Feb 19, 2011

Bonn, Germany

Last Saturday, Brian and I went to Bonn for the day with our friend, John. It was a typical cloudy, rainy day - a great day for a road trip!

On the way to Bonn, we stopped at Drachenfels and went on a little hike. We started the hike at Schloss Drachenburg and made our way up the hill to an older castle. German legend says that Siegfried slayed a dragon on that hill, which is why it's called Dragon Rock. Because it was really hazy, it made the view from the hill really cool, and the fog made the area seem like the perfect home for a dragon.

Schloss Drachenburg

Dragon-tastic :)

When we made it to the top, we couldn't see a ton, but it was cool to watch the haze roll over the hills.

We hiked around the castle on top of the hill. The ruins were pretty cool!

After our hike, we visited the Drachenfels memorial hall and reptile zoo. The hall was kind of pathetic, but the zoo was interesting.

We walked through a cave and came upon this dragon. Luckily my dragon slayer protected me!

Then we came to the zoo. It smelled pretty bad and was really warm and humid. And I don't think I've ever been around that many snakes! There were all kinds - even anacondas that were about a foot in diameter and could easily swallow a person. ICK! There were also crocodiles, alligators, and turtles. One "cage" (glass case) that was holding a pretty big python was actually open, and the snake was starting to come out!! I bolted to get the zoo attendant while Brian and John tried to get the snake back in its cage. Definitely not something you see everyday!

After the snakes, there was a menagerie of birds outside. We could hear the birds chirping away, and we thought we heard a woman out there. Turns out it was a bird making the sound! They were cracking us up - check out the videos!

Enough with the animals - next up - a visit to the Haribo Factory Store! I am a huge fan of Haribo gummy products, so I was setting myself up for some trouble by going to an entire store dedicated to the candy.

"Haribo makes children [and Kim] happy"

I couldn't believe the amount of gummy bears people were purchasing! They had entire shopping carts full of gummies. I watched as people loaded the trunks of their cars full of candy. Crazy!

Shopping for candy will make you hungry, so we drove to downtown Bonn to grab some lunch. We found a fun pub that was showing a couple of soccer games, so we ate a hearty German lunch there.

To walk off our lunch, we strolled through downtown for awhile. I found a great leather shop and actually ended up buying a really beautiful leather coat that fits perfectly! I had been shopping for a leather jacket for awhile and was excited to finally find one that I love.

We also explored this church, which was actually one of my favorite churches we've visited in Germany. It had some pretty colors on the walls and ceiling, and the stained glass windows were gorgeous.

We also found the house where Beethoven was born. And we found these cool benches!

You're sitting - it's a normal bench

Oh...what's this??

Ah! A nice, built-in table where one could enjoy a snack or perhaps a game of checkers

After we saw the bench, we figured we had seen all of Bonn :) So we headed back to Frankfurt for a nice evening at home! It was a really fun little Saturday.

Feb 13, 2011

Cinque Terre, Italy

As a continuation of Brian's birthday, we took Friday off and jumped on a plane to Pisa, Italy! We didn't hang around the city long, though. Not even long enough to get a picture of the tower that leans (sorry, Janet!). We rented a car and headed north to Cinque Terre. We had found a B&B in Vernazza and planned to relax and hike all weekend!

A couple of thoughts. First, we were really surprised by the terrain and beauty all around Pisa - we got a great view from the plane and we really enjoyed the scenery on our drive. Next, we were starving once we were on the road, so we stopped at a road-side quick shop. We ate two of the most amazing panini sandwiches we've ever had! Although our mouths were pretty scratched up by the bread. We decided that Italians must have callouses in their mouths :) But the sandwiches were worth the pain - yummy cheese and meat.

We loved the drive to Cinque Terre - only about 1.5 hours and non-stop, beautiful views. We had a standard Ford Fiesta, and Bri handled it like a champ. Some of those roads to Vernazza were steep, narrow, and just plain crazy, but Brian made them look easy. I played DJ, and we had a great time road-tripping in Italy.

When we arrived in Vernazza, I hadn't done my research on the parking situation (whoops). The B&B owner had made it sound like it would be pretty obvious what we were supposed to do. Apparently, we missed all the signs and drove too far. We were enjoying the view of the outskirts of the city when all of a sudden we were stopped by a crazy old Italian lady who was not happy with us. She was trying to talk on the phone and talk to us in very broken English - it was not working. But we figured out that we weren't supposed to drive there - it was for residents only, so Brian somehow turned around on that narrow road and we headed to higher ground for "non-residential" parking.

On the way to find parking on a road that was barely wide enough for a Ford Fiesta, we encountered another car driving toward us. He "attempted" to back up (went about 3 feet backwards) and then just decided for the both of us that it would be easier to pass each other. Let's just say that all mirrors were folded in, our windows were rolled down and we were so close that we could have kissed the driver as we passed him, our tires kept bumping into each other as we turned the steering wheel, and there was an onlooker Italian shouting out "EHH!!" when we got close to hitting something, but he really wasn't being helpful at all. Literally we MIGHT have had an inch of clearance on either side of our car. But we made it! Nice work, B!

We enjoyed a nice, warm walk down to the town and met the owner of our B&B near the train station. He is a stone mason and his wife is an American from San Francisco, and they own a great B&B tucked away in the hills of Vernazza. We loved talking with him and hearing about his life in that gorgeous tiny town.

B and I settled into our adorable room and set off to explore the town. Brian's description of Vernazza was really perfect: "The whole city is like one big tree fort."

Our room, hand-built by the owner

View from our balcony

Path leading to our place with a lemon orchard on the side

One of the first things we found was a gelato shop. I can't ignore an ice cream shop - it's in my genes. B and I shared the gelato named after the town, which was the best decision ever. Lemon sorbet-type gelato with strawberries - YUM!

Bri - enjoying the view and the gelato

We also found a little wine shop, where we purchased a local red, and then we headed to the coast to enjoy the sunset! The town seemed to be dedicated to the sunset, like it was a ritual or something. We found a great spot on some rocks and made ourselves at home!

Our view

The sunset was awesome

We love Vernazza already!

After the sunset, we made our way back to our room to read and partake in our wine! It was so quiet and peaceful. Then we went to dinner at one of three restaurants in the town - this one was highly recommended by our B&B owner. And for good reason! The food was great and the ambiance was exactly what we were hoping for.

Streets of Vernazza

The next morning, we woke up early and went to the local market to get some bread, cheese, butter, and OJ for breakfast, and we found a great bench in the sun for our feast!

After breakfast, we began wandering through the town. We were looking for a trail leading to Monterosso, but it was quite hidden! We saw the church and lots of fun alleys, and the search brought us to some great views.

We finally found the trail! It was an awesome trail - a lot more intense and involved than I had expected. Luckily we had both dressed in layers! We started in jackets but ended up in t-shirts. Yay - it was so fun to be in short sleeves!! Every corner we turned brought a beautiful view, but it also brought a lot of elevation gain! At some points, the trail was no more than a foot wide. We had a great time hiking it!

And then we rounded a corner and saw Monterosso! Although it was still quite far away :) But that meant we still had some good hiking to enjoy.

We were starving and thirsty by the time we made it to Monterosso, so we explored the town, looking for a promising pizzeria where we could eat lunch and hydrate. We spent the rest of the afternoon eating, drinking, reading in the sun, and seeing Monterosso.

Oh, and we found more gelato - pistachio this time :)

We also found this creepy carving of a man on this building. He's holding up the roof of the porch and facing the ocean. Can you see him?

Skipping rocks and watching hang-gliders land (or crash) on the beach

We rode the train back to Vernazza because our legs were tired and we wanted to make it in plenty of time for the sunset! We tried a different local wine and repeated our sunset "ritual".

Saturday night we ate at a different restaurant. We like trying new things, but after eating the food, I wished we had eaten at the other place again. Following a local's advise would have been wise in this situation. Anyway, the food wasn't the best, but oh well - the wine was good :) Also, an American mother and daughter were seated next to us, and we had a great time talking with them about their travels!

On Sunday morning, we packed our bags and ate a local raisin-bread-type-dessert for breakfast - it was SO dense and delish. Then we hit the road to catch our flight in Pisa. Sunday was the only overcast day we had, but it made for some really cool views on the water on our way back to the airport.

La Spezia, a city just outside of Cinque Terre, had sunny weather on Sunday, so we stopped for a cappuccino and a walk along the marina before making our way to Pisa. This vacation was so relaxing and beautiful and natural - we loved it and hope to make it back!

Brian's 28th Birthday

This year, we started to celebrate Brian's 28th birthday a little early. The weekend before the big day, we decided to go to an old German casino with a few of our friends. We all dressed up and met at our normal cab-catching spot, but when we arrived, we found a limo instead! Our friend, John, surprised us with a ride around Frankfurt in a fully stocked limo! We had a great time sipping on champagne and seeing the city.

Katherine, Kim, and John

After cruising, we headed to the casino where we enjoyed an excellent steak dinner. The steak was well-seasoned and cooked perfectly (a rare occurrence in Germany), so it definitely hit the spot! Then it was time for a good luck whiskey toast, and we were off to the roulette tables!

Brian and I decided on a set amount that we were willing to lose for the fun of gambling, but we did really well! Well, we did for awhile :) We had more than doubled our money! But then we kept playing. I guess that's how it goes when you gamble! We came out even, which I guess isn't the worst thing that could have happened. I hadn't played roulette before, so we had a great time trying out our luck.

So close to winning big!

After the gambling fun was over, we found a band and a dance floor in one of the clubs at the casino, which of course meant it was time for glowing beverages!

The band was quite entertaining, but not in the way that I think they wanted to be entertaining. One of the guys was wearing shimmery gold pants that were way too tight, if that gives you a clue. But it was live music, so we made the most of it! Brian got us started by taking a dare to dance with a fake statue that was sitting near the dance floor. It was so funny! I'm so mad I don't have a video of that dance.

And then we found the BEST worst dancer I've ever seen in person. She was amazing - arms flailing in every direction while she grooved around the entire dance floor. I'm not exaggerating. We watched her go for at least 30 minutes - it was hilarious! At one point, John got up and danced with her in "crazy dance lady fashion," which was hysterical. I tried to get a video, but it didn't come out the best - I was so bummed! But this video will give you an idea of what she looked like :)

Anyway, Friday night was a blast! On Saturday, Brian and I relaxed at home. I had fun goofing around in the kitchen and made some cheese fondue and a pork tenderloin for us. We purchased our fondue set when we were in Zermatt last year, but for some reason, we hadn't used it yet! Testing it out was way overdue.

Delectable, cheesy goodness

On Sunday, I took Brian to see Tron in 3D in downtown Frankfurt. The movie was okay - I didn't know much about the video game or any other Tron history beforehand, but the 3D part was really cool! It was a nice ending to the weekend.

B's birthday fell on Wednesday of the next week, so we made reservations for 5 at the restaurant we ate at last year. When we arrived, the staff informed us that a huge, loud, singing (according to the waiter - I was actually interested in that part) group would also be joining us downstairs in the brick cellar, where we wanted to sit. We decided to cancel our reservation there and go next door to Vinum, a restaurant we have been wanting to try for a long time. It was perfect! It was a really cool brick cellar that served delicious food and drinks. We had a great time!

After dinner, we came back to our apartment for Derby Pie and ice cream. We all sang happy birthday and enjoyed B's favorite dessert - the Kentucky Special. Happy Birthday, Brian! We're so thankful you were born 28 years ago!