Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Things We Miss


Some of our lovely friends we have made here in Berlin have begun slowly filtering back to the states.  This is making me both super sad and extremely aware of the limited amount of time we have left here.  We will be in Berlin for 2 more months, and there really are so many things that we need to check off of our Berlin Bucket List before we head out. 

Today’s blog post is not about those things, rather the opposite  As our friends leave, we've begun to think about the things that we actually miss from home and the list was a little surprising to me.

Here are 8 of them:

1. REAL Mexican food, which for the record is probably not real Mexican food, rather an Americanized version of Mexican food that I’m used to in the Midwest, but I don’t care.  I want some queso fresco dip like nobody’s business and some actual pico de gallo that I didn’t make myself.  Three big cheers for refried beans and hot salsa that is actually spicy enough to make my nose run.  I currently ride public transportation for 1.25 hours to get to a place with decent Mexican food served up by an Australian guy who tries to convince me he’s from Texas every time I go there.  (Seriously dude, I’m not buying it!) 

2. Customer Service!  There is no such thing as good German customer service.  I have confirmed this with many of my fellow Americans living here as well as my German friends.  Example: If I want to call and talk to my internet provider, I have to pay 17 cents per minute while on the line, INCLUDING while I am waiting.  (Apparently this will be changing in the near future because of a law, but it hasn’t yet.)  Once I actually reach a person, they are RUDE and act like my call is a major inconvenience to their lives.  They will then try to convince me that whatever reason I’m calling is stupid and that I should hang up the phone asap.  It isn’t only on the phone though.  Time and time again we have actually had difficulty finding someone in a restaurant, beer garden, hotel, etc in order to pay our bill before we leave.  Don’t they want our money?  What would they do if we actually just walked out?  We would never do that, because we’re honest nice Midwestern folks, but we’ve certainly contemplated it before. 

3. Just Being a Bitch! I totally stole this from my friend Sarah, but she is sooo right on the money with this.  If I am ever in a situation here where I feel angry or the need to be a little bit bitchy, 9 times out of 10 I will hold my tongue.  Why?  Well, this is at least partly because I feel like I am representing America a little bit, and I don’t want to be the American Bitch.  I can’t wait to go home and just be a bitch whenever I feel it necessary.  Just a plain bitch when provoked, not an American bitch.  I don’t want to answer for our entire country and culture anymore, I just want to be me. 

4. Less Obvious Eavesdropping & Staring. Holy crap the Germans like to stare and listen in on your conversation and it is getting on my last nerve here.  This is when I’ve taken exception to my bitch rule here, and most assuredly deserves a whole blog post.  Coming soon.

5. PEOPLE!!  I cannot emphasize enough how much we miss all the people we know and love back in the USA.  We have a new niece whose adorably chubby thighs are impossible to pinch through a computer screen, and I am sooo sad that she’s probably going to be crawling by the time I finally get to cuddle with her.  We’ve had quite a few visitors here, but we have so many more people that we know and love that we haven’t been able to see in 10 months.  We’re very much looking forward to big hugs!

6. OUR BED!!  We don’t even have a super nice bed, but it is ours.  I think Andy is the most excited about no longer having a canyon between us.  Double German beds, including ours here, are usually two single mattresses next to one another.  This is a serious hindrance to cuddle time, and we are over it. 

7. MY CLOTHES & SHOES & COATS  I don’t even have really nice clothes at home, but I certainly have a greater selection than the one suitcase-full that I have here.  We already shipped our winter clothes home with Andy’s parents, so that dwindled my stash here even more.  Yes, I have purchased a few items here and there, but honestly, I miss having an actual closet full of all of my clothes.  Perhaps I’ll hate them all when I go back and see them, but at least I can hate them while staring through my closet door instead of in my memory.  I do however have a fairly nice collection of shoes and coats at home that I’m looking forward to rocking when I get there in October!! 

8. Unquestionable Understanding.  This one goes both ways.  I want to absolutely understand everything that is said to me all the time again AND not have someone question whether or not I understood because of my accent and/or nationality. PERIOD.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Strollers


People here LOVE our double stroller, and so do I.  We have this really amazing Phil & Ted’s Sport stroller with doubles kit that one girl sits behind the other in, and I LOVE that thing.  (FYI: I am getting nothing for promoting this product, I really just love it that much)  We use it almost every single day here, which more than justifies in my mind the larger than I was comfortable with price-tag for it.  By we, I really mean Andy and the girls, since I spend most of my days away doing my fieldwork or writing. 

Here’s a picture of our green monster:

I cannot tell you how many times I've been thankful for this stroller when we had to: 
1. Fit in a skinny elevator at a public transportation stop to get to the train/bus
2. Carry it down a flight of steps at a public transportation stop because there is no elevator**
3. Fold it up and put it into a regular car trunk (It totally fit in our old Honda Civic with room to spare!)
I'm sure there are more, but these are the ones that popped in my head just now.  

(**I think I owe an entire blog post to the lack of accessibility of this city!  I completely took this for granted at home in the USA, and the lack of curb cuts, ramps, & elevators is appalling here.)  

To be honest, I found out how much a German would have to pay for this thing, and I totally would NEVER pay that much for a freaking stroller. But we have loved this stroller and will be sad to see it go away when the girls are both too big.  That day is coming, much sooner than I ever dreamed.  Ze Germans love to give us the ultimate compliment on it though, always stopping to stare at it and them commenting about how “praktisch” it is. 

If I had it all to do over again, I would still absolutely spend the money on the same stroller.  If I had it to do over again and more money, I would absolutely invest in this AMAZING stroller that our friend here in Berlin has.  It is a bicycle with two different front attachments, one for a baby and the other for two kids to face each other. 

Here is a picture of it with the baby attachment:


I’ve also seen these really cool ones for bigger kids that have these box things with benches inside of them.  Here’s a picture of one I saw parked on the street:


This is the single version, but I've seen MUCH larger ones (mostly in Prenzlauerberg) that look like they could hold 2 kids plus all your groceries for the week in them.  

With a city full of bike lanes and loads of places within biking distance of our apartment, these would completely be my jam if we lived here forever.  Alas, we only will be here for 9 more weeks before we make our triumphant return to the Midwest. 

Speaking of which….maybe I should get busy…

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

German Famous


Today while working in a café with a friend, we looked up from our laptops and saw this tall handsome fellow sitting at a table outside our window at the same cafe.  Due to my vantage point and odd knowledge of German actors, I quickly identified him.  Axel Schreiber an actor from one of my all-time favorite German sitcoms: Türkisch für Anfänger, and I might have had a slight geeky teenager OH. MAH. GAWD moment when I recognized him at the café today.  This was of course quickly quashed by my friend’s incomplete knowledge of German actors and the fact that I had to explain the show to her in order to even nerd out about it.  Apparently she’s been busily working on her dissertation or something, though in my defense, I think that a German show called “Turkish for Beginners” is completely relevant to my research.  I digress. 

Naturally, I was far too shy to actually say something to Mr. Schreiber, which is pretty funny really.  He’s totally famous in Germany, but I bet it might have made his day to have an American fan say something to him…maybe he actually has a HUGE American fan club that I just don’t know about.  Maybe I should start the American branch of his fan club.  Hmmm…

This was actually my 2nd famous German siting since being in Berlin, but the other dude I saw is actually WORLD famous & not just famous in Germany.  You may have heard of this dude: Gerhard Schröder.  Yeah, he used to be the Chancellor of Germany and stuff.  I almost ran into him while strolling between the Brandenburger Tor and the American Embassy one day.  This is what went through my mind:

“Hmm, I wonder who that dude is that is flanked by 3 bodyguard looking dudes walking toward the Reichstag?  Holy crap, that’s Gerhard Schröder.  Nice one Melch, you even remembered who he is!  Education, not actually a waste!  But seriously, how could anyone forget those eyebrows?  Ummm, he’s kinda short.  I wonder if I could snap a picture without someone wrestling me to the ground.  Why must I be by myself when this stuff happens?  Oh well, just savor the moment and thank your awesome brain for actually remembering stuff and recognizing important people.  See you later Schröder.” 

Then I did that super-cutesy manic-pixie-dream-girl thing that Kirsten Dunst does in Elizabethtown when she pretends to take a picture for her memories…yeah, I might be a total rom-com junkie and Cameron Crowe fan and Orlando Bloom drooler…so what? 

I wonder if I’ll see any more famous Germans during my stay here.  I’ll have to keep my eyes peeled and memory sharp.    


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Ask Annika Part 3


Our friend Meagen’s questions, while not specific to Germany, the answers are certainly specific to Annika’s experiences here.  Meagen is another one of my friends from back in the Midwest, and she is one of the most inspiring and motivated people I know.  I met her when I shared a grad class with her overachieving husband and then we reconnected at one of those baby & me meet-ups.  When we were pregnant the second time together, she even hatched an AWESOME plan to help us both semi-keep our sanity by exchanging toddlers 2 days a week.  I'm pretty sure she even got actual work done on her baby-only days, while I mostly just went to Target and took naps.  Meagen writes really amazing stuff HERE and her educational consulting business can be found HERE.  Additionally, she is a really awesome mom to two adorable boys who happen to be around one month younger and older than our two girls respectively.  I seriously miss our conversations so much.  

Here are her questions for Annika: 

1. What do you want to be when you grow up

Annika: Ahh…a vet-ro-narian.

Me: What does a veterinarian do?

Annika: help animals.

Me: That’s right.  You’re pretty smart.

Annika: Yeah, I know. 

Me: <chuckling to myself while remembering that maybe we should work on humility>

2. What is mommy’s job?

Annika: To keep us safe.

Me: Yes, that’s right.  That’s my job as your mommy, to keep you safe and teach you how to be a good person, but what do I do when I go to work?

Annika: Work.

Me: Do I use any tools, or…?

Annika: Yep, your computer.

Me: And what do I do with my computer?

Annika: Write.

3. What is Daddy’s job?

Annika: To keep us safe.

Me: Yes, but what does he do at work?

Annika: Play soccer.

Me: Daddy plays soccer at work?

Annika: Yep. 

This will be a really interesting set of questions to ask again one year from now! 

She loves all animals--even ones made of Legos. 


**Ask Annika started HERE.   

Friday, July 20, 2012

Emmaisms!

Today I was reminded just how amazing my friends are.  

Way back in 2008 I met this super quirky hilarious fellow mom at a baby & me class at our local parents' spot.  I try to make a habit of only hanging out with non-judgey moms full of spunk, and and this lady certainly fit the bill.  The first time we met we laughed, tried not to cry or fall asleep, and exposed our breasts.  (FYI: We were feeding our babies with those boobs, nothing scandalous.)  Anyway, Marjorie is one of those people you don't ever forget, and I'm soo happy to be able to call her a friend.  I knew it would probably stick when we randomly ran into each other while both shopping at a second-hand store.  She even hooked us up with some former midwesterners that live in Berlin now, and they are perhaps the most fancy of any of our friends---seriously, one of them is a DIVA.  

Marjorie made a habit of updating her Facebook profile with random things her daughter Emma would say, and has now edited and compiled them into a book of Emmaisms!!  They are random and hilarious and insightful and will most assuredly make you smile.  They are now available for purchase as an e-book both HERE and on amazon.com HERE.  All the proceeds from the sale of this book are going to Emma's college fund, so GO BUY IT RIGHT NOW!!!  You won't be sorry!  

P.S. Marjorie, you rock and I hope we get to hang out again when I return to the USA! 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Praha: Part 3



The next morning, we cautiously made our way to breakfast, and were relieved to find the room to be free of Russians, full of breakfast, and with the same young guy working as the day before.  We all had a laugh about the previous morning and we got to ask a few questions of our new favorite local.  He told us all about the famous cartoon Czech Mole that we’d been seeing all around town and recommended a couple things to see before we left. 

After breakfast, we stashed our suitcase in a locker at the train station and went to eat at a local brewery/restaurant that Andy found a nice review for on the internet.  It did not disappoint, and Andy sampled all 8 kinds that they had on tap. 

The beer sampler minus 1

Andy was really excited about the open fermentation they had going on there. 


Some brewing stuff 
That tall thing on the left (called a giraffe) can be filled with 4 liters of your choice to share and have on a mini tap at your table

If I were to venture a guess, I would say that Andy’s beer scale now goes something like this:
Germany: Great          
Czech Republic: Better          
USA: still the BEST

I think I agree with him on this actually.  The Germans have perfected what they do, but the variety is just not there.  The Czechs have reason to be proud of their beer, and they are not lacking on variety.  The USA still wins in our minds for the sheer creativity and extreme selection that is available.  All in all, I think we’ll certainly keep sampling the wares to compare and contrast all over the world though. 

After walking around and finishing up our souvenir purchases, we headed to the train station to discover that our train was delayed by more than an hour.  When we finally got on the train, 2 fancy ladies were in our reserved cabin, and had a total of 7 LARGE bags with them.  The younger one shrugged and told us that they were traveling for a month.  Surely it was a shopping trip!  We also found it really nice that they left 2 of the giant bags in the small corridor so that no one could pass through and then retreated to the dining car for the duration of the journey so that we could repeatedly be forced to move the bags for people who needed to get by, to bear the horrific German looks of scorn, and to continuously explain that they weren’t ours and apologize to random strangers.  Classy ladies, really classy. 

Overall, the train ride was again beautiful and I spent most of the time reading a young adult fiction novel that a friend from high school wrote.  I kept laughing out loud as I recognized the description of my middle school and almost every character pulled exactly from my adolescent experience.  We got home in time to kiss the sleeping girls, chat with my Mom and Alice, and go to bed.

Our weekend away was blissful and fun, but sadly we spent more of it missing our adorable girls than we ever would have expected.  We have of course spent much of the time since then deprogramming them after 3 full days of Mamaw spoiling.  It was totally worth it! 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Praha: Part 2


Part 1 is here if you need to catch up. 

The breakfast at the small hotel on our first morning was…interesting…to say the least of it.  The food was just fine and more than enough for us to start our day.  The coffee was great, and that is the most important thing for us anyway.  The young guy working the front desk was also very nice and spoke excellent English.  The one other guest there was the interesting and unexpected part of our morning.

Does anyone really expect a large drunk Russian guy at breakfast?  It was his 30th birthday, so we all humored him.  There were only 4 of us in the room, including the guy working, so Andy and I shrugged and let him sit at our table and talk to us.  He spoke hardly any English, and I speak exactly 4 words of Russian (Yes, No, Thanks, & Cheers).  Somehow we muddled through a semi-conversation about our children while he ordered a bottle of wine and poured 3 glasses of the stuff.  We toasted to his birthday and all 3 of us took swigs, and then coughed the hair onto our chests as we realized that the gentleman at the front desk had given us brandy instead of wine.  (It was German Weinbrand, and it was STRONG!)  I shuddered as a looked back at my mostly full wine glass and realized that I really should probably drink all of it to not be rude.  The rest of this story is better told in person.  Suffice it to say that we learned much more than we ever wanted to know about this guy in the span of the next ½ an hour as he kept randomly exclaiming “Happy birthday to you” and then pounding his upstretched chest with his hand and then offering us vodka and massages and other things.  It was one of the most interesting breakfasts I’ve ever had.

By the time we stumbled over to the walking tour, it was full, which was honestly a blessing.  We bought some coffee and wandered around the shopping districts while the breakfast brandy wore off.  We watched the astronomical clock and then went on a very nice and informational walking tour of most of the sites.  I’m a sucker for a good tour for an overview of a city, and the trivia-nut in me always enjoys learning new and interesting facts and stories about places. 

A few of my favorite highlights from the tour:

The Astronomical Clock topped with a tower from which a trumpeter announces every hour

The surrealist Kafka statue---standing on a cockroach of course


Statue of Dvorak next to the philharmonic where I totally band-geeked out about my first marching band show being his New World Symphony.  


World's largest metronome--where a huge commy statue used to be

The site of the Velvet Revolution key shaking 
(I also love this picture b/c I think that dude is totally photo bombing me.)



After the tour we climbed most of the way up the side of a mountain and took a look around the largest castle in the world.  It was really impressive and the views of the city were spectacular. 

Fun little hidden gardens on the hillside next to the castle

Awesome Gothic Cathedral on the castle grounds


excellent iron detail work @ the castle


The Veranda View



We paid 80 Krowns (about 3 Euro) to walk down through a tiered garden that was quite splendid and the clean WC at the end was worth winding our way down the narrow staircases. 


Andy finally got an awesome Trdelnik with Nutella smeared inside.  

FYI: You don't have to be able to pronounce it to eat it. 



We found a really great vegetarian restaurant run by Hare Krishnas that had yummy cheap dinner.  We stopped at a store on the way back to the hotel to find some more beers for Andy to sample, but only after we stopped for some really fresh Pilsner Urquell at a local spot.

  

We went to bed early, because we had a long hard day, we wanted to rest up for our last day in Prague and because we are lame old people.  (We’ve made peace with it.)

To be continued…

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Praha: Part 1


A short 4 ½ hour train ride down the scenic Elbe River and border crossing later, Andy and I had escaped to a brand new city for a grown-up weekend away without kids.  I have always wanted to go to Prague, and this year we made it happen.  We must give mucho kudos to my mother and Alice who took care of our munchkins in Berlin while we were away.  Thanks sooo much ladies!


A view from my seat on the train:




The first thing I noticed was of course the language.  All of the sudden, there were exponentially fewer vowels in the printed words and the announcements in the train station sounded like they were hushing us with all the different consonant sounds.  It was my first real foray into any Slavic language, and I have to say that I found it beautiful.  There was also that familiar relaxation of switching into vacation mode when I didn’t even have the possibility of understanding any spoken or written words.  That isn’t completely true though, because many of the signs about were in Czech, English, and German and almost all the people we encountered in this increasingly tourist town spoke English. 

We found our hotel, checked in, and then took a tram back to the oldest section of town.  We walked over the Charles Bridge and had a very Czech dinner that consisted of gulasch for Andy accompanied by spongy bread and potato dumpling things covered in a spinach pesto and shaved parmesan for me.

Here is Andy near the entrance to the Charles Bridge.

This was by far our favorite sculpture on the bridge--mostly because of the gory details that you may not be able to appreciate in this photo.


Andy in the middle of the bridge taking a break from dodging fellow tourists. 


We found what we thought was the meet-up place for the beer tour Andy had on his itinerary only to find out that we were actually about 2km away from where we wanted to be.  Andy was very grateful for my long distance runner past, as we booked it over the Charles bridge and through the pedestrian zone to the REAL meeting spot through throngs of tourists just in time to go sample some Czech beer in several local establishments.  We toured around with fellow travelers from Canada, Peru, Columbia, Mexico, USA, Palestine, & France and had a very enjoyable evening.  The good conversation and variety of the beers did not disappoint, though we knew when to call it quits so that we’d still be able to find our way back to the hotel without resorting to a cab. 

Our first impressions of Prague:

-The debauchery factor was high in the touristy areas.  We lost count of how many German bachelor parties we saw wearing matching shirts or outfits. 

-The city is an interesting combination of Old and New buildings, but MUCH more old than Berlin.  I guess it helps if the city doesn’t get 90% destroyed because of a war the country started. 

-Despite years of communist oppression and a serious abundance of consonants in their language, the Czech people SMILE and are generally friendly. 

-Despite the proximity to Germany and the fact that the country was part of 2 different German speaking empires at one time, hardly anyone we spoke to knew ANY German at all. 

To be continued….  

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Escape to Venezia—Part 3


You can find Part 1 here and Part 2 here if you missed them. 

I woke up early on my second morning in Venice to venture out and see the place when it was still quiet—aka before all the day-tripper tourists arrive and before breakfast.  I spent about an hour wandering around the corridors and waterfronts just intentionally getting “lost” and then finding my way back to somewhere I knew.  The morning was already hot and muggy, with this amazingly thick fog surrounding the city so that you could not even see the nearby islands.  It was so beautiful that I think I will make this a habit when I travel to new cities. 

A few shots from my morning:

This section of the waterfront is filled with tourists and kitschy souvenir carts during the day.  

A quiet Venitian canal

This is a metal sidewalk anchored to the side of this warehouse at the edge of the city


After a yummy breakfast, we did the one absolute MUST on the Venice list: Gondola Ride!  We already knew seeing the city by boat was the best, but gliding along in a Gondola felt even more luxurious.  If this city has a pace, it is assuredly set by the Gondalas slipping along the narrow canals between the numerous islands and navigating between the tour boats, water taxis, and water buses in the laguna.  Our Gondolier spoke 4 languages (Italian, English, French, & Spanish) and had been paddling the canals for 15 years.  He had a beautiful baritone singing voice and was happy to tell us stories about the city and answer all our questions.  Christiano from Murano (a nearby island famous for their glass) was an excellent Gondolier, despite being too gorgeous for any of us to even attempt to haggle with him about the price. 

Me, very happy & relaxed

My view of the city during the ride. 

Evidence for my husband that my mother was indeed between me and the handsomest Gondolier in Venice.  

My absolute favorite picture of the entire trip because of my mother’s face! 


After the Gondola ride, I let the dames wander off to do some shopping (too rich for my blood), and I walked all around the parts of the city I hadn’t seen yet for several hours.  There are a million tiny pathways to wander and several different sections of the city to see, some even with fewer tourists than residents.  My only guiding rule was to turn down a different path every time I came to one filled with hordes of touristy shops.  It really was a great way to explore the city and see some hidden spots that I would have otherwise missed.  I wound my way around to places that I most likely could not have intentionally found if I had tried, eventually getting to a place I recognized again before ducking under another corridor.  It was a lovely quiet contemplative afternoon for me.   

I met up with Mom and Alice again to find a spot for dinner.  We snagged the last open table at an otherwise booked restaurant and followed our meals up with traditional Aperol/Campari Spritzs. YUM!  I had originally planned to go out to watch the Eurocup Final Game between Italy & Spain after dinner, but once I had a taste of the air conditioning it became impossible to tear me out of the room.  I watched Spain thump Italy 4-0 from the comfort of our hotel room, and missed the crying grandmothers in the square nearby at the end of the game. 

The next day, Italy mourned their second place finish in the 2012 Eurocup and we said our goodbyes to the city of Venice.  We shopped for our last souvenirs and took our last glances of the floating museum city.  We had just gotten in the rhythm of the place and finally found our way around a little bit, and it was already time to go home…at least my home right now.  As our Vaporetto skimmed the way between the island and the airport on the mainland, I made up my mind that I will most definitely have to return to that enchanting and infatuating place.  

P.S. I assure you dear readers that it was ridiculously difficult to refrain from posting an exuberant amount of pictures of this beautiful and oft photographed city.  I know seeing other people's vacation photos can be super boring, so I tried to hold back a little.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Escape to Venezia—Part 2

Our first day can be found here


Back to the story...

Our second day in Venice was devoted to über-touristy activities.  Before we arrived, we had booked a dual walking then boat tour of the city to get an overview.  I’m so very happy we did.  After wading through the crowds and figuring out where we were supposed to be, I was thankful that we were going to have someone to show us around and lead us through the madness. 

Here is our Venetian tour guide Monika speaking into a microphone.  

All the people in our group wore one earpiece, which I thought made us all look simultaneously like super-tourists and secret service agents.  The walking tour started with a brief history of the city and a short stroll on the waterfront to the Doge Palace and St. Mark’s Basilica.  In front of the Basilica the guide explained how the church was essentially built as the private chapel of the Doge of Venice and pointed out all of the different architectural styles exhibited in this one building.  There were some amazingly interesting mosaics all throughout the church with fantastic symbolism and beauty, but I think my favorite was the mosaic on the outside of the church that tells the story of how St. Mark’s remains were smuggled out of Alexandria by two merchants who put them in a vegetable crate and covered them in pork so the Muslims wouldn’t touch them.  

Here it is: 

  
Here I am with the winged lion, a symbol of St. Mark, the patron saint of Venice. 


Traffic Jam, Venetian Style. 


The rest of the walking tour was really great for an overview of the major sites around the city and ended at the Rialto bridge (see below).  We had a break between the walking and boat portions of the tour, so attempted to wander away from the touristy sections to find something to eat.  We were somewhat successful and enjoyed some much deserved wine and semi-break from the heat of the day.  (We did also keep reminding each other that the Midwest was having record breaking heat that same weekend, so we should quit our whining and keep drinking water.)  

In the early evening, the boat tour lasted about 60 minutes and took place on a water taxi that the company had arranged.  Our group was composed of tourists from the USA, Canada, England, and Australia, and we had a great time laughing about language misunderstandings of the fabulous tour guide Christina with the thickest and loveliest Italian accent.  
Here she is with a typical Venetian backdrop. 

When she told us about a house belonging to a family of merchants, the Canadian girl sitting next to her heard “a family of virgins,” thus provoking much hilarity and further description of the prostitutes of Venice than I’m sure any other boat got.  FYI: There is a bridge in Venice called the “Bridge of Tits” (in Italian), so-called because that’s where the ladies of the night would display their wares for hire. 

The Rialto Bridge as seen from the water.  


Seeing the city by boat was a perfect overview of the place and I was also surprisingly happy to be able to see the city as a regular tourist would.  I cannot imagine only coming to Venice for a day, and quite frankly our stay was a too short for my preference (much like my friend Stacey), but it was good to see the Venice of the tourist.  This is not my preferred mode of travel, but it made a great comparison for the rest of my experience there.  Venice feels a bit like a floating museum when experienced this tourist way, and I felt that at least 75% of the people we saw that day were fellow tourists.     

Utter exhaustion is the only way to describe the end of all of our days there, but in particular this tourist day.  We stayed outside in the heat all day long, and our skin and clothes were soaked with sweat almost the entire time.  We all continuously drank water, which was thankfully abundant in these great free water fountains that spewed tasty cold water.  
  

Despite slathering on sunscreen several times a day, I still came back to Berlin with a noticeable tan.  By the time 10pm rolled around we were all completely cooked.  Mom and I fell asleep while Alice skyped with her beau at home.  There were more adventures to be had, and we wanted to be well rested. 

To be continued…

Monday, July 9, 2012

Mayzie is 2 Years Old!!

Happy birthday to our second born Miss Mayzie!  You are so smart and beautiful and we're lucky to get to be your parents.  Don't worry, even though you've been acting like a true 2 year old for months already, we didn't forget when your birthday is.

Here's Mayzie in her special birthday dress made and delivered by her Nana.  Naturally, stinky monkey had to be there too.

Dear Mayzie,
Your sweet smile and laugh can light up a room, and I never feel more special than when you cuddle up in my lap to snuggle.  You are learning more words and phrases every day (sometimes even in German), and your personality is becoming ever more distinct.  You certainly have your own opinions, and it is nice that you can communicate them in words instead of screams now too.  You're starting down the journey of wanting to do things all by yourself, and are so proud and surprised when things happen the way you meant for them to.  Happy birthday dearest Mayzie!  May all your birthday wishes come true.
Love,
Mama

Friday, July 6, 2012

Escape to Venezia—Part 1



Andy gets a husband medal for sending his wife, her mother, and their friend to Venice, Italy while he stayed home in Berlin with our girls.  He found the cheap airfare and sent us on our merry way to enjoy a whole new country and culture and cuisine.  To get to Venice from my apartment in Berlin, we were transported in a bus, 2 trains, a plane, a boat, & NO automobiles.  The plane ride was only an hour and a ½, and all 3 of us American girls were extremely surprised that only one person barely looked at our passports.  (Hooray for the EU!)  Walking through the airport, it hit me that this was the first time since my honeymoon that I’d been in a country where I don’t speak the language at all.  This fact plus the tropical climate forced me automatically into vacation mode, and that was soo importantly the point of our mini-break. 

I did have a few linguistic advantages working for me in Italy though.  Firstly, I am an American who spent a considerable amount of time working in restaurants at least partially staffed by Mexicans.  I am not trying to suggest anything by this comment, merely stating a fact of my experience.  As a result, I can muddle through a little bit of Spanish, the very close cousin of Italian.  This helped me read more than speak honestly, but it was at least a little help.  Secondly, I worked at Olive Garden in college, which gave me an extraordinary advantage when it came to reading menus at restaurants.  Thirdly, Venice is a massive tourist destination, and almost everyone spoke at least a little bit of English.  I even picked up a few words and phrases of Italian during our stay there.

The entire city of Venice most assuredly exhibited the OG adopted motto of Hospitaliano!  There are only 60,000 residents on the 120 closely knit islands stitched together with 200 bridges, and there were surely the same number of tourists during the days.  We saw several extra-large cruise ships with boats full of day trippers every day that we were there, and the crowds could certainly be overwhelming in places.  Even with all that tourist traffic, the residents of Venice were nothing but hospitable every time I encountered one, though surely they were muttering mean things in Italian about the obliviously rude tourists who blocked “roads” by walking 2 abreast. 

Seriously, this is a Venetian "Road".

I must quickly say that we stayed at the most delightful little bed and breakfast in an entirely non-tourist section of the city within walking distance to all the city highlights.  Nicola the owner is a southern Italy transplant with an amazing story to tell and was an outstanding host.  When we first arrived on the island, Nicola came to meet us at the vaporetto (water bus) stop and walked us back to the house through the labyrinth.  He explained in detail including landmarks how to wind our way back to the house while my mother and Alice snapped pictures and followed us.  I would highly recommend Oceano Mare to anyone who is planning a visit to Venice!  Please tell Nicola that we say hello! 

Here he is helping us pull our suitcases and find our way back to the BnB from the Vaporetto Stop.  

 Here he is with a painting of his mysterious grandfather who owned the house before him.  


The first afternoon/evening that we spent in Venice was spent walking around, eating, getting lost, walking, having a very expensive cocktail, and walking some more.  

You don't even want to know how much those Bellinis and Diet Coke cost us! 


We figured out very quickly that we could not read the map of the city at all and basically had to try to figure out how to get back to the water.  We magically and completely accidentally found Saint Mark’s Basilica and had a lovely bellini and walk back to the BnB from there.  All the walking in the hot sun wore us out, and we went to bed early to rest up for our super tourist day that we had planned.    
To be continued…

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Firecracker Baby


At home in the USA, it is Independence Day, a day to commemorate our refusal to pay taxes to our overlords in England by eating gluttonously at backyard BBQs, swimming, and watching fireworks (or something like that).  I really do love the 4th of July, and am always a little sad to be out of the country on the most patriotic of holidays.  The 4th of July has also always had an additionally cause for celebration in our family, my Mama’s birthday.  Luckily for us, my mom is here in Berlin visiting right now, so we can do it up right.  This year she doesn’t even have to share her birthday with America! 

So happy birthday to you dearest Mama mia!  I love you more than my luggage and feel ridiculously lucky to have such a great mothering example.  You are my friend, confidant, and first person I call for life advice.  Thank you Debbie Sue for being such an amazingly caring and witty and thoughtful soul.  I love you! 

Mama, do you remember the day when you forced me to go to the most amazing exhibition in Berlin and we had the best time walking around for hours looking at all the exhibits and wondering why my 7 month old baby hadn’t taken a nap in the stroller yet?  I know it was a few years ago, but this is still one of my favorite pictures of you ever because of the amazing memories attached to it from that day:



Happy birthday beautiful smart funny lady!  You have great potential!  

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