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The Pork & Beer Diet; or, How to Lose Weight on Vacation

Friday, December 17, 2010

So if you really want to know how I lost weight on vacation (4 pounds), my answer is pretty simple...just get the flu at the end of it and rid your body of everything bad you ate over the course of 3 weeks. I honestly don't think I would have lost anything, were it not for that little hiccup at the end of my time away - HOWEVER, I DID at least maintain my weight for 3 weeks, and that in and of itself is a pretty awesome feat in the land of pig fat and carbs.

I wrote a blog before I left detailing my fear of gaining a lot of weight while I was away and my plan for keeping on track deep in the heart of Bavaria. I was honestly afraid that my old habits of throwing caution to the wind and eating like I had never seen food before would follow me across the ocean, despite my hard work and efforts over the last 7 months here. I am a self-confessed food addict after all, and not only that, I am also a foodie (two things which I consider to actually be very different - I both appreciate and love food, and abuse food by eating too much of it). So how could I go to a new country and not try a little bit of everything? Especially given that a good friend of mine and fellow foodie who had just returned from Germany not a couple of weeks before I left gave me one simple instruction before my departure: Eat Everything!

So with those two words echoing in my ears as I ventured into the unknown territories of delicious game meats and fresh baked breads, I was apprehensive at best about how successful I was going to be at keeping the vacation pounds at bay for 3 full weeks.

emoticon Challenge #1 - The Food Scale
True to word, I DID bring my food scale with me...and I used it! While at The Scientist's apartment in Berlin I weighed bread, cheese, muesli and a couple of other items and added them to my food tracker! The problem with the scale was that it stayed in Berlin while we went on to Munich, Rothenberg & Heidelberg. Whoops. But at least I stayed on track for the first week of the trip!

emoticon Challenge #2 - Stick To What I Know
I also did well with this one in Berlin. We went to a grocery store and purchased bread, eggs, cheese, bananas and yogurt for breakfasts so that I could start with something healthy and within my calorie range so indulging a bit at dinner wouldn't hurt my day as much. I won't say that this plan fell apart completely while we were on the road, since a traditional German breakfast consists of exactly those items listed above, but when put in a buffet form, it becomes ever so tempting to just have "one more roll" or "one more taste of jam" (something I NEVER eat anyway) or "one more nibble of cheese". Though the health value of the items consumed remained the same, my portion control did get out of whack towards the end of the trip for sure.

emoticon Challenge #3 - Fruits & Veggies
This one WAS hard. Though Europeans DO eat vegetables (I'm sure of it), there were none to be found but cabbage on the standard German menu. In many cases I ordered a side salad if I was feeling particularly deprived for the day, and endured strange looks from the wait staff. They would often then return with something that looked like it came out of a bag and that was drenched in oil and vinegar - not exactly the most appetizing thing in the world, unlike the rest of the meal which looked delicious. The breakfast table tended to have a bowl of seasonal fruit, which I helped myself to greedily and even, in some cases, stuck an extra piece in my purse for later in the day. Besides that, I feel that I was woefully undernourished in my greens for most of the trip. I was so happy the one night we gave up on the potato dumplings and found a Chinese food restaurant to order a vegetable stir-fry. Though overly greasy and covered in sauce, they were still vegetables, and I scarfed down most of the plate myself, leaving the meat for The Scientist. Since getting back, this is the one area I'm still struggling with getting back up to again. I'm short on groceries until after Christmas break since I don't want to fill the fridge only to leave again, so getting that daily fill of fruits and vegetables on the go is still hard, though considerably easier than in Deutschland!

emoticon Challenge #4 - WATER!
Believe it or not, this was almost harder than getting in fruits & veggies! Water is NOT served on the table in German restaurants. You have to ask for it. And when you do ask - they bring you expensive bottled sparkling water (Germans have a love affair with their carbonated bubbles). I did finally figure out how to say tap water, but that didn't always work as quite a few servers actually "forgot" to bring it over after I asked, or brought it in such a tiny glass it was barely 4 ounces and I didn't want to be a pain and ask for multiple refills. SO - I brought my water bottle from home, and I used it. When I'd finish a beer, I'd pull my bottle out of my purse and refill my glass myself! I think The Scientist thought I was going to get us kicked out of the restaurant for doing this - he was so embarrassed, but a girl's gotta get in her liquid kids! The only problem with this plan was that my bottle only holds 16oz, so required refills itself all day which I didn't always get around to. By the end of the trip I had worked out a system of guzzling 4 glasses of water before leaving our hotel room in the morning, drinking my 2 glasses from my bottle every day, attempting to get 2 more glasses at dinner, and in a worst case scenario, drinking 2-4 more glasses before bed every night. My poor bladder! But I did it! There were only 2 days that I didn't consume a full 8 glasses of water - the first day when I figured out that getting in 8 glasses was going to be tough, and the day I got sick since I wasn't consuming much of ANYTHING that day.

emoticon Challenge #5 - Exercise!
This is truly how I maintained my weight in Germany. While on the road we walked an average of 3-4 miles a day, sometimes covering up to 8 miles in a day. The day we saw the castles, we walked uphill about 2.5 miles, then back down hill, and then decided we weren't done yet and hiked back up the hill again on a steeper incline this time and in the snow. As most of you know, I ran in Berlin! And in between all of that walking and hiking, we stood for long periods of time talking in the architecture on our tours. I lost almost an inch off my calves this month - due fully, I'm sure, to the amount of pavement pounding & leg exercising I was doing the whole time. Since my calories in were somewhere around 3000-4000 a day, I know that it was only by burning about 1000-1500 calories a day that I was staying in a maintenance range for my weight.

emoticon Challenge #6 - Beer happened. A LOT. Beer definitely happened more than I expected or wanted it to happen initially, but it was SO DARN GOOD! Germans drink beer for breakfast. I did not drink beer for breakfast. I consider that an accomplishment - quite seriously. Haha. The most common size for beer in Germany is 0.5L which is definitely more than a bottle. The most common size for beer in Bavaria is a whopping 1L. And if you don't finish your litre, they throw pretzels at you. So I finished my litre. I couldn't handle being pelted with more carbs! Towards the end of the trip though, I cut back again. Not only because I was sick, but because I had actually had enough. I honestly didn't even feel like drinking it anymore. And that is REALLY an accomplishment.

emoticon Challenge #7 - The Bread Basket
Again - didn't fair so well with this one. I mean - European bread is unlike ANYTHING we have over here. It's all fresh baked, like THAT DAY. It's crusty and warm and I think laced with a little bit of crack. I already have a mad addiction to rye bread as well, and that was available in abundance! (They won't put water on the table, but you don't even have to ask for refills of rye!) Don't even get me started on pretzels... So all in, I will venture that I consumed the majority of my daily calories, every day, in bread. Thankfully, since it was not highly processed bread, like they have here in America, I would like to have faith that I was able to burn off those calories quickly with all of my exercise... (BAH! Wishful thinking I'm sure.)

emoticon Challenge #8 - Keep Current With Spark
As most of you know - I TRIED! I really did. While in Berlin I logged on frequently, posted blogs AND logged my food for a good 8 days of my vacation. But once we got on the road, signing in every day became too difficult, and seeing the sights was honestly more important in this situation, so I don't regret my decision to stop tracking. I didn't go totally crazy once I stopped tracking, but I did recognize that my portion sizes got a little out of control and I stopped eating regularly. My body paid for it, I know. It got to the point where I think I became physically ill from ingesting too much food, and specifically too much pork, so I recognized that as well and cut back again significantly. Usually daily meals consisted of a larger breakfast, small afternoon snack and a large dinner. It worked for the most part until I got so sick of eating pork and potatoes that I begged for some different cuisine. We sampled Chinese (as I mentioned earlier), Italian, Middle Eastern, and even found an American-Style bar in Heidelberg when all I really wanted was a hamburger. But for the most part, we ate Bavarian, which involves a lot of sausages, a lot of game meats (LOVE venison, rabbit and duck, but wasn't so crazy about wild boar), potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, and cabbage. May I never see sauerkraut again for at least 3 months!

My biggest problem for the whole trip was the Christmas Markets, which were WONDERFUL, but laced with so many goodies my eyes popped out of their sockets at each stall. Candied nuts, gingerbread so soft and chewy it made me cry, chocolate and candies, mousse kisses (oh my god those things were the most decadent thing I have ever eaten), waffles, meat on sticks, meat off sticks, meat in buns, pretzels, dumplings, and gluewein, gluewein, gluwein. Plan as you might to eat only at meal time - the Christmas Markets would trip you up at EVERY pass. Each one had something yummy that you've never seen at any other one, and you just had to sample one or two small goodies. Many a night we decided to forgo our dinner plans in lieu of just eating at the stalls since we had already managed to ruin our dinner at that point anyway by constantly snacking. It was because of the Christmas Markets that I ended up consuming far more desserts in Germany than I ever intended to, and FAR more alcohol than I ever intended to. Just something about being in the midst of one signaled the need for a mug of hot, mulled wine...well that and the fact that I started collecting the darn mugs themselves every time we went to a new market. Bad idea since when I finally got a full set of 6 of them (one from each city we went to on the trip), the one trip casualty on the return voyage to Berlin was the mug I got in Rothenburg. Sad face.

I also recognize that I didn't go very well equipped with another journalling solution when my ability to log on to my computer every day failed. I think had I been committed to writing everything I ate down in even just a notebook, I would have been more responsible and accountable with my choices. However, I am proud of the fact that for the most part, I ate when I was hungry and stopped when I was full. Sometimes I ate too much, but I don't enjoy the feeling of being over stuffed anymore at all, so I avoided that whenever possible. I indulged in wine and beer, but only had too much of that once (and paid for it dearly the next morning so didn't do it again). I realized when I had consumed too much rich food and pulled back accordingly, returning to what I knew I could eat that didn't make my stomach turn. Overall, I think I was responsible enough in my choices to still have an amazing time on my vacation, sample the best possible assortment of the local cuisine, ENJOY every last bite that I put in my mouth, and exercise just enough to negate any damage that the food may have done otherwise.

And as a warm-up to Christmas and the endless treats and savories that await me at home, I now believe that I have faith in my abilities to do well there too. Since I feel that I indulged in Germany, I really don't think I'm going to indulge as much at home. I don't need to. For now, my palate has been satiated!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

LOTUSFLOWER 12/20/2010 11:56AM

    That is so awesome that you lost weight, you rock!!! I want to try some of that bread! Then again...maybe I don't, lol.

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TEENY_BIKINI 12/19/2010 9:21PM

    I think they [like people who do stuff like this] should make a commercial with you as the star of what to do on vacation. It is very, very impressive that you had such a comprehensive plan and - drum role please....

You brought a scale with you!!!! - to another continent!!! [I am pretty sure I will never forget that visual]

emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon emoticon

Talk about balance and forethought and planning to the tenth friggin' power.

This is why you are so successful. This is why you will continue to be.


Comment edited on: 12/19/2010 9:28:00 PM

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SARAWALKS 12/19/2010 12:31PM

    Ooooooh, your Christmas market description has me drooling...
I've traveled in Austria so I can so sympathize with your veggie dilemma.
Gemischtes salat is NOT the most tempting item but about the only thing available!
And I didn't even LIKE beer until I went to Austria. So many different kinds of beers and all so tasty! Of course I went in the 80s before Americans began to get into different varieties of beer...
We won't even talk about the bread. I love it more than desserts...
It was such fun to read about your trip! I'll be going to France soon and am keeping your tips in mind! emoticon

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WYND10 12/18/2010 12:10PM

    I think that you did wonderfully, and it sounds like you had balance between healthy lifestyle and vacation. I am so happy for you.

Still sorry you got sick at the end though.

You will rock Christmas!!

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LAURIETAIT 12/18/2010 11:18AM

    I think you did great. You were on vacation after all. You are entitled to indulge yourself some. Your trip is a testament to the importance of exercise. An inch off your calves is nothing to sniff at! Most importantly you have proved to yourself that you can maintain your new habits in the face of great temptation! I can't wait for you to take another vacation. I really enjoyed this one!

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RIGBY31 12/18/2010 11:17AM

    Your vacation blogs... the thing tht always stood out to me was how much walking you did! And that kept burning for you all day long, even as you were swigging beers and strolling Christmas markets (again... strolling while eating... genius!). Congrats on your weight loss vacation!

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-POOKIE- 12/18/2010 2:59AM

    I think you did the very best you could, you remained mindful, yet enjoyed yourself, treated yet tried to maintain a healthy outlook.

If you think how you could have acted, thats a huge improvement!

Ive really enjoyed all your blogs *hugs*

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KRAWRS 12/17/2010 11:13PM

    This was fantastic. I think you did a GREAT job, especially considering all the deliciousness you were up against! That and all the exercise you got in just from sightseeing! I did see your previous blog, but I didn't read it yet. I don't know if I'll get around to commenting as its late, but I'm sure it'll be wonderful and I t hank you for sharing it!

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KT-NICHOLS-13 12/17/2010 11:07PM

    Girl, you a great job! You accomplished all the positives and lived the lifestyle you've created. I've taken notes from your experience and will incorporate them in my vacation home.

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MEADSBAY 12/17/2010 10:50PM

    emoticonon losing 4 pounds on the famous pork and beer diet!

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Chasing the Sunset to Sweet Home Chicago

Thursday, December 16, 2010

All vacations sadly must come to an end, and since my body wanted to kick me while I was down, it decided to pick up a 48hr stomach flu bug on top of the chest cold I was already nursing for my last 2 days in Germany. Lovely.

After a beautiful drive through the Rhine Region from Heidelberg to Bonn on Saturday afternoon, we took in the sites of downtown Bonn after dark on Saturday night. I didn't feel like I missed much really - the city is very small and the downtown core is even smaller. We walked from the government buildings (Bonn used to seat the major heads of German government until the reunification of Berlin at which point the Reichstag was reinstated as the official government headquarters in the late 90s), to the statue of Beethoven (Bonn's other major claim to fame is that it is the birthplace of the famous composer), to the church at the city center, to the town Rathaus (city hall), to Beethoven's home (now set amidst the most commercial shopping district in the city), and back to our hotel in under 3 hours. And we took in our last official Christmas Market of the trip, and arguably one of the best as far as food was concerned. We got a fabulous Hungarian paprika goulash and then visited the only vegetarian stand we could find at ANY of the markets we saw for a very delicious feta turnover and walnut, spinach quiche - YUM! (Both decisions that I would completely regret the following morning...ugh).

I retired to a long, hot bath upon returning to the hotel room and we both enjoyed a great sleep until about 3am when the stomach pains started. I tried to ignore them for the most part, but by the time the alarm went off at 7am I was SICK. I dragged myself to the bathroom and proceeded to re-visit what felt like every bad food decision I had made for the entire trip. NOT PLEASANT AT ALL. Growing a little panicked at this point because we had a train to catch back to Berlin, I sent The Scientist down for breakfast while I willed myself to get dressed and my suitcase packed and zipped. Thank god for him at this point as I don't remember much about getting between that hotel bed and the train. I was running a fever and was a tad delirious as I paid for the room, we got our car out of the garage and I somehow managed to navigate him to the car drop location. He left me in the car with the heated seats while he ran to locate a cab that would take us to the train station. Thankfully he found one quickly and got all our luggage transferred over before helping me between vehicles. Willing myself again to not vomit while we were in the cab, we finally got to the train station after a drive that seemed to take an eternity. A small "Hauptbahnhof" in comparison to any of the other bigger cities we had been in, there was hardly any seating and only the choice of McDonalds or a pretzel place to sit. I didn't think I could possibly stomach the smell of McDonalds, so we sought refuge in the ticket office. I tried laying down on a bench seat for a bit until a stern German train attendant came by and yelled at me that it was a "sitting area, not a sleeping area" what? I was terribly sick, still delirious, couldn't even see straight, but we had an hour left to wait for our train and we had to leave the ticketing area. We did the only thing we could do - bought a tea and went to sit in McDonalds. Thankfully there was no permeating fried smell since they were still serving breakfast and it was more of a McCafe, then a full restaurant - and they had nice couches, so I leaned my head against the wall and shut my eyes. I was afraid to take any Advil because I wasn't keeping anything on my stomach, but I had the wherewithal at that point to pop a couple of pills. Thankfully I did - within 30 minutes, my fever broke and I was starting to feel a bit better. I managed to pull myself together long enough to help The Scientist get our luggage on the first train and 20 minutes late we were in K÷ln and on to the train that would take us home to Berlin. At that point I was really starting to feel better. The Scientist bought me a croissant and some tea and I managed to eat a little bit. I read my book, slept and enjoyed the scenery on the 4 hour train ride to the city.

Back in Berlin, I decided that I had enough energy to walk from the train station home. The air was cold and crisp and it felt really good to be "home". I have decided that I love Berlin. Out of all the places we saw on our trip, Berlin is the place to be. The city is just so clean and organized and beautiful. (If you go to Germany, definitely don't miss it!) It was already dark, but it was still only 4:30pm, so I had some time to rest and get packed up for my trip back to Chicago the following day. By 6pm I was actually feeling pretty good (all things considered), so for our last night in the city we decided to take in Harry Potter at the English movie theatre. We bundled up again and headed to the cinema for a 7pm show. Now - the German movie experience at this particular cinema is VERY Americanized...however, there are some things that are VERY different. For one, they have 45 MINUTES of commercials before the show. And these aren't previews, these are commercials - for beer, and recycling, and German made cars. Then, after a strategically placed commercial for ice cream, the lights all come on, the curtains close over the screen and attendants selling ice cream come out into the theatre to hawk their wares for a 10 minute intermission! We haven't even gotten to the film yet! Then the lights dim, the curtains open, and NOW it's time for the previews. Oy Vey! 20 minutes of previews later, the film finally starts. Everything is in English - except for the title screen which gives the German title of the movie, and one word in the middle of the film when Hermione has 'Mudblood' written on her arm by Belatrix, a small German subtitle popped up - hehe. Very funny. Once the movie was over, we were pretty tired given the late start of the film in the first place, so we headed home for bed.

Sunday morning came early. Time to leave this amazing country. Bittersweet indeed. I was looking forward to going home and seeing my fur-babies, but I had to leave The Scientist again and I had truly fallen in love with Germany. I got up and showered - stomach still a little queasy, but feeling better overall. We left the house on time and headed for the airport with all of my luggage in tow.

The Berlin airport is so simple to navigate! Being a typical American traveler, I'm used to arriving for International flights 2.5 hours early. In Berlin, they don't even post your flight until one hour before departure and you walk right to your gate to check in. We walked around the airport looking at all the outgoing flights and joked about hopping a plane to Switzerland. When they finally posted my flight number and gate we went to get rid of my luggage. The nice lady at the counter greeted me - "Oh, we have some bad news. Your flight to Dusseldorf has been delayed and because of it, you won't make your connection to Chicago so we need to rebook your flight". Ok - no worries. I had plenty of time. Apparently I was just not destined to see Dusseldorf, since my flight on the way to Berlin through Dusseldorf was also re-routed through Frankfurt instead. I headed over to the ticketing counter to get a new flight. The nice man at the desk was very helpful - "Do you feel like flying to Zurich today?" he says. I had to laugh - apparently I was going to Switzerland after all. I got my flight booked to Chicago via Zurich, now with SwissAir and an hour later departure time, and we found a little cafe for a delicious breakfast. Unfortunately, while we were sitting eating breakfast, the flight status to Zurich came up...delayed by 30 minutes. Yet again, I was going to miss my connection to Chicago. Alas, back to the booking desk. "No problem," the nice man says, and with a couple of quick clicks of the mouse, I'm now on an SAS flight to Copenhagan. Great! I've been in the Copenhagen airport before on my trip home from Paris, so I'm familiar with what I need to do to navigate between planes - only problem is that now my flight doesn't leave for another 3 hours! Nevertheless, I'm getting home today, so all is good. The Scientist and I hole up in Starbucks with a couple of comfy chairs, a tea and a latte and an attempt at free internet (but that didn't work so well) and chatted away our last 3 hours together before he put me on a plane. We even found a bra stuffed between the couch cushions! Haha! How very European!

Those 3 hours went by faster than I expected. At almost 2pm, and right on time, I was on a plane and headed to Copenhagen. Our goodbye was quick, and thankfully not as painful as the last go round. We had an amazing trip together and a wonderful time, so we left with promises to keep in touch often and to plan another vacation together sometime soon. He will be missed.

The day was beautiful and clear flying over the Baltic coast. I saw every detail of our flight over northern Germany, the Netherlands, and the water channels into Denmark, right down to the white caps on the cold water. The Copenhagen airport is also stunning (as far as airports go). They actually have parquet wood floors through the whole thing. I can't imagine whose job it is to upkeep those floors, but like they say in Annie - they shine like the top of the Chrysler Building! We were only delayed there slightly since the plane arrived late from Chicago coming in the other direction, but it was a long enough delay that by 3:30pm the sun had begun to set by the time we took off. For the whole flight back we chased the orange and red sunset, remaining at dead center between it in front of us and the moon and Jupiter sitting low in the sky rising behind us.

Though Lufthansa was great on the way there, I highly recommend SAS. I had the choice to book them for this trip, and I did really love them when travelling home from Paris, but I wanted to try something different so I went with the German carrier for this trip. But I'm thankful that my return trip home ended up being with Scandinavian again. The flight was virtually EMPTY, so I had a full double seat all to myself. They have individual movie screens on the back of every seat and a great selection of in-flight entertainment. And their food and service is AMAZING. We had a lovely curry chicken and rice for dinner, with a fantastic chocolate caramel pudding for dessert. Wine, cheese, bread, hot towel service - the whole nine yards. Great flight (despite a really rocky ride over Newfoundland) - turbulence is not the airline's fault!

The skies cleared again over Michigan and I saw Chicago as we approached over the lake. Ah, my city. As much as I love Berlin, I also love Chicago - like FIERCELY LOVE Chicago. I almost got a lump in my throat as we flew over the city lights in the harbour.

I was home. Now all I needed to do was GET HOME. The customs officer didn't even look at me as he stamped my passport and ushered me through - sweet. I picked up my bags, and headed for the city trains. While on the train I got a message from my cousin - my mom was worried about me but wasn't home to check her messages from me because they were all at a Christmas party. I messaged her back to let her know I was home safe but was headed for bed. I had arrived a full four hours later than expected and my body clock was definitely feeling it at that point. Thankfully the train was quick and I made a connection immediately with my bus. As my keys jingled in the door, my little Bella came running - Mommy's home! Boss was mad at me for about 10 minutes until he figured out that it was really me and then he couldn't have been happier. He's been all over me for the past couple of days. Any time I am home he is in my lap. It's great - I love the kitty love!

My Germany trip had officially come to an end. But the impression it has left on me will last a lifetime. It is a country of beautiful sights and beautiful people and I can't wait to return again and see the rest of it!

So I can keep all of my travel memories in the same place, I will be posting some back-blogs about my trip for the next couple of weeks. I still haven't pulled pictures off of my camera since our day in the Alps which was about 5 days before the end of our trip. We just got so busy towards the end that it became impossible to update every night. I hope you have all enjoyed traveling along with me! I certainly have enjoyed reading all of your comments and knowing that near or far, I have had the love and support of my Sparkfriends every step of the way. You guys are great travel buddies! Here's to many more trips together in the future with the new life that I have created for myself here!


[If you are reading this I have not finished editing and updating this blog yet - more pictures will be added and spelling/grammar will be corrected!]

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

KRAWRS 12/19/2010 11:15AM

    Despite the flu, the flight changes, and having to leave at all... it sounds like you had a great time overall, and great company during the sickness and delays. As much as we may fall in love with a place, the feeling you get when you are home sweet home is heavenly. Glad you made it back safe.

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WYND10 12/17/2010 2:37PM

    It sounds like you had a lovely time. I am so happy for you. The part where you got sick less so, but the rest, yes! Glad you are home safe and sound and getting all the furrball love.

Welcome back!!


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LOTUSFLOWER 12/17/2010 1:56PM

    Welcome back home, baby! I hope you feel much, much better. That sounds terrible.

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LAURIETAIT 12/17/2010 10:47AM

    I was excited to see your post this morning. I have really enjoyed your holiday! lol I'm sorry it's over but glad that you are comfortably at home and feeling healthy again.

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SLFRISBEY 12/17/2010 9:57AM

    Welcome back! So glad you have had the cance to fall in love with Germany like I have. Next year is the year I plan to go back... I haven't been since I moved home from there in 2005 and I MISS IT! Can't wait to see more pictures!

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RIGBY31 12/17/2010 7:22AM

    Welcome home! Your trip was such a joy to follow. And if you were busy having so much fun that you couldn't post, well I can just imagine what you were seeing and enjoying! Thanks for taking me there.

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KT-NICHOLS-13 12/16/2010 11:21PM

    Germany was never really on my list of places to visit ... that's changed now! Your writing is amazing, painting a perfect picture of where you are.

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MEADSBAY 12/16/2010 10:03PM

I have really enjoyed the virtual trip, my friend.
I'm going to Paris for 10 days in April and hope I can do half as well as you!


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SARAWALKS 12/16/2010 9:50PM

    Ah, you make me want to go to Berlin! And I love Chicago too. Lived there for 4 years, 1968 to 1972. Turbulent years those were. This was a wonderful blog and I've enjoyed reading it so much. Looking forward to hearing what your "regular" life is like! emoticon emoticon emoticon

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Death On The Mountain

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Where to even begin? I've seriously fallen behind in my travel-blogs, not to mention in my food and exercise tracking - but I think I'm still doing ok. It's so hard to tell.

It's been harder than I imagined it would be to blog every day. We're packing so much activity in to so few daylight hours that by the time I get to the hotel at night and download/edit my pictures it's past midnight and time to call it a night or else the next day's activities will suffer from lack of sleep and in this case - lack of muscle repair because of all of the walking and climbing that we're doing.

We just checked in to our hotel in Rothenburg ob der Tauber after a long and winding drive up the Romantic Road from Munich this morning. I have come down with a terrible chest cold, so the past couple of mornings have been really rough getting out of bed. Once I have a shower and get myself around, I seem to be ok, but the cold really sets in over night and my body has just ACHED for the past 2 days. Advil seems to be helping, and I bought some Ricola cough drops - haha - how appropriate :) But let me tell you, even though we were in the Alps yesterday, I sure as heck didn't feel like yodeling. Perhaps lucky for me tonight, it is POURING rain here, so we have holed ourselves up early in our room. The Scientist is reading a paper and I'm blogging.

So to catch you up since the last blog, we left Berlin early on Friday morning and took a taxi to the airport to fly to Munich. We flew a small regional airline called GermanWings and we got to fly in the "Bearbus", which is an Airbus that's painted like a Berliner Bear - hehe!

We were supposed to travel to Munich on Thursday, but The Scientist had a German test on Thursday morning, so we had to delay by a day. Not to worry, since it allowed to to get my run in, in the Tiergarten, in the snow. Such a great experience. I was so proud of myself that I stuck to my word. And now my first official powder run of the season has officially happened - in Berlin! These pics aren't the greatest because they were taken on my cell phone, but you get the idea. I ran around the zoo to the Berlin Victory Column, and then thought I was running towards the Brandenburg Gate, but turns out when I came home and mapped it that I turned off a street early. Oh well! It wasn't my best run by any means - I found out that running in the snow is HARD WORK, and most of the route was stop and go where I usually run the whole thing without stopping. I'd say I probably ran a total of 1.5 miles out of a 3.74 mile trip, but I'll take it! At least I did it! And don't I look proud after?

So we arrived in Munich on Friday and after checking into our awesome hotel, headed out into the city to try to get in a visit to Residenz before it closed. Residenz is where the Wittelsbach dynasty lived in the city. They all of course had their country homes, but most all of the royal family lived in this "palace" in Munich at one point in time. And every time someone new moved in - they added a wing to the building. It is HUGE. And gorgeous. They actually let me take pictures inside this one, so here are just a few to show you what an impressive sight it is.

"The Party Room"

"Family Photos"

"The Good Silver Service"...yes, that means that there were a few "other" silver services as well

"The Other, Other Party Room"

"The Chapel" - inside the house

And it goes on, and on, and on. Whew! We even saw Mad King Ludwig's crown jewels:

Hey Mom...I know what I want for Christmas!

There was actually this really creepy vault as well that housed the largest collection of Holy Relics I have ever seen in one place. For those of you who don't know about relics, they're basically really flashy, jeweled pieces that hold bones or other bits of dead people...well, Holy dead people that is. And in a couple of the cases in this room where whole dead babies - said to have been the children killed by King Herod in Biblical times. Ew. Here's a particularly interesting piece - look closely - those are skulls:

After seeing what we could of Residenz (I was really disappointed that we purchased a full tour ticket and didn't get a chance to see the Cuvillies Theater - an original Rococo tiered-box theater that was literally taken down and stored during the war and then reconstructed in it's original form later), we walked to the world famous Hofbrauhaus for some dinner and a brew. Little did we know we'd be back again the following night with the "Beer Challenge Tour", so we opted for the full litre "ma├č steins" and some good Bavarian grub:

Saturday we did not one - but 2 walking tours of the city - a Free 4 Hour City Tour and The Munich Beer Challenge Tour, AND also fit a visit to the Deutches Museum (the largest science and technology museum in the world) in between. By the time we crawled into bed just after midnight, we were beyond pooped...and only just a little intoxicated... I'll save details of the tours for a later blog that I want to post with the walking tour I did in Berlin as well. So much beautiful architecture and SO much history!

Sunday was another tour - this time to Dachau. Out of respect for what happened there, I didn't take many pictures that day. I did purchase the museum book and plan to read more about the history of the people who were sent there throughout its lifetime as a Concentration Camp. It was a chilling and emotional day. I believe that everyone, at some point in their lifetime, needs to visit a Concentration Camp to truly know the capabilities of human beings. We are capable of so much evil...and yet at the same time, we are capable of so much good. The stories of prisoners helping other prisoners, guards showing mercy at times and other tales of perseverance through the torture are incredible. Dachau is a "clean camp" - primarily because after the liberation of the prisoners, the barracks were used as refugee camps by people without homes to go to after the war. Since then, all of them were taken down and only two representational barracks were rebuilt as part of the museum. There are original buildings on site, most of which are terrifying, but they are all empty. Unlike Auschwitz, which was a "Death Camp", there were no mass murders at Dachau. MANY people certainly died and were killed there, but for the most part, people were not sent to Dachau to die, they were sent there to work. So while Auschwitz has displays of suitcases, and human hair - removed from the prisoners sent there to die - Dachau has nothing. I think the emptiness was just as chilling. Here are just a couple pictures of the main building and memorials - that now houses the museum.

The Main Gate - through which all prisoners were brought

The tree lined road that lead to all of the barracks. You can see the 2 that were rebuilt, but this road would have been lined with them as far back as you can see. The picture is taken from 'Roll Call Square' where the prisoners would have to report twice a day and stand at attention for up to 4 hours at a time without moving until they were dismissed. If they moved, or looked a guard in the eye - they could be shot.

Unfortunately, this memorial is overly optimistic and not at all true. "Never Again" might be a nice thought, but the truth of the matter is that genocide is still happening today and has happened many times since the Holocaust. But I do believe that humanity has the power to stop it if we try hard enough.

After such an important and sombre history lesson on Sunday, Monday needed a little brighter agenda. We took the second of a few day trips outside of the city of Munich and drove into the mountains towards the fairytale castles of Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein where King Ludwig II (Mad King Ludwig) grew up, lived and died. After getting lost a couple of times (Germany LOVES their roundabouts in their roads!) we finally made it to the castles along with the rain and fog. Determined to not let the weather ruin our day, we parked the car, purchased our tour tickets and headed out for the first castle in the mountains. An estimated 20 minute walk to the top only took us 10, so I was feeling pretty good about myself with time to spare at the top.

Hohenschwangau from the base of the mountain

Entering the gates at the top

The town below

After our tour of the castle (again, no pictures inside, but quite honestly my favorite of the 2 castles, even though Neuschwanstein is the favoured of the 2 from the outside) we headed back down the hill and stopped for a bit at Alpensee, the lake where Ludwig was found mysteriously drowned with his doctor only shortly after said doctor had declared him mentally insane. Both were found floating in shallow water...

The mist coming across the lake was beautiful, but I feared that it meant we wouldn't be able to see the other castle for all the fog.

From here we started our uphill accent to the fairytale castle upon which Walt Disney based his designs for the Cinderella Castle at the center of Disney World - Neuschwanstein. Ludwig started building this castle shortly after he became King at the age of 18. He fretted over the details for 17 years before his death. It was never finished. When he died, work ceased on the castle and the interior remains as it was at the time.

The guidebook says that it takes an "athletic person" about 30 minutes to ascend to the top of the mountain. The tour office gives you a full hour between tours to get to the top since for most people, it takes that long. Feeling energetic, we started hoofing up the hill and quite quickly I realized just how far I have come in 8 months. The Scientist was struggling behind me, hamstrings burning from the climb. I was definitely sweating and breathing hard, but then again, so were the horses pulling buggies of people too lazy, or unable to do the hill themselves. In a mere 15 minutes, we were at the top - exactly 1/2 the time it supposedly takes for an athletic person to climb it. I was so proud. According to Frommer's, I'm an athlete! And here's the view that awaited us:

Peeking through the mist, but still visible, the castle is breathtaking...and not just because you climbed a hill to get there! The panoramic views over the land below stretch for miles. We actually met a couple from our walking tour the day before at the top and we all took each others' pictures. Here's us with the view in the background:

We cued up for our tour and headed inside. The tour started on the second floor of the castle so we carefully climbed 4 flights of spiral stairs leading to the living quarters of Mad King Ludwig. It was then, as we all began to corral in a large room with marble columns and strained to get a peak out the windows to the magnificent landscape below, that I heard it...a large thump followed by what sounded almost like a wounded animal. People started running. I knew someone was hurt - I thought maybe a woman had gotten her hand caught in the door being closed. A man ran into the large room from the hallway outside and called "Is there a doctor here?! - Anyone? A doctor!" - the crowd looked around. No doctors in the house. Now the panic level started to rise. Quite clearly, someone on our tour had collapsed outside in the hall. Another minute passed. The man came back again. "Does anyone know CPR?" I do - I've been certified twice, although my certificates aren't up to date. I ran forward and said I could help...and then I saw him. A very, very large man - maybe 6'4" or taller, hundreds of pounds - lying on the floor - ghostly pale and shirt ripped open while two men were already administering what CPR they knew how to do. I started shaking. The man pumping his chest was going too fast - I called out to him to slow down as they ushered me back out of the hallway and into the room. The ambulance had been called, they didn't need my help. The men continued to work as the door was closed behind me and the guide resumed the tour. I couldn't concentrate. The image of the man, lying on the floor, death written all over his face, is burned into my memory. As we entered the chapel of the castle, I heard the ambulance approaching. And then just as fast, I heard it going away. I don't know what happened to the man, but I do know that even though I am usually not one for praying, I prayed at that moment. And I prayed hard. Please let him be ok. Please let him live. We were in the chapel, in a castle, on the top of a mountain. If we weren't a little closer to God at that moment, I don't know when we would be. I have thought about that man every day since then. I hope that he is ok. I hope that he is alive to celebrate Christmas with his family. I hope and pray that his trip to Germany is not the last trip that he will ever make. Since he was on the English tour, I am assuming he was a tourist like myself. I can only imagine how terrifying it would be to have a major emergency like that happen in a foreign country. I prayed for our own health and safety at that moment and for the health and safety of other travelers everywhere. By now we were in the bedroom...or was it the dressing was too hard to concentrate.

By the time the tour was over, I had finally stopped shaking. We snapped a couple of pictures looking over the valley below before heading back down the hill.

You can see Hohenschwangau in the distance

On the way down the hill I started to cry. It could have been me. 8 months ago, I was killing myself with food. 8 months ago I was having trouble breathing, and couldn't take 2 flights of stairs without being winded for 5 minutes after. I kept seeing the man on the floor - he was young. Too young to die. Maybe early 50s, maybe younger. But so, so big. It could have been me. Thank God I have turned my life around. Maybe now I have a fighting chance. Maybe now, that doesn't have to be me. Now, I am living. Now I can climb mountains. Now I can run miles. Thank God for that.

The Scientist listened to me quietly while I talked to him about what I was feeling. We reached a trail marking the hike to Marienbr├╝ke - the bridge in the mountains that gives you a panoramic view of the castle. Here's a picture of it from the castle:

It was another 40 minute uphill hike and a couple coming down the hill said that the trail was blocked off 5 minutes from the bridge. But at that moment, we both wanted to do it, so we took off up the hill again to see what we could find. I am so happy we did. We were the only people on the trail at all so it felt like we had the whole world to ourselves. We built a totem to our journey:

And got a beautiful view of the mountains:

And after a particularly arduous stretch with a very steep incline, we did hit that roadblock with a scary German sign that said "No Trespassing"...

Fortunately, for us, I felt like being a bit of a rule breaker and quickly ducked under the fence. I wasn't hiking up this far to turn around and go home. Risking being kicked out of the country for good (I don't know - is that what they do to foreign rule-breakers? Or do they just yell at you in German?) we found the bridge leading out over a long ravine:

I was shaking so badly at this point because we were somewhere we weren't supposed to be, and the thrill of the climb, and the muscle fatigue, and the sheer height of the bridge, and the man on the floor...

But it all came down to this:

Quite honestly, one of the most stunning vistas I have ever seen (until Tuesday's trip into the Alps which I will talk about in another blog). The pictures don't do it justice. I have never seen anything like it in my life. It was worth every sore muscle, every drop of sweat, every wet foot it took to get up there. I did it.

Exhausted and weather worn, we headed back down the hill for the last time that day. We climbed in the car, headed for F├╝ssen for some dinner and then home to bed where I slept like a log. A few wonderful days, very well spent indeed.

Since getting on the computer has been difficult at best, I have stopped tracking, which I'm not happy about. I know it hasn't given me license to eat willy-nilly, but in some cases that has been happening. I've certainly been drinking more than I expected to. Bavaria is full of nothing but beer, potato dumplings and pork. I am growing very tired of the food - trying to get anything that's remotely healthy here has been very tasking, and when you order a salad, people look at you funny. But unless you do order a salad, vegetables are non-existent with the exception of cabbage, which is not agreeing at all with my stomach as of late. Water is also impossible to find. No one drinks it here - I swear. You can try to order it in a restaurant, but sometimes they don't understand and bring expensive bottled water instead. I've taken to gulping down 4 glasses of water every morning before I leave the hotel room and then taking my water bottle with 2 glasses with me. Worst case scenario, I don't drink anything else all day and then cram in another 2-4 glasses at night before bed. I've only had one day where I haven't gotten in 8 so far, but with the added beer, I should be drinking more.

I think food to exercise ratio is good. I'm probably up on the scale at this point since the food is just so heavy, but we'll see. I've been burning about 1000 calories a day, so hopefully that should count against my higher than usual calorie intake. I knew this was going to be challenging. Only a few more days left to this challenge before I get home and back into my routine and my running.

If you've made it this far, you're a trouper! Thanks for reading Sparkies. It means so much to me to know that you're all here and working hard. It makes me want to work hard too - even on vacation! It doesn't take a wake-up call on a mountain to know that what we're all doing here is so so very important.

Until next time! Tsch├╝ss!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

KELLIGIRL523 12/23/2010 10:55AM

    Profound. Thank you for sharing!

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RIGBY31 12/16/2010 6:58PM

    First, somehow you fell of my blog radar and I just now spent 45 minutes reading ALLL your beautiful words and gawking at the awesome pics. *Turning your life around* realization hit home to me... smack dab between the eyes and brain. Definite purposeful chain reaction: your trip, your tour, the sick man, your sharing the scene and your personal reaction, and me FINALLY getting it during this tricky time of year. I CANNOT wait to hear how much you have lost when you return (and I know you have... all that walking, good for you!).

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MELTEAGUE 12/14/2010 8:56AM

    What an awesome blog, wow, I hope you are feeling better soon, the pics are awesome and you are on a wonderful adventure, not only physically ....or should I say Literally, but also on an emotional and spiritual journey and I pray you find the blessings waiting for you that are there as you seek and find them.....Enjoy your travels both literally and emotionally...I wish you all the best!

So glad you have turned your life around...keep going!

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TEENY_BIKINI 12/13/2010 2:26PM

    Thank you for making time to post these fabulous blogs while travelling. It is amazing and so are you.


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SLFRISBEY 12/9/2010 5:15PM

    I love it! You're seeing the BEST of Germany! I love Rothenberg ob der Tauber even if it is a little too touristy these days :) Hope you enjoy the rest of your time there! If you're still in Muncich go to the Frauenkirche and St. Peters (or maybe it's St. Pauls). There is a climb up the stairs to the top and you can see the whole city. it's BEAUTIFUL!!!

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MLAYESKI 12/9/2010 4:49PM

    How beautiful! My mom is German and I visited Germany as a child. I miss many things. I'm looking forward to visiting as an adult.

Thanks for sharing your photos and experiences. emoticon

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THENEWDARLENE 12/9/2010 4:29PM

    Thanks for sharing all the details of your travels! I love the stories, and the pictures are amazing.

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LOTUSFLOWER 12/9/2010 4:18PM

    I think I've read this three times or more, pouring over the pictures, etc., and just realized that I didn't leave a comment! (Or I don't think I did?) I love this travel blog!!! Great pictures, stories, it's all great, sounds like a great time. I love the pictures, especially the ones with you in them, and that beer is as big as your head!! LOL!!!

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WYND10 12/9/2010 12:04PM

    Wow...your pictures continue to be fantastic. And it sounds like even with the challenges of food you're doing fantastic. You look great in all your pictures!! I was at the HB!! I was hit on by a very old German man who was quite enthralled with my "bigness". Yeah. I am so happy you're having a good time. Woot!

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CHICAT63 12/9/2010 5:27AM

    Thank you for sharing your travel with us, amazing photos and accounts of your trip. Germany is beautiful, breathtaking and sordid in some ways. This holiday for you is a realization how far you have come, it is a journey ! Yes, hopefully the gentleman survived with your prayers. You are doing excellent with the circumstances while travelling.

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-POOKIE- 12/9/2010 4:46AM

    There are so many things in this blog... I have to address your tears at realisation of your changing your life in the face of what you saw. Its brought me to tears also thinking of the very same fact, and how over a few days I have been ruining my hard work with stupid greed.

I should be more aware of how I have saved my life and I haven't works this damn hard to allow christmas to hurt me.

Brighter note...beautiful photos again, and again! You are experiencing so much, its stunning.

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41SUSAN14 12/9/2010 12:10AM

    Wow. And WOW again!

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MEADSBAY 12/8/2010 9:55PM

You are like a native now- hiking and walking all day long.
Great insight into that poor man's collapse and how much your health has improved in the ast year.
You're doing just fine.
Enjoying your blogs immensely.


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UNICORN212 12/8/2010 8:54PM

    I was born in Munich to a military Dad and German Mom, and have seen both those castles. Your blog brings back memories.

If it is any consolation, many Germans speak English and they have good hospitals, so hopefully the gentleman in your tour received care quickly enough. Maybe it was just the altitude.

Thank you for the documentation of your vacation!

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KSGROTHE 12/8/2010 8:38PM

    Thank you so much for sharing so much about your amazing vacation! You have taken some wonderful photos!

- Karen

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SFISHER333 12/8/2010 7:31PM

    Thanks for sharing, especially the pics. I was in Germany about 15 years ago - near Frankfurt where my brother-in-law was stationed - and had a fantastic time. We did some castle tours, but it was right around Christmas and Germany pretty much shuts down for Christmas! I would love to go back some day.

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KT-NICHOLS-13 12/8/2010 6:50PM

    I love your vacation blogs and photo's! You look fabulous darling ...

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KRAWRS 12/8/2010 6:44PM

    Girl, I wouldn't let you write all that without devouring every single word! I'm just amazed at all the tours, all the walking and hiking, all the sightseeing you're doing! It sounds incredibly fun but also exhausting! So glad you're enjoying yourself. :D

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LAURIETAIT 12/8/2010 6:23PM

    I'm really enjoying your vacation. Thanks so much for sharing. The castles are beautiful. I love historical building and everything that goes with them. Having that poor man collapse was a horrible experience. I teach CPR and first aid but I have only experienced one person who collapsed and then died. You feel so helpless. So glad that you are feeling fit and surviving the gruelling schedule. Just reading about it is exhausting me!

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JEANUT 12/8/2010 6:05PM

    Oh sweetie, I'm so sorry you had to see that. I know it was terrifying for you. My prayers are with that mans family.
The pics you took are beautiful and I know you enjoyed yourself despite the trauma. My aunt went there last year and like you she said it's impossible to get water. I think you are doing great.

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Cold Climate, Warm People

Thursday, December 02, 2010

"Kalt Klima! Warme Menchen!" says this old man, with lots of wild hand gestures when I tried to explain to him in VERY bad German/English that I was from Canada. "Ooooh, Canada" - he said, and grimaced. "Kalt! Sehr kalt!!!"

We we're standing in the middle of a very dark street in Potsdam on one of the COLDEST days we've had in Germany so far (10┬║F) and the wind is whipping around us as we're trying to figure out where to go on the map to get to Schloss Cecilienhof, meeting place of the Potsdam Conference. I was convinced that Canada was the tropics in comparison to that, but this old man was so lively I was heartily amused. He spoke hardly any English, but he wanted to help us. We managed to speak to each other in broken German, broken English and a whole lot of hand waving. It was one of the best exchanges I've had with an individual my whole time here so far. (Well that, and the young woman at the candied nut stand at a Christmas Market that made me repeat "Ein f├╝nfzig" - which was the 1.50ÔéČ change she was giving me - until I got it right. All three of us were keeled over laughing by the time I gave up and left). So when he said "Cold Climate. Warm People" he was referring to the Canadians, which touched me deeply. I do love traveling abroad and being known as a kind populous! He then went on to say that the Germans were a "kalt menchen", as he made a very stern face - but I beg to differ.

I received a lot of mixed messages from friends before my trip about their experiences with the German people. Though Germans are indeed stern at times and love following the rules, I haven't had a bad experience with anyone to date. In fact, I have had many of these wonderfully joyous moments when both parties realize that neither one of us really understands the other, but we'll give it a go anyway. Most people here are not quick to help - but when they do, I think they deserve an honourable mention. The old man eventually went on his way after cautioning us NOT to try to get to Cecilienhof that night (we didn't listen though and went anyway even though it was already closed) and telling The Scientist about a brother he had who worked in a factory in Canada for a bit. At least that's what we think he said...

But here are some other things that I have discovered and really love about Germany (so far):

Dogs: People here have a mad love affair with the "Hund". People and dogs co-exist together in all places of the world - even restaurants. I was pleasantly surprised to see 3 or 4 dogs lying at the feet of their masters at a very upscale restaurant that we visited in Potsdam. And you better believe that they get fed table scraps too :) In Berlin, they even have doggy bags on the sidewalks to remind you to pick up after Fido (or maybe in the German case - Franz).

Recycling: Everything here is recycled. Germany has such a huge respect, it seems, for the environment and the using-up of natural resources. A nice change from the US, and specifically Chicago - who although they have a blue box program, don't really have a good method of collecting and filtering regular garbage. ALL paper goods here are recycled. You don't even have the choice in the supermarket of buying non-recycled toilet paper. And the streets are lined with fun recycling bins for glass of all different colours...if you choose to recycle it. Most people save their bottles and return them for money back - a sure fire way to ensure that bottles will be disposed of properly and something I haven't done since childhood living in the Ottawa Valley in Ontario.

Modern Technology & the Transit System: Berlin is fast. And in my opinion, ahead of the game in so many ways. I remember getting SO excited about the "Bus Tracker" feature that Chicago just implemented last year to tell you when the bus was to arrive at your stop. Well in Berlin, you don't have to use a smart phone. They have digital signs at every bus stop that tell you the arrival times of the next 4 buses in the cue. They have 4 levels of trains, plus trams and buses, so you can get anywhere, everywhere, and quickly. They have the highspeed trains for longer trips, the regional trains that take you to neighbouring towns like Potsdam (the equivalent of our Metra or Go trains), the S-Bahn trains which are above-ground trains that traverse the length of the city and just beyond, and the U-Bahn trains that form a HUGE underground network connecting all of the above. There isn't much need to take a bus or tram in the city because there is a train stop at pretty much every corner, but we did take trams and buses in Potsdam and they operate the same way. Boarding is made simple. You never have to show your ticket when boarding a train. Germany works on the honour system - fines are hefty if you're caught without a ticket, but not having to reach for your wallet or purse every time you board transportation is really nice. Because of this, trams and buses have more than one door by which you can board, making getting on and off a breeze and it quickens transit time for the whole system. You don't have to interact with the driver at all - so I've never once seen an angry passenger - something I see almost daily on my ride home from work. And because of this amazing transit system, Berlin has NO traffic. I've only heard a honking horn that I can remember maybe twice this whole trip. Traffic runs smoothly during rush hours because most people in the city take the trains, which can get full, but never packed like Chicago's lines. There's a train on every line roughly every 5 minutes or sooner all the time. So there's never any back log of people waiting to get on at any one point in time except for the commuter trains to the suburbs. Really, it's a pretty incredible and efficient system. (As a side note though - we did have a really big dump of snow today and The Scientist got stuck in Potsdam for a couple of hours before deciding to turn around and come home - so when the trains DO get held up, they mess up a lot of people who depend on them...first HUGE snow of the season, I guess I've gotta give them a little break there though...Chicago trains go through the same thing every year).

A couple of Berlin's PRISTINE train stations that are all differently decorated. The one has the history of Berlin's trains on the walls in tile - it's really beautiful.

Double The Fun: Berlin has 2 of everything. Because it was divided for so long between the East and the West, they needed to create separate attractions and buildings for everything. So there are 2 city halls, 2 zoos, 2 big shopping districts, 2 large parks...the list goes on and on. If you see something in the West that doesn't quite suit your fancy, chances are the one in the East will. Just a fun little feature that makes life in the city interesting!

New & Old: Since there are two of almost everything, it's also fun to note that the Germans weren't exactly clever with their naming of buildings. When anything new is built, it receives the title "Neues" and the old building is then re-named "Altes" - so for of the museums in the city WAS at one point named after one of the German royalty (either Friedrich, Wilhelm, or Friedrich-Wilhelm since there don't actually seem to be any others that aren't named one of those three names - another example of German creativity in naming), but then a new museum was built, so it received the name Neues Museum, where the old one is now called the Altes Museum. Same thing with the Palaces - Neues Schloss, Altes Schloss. Creative eh?

Neues Museum

Altes Museum

Amplemann!: Once a symbol of East Berlin, these little guys were adopted by the whole city upon re-unification. They are now on every street light in the city telling people when to cross and when to wait. And people pay attention to these Amplemann. Even if there are no cars coming for miles, Germans will stop at the red and go at the green. You have to follow the rules!

Me at the Amplemann store - yes, they have a whole store with things you can buy with the Amplemann on them. My favorite are the cookie cutters!

Buddy Bears: I've already mentioned a bit about the bears all over the city of Berlin. Since it IS their stately symbol and adorns their flag, these guys are serious about their bears. There's also the fascinating and sweet story of the polar bear Knut who lives at the Berlin Zoo. Born in captivity, Knut was rejected by his mother, so a zoo keeper raised him on his own - bottle fed him and everything, and now Knut is the center of attention and a major tourist attraction for the zoo. Unfortunately, I never got to see Knut (pronounced Newt) since I never had time to go to the zoo, but I did see a wide assortment of Buddy Bears throughout the city and even bought a little miniature to take home as a souvenir! Here are a couple more.

The Hilton's Buddy Bear stands on his head!

Bathrooms: Probably one of my most favorite things about Berlin is their washroom facilities. I was told before coming here that washrooms in the city were scarce, so to make sure that you went when you were done eating at a restaurant so you'd be sure to find one. Now, I do have to confess, I've located the Evil Empire (Starbucks) twice while in Berlin...but that's cause they have bathrooms, and all the sales people speak perfect English... Oy me...I came all the way across the ocean to visit a Starbucks. (For those of you who are interested - the menu is exactly the same, but they have cool Berlin mugs instead of the American ones. Gingerbread Latte = Lebkuchen Latte!) But back to the bathrooms - you do have to pay for public toilets, but let me tell you - I'd pay $1 every time I had to use the washroom on a regular basis if our toilets looked like these ones. There's an attendant that waits in an outer room and after EVERY SINGLE USE he/she goes in and cleans the stall. Wow. My tush has never been so clean/happy. And a note on conservation - all the toilets here are equipped with flush valves that will give you either a half flush or a whole flush so you don't waste water when you don't need to. How considerate! And don't forget about that recycled paper...might be a little scratchy - but it's all for the environment, so that's not half bad.

All in all - it's been a wonderful week in Berlin/Potsdam. We're on to Munich tomorrow for another week with side trips to F├╝ssen, Dachau and Partenkurchen/Oberammergau before moving on from there. Bavarian culture is much different from the north - they even speak a different dialect of the language, so this should be really fun/interesting! I still owe you a blog on my last couple of days in Berlin, the two days I spent in Potsdam and my run through the Tiergarten today in the snow. So much to write, so little time at night to gather my thoughts and photos. Perhaps tomorrow in transit will allow me some more time to reflect on my journeys. There's much more to come.

Thanks Berlin! Here's hoping I see you again very soon!

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FARLEY_GIRL 12/7/2010 11:25AM

    10 degrees fahrenheit??? BRRRRRRRRRRR!!!!!! So it pretty much is the same as it is here in Chi town right now :( glad I just ordered long johns for our trip :-) Thank you so much for posting about your travels -- feel like we are right there with you!!!!

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KEC1974 12/6/2010 8:01AM

    I love Germany. Every time I visit, I hear about something else I should go and see. (Kinda like France, there is just so much that the list increases exponenetially with each visit!) And the people, I find are so lovely. And the food. I'm a sucker for schnitzel. :)
I didn't realize you were from the Ottawa Valley! One of my dearest friends in the whole world is from Deep River. She's teaching at Opeongo right now. How neat! I visited her this summer and it's so beautiful there!
Enjoy Munich and the rest of your trip. I love reading about your experiences!

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WYND10 12/3/2010 9:06AM

    You're making me want to go back to Germany and truth be told I didn't enjoy myself so much there, but your blogs are bringing it to life! It sounds like you're having a fantastic time. I can't wait to read more.

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-POOKIE- 12/3/2010 5:13AM

    I am so enjoying reading your wonderful blogs.

Thank you for sharing your lovely experiences! Its making really determined that when my life gets together, we are going to have to go to Germany for holidays.

See how much of my German I can remember (I got a higher grade in my german exams in college than I did in my english!).

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MEADSBAY 12/2/2010 11:22PM

    You really need to think about being a travel writer.


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55TUCKER 12/2/2010 6:34PM

    Thanks for such a great blog on your German travels and experience. Enjoy every minute!

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LAURIETAIT 12/2/2010 6:09PM

    Terrific blog. You've done such a great job of describing everything. I've never been to Germany but now I want to go!

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KARVY09 12/2/2010 5:38PM

    What a great Travel blog! I haven't visited Berlin, but I've been to Germany. In 2004, during the Bush era, Americans were persona non grata in much of Europe, but I found the Germans to be some of the kindest and gracious people of all the countries we visited.

I loved Munchen when I visited. I hope you have a spectacular time! Dachau is very moving as well. I don't think you are ever the same after visiting a concentration camp.

Enjoy the rest of your time in Germany!

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Das Bunker & Das Break-Up

Monday, November 29, 2010

Yesterday was spent in it's entirety in Potsdam (a suburb of Berlin, but really it's the capital city of the State of Brandenburg). I'll blog about that later since I'll be going back to Potsdam later this week and can keep everything about there in one blog.

Today was more Berlin, but it came after a long conversation last night with The Scientist about our relationship - or lack-there-of anymore - and unfortunately, I was the instigator. I could feel it happening and I could see it in his face. I knew he was falling for me again and I just don't feel the same way anymore. So I needed to put a stop to it before his feelings got any more damaged than I knew they were already going to be. Yes, he's the one that left. But he's also the one who moved across an ocean and is a long way from home. I KNOW what loneliness looks like and feels like and tastes like, and he is so very lonely right now it kills me to see him hurting. But it is not a reason to fall back into the pattern of a relationship that wasn't working anyway for 3 weeks just so that we can leave each other all over again at the end of this trip. So I had to set the record straight. And he didn't like that very much. It was a long night for both of us - when he's upset he doesn't sleep and he was pacing the hall with the creaky wood floor all night long.

This morning was sombre at best. I got up, showered, got dressed and made my breakfast while he remained in bed. It's one thing to break up with a person and then go your separate ways and not see them again until you're ready for it (or maybe you're never ready for it). But try breaking up with a person that you then have to live with for the next 2 weeks, and not only live with, but try to have fun with. I have the utmost respect for this man right now. I broke his heart, and he's dealing with it. It's painful to watch - but it's also necessary to preserve our friendship. I love him dearly as a friend and I want him in my life - but we're not right together and we both know that. Time will heal the wounds. But right now we don't have time.

My plan was to catch the 10am walking tour of Berlin at the Zoo Station. I grabbed my tea and ran out the door at 5 minutes to 10am, knowing full-well that I was going to be late. Rule #1 - Don't be late in Germany. They like to follow the rules around here. I arrived at the stop at 10:07am. Not a soul in front of the meeting place. Drat. Missed the tour. The one I took in Paris sure as heck didn't start promptly, but you'd better believe it does here. Tomorrow I will be there at 9:30am...with bells on!

So overall, not a great start to the morning. But all was not lost! I knew where [The Story of Berlin] Museum was on the Ku'Damm so I headed over there to check it out. SO glad I did! This museum houses 800 years of the history of Berlin from it's beginnings as a shipping port through feast and famine and World Wars, to the building and then demolishing of The Wall - totally incredible. The museum spans 3 floors and includes a visit to a real live nuclear bomb shelter, known as "The Bunker" that was built during the Cold War. The top floor spans the years 1237-1930 and the tumultuous start of the now popular city. They've seen pretty much everything here - including a 3 wheeled car that was nicknamed for it's predilection for tipping over all the time:

The number of times that this city has been rebuilt for whatever reason is remarkable. Descend to the basement floor and you walk into the beginning of WWII and Hitler's reign followed by the rebuilding of the city into East and West Berlin and the building of the wall. Here's a couple of pictures of the division of Berlin by all the neighbouring countries and a really big bomb.

The whole museum was very interactive and had the most stunning visual and audio displays. The most chilling was walking into what was modeled after a gas chamber in a concentration camp (I can only imagine that my trip to Dachau in a few days is going to be just as memorable) and then seeing the rebuilt wall while watching video montages of the people on the West and then the people on the East. The museum owns 4 pieces of the original wall. There isn't much that still remains in Berlin at all besides these 4 pieces. Most of it was busted up by slabs and sold to the highest bidder in countries all over the world. Here's the part that's left:

All in, it took me 4 hours to see the whole museum. I read absolutely everything - I couldn't get enough history, it's all just so fascinating to me. But the best/creepiest part? Das Bunker. Built under an existing parking garage during the Cold War (unbeknownst to ANYONE actually living in the area) we were brought first through the airlock area that has a shower room.

Anyone coming into the bunker would be made to undress and shower and put on a German military outfit before entering. The Bunker was built to hold 3500 people in the occurrence of a nuclear bomb. Once we were let inside we saw this:

It's not a great picture, but that's row after row after row of sleeping cots lined up head to toe. We walked down a very long corridor and that's all you could see around you. SO CREEPY!

The next thing we were shown was a double layer automatic door that could shut off an area of the bunker if it were destroyed or was leaking radiation and the kitchen which only held rations enough for women, children and the elderly for 2 weeks. After 2 weeks, everyone would have to leave and board buses out of the city because the radiation in the city center would still be too strong to survive...but what happens when the buses are destroyed by the bomb? An installation of a number of briefcases was hung over what looked to be a small sitting area. Our guide explained that this wasn't actually part of the bunker but was a reminder of the propaganda of the time that stated "Everyone Has A Chance" - to save themselves against a nuclear attack. When studying the affects of the bomb on Japan, they noted that men carrying briefcases who crouched down and held the briefcase over their heads were less torched than everyone else. Hence the "duck and cover" strategy. Oy vey! Next we were walked through the facilities and shown the bathrooms, the emergency room (with only 2 gurneys for 3500 people) and the air filtration room. The bunker was designed to be about 86 degrees at all times, warmed only by body heat of the people in there. Humidity would be high and the air filtration system was designed to give people only the amount of oxygen they needed to survive. The thought being that if they could keep everyone in a hot, humid climate for 2 weeks, there would be less wide spread panic since all you would be able to do is sleep, eat and use the bathroom. Sounds AWESOME. Remember LOST and "The Hatch"? That looked like a PICNIC in comparison to this thing...yikes!

By this time my feet were really starting to kill me and I had lost my daylight, so I decided to walk back to a little corner restaurant that's around the block from the apartment for some dinner. I brought my tour books with me and enjoyed the most delectable lamb chops, potatoes, bacon wrapped green beans and garlic butter with a large stein of beer. Since I hadn't stopped for lunch, I figured all of this was perfectly legal :) I took my time and read my book and planned where to go to next. I debated just going home and resting my weary feet for the evening, looking at my pictures and writing my blog, but something was calling to me and I sucked in a big breath of determination and made up my mind to go back out into the world. I decided on a visit to Alexanderplatz and Nikolaiviertel and bid goodnight to the waiter. As I was walking up the street to the nearest U-Bahn stop I heard my name. The Scientist was home early from work and just happened to be walking the same street as the middle of Berlin. Our greeting was awkward after this morning, but I was really happy to see him. I asked if he wanted to come with me an he agreed, so off we went. And here's where we ended up:

There are too many beautiful photos of tonight to even begin to share them all, but in brief, what you're looking at there is the Fernsehturm (TV Tower) - the second tallest building in Europe. At the base of this tower is Marienkurche - the second oldest church in Berlin (I'm sensing a theme here).

Alexanderplatz is the park that surrounds these monuments and in the park was yet another Christmas Market! (We went to one yesterday in Potsdam as well, so it's actually becoming funny now that there are so many here - about 15 total in the city!) This market was different from all the other though in that it has pony rides and a HUGE Ferris wheel and some other original things that we haven't yet seen. Here are some of my favorite pictures from the evening.

Do you SEE what I'm up against here people? OMG I cannot even tell you what this booth smells like...

This is the Rathaus "Town Hall" at the base of Alexanderplatz. It's known as the "Red Town Hall" - not for anything Soviet, but because of the colour of the bricks used to build it.

At this point we started walking again towards to historic Nikolai Quarter in search of this building:

The Wirtshaus zum Nussbaum that was made famous by this painting by Heinrich Zille:

It's just as it appears, no?

The Nikolai Quarter is gorgeous - especially at night and with all the Christmas lights lit. It was completely destroyed in the war, but was rebuilt for Berlin's 750th Anniversary, so it appears as it once did. We ended our night walking around and snapping a few more shots:

Nikolaikurche - St. Nicholas Church is THE oldest church in the city. Built at the founding of Berlin in the 1200s.

The final shot is looking down the very cold River Spree towards the BerlinerDom - a great shot to end the evening.

Whatever made me get up out of that restaurant at that point in time and walk down the street to find The Scientist walking my way I will never know. But I'm so glad we found each other and got a chance to spend the evening together. However this day started, he is still one of my best friends and has been for the 2 years that we were together. This is not the end of something, but the beginning of something new. I have hope for us yet. And tomorrow is another Berlin!

  Member Comments About This Blog Post:

FARLEY_GIRL 12/2/2010 12:44PM

    Thank you for sharing your spectacular pictures and stories!!! I so can't wait for my own....I guess it's a good thing I plan on walking a couple miles on the tread mill on the boat...b/c all those markets and all that yummy food.....I'm so going to need the extra exercise :-)

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ANDREA963 12/2/2010 12:26PM

    Thank you for sharing your pictures and experience. I hope things work out between you and your friend and you're able to really enjoy each others company. I'm wearing my Hot Chocolate jacket today trying to stay warm. ;)

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STARLIGHT615 11/30/2010 5:24PM

    What an amazing blog! I just love the pictures!! thank you for sharing!!!

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LOTUSFLOWER 11/30/2010 5:19PM

    I agree with Jenn, sometimes the best thing to do is the hardest. I'm so glad that by the end of the night you two could spend the evening together and perhaps it happening this way, the break up and then having to wake up together, and spend the next two weeks together, perhaps that was a good thing after all. This way it seems that your friendship will be maintained. I'm glad, he sounds like a very special person to you. Great photos, too. OMG that booth looks amazing!!!! I can only imagine the smell :)

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NINJA_SMOO 11/30/2010 4:05PM

  Fabulous pictures! You make me want to travel travel travel! I hope you can enjoy each others' company for the rest of the trip. Das bunker looks very creepy!

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CALLIKIA 11/30/2010 4:04PM

    So pretty and memorable. I hope you 2 can put differences aside and just enjoy your time together.

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KRAWRS 11/30/2010 3:26PM

    I'm so proud of you! I know it was going to be difficult for both of you, falling into this "relationship" comfort zone for 3 weeks... but I'm glad you put a stop to it before either of you could hurt any worse. Hopefully he'll get over it soon and you can go back to having fun as FRIENDS do.

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JENJESS48 11/30/2010 2:56PM

    Sometimes the right thing is also the hardest thing. Good for you for being so brave to have the conversation when you needed to! And I'm glad you're having a good time despite it all. [hugs]

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-POOKIE- 11/30/2010 6:52AM


Settling your emotions and being honest will ultimately be a good thing, I have a dear friend who I know feels more for me than I him, and having to be honest with him was hard, but we are still friends and I value that.

And again with the stunning photos, I really cant wait for my market in Manchester in two weeks... I am so jealous of your amazing time. I must one day get back to Germany.

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MEADSBAY 11/29/2010 9:12PM

    emoticon emoticon emoticon

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WYND10 11/29/2010 8:55PM

    The pictures are amazing...what kind of camera are you using?

Also, I am glad that you that The Scientist were able to talk, I hope that you can enjoy your time together without too much awkwardness.

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TEENY_BIKINI 11/29/2010 7:39PM

    It is amazing sharing the trip with you. I am loving the updates.


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LAURIETAIT 11/29/2010 7:31PM

    Terrific blog! I love history too. I could spend days in places like these. So glad that the break up hasn't spoiled the holiday for you and that your friendship has taken a new turn. At the rate you are expending calories these days you're going to lose 10 pounds on this trip!

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NORDICVALKYRIE 11/29/2010 7:14PM

    Love your blog! Wonderful pictures also!!

emoticon emoticon

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KT-NICHOLS-13 11/29/2010 7:06PM

    I feel like I'm walking along with you ... great descriptive blogs!

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