Saturday, August 23, 2014

Copenhagen and Berlin Pictures

Recommendations:

Copenhagen

  • Christiansborg Slot
  • Rosenborg Slot (and the crown jewels)
  • Amalienborg Slot
  • Canal boat ride (Netto) 
  • Nyhaven- touristy canal area for drinks, food and beautiful views
  • The Little Mermaid Statue
  • Botanical Garden
  • Tivoli (we didn't go and walked by, but looked like it would be a great amusement park for kids)
Copenhagen is very much a walking city. There are beautiful views and lovely architecture everywhere. Take in the Palaces (Slot) and walk around. There are several walking streets (no cars) with lots of shops.


Berlin
  • Adina Apartment Hotel (I stayed in Checkpoint Charlie, but there are 2 others in different areas)
  • Hackasche Hofe- display of the courtyard architecture found in Berlin
  • Neue Synagoge (New Synagogue)-- beautiful on the outside and has some interesting things to read inside
  • Checkpoint Charlie- the museum is worth seeing but just walk around-- don't pay to go inside
  • Brandenborg Tor (Gate)- symbol of post-WWII Germany
  • Tiergarten- park in central Berlin worth walking around and seeing the sculptures
  • Potsdam/Sans Souci Palace- gorgeous palaces and a nice day trip. Lots of WWII and post WWII history (where the 'Big 3 met', home to the Germany KGB, etc.
  • Gendarmenmarkt- beautiful plaza with two gorgeous churches and the Konzert Haus
  • Berlin Dome
  • Pergamon Museum- a MUST! Some amazing historical items from the middle east and other areas.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Berlin Day 4

What a fun day! I woke up later than usual feeling pretty rested but sore. One more day so I'm going for it! It was gray and the weather said rain, rain, rain. Benefit: no bother doing my hair today! I took my time getting ready, enjoying lazing around a bit. I ran into the two Aussie gals I met in the hot tub the other night, and they were headed to Paris. I decided to wander through the Gendarmenmarkt again, which is a giant plaza flocked by the two churches and Concert Hall. I learned that the churches are a French Church and a German Church and they are simply gorgeous.

I walked up to the Brandenburg Tor (Gate) again, going a different way and enjoying some of the architecture. I ran into a memorial to the jewish people killed in Europe, and it was interesting. Large dark blocks of different shapes, and around a city block. There were kids running through it laughing. I stopped at the gate and took some pictures and decided to take advantage of the rain not starting yet to walk in the Tiergarten.

The Tiergarten is a large park within Mitte, the central part of Berlin and formerly part of West Berlin. It was once the hunting grounds of royalty, and was improved by a landscape designer in the mid-1800s. It has a lot of mature trees, stone paths and statues throughout including one  which is a music tribute to Mozart, Beethoven, Handel and another to Goethe. There is also a large pool called Venus' Basin, and a momument dedicated to the 'homosexuals' of Berlin. This city is such an interesting contract. Most people seem very conservative, however, it was the location for the Institute for Sex Research. The park was deforested during WWII as a source of firewood for the city, but was replanted shortly after.

As I was walking and looking for the Venus Basin, I consulted my map and a man working in the park asked if I needed help (in German). I asked where the Basin was and he asked if I speak English and switched, as I've often seen. His English was halting but still very understandable. It turns out he lives in Denmark on a farm, and comes to Berlin for three months to work, then goes home to work on his farm. His girlfriend is from Sweden. I shared with him that I just came from Copenhagen and he said he likes it very much. He was very friendly and again, when I complimented his English, he protested that it was not very good.

I walked through a section of Tiergarten to Potsdam Platz, a very modern western area of the city with the Sony Center (and the Lego museum!) and lots of modern skyscrapers. The two western Berlin areas of the city I walked through seem to have more modern buildings, where the former Eastern part seems to have a lot of buildings built in the 1960s and 1960s. Neither seem to have a lot of old-looking buildings with the beautiful carved stone as much of the city was destroyed during the war.

I then hopped on the u-bahn with the idea of looking at Schoenburg area, as the guys I met from Boston yesterday said it's a nice part of the city. I stepped off the subway and it didn't look very interesting, so I continued on to the area with the Kaiser Wilhelm church, one of the sites recommened on tripadvisor's 'three days in Berlin' list. True to my travels it was under construction but instead of scaffolding, it had a white barrier around the bottom half of it. Huh.

There was a merry-go-round near it so I walked around, noticing it was some kind of festival going on. It seemed to have a Russian influence and I saw a booth with those cute little stacking ladies. There were crepes, beer stands, and I got some sugared almonds to snack on in assorted flavors like caramel, orange and irish cream. Yum! I saw a mechanical bull for riding on top of a large air-filled cushion with a US flag on it. Then I saw Statler and Waldorf a la Muppets on a wall. I love seeing snatches of US culture in other countries that are not a McDonalds!! I hopped back on the u-bahn and decided to head back to the Mitte area, and wen to the Jewish Museum.

I have to say that it was one of the best laid-out and curated museums I've ever seen. I decided to go as it was starting to rain and was fairly close to my hotel. Also, it was designed by Daniel Liebskind, the original designer for the memorial to 9/11 and the rebuild, before it became a political mess. It is a very symbolically-shaped building and large. Like with the synagogue there was a police presence and I had to go through a metal detector. The museum is very interactive, with a lot of places for kids to play and learn, videos, and interactive exhibits. It was very difficult to walk through in areas, but really brought forward some of the many lives and Jewish families impacted by the anti-semitism of Berlin through the last two centuries, culminating in the Holocaust.

The museum showed an item owned by a person/family, like a china set, showed pictures of the family and in several inserts and cutouts told their story. Most didn't end well. It also talked of some of the people who emigrated from Germany and how hard that was for them to leave family behind to go to a country foreign to them. It was incredibly poignant and I spent much of the time on the verge of tears, yet being so glad I went. The museum was incredibly artistic and the layout of the items and stories was so interesting and intriguing. I wanted to learn more. It was incredibly well done and I'm glad I went.

Walked past the currywurst museum in wonder and awe. There is actually a museum dedicated to the dish. Wow.

It started raining, and I walked back to the hotel to dry off a bit and figure out where I was going to eat for my last meal. I skipped lunch but decided on a late lunch/early dinner as I'm flying tomorrow so didn't want a large meal right before going to bed! I decided to go to a restaurant the hotel recommended called Augustiner on Gendarmenmarkt, affording me another walk through the wonderful plaza. The restaurant got good reviews on tripadvisor, though the last review was rather scathing about the service. I was glad to find that was not my experience.

The waiter was adorable and very helpful. He recommended a few dishes, and I settled on a traditional Bavarian dish of pork, a potato dumpling and cabbage along with a gruener veltliner wine, a white (I know!!!) that I loved in Prague. Yum. The pork was good and came with a light brown sauce, the cabbage wasn't sauerkraut but an interesting cooked cabbage and the potato dumpling was great and interesting. It actually looked like a small potato but was a bit puffy when I cut into it. It was all really good, and I had enough room for a yummy apfel struedel. Yum! They had a goulash and I was interested in trying to to see how it compared to the Czech and Hungarian version, but the waiter said it's a big dish and I wanted room for dessert. Priorities!

As I was finishing my meal a loud and large group of guys came and took up three tables. One started talking to me and turns out it was a bachelor's party from England. Oh my God, they were hilarious! The groom-to-be wore leather 'hot shorts', and my new buddy told me he wasn't forced to wear them. He was very happy to pose for pictures with his entire ensemble: a black face mask, leather collar and metal leash, and leather vest. Pictures were taken and a waiter jumped in on the action cracking up. Funny photo! People crossed the street to see what the action was about. Absolute hilarity!

My buddy shared that he just got engaged, and when I asked what he planned to do for his bachelor's party, he grimaced and said that it may be private. I don't think he wanted the spotlight as this groom-to-be did. A guy holding three beers in one hand between his fingers staggered across the street watching the hilarity unfold.

It started to rain while I was dining and it was lovely under a large umbrella enjoying the calming sound while staying dry. The day overall turned out to be wonderful. It was cool but perfect walking weather, with a light breeze and some scattered light drizzle. Only once for a few minutes did I take out my umbrella. I paid my bill and gave the waiter a tip, which he gushed about. It's funny.. the bill was 26,5E and I gave him 30E. It was around 10% so not high by US standards. But what I did find is that service is usually not all that great in Berlin, so I wanted to give him extra as he was really wonderful. All bills remind people that the tip isn't included however most people round up so the waiter gets change. I'm not sure how well they are paid, but this didn't seem worthy of his gushing, but it was nice that he acknowledged it. He deserved it and off I go to write up the place on tripadvisor!

I walked back to the hotel to finish this blog, pack, make arrangements to the airport. I decided to splurge and take a taxi as it will be quicker and transferring to the bus to the airport in Alexanderplatz with my bags early in the morning doesn't sound appealing. I was finally able to check in and select a seat so I won't have to get to the airport quite so early. i don't sleep on transatlantic flights, so the extra half hour or so will make a difference!

This trip has been quite interesting, and honestly, I'm struggling with my feelings about Berlin. The city has seen so much grief for so many years, and I almost feel a weight around my heart here. And yet, there is a quiet vitality and energy. More than hope, it's almost a sense of fierce determination in the people.

Some interesting things I've noticed in Berlin:

  • The light shows a walking man instead of the usual standing man on the traffic lights
  • People don't seem to take such pleasure in trying to run people over crossing the street as I've seen in every other city in Europe! There are some intersections with no lights (unusual from what I've seen) and people actually waved me along to cross. Unheard of in other cities!
  • The light turns red without any flashing and cars come quickly. I am a fast walker and if it's more than a single-lane street, I cannot make it all the way across before it turns.
  • Like in the rest of Europe, the ground floor of hotels where reception is is 0, not 1 like in the US.
  • Many/most people speak English, even in the former Eastern Berlin (people my age learned Russian and usually not English, so this is interesting). They almost always will respond in English when you open in German (guess that may say something about my German!) and if you compliment their English, they will always say they don't speak well. They do.
  • If I smiled at people, most didn't smile back but simply stared at me. It was kind of interesting.





Thursday, August 14, 2014

Berlin tage drei (3)

Guten morgen meine Freunde! It’s a lovely sunny day in Berlin, though a dark cloud did follow me around and sprinkled a little, it did stay mostly sunny and gorgeous—cool in the shade and warm in the sun. Perfect!

My alarm woke me at 7 which is unheard of—I always wake early and almost always before any alarm I set but not today! I needed the sleep and got a solid 8. I woke once and fell right back to sleep. Perfect way to start the day! I got up, made up a sandwich to eat later as I wasn’t hungry, got ready and went downstairs to print my ticket for the palace.

I decided to do a day trip, as I often try to do on city trips, to Potsdam. A woman I was recently introduced to originally from Berlin recommended the visit and I’m glad she did! She was born in Berlin and was baptized by a local pastor who did so to save her, and many other Jews from death during WWII. Somehow her parents escaped their fate as well, and they emigrated to the US after the war. She hated Berlin and Germany for much of her life, but found peace with it and forgiveness when she returned for her mother’s funeral. It has been amazing getting to know her.

I printed my ticket and double-checked the directions I got last night as I was told that the subway line was re-routed and that my map is old. Sure enough, she said the same which was a good thing. I changed lined in Potsdamer Platz, an area I’m contemplating exploring tomorrow. I took the u-Bahn to an S-Bahn train, and interestingly went above-ground and left the underground subway area to go back underground to the S-Bahn. The area is very busy and I was told has good shopping and an art gallery/museum worth seeing.

The trip took around an hour in total. On the train I met a lovely woman and her two kids. I met them as I was laughing at her five-year old son who kept putting his stuffed animal on his head and was making faces at his older sister. A mother’s scolding sounds the same in every language. Her daughter then came over and sat next to me talking in rapid-fire German. I had no idea what she was saying. I said in German that I don’t speak very good German and she asked if I spoke English or French. Bingo!

Her English was very good, though as always, she said that it wasn’t. I find that even what someone believes is poor English is excellent and very understandable, and way better than my German! She told me her daughter was saying that I look like a woman on a tv show that she watches, and she thinks I’m very pretty. Aww… so cute! I took pictures of them as well as a young toddler who entertained the train. It was the woman’s birthday so I wished her a wonderful day. We bonded over the fact that she is 43 today, and I will be in a couple of months. It was my first meeting with a local Berliner, two days into my trip. It definitely feels more eastern European to me and people are much more aloof, but friendly when you take the time to meet them (and they are interested, of course.) She shook my hand warmly to say goodbye, then her son copied her. It was adorable.

I arrived in Potsdam and went to the information booth to find out how to get to the palace. I had found quite a few places to visit, so when the man suggested a bus tour I jumped on it. That, and after walking for a lot of hours for close to a week, I could use a restful day. Unfortunately there were high plastic windows around the bus so my pictures aren’t very good, but we got a great education about the city, the people, and the history. The tour was two-and-a-half hours, and had several stops.

We first saw the church where Hitler took power. Then we saw a Mosque by the river, which turned out to not be a mosque at all but a water pumping station in disguise! The guide shared that there are quite a few things in the city made to look like fantasy—including several pyramids and obelisks covered in hieroglyphics that are actually not hieroglyphics at all but made to look like it. Interesting.
We drove by Louisenplatz, the city Square. She was a Prussian Queen who died at age 30 after ten children. Her husband was known to be cowardly, so she actually ruled. She negotiated with Napoleon who said she was the only man in Prussia, as a compliment. We passed skyscrapers built in the 70s, and then some buildings that all looked rather similar. Apparently the architect designed a building for the king that had one floor and five windows across. The king then took the plans and built 400 more!

There are several gates around the city that remain from part of the original city walls. There is a Dutch quarter also called ‘Little Amsterdam’. The king built this area to attract dutch craftsmen to help build. Potsdam is on an island, so much of it was built similarly to Venice (and Amsterdam), with wood poles driven deep into the ground to stabilize the city, and apparently only the Dutch were believed to know this construction. We passed a town canal that had been filled with rubble from WWII though there are plans to clean it out. We saw a grocery store on the water, designed so boats can pull up to get food.
We crossed a bridge that was closed during the Cold War, and a marking line is showing on it to show where the wall ran through dividing the city. Most was part of the Russian quarter and was closed off to the rest of the world.

Originally Potsdam was build as the summer residence for royalty and the wealthy. We drove to Cecelienhof Palace built for the crown price and his wife, Cecelia. The Potsdam conference of world powers to oust Hitler was held here. One of the buildings on the road to this palace was where the KGB headquarters were later. In the center courtyard of the palace is a small garden with a large red star. Stalin had it designed prior to the conference to make a statement, and apparently it caused the reaction he desired. The king lived here until WWI, when he had to leave when the royal house was overthrown. His son moved in following the war until 1945 when the Russians took over the area. It’s now a hotel and conference center.

There is a Siberian colony in the area, with several very ornately decorated wood buildings with very detailed carvings all around. The buildings are actually brick with a wood fa├žade, designed so to attract the Siberians and perhaps to remind them of home.

Potsdam is the site of Sans Souci, without care/without worry, design as a place of relation and not a seat of power. It’s on top of a hill and yellow. Interestingly it does look very French in design, and I was told that it was inspired by Versailles. The gardens are beautiful and large. Apparently there is a law now that no building may be higher in the town (that wasn’t already built). I had tickets for a tour later in the day. Frederick the Great lived here ‘without a care.’ His life and rule was marked with war, so this place was his solace. He was a philosopher and loved the arts. Apparently he didn’t care for his family, and wanted a simple grave flocked by those he loved: not his family, but his 12 dogs! There were roses and potatoes on his grave. Apparently during the wars around 1800, he had the people plant potatoes to fight starvation and was known as the ‘Potato King’. Potatoes are now a staple of Germany, and according to the guide, along with beer.

The new palace was built to be ‘fantasically ostentatious’ and is the largest in Potsdam built by Frederick II. He didn’t like it, but when Prussia won a war, he felt the need to show off, calling it his ‘big boast.’ 250 rooms and it was designed as a castle of prestige. There is a large concert this weekend that was now being set up, so you’ll see lots of trucks and scaffolding in my pictures. There are three main buildings: the palace, the kitchen and administration building, which is now a Humanities College of Potsdam University, and a third smaller building.

The tour let me off at Sans Souci, and I decided to grab a bite as I had time. I got a currywurst, which I was told is a local thing and really good. It was a long hot dog doused in what looked like catsup but tasted like bar-b-que sauce with some curry sprinkled on, and a small roll. Interesting. It tasted ok but wasn’t what I expected for sure!

The Sans Souci tour was good. I was told to arrive in the queue exactly 3 minutes before the time on my ticket. I purchased a photo approval for 3E and got in line. There was an audio tour and we went through the 11 rooms, including several guest rooms and greeting rooms, music room, and others. They were incredibly decorated and quite beautiful.

When I left, I walked through the garden for a bit and decided to walk to Brandenburg Gate near Louisenplatz. I had wanted to tour the New palace and paid for it, but was tired and sore and decided to listen to my body (I'm learning!!) The gate is quite impressive and is very different from the Berlin Brandenburg gate. The area behind the gate looked quite cute so I started to walk. So much for my desire to not walk so much today and rest a bit! I walked, and walked, and walked down a street with lots of shops and restaurants and it was very quaint. The end was a nice church. I checked my map and at this point, it appeared I had walked around half the way to the train station. So.. I decided to plug on.
Halfway ended up being around a third of the way, but I continued to walk, viewing some nice architecture and more of those five-windowed homes. It started to sprinkle then rain a bit as I arrived to the train station. 

Getting back was a little confusing. I found a board that showed the name of the other end of the line I took to get to Potsdam, so that made sense to me. The train was waiting and the conductor asked if I was getting on. I asked if it was going to Berlin and he said no, that was on the opposite track. Hmm.. decided to go to the info booth and the lady seemed to tell me several trains would go to Berlin. I asked about the S-bahn one and she said lines 6 and 7. I went there and both went to Berlin, which made sense as this was the end stop on the line.

On the train I met two young guys from Boston. I suspect they were a gay couple and were very nice. They are in Berlin for a month, and got an apartment from air B&B. They are using Berlin as a home base, and are planning some day trips and side trips. They are headed to Prague and I told them about it. They are talking about going to Hamburg and some other German towns as well.


I got off the subway, stopped at the market for a snack as I don’t expect I’ll want dinner after that currywurst. J I am absolutely exhausted and decided to just stay in for the evening—write, relax, and maybe take a hot bath and try to work out the kinks so I can have another good day tomorrow. I’m unsure what to do. It’s supposed to rain. I was considering Potsdamer Platz, Charlottensburg Palace and Tiergarten.. the guys I met on the train told me about an area that is supposed to be cute as well. So, I’ll see when I get up (no alarm clock for me tomorrow!) and will see what the weather is, then decide. In my first two days I got most of my ‘three days in Berlin’ suggestions complete!

And of course, I'm really tired and quite sore. Hopefully a hot bath and early to bed will help. I need to listen to my body a little more and not run myself down as much as I usually do while on vacation. Let's see how I do! Tomorrow may be pretty mellow. I do want to see some of west Berlin and I'm surprised by how many of the city sights are in the eastern part.

Gute nacht!
s

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Berlin Day 2

You'd never know me for the morning person i am today! Slow going for sure. I woke at 6 but with only 6 hours of sleep, I went right back to sleep for an hour feeling like I slept as the dead! I needed it. I got a cup of coffee in the room-- instant! Blech. I got my tickets ordered for today and headed down to print but unfortunately was not successful with the one computer downstairs. So I went to the grocery store for some breakfast.

The grocery store is always an interesting event in other countries. I forgot you buy a bag in europe, and I got some rolls, cheese and meats, and for today a greek yogurt and honey as I will eat lunch in three hours. I got some *real* coffee, and what I thought was creamer but think it's condensed milk. I'm excited to make some coffee in the french press in the room! I forgot to check if there is a corkscrew (suppose I should have expected it!) so returned the bottle of italian red, but I'll be back!

I went to the Checkpoint Charlie museum, a few minutes walk from my hotel, which talks about the wall. Checkpoint Charlie was the name given to the walled area by the Western Allies during the cold War, and it was one of the best-known crossing points. It became one of the best-known symbols of the Cold War. In this very small museum you can read the story of the construction of the wall and the politics behind it. You can also read accounts of attempted escapes. The museum has walls with the story outside and inside, even before you enter the museum. it's worth walking through grounds and reading the story, but less worth going inside the museum for the 5E.

One account that stuck with me was that of teenager Peter Fechter, shot and killed trying to escape East Berlin. He was in view of the west, however, they were unable to help him. He lay bleeding to death in full view, and the East Berlin guards did not want to go to him to avoid escalating tensions along the wall. An hour later his body was removed, sparking protests in the west.

You can see the brick pathway that memorializes the lines of the wall right by the museum. I have to say that for an American, seeing this has been an interesting emotional journey. The wall came down in 1989, and I remember hearing about it.. but it was the year I graduated high school and began at college so it went mostly unacknowledged in my life. Being here now, reading the accounts, seeing the wall and the dividing line through a portion of the city has been pretty emotional for me.

Also interesting is the level of recognition for all of the Jews killed here. There are a number of monuments, memorials, museums all dedicated. Though I am Jewish by birth, I have never really connected with the religion, even after years and years of hebrew school and a bat mitzvah. My recent trips to Eastern Europe have sparked a bit of an interest, and a connection, in my heritage. Much of my family ancestors came from this area, however, most have been undocumented and are assumed. I do know of heritage from Poland and Lithuania, however, Germany is somewhat assumed, due to my last name (Glauser.)

I walked the area a bit and took a couple of pictures of the architecture. There aren't many of the beautifully-constructed buildings with carvings and artistic details seen in the rest of europe, and my guess is that it's because so much of this city was destroyed in WWII and quickly rebuilt following. Much of it is industrial-- but not in such a modern way as the buildings now. They appear to have been built in the 60s and 70s and lack a lot of the charm of what I have seen in Europe.

There are a lot of dogs here, and they go everywhere. The same was for Copenhagen, and I saw them on subway and trains which is unusual in the US. It would be nice! I just saw a woman walking two out of my hotel.. another reason to like it here. I have not seen any loose dogs which is also nice, though I did see quite a few in copenhagen walking with an owner by their side with no leash.

I decided to rescue a bottle of wine-- a lovely barolo from Italy which would be rather costly in the States but was only 9E here. I also got some dark chocolate and hazelnuts for a snack, at a cost of almost 11E. It's amazing how inexpensive most things are in the store.. My other purchase was only around 12E.. so total cost around $30 including wine. Not bad! This will give me breakfasts, and snacks/lunch for the rest of the trip, which will be a nice break from eating out all the time.

Upon my return I found a tag on the door that it was being cleaned, so I dropped my stuff off and went to the lobby to wait a few minutes. They said it would be 10 minutes or less which is good! I also printed my tickets for today. After needing some help, it was easy enough! The man at the desk teased me for talking in English with a German name. "Was ist los?" (What is the matter?) Your name is German, yes? But you speak English? I explained that my Deutsche ist nicht so gut aber Ich verstehe (my German is not very good but I understand some!)

Someone from the hotel just came by to see if I would like coffee-- have I mentioned how much I'm enjoying this place??  I did find out that the milk I got is for coffee, as my cup came with a small creamer package of kondensmilch. I suppose you can see my confusion. :) Oh, I can't figure out how to put the card in the elevator, twice getting help from a child there too, but still.. lovely! lol. What a nice hotel this is, and it's in other cities as well.

Another observation is that in most of Europe tipping is not expected/required, however, it appears to be in Berlin. Most of the bills state 'tip is not included'. In talking with Klaus last night, he said a tip is usually rounding (so if a bill is 10,20E then you would pay 11E.)

I met Klaus for lunch and we went to a sushi place not far from the hotel. Yum! It was nice seeing him again, and I enjoyed our conversation. His English is very good-- he learned starting in the third grade. I wish the US did the same. I was sad to leave my Berlin buddy (he's from Dresden, but works in Berlin 3 days a week so knows the area pretty well.) It's much easier to get around with someone who knows their way, and anyone who travels with me know that I have absolutely no sense of direction!

Went to the tv tower to enjoy a lovely view of Berlin. I learned that the machines in the metro do not take visa, nor euro bills larger than 5E. Hmm..I went to four machines trying and hoping, but thankfully a very nice man took pity on me and when I asked him nicely to help me in German, he complied. :) He told me that I could do a 'short ticket' (which I later learned is four stops only and one direction, for 1.5E) to get to Alexanderplatz, and thankfully I had the coins to do so. Dollars here are coins, and the bills start at 5E. It's quite easy to find the tv tower-- look up! Whew. I did go into the station to get some tickets as I figured it would be easier to do. I got two ABC tickets for the longer trip I plan tomorrow, and four AB tickets which are good for one direction and within two hours.

I was told to go to the TV tower around sunset, however, the weather report predicts rain later today and I would rather see it in full sun than in the rain. I planned then to go to the Pergamom planning an hour and a half for the tv tower and the walk to the museum. Let's see how I do on that!
__________
Wow! The tv tower offered an amazing view of the city. It was quite expensive (17E I think or around $25) but did show a great view of the city. And you can see how large the Tiergarten park is! The tower was opened in 1965 after four years in build, I made my way to the Pergamon and had some time to sit in the gardens nearby before going in. It is 203 meters high and took 40 seconds to reach the top in the open elevator, so you get a good sense of how quickly it moves. one thing I noticed from the top and on the ground actually, is that many of the buildings are in a cluster, with a central area with grass and often playgrounds. The buildings don't look alike and are often an interesting mix around this central courtyard. After googling, I found that this style is integral to Berlin architecture, and is known as courtyard architecture. I saw this in Hacksache Hoefe as well and thought it was interesting.

I walked over to the Pergamon Museum on Museum Island, surrounded by several other museums and close to the Berlin Dome and Cathedral. Wow. I may have found my new favorite museum, in terms of content. It was simply breathtaking. When you first walk in you see the gates of Babylon-- literally: Ishtar Gate of Babylon. Wow. An entire large room is filled with the gates and they are breathtaking. Oh, I will say that given that I'm a person who hates waiting in lines, and the line sign said it was 3 hours to entry, I was VERY glad I got a ticket online. Whew. it was worth it.

Anyways, there are three exhibit areas: Antiquity collection, Islamic Art and Middle East Museum. It ranged from Greek, Roman, Islamic, Assyrian, Sumerian, Babylonian and everything from metalworks, carvings (including a staircase and giant 'room' in an ancient greek temple to a painted room in Aleppo), tapestries.. wow. Apparently there is a huge renovation and the Pergamon Altar will be closed for five years starting this September. Whew. Double Whew. The museum was simply breathtaking.

I wandered back through the streets, seeing many beautiful museums, Humboldt University, Hedwig's Church then to the Gendarmenmarkt by the Deutscher dome and Konzerthaus as well as another beautiful church that I never got the name of. I decided to stop here to enoy the view, and got an aperol spritz. I tried my German, and the woman responded in perfectly-accented British English. Well, points for trying, right?

Berlin has been interesting for me-- a cool approach that is slowly warming. It lacks some of the charm that I have seen in other cities, and the architecture and many people are rather cool and aloof. But when you accept that and move on, there is definitely an energy here that I'm enjoying.

The local radio station is interesting: Joe Cocker, Beatles, Eros Ramazotti, Come on Eileen, Nutbush City (Tina Turner), I love Rock & Roll (Joan Jett), euro disco.. wow, what an eclectic mix!

Ok, I'm absolutely zonked. Around 8 hours of mostly walking around today on already sore feet and I seriously would like to trade them in. I am going to enjoy the hot tub and the lovely robe the hotel gave me and go to bed early.

Tomorrow I go to Potsdam. I usually try to do a day trip with city trips, and this is mine. I met a wonderful woman from Berlin through a friend to practice my German. Well, the german-speaking didn't go so well, but she truly is an amazing woman and i have enjoyed talking with her. She was born in Berlin and told me that she was baptized by a minister to save her from her Jewish heritage. Her parents somehow escaped the typical fate, and they emigrated to the US after WWII. She said she HATED Berlin and Germany, but after a lifetime and returning for her Mother's funeral, she found a way to find peace and forgive. She gave me a great orientation and suggested I go to Potsdam as there is a beautiful palace built similar to Versailles in Paris, and the city is also wonderful I'm so glad I asked at my hotel, as the map I have said to take a certain subway line, however, it is old and there is another I have to take. Whew!

I'm off. Gute Nacht und Auf Wiedersehen!
Sam

ps- backhefe is not cheese or butter, but yeast. Whoops. Always good to look things up when you're not sure what they are! Ptooey! lol.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Berlin Day 1

I woke up at o'dark thirty to make my 8 am flight to Berlin. Well, I actually woke at 2 for some reason, but that's just a detail. ;) It's only a five minute walk to the metro, and a 15 minute ride to the airport. Not too bad! Cars come every 10-15 minutes so I was on my way for the less-than-one-hour flight.

The Copenhagen airport is very nice and easy to navigate. Within minutes of arriving I found a Joe and the Juice, a cute little snack place Marie found before she picked me up, and we went there on Saturday. They do thin sandwiches on a crisp bread with ham, tomato and mozzerella among others. I again got a juice with spinach, apple, ginger and this time got a ginger latte. It was very good and not sweetened, which was nice.

The flight was 40 minutes to Berlin, and true to form I snoozed well most of the way. Unlike transatlantic flights where I have 9+ hours and don't sleep a wink. I really needed it this time and appreciated it. It was very cloudy and overcast when I got off the plane, though the weather report didn't say rain. I walked into the terminal (the plane let off and a bus took us there) and easily found the TXL bus stand to get from the Tegel airport to Alexanderplatz.

I was going to drop my bag at the hotel, but this was one of the places with lots of sights to see so I decided instead to get a locker and store my bag for a bit. Easier said than done! I went to two stores to make change for some of the Euro bills I have, and neither would. The second said to go to the ticket counter. I waited for the ten people ahead of me and asked for change. I swear the lady sneered at me, and made change for a 5Euro note. Well, I needed six E for the locker and she waved me on. When I asked again, she said 'NEIN!' and waved me on more forcefully this time. I then went to another ticket counter and went through this exercise again.

The only locker that was open was above my head, but I managed, thankful that my bag isn't too heavy and made my way out of the station. Alexanderplatz is a large public square and transport hub in the center of Berlin in the Mitte district. There is a large shopping mall, a very high tv tower boasting the best views of the city, among other things. I walked towards the Berlin Cathedral and toured the large and gorgeous church and climbed the dome to enjoy some views of the statues at the top, the city and the inside from up high in the dome.

When I left the dome it was pouring outside, and I mean pouring! Drat.. my umbrella was in the locker, and I didn't dare go back with only 4 euros in coins in my pocket! I decided the weather wasn't good for the tv tower so I went towards the Pergamon Museum, only to find a line of around 200 waiting in the rain. Not! So, I walked towards Hackesche Markt. I decided to duck into the station, and nearby found an irish pub. I was soaked and tired of the rain so I went in to warm up and enjoy a latte.

It was still pouring 30 minutes later, so I decided on an early lunch. I got a Magners cider and a country bread with ham (serrano-like), tomatoes, arugula, asparagus and parmesan. Yum! By the time I was done it was sunny out again so off I went. I decided to explore this area a bit having learned about the museum queueing system in Germany, where most people buy in advance and go during a time slot. ok. So German.

So I walked and saw a sign for the new Synagogue and decided to visit. There was a police presence outside, and you had to wait at the door for them to open it for you, then go through a metal detector. The synagogue was built in 1866 after a 7-year construction. It had 3200 seats, less than half required but the largest in the area. A November pogrom in 1938 by the SA set fire to the building and vandalized it. It was protected then by the chief of police, who did not allow it to be used for a while. In 1943 an air raid caused extensive damage. By the end of the war, 7,000 of the 160k Jews were in the area still. In 1958 the main synagogue was blasted and later rebuilt. The synagogue also had the first and only female Rabbi, Regina Jonas, ordained in 1935. She lectured and gave speeches there, but unfortunately in 1942 died at Auschwitz.

I walked through the area and went to the Hackesche Hoefe, a notable courtyard near the Hackesche markt. It consists of 8 interconnected courtyards reached through one main gate.

I stopped at a statue and monument, and took a picture of the plaque on the wall as I was unsure of the German. The statue showed a bunch of very skinny people standing. Turns out it was the site of a Jewish settlement that was raised by the Gestapo and all of the people murdered. It noted that 55,000 Berliners were killed. There was also a jewish cemetary which showed two large tablets with hebrew on them, however, no tombstones. I believe the cemetary was destroyed but memorialized.

i then walked over to the Markt and found that a Markt in Berlin is more of a grouping of stores and restaurants and nothing like the cute little NachtMarkt in Vienna, which I was hoping for. That had some souveniers, and cute little shops with pasties, wine, olives, snack and interesting local things.

I was quite tired by then, so decided to get my bag and make my way to the hotel, which was easy enough. The hotel is really nice! It's the Adina Apartment Hotel in Checkpoint Charlie. I didn't expect much though tripadvisor had good reviews, due to the price. Well, that was wrong! The lobby and halls are very nice. There is a mini-kitchen area, a small round dining room table, a living room area, a desk area, and a separate bedroom, all of which well appointed. And the kitchen is well stocked with everything you can need on a trip including a french press! Yay. There is even a washer and dryer in the bathroom! There is a gym, pool and jacuzzi. My body aches from the weather and all of the walking so I may partake tomorrow.. I'm too tired tonight!

I took a short nap then got ready to meet Klaus, a friend of a friend I was recently introduced to. What a nice guy! Turns out he works a block from my hotel (how amazing is that!?) We walked down the Charlottestrassen and saw a couple of gorgeous churches. Then went down Under den Linden, which is a main street with shops but is undergoing construction. I should mention that the city appears to be under construction! When I was in the Berlin cathedral dome, I was amazed by the numbers of cranes towering over the city!

We then walked the the Brandenberg Gate, a former city gate commissioned by King Frederick William of Prussia as a sign of peace. It underwent extensive damage during WWII and was renovated in 2002. During the Partition of Berlin, it was located right next to the wall and was inaccessible. Today is it considered a symbol of the tumultuous history of Europe and Germany, as well as a symbol of European unity and peace.

We then walked to the Bundestag, or Reichstag, the Parliament Building. Klaus had checked if there are any tours, but none open until Saturday or Sunday, which is too late for me. Dang the German queue system! We went to the Hoptbahnhof Train Station in the northern part of Berlin, and caught the u-Bahn subway down to the East Side Gallery.

This is a 1.3 km section of the Berlin wall near the enter of Berlin, painted by artists from around the world with 105 paintings. It may be the largest and longest-lasting open air gallery in the world. How beautiful to take something like the Berlin Wall and make it into art to stand as an international memorial for freedom! It is located on the so-called 'hinterland mauer' which closed the border to East Berlin. My only disappointment was the volume of graffiti on the wall. Klaus said it's not allowed, but..

We walked a bit along the river taking it in, then went to the area right next to the wall to look for a dinner option. There are a TON of places here, and the waitress at the Irish pub (Kilkenny) that I went to said she lives here and there are great cheap eats. We settled on a place offering traditional German food, amongst the middle eastern (there is a HUGE turkish population here), indian, asian among others. The restaurant was called Frau Rauscher. We sat outside on a picnic table bench. I ordered frankfurter with bread (brown) and sauerkraut, and Klaus got wienerschnitzel with potatoes. I also got an aepler, which was similar to a hard cider but mixed with soda water. Interesting (a bit watered down so may have been good without the water!)

The frankfurter was a piece of cooked pork, and was a little dry but good. The sauerkraut and bread were good, and I asked for a side of a green gravy that the menu noted was traditional in Frankfurt. It had 7 herbs but tasted strongly of dill.

After dinner we were both tired. Klaus lives in Dresden, around 2-3 hours by train away, and commutes to Berlin three days a week. He left his house around 5 am, so by 9:30 we were both tired! We made our way back home via a different u-bahn stop, so got to see more of this area. The restaurants were never-ending!

Apparently there was an exit off the subway stop that I missed earlier in the day, as we got out right on the street of my hotel! We are going to meet tomorrow for lunch, so I'm going to spend a few minutes to figure what I'll do in the morning and go to bed! I would like to hit the Pergamom Museum and tv tower tomorrow so will buy tickets in advance and the hotel said they can print them for me. Hopefully I can keep my hands on them (I'm notorious for losing tickets!) Maybe I'll walk a bit and will see the Checkpoint Charlie museum, only a few minutes away. A slower morning sounds my speed right around now.. hopefully tonight I will sleep! I'm quite exhausted after three days of this.

Night all!
s

Monday, August 11, 2014

Copenhagen Day 4

I forgot to mention a couple of very funny wedding traditions, and since I'm up after midnight after getting only three hours of sleep last night, I thought it was a good time to share. :)

There is a Danish tradition that the men lift the groom on their shoulders, and remove his shoes and cut off the tips of his socks, which they did. Lotta, whom I met and sat next to at the dinner, said there's also a tradition where the women do that to the veil. I'm unsure Heather would have approved of that one though! There is a Swedish tradition that when the bride leaves to go to the bathroom, all of the women in the room rush to kiss the groom! And vice versa.. it was really hilarious and people got quite into it! ha!

Another sleepless night (this is becoming a trend!) but decided to make the best of it this morning and got up and walked. And walked. And walked. As expected, almost all of the museums are closed on Mondays, which is unfortunate as there were three I wanted to see. So I decided to head to the botanical garden and stopped in Baresso coffee for a triple latte before making my way. This city is really small and very easy to get around.

The garden was very nice and has an indoor greenhouse, a large pond with lillypods and many gardens and green areas to sit, flocked by some statues. It was very relaxing and peaceful in the middle of the city.

I then wandered around past the Round Tower and down towards Tivoli again. There is a synagogue and if I found it, it was also closed as the gate was shut. I went towards Tivoli, took a picture of the Hans Christian Anderson statue and went to the Dansk Design Center which was supposed to be open, but not according to the sign on the door. Drat! I walked past a protest of sorts where there were a number of small boxes lining the area with names and messages to 'stop the massacre' and 'Free Gaza.'

I wandered back up the Straedet, to the Stroget, shopping streets buzzing with lots of people and slowly meandered.

This city is very much a biking city, and there's a bike path along the streets. It's actually a slightly lower curb than the street level, so there's the sidewalk, bike path, and street is a little lower than the bike path. Unlike many larger cities, it's the bikes you really have to be careful of more than the cars! The walk like is a green person and goes immediately red with no warning blinks as I've seen in other cities, and one it goes red you must go immediately across or be used for target practice.

This city feels a lot like Amsterdam, and actually more like what I expected Amsterdam to look like with similar construction but more colored buildings. I found Amsterdam to be more muted and of course much more sex, nudity and girls in the window all over the city.

I walked to the Nyhaven area and got a canal boat tour with Netto, which was really interesting.

Nyhaven canal was dug around 1670s and is one of the oldest harbors in the city. It used to be a "dirty" area of ill repute, with lots of prostitutes and clubs. Now it has mostly been cleaned up and is a nice area to walk around and get a bite. You can also get the most expensive beer there in the city.

Hans Christian Andersen lived at house #67 there.

We passed the opera house, which is the most expensive building in Denmark at a cost of $500 million, and I believe he said it's not open yet. We went into a main canal and saw the back of the Little Mermaid statue. On the boat I met a nice family from Lima, Peru and we talked a bit as I had been to Peru a number of years ago. They were touring Scandanavia (Norway, Sweden, Denmark) and were heading home tomorrow.

We passed a partially completed retractible pedestrian bridge being built over the canal. The company building it went broke and half of the bridge was built too high so it was being repaired by another company to open by the end of the year.

We passed Noma, voted one of the best restaurants in the world offering a six-month wait for diners. I had looked it up before arriving and think it cost several hundred dollars for a meal. I did not make a reservation. :)

I decided to catch a short nap before heading out for a late lunch/early dinner. I walked down to Amalienborg then to the Marble Church to check out the inside, as the gal from peru told me it's worth seeing. Apparently there are tours of the dome with a wonderful view, but only at certain times. Of course! The church was gorgeous anyways. I then walked to Nyhaven, the picturesque area on the canal and got a glass of wine and people watched for a while.

I decided to dine again at Restaurant Zeleste, as I enjoyed it so much the night I got in and I wasn't disappointed. I had a kir royale (yum!), got the lamb, which I thought to have the last time there but wanted seafood.. got a glass of the ribera del duero from Spain (again) and tried the chocolate cake, or what I could of it. yum. Double yum. I will write it up in tripadvisor it's so good and the service was wonderful. I again sat in the patio in back and they closed the ceiling with a fabric piece as it was getting colder and lit a fire. Very beautiful.

Copenhagen has been really wonderful and I've enjoyed my stay here. Off to Berlin in the morning.. ahhh!!!

S

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Copenhagen Day 3

The wedding last night was SO much fun! I was wired when we got back and decided to get my blog done for the first two days, so didn't get to sleep until 3:30 am. As customary, I was up around 6:30 but dozed to 7. Sleep is for the weak (and crazy).

We got up, got ready and had some breakfast downstairs before heading over to Amalienborg, the winter home of the Danish Royal family and also known as the 'Queen's Palace.' There is a large courtyard flocked by four buildings, with a large statue in the center. We toured the one palace which was beautiful, having to don the blue booties (which I forgot to mention was also required in Christianborg) for much of the tour. I thought they were hilarious and in all of the castles I've toured in Europe, I've never had to wear booties before! Very hot.

The rooms were gorgeous and one had a gorgeous view of the courtyard. Amalienborg is protected by the Royal Guard, which looks very similar to the guards in London.

We then walked towards a beautiful church with a large turquoise and gold dome visible between the Amalienborg Palace buildings called Frederick's Church, also known as the Marble Church, and visible from the top of the Round Tower as well. It's Sunday and services were going on, so we viewed the outside and then walked to the Russian Orthodox Church. A gorgeous building with three smaller gold domes on the top, it was quite spectacular.

We were much in need of coffee, which we enjoyed steadily throughout the day. :) Thank goodness for coffee. We asked the barista about other churches and sights in the area, and she reminded us of the Little Mermaid Statue (den Lille Havfrue), the statue based on the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. We walked along the water, passing some beautiful swans, a gorgeous stone church, a fountain with beautiful carvings, and wound along the river to the mermaid. It seemed small, right near the edge of the water and was flocked with tourists. I picked up a magnet as I do in every city, as what is more representative of Copenhagen than the little mermaid? My fridge may fall over after this trip!

We walked around through Kastellet, a star-shaped fortress and one of the best preserved in northern Europe. There are many buildings that were once housing, a church, windmill and others. The settlement is flocked by two large gates.

We decided to walk back to the King's Garden as we didn't tour it much yesterday due to the rain, but decided to take a detour down Stroget, one of the main shopping streets in the city to have lunch at Cafe Norden, a cute place overlooking a beautiful fountain and a busy square with entertainers and a musician. Our lunch was amazing! Marie got a goat cheese salad and I got a salmon 'burger' which was a crusty bread with two salmon pieces rolled in parma ham, and salad.

The walk to the King's garden was short and though the trees needed a trim, it was beautifully laid out. People were enjoying the gorgeous weather, around 70 F, sitting all over the grass and soaking in the sun. It's a really beautiful day.

We walked back to the hotel, wandering through a cute little neighborhood of shops and homes, then headed to the metro station for Marie to head back home to Sweden. I'm sad to see her go and the weekend passed so quickly while we caught up after nearly ten years. We have kept in touch some though it was so wonderful to see her in person after all this time. She will always be a true friend of my heart and I had such a fun time with her. It's wonderful to see her so happy.

I walked back wandering back through the Nyhaven area, along the canal in a touristy area with lots of restaurants and bars towards the hotel. Much as I'd love to walk more, I'm quite tired, sore and would love to get off my feet. It's too late for a nap so I figured I'll write my blog post, download pictures, send off a postcard, catch up on email etc. and plan for the day tomorrow. Copenhagen is actually a bit smaller than I expected, and I feel like I have done most of what I wanted to see. So I'd like to spend some time to find fun things for tomorrow, which hopefully won't be too challenging as it appears that many of the palaces and museums are closed on Mondays. The wedding party has moved on to Sweden as well, so I'll enjoy a solo day before heading to Berlin early Tuesday morning.

Have a great day and I'll write more tomorrow!
Sam

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Copenhagen Days 1 & 2

Hello from Copenhagen!

After a reasonably uneventful flight, I landed at around 5:30 in the airport in Copenhagen. Oh, I will say I impressed myself with my packing. 9 days with a carry on! Woop! Amazing if I do say so and a major upgrade from the gynormous bags I used to pack. Wowza.

Anyways, back to the trip.. I landed and made my way to the terminal 3, where I read I can get metro tickets. I sent my friend a message and after three tries, figured out how to get a ticket. No sleep, jet lag, ticket machine in broken english.. yeah.

I headed to Copenhagen for a wedding, meeting with my friend Heather and her wonderful hubby Joacim from Sweeden. My 'date' for the wedding is my friend Marie. Marie and I met around 15 years ago-- we worked at the same company, and met in Connecticut for a training class- she lived in Boston and I lived in New Jersey. We enjoyed each other and kept in touch, so when I moved back to boston 6 months to a year later, we reconnected and became friend. Not long after, maybe 6 months later, she moved back to Sweden, which was where she was from. I visited her a few years later, and then saw her when she visited Boston, but we hadn't seen each other for around ten years. It was so exciting to reconnect.

After my fun with the ticket machine and trying to determine if I need one ticket or a three-zone pass, I made my way downstairs to where the real action is. The large space had the entry to the metro, train, other flights and had lots of milling people. I went up the escalator towards the metro and saw Marie at the top of the stairs! It was such a wonderful moment.

She got in a few hours earlier and had made it to the hotel already, so she guided me through the metro and around the windy streets to the hotel. Our hotel is ok-- nothing impressive but was more affordable than the hotel the wedding is at and wonderfully right next door! We could actually see the entry to the hotel from our window!

I took a quick shower and changed and we were on our way to dinner. The hotel recommended Hotel Zeleste, a five minute walk. We had a wonderful dinner of half a lobster and mussels, and a tiramisu with strawberries and rhubarb. Sounds strange but it was incredible.

As we were eating, I was telling Marie about the bride and groom, Heather and Joacim. Next thing I know, I look up and Heather is walking towards us! The dinner for her group was at the same restaurant! I wasn't sure when I'd be in or how i'd feel so we didn't join, but she was upstairs in a private room and saw me through a window! She came down to say hello and meet Marie, and shortly after her husband joined us.

We walked around the Nyhaven area, a very touristy area with lots of restaurants and pubs along the canal and waterways in Copenhagen. It's beautiful and actually what I expected Amsterdam would look like with some of the pastel or brightly colored houses (Amsterdam is very similar, but the colors more muted.) There were a lot of sailboats that looked very old/historic and are beautiful.

We walked a bit then stopped at the Copenhagen Admiral for a drink (the wedding hotel). No sooner do we get settled, but Heather and Joacim show up! Of all the gin joints in all the world.. (a la Casablanca..) Of course, this was their hotel so not quite as surprising, but funny nonetheless! We enjoyed a bailey then headed back so I could pass out.

Day 2:
We slept until 7 (!!!) and got ready to head to the group breakfast at their hotel at 8. It was a huge spread and yummy, with the traditional breads, cheese, meats, nutella (oh, nutella) and a spread of fruit unlike anywhere I've ever seen! There were some veggies and some traditional US breakfast items like eggs, oatmeal, bacon, sausage and yogurt. We grabbed some food, met some new folks and family members and chatted a bit, then headed out on the town.

We wandered towards the area we wanted to start in and ran into the Christianborg Palace. Christianborg Palace is the seat of the Danish Parliament, the home of the Prime Minister's offices and the supreme court. Interestingly, it's the only building in the world housing all three branches of a government. The palace has three eras of Danish architecture, resulting from two serious fires. The first in 1794 and second in 1884.

It was impressive so we decided to tour it, and got a multi-ticket to the palace, stables, ruins. The palace was gorgeous. We never did find the stables and after two tries decided it wasn't meant to be, nor important, and moved on. We did tour the ruins and found that the palace had been rebuilt twice, the last time having burned in a massive fire.

Christianborg Palace is the seat of the Danish Parliament, the home of the Prime Minister's offices and the supreme court. Interestingly, it's the only building in the world housing all three branches of a government. The palace has three eras of Danish architecture, resulting from two serious fires. The first in 1794 and second in 1884.

We walk in the direction we thought was headed towards Rosenborg Palace, but saw Tivoli in the distance so decided to go there. Tivoli is a huge amusement park, and the interior is impressive. We didn't go in but did look through the fence and the rides are very geared to children and are quite impressive.

we then walked to Rundetarn, the round tower and stopped first at the kerk, the pinkish church that the crown prince Frederick married in. The tower was built in the 17th C as an astronomical observatory by one of the Danish kings. The tower was a steep climb on a sloped path and was really fun. It afforded great views of the city at the top, a view of a hole leading to the bottom from near the top, and some inner workings of bells that used to be there.

We grabbed a snack at the Joe and Juice (funny as Marie's husband is Joe, so she was lucky enough to walk with a cup courtesy of a very friendly barista), and headed on to Rosenborg Palace (or Rosenborg Slot), when it started to rain in earnest. We bought tickets and walked the palace. Then we went through the treasury to see the crown jewels. We wanted to tour the King's Garden and Botanical Garden which were recommended, but it was absolutely pouring and my umbrella was of course back at the hotel. so we went back to the hotel and rested before the evening's festivities.

We got ready and headed to the hotel, right next door. The wedding was a wonderful mix of Swedish custom and American. We stood in a reception line with fabric draped over the floor and rose petals. The pastor (Heather's uncle) and his wife walked the aisle, followed by the mother of the bride and father of the groom, then Heather and Joacim. The ceremony was beautifully done, poignant and funny. We then had a reception line, some champagne and light hors d'evoeuvres.

Then we were seated and the Swedish wedding began. It was several hours of many funny toasts, hazings by a college friend and a school friend, and loving words from family members. [Note: the college friend hazing was accompanied by a booklet of hilarious photos of the 'Prince of the North' and his lifetime preparations for his lovely bride, and ended in a song that was hilarious!!] The meal was wonderful, wine great and dessert was a cake featuring a photo from their US wedding, and a traditional Swedish cake made of egg and water (think a lumpy-looking tower of a concoction like pavlova, though not as sweet), called spettekaka.

We sat at a mixed table, with Heather's cousin, her 7-month old baby bedecked in pink tulle, and one of the most best-behaved and adorable babies ever, her mother, Joacim's college friend, a few other Swedes including a lovely woman named Lotta that we really enjoyed.

Lotta told me that the word 'kiss' in Swedish means pee, so every time people would clink glasses so the bride and groom would kiss, she set me off in fits of giggles. Heather and Joacim had a lot of fun, and went through lots of different kisses throughout the night including some dances, dips and chases. It was adorable.

The baby was so wonderful and Marie held her much of the evening. We warned LaMonica (her mom) that we may need help extracting the baby from Marie, as she was having such a great time with her. Some begging, crying and wine did the trick. :)

Swedish tradition is that you cannot leave before the bride and groom, who stayed until around 2, and Marie, Lotta and I closed the joint. Yes, me. [I am very much a morning person!] A late-night snack was offered, another Swedish tradition, and people gathered outside in the larger room to talk. The dance room was nice with sloping ceilings, but was quite warm. Oh, I should mention that Joacim is quite the dancer, and I was very disappointed that my phone died so I was unable to record his enthusiasm. Quite a show!

True to form, I went to bed around 3:30, wired and woke at 7 very happy with myself. It is going to be a long day of course as I want to spend as much time with Marie before she leaves and hopefully not sleeping. :)

We are readying to grab some breakfast and start out day!! Have a good one.. I'll be back on to share the day a bit later.

Sam