Monday, December 29, 2014

No adventures in 2014?

I just realized it's been over a year since I posted on this blog, not for my lack of snarky things to say, but because I hadn't gone on any travels, and I generally only use this to document my travels. Basically, I print these off and throw them inside my scrapbooks with ticket stubs, photos, and other flat vacation memorabilia.

But it isn't true, not that I haven't had any adventures -- I have. I have had adventures.

2014 was a particularly big year: I gave birth to a baby girl.

And this, ladies and gentlemen, has been my biggest adventure to date.

We've seen teeth, and crawling, and epic poo blowouts, and napping in awkward places, not napping, epic 2-hour naps, butterflies, solid food, choking incidents, trying to jam two fingers in her mouth to rescue a piece of candy wrapper but accidentally sliding it down her throat (it's ok, she puked it up a moment later), power puking, changing sheets a million times, catching up on a nearly-20 year absence from General Hospital, attachment parenting, detachment parenting.....

but no, I haven't been out of the country. We did go to Windsor for Thanksgiving to visit The Boy's grandmother (Minime's great grandmother!), but hopefully we can make up for our passports' lack of usage in 2015.

In the meantime, happy new year!

Monday, December 09, 2013

Auf wiedersehen (Munich 2, and Goodbye for now, Germany!)

We made our way back to Munich. It just made more sense, and cost us less to fly in and out of one city than to get two one-way flights.

In Munich, we saw the things we hadn't seen and tried to eat all the food we hadn't eaten. We tried Reiberdatschi, which was some sort of deep fried potato latke business served with apple sauce. It was.. It was interesting. Kind of bland and greasy. The most interesting thing is that it was served on a wafer plate. like the inside of a Coffee Crisp, but not chocolate-covered, and big. How very eco-friendly.

We did our last rounds of Christmas Marketing, visited a couple of stores to buy things we'd considered buying before and "When In Germany" right? Its hard for me to justify buying a lot of clothes right now, as I'm just getting fatter and fatter (er, more and more pregnant), and who knows when (if) I'll return to my "normal" size.

So we came back to Canada. What a fun experience with LL and JP. Wonder if AW, LS, and JK will join us next time :)

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Blizzard (in Berlin)

We arrived in Berlin late on Wednesday. We arrived pretty late to our apartment. We couldn't really go out and get food.

On Thursday, we got up early to go to the Reichstag. My mom came to Berlin years ago and was told how beautiful the Reichstag was, and that entrance was free. What her tour guide didn't do was secure any reservations or permits for them to visit. Chinese tours: you get what you pay for. Crappy service.

Anyhoo, we made it our mission to make sure we went, so we showed up just in time for our reservation to go up to the dome. The self-guided audio tour is awesome and we saw lots of Berlin from this amazing vantage point. We set out afterwards for our free walking tour of Berlin, but it was rainy and windy, and we were shivering so much (and none of us wanted to be the first to crack) that we hopped on a CitySightseeing tour to visit the major sites. We saw the Holocaust Memorial and the TV Tower and Pariser Platz and the Brandenburg Gate. We got off on the Kudam where we warmed ourselves up with some shopping and then  explored the Christmas Markets there.  We visited Checkpoint Charlie, got changed quickly at our apartment, and then went out to meet LL's friend for dinner at MarySol, a spanish tapas place with great reviews. She was really sweet.

We left late and had to take a cab to the Deutsche Oper where we had more subpar seats to see Falstaff in Italian. If we had been sitting just a bit closer, we'd have been able to see the German surtitles, but we wouldn't have understood them anyway. We read the (poorly translated) program during the intermission, but by that time i was having a miserable time. We'd tried so hard to warm up during the day that i'd overheated and was doing the pregnancy hot flash manipura anger thing. It was not a good scene. JP and LL said they heard me trying to do cooling breath during the opera. I finally cooled down back at the apartment where I could strip down and relax. OMG.

Yesterday, the rain had evolved into a full out snowstorm. We went to visit the Berlin Wall, which is beautiful. We couldn't make it the whole way. JP broke her boots so we went to a mall to buy new boots. Then we explored a number of Christmas Markets, including the Gendarmenmarkt (the only one we had to pay to get into, but a really nice one) and saw Smaug being built for the Berlin opening of The Desolation of Smaug.

For dinner, we tried to go to the Reisling Lounge, but it was full up on reservations. We had a wee bit of reisling and more currywurst for dinner. Then, we went to Fassbender Rausch for the the richest hot chocolate ever, the most delicious little chocolate cakes, and then some amazing chocolate shopping. We met Boris, an American expat who moved to Berlin to learn German 15 years ago and then just stayed. 

We packed and then.. this morning, we had to catch our flight back to Munich. We're en route to Munich now. I definitely want to come back to Berlin one day to explore it properly. Maybe sometime in the summer so we can see the whole wall and do the walking tour without fear of frostbite :)

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Little Toys for Girls and Boys (Nuremburg)

Our train to Nuremburg was really smooth, except for the crotchety old man selling candy. where did he expect us to stand, and was he prepared to hoist our luggage overhead, or what?

Arriving in Nuremburg was easy, and finding our apartment was easy enough too. Our landlord, Ingeborg was very sweet, though the apartment was very smoky. We walked through the castle and ate out. I had spatzle and nuremburg sausages (tiny ones). We walked up to Christkindlmarkt but it was just closing. We met a German expat named Maggie who introduced us to the rummy glühwein (all the alcohol was burned off) and ate candied nuts. JP promptly chomped down on her tongue and literally had a flap. *shudder* .. it bled for hours. We walked around for ages, then stayed up late to Facetime with LL's family and with The Boy.

Yesterday, LL and JP meant to get up early to go to the Nazi Rallying Grounds and the Documentation Centre, but by the time they'd gotten up, i'd done some yoga and thought about it. Given the opportunity, i should join them. I didn't want to go to the sites, but holocaust victims sure didn't want to go there either, and they didn't have a choice. We took the #9 tram to the museum and spent most of the afternoon there.  Then we took the #36 bus, which had a free  leaflet to describe the many local sites, to the Toy Museum.

The Toy Museum is full of old trains and amazingness, including a shaggy-haired sixties Ken Doll and beautiful doll houses. We were right down by the Chriskindlemarkt so we spent the next four hours there buying many gifts and souvenirs. LL and I shared a 1/2 m wurst. I ate a Bismarck (fish?)  sandwich with far too many onions, and then back at the apartment, we all shared a schneeball, this delicious-looking chocolate covered disappointment that was actually a weird stale-fried dough business. Gross.

Today, we all slept in again. We're on vacation, damn it. We stopped at the health food store around the corner to pick up some food and then took the U1 to the Palace of Justice, location of the Nuremburg Trials. Even though it's a weekday, we were lucky and the local trial taking place either finished or took a long break, because we were able to visit the famous Courtroom 600. At this point, though, I am emotionally drained and maybe done with museums.

We rushed back to the apartment to check out, went back to Hauptbahnhof to purchase our train tickets (no crazy rush this time), walked around a smaller Christmas Market. I bought some schnitzel (yum!) and a "foam kiss", another chocolate-covered confection that was kind of a blown up jetpuffed marshmallow deliciousness that was NOT a disappointment at all! JP needed McDonalds ("I want McDonalds. I need McDonalds. McDonalds. I need McDonalds. McDonalds now. Is there a McDonalds there? McDonalds McDonalds McDonalds") so finally got some.

I almost missed this train because i needed to pee! It's been difficult to walk around with this pregnancy, my horrible hip pain, and my crap knees. The girls were already on the train when i rushed up the platform. German trains... you can set your watch to them!

We got on First Class by mistake, and then JP was promptly sick (McDonalds? tongue infection?).  We're on our way to Berlin now!

Monday, December 02, 2013

Guten Tag! (Munich)

Last year in September, a bunch of my girlfriends and i were talking about going away on a trip together when JP yelled out "GERMAN CHRISTMAS MARKETS". we all agreed that we wanted to go, and set it for the first week of December this year. Except that a week later, LS said that she actually wouldn't have enough vacation time to come (ok), JK couldn't leave her baby (understandable), and AW laughed and said "I didn't think you guys were serious!" (bitch!!) ...but we were! and so JP, LL, and I embarked this week for the land of brats, beer, and breaded meats. so good.

Our flights from Ottawa were uneventful. Flight attendants give you everything you need when pregnant, including lots of extra juice and water and a ton of extra pillows.  LL nearly had some guy sleeping in her lap, and JP took a front row where she was able to lie down (bitch!). I have a healthy affinity for Hello Kitty, but somehow JP thinks this is unacceptable but following three grumpy cats on FB is "perfectly acceptable" (She is wrong).

On Saturday morning, we landed in Munich early in the morning. We bought subway passes for the day and discovered that they run on an honour basis, but you probably should (officially) buy a day pass anyway. We took the U2 (Achtung Baby) to our hotel. There are several exits to every subway station, where it's helpful to know a few German words (we don't) and we accidentally came out the wrong exit. We tried to ask for directions but it didn't really work out in our favour:

Me: Um. hi. Guten Tag?
German Man: Ya. Guten Tag. (keeps walking)
Me: Um, no. Sorry.
German Man: (rapid German, waving finger around in a circle around his head, walks away).
Me: Thanks?

Eventually we walked around with our luggage and found the right street and our hotel. It's a "spacious" suite at the Leonardo, where we had two singles pushed together and a cot. we didn't quite have space for our luggage, but we had to laugh about the situation... especially since we were killer exhausted and committed to making the most of our first day of our very short trip.

After a super short shower (for me, not a communal shower for the three of us, not that the bathroom would have allowed space for that) and change, we busted our butts down to Marienplatz for our free city tour led by a mother-daughter team. We explored the Victualien Market and had our first sausage on bun and gluhwein (kinderpunsch for me). We rubbed Julia's breast for luck in love (a statue gift from the CIty of Verona to represent Juliet), walked around Petersplatz, St. Peter's Church, checked out the cathedral with the devil's footstep in the front vestibule, and ogled the shops on Maximillianstrasse, this fancy street with all the fancy stores on the main level and plastic surgeons on the second floors. We paid our respects at Dodgers Alley, where there are bronze bricks marking the path residents took to avoid saluting a nazi plaque, but were then confronted by another nazi soldier. After an extremely brief visit to the Residenz Museum (where JP took many kissy pictures with the various Dukes and Kings of Germany), we went to the Beer Hall.

We meant to eat dinner there but were advised not to. None of JP, LL nor I drink beer so we went to the Paulaner (also a beer) to eat. LL and I shared Oblatz (a cheesy camembert spread served with rye bread) and braised pork knuckle with red cabbage and potato dumplings.  I also had "apfelschorle", a mix of apple juice and club soda. My kind of non-alcoholic spritzer. JP had scottish salmon (an odd choice!). We walked around the Christmas Market at Marienplatz, then settled in for a hot chocolate at Starbucks so LL could call her son.

If that wasn't enough, we'd purchased not-too-cheap tickets for La Bayadere at the National Theatre. Our seats were effing ridiculous. Sitting down, we had a view of half of the stage at best, but as soon as the ballet started, the front row leaned forward and we couldn't see a thing. JP stood up, but i just got angrier and angrier. I finally went out to complain, but wasn't allowed back in until the intermission. I plan to complain. The only alternative was to go to the projection bar to watch the show. I didn't even realize there were dancers in blue AND dancers in yellow. ARGH! Perhaps the best part, however, was where LL got the "I'm going to have to ask you to leave." lol. like a common criminal. :) We called it a day, took the U-bahn back to the hotel and were greeted with free cookies at the hotel. We fell asleep super easily (at least, I did).

Day 2 was Castle Day! German bakeries pump out "The Smells", that is doctored-up delicious smells that make you feel like the only thing in the world you need is bread and you need it right at that moment. We bought some, obviously, along with some cookies and apfelschorle. We went to the car rental and met the coolest lady ever, Sabine. She has an uncle who lives in Waterloo and has visited Canada before!    We asked if we would get a Mercedes and Sabine said "obviously". hahah. Mercedes are the Fords of Germany; all the cabs in town are Mercedes.

We drove to Neuschwanstein Castle, the castle King Ludwig II built and upon which the Sleeping Beauty castle was modelled. JP topped out at 150 on the Autobahn, though we were driving more like 130-140 km/h for most of the drive. We listened to German music, including some awesome song by some German equivalent of Lifehouse.

When we arrived, we found that JP had forgotten her camera, and I had forgotten ONE glove and my hat. ridiculous. We had three hours before the next available tour, but JP didn't want to wait around, so she went straight up to Neuschwanstein Castle. LL and I explored the grounds at Hohenschwangau Castle before heading up the very long walk up the mountain to Heuschwanstein. We still had a ton of time before our tour and for some reason we felt like we missed the bridge over which you get the "best view" of the castle. There was a huge barrier set up at one side of the castle. We thought it was construction, but we noticed that  everyone, seniors and children, were climbing over this barrier. So LL and I climbed over the barrier. It was slippery, i'll give you that, but after passing over three barriers, we finally got to the beautiful bridge. The view was totally worth it. JP met up with us along the way, and then we made it back to Neuschwanstein in time for our tour.

The tours are the only choice to go inside the castle. I don't mean this in the way that "this is the only way you should consider visiting the castle", but i mean "this is the only way that you are allowed inside the castle".  They tell you a few canned stories about Ludwig's mysterious death, and don't leave you a lot of space to explore. You're also not allowed to take any photos inside, which is  a total shame because what's finished at the castle is really very beautiful. Ludwig was inspired by Richard Wagner's Operas (or "Oprahs" according to our tour guide) and rooms featured many keramic swans. 

There were a million stairs at the castle, and the horse carriage had stopped running by the time our tour was over, so i hitched a ride down with a castle employee. JP drove us to Oberammergau, a little village DAJ recommended to check out the beautiful murals painted on all of the buildings. We ate at the Maximillian Brewery, the town's highest-rated restaurant. We ate schmaltz (a rendered bacon was served cold, unfortunately, but we still ate it), more obatzda, flammenkuchen (a super thin-crust pizza that is popular in France's Alasacian region because it's so close to Germany), and creamy pumpkin soup (super popular on menus everywhere). The excitement for the night was when JP accidentally went into the men's room because she didn't know "men" and "women" in German. we still don't, but somehow LL and I haven't made the same mistake :)

The drive back was nice. Dark, but nice. We even stopped the car to look up at the clear skies. it was beautiful! LL had her first experience filling the gas tank until full (instead of buying a certain amount). We dropped the car off, ubahn-ed it back to the hotel, and had more cookies and apfels before falling asleep.

Today, we checked out of the Leonardo. We stored our luggage at the train station before succumbing to The Smells again and getting pastries from Le Crobag for breakfast.  We took the Viator tour to Dachau. Our tour guide was Alun Evans and he knew a heck of a lot of info about Dachau. I knew that Dachau would be sad, but i didn't realize how sad. I didn't predict i'd burst into tears or that i'd have a hard time walking through the gas chamber. There was an extremely graphic video but i think the most difficult part of being there was knowing the history in the very grounds i was standing. It was horrifying.

We made it back to Munich at 2:50 and somehow retrieved our luggage, bought food, bought our tickets, AND made it on the 3:06 train to Nuremburg, where we are now.

The German we've learned so far:

Apfel: apple
Ausgang: exit (walking)
Ausfahrt: exit (driving)
Eingang: entrance (walking)
Mietwagen: pronounced "meet-vagg-en", "car rental"
Platz: square
Schloss: castle
Strasse: pronounced "strah-see", "street"


Monday, November 11, 2013

New York City, Where all the girls are pretty

The last time The Boy and I went to NYC (in 2010, for his marathon with Team Diabetes), we decided that the NEXT time we go to NYC, we’d do all touristy things. After all, we’d each been to NYC several times, but neither had seen the Statue of Liberty, we’d never been to (or been up, if you need the HIMYM distinction) the Empire State Building, and we’d never visited any museums.

This last weekend, we had our babymoon and shared it with MH and RS. RS has been to NYC before, but this was MH’s first time! After some drama leaving Canada (apparently MH has a very similar name to someone very wanted), we all arrived in NYC on Thursday evening. The Boy and I had a couple of hours to kill before MH and RS arrived, so we ran some errands and hopped to Union Square so I could return some boots to DSW and hit up the Whole Foods for some snacks. I know that Ottawa is getting a Whole Foods eventually, but in the meantime, I still need my fix of those little nut-and-chocolate-covered toffees. What are they even called? They’re like souped-up natural-er skor bars. My fave.

In any case, when we were all finally in town, we went to Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen in Times Square and gawked at the guitars, ate the dragon fries, and drank delicious drinks. I have no idea how they keep the fries so crispy and yet coat them in delicious wing sauce, but they did. We went to see The Lion King at Minskoff Theatre (so beautiful) and then walked around Times Square. We went to the M&M shop (obviously) and the Hershey Shop (DARK CHOCOLATE REESES!) and took in the city.

On Friday, we woke up earlyish to beat the lines at the Empire State Building. It looks nothing like it did on HIMYM! It was beautiful to see the skyline and the art deco was gorgeous. From there, more touristy things: Grand Central Station (where I had a brief Gossip Girl moment), Rockefeller Plaza (a Serendipity moment), and NBC Studios (an SNL moment). We actually did the NBC studio tour and saw the TINY SNL stage. I demonstrated my TERRIBLE teleprompter reading skills during a fake weathercast. Never put me on tv. Seriously.

On this visit, I even got to go to Magnolia Bakery (a Sex and the City moment) and we chowed down on these delicious goodies (my favourite was the Mocha) inside Radio City Music Hall before we saw the Rockettes show! The Rockettes were awesome. They’re just putting in the big tree at Rockefeller and the Rockettes are breaking out their Christmas gear. They’re super precise and really regimented! The only downfall was the asshole couple who came in late, and the proceeded to talk through the rest of the show. I even looked pointedly at the man, who gave me a half smile, shut up for 20 seconds, and then started talking again. Rage.

After the show, the four of us went to the Lamb’s Club for dinner, a Geoffrey Zacharian restaurant full of magic, love, and more precision. It’d have been awesome to see the Iron Chef in person, but it just wasn’t meant to be. Still full from dinner, we met up with MHT and NT, who now live on the Upper West Side (seriously) and went to the Cake Boss Café for dessert (to be fair, I’ve never actually seen the show).

Let me be perfectly clear:

Guy Fieri’s American Kitchen: despite crappy reviews, I recommend it.
Lion King: Recommend Recommend Recommend!
Empire State Building: Recommend.
NBC Studio Tour: Recommend.
Magnolia Bakery: not the best I’ve ever eaten, but they were indeed delicious. Recommend.
Radio City Music Hall Rockettes Show: Recommend.
Geoffrey Zacharian’s Lamb’s Club: Recommend wholeheartedly.

It was terrible.Tasteless and devoid of texture and piles upon piles of whipped cream. We couldn't finish one thing. Gross. Actually, I lie. I think The Boy finished his biscotti. But the oreo mousse was disgusting. How do you ef up Oreos? The Cake Boss knows. Apparently he is famous for beautiful creations, not for tasty creations. If I’d watched his show, I might know this. :P

On Saturday, we had a quick diner breakfast (served by an aspiring actor?), we walked west to the USS Intrepid Space and Air Museum. This was the one thing that was a must-do for The Boy, so explored airplanes and submarines and the real Enterprise. The Boy, though 36 years old, was like a little boy. So cute.

We had a late lunch at Daisy May’s BBQ (so so so good) and then made our way down to Battery Park for our faraway view of the Statue of Liberty. Another trip to NYC down and I still haven’t seen the lady up close. Apparently it takes a whole day to get out there and back, but next time I am going to splurge and take the time to go. It might cut into my time at Century 21, which is where we went next, so I will have to take this into consideration. I love Century 21.
We finished the day off with some massive NY pizzas. I’m drooling just thinking of them.

Sunday, we all went to Central Park. RS and The Boy went for a run, and MH and I walked leisurely through the park, taking pictures of the changing colours of the leaves and the pretty bridges (more Gossip Girl moments – where did B and Chuck get married?). After their runs, we met up with our spouses for candied nuts and a visit to The Met. Talk about extensive. You could spend three days at The Met and not see everything. We did our very best though, and I had my pic taken out at the front steps (yet another Gossip Girl moment).

MHT came and met me at the Todd English restaurant attached to our hotel for a pretty decent hot chocolate and we took our requisite matching belly shots (she is two months ahead of me but somehow we are the same size) before MH, RS, The Boy and I went back downtown to Marc Forgione’s restaurant, Forges.

Forge’s was my most anticipated restaurant to visit, I think because I was a little in love with him when he was on Next Iron Chef. The food was excellent, don’t get me wrong, but I think I preferred Lamb’s Club. My three dinner companions voted this one as the best food we’d eaten all weekend, though.

My favourite? Halal. You just can’t get halal truck food in Ottawa. Nowhere has this magical mixture of rice, lettuce, tomatoes, corn, fried fish, French fries, and red and white sauce. *drool*.. I’d go back to NYC just for Halal, in fact. And the Statue of Liberty.

Another recap, for your NYC-trip planning:

Space and Air Museum: Recommend! Especially if you have kiddos.
Daisy May’s BBQ: definitely recommend. Get the corn. And the wet ribs. And the baked beans. Omg. I want it right now.
Central Park walk: Recommend
The Metropolitain Museum of Art: Recommend (we bought our tickets in advance but you can just pay by donation)
Forge’s: Recommend

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The long road home

It took us a day in Saskatchewan and we drove through three states in a day on this trip and yet we've spent the last three days driving JUST through Ontario to get home. On these piddly 90 km/hr roads. 

You know what, though? Ontario is STUNNING. I finally get all those Tourism Ontario commercials. Who knew? Obviously northern ontarians. gold mine. I only wish that it was closer because i am really not willing to drive 20 hours to camp up here, and how feasible is it to porter flight it to Thunder Bay and then rent a car and all sorts of camping gear and THEN go camping? it appears i'll have to make the best of what's near Ottawa.

Anyway. We left Winnipeg and drove through Kenora (i knew someone in high school who was from Kenora and she said, "It's waayyy up north, on the border of Ontario and Manitoba". She had really long eyelashes. Super smart too. I digress) and then up towards Thunder Bay. I'm ashamed to say that I slept through most of the drive. I just couldn't keep my eyes open, even though I've been getting comfortable sleeps at night. Still, we arrived in Thunder Bay and visited the (beautiful) Terry Fox memorial before driving into Sleeping Giant provincial park to camp. 

So. worth. it.

We were in the middle of bbqing buttertarts (haven't been able to get them out of my mind since we had flambeed buttertarts in Saskatoon) and roasting marshmallows when I saw a little white but only about 15 m from us. I slapped The Boy in the chest and hissed, "go get the camera!!!!"

IT WAS AN ELK! just munching on some grass in a little clearing between our site and our neighbours' (granted, there was a lot of space between sites because we couldn't see them.. but we could sure hear them. They didn't see the elk, judging by their giggles and (my imagined) hair tossing.

True Fact: i am NOT good at spotting wildlife. but i did. and it was amazing. 

The next morning, we went for a 2-hour hike through a couple of the trails in Sleeping Giant. We saw fresh animal tracks, but no animals :( We even got up super early and tried to make as little noise as possible but the schloop schloop schloop of our hiking boots in mud must have given us away. Next, we headed south through Elliot Lake and Wawa, both places I've heard of but had never known were real. I had a swordfish sandwich at a little highway diner that Shawn Desman has visited and has left a very large, framed, signed photo. It was ok. It was a piece of deepfried swordfish inside deep fried bread. Too much. but who am i kidding? it totally hit the spot. The most surprising part of driving through Ontario is all the ROCKS. I'd heard of the Canadian Shield back when I was in grade 1 but to actually see it, so cool! 

Sidebar: It has not escaped me how completely jaded (aka stupid) I have been on this trip. I'm lucky The Boy remembers more than an iota of geography and history and can explain it to me. 

We arrived in Sudbury at dusk and went straight to the Big Nickel. My friend EB told me to look out for the Big SmokeStack as well. we saw them. polluting the sky. DIdn't do a heck of a lot in Sudbury. Travel fatigue was setting in, and I haven't driven in days.  Finally, we came home. I took exactly zero photos between Sudbury and home.

It's been a beautiful couple of weeks. Totally appreciate The Boy for driving for 98% of it. I'm so glad i got to see parts of Canada I hadn't seen before. Next up, Yukon, Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and maybe i should head out east since I haven't been out there in decades. Maybe after the baby arrives.

oh yeah. So i totally peed on a stick when I got home.