Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Hello my wonderful Spark Friends. I have a challenge for ALL of you! I just did this myself last night, so I'll be all set for going home.
I know that we're all about to embark on a crazy journey of yumminess over the weekend. Cookies, cakes and holiday savories that only come around once a year. And when you see these items so rarely, it's SO difficult not to stuff your face and wish it were Christmas EVERY day. With me in particular, since my birthday is also 2 days before Christmas, I get not only my mom's home cooking for the holiday, but also my special birthday cake (Flaming Baked Alaska) made ever so lovingly on the 23rd.
So the challenge is this:
Pick THREE of your absolute favorite, cannot possibly say "No" to, Holiday items that you KNOW will be on the table this Christmas. Call you mom, or your Grammy or your funny Uncle Ted and ask them for the recipe for that wonderful dish - every scrap of lard, every pound of butter that is in it. And then enter all 3 recipes as they are in their original form into SparkRecipes and figure out a serving size.
Now - come Christmas morning - you are all armed and ready! You know exactly how many calories, grams of fat and hidden nutrients are in your favorite dishes! So go ahead and EAT THEM! But make sure when you do, you track them as well! And we'll all make a promise here to track those items every time they cross our plates. Since so many things WILL cross our plates, knowing what's in just THREE of them will be a huge help.
Once you're done entering your recipes, post a blog and a link to them. I'm really interested to see what all your favorite items are!
I still need to get the recipe from Mom for my Baked Alaska, but here are two of my other absolute favorites!
Christmas Morning Quiche - recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detai
Aunt Edith's Welsh Cakes - recipes.sparkpeople.com/recipe-detai
Merry Christmas Everyone! Happy Eating (and Healthy Eating!)
Monday, December 20, 2010
So I'm definitely NOT on vacation any more. The jet lag has faded, the memories are growing distant, and WORK will not let up long enough to let me breathe let alone get anything accomplished before Christmas. I MISS Spark, I miss reading articles and tracking throughout the day, and updating my status and wishing the Done Girls Happy Birthdays. I'm afraid that my time away from this community has become a little permanent and since I got in the habit of NOT logging in every day while I was away, it's no longer as second nature as it was before I left. I need to make that better!
I've been on the scale a couple of times this week and it hasn't budged an inch since my fantastic post-trip weigh-in. No chance of shedding a little vacation water weight I guess. Like I said - I'm pretty sure the reason I dropped weight in the first place was because of that flu bug I got the day before I came home, so I shouldn't be surprised that my body has fluctuated back up this week, but it's disappointing! I was really hoping for that magic 75 pound weight loss by Christmas. But I really should be happy with 70. I should. So 70 pounds gone is what I'm taking home with me for Christmas. In a Size L sweater from the Gap.
Since getting home I have tried to resume my running routine, and since the pool is closed until the New Year, I have added back in my 3rd day of weekly running. But for whatever reason (most likely that I am fighting a really bad chest cold), I have been hitting a wall at 1.5 miles and just can't seem to run any further than that before having to walk. I'm on my 5K route, so I'm only run/walking 3.1 miles anyway, when before I left for my trip I was up to running a full 4 miles. So 3 times this week I've gone out, 3 times I've stopped running just past 1 mile, walk for 5 minutes, run again, hit another wall, walk, run - and so it goes for the full route. It's FRUSTRATING!!! Yes, I know the weather has been 9 degrees when I'm running outside. Yes, I know I'm fighting a cold. But I HAVE to break through this wall if I'm to keep training for my 8K in March.
I guess I am just realizing how important my cross-training with swimming and Zumba have been for my running as well. I'm feeling flabby all over. Running is great for my legs and my core, but Zumba had me toned nicely and swimming is amazing for my arms. I might be smaller than I was before my trip, but I don't FEEL smaller and that's really getting to me - especially since the compliments on my appearance have kicked in to high gear since coming back to town. You leave for 3 weeks and people forget what you looked like, and then coming back and clearly being smaller than the last mental picture they had of me has shocked a few people I think. My office mate actually exclaimed "OMG your face is so thin!" So that makes me feel good I guess, but guilty at the same time because I'm just not in "Top Shape" right now in comparison to where I was before I left.
I had a great photo session yesterday for a show I have coming up. The photographer is a friend of mine and he took some REALLY beautiful shots of me (I get a disk tomorrow so I'll be sure to post a couple). But again, it was yet another reminder that no matter how fabulous I feel about where I am right now, I still have a long way to go. The great shots are great and made me feel really pretty, but there were definitely a few outtakes that had me saying "Oh God - I look like THAT? Where'd THAT roll come from? And I thought my double chin was on the way out?" I have certainly come a long way since 313 pounds, but I'm not even half way yet. There is so much work left to do.
So I'm on autopilot through the holidays. I have come to the conclusion that if I can make it to New Year's Eve and still be down 70 pounds, that's a huge accomplishment and I should take that and be happy for it. But we all want MORE don't we? We all want to be super fabulous AND lose weight during really stressful holiday times. I think I'm perfectly normal to feel a little "blah" about the scale not moving when I'm rocking it out as hard as I can right now! And I haven't forgotten about my WW2 Challenge which I won't now see the end of until well into the new year.
I just don't want this Slow Down to become a trend. I fear trends like this. I was on a roll, and even though I didn't gain in Germany, I need to stay on that roll into the new year. I still have 125 pounds to lose! I need to hit that perfect balance of food and exercise again to see those results on the scale.
So tomorrow I'm aiming to run at least 2 miles without stopping. After Christmas I'll be back at Zumba every Saturday. And then back in the pool shortly after - on track to being down 100 pounds by April at the latest!
I just have to ride this frustration through the holidays, do the best I can with what I am given, run, run, run like a rockstar, and HOPE that everything I'm doing now will continue to work when the stress of the season wears off in January.
Wishing all of you as little stress as possible over this next week. We'll all make it through - good or bad - but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing less of all of you in the New Year! (In the best of all possible ways!)
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
Challenge #6 - Beer
Well...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.
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.)
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!
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"...now 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!]
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"
"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 room...it 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!
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