Apr 30, 2010

Keukenhof Gardens, Holland

While Brian was golfing in Scotland, the flowers in Holland were in full bloom. I asked around my office to see if anyone wanted to go with me to check out the gardens, and I had two takers, our friends John and Lewis.

On Saturday morning, we got an early start on the road (7:30 on a Saturday is really early for me!). It was supposed to only take around 4 hours to get there, but the last few miles took 1.5 hours because of the traffic! Apparently "peak" weekend at the Keukenhof gardens is a popular time to go!

Excited to see the flowers!

As we slowly drove in, it smelled so good outside! It was so cool to see rows and rows of gorgeous flowers.

Gorgeous flowers and a Dutch windmill in the distance - cheesy, I know, but I loved it!

Once we parked the car and made our way into the garden, I was really impressed by all of the colors and how perfect each flower was!

I've never studied flowers or had a garden of my own, so I don't know a lot about them, but there were so many flowers in this garden that I had never seen or heard of!

These tall yellow ones reminded me of something from Dr. Seuss

I loved the multi-colored tulips

After walking around for awhile, we decided it was time for a beer and waffle break. This waffle was one of the yummiest waffles I've ever had! It had sugar crystals partly melted on it, so it was sweet and dense.

Continuing the tour...

We found the windmill!

Group shot from the top of the windmill

There were also indoor gardens, and my favorite was the orchid garden.

I loved how these looked with their roots exposed

Brian has always said he liked orchids, but I've never found one that I really wanted to own. At this garden, though, I found one that's an off-white color, which I loved. It's really neutral but exotic looking - perfect for our apartment! I bought it to surprise Brian - it looks great in our living area!

I still need to find a pot that I like for it, but I like how it looks here!

After a full day of flowers, we headed back to Frankfurt. It was a really fun day trip!

Apr 27, 2010

Scotland Motorcycle & Golf Trip

Classic european trip. Two flaky layers of motorcycle riding with some nutty golf paste squeezed in the middle.

This was my first trip with the new bike. I was planning on doing a couple 1-up trips to gain confidence in my abilities before riding with Kim on the back. (In motorcycle language, 1-up means "one rider" and 2-up means 2 riders. Note: This is slightly different than a super mario nomenclature).

View Scotland Golf Trip in a larger map

A quick summary is that I departed Frankfurt, got on a a water-ferry which transported from the Netherlands to Newcastle (UK), rode further to Scotland, golfed for a few days, then came back the same method. This mode of transportation actually worked out surprisingly well in contrast to air travel, primarily because of the volcanic activity causing an ashy tropospheric mess all over Europe -- kabash on air travel for the rest of the guys who went on the trip and ended up driving the full 16-ish hours (one-way) through the chunnel...

(Click to view album in Picasa)

Apr 11, 2010


For our anniversary weekend, Brian and I planned a trip to Barcelona! Originally, one of our friends from Pakistan, Mike, had asked us to meet him there - he had been to Barcelona several times and wanted to show us around. We invited another one of our friends, Christine, from Frankfurt to join us for the weekend so that we could enjoy a weekend of friends, fun, and delicious food. Unfortunately, at the last minute Mike had to cancel because of work, but Christine, Brian, and I went anyway for a great weekend!

To start, I would highly recommend Barcelona to anyone considering a visit to Europe. We just loved the city, the Spanish people, the food, and really everything about it! We concluded that it reminded us of a European, warmer-climate Chicago. It was lovely with a good mixture of park space, culture, beach, and fun city things to do!

Our first day in Barcelona was our anniversary! Normally Brian and I aren't into tours, but when we woke up on our first morning in Barcelona and saw how huge the city was, we figured a double-decker bus tour would be a great start to our vacation.

We were extremely pleased with our choice - the bus tour was a lot of fun and was really helpful in giving us ideas for the rest of our vacation. We rode around for most of the day, seeing the sights and enjoying the sun.

Cheesy tourists in Catalunya Plaza : )

For lunch, we got off of the bus at the beach. We were so excited to see the water! We enjoyed our first of many meals of sangria and paella, a delicious Spanish rice and seafood dish.


Enjoying the view!

Admiring all of the sail boats

After lunch, we continued our bus tour to Tibidabo. Funny story - I was really excited to see Tibidabo because of a reference made to it in my favorite TV sitcom, Friends. Lame, I know, but it's the truth : ) I was expecting a mountain covered with a beautiful forest and great hiking with a cathedral at the top. You can imagine my disappointment when I found out that the hill is actually known for its somewhat trashy carnival at the top that surrounds the church. It was so weird! And it was actually pretty funny - it became our joke for the rest of the trip.

Cathedral at Tibidabo

Great view from Tibidabo

After we finished our bus tour, we were quite exhausted. We decided to go to the top of our hotel, watch the sunset, and enjoy a nice, relaxing happy hour. It was a great ending to the day!

View of the sunset from our hotel restaurant

We had a great view of the city after the sunset. Please note in the picture below: the glowing cathedral at the top of the hill in the distance is Tibidabo. You can see the reflection of light from it in the clouds!

The next day, we started off with a walk down La Rambla, a beautiful (although very tourist-y) tree-lined street with lots of shops and restaurants.

After a lot of walking, we decided to eat lunch near the beach again! We really couldn't get enough of the blue water and sky. Paella meal numero dos : )

People watching at the beach quickly became one of our favorite pastimes in Barcelona. If you enlarge the picture below, you'll see one of many hilarious scenes we found : ) (zoom it at your own risk!!)

That evening, we went to the Sagrada Família, definitely the strangest, most detailed, most interesting cathedral I've ever seen. It was was designed by Antoni Gaudí, Barcelona's famous architect. It has been under construction since 1883, and supposedly it will be completed this year!! There are many more pictures of the Sagrada Família and other Gaudí works at the bottom of this blog. Brian did a great job photographing them!

The next day we took a cable car to Montjuïc. Montjuïc is a hill where the 1992 Summer Olympics were held. On this hill, there are gorgeous gardens, a fort, and a great art museum. We started our Monjuïc tour at the fort, which had another great view of the city.

Green gardens surrounding Montjuïc fort

Brian operating one of the cannons

View from the fort

Next we walked through some lush gardens. They were so peaceful and very well-maintained. And, they inspired Brian to light up his pipe! What a nice walk for shmokin a pipe : )

The walk through the gardens led us to the Museum of National Art and Culture (MNAC), which sat on the hillside looking over the city. Another great view, of course!

Throughout our time in Barcelona, we noticed that Spain definitely has brighter colors in its architecture, both inside and outside the buildings. I really loved the contrast; it was a nice variation from Germany.

Example of the bright colors in the MNAC

At the end of our day, we tried to go to the Barca football (Barcelona soccer) game. I had read that games hardly ever sell out, so we didn't buy our tickets ahead of time. When we got to the ticket window, the cheapest tickets were 122 euro per person!! Yikes! We opted to go to the closest bar and watch the game with a lot of Barcelona fans. It was a fun night!

The next day was Easter Sunday! The day started out a little gloomy, so we went to brunch at a local cafe. When we finished, the sun had come out! We headed straight for Park Güell, which was also designed by Gaudí (the guy who designed the cathedral I mentioned earlier). It was a great day to go to the park because it was so warm outside and because it was fun to see all of the Spanish families picnicing on Easter Sunday. It brought back good memories of past Easters with my family. Park Güell is situated on yet another hill with yet another great view!

Every section of this park was just spectacular. There were all kinds of impressive things to see and there were gorgeous mosaics everywhere! Brian took some great photos of the park that are in the photos at the bottom of the blog.

Brian and me in the park (we don't know the couple in the bottom left corner, but they smiled for the picture! haha)

I bought a CD from this guy - great music!

Fun in the sun at the park made us wonder how the beach was looking on that lovely Easter Sunday, so we went straight there! We did some more people watching at the beach, and while we were enjoying the wide variety of people walking by, Brian noticed some clouds in the distance. We were getting hungry anyway, so we headed to a nearby restaurant. We were very lucky in our pick of restaurants - as soon as the storm set in, the restaurant rolled out some protective awnings. None of the other restaurants had them! So we sat outside and marveled at an awesome thunder storm! Great conversation, wine, seafood, and a seaside storm made for a perfect Easter dinner.

For our last day in Barcelona, we had a few goals: 1) Get some sun 2) Eat more paella 3) Eat at Farggi 4) More people watching and 5) Relax!

At our first stop, we accomplished 4 of our 5 goals : ) We found this great plaza that was full of paella, people, and sun.

Next stop, Farggi. Here's the story: I'm obsessed with ice cream, and I had noticed this one ice cream chain, Farggi, in lots of popular places in Barcelona. I just knew it had to be amazing. So after lunch, we finally made the stop. Oh my goodness, was it worth the wait! I had macadamia nut and Catalonian creme ice cream on a cone, and it was probably the best ice cream I've ever had. I'm just glad we waited till our last day to visit this shop, or else we would've eaten ice cream for every meal!

At Farggi, so excited about ice cream

We were walking off our ice cream (or trying to - haha!), and I just happened to notice a jewelry store that looked very familiar. Could it be?? Yes! It was the Spanish version of Sam Moon! For those of you who don't know about Sam Moon, it's a whole-sale jewelry store in Texas, and it has everything you could possibly want for the cheapest cost you'll find anywhere. They sell jewelry that Macy's and other department stores sell for next to nothing! I bought a couple of necklaces and a bracelet, and I was very excited about the find!

What did we do next? More people watching, of course! But this time we went to La Rambla, where we sat outside and enjoyed large cervezas and a nice evening.

And so, it was time for our last dinner in Barcelona. We decided to go to a steak restaurant recommended by our hotel. And we were very glad we did! They served delicious steaks on a hot stone so that you could cook them yourself! What a great end to our vacation!

Like I said earlier, we loved Barcelona! I think it took over as my favorite city we've visited so far! We loved it so much, that we took a ton of pictures. I wanted to capture them all in our travel blog-journal, but I didn't want it to be too overwhelming : ) This was the longest vacation we've taken, so I did my best to condense! For those of you still itching to see more of gorgeous Barcelona, Brian did a great job capturing a lot of the city in the pics below. Enjoy!

Casa Batlló by Gaudí
Casa Milà by Gaudí

Park Güell by Gaudí

Park Güell

Park Güell

Park Güell

Park Güell

Sagrada Família by Gaudí (cathedral)

Sagrada Família - enlarge this one - the style is unlike anything I've seen before
Sagrada Família

Inside the Sagrada Família

Inside the Sagrada Família - most scaffolding I've ever seen in one place!

In the park on Montjuïc

This giant ball looked like it was about to roll off the side of this building. And the copper fish next to it was very cool!

We loved how they did the glass on this building. Isn't it cool how the sky looks like it cuts through the building?? I also like how the tip of the triangle is suspended.

Ornate Spanish architecture

Cool tunnel

Pedestrian bridge leading out to Barcelona's equivalent of Navy Pier

I loved all of the balconies in Barcelona.

I want this office - it was the only one facing the water