Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Germany Day 3

Day three of our travels was a little slice of heaven for me. I ventured out on my own to Museum Island which is the farthest I'd gone by myself. I had to navigate the bus line but it actually was pretty straight forward. No changing buses or anything like that. The ride was about 10-15 minutes each way. It was really cool actually to be driven through the city and see parts of Berlin I wouldn't have otherwise seen.

Berlin and the bus lines

Museum Island is paradise for any art lover! It houses five huge and impressive museums. I made it to two the first day I visited. I took my time and listened to the audio for every piece available. I don't think I've ever spent hours and hours in just one museum like that. It's fun to go at your own pace! It was really nice because there would be little bursts of crowds but there would eventually be large spaces and chunks of time where I had the place to myself.

The first museum I made it to was the Altes Museum. It was built all the way back in the 1820's and was at one point called the Royal Museum. 


Weird selfies happen when exploring on your own...


The scale of the first museum, the Altes, was really crazy impressive!

See the person to the right, gives you a sense of the scale!

The first thing I saw when I walked into the Altes was the beautiful Rotunda! Which was a fun surprise because you cannot see it from the outside of the museum.  The ceiling is beautifully coffered and the perimeter is surrounded with 20 Corinthian columns. Some of the museum's statue collection is displayed between the columns. 

I'm not very good using the iPhone's panoramic thing, okay. 


The museum houses the city's collection of classical antiques (mainly Ancient Greek, Etruscan, and Roman sculptures and funerary art). Of all the museums I visited in Berlin over the week, the Altes was the least crowded. I spent about two and a half hours exploring and I took a million photos. I really tried hard to limit the amount of pictures I'm sharing in this blog, as I know not everyone is an art enthusiast like me. 





 
An old handheld mirror
A comb and pair of tweezers

There also seemed to be a lot of pieces that were actually replicas or pieces that had previously been 'mysteriously missing' since 1945 and only recently been found....  A number of artifacts were also 'acquired' around 1938-1945. 




After the Altes I went next door to the National Gallery. The National Gallery houses 19th, 20th, and 21st century art, most of which is paintings. I learned a lot of German history and painters I didn't know. I was really bummed though because the whole second floor (dedicated to impressionists) was closed for renovations. It of course opened back up on Friday - the only day we had plans all day. 





Again, the scale of this museum was crazy impressive. See the people descending the stairs in the background? Yeah, the scale was big!




Again, I'll try not to bore everyone with an overload of art, but I'll skim over some of my favorites. 

I thought the story behind this painting was interesting. German artist, Franz von Stuck, painted this image of actress, Tilla Durieux, playing the role of Circe. I think it is an intriguing image, but Durieux hated it. She didn't like the green tone of her flesh and publicly spoke poorly of the image. 


Then this painting of a German king reminded me of the actor Bill Nighy! Miguel doesn't see it, but to me they look almost identical!


I also thought this unfinished work by Adolf Menzel was interesting. For starters, it was massive! It took up a whole gallery wall and was so large that I couldn't fit the whole thing into my camera frame! It depicts a scene from the Seven Years War of Frederick the Great's address to his generals before the Battle of Leuthen. Frederick is one of the unfinished, blank characters in the middle of the generals who sort of form a semi-circle around him. Menzel wanted to show the strength of the generals against the cold and the upcoming battle. One of the reasons Menzel never finished the painting is because he was afraid Frederick would look small next to the generals. 


After six hours I realized it had been hours and hours since I had eaten and I was actually pretty hungry. So I decided to go track down some food. I walked around the area for a bit looking for somewhere to eat. It was so cool walking around. This this the kind of moment I wish Miguel had been with me because it's just so cool and you want someone to share it with! There were violinists and accordion players playing music in the streets giving such ambiance to the area and it felt like I had stumbled into a European romance movie. That was the first time that Berlin actually felt like Europe to me.




I ended up going to the Neuse Museum, which was next to the National Gallery, to eat at their cafe. Eating by yourself is kinda bleh especially when you have no internet or reading material to distract yourself (the museum makes you lock up your bag). But it forces you to really take in the scene around you... The table across from mine was a group of French people who sent their food back twice. Haha! Stereotypes are there for a reason I guess. I also found it interesting that English is the language used to communicate for a lot of foreigners. For example when the French guests spoke to the German waiter they spoke English to each other. This was common everywhere we went.

The cafe itself was pretty cool. It was pretty and felt old. Right across from the wall were the art exhibits so that was neat. The cafe was in the heart of the museum not near the lobby. I ate a chicken, tomato and basil sandwich which I was grateful for as I finally found a nitrate-free sandwich that I could eat!

At least I wasn't the only one eating alone!




After I ate I headed back to the hotel. Miguel's seminar lasted an hour longer than we had expected so I sat down on the couch instead of the bed so I wouldn't fall asleep as I waited for him to finish up. An hour and a half later I woke up. 

This is where Mig found me when he arrived back at the hotel room.

Miguel and I were both pretty exhausted from our days so we decided to just stay close by for dinner. Our hotel was located on the edge of a huge park (similar to Central Park I guess) that has a couple of beer gardens. We decided to check out the park and a beir garten for dinner. Walking through the park felt kinda magical. I can definitely see why fairytales are set in German woods! Did you know they have RED squirrels there?!






The beer garden was amazing!!! It's one of those memories I hope I have forever! The beer garden was on the lake were there were rowboats anyone could take out for free, cafe lights strung up over head, a booth where you can purchase beer and pretzels then go sit on the benches by the water and a restaurant restaurant. We ate at the restaurant and I had so much fun! 






video




Even the napkins felt very "German" to me!



 After dinner we grabbed a pretzel and beer by the water.







As we walked back to the hotel the sun was setting and it was the perfect way to wrap up the day!


Monday, June 29, 2015

Travels, Germany Days 1-2

In the middle of May Miguel and I had the opportunity to take a two week trip to Europe. Well, the whole trip really started because Miguel had a business trip in Berlin and we decided to make a longer trip out of it which was awesome because then I got to tag along! 

Anyone who knows me well knows how absolutely terrified I am of flying. We're talking I have to be seriously drugged to fly. Well, being pregnant changed the whole being-able-to-take-drugs thing. Ahhh! The prospect of flying without my medicine freaked me out. I prayed everyday for months and had my family praying diligently for me as well. I had this fear that I would fall asleep and then wake up mid-Atlantic and have a full blown panic attack and then have to be zip-tied to the seat by an air marshall. I have flown to Europe on multiple previous occasions and logically knew that I would be fine... but logic doesn't always ease irrational fears. 

Pre-flight selfie in Savannah airport
The view from our room. By the time we woke up the streets were already abuzz with people, many of which were riding their bikes to work. 
I obviously didn't take this photo, but this is the top floor where I ate. 


We had upgraded our seats to "Economy Comfort" on our Air France flight from Atlanta to Paris so that we would be comfortable. Economy Comfort my a#%! For starters, I had this lovely metal box where my carry-on item and feet were supposed to be. It was about the size of a computer box. When I asked the flight attendant about it I was told it was the power box to the monitors on the back of each seat. Sigh. So that was disappointing.


 

Also, look how little my seat was. I don't consider myself a particularly large person so I cannot imagine how many others feel sitting in this tiny space!!


The flight went surprisingly well in terms of my fears. We had smooth air and I was able to drift in and out of sleep. Apparently I slept half the flight leaning on the poor girl next to me... which I didn't know until Miguel informed me about a week later. Oops!

We flew into Paris and I really enjoyed the pretty farmland views as we approached our landing. Reminded me of a quilt.



We had a quick stop in Paris, just about long enough to go through customs, find our gate, and grab a quick pastry from a snooty French airport bakery employee before boarding the plane to Berlin. Our flight to Berlin was quick and easy. I'm pretty sure Miguel and I slept the whole flight. We landed in a rainy Berlin completely exhausted but also excited to finally be at our destination. A quick cab ride later we arrived at our hotel, The Intercontinental Berlin. 



All the two of us really wanted to do was crash into bed and sleep eternally. However, we knew that was bad when fighting jet lag so we compromised by taking a strict one hour nap. After a glorious, too-short nap, we peeled ourselves out of bed and hit the streets of Berlin to explore. 

First thing we came across of any interest or importance was the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church which was just about two blocks down from our hotel. The church was built in 1890 but badly damaged in a bombing raid in 1943. They've preserved the damage and made the ground floor into a memorial hall. Berlin has such a hard, scary past and it was pretty alarming to see such a huge visual reminder of that past in the middle of a busy, commercial intersection. Like, "oh hey, did you forget where you are? Yeah this is Berlin and this is our history".





Walking around the city we also started to notice a large number of decorative bear statues. I later asked the hotel concierge about the meaning behind the bears and was told that the bear is the city's heraldic animal and the arms up pose is a pose of welcome. They were everywhere! We actually ended up getting a Christmas tree ornament of one to remind us of our trip. 


It was fun walking around Berlin, but the part of town we were staying in was pretty dead being a Sunday evening. Most businesses were closed and the area was mostly commercial property so not too many people were out and about. We did, however, find a fun, very 'German' restaurant to eat at for dinner!


Miguel had requested that we eat at an authentic German restaurant for our first meal in Berlin and I had no objections. Zur Kneipe felt very authentic German! The restaurant was filled with solid wooden everything and had small compartmentalized sections. Even the wood paneling felt very German-themed. The walls were covered sporadically with framed old photos of family and history. It was so "German" that it almost felt like we were eating at a restaurant in Epcot rather than a real life German restaurant in Berlin. I loved it!

We stumbled in pretty early in the evening, so we received a lot of personalized attention because we were the only patrons at the time that were not family. We struck up conversation with the owner who was thrilled to learn that we were from Atlanta (during our travels we found more people knew Atlanta than Savannah so that's what we went with. Thanks 1996 Olympics!) and with broken English told us she had a cousin living in Atlanta. At one point in the evening she even called her cousin and had us talk to him! Haha! He seemed very confused about the whole thing but was a good sport. 


Miguel ordered homemade sausages and I ordered a potato and asparagus dish. I avoided cured meats on our trip which was really sad... but the health of the baby is and was worth it! My potatoes were good and whatever gravy they provided was so yummy! And y'all, Miguel still talks about one of the sausages he ate that night. It was the meal highlight of our whole trip for him!



I also ordered a pickle which Miguel pointed out could have something to do with the pregnancy. I hadn't thought of it at the time when I decided I wanted it, but that actually is a pretty odd thing for me to order.



After dinner we crashed into bed, I don't think it was even eight o'clock yet. We slept hard for a couple of hours and then were both wide awake around 2 am. Jet lag wins again.

Monday we had to drag ourselves out of bed for an early start as Miguel's conference started that morning.




Zombie-like we made our way down to breakfast. The breakfast spread was amazing and after the first morning played a key role in motivating me to get out of bed the following days. At one point in our trip I asked Miguel what his favorite thing about the trip had been so far, and he replied, "Breakfast!". Haha! The buffet truly was quite amazing. It was like the Disney World of breakfast buffets. Miguel really was in absolute heaven. They even had a whole Asian food section! 

Miguel developed a pattern of eating in rounds of three. His pattern was eggs, sausages, potatoes, pretzel with mustard, and yogurt to start out. Next he moved on to Belgian waffles, pancakes, pastries, and maybe an omelet. Then came the Asian food (which we both agreed wasn't breakfast at all) lo mien, stir fry and some soup. As for me?  For the first time in over 8 months I allowed myself to eat (and very much enjoyed) gluten and dairy! Croissants with strawberry jelly and some slices of cheese was my thing. 





 

After we ate Miguel headed off to his conference and I headed back to the hotel room to get ready for the day, er uh, nap. I climbed into bed to "shut my eyes for a minute" and ended up sleeping (heavenly, deep sleeping) for a couple of hours. Oops! I didn't end up leaving the hotel until around 1 pm. I was okay with that though because my docket for day 1 was pretty light and I had mentally accounted for a nap. 

The only thing I had planned for myself on Day 1 was to spend the afternoon exploring KaDeWe. The Kaufhaus des Westens is a Thai owned department store with over 60,000 square metres of selling space and more than 380,000 articles available, it is the largest department store in Continental Europe. 




KaDeWe was crazy! Designer EVERYTHING! Like Harrods but felt much bigger to me! There were nine floors in total I think. The first floor was the beauty department and I immediately felt overwhelmed walking in. Every beauty brand you can think of was represented plus many more I had never heard of. On the perimeter of the first floor were little, individual "shops" like a mini Tiffanys and a Herm├ęs. I walked around each floor and explored all the way to the top. 

The food floor was astounding! Again, the only thing comparable that I have ever seen is the food floor at Harrods, but like I previously said, this was bigger! I attempted to capture the grandeur of it all, but I think the photos failed miserably to do so. There were chocolatiers, bakers, butchers, a whole cheese section (which smelled awful!), seafood, etc. etc. etc! 













There were also many little restaurant/soda shop type booths to eat at in each section.



I purchased a mini baggett and some chocolate croissants to share with Miguel later.


After I explored the food floor I went one floor up to the top floor which was a food court type of thing. It was more of a buffet style, think Piccadilly set up, but much nicer and high quality food. I picked out some items and people watched while I ate. 



I headed back to the hotel to meet up with Miguel after he finished up his day at the conference. For dinner we decided to head to a place we had learned about doing research before our trip called, White Trash Fast Food. The restaurant was in a different part of town than our hotel and we had to take the metro for the first time to get there.



A fifteen minute metro ride later we were in a completely different feeling part of the city! The streets were covered with graffiti and the people were very gothic. Maybe it would be more accurate to say they were a mix of gothic and hipster... but more gothic than anything else.











White Trash was off the beaten path. Everything was in English which was nice but it was also local and not crawling with tourists









I ate a burger. I was so glad to eat meat! I'd been having a hard time bc I couldn't eat the brats, sausages or deli meats that seem to be very prominent there. The burger was ehh. I chalk it up to having to be well done though. Miguel enjoyed his burger and massive stein of beer.





One thing that shocked me about Berlin was the amount of smokers!!! I would expect that in Paris maybe, but seriously, the smoking was O.U.T of C.O.N.T.R.O.L!! Berlin is a very beautiful city and very lush and green, however, if you looked at the streets and sidewalks they were covered with littered cigarette butts! While at dinner I was even more shocked to see a family of four with the parents smoking in their daughters' faces! Over the week we spent in Berlin I saw more and more shocking instances with cigarettes and children. I saw a mother holding her toddler's hand while she also held a cigarette effectively blowing smoke directly in the poor child's face! 



We enjoyed our meal but were excited to head back to the hotel and catch up on sleep!



Hopefully it won't take me a super long time to knock out the next few blogs about our trip! I need to try and do it while it's still kinda fresh in my mind!!





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