even remember a lot of what happened those first few days in Berlin.. I'll try to fill in that blank spot in the story.

The trip to Berlin started off with a very long first flight, from Seattle to Frankfurt, non-stop.  I don't think I've ever made the trip to Germany from here without a stop somewhere along the way (Usually at JFK) so I was wondering how long this flight was going to feel... especially since I don't tend to sleep at all on flights. I've found that for me, the trick to flying to Europe is to get as little sleep the night before the trip as possible....  and then not sleep on the flight. That tends to work out well for me as when I finally get there I'm already feeling really tired but then  I force myself to stay awake until 11:00 - 12:00 pm that first night, until I'm just exhausted so I sleep through the night that first night and get my body on the right sleep schedule right away.

Anyway, enough about my trick to beat Jet Lag when flying east.  :)  The first flight was very smooth and went by fast now that most international flights give you a lot of options of movies to watch.   Once I landed in Frankfurt, they unloaded us onto buses, which then drove us to the far side of the airport, dumped us off at a part of the airport that seemed totally deserted, and then we had to go through customs... which in this case was just a customs agent looking at my passport for a minute, stamping it and sending me on my way.   Now I had to hike back to the terminal where my flight originally dropped me off to catch the short hop to Berlin....  but luckily Frankfurt airport is super easy to get around and I made it back in plenty of time to board my flight.  If you have ever flown through Paris, you don't want to attempt this with less than a 3 hour layover.

Once the second flight landed in Berlin, that feeling of being home washed over me, and I walked out of the airport, bought a bus ticket and jumped on the bus to get across town as if I'd done it 3 weeks ago instead of 8 years ago now.   It always catches my by surprise at how familiar everything is even after all this time.  I made the 30 minute trip to the hotel and got all checked in, said hello to a couple of people in the lobby that I knew and put my stuff in my room.

Since I knew today was going to be a check-in day for most people, I went back down and hung out in the lobby for a while, watching for friends to show up and catch up with others that were hanging around downstairs at the time.  It's always kind of exciting to just see these people again after a few years ...  even though most of us are in touch on Facebook almost daily.

Someone from my class ('83 Rules!) showed up with her cousin and I got to listen in to a couple of very funny conversation at the front desk, between her and another friend that was standing down there complaining a little about his room.  Lots of laughs were had and teasing ensued.... and then the three of us made plans to head down to Brandenburg Gate to see what was going on and do a little sight-seeing.

We headed for the Potsdamer Platz U-Bahn station and came out to see that they had already begun to line the old path of the Berlin Wall with the balloons being used in the celebration Sunday night.

I was surprised by how much had already been set up. I couldn't believe I'd actually made it back to Berlin to witness this and was suddenly so happy to be here.  Even though this trip had been in the works for 3 years, it still almost felt surreal.

The number of people that were already flooding into the city for this was amazing and to see so many of them out here that same night, wandering around taking photos, soaking up the atmosphere, was really cool to see.  From here the three of us wandered down to Brandenburg Gate where the speeches were going to be given, along with all the musical performances ...  we thought it would be great to see what that area would look like and we weren't the only ones that wanted to see.

The stage area looked very cool and seeing them test out all the light for the show added to the excitement of being here.  We knew it was going to be a fun weekend for sure!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Berlin - Round 2 - Day 2

I had made plans with my friends from the night before to meet up near the biggest shopping area in Berlin, Potsdamer Platz, and they said they would help me get my gift buying done, especially help with picking out something for Kayleigh as I find it harder and harder to know what would make a nice gift for her now that she's no longer into all the things she was as a young girl.  It was so interesting to walk into the new shopping malls that exist in what was East Berlin, because they are just like the big malls in America. That didn't really exist back when the wall was up.  Back then there was really only one big shopping store and that was visited by pretty much every girl in school on a weekly basis.  That was one of the biggest changes I noticed the first time I'd gone back to Berlin after the wall came down and it still catches me a little off guard to see it now.  Berlin used to be nothing but little Boutiques and Mom and Pop type stores all over town where you had to do your shopping.  I don't know if the malls make it better, but as a guy, it's sure easier to only have to go one place to find everything you need. I'm not exactly a fan of shopping.

It turned out that having their help made the whole experience of shopping a lot more fun though and we went from store to store looking for things people had asked me to buy for them while I was there.  We took a break for lunch and went to this cool pizza and pasta place that isn't like anything we have back home.  You are giving a smart card and then you stand in lines depending on what you want and it's kind of the Benihana version of Italian food. You tell a chef what you want and then make it right there in front of you using nothing but fresh ingredients.  Including picking spices right off the plant to toss into the mix as they cook your lunch.  After your place your order, you get the item added to your smart card, so you can pick and choose lunch, drinks, soup, dessert, etc until you are done and then you check out and pay on the way out the door.  I thought it was a cool concept and people seemed to really love it.

After lunch it was back on the hunt for gifts including a trip to the Riter Sport chocolate store there.  It's like M&M world in Las Vegas... with every kind of chocolate you can imagine, including flavors and chocolate bars I have never seen in the States.  One really cool thing you can do there is you can also custom make your own chocolate bar.  It's set up kind of like Cold Stone Creamery.... you have items you can pick from and you choose if you want Milk or Dark Chocolate, and then pick three ingredients to add to the bar and they create it for you while you wait.  It was pretty cool so of course I had to make two of them to take home.

Now with all of that done, we just walked around looking for things I could take pictures of and talked. Christmas season is in full bloom right now and we decided to wander over to what most people say is the best Christmas Market in Berlin (Weihnachtsmarkt).  It really was a little more posh than a few of the other ones I'd seen set up already and they sold so much cool stuff in there.  It's really too bad I don't live in Berlin as I would have stocked up on so much great Christmas Stuff.  I can see why everyone loves going every year and adding to their Christmas Decorations, while grabbing food and drinks and listening to live music.

I'd been trying to meet up with two other friends before I left Berlin but hadn't had any luck in getting in touch with either, but luckily while we were sitting having a drink, my friend Bobby saw a photo on Facebook and happened to be nearby with a car and since he knew the two friends I was with, he called one of their cell phones to get in touch with me. Finally!  He happened to have a car with him and said he would come pick me up from the Christmas Market so we could hang out for the rest of the evening and go to a club across town that he thought I'd enjoy.  Along the way he called one of my oldest Friends that still lives in Berlin and we caught him at home and got him to come meet us at the club.  It was a GREAT way to end the trip and I'd have been so bummed to leave Berlin without having gotten to see either of them.

So even though the trip was coming to an end so much faster than I wanted, I couldn't have asked for a better last two days in the city hanging out with friends and sharing lots of laughs and conversation. There were two bands that played that night and they were both pretty good..... when they finished up, I had to say my goodbyes to Roy and then Bobby gave me a ride back to the hotel.  It's still the greatest city I've ever lived in and I'm so lucky to have friends that still live there that make the visits that much better. Until next time Berlin!

Time to re-pack my bags and squeeze in everything somehow, then it's up early for a VERY long trip back home.  Good thing I get to enjoy a 33 hour day tomorrow. It's going to take most of it to get back home.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Berlin - Round 2 - Day 1

Well today was another travel day but this time not nearly as long a trip as I took leaving town.  Total travel time today was just under 6 hours between 3 trains.  The timing was pretty good so that I didn't have to wait more than 20 minutes between any two trains and then taking the ICE trains the the biggest part of the trip, the countryside flew by.  There were large portions of the trip where I looked up and saw we were doing close to 250 km/h which if I'm still doing my math right, it close to 60 mph.  ;-)

It's a beautiful day here today... high clouds and lots of sunshine, but a little on the cold side.  I really can't complain about how lucky I've been with the weather on this trip. It's hard to believe that coming to Europe in November would get me almost perfect fall weather, with the one day of rain and maybe two nights that were a little on the cold side.

The plan tonight when I got to Berlin was to get to my hotel and get checked in as quickly as I could, and then grab my camera gear and head across town to meet a couple of friends for dinner.  I figured after dinner I could take my time working my way back to the hotel and stop and take photos of some of the bigger tourist spots at night, which hopefully a lot fewer people in them that there were back at the beginning of my trip.  We decided to meet in the East part of Berlin and have dinner at a really nice quiet Restaurant.  They started off telling me that we were going to speak German most of the night since I understand most everything W being said... and then I could just answer in English when I couldn't think of the words I needed (which turned out to be a big portion of the time).  It was cool to sit and have them spend most of the night sharing stories in German though and only once in a while having to stop to explain something they said.  The most interesting part of the night came when the subject of the Wall came up.  For some reason I never realized that they were both born and raised in East Berlin during the days of the wall, and their story of what that was like was fascinating to me.  We talked politics, health care, jobs, pretty much a whole range of things that kept the conversation super interesting... just hearing their views of America and Americans was very cool to me.

The conversation was so interesting that We ended up closing the restaurant down, and as we walked tot he train to head our separate ways, found we'd just missed the last train which caused a bit of a dilemma on how I was going to get back to the hotel.  Just about the time we were trying to figure it out, a couple came walking up and needed to head my way ....  we decided to share a cab as they lived about half way back to my hotel... and the guy told me to jump in with them, he'd pay for his part of the trip and then I could pay the taxi the rest of the way.  It was another reminder at just how nice people can really be.  The taxi ride was interesting as he was from Spain and she was from New York which made for interesting stories on the drive.   Once again, it was a great day with an adventure within my adventure.

Tomorrow is my last day in Berlin and it's going to be bittersweet.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Heidelberg - Day 2

I woke up this morning and looked outside and was surprised to see how foggy it was today.  I decided to head out for Heidelberg Castle first thing as it was a pretty nice little walk from the hotel.   One thing about traveling like this is you tend for kind of forget what day of the week it is, must less what date it is... and I'd somehow gotten my days mixed up thinking it was now Monday, until I heard all the Church bells start going off all over the city.

That is one of my favorite childhood memories... waking up to the Church bells at my Grandmother's house.  It's not the same as hearing the bells at maybe one church in town in America...  kind of hard to really describe it until you hear it.

As I walked and had all those memories from my childhood flood through me, I saw that the sun was cutting through the fog so my timing seemed to be perfect with getting up to the Castle.

The last little portion of the walk to the castle was up some fairly steep steps as most castles in Germany are built high up on the hillsides overlooking the city below.  This one was no different. It did give some great glimpses of the town below and makes you try to imagine what life was like back in the day.

Heidelberg Castle itself is mostly ruins now having been destroyed in the 17h and 18th centuries by wars and fires. It's still a very impressive structure, with the main courtyard buildings having been rebuilt over the years.  The castle covers a lot of ground and you can walk around the outside of it without having to pay any kind of fee.  There is a small fee to enter the castle and walk through the courtyard, and to walk through a few of the buildings within.
The view inside the castle is actually very impressive and bigger than it even appears from outside.  You can walk into a few of the buildings here, and through some archways to the back of the castle for a view overlooking the old town below.  By the time I got to that part of the castle though, the fog had moved in again and made the city below virtually impossible to see.

One thing I didn't expect to see where was a place to eat inside the Castle but there is a small and very nice little restaurant inside.  Of course, I had to great lunch there... I mean, how often can you tell friends that you actually ate lunch or dinner inside of an honest to goodness castle?  The room was really nice too.

After eating lunch I walked around the Castle one more time hoping that the fog would break so I could get some better shots of the city below but no such luck.  This looked like it was pretty much hear to stay.

I headed back down the hill and into the old section of the city, walked across the bridge, looked around at the set up for their Winter Fest and then make the long walk back to the hotel.  All in all it was a fun day and another good long walk.  Since there wasn't too much else I wanted to do, I thought I'd make a bit of an early day of it, and go through photos from the day, posting some of my favorites to Facebook.

Tomorrow marks the last leg of my trip...  I'm heading back to Berlin for another 40 hours before finally having to call an end to this trip and heading back home.  I'm going to try to make the most of my last few hours in Berlin and walk and see as much as possible.... so calling it an early night tonight might be a smart move.

Heidelberg - Day 1

Yesterday was just a travel day for me which mostly involved waiting around train stations and sitting on trains all day.  One good thing about it was that I gave my aching feet a bit of a rest and I finally got a chance to go through some photos from my days in Bruges that I hadn't even looked at yet.

The first part of my trip out of Bruges was on one of the high-speed ICE trains that run through Germany.  This things are fast and quiet.... and such a great way to travel.  I think at one point I noticed we were going 168 km/h.    I think that's like 32 miles an hour or something.   ;-)

The nice thing about riding 1st class on the trains here is that you tend to end up with cabins all to yourself on a lot of these trains if you're not traveling during tourist season. That gave me time to spread out a little, turn on some music and work on editing a few photos.  I had a few hours between cities before I would have to change trains so it was good timing.

The only glitch I ran into on this trip was when I changed trains in Cologne, there was some construction going on outside of the train station that had most trains delayed by almost an hour.... but as I found almost everywhere on this trip, people were pretty friendly and I ended up talking with a German girl who was waiting for the same train on her way home from her Grandmother's funeral.  When I first talked to her in my bad German about the delay, she said she really didn't speak English, but about 30 minutes later came down to find me and sat and talked and her English was much better than my German.  It was nice to pass the time talking to someone and eventually the train showed up and I said goodbye as I headed down to the 1st class cars.  No sooner did I sit down, than two "kids" came into my car to sit and at first didn't really say anything but then asked if anyone else was sitting in there... I think I surprised them when they realized I was American as well... they got pretty excited as they didn't speak German. One was here as an  exchange student, and the other was her brother who had just gotten to Germany the day before.  They had a lot of questions about my trip, and what they should see while here... and it was fun to chat with them until they got off at the next stop.  It's probably one of the most fun things about traveling by train in Europe.  You tend to meet all kinds of people from all over the place.

The rest of my trip to Heidelberg was quiet as it was a late train and not busy at all. When the train got into town, I was pleasantly surprised to find the hotel literally outside o the train station doors ... just about 100 yards to the right.  That was good because I was pretty tired after traveling all day.

Okay, I guess I rambled on way too much about the train trip... didn't realize I had that much to say about it.   That's it for now!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bruges - Day 3

I decided to get up a littler earlier today and actually have breakfast for the first time on this entire trip since I didn't really eat dinner the night before.  The woman running the dining room at the hotel is from Australia and kind of gave me a hard time the day before about skipping out on breakfast and reminded me I had already paid for it so I should make sure to come down and eat.  I'm glad I did because I was much hungrier than I realized.  Plus I'd been missing out on lots of great meats and cheeses and breads for breakfast since leaving Berlin.

After breakfast I just took my time getting ready to head out.... loaded my photos from my camera onto the computer and onto a backup hard drive I'd brought with me, and ran through them really quick to see if I had gotten any good photos from the day before.  There are a lot of photos I am sure I'll always like because I was here, but not nearly as many that would make for good "artistic" kind of shots although I do have an idea with some of them that might really make them fit the mood of this city.  I was certainly more in tourist mode the day before and I could see in in my photos.  That's not always a bad thing through.

I decided to start the day by heading over to the museum and checking out the Salvador Dali exhibit even though the only real art by him that I knew was his famous melting clock stuff.  I'd seen some of his other work before but not enough to where I could have picked it out in an art book if it wasn't captioned.  Needless to say, if you've ever seen his paintings, etchings and sculptures before, he is a little out there sexually in his work.  There were some pretty strange and interesting concepts in his work and he had a number of different series that were all pretty cool to see together.  You could really see how his work changed over time and even over the series he would be putting together.  I enjoyed the show a lot, but was disappointed to see that in all the work they had displayed there, the melting clocks were not included.   I was really looking forward to seeing them in person, but maybe some other day.

The Winter Fest started here today and all the little booths were open around the square so I wandered around checking out what they had for sale and enjoying watching all the people that were here today.  The square and streets were a lot busier today for sure... and I'm not sure how much of that had to do with the Christmas Festival starting and how much was just because it as Friday night and the weekend was here.  There were a lot of tourists from England here for the weekend from what I could hear and with the Chunnel now, it's a very easy and cheap trip for them to make.  I was jeaslous thinking about how easy it would be to travel to a new country every weekend now that the trip across the English Channel was about 2 hours now.

After I started to get really cold walking around I thought it would be a good time to jump on the City Bus Tour and take the 45 minute ride around the city to hear what I may have missed and learn some of the history here.  If you've never been to Bruges before, let me just say that this is a tour  you can really skip and not miss anything.  For the money you pay, you can buy a book abound the city and see and learn so much more just walking around.  I was disappointed, but at least I'd warmed up a bit.  I just wandered around pretty aimlessly the rest of the day here, and after looking at my Fitbit realized that my day of leisure still had me walking just over 9 miles.... so much for resting my poor feet.  Since this was my last night in town and I'd seen pretty much everything I wanted to, I headed back to the hotel early to pack my stuff back up since I wanted to try to sleep in tomorrow.  Bruges was very cool and a beautiful old city, but I can see how this is one of those places you would have more fun with if you were with someone special.  There is a romantic feel to the city that you just can't take advantage on by yourself.  LOL

Tomorrow is a travel day ... leaving here and heading to Heidelberg.  I'm going to try to make the best of the day on the train to just relax and catch up on some reading and maybe even watch a movie or two.  It's been weird not watching TV for almost 3 weeks now.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bruges - Day 2

My plan when I got up today was to head out fairly early and walk the outer ring canal of the city, taking a look at all the gates that were still in place from the Medieval  Days when the only way in and out of the city was through these gates.  
There is a nice park like area that runs along the canal with nice paths for both walking and biking, and like most of this trip so far, it was a beautiful fall-like day.  As you walk around the old city limits and you look inward, you can almost imagine what life must have been like back then.  It almost has the feel of a city straight out of Game of Thrones, where everything is still cobblestone and you can almost hear the horses and carriages making their way to market.

One thing I hadn't expected to see here were Windmills and as it turns out Bruges has 4 of them along the eastern side of the ring.  That's 3 more Windmills than I saw in Holland while I was there.... and Holland is the country known for them.  Go figure right?

Something else that stood out, is that there wasn't really all that much traffic in the city center, at least not nearly what I would have imagined from the number of buildings and shops here. Traffic wasn't heavy but it was very steady as I began to realized every time I went to take a photo.  As one car / cyclist left the photo another would enter... spaced almost perfectly apart, to the point that I started to wonder if I was on some kind of weird hidden camera show and they were just messing with me to see how long it would take before I would give up waiting and just shoot the photo and move on. LOL

After making my way around the outer ring and checking the maps posted at every tourist attraction I'd seen most of what I could see on the eastern side and then I just began weaving my way back and forth into the city, checking out all the cool churches and buildings I could see.  Some of the streets where pretty narrow and it looked like most of them were one way.  It was almost like walking through a maze which I found a lot of fun, just seeing if I could remember all the twists and turns I was taking as I tried to slowly work my way towards the main square and then back out again in another direction.

It was really interesting to watch the drivers and cyclists doing the same thing and they flew up and down the little alleys.  I funny thing I noticed during the day though, was that the drivers here had a very bad habit of stalling their cars on a regular basis.  I don't think I've ever seen or heard so many cars stall out at stops and then have to b what e restarted.  I wasn't really sure what that was all about?  They all acted like it was a totally normal thing to do though, so I'm thinking they must just use really watered down gas here and the cars just can't idle on it... yeah, that would be my excuse anyway. LOL

All in all, it was just a perfect day for walking and taking in the city, and I began to realize if you only had one day to do it, you could....as long as you didn't also want to take the time to shop and sit in restaurants eating and drinking and people watching.  I'd given myself 2 full days here, and by the end of the day today, I'd seen and taken photos of just about everything I could think of here.

Even though I can't speak the language at all here, when you see things in writing, it's pretty easy to figure out what almost everything says.  It's a weird mixture between German and English and some of it almost looks like it was made up because it's so
close to one of those two with just a little spelling twist.

Okay, enough rambling for today, my feet are actually feeling the miles for the first time on this trip and I think some of that has to do with the cobblestones I walked on for 10+ hours today. I think tomorrow will be a much more laid back day since I'd seen so much today.  There are a few sights I still want to take in, a couple I want to go back and re-shoot, and then I think I might take in a City Bus Tour and go see the Salvador Dali exhibit in the museum here.   Sounds like a pretty mellow day. :)

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bruges - Day 1

Today was a travel day, leaving Amsterdam and heading for Bruges in Belgium. After all the walking I'd been doing in Amsterdam, it was nice to have an excuse to kick my feet up for a few hours and just relax, as the plan was to do a lot more walking in Bruges as well.

I got in to the station after pretty much everything there had shut down so it took a few minutes to look around outside the train station before figuring how which way I had to go to get to my hotel.  No Taxi's were around but I knew it wasn't too far of a walk so away I went, dragging my luggage down narrow cobblestone roads with no one around.... was weird to see the city had pretty much closed up by 8:30 at night, but kind of cool to see all the old buildings with no traffic coming or going.

I found the hotel pretty easy and once again, found myself looking at getting my luggage up a narrow and fairly steep staircase, no elevators of course. The room was really nice though, and maybe one of the nicest of my trip so far. Of course, it did have a few quirks... like the toilet is literally in a closet. Here are some pics just for fun.

Since I'd been sitting most of the day and it was still early, I grabbed my camera and a map from the front desk and decided to see what I could tonight, hopefully getting some good shots of the cool old buildings here, without too many people around.
I headed for main square wanting to see the Bell Tower first and foremost and to try to find the one iconic spot where the most famous photos of Bruges are
taken.  I figured if nothing else, I could find my way there so that I could get back there nice and easy tomorrow when I had the whole day to explore and shoot.

Here are a few more shots from my wanderings tonight...  This is a great city and I love how old and medieval it all feels. I'm really looking forward to getting out again tomorrow to see as much of the city as I could fit in


Friday, November 21, 2014

Amsterdam - Day 4

Today is my last full day in Amsterdam and I feel as though I've seen as much of the canal areas of the city as I can without just re-tracing my steps over and over again, so I decided I was going to walk to a point away from the center area to a cool bridge called the Python Bridge that was also on my list of must sees while I was here.

I'd seen photos of it before my trip and it was just cool enough and unique enough that I wanted to see it with my own eyes, and walk across it a
couple of times.  So I did some quick research on Google to get the address and took off.  The only bad thing about heading here was that there wasn't going to be much to see on the way there or back, and it was going to take up a few hours.... but I was okay with that.
I thought I could wander around on the way back and see if I could find some more modern architecture that would yield itself to some cool photos.

I finally made it to the Python Bridge and it was pretty cool looking, and in an area I never would have imagined from the photos I'd seen before.  It sat at the end of a canal that was bordered by apartment buildings on both sides and was much more residential than I expected.  It would be a very cool area to live.

I just remembered that I forgot to mention one kind of interesting thing I found while walking the canals yesterday, was that I found a number of very cool looking little drawbridges that I'd never seen the likes of before.
It only makes sense that bigger boats need a way to get through there as well. The interesting thing was the number of different kinds of bridges, some draw bridge like at home, some small bridges that twist open, and some that almost looked like they were build from a Lego kit or something and could be opened by hand by anyone with the need. I'm sure that's not how they work, but they sure were small.

Something else I forgot to mention was that on Sunday I also found this cool bar near my hotel that showed NFL football, and they just so happened to be showing the Seahawks game!  So to get my
fix of Football, I headed there just before the game started, got something to drink and then had a couple of Americans sit at my table with me.  Turns out they were from Seattle!  What a small
world.  They only stayed until half-time and had to get back to their hotel since they were here for work unlike me.  During the second half of the game I overheard 3 British kids talking about football and trying to figure out some of the rules and they called me over to join them to ask for help.  It was a great time sitting there and hearing what they thought about the game, comparing it to Rugby, talking about violence outside of the game and players being suspended and
hearing their take on it all.  People on the road tend to be so friendly and I'd talked to more than my fair share of really nice people while here for sure.

So that was mainly my day today.  I decided I wanted something a little different for dinner after all that walking and hit an Irish bar around the corner from my hotel and had Cottage Pie for
dinner.  It hit the spot for sure  :)

Amsterdam - Day 3

So I woke up to a very nice but chilly Fall day out there and decided that before I do anything else, I needed to get the number one must see item marked off my list before I let too much more time go by.  I read The Diary of Anne Frank for the first time in 7th grade I think and it was one of those books you read, and you just never forget.  I'd tried to picture what her life must have been like during those years of hiding and always tried to picture what the house was like that they were in.When I decided to add Amsterdam to my list of cities to visit on this trip, I just knew I had to make sure I visited the Anne Frank House, if I did nothing else. There is a museum built next to the house now (well, not really even a house but a office building), that looked kind of deceiving when I first walked up, but the really long line let me know I found the right address.

Even though the line went around the block, there was no way I was skipping this, so I just got in line and waited.  It was funny but to keep everyone entertained, they actually provide free WiFi in line so you can surf the Internet on your phone while you wait.  I used the time to catch up on Facebook and browse all the photos everyone has been posting from their trips.  The wait wasn't too bad really, maybe 45 minutes and then it was into the building. The first thing that took me by surprise was the size of the rooms and the building itself. I guess I'd always pictured something smaller every time I read the book.

You slowly work your way through each of the rooms in the office building, with notes and photos on the walls here and there telling you what each office space was and who sat where and it explains their part in helping the Frank family hide out. And then you get to the movable bookcase which was almost exactly as I'd imagined, even if the rest of the house wasn't.  Needless to say, after having just been to Auschwitz, it hit me even harder finally visiting here, knowing the fear they must have felt and the horror that was ahead of them.

There were a couple of places in the house that were sadder than others, but I won't spoil it for anyone that plans to visit on their own one day.  Let me just say, it's worth the visit and the wait in line.

I left there feeling a bit melancholy again and decided the best way to clear my head was to just walk and take photos as much as possible the rest of the day.  Amsterdam is made up of a number of canals that are circular and run in parallel to each other so I started walking one of the outer canals and walked it end to end, before moving in one canal closer to the city center, and walking back the other way.... working my way back and forth until I made it back to my hotel.  It took me close to 6 or 7 hours but was a lot of fun seeing as much as possible, and I could feel my artistic side kind of wake up as the day wore on.

Amsterdam has the feeling of a city that painters must love and I decided to process a few of my photos with that kind of look in mind.  Some of the better ones I've posted to Facebook already, and since I think the only people reading this are also friends on Facebook, I'll put a couple of others here.... even though they aren't nearly as good.

All in all, it was a great day, long, introspective, and motivating as well. I think I walked 15 miles and it was time to hit the sack!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Amsterdam - Day 1 and 2

Well the plan was to spend a full day in Berlin after getting back from Poland, but along the way I found out one of the Brats and her cousin / BFF were going to be in Amsterdam while I was traveling to Poland, and I'd just miss them if I didn't head to Amsterdam Sunday. We talked about me coming a day early so that they could show me around and I really wanted to hang out with them at least one night in Amsterdam before they had to leave. My train got in around 6:00 pm and they met me at the train station. We went and stowed my bag away and then hit the streets, walking around the
Museum district and hearing all the stories of what they'd seen and did the 4 days they were there. I also heard the story about how a pick pocket tried to still her Passport and money and how she caught him in the act, demanded he give it all back, and the kid did... before running away.  I was impressed!

After a lot of walking around, we found a cool little restaurant for some dinner and ate and talked for a couple of hours.  It was nice to have a night to wind down after all the traveling in the last two days, and was great to be able to laugh again after the prison camp visits of yesterday.  They had to be at the train semi-early so we called it
an early night but I told them I would head to the station with them in the morning and help get their bags on the train and say our goodbyes there.

Day 2 in Amsterdam was a really wet one.  It was the first rain of the entire trip so I couldn't complain. I mean the weather had been fantastic and almost perfect up until that point.  Not bad for November!  After saying goodbye at the train station, I was no on the section of my trip where I was all alone.  I had no schedule to keep, no places to be and decided that since it was raining I would use this opportunity to just walk and see as much of the city as I could since I couldn't really take too many photos today.

It was a good time to explore and try to find interesting things to photograph over the next couple of days. I walked from one end of the old part of the city to the other, looking in shops, watching people, almost being run over by the crazy cyclists who are everywhere in this city.  I know there are cities in America where they claim to have a lot of bike riders, but there isn't a city anywhere that has as many as they do in Amsterdam!
Bikes were everywhere... people riding them, parked and chained up on every bridge, sidewalk, building and even in their own parking garages.  It was something else to watch the Dutch flying up and down every street on their bikes... turning in and out of their own miniature version of rush hour, no crashing into each other or pedestrians I could see.  It was impressive to watch!

So my first full day in Amsterdam was mostly just a lot of walking and getting rained on.  The only other interesting part of the day was the walk through the Red Light District.  It's one of those places you always hear about and I think every tourist in town walks through there one some point in time on their trip.  It was much more fun watching the tourists walking around than anything... There were people of every age group, nationality, couples, groups of friends ... and they all mostly laughed and giggled as they walked up and down the streets looking at the girls in the window.

Oh, before I forget about the cyclists, one kind of crazy thing I saw over and over again, were women in full dresses and heals, women with 1-2 kids on the bike, people texting while riding, people lugging large items like flat panel TVs, pretty much anything we see people doing in cars in the States... they do here on their bikes.

Well that's it for the recap on my first day and a half in Amsterdam.  The weather is supposed to be nicer tomorrow so I'm hoping to get out and shoot photos all day!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Poland - Day 4

The alarm went off WAY too early but I was on a tight schedule to get down in time for the taxi so there was no hitting snooze today.  I made it over to the hotel in time for a little breakfast before our long day ahead...

I'd read and watched many stories about the concentration camps over the years, and about man's inhumanity to man, but yet, knowing I was going to visit the place were those atrocities actually happened kind of put a damper on the mood that morning.  As I climbed onto the bus, I realized I wasn't the only one feeling that way.

I guess I'd never really seen photos or videos of the actual camp over the years, but only photos of the people effected by them.... because when we first got there and went inside, the first thing that caught my eye was the size of the buildings there, and the fact they were all brick and almost looked like military buildings from places we had been stationed over the years.  In fact, they looked a lot like the last building I worked at as a contractor on Fort Lewis.  It just caught me off guard but once the tour started and we were walked through the buildings, shows some of the evidence left behind, the enormity of the horror that happened there really hit home.

There were rooms filled with children's shoes, women's hair, family suitcases, and just all kinds of other household items that were seen fit to reuse after those families were murdered.  Knowing that what we were looking at was just a drop in the bucket...

I can't even being to put into words the horror and evil that happened there. It was heartbreaking and once again hammered home the point that we has humans, can't forget the past, in order to someday hope that it is never repeated. This is a hard day to write
anything even remotely humorous... and the second camp was must more of the same, only showing that as the Nazi machine got rolling
that horror grew even more terrible.  There are plenty of books, photos, movies... information out there for those of you that might to read up more on all of it again....  but I just ask that we never forget how evil man can be ... and hopefully we can all do our little part to help treat each other better and make this world a better place.... even if it's just one of us at a time.

The bus ride back to Berlin was a long one.... and mostly quiet.... it didn't have the same energy as the trip down but as we got closer to home, there were some fun stories and laughs begin shared again.  I think this touched everyone, and I don't think it is a day any of us will forget.

That's it for now.... I'm only on hour 3 of my train ride to Amsterdam, but suddenly I'm thinking I need to watch a movie or something to shut the brain down for a while. I will post more from Amsterdam in the next day or two.  :)