Berlin and Hamburg


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D had a conference in Berlin so we decided to take a train and stop in Hamburg on the way home.  Believe it or not.....I took very few photos!  Why?  We had a few days of rain in Berlin and two solid days of rain in Hamburg.

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We really enjoyed our visit to the Berlin Wall East Side Gallery, a  section of the wall that is still remaining.  It is covered with art.  To see more of the paintings visit my art blog, Ma Vie Trouvee.

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 My friend Fatima was also in town with her husband for the conference and we went to the Jewish museum.  It is an excellent museum in a very modern building.


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A view from the inside of the building.


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A few images I found interesting in the city:

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Strawberries are sold throughout the city - in the metro stations and in little huts like the one below.


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Instead of circles for thier green and red lights, they have Ampelmännchen (little men) - running man for go (green) and a stopped man for red.

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The Ampelmännchen is a beloved symbol in Eastern Germany, being one of the few features of communist East Germany to have survived the end of the Iron Curtain.  After the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Ampelmännchen acquired cult status and is now a popular image on souvenirs and T-shirts.  


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How about this for playground safety?  I don't think we would ever see this in the US.


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We enjoyed Berlin.  Donald's conference went well and of course we ate lots of good food including the lasagna we deemed "the best lasagna" anywhere when we were in Berlin three years ago!  It took some work, but D was able to locate the restaurant, Latini, and it was just as we remembered.



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We had fun in Hamburg.  I selected Hotel East for its super modern design.  Due to a little issue with our first two rooms, we were upgraded to a suite with a chilled bottle of champagne waiting for us, an extra large tub for two, a water-bed and free breakfast each morning......including champagne!  It was extra nice due to the fact it was such a rainy weekend.


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We spent several hours in the modern art museum and  despite the rain, we did a little shopping.  My very favorite store was Scarpovino -

(Scarpo= shoes and vino=wine)  They sold shoes and wine!  Brilliant!


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Reeperbahn street in Hamburg's St. Pauli district, is the hottest spot for Hamburg's nightlife.  It is also the city's red-light district.   In German it is also called die sündige Meile (the sinful mile).  We enjoyed an evening of people watching.

A VERY unique tour guide.  And she he is wearing flats!

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Hen-do and Stag-do (bachelor/bachelorette) parties were very poplular on this street - we saw 10 or so.  This group seemed like they were really enjoying the night.


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We are seeing more and more of the Beer Bike in cities across Europe - they are so funny.  I will admit, it was the first time we had seen them all shirtless.  Have they hit the states yet? 


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Hamburg is definitely a party city!

Moselle Valley Germany


Moselle Valley - Home of Riesling Wines. 


Fortunately for us, this trip was a "drive" trip, otherwise we would not have been able to get a flight out due to all flights being grounded as a result of the volcano.  Our first stop was the historic town of Trier which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It was a Roman colony from the 1st century AD and is considered the oldest city in Germany.  Here we are at the Ancient Imperial Roman Baths, built in the 4th century during Constantine's rule.



 The gate to the city is called the Porta Nigra or Black Gate.  It was built in 180 AD - isn't that amazing?  Do you think they had ice cream back then?


It was a beautiful day and everyone was out and about, even the street performers.  He had one of the best costumes we have ever seen on a street mime.


Always give them a handful of change as they will do fun little skits.  Oh la la!


On to our B&B in a little town called Wehlen.



It had 7 rooms and was a winery, S.A. Pruem Winery.  It is the yellow house on the left and it has a front-yard view of the Moselle River.  The Moselle River runs through Germany, France, and Luxembourg. 


Check out the view from our window, and ladies, check out that "twist"  :  )


We enjoyed a wine tasting and a tour of the B&B winery.  Below, D is sampling the wines with the owner's daughter.  We learned that there are some very good dry German wines and not all of them are sweet. 



This winery has been in the same family since 1156 and has some of the oldest vines in the world with the roots dating back 2000 years to Roman times!  Wines have been commercially produced for 200 years here.  One reason all of the wines are such high quality is the characteristics of the soil which consists of very finely decomposed blue slate dating back to the Devonian era.  


They store their wines in dark, cool, moist vaulted cellars in aged "Fuderfassen" (large wood barrels of 1,000-liter capacity)  They have 150 of these barrels.


The next day we visited Bernkastel - Kues, a quintessential German village just down the river.  It had medieval timbered homes


and brightly painted homes with words and pictures on the side - both very common to this area.


From the town center we followed a path through the woods to the ruined Landshut Castle built in the 13 century.  In 1696 a fire broke out and left it in ruins - as it sits today.


There were equally impressive views looking out of the castle.


It was a quiet place to take a break and take in the beautiful scenery.


The hike to the castle worked up our appetites so we headed back to the town to enjoy and outdoor cafe.  As you can see, I have my gloves and a blanket - it was still a bit chilly.


We were so excited as they had one of our very favorite German specialties, Flammekueche - a thin- crusted pizza covered with lardons (bacon), creme fraiche, and onions.  It doesn't get much better than this!


Well, except for Flammekueche and a glass of wine!


This was taken at sunset.....they said we were suppose to have beautiful sunsets due to the Volcano in Iceland. 




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The next day at 9:30 am we headed out for another castle and just a few doors down from our B&B we saw these men bottling their wine by hand.  D pulled around the corner and told me to go back and take a photo - I told him he had to go take the photo.  He said no - I have to do it "for the blog". 


For the blog.....but of course I will do it for the Blog!  So off I go.... The men above are filling the bottle with the wine.  The man below is corking them.



D was sitting in the car.......10 minutes had gone by.  He was guessing things were going well......GOING WELL?  I'd say...


They handed me a glass, filled it up with the tube and handed me a bottle.....I was having a grand time flirting with a bunch of German men who spoke very little English.  And did you catch that it was 9:30 AM???  I drank my glass, thanked them and bounced back into the car.  Really I was bouncing after chugging a glass of wine at 9:30!  But it was all "for the blog"!!


This was the wine I was tasting.

On to the castle, the Berg Eltz.  We had to hike one mile into the forest to get to it.  It was a nice walk - all down hill. 


As we took a turn - we could begin to see the castle through the trees.  The Berg Castle was built in 1157 and has been in the same family for 850 years!  It was also never destroyed by any fires or invasions.


It was a beautiful castle and very well preserved on the inside with furnishings.  Unfortunately no photos inside.


Did you know that when you walk one mile downhill to see a castle - the mile back is all UPHILL!


I almost died at the Berg Castle.  But I was looking cute hiking in a dress.  All I needed was high heels to be a real European  :  )

Here are a few other castle and ruins we saw driving around.  They tower over the romantic wine villages and vineyards.  The large castle is Cochem Castle.




It was a beautiful day and we were able to drive with the top down.  We had a great view of the para-sailors.  They were so many of them sailing the skies.  These were taken as we were driving!



The vines were bare, but still a beautiful site.  They twist like ribbons through the countryside.


It was absolutely amazing to see how steep the vineyards are.  The vines go all the way to the top of this slope.  The higher up the grapes are grown, the more prestigious and expensive the bottle is.  They are said to be the steepest vineyards in the world.


It is very common for people to hike among the vines.  I was too tired after my hike to the castle  :  )

We took a little nap by the river instead.  The almond blossoms were in full bloom.


On Sunday we explored our sweet little town.  D loved to watch the barges go by.  In the late afternoon we would take a glass of wine down and sit by the river and watch the barges.


There were many wineries in our neighborhood where you could taste and buy wine.  We visited this one as we thought it looked so quaint.


An older couple owned it and they did not speak one word of English.  But we manged to get a wine tasting....


and a glass of wine....


which we drank in their lovely courtyard.  We purchased several bottles from them, the Fredrich-Kern winery.  It was started in 1753 and is also still in the same family!


There were life-sized sculptures of people throughout all of the villages.  They were very funny as they looked so real from a distance.


We sure would have liked to have driven this around for the day..


We had a wonderful weekend in the Moselle Valley and hope to visit in the fall when the towns really comes alive with color and wine festivals!


Holidays - London, Cologne, Rome, Brussels

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!




Grand Place, Brussels


Our holidays were very busy, starting off with a trip to Horsham and London for Thanksgiving.  Dave & Allison invited us to celebrate Thanksgiving with them.  We were making our plans when D got the word he had to be in London England on Dec 2nd for a meeting.  Perfect timing!

Allison made a wonderful feast for the four of us.  A very traditional Thanksgiving meal, with turkey (had to be special ordered), stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry and lots more.



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D2's upcoming holiday party was a costume party, so we all went to the "fancy dress" store to help him pick out a costume.  Little did we know how much fun this outing would be!




What we call costume parties, in the UK they call them fancy dress parties.  D jumped right in to help D2 find his fancy dress.



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How about these shoes?  This may be a new look for D.




Quite the dapper Sir Walter Raleigh......






A gladiator....





and we are not quite sure what this is.....rocker dude?





a few friends......




Sir Walter and Austin Powers....."yeah baby"


and last but not least.....rocker dude finds a date -  cat women!



D had to help me take off my boots as I could not bend over in this outfit    :   )

We decided that D2 & A should add the Fancy Dress store to the "must see" list for guests who visit them in the UK!

Now for some traditional British food, fish and chips.  Greasy and good!


and Father Christmas cookies


The best news we heard this weekend is that D2 and A have extended for two more years!  Yeah!!



On to London and their Winter Wonderland to see Father Christmas.



and the toy soldier




I do believe in Santa Claus!


Harrod's, the famous department store in London, had a Wizard of Oz holiday theme with giant ruby red slippers coming out the side of their building.



London had beautiful holiday lights in the main shopping district.  Umbrellas - how appropriate for London!



Cologne Germany

I took a one day bus trip with a group of women I do things with in Brussels to Cologne Germany to visit the Christmas market.  We had a crisp sunny day for our outing.  As with most European cities, Cologne has a beautiful old cathedral.  Construction of the cathedral started in 1248, and with interruptions, was completed in 1880 - over 600 years later!  It is one of the world's largest churches and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.



Cologne has seven Christmas markets spread throughout the city.  One of them was the Gnome market.




The German markets have beautiful ornaments.


All hand blown.


 and a few very interesting characters!




Early the next morning, we hopped on a plane and headed to Rome for a five day business trip.  There were several of D's co-workers from the states on this trip.  Ahmad and I are standing in front of the beautiful and famous Trevi fountain.

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I think this is a funny photo, the Trevi fountain looking like one of the junk trinkets for sale.

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Roman Ruins with a colorful blue backdrop. 

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There are Steelers fans around the world.  D is standing in front of the one and only Steelers bar in Rome.  The owner plays all the games live, and if it is a late night game, that means it would be on at 3 am!

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One night we were in a restaurant (not the steelers bar) and we noticed the waiters watch.


Turns out he was a huge Steelers fan!  Here I am with Donald's co worker Mike, also a huge Steelers fan, the waiter in white, and Mike's wife Pam.  We had a fun night talking about football with the Italian waiter!



They do not decorate in Rome like they do in other European cities for Christmas.  I did see a few glass balls hung in the street.
but these looked as if they might stay up all year long.


They did have a Christmas market with interesting street performers.

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We dropped some money in his can and we became fast friends!

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She was very graceful.  We think we saw her last time we were in Rome where she was a ballerina.


They stay completely still until you drop money in their cup and then they preform.


Rome is predominately Catholic so there were many religious decorations at the market.

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It was a rainy night which made for an interesting sky.

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I love this photo of D - shopping bags in hand, cool old car passing by.


One thing you can not skip in Rome is the Gelato!!!!




And a visit to our very own Brussels market which has the most fascinating carousel round I have ever seen.


I cannot find any information on the artist who created this creation.



Children can sit in the back of this crazy lizard.



I was very disappointed when I found out the merry-go-round was for children only!



Goodbye 2009!












Happy Holidays!

Warm thoughts and special wishes

for a bright and happy holiday.....




To celebrate the holiday season, this December we visited Dusseldorf Germany, Paris France, London England, Aachen Germany and our local Brussels Market.   We selected photos for this blog that would show you how they decorate for the holiday in these countries.




The Eiffel Tower is stunning this year - decked in Blue.  Why is it blue?  The EU (European Union) rotates the presidency every 6 months.  France has it from June through December and honored it by lighting up the Eiffel Tower in blue with yellow stars, recalling the EU flag.



The Eiffel tower is 984 feet tall.  Eighty giant projectors on the ground and 100 more on the tower are used to achieve the blue effect.    At dark, the lights twinkle for a few minutes every hour on the hour.

















The department stores are all magical in Paris at Christmas.  From the lights on the outside:


the large tree in the entrance:


And my very favorite, the store windows.  Absolutely Fabulous!  The characters are animated and most of them move.  The girls with the umbrellas floated and danced all over the window:



This one was just adorable:


These two popped up and down from behind the chair:


In Brussels and Germany they have the outdoor markets in the city centers.  It makes for a beautiful scene with the cathedrals in the background.


They are set up like little villages with wooden chalets that sell food, drinks, baked goods, and gifts. 










The smell of the sweet treats put you in the holiday spirit.





They have lots of delicious food {the reason I can get D to take me to the markets}.  Check out that tongue action while squeezing the mustard.  Serious stuff!










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We also love the Glühwein {in Germany}, in Belgium and France it is called Vin Chaud.  It is usually prepared from red wine, heated and spiced with cinnamon sticks, vanilla pods, cloves, citrus and sugar.   













The Glühwein is nice when it is so cold outside and you are walking for hours!  Each vendor serves it in a different mug.  If you want, you can keep the mug.  If not, you turn it back in and get 2 euros back.  Enough to buy another drink at the next booth! 


We were in London for three days.  D got a new coat (shown in this photo) - how Euro is he?













Not that any of these photo are Christmas-y, but they are so quintessentially British!  We did learn that instead of wishing a Merry Christmas, in Britian they say Happy Christmas.


Oh yeah, D did find a Christmas beer in London.  He said it was good despite the name {Chistmas pudding beer}.


We hopped on the tube on Saturday morning and headed out to Horsham to visit our friends Dave an Allison.   We experienced a very British Christmas event-


Pantomime  (click for more info).  A Pantomime, called Panto by the locals, is a musical comedy performed at Christmas but having nothing to do with Christmas.  They are always based on children's stories.  We saw Peter Pan.  It is a family event and everyone in the audience participates during the entire show.  Yelling out (booing the villain), standing up, singing, it was quite the experience, a lot of fun.    Unfortunately, photos were not allowed. 

Last but not least, the great city we live in.....Brussels. 


We have a very nice Christmas market with over 250 booths with local hand made items. 


It has two carousels, an ice skating rink, a light show on the Grande Place, and a very large ferris wheel. 


And we could not forgot our favorite Brussels Symbol...all decked out for the holidays!


For those of you who think the blogs are too long.  Thanks for reading this far and we'll see you next year. 


For those of you who want just a little more....Here is some info on the history of St Nicolas and how they celebrate the holidays in Belgium.





Sinterklaas or St Nicolas comes on 6 December


Sinterklaas {photo borrowed} is the basis for the North American figure of Santa Claus.  Sinterklaas has a long white beard, wears a red bishop's dress and red mitre (bishop's hat), and holds a crosier, a long gold colored staff with a fancy curled top.  Sinterklaas carries a big book with all the children's names in it, which states whether they have been naughty or nice in the past year.


Sinterklaas or St Nicolas arrives from Spain on a white horse.  He has a black assistant called Zwarte Piet who comes down your chimney.  On the 5th of December, before going to bed, children put their shoes next to the chimney of the coal fired stove or fireplace, with a carrot or some hay in it "for Sinterklaas's horse", and sing a Sinterklaas song.  The next day, they will find candy, speculoos, a delicious spicy biscuit that is often served with coffee {and we can verify that they really are delecious!} or a small present in their shoes the next day, supposedly thrown down the chimney by a Zwarte Piet or Sinterklaas himself {guessing this is where our stocking comes from}.

This is also when most Belgian children receive one big present from Sinterklaas (i.e. their parents!).  
For more details click here: Sinterklass


In Belgium, the focus is around Christmas Eve. There is a huge family get-together for a traditional evening meal of three or four courses with plenty of wine and champagne.  Rich, expensive foods are often served, such as lobster, caviar and a variety of game {we are going to have goose}.

Belgium remains a strongly catholic country, with many families attending a candlelit midnight mass on Christmas Eve. This is more than just a religious event – it is also a cultural one with midnight services well-known for their magnificent music.

Christmas morning is not traditionally a time for giving presents in Belgium; the day is usually spent quietly with family. The commercial Father Christmas was not known here until a few years ago.  However, intense marketing by shops eager to sell presents three times over in December has meant that many families also give presents from Santa Klaus now.  Although the Father Christmas and Sinterklaas figures are clearly derived from the same tradition, the two figures remain quite separate in Belgium.   Sinterklaas is always dressed in a long bishop’s robe with a mitre on his head, whereas Father Christmas or De Kerstman is the comical, round, ruddy-cheeked fellow we see in books and movies.

We wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!