Nov 30, 2010

Weekend in Paris

Brian had to go to Paris for work, so I decided to join him over the weekend! The Friday before Thanksgiving, I hopped on a direct flight to Paris after work. Brian, sweetheart he is, had made reservations for us that evening, so I went straight from the airport to meet my hubby for dinner. The restaurant was quite small, requiring a game of Tetris with the tables anytime someone wanted to get up, but it was very cozy and intimate, which I loved! We enjoyed a fantastic French feast of seafood ravioli with an amazing tomato cream sauce, a perfectly cooked medium-rare steak, and the MOST delicious souffle I've ever tasted. Seriously, I still daydream about that souffle. France really has cooking down to a science.

To attempt to walk off our 3-course indulgence, we went on a nice walk around the city. First we found the Louvre, which is gorgeous at night.

Carousel Arch in front of the Louvre

The Louvre is so huge and impressive

Then we walked along the Seine river and watched the lights sparkle on the water. After a week away from Brian, a romantic dinner and walk in Paris are just about the best things in the world! I soaked up every second of it.

It was 12:30 before we knew it, so we decided to call it a night. Work and traveling can really take it out of ya! We hopped on a metro and headed to Bri's hotel.

The Metro signs are so cool in Paris - I think everything is picturesque in that city

The next morning, after taking care of some logistical details, we began a day full of exploring Paris. The weather couldn't have been better, so we were able to cover some serious ground! Among our finds were:
  • An adorable cafe where we ate lunch. I wish I had a picture of it, but just imagine the most French-y, adorable cafe and you're probably close to where we ate. And of course the food was fantastic.
  • Several fun kitchen stores, where we found some cool candles to add to our Christmas decor
  • The largest department store I've ever seen. It was so huge, even I got overwhelmed and had to leave.
  • Two model shoots - I know people say that models are airbrushed to look as good as they do in ads, but we happened upon the most beautiful women who definitely didn't need airbrushing!
  • A few beautiful churches
  • A gorgeous sunset
Here are some pictures from our relaxing Saturday

Taking a break and warming up at a coffee shop

Cool store that had old sewing machines from floor to ceiling in all windows

The week before I left for Paris, Brian's mom told us that she had always dreamed of getting her picture made in front of the Eiffel Tower while enjoying a champagne toast. She asked us if we could take a picture of us turning this dream into reality, and so it became our mission for Saturday night! And it was such a fun little activity! We found a chilled bottle of champagne at one grocery store and some champagne flutes in the back corner of another grocery store. I was so elated with our find, the store clerk asked me in broken English as he was ringing up our two glasses, "This make you happy?" I answered with a very excited "yes!"

Our walk to the Eiffel Tower

Such a photogenic work of architecture at night

We did it! Cheers!

After capturing the moment, we walked around the park area in front of the tower and took in the view while enjoying our champagne.

On the other side of the tower was a crepe stand that was way to enticing. We needed one. There was quite a line, but that could only mean one thing - they had to be delicious! And, they were.

We continued our stroll all the way to Notre Dame, which was also beautifully lit at night. There was an interesting group of fire dancers in front of the church, providing a little entertainment for the evening.

We stopped in a couple of bars during our walk and shamelessly had one more crepe before going back to our hotel. Great day in Paris!

Sunday was quite rainy, so we checked out of the hotel in the morning and headed to the Monet museum. I'm not usually the biggest museum person, but I loved the Monet museum! I learned a lot about him and really enjoyed seeing so many of his works. After the museum, we went to a restaurant that had heaters in their porch seating area and just ate and people watched all afternoon until it was time to fly home. It was a great way to conclude our romantic weekend together!

Nov 24, 2010

Skiing in Obergurgl, Austria

Over Veteran's Day weekend, Brian and I took the four-day weekend to travel to Austria to do some skiing! When I started to research trip options for that weekend, I was going through a spreadsheet we have of "places we want to go", and I saw a few ski resorts. I thought, there's no way they could be open... but it doesn't hurt to look! When I looked up Obergurgl, the website said that they were going to have a Pre-Opening weekend over our Veteran's Day holiday! Perfect. The snow came a little earlier than expected this year - just for us! And, because it was early, the resorts and ski lifts had some special deals - woohoo!

So Thursday morning, we woke up early and hit the road to Austria! Neither of us had been there before, so we were excited to see a new country. The drive was about 6 hours, which wasn't bad at all. The last couple of hours were in the mountains - gorgeous, with views like this:

We also found this castle. Castles are always a nice little bonus :)

When we arrived at our hotel, we found our room to be quite cozy! I loved the Alp lodge-y feel.

And it came with a spectacular view

The history of this hotel was really cool. It was started by a family (who still owns it) back in the 1800s. The family basically founded the town and were the first to start high-elevation construction in the area.

We spent the evening warming up in the lobby, relaxing at the spa, and indulging in the five course gourmet dinner served by our hotel.

Friday morning we were up early and ready for breakfast and for the mountain! Without thinking too much about it, we layered up like we usually do. But after our first run, we realized that we were WAY over-layered :) I ended up skiing in a t-shirt and my jacket the rest of the weekend - we had such nice weather!

This trip was our first time to try skiing instead of snowboarding. Brian said he hadn't skied in 34 years...I think it had been a really long time for him :) It had been about 5 years for me, so we were both pretty wobbly in the beginning. We also didn't realize that all of the lifts weren't open, so we skied to the wrong base on our first trip down the mountain. Whoops! As we were standing there, taking off our skis for the long walk back to a lift that was working, two guys stopped and asked if we wanted a ride. I was really surprised by the gesture because we haven't met many Europeans who would have made that offer. After we loaded our stuff in their Mercedes SUV, we quickly figured out they weren't European, they were Israeli! I was thinking, "Oooh, that makes more sense." When they told us they were from Israel, they asked if we had heard of it. Here's what happened next:

Brian: "Oh, the little country by Gaza."
Israeli 1: "What did you say?"
Brian: "Uh, the little country?"
Israeli 1 to Israeli 2, chuckling: "He said Gaza."

I thought it was hilarious that Brian brought up the big controversy about their country within 2 minutes of talking with them. But of course he was so smooth and friendly, it didn't matter. They were extremely nice and drove us all the way back to our lift, which we quickly figured out would have been a painfully long walk. We wished them luck in "making ski" as they put it :)

The rest of the day was much more successful! First, we got a map of the mountain and figured out where we could and could not ski. Maybe that should have been step one? :) And we both became much more comfortable on our skis as the day progressed.

When we finished skiing, we went straight to our hotel's spa and spent a couple of hours relaxing our muscles. And then it was time for another 5 course dinner!

The next morning, we enjoyed another breakfast, and this time we brought our coffee back to our balcony.

Day two of skiing was sunny but a little icy in the beginning. There were quite a few ski teams out on the mountain in the morning, and they would fly past us at speeds I've never seen anyone ski in person. After a couple of runs, we kept finding the same team, so we named them the Blue Devils. They were wearing all blue ski suits and they almost hurt us...which added the devil part. We would be taking a picture or enjoying a view, and then all of a sudden, SWOOSH SWOOSH. We'd say, "Take cover!" and hide behind a ski lift post. After we got over the fear of being run over, it was really cool to watch the ski teams at work.

We ended up finding a few runs that had some good powder and hung out there all day. Because it was a special opening weekend, the mountain was really empty, so it felt like we had it all to ourselves! I thought that Saturday might get worse because of the weekend, but we never had to wait in a line and we hardly saw anyone on the runs. It was so perfect! It was a great time for us to get our ski legs back.

Speaking of which, Brian did so well skiing. It was basically his first time since he couldn't remember the last time he skied, but he was flying down the mountain and doing surface tricks by the end of the trip. Witness, exhibit A:

Every time we got on a lift, he cracked me up because his legs barely fit.

To give our legs a break, we stopped and rested in a warming hut on the mountain. Because it was the weekend before the grand opening, the hut wasn't open for business. But, the owner was really nice and let us sit inside, and he even gave us a drink of honey pear schnapps to warm us up! Mmm! I wish we could have gone back the next weekend, because the band equipment and tent bar that they were setting up looked like a lot of fun!

View from the warming hut

After a few more runs, we called it a day. This evening we went on a walk around the town. There was a church in front of our hotel that was so pretty. It had a cemetery around it, and the headstones were these iron crosses that were so unique and beautiful.

View from the top of our parking garage

Sunday was our last day to ski - sad! It was another great day - good weather and not too many people. After we got started on the powder-y runs from the day before, we decided to go to the other side of the mountain to check out the snow and try some new runs. And boy were we glad we did! First, the gondola ride over was breathtaking!

View of our little town from the gondola

The very top of the mountain had been closed on our side of the mountain, but on the other side it was open! So we immediately took the lift straight to the top to check out the view. At the peak, there was the most awesome bar I've ever seen. All glass walls and an amazing view of the Alps!

Bar at the peak

The valley behind us is the one we drove through to get to our resort

There was also a walkway along the ridge that had more cool views.

Walkway back to the bar

After taking in the view, it was time to see what kind of powder this new part of the mountain had. And we were very excited to find great ski conditions on every run we tried! We had the best time exploring the mountain and enjoying the sunny weather.

Unfortunately, around 3, we decided it was time to get on the road. So we turned in our skis, showered, and took off. The drive out was beautiful, making it even harder to leave. Couldn't we just "have a flat tire" and "get stuck" for a few more days??

I want to get stuck in that little village

After this weekend, we were convinced that we will definitely be going back to Austria for more skiing!

Nov 21, 2010

Köln and Jimmy Eat World

For the first weekend in November, we drove to Köln to see the city and Jimmy Eat World in concert! Köln is famous for its gorgeous cathedral and its delicious little Kölsch beers, and Brian and I were excited to experience both :)

We arrived on Saturday afternoon and started our visit with a pizza at this really cute little Italian place near our hotel. Then we took a nice walk around the city. Köln is very different from any other German city we've seen, and at first I wasn't the biggest fan. However, after walking around for awhile, it started to grow on me!

I liked this street sign - made me think of Christmas!

Speaking of Christmas...we found some great shops, and I broke one of my cardinal rules. I shopped for Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. But all of the stores were so cute! We even stopped for some pre-Christmas market Gluhwein and roasted chestnuts- yum!

Sheepish...but loving it

We made our way to the cathedral, which definitely lived up to its reputation! It was huge and so gorgeous! It was very majestic at night - the lighting was really cool.

As I mentioned before, the Kölsch beer is very popular, and it really is delicious. It's a little more smooth than normal German beer...but not too smooth. It's just right. There are tons of little bars throughout Köln that serve different kinds of Kölsch, so Brian and I decided to try out a couple of them. We also found a jazz bar that was pretty nice - the music wasn't the best, but Brian was so sweet to endure it to satisfy my desire for live jazz music :) It was a great night!

Cool little Kölsch-y bar

The next morning we enjoyed a way-too-delish breakfast at this pastry shop. I just had to sit down and let Brian pick out what we were going to eat because I was overwhelmed with all of the choices! Berliner donuts, apple pastry, and croissants were the pastries of choice for our breakfast feast!

We walked back to the cathedral after breakfast to see it in the daytime and to walk up into one of the bell towers. In the sunlight, the cathedral was quite ominous with its dark colors.

Inside, the windows were spectacular, and I couldn't believe how tall the ceiling was!

Time to walk up into the bell tower! Now, we've walked to the top of cathedrals before, but Brian and I agreed that this one felt like there were WAY more stairs than any other we've seen. We were glad we made the hike when we saw the bells - they were huge!

When we made it all the way to the top, it was kind of sad to see the entire look out area covered in writing, most of which was in white out. I can't imagine sight-seeing in a city and then whipping out the white out I carried around to write my name on a famous church. I don't understand why people do that...or why people carry around white out...oh well. The view was still nice!

After all of that climbing, it was amazing to me that the steeples still continued upward!

On the back side of the cathedral, we found this huge open space that everyone was walking around. There were even officers guarding it. We figured out that there's an entire underground opera house behind the Köln Cathedral, and walking on top of it could disturb the concert going on! The civil engineer side of Brian was quite excited about this little find!

The red brick is the roof of the opera house

As we continued our walk, we found this fun row of Kölsch bars

So we decided to stop in a couple!
Aren't the little Kölsch beers cute?

After a delicious dinner, we made our way to the concert - yay! I was very excited to find that the venue was pretty small, which means every seat is a good one! When we walked in, we first stopped by the coat check. This sign was posted at the entrance, which we found hilarious. Only in Germany would they have to post a sign to ORDER you not to form a line.

We ended up finding a great spot up in the balcony. Standing on the floor can be fun, but I usually have a hard time seeing. And, with a band like Jimmy Eat World, we knew things were going to get a little crazy on the floor. So all of that to say - woohoo for balcony spot! The opening band was Minus the Bear, and I really enjoyed their music and their energy.

Then it was time for Jimmy Eat World! They really put on an awesome concert, playing a good mix of new and old songs, which made me VERY happy :) I like their new album, but their old stuff is definitely my favorite.

If you're wondering..."Jimmy Eat World? What do they play?" Here are a couple of their songs to enjoy. We took a few videos, but because it was so loud, the sound quality of our camera doesn't do the concert justice :) So you'll enjoy these links more! Plus, I'm not singing in the background of these!

The Middle - a popular one from several years ago that you might recognize
Futures - Bri's favorite, which they played!
Let it Happen - My favorite, which they also played

After the concert, we took a taxi back to our hotel for the night. But it wasn't just any was THE fastest taxi ever. We live in Germany, the land of fast drivers, so we've seen it all, but this guy knew how to drive fast in the city! At one point, I put my hands in the air, pretending to be riding a roller coaster. I whispered under my breath, "Texas Giant!!!" like I used to when I was little. Anyway, it was a fun way to conclude the evening, and we got back to our hotel in what I'm sure was record time!

The next morning we woke up super early and hit the road - we had to be at work that morning! Brian was the best - he drove the whole way and let me sleep. And we got stuck in some pretty bad traffic, which definitely wasn't fun for poor Bri. But he had the best attitude about the whole thing! Thanks, B! Conclusion: it was a rockin, Kölsch-y weekend!