Country #50! Bergen, Norway

When I was planning this trip, I wanted to go to some Nordic countries and as I was researching, I found the Norway in a Nutshell tour recommended by a friend of mine, and found that you could start in Oslo or Bergen. A friend from grad school lives in Bergen, so upon further research, it seemed as though the route from Bergen -> Oslo was less crowded, so I opted to do this.

The forecast for the last part of my trip was complete rain, so I was not super excited about what I might meet in Bergen. And when I landed, it was raining. I took a bus from the airport to the city center, and a girl sat next to me who was reading the new Harry Potter book. She was nice, a student at the University of Bergen, and she lamented about the weather which was quite normal for Bergen—kinda the Pacific northwest  type of wet and cool weather.

Once at my stop, I bid her farewell, and started the short walk to my Airbnb. The host, Greger, called me to make sure I knew how to get to his place. His place was absolutely in the middle of everything. Perfect location. I couldn’t have been more excited when I saw it.

When he opened the door, he looked like a Nordic Viking, but small statured. Long blond hair, mustache, fair skin and blue eyes. He greeted me enthusiastically and we began talking—him speedily. He was a high-energy excitable person, and I got my bags settled into my room that looked out to the promenade leading to the church.

After getting settled, I ventured out to meet my old classmate, Tine for lunch. It started to pour down rain, and I was so glad I had my jacket that I bought in Copenhagen. It was the perfect water proof jacket that I needed. It had been 10 years since I’d seen Tine, so I was getting excited as she told me she was nearby. I waited for her in front of McDonalds—the beacon of America, and we saw each other like it had been just a few weeks ago!

We started to catch up and walk in the rain to a place for lunch near the funicular station. This is what the doctor ordered. After being in Poland for a couple of weeks eating heavier foods for lunch and dinner throughout, I was excited to be able to each a custom hand made sandwich. It was absolutely delicious. As we sat and ate our lunch, we did an update for the last 10 years. We also ended up getting a deal at the restaurant—buy a juice and cinnamon roll, and you can skip the line waiting for the funicular. DONE!

As it was pouring outside, we tromped around in the soaking rain a little more before we got to the funicular station and skipped the line to buy tickets, but just got into line for the actual ride up. I guess our VIP cinnabun tickets only meant through purchase line L

Soon we were on our way up the funicular to the top of Mt. Floyen. Once we left the funicular, the clouds broke, and there was peace and no rain. I was so excited thinking we had some time to take pictures and enjoy no rain. We looked around a bit, and Tine told me about the geography of the place, where she was from, where her parents live, and where she currently lives. It was so cool to see this life that a friend of mine had.

After our views, we took the funicular back down and walked the wharf Bryygen, looked at all the old buildings lining the street, the fish markets, and all around. We then headed for Nordnes, an area of all these little old houses—and it reminded me of my first impression of Norway from the movie, the Witches. I looked it up afterward, and apparently it was the setting for the movie!

We continued on to the Aquarium, and wrapped around the back and walked by Tine’s friend’s house and decided to stop by and say hello. She had just had a baby, 8 days ago! She was adorable. The husband came in as well, and we spoke for a while about his job with GE and his experience in an American company. He offered for us to stay for dinner, and for me to join him on a hike the next day. I agreed pending on the weather—I wasn’t going to hike in soaking wet!

After a bit, we continued back around the city to where we began, and Tine needed to get back to her cabin that they are vacationing in for the week before dark. I was so happy she put the effort into seeing me, it made my stay in Bergen so incredible.

The next day, I started out early while it looked like there was no rain. I went to the Bryggen again to look through the shops more slowly, and look at the museum of the wooden structures. They have survived for so long! Since the weather was looking good, I told Jens that I would join him for the hike, and got a bite to eat before our hike.

He rode his bike to where I was staying, and we walked to the mountain to begin our hike. We had a very nice talk along the way. Jens was tall, and extremely fit, and this hike was to be his low-impact day lol. Once at the start of the trail, he said that we can get our own paces and meet at the top. Well, he meant, he would run, and I would walk! The trail was built by Sherpas who came in from Nepal to build the trail up, so that gives you an idea to the seriousness of this climb up the mountain!

It started out  pretty good, but it got steeper and steeper, and soon I was breathing quite hard. I hadn’t done any real exercise for nearly 6 weeks, so I was out of breath, but focused on my breathing and got my pace, and steadily I made my way up. It was a great challenge, and felt rewarding when I got to the top, of course stopping along the way for some pictures.

I was only 15-20 minutes behind Jens! We continued to the lookout and had some pictures, then went along the back of the mountain and saw such amazing scenery. On our way back down Mt Floyen, Jens was giving me stories about things in the city, like the firehouse being on the hill so it could see fires etc.

As we wound down the hills, we saw his wife pushing the stroller with their precious baby. We chatted before heading back to the center so he could get his bike and head home—I opted to stay behind at the wharf again to get some food again J

He told me (along with Tine) not to bother with the fish at the wharf as it was overpriced and not so great, and I found this little restaurant run by a Scottish man selling fish and chips. It was EXACTLY what the doctor ordered after that hike! Lol

After my meal, I walked around a bit more exploring before going back home to discuss Bitcoin and crypto currency with Greger. We geeked by watching a movie of bitcoins as I’ve been interested for a while, but never pursued learning too much about it.

Overall, my two days in Bergen were fantastic, weather turned out to go in my favor, and I loved seeing and making new friends!

Beautiful Gdańsk

Leaving Warsaw, I took the train to Gdansk, and arrived in the early evening. I contacted my Airbnb host, and was easily guided to my place, which was in a great location near the station. I have accumulated more clothing and hand baggage now, so it was nice to not to have to lug it so far away.

The host greeted me at the door, and he showed me how/where everything was/worked. It had a simple kitchenette, bathroom, living room, and bedroom. It had nice big windows that looked out to the church nearby which was nice, but mosquitos filled the air and I quickly realized I needed to shut it to protect the place.

I looked up a place on tripadvisor for dinner, and headed there for a nice meal next to the harbor.

I ended up having a lobster ravioli and a bruchetta which was great. I enjoyed my meal while listening to a drunken Swedish man behind me along with his wife. She complained about the sauce of his dinner, and explained that people don’t want something so fancy–that a nice bouillabaisse is all that’s necessary with a steak.

I chuckled as I left and headed back home to rest from the travel day.

The next morning, I went on the walking tour at 10:30. Kasia was our tour guide, a native Gdansker, and really sweet. We started our tour after she asked everyone where they were from. It’s always interesting to hear everyone’s places, as it’s so international. We had a Brazilian, Germans, Japanese, Belgians, Canadians, and more. The tour was informative, and great to learn about the city.

I started a conversation with the Japanese girl and surprised her with my speaking. Unfortunately, she had to leave the tour early, and we didn’t ever get to see each other as she was going to the Marbork Castle with other people from her hostel that afternoon. We tried to make a plan for the next day.

At the end of the tour, the Brazilian guy and I started chatting and we ended up going to do some photos of the main crane in the town. We then decided to have lunch together and chatted about what we were both doing. Aylton, Brazilian, had actually been living in Krakow for the last 4 years. His friend invited him years ago, and finally, he quit his job and left to Krakow–apparently to never return!

We decided to head up to Sopot as he wanted to see the beach, and I was completely open. I was happy to have someone to explore with, and especially since I didn’t have a plan, it was good to know someone was wanting to do specific things and I could tag along.

Once at Sopot, we wandered around, and were surprised that no one was in the water. Apparently there was bacteria or just too much vegetation, and they had the red flag out to signal no swimming. There was a huge pier, but to go on the pier, you had to go, buy a ticket, and come back and walk through a turnstyle. Just as with toilets that you have to pay to use, out of principle, we opted not to pay the $.50 or whatever it was to go on this pier.

Instead, we walked down and found a place on the beach to enjoy some partly cloudy skies. We headed into the hotel where hitter stayed which was rumored to have swastickas on the floor, later to be covered by carpet.

While we continued t0 chat, the German couple from our tour walked up unknowingly right beside us. As we all realized, we chatted, and invited them to join us. Now we were four. Annete and Kevin were on a small vacation to Gdansk from Ziegen. We all enjoyed our chat, and decided to have our dinner together in Sopot.

Enter Mr. Texas, from Poland. While we walked searching for a restaurant, we were approached by an opera sounding loud speaking voice of this little man named Patrick Texas. We spoke with him about the restaurant, and ended up deciding to go there–for better or for worse. Patrick took a liking to me, not only when he found out that I was American, but also from Tennessee–home of his favorite singer, Tina Turner. Apparently, he will be going there September 23rd, to Nutbush, TN–which he was amazed I didn’t know after asking me how far it was from the airport, as his eye sight is bad (-6.0) and can’t drive. I’m writing this to remind myself how ridiculously funny it was for his stories of being on XFactor, and the amount of information he kept yelling at us over and over.

We had fun with our crazy dinner, got some dessert and headed back to Gdansk for the evening. We enjoyed each other’s company so much that we went out for another drink near the station and enjoyed even more convo. We decided to go to the Castle the next day.

We met up the next morning to head to Malbork Castle, and when we got to the station, up walked another couple from the walking tour–Leticia from Tenerife, and Phil from Ireland. We added them to our group, and despite their taking another train to Malbork, we met up again at the entrance to get our tickets.

While we thought about waiting in line, a big sign says, skip the line–buy online. So I went through and bought our tickets through the webpage. We then went to lunch at a kebap place run by an Algerian–who loved our international group.

After lunch, we hurried back for our 2pm tour. When I pulled up the email for the ticket, it showed the following day–before I about had a fit, we saw the others go in with their online ticket for tomorrow as well, so we said ‘we’re with them’! and we were let in without a hitch. Thankfully, we were all together and in with our tickets that were for tomorrow. What a silly campaign–don’t stand in line, buy online? How about, don’t stand in line the day you want to come, and be sure to buy online more than 24 hours in advance. Guess that didn’t fit on the sign.

We loved the castle. It was really interesting with its history, details, and overall design. As for typical with castles, the moats, and places they could pour hot oil, toilets, bedrooms, heating systems in the floors, all of these technological pieces were fascinating to see.

We weaved in and out of the main parts of the castle learning about the people who used it and lived there. At the end of the tour, we exited and walked past a medieval type fair in the grounds behind the castle. While we were getting our fresh sorbet from frozen fruits, a girl passed by with an owl on her arm that I wanted to hold. After the sorbet, I told everyone, I’m going to go hold that owl! I always think they look like such mysterious creatures, and have always wanted to hold one!

Luckily, no one else was hanging around, so I went up and asked could I hold the owl. Before I knew it, Rila was perched up on my gloved hand and I was learning about how she couldn’t even see me :( I was too close for her far sightedness. She was beautiful, and made me so happy to watch and hold her. Kevin thankfully took tons of photos so I could have some great shots of the experience.

We then went out and took some more pics of the outside of the castle before we decided to catch the train back to Gdansk. That evening, we all had a great dinner together, and we picked up our last member of our group, Henry, a guy from Hong Kong whom we’d seen at the earlier part of the day carrying around a violin, then again at the castle, then again at the train station. He was destined to be part of our group.

We spent the entire evening chatting, eating, and finally playing violin! Henry was 21 and was traveling around Poland to Lithuania and was planning on playing violin as a street performer to fund his travel around. After some peer pressure, he was soon playing some traditional chinese songs on the violin in the restaurant. It turned out that Annette was also a talented violinist, and played some songs as well. Then it came out that I was a wannabe violinist, and got up in front of everyone and played Ode to Joy–one of my beginner songs :) I was proud to have had my first violin performance!

We planned for our next day to go to the Solidarnasc (European Solidarity) Museum to learn about the rise against Communism, and the famous port strike of Gdansk.

This museum was really beautifully designed, and we all learned a lot about the fight about Communism from there. They showed details about the main port strike that sent ripples through the nation for their movement. That evening, we decided to do a boat tour out to Westerplatt, but we didn’t get out of the boat. The tour was nice, despite it only being spoken in Polish and German.

The next day, we went to meet up with Aylton to say goodbye, and had lunch with him. The Germans and I took a boat to Hel, which was 2 hours away. It was a long ride, but we finally made it and rented some bikes to go around the peninsula. We ended up going to the far tip of the peninsula, looked for some amber, then made our way around the forest back to the town. It was kind of a trashy town–a town that had the same fast food type stalls, kids games, like a fair. We had some fish for dinner before we caught the ship home. It was a long day!

The last day, we decided to meet up for the Solidarity Tour–once again with Kasia. This was a great continuation and overview/review of the museum we had just seen. It was a nice tour again, and afterward, we went to a dinner which turned into a disaster. I’d found this Italian place on TripAdvisor that had basically close to perfect on scoring, so I’d recommended it to Kevin and Annette, despite it being a little pricier, I thought it would be a nice dinner for our last evening out.

We got a table out on the patio which was great, as all the other seats were reserved. On my placemat in front of me was a dirty fork. Not the greatest start. Then once the meals were presented, as Kevin started to dig in, there was a huge long hair –so we think/thought–and he pointed it out. I about had a fit because I was the one who suggested this place, and it embarrassed me to no end thinking that I’d brought them to a restaurant that had this type of problem.

When we alerted the server, I pointed out the hair, and he said, oh no, that’s part of the vegetable on your plate. And we said, are you sure? He started to get agitated, contentious and louder, and then tried to guilt us into asking if we really wanted another plate. We sent him off, and I took another look at it, broke it, and it had all the attributes of hair. So this time, I was ready to bring back our original server, and have the food changed out. When he got back, he said he asked the chef, and they said that they couldn’t confirm nor deny that it was a hair, and I pressed him to say, do you believe that is hair or not, and he shrugged it off. So I said, yes, please replace the plate.

So as Annette and I ate our dinner, Kevin patiently waited for them to refire his steak to medium. Once they brought it out, he cut into it and it was quite well done. Yet another strike. As the server apologized and said there was nothing else he could do, I reminded him that he will be able to remove it from the check, and that I would like to see the manager at the end of the meal. I also let him know that it wasn’t his fault as he wasn’t the chef, but also, that we were not happy with the other server trying to tell us it wasn’t a hair gracefully, replacing the plate, and being gruff about it.

Finally, that gruff server revisited our table and he said, I was told you were unhappy with my service and something to the effect of wanting to know why. And I said, do you really want to go through this again? And he got louder, and said yes. So I got loud, and said first, there was not one, but THREE strands of hair in his food, and when we showed you, you tried to convince us that it was part of the vegetables. Then when we questioned it more, you got loud and contentious about that fact.

So he apologized, and went on. It was definitely not the type of dinner I would have enjoyed having for our last night, but nonetheless, it was a dinner that we wouldn’t forget :)

After dinner, we all went aboard the ferris wheel that showed us a great view of Gdańsk from above. That was the great ending to my fantastic week in Gdańsk, Poland!



Poland seems to have a nice rail system complete with high speed trains. Coming to Warsaw was simple from Kraków. Once I arrived, I got on a tram a couple of stops and then walked to the Airbnb. I didn’t even think about using uber uber was silly!

I arrived to the most beautiful Airbnb I’d had ever. It was so great. Beautifully designed, spotless, modern, and exactly the piedetaire that I imagine for myself sometime.

I got settled and had Indian for lunch and then explored the old town a little. Vlad joined this evening and once he arrived, we headed out to find dinner.

We explored the old town a little as well that night, caught up, and then headed home.

We spent the next couple of days exploring Warsaw and going to the Moscow looking building downtown. We got a birds eye view of Warsaw. We then went to the museum of Copernicus, but it was closed so we continued walking around the city.

We went again to the Copernicus museum the next day and the line was much longer than we were willing to wait so we went to the planetarium to check out a movie. We watched a history of flight which was decent.

We checked out an organ performance in the main church in the old town and enjoyed beautiful organ music. The church was beautiful, and the music filled the space with majestic sounds. There’s something relaxing and therapeutic about the harmonies that an organ makes.

The next day Vlad headed back to st. Petersburg and I went to the rising museum to learn about the polish uprising against communism. It was a really well done museum.
After a couple of hours there, I went out and found a trailer in front doing gourmet burgers. Why not? As I finished, I gave my American-approved hamburger nod and started a long walk back to the apartment. My train was in the evening so I planned my walk back to arrive around 4 and get my bags back from security.

I ordered an uber and he was literally in the parking line in front of the apartment, so I got my bags loaded and headed for the station. About 20 minutes later and 10zł later ($2.50), I was at the station.

The train was on time and I found my seat which was in a compartment shared by just one other guy. It was super comfortable and efficient and just a couple hours later I arrived in Gdańsk.

A Day in Auschwitz

Auschwitz. Just the sound of it, sounds like pain. But being this close to the camp, I couldn’t not go. Despite the Pope’s visit to Poland which disrupted a lot of my original plans, I rebooked and rebooked tickets to ensure that I could go see this infamous death camp and learn even more about our recent past.

I got up at 6am to get my car and headed for the journey westward to Oświęcim. Thankful for Google Maps, I turned on navigation and got decent directions out of the city. However, she would be late in telling me to turn, and I missed about 3 of the turns out which elongated my time getting onto the highway. Nonetheless, I got onto the highway and sailed smoothly (and quickly—not much traffic, and high speeds of the interstate + drivers who respect the left lane made for ease of driving), and arrived into the town of Oświęcim (known by the German name Auschwitz.

It was odd to see how residential this area was, with such a horrible past. Signs for the museum of Auschwitz were everywhere, and since I hadn’t had breakfast, I found McD’s amazingly just a few km away from the gate. This is one of those times that McD’s is so convenient—it’s everywhere, and I can get a simple egg sandwich and be completely sustained until the next meal.
I quickly parked the car and brought my egg mcmuffin into the line that already started. I confirmed with others in line that this was where you go without tickets. It had worked! I got there early, in line with about 20-30 others, and felt good about getting tickets. I couldn’t believe it. This was the last day until after I left that Auschwitz would be open, so the fact that the car rental, driving an hour, getting there ahead of all crowds, and getting into the right line went so smoothly, it was great luck.

I met a guy in line who was a Polish tour guide, and we spoke for the whole time until the window opened to sell tickets. He was really nice and interesting, and it made the time go by quickly. I got to the window, and just 3 tickets were left for the English tour at 9:30 (one of the first groups), and I was able to get into that one since the group ahead of me were 4. Score!

Once together in our group, I met a girl who was here for the Catholic programs (World Youth Day) and was coming on the tour to learn how the process worked so she could be a guide to bring others. We buddied up and were able to have small discussions throughout the tour.

Granted I’ve been to Dachau before, and I’ll say it again. The eeriness of walking through the gates of Arbeit Macht Frei is something that is so chilling and surreal, that seeing it here again was just as horrifying. Our tour guide was ok to understand, but spoke really fast. We also were lined up going through the barracks seeing all the artifacts from the thousands of Jews that made their way to this camp only to be exterminated. The sheer numbers of people are unfathomable. Seeing the shoes, the personal affects, luggage, piles of women’s hair that was cut off and even kept braided, and even more chilling, the profile pictures of all souls lost in this camp that lined the halls of the barrack. It’s absolutely incredible to think Hitler was able to render support of this idea, and so many people followed along with it. It is frightening to think what weapons can do.

Barrack after barrack we explored with our guide explaining the harsh and cruel living conditions that they were forced in. Bunks would literally have 15 people per row, and the higher you go up, the less people. The weakest ended up on the floor. The toilets lined up for their twice a day break, where hundreds would be forced to relieve themselves only during these times or risk being shot and punished. The rail platform that is so recognizable where loads of Jews would be carted in and let off, only to be sorted by women and men, and then to life of labor and cruelty, or quick and wretched deceitful death.

After our visit to Auschwitz I, we took a break and then a bus to Auschwitz II, Berkenau. This place was huge, with barrack after barrack. Here we see again horrible conditions, gas chambers, and incinerators. The blown up gas chambers built to exterminate up to 2000 people a day completely blown up and destroyed to hide the traces of this inhumane destruction. The barbed wire fences of the cage these people saw day in and day out. Walking upon the same dirt, passing through halls so many lost their lives, and seeing the torture wall where people were beaten, punished, shot, hanged. It’s all so overwhelmingly disturbing. And to know how so many fled to South America, never to pay the price of murder. It’s absolutely inconceivable. And timely is that I’m seeing this now during our election period, where a man incites such racial and stereotypical hatred towards the unfamiliar, the outside, the ‘unAmerican’. It’s rightfully scary to see what happens to the US come November.

It was a full day that went by fast. By 2:30 I was heading home without having eaten, with a headache, with relief, and with a full mind of what I’d seen, felt, and thought during my visit. It’s definitely one of those things that opens your eyes to how amazingly wonderful and free my life has been, and for that, I am so thankful to have had the incredible luck, to be born where I was—by no will of my own.=

Arrival in Kraków

Arriving to Krakow was quite stressful, as I had to get to the rental car place as well as get checked into my airbnb  at the same time and it was pushing towards midnight. Luckily with my planning, I had the car rental set up next to the station, and the airbnb on the other side of the station. Amazingly, despite my 20 minute tardiness in my flight arriving, I hauled it down to the central station. I made my way to the car rental place, and amazingly the guy was there to meet me. However, it was literally like feeling my way through a maze with no hints. I walked up to the address, found the label to their office, rang the bell, and the door was buzzed opened. I walked into a dark foyer, with no lights or anything. And I fumbled my way around to a stairwell, tried to start going up the stairs yelling hello! Hello!, to no response. Finally someone said hello, and I’m thinking, what in the world did they think I was doing in the pitch black foyer all this time. So I continued going up the stairs with all my baggage with me. Made it to the top, and checked in with the kid who had been sent to give me my car.

After checking out the car, I rushed through everything and pointed out some scratches, but highlighted the fact that it’s dark out, and how can I really give a good review of the car. Luckily, we marked some things off, and I felt like it would be fine. So I got in my little stick shift car, and drove 3 minutes to the other side of the station to where my Airbnb was. Amazingly I found a parking space, parked, and got ready to go in to the apt.

Yet again, amazingly, the people were there waiting for me and buzzed me in. Again, I had to lug all my bags up to the 4th floor (like in Berlin), and I was welcomed by a mother and daughter who showed me around her childhood flat. It was typically polish (soviet like), but about 50x bigger than I thought it was going to be. It was really great. It had huge high ceilings, a huge kitchen, and a big bedroom/living area, plus bathroom. I asked some questions, and then got the keys, and they left me behind to take a shower, get ready for bed, and prepare myself for a tiring day the next day for Auschwitz.

See my Auschwitz Day here.

The next morning, despite my running nose, I went to meet Louise, a fellow globetrotter that I had been put in touch with by someone I’d met in Thailand. We met to go to the underground museum which showed the archeological dig of the market square below the square of today. It was cool to see all the excavation and see literally layers of civilization that you could see from split views of the cobbled roads on top of sediment and cultural layers.

The next day, I did not feel well today, but felt like I needed to get out for a bit. I slept a little better that night, but still felt drained from sinus trouble. I decided to go to Wawel Castle and do a tour. After making my way down to the castle, I waited in line for almost 45 minutes. Finally at the ticket window, you can see how many tickets are still available. For the Palace Apartments, 1 ticket left, and for the state rooms, several hundred. I’d read that these were the two that were suggested, so I was hopeful in snagging that one.

When I asked for the ticket, the old woman in a very thick accent said only polish. And I said, there’s only Polish tours left? And she yelled back saying ONLY POLISH LEFT. I then said, I just waited in line for 45 minutes and there could be someone to tell us that there are no English tours left for the day. I’d like to buy a ticket for tomorrow then. She yelled again at me saying that I couldn’t buy tickets for tomorrow, so I yelled back and said OK THANK YOU, THANK YOU!!!!!! So loudly, that everyone in the room looked and smiled, because everyone was pissed at how the running of these tickets was going. It was terribly disorganized, and every single thing is separate. So you could literally buy 13 tickets to see 13 different things in the castle. It was silly. After I yelled back, she got on the phone, and I was thinking she might be calling security, but she magically got me on the next English tour in just 20 minutes. So it seems it pays for standing up for yourself, and not enduring abuse J

Off I went to the State Room Tour. I wish I had better news about the tour, that it was so worth while, but it was probably the least interesting thing I’ve paid to go see. You went through rooms in this castle that have been redecorated with items from Italy and England during the 16th/17th centuries, that didn’t even exist in the castle because it had burned down. So only some fire places and flooring on the first floor were original—definitely not worth a tour, and found it actually quite boring and not engaging at all. I continued to the Royal Apartments, and it was the same. So after a couple of hours of touring the castle, I left feeling disappointed of what was inside this great castle, to learn that it was simply museum-esque, with things that didn’t even exist in the castle from its original state.

I then went home to rest and take the day to get better.

My last day in Krakow was spent making sure I rested and got better from my sinus trouble. I went into the old city for breakfast and found a milkbar, which is a typical Polish restaurant for apparently all statuses of people (as described by our tour guide earlier in the week). It was a cute little restaurant that had a lot of options for breakfast. I ordered some eggs and then a pancake. While I sat and waited, a couple that sat next to me were talking to the waitress, and I heard the word Texas. Then I looked at the guy’s t shirt, and he had a Mellow Johnnies t shirt on—an Austin original shop from our ‘beloved’ Lance Armstrong.

I asked if they were from Austin, and originally, yes, but now living in Luxembourg. We spoke for a while about their time in Austin, Luxembourg, why they’re in Poland (a wedding, and his girlfriend is Polish), and the upcoming election and views from outside the US on what’s going on.

They left, and I continued eating my breakfast which was very satisfying. However, at the end of the eggs and toast, I wasn’t too interested in starting a pancake, which they apparently saved for after me finishing. It finally got prepared and instead of a pancake, it was a crepe. I had it with strawberry jam, but would have preferred Nutella had I known it wasn’t a true pancake.

I spent the rest of the day just doing some last minute sightseeing in the city, then went to the mall again for any last minute things, then headed back to the apartment to rest. For dinner, I went to a different restaurant instead of my original plan of my pork rib night which had been so amazing, thinking it would be good to change it up. While it wasn’t bad, it wasn’t amazing as my first dinner here. Plus, it wasn’t even what I ordered. I ordered a shrimp salad with avocado and greens, and got a shrimp pasta dish with tomato sauce and no vegetables.

I spent the evening packing and cleaning up the apartment to get ready for my trip to Warsaw the next morning.

Arrival in Copenhagen

Copenhagen is great! I always thought I would enjoy Copenhagen without trying to put pressure on myself to forcibly enjoy Copenhagen, so I’m pleased to say that I really love it!

Catching a train to the central area was super easy. They also had luggage storage, so I put my big backpack in and took my little day pack out for my initial orientation to the city. I walked from the station and passed the Tivoli Gardens, an amusement park that is quite beautiful in charm.

I wanted to find lunch so I looked on yelp for some suggestions, and found a suggestion to a hamburger place that was supposedly great hamburgers for a great price–served out of a gas station. I got my meal, and it was quite good! I sat down at a communal bench, and a couple sat in front of me. During the meal, we started talking and they told me some things I should see and do while in Copenhagen.

I then headed to Stroget, the longest shopping street in the world! Here they had all sorts of shops lining the cobbled stone pedestrian area which spanned for almost a mile. I was instantly piqued by the shops that focused on Danish Design. I enjoyed browsing around, and then it was time for me to head back towards the station to get my baggage to bring to my Airbnb.

My Airbnb was in Fredricksburg, which is the neighbhorhood adjacent west to Copenhagen. It was easily located in walking distance to the main area, but renting a bike ended up being an amazing experience. The bike paths here are so well done. Safety was great, as from the street there is about a 4″ lip raised to the bike path, and another 4″ raised up to the pedestrian path. It’s really great! Even the bike lanes have their own mini stop lights and sometimes even lanes when you need to turn left. Everyone was really well behaved on bikes, and I felt safe the whole time.

I arrived at the Airbnb and was in contact with my host, Kasper, and he buzzed me in. I made my way up with all my baggage again to another 4th floor apartment. Kasper opened the door and welcomed me inside. The place was really great–really high ceilings and a lot of history in regards to aristocratic living. My room was actually the servant’s room, which had a connection directly to the kitchen and bathroom. He showed me the walls that had been removed to renovate the apartment for a more civilized style when servants weren’t living together with their masters anymore :)

This means my room was very small, but it was fine for what I needed. The curious thing, however, is that I was interested in seeing the rest of the place and I didn’t get the sense that he was interested in me seeing it. His girlfriend arrived shortly after, and we spoke a bit, and I was commenting on how beautiful the place was. She was some what a timid girl and very soft spoken. Apparently a lawyer as well, so she must be able to hold her own if need be. She then explained that they typically will keep the doors closed (into the dining and living room).

Even now, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it. One of the reasons I do Airbnb in a share is for cost effectiveness. Copenhagen is expensive, so I could save money by sharing. However, when I do this, I also enjoy getting to know the hosts, see how they live their life in a new country, and see the interior of a Danish home. About the entire time, not only did I not see them, but the doors were kept closed, so I too began to feel the sense of me being a servant, only being provided access to my limited quarters. Not that I spent a lot of time at home, but it would have been nice to relax on a couch or just be in a more open area than my tiny bedroom.

Anyhow, despite the unwelcome feeling I had in the airbnb, it was actually like renting my own place. I had access to the kitchen and bathroom, and really felt like they were my own. I didn’t see them, have to wait on anyone, so in the end, it was like renting a private apartment–so I guess it was actually fine.

I found a bike rental shop right next to the apartment which was cheaper than doing the bike tour that I had found. I decided I would rather do my own bike tour for 3 days than pay even more for just 3 hours. Soon I was on the streets like a Dane and no one could tell a difference :)

I made my way all around Copenhagen over the next several days. The little Mermaid, The Round Tower, Ameliaborg, Christenborg, Torvehalle a great market hall with food, Papieroen (Paper Island) with the best street food stalls housed in one great place (two visits!), Christiana, Tivoli Gardens Amusement park — I did unlimited rides!, Nyhaven, the neighborhoods around Vesterbor, Norrebor, etc.

I really think I got the whole feel of the city. I enjoyed it so much, just wandering around on my bike, seeing beautiful streets and houses, beautiful architecture and brightly colored buildings. My last night, I decided to do a canal tour around the city, and I am so glad I did. It was one of their last cruises, and I was only one of a few on board. The tour guide was great, and now having seen and learned about the city, it was great to see it from the other side. Our boat went through canal underpasses with literally inches between our heads at the bridge. It was impressive driving! I’ll definitely come back to Copenhagen, and was excited to finally get a feel for the city I’ve wondered so much about!

Berlin bust

So my trip to Berlin has been a little bit of a bust. To start, my Airbnb was a bit farther out of the main core area than usual. It took me almost 40-45 minutes from central station to maneuver down to Neukolln, supposedly a hip and trendy area of Berlin. I’d read all about it and said it was the new area–I just didn’t realize, that when they said new, they were meaning, it will be really hot in about 5 years. Getting there too, usually I get things almost to a T when catching trains, not getting turned around, etc, and every platform I came to, the train I was supposed to get on was just pulling off. Needlesstosay, it was annoying to get to the airbnb, and then once there, the owner had trouble buzzing me in, so I had to call her 4 times before she let me in properly (hello–don’t buzz for a split second, there’s no way I can catch the door!)

Then, I had to lug everything up 4 flights of big stairs to the apartment. But, once there, it was really nice. She had decorated it nicely and it was spacious and comfortable–and not shared. I actually thought it was a share when I rented it (I’m 99% sure it said share), so it was a nice surprise that it wasn’t.

I explored Berlin and saw the new Jewish Memorial site, well new to me since I haven’t been to Berlin since 2002. I was able to see the Brandenburg Gate finally as it was behind scaffolding as well before. I walked miles around the sites, and saw the Berlin Wall again, went to the DDR Museum to see life in East Berlin, did a walking tour through the city, ate great food, and the Jewish Museum. Bad luck continued with a torrential downpour of rain and sleet, it was miserable!

Also, the big dome that you can register to go in and see of course was closed for 5 days.. the exact period that I was there.

I did get to have a reunion with a couple of ladies I met back in Peru in 2013, and we had a great dinner and catch up. The great thing about traveling around the world is all the people you meet to reconnect with in various places around the world all over again!

Marburg reunion with Judith

2001 remains to be on of my most cherished years of life. This was the year, I met a great group of international students, with whom I connected with and felt so included as I’ve never felt before. As a group, we did so many things during that year, and I think of it often.

Judith is a prized friend from that group, and I traveled to Marburg to see her and her growing family. I was here 5 years ago during their wedding, and now they have two adorable children, who were so fun to meet! This year has been a lot of babies among my friends, so I can’t yet say that I love all children, but I’ve been lucky to feel a connection and enjoy seeing my friends’ babies. It will be even more fun to watch them grow up!

I ended up arriving a little early, and got a taxi to Judith’s. On the way, we passed a refugee camp, and Judith was telling me stories of what changes have been happening in Germany since the migrations have occurred. The demographics of Germany have definitely shifted noticeably, so it will be interesting to see what happens in the future.

We got to visit for a while until the baby sitter brought the twins home. I was wondering if they would be scared because I wasn’t speaking German (well only baby German), but they seemed to take a liking to me after I gave them each a princess chocolate tin with a zipper cap so they can put things in it. I saw a quick resemblance to me, as Lina tore into hers and began devouring the chocolate. I felt a sense of pride when Hanna too, began enjoying hers. I knew from then on, we will always be able to connect over chocolate. :)

By the afternoon, we were fast friends and Hanna even demanded me to blow dry her hair after her bath — she also wanted me to rub lotion on her, but I definitely have my limits.
We had an amazing visit catching up, going to dinner at the castle for more catching up and the Stadtfest (Town Festival). After an ice cream we headed back home for the evening.

The next day, Judith and the girls and I all went to their communal garden to get vegetables for our dinner. They have a plot that has all sorts of things from herbs, to pumpkins, to carrots. We picked up some huge zucchini and then brought everything back for our dinner prep.

We then went on an amazing bike ride all together, on e bikes. The girls were in tow behind Ulf, and we rode through the town hills, up to the tower that has a huge LED symbol on it, the symbol of the (Saint?), but is also the tower inspiring Rupunzel’s famous story. This LED lights up when a phone number is dialed, so you can signal to someone you’re thinking of them. Also, whenever a baby is born, the nurse’s are able to blink the light too. I thought it was a very unique thing to have in the city.

My time in Marburg was again so great, and reconnecting with a dear friend is the best time ever spent.

Full Day of Driving along the Bodensee

This morning, we got up to take our full long day journey to Freiburg, completely on the other end of Germany. We had originally wanted to go through Switzerland, but in typical Swiss fashion, they required an expensive sticker for our car—and apparently it was only available in an annual pass at nearly $100. Considering that the cost of our lunch would be about that too, we opted to forego Zurich for lunch, and plan a route that took us on the north side of Lake Constanz, going through various towns and then up to Freiburg. Our first stop—Lindau Island.

Coming into Lindau Island, you cross over a bridge to a small island town that is situated on Lake Constanz. We stopped initially on the street to try street parking, yet it was only available for 30 minutes, so we then went ahead to the car park over on the side near the train station. We parked the car and headed back into town starving for a good lunch.

We stopped at the Swiss Hotel—a seemingly fitting compromise for our exchange of not being in Switzerland for lunch that afternoon. I had the best chicken finger salad, which was very large. I was very happy with my meal after having had so many heavy meals before—it was good to have some salad finally!

We enjoyed sitting facing the lighthouse and the water and people watched as we devoured our lunch. We then walked around the city and followed various patheways that ended up showing us really how small the island was. You could walk from one end to the other in probably 30 minutes, so luckily, we felt like we’d seen everything by the time we felt we should leave in order to see the Zepplin Museum and learn about the Hindenberg Flight.

We got back to our car and headed on to our next stop, the Zepplin Museum in Friedrichshafen. We arrived just in time to get parked and get our discounted tickets to view the museum at half price since we were coming so late. We were told about an hour to an hour and half should be sufficient for our visit, but I felt pretty rushed. I did want to see more about the actual accident, which wasn’t the centerpiece—it was more supplemental in nature where the museum, rightfully so, focused more on the German engineering that played a huge role in the world’s Aviation history.

After our rushed visit, we were on to our next stop, Meersburg. Coming into Meersburg, we ran into traffic along the BCH as I’ll call it—the Bodensee Coast Highway (like our PCH). We followed this along the whole route since Lindau, and being able to see the beautiful lake on one side and the vineyards on the right side was so peaceful. When we parked, we walked over to the boardwalk to stroll along the waterside and see potential restaurants for dinner. Unfortunately, the one that Robert had found that we were looking forward to ended up being closed, so we had to find another option. We weren’t really that hungry at the time, so we decided to explore on foot first before committing to our dining for the evening.

This lead us down the boardwalk, back up the one street in, up to the castle and other areas that had wonderful look outs over the lake. We weaved our way back down and happened upon a really quaint restaurant that looked good.

We got a soup, and then shared an order of what I believe to be Venison (not my favorite), with Swabian noodles . It was pretty good, and I’m glad we didn’t get more than one dish as it was plenty of food.

After dinner, we continued on our drive which was crowded again. It seemed as it was getting darker that we were really missing some beautiful scenery as we could tell the mountains were big surrounding us, and we could see the trees of the Black Forest getting thicker and thicker. I’d be curious to see what we drove through that night!

We arrived safely in Freiburg and the AirBnb was absolutely perfect. We got the car parked in the garage which was scary as I had to park it in a tiny spot that is angled upward as it’s on a lift in case someone wants to park below, they can lift my car up and park below. We were on the absolute top floor with no elevator, but it was an adorable apartment that was with the angled roof and the awesome german windows that allow you to open them wide open and let fresh air in. We had all the skylights open and enjoyed a cool breeze complete with the babbling creek just at the end of the street. It was a success on airbnb for sure.

Biking through Innsbruck 

Today we decided it would be fun to do a little bike tour throughout Innsbruck.

We were able to find a place to rent our bikes, and thankfully they allowed us to park our car there while we biked around the city. We had a map provided by the rental company, and started exploring Innsbruck by bike. This is by far the best way to explore a city.

We were able to find great bike paths throughout the city that passed by huge mansions being hugged by their neighboring mansions. The tree-lined streets brought a home town feel in this majestic surrounding landscape which seemed like a backdrop to a movie.

We decided to ride for two hours initially, but extended it to three as we wanted to explore more.

We ended up having sushi for dinner as a change of pace from our German heavy meals, and while the sushi was decent, it did make me miss my accessibility to fresh sushi in so many areas in Austin!

After our dinner, we roamed around downtown exploring the old town some more and Robert enjoyed (another) ice cream for dessert :)