Travel Journals

A Travel Journal: Canada to Berlin

The name of my boyfriend at the time has been changed to a non-identifiable moniker.

Original blog post date: 11.09.09

Toronto to Berlin, Germany: October 5 - 8, 2009

As most of you may know [Significant Other] and I started our adventure by heading to Toronto to visit his brother, we had a great time and wished we could have been there longer but made use of the time we had.

October 5th - Monday
After we landed in Toronto we went to find some food and ended up at the La Petite Dejoune (spelling may be incorrect) where I had the best Belgian waffle ever, following that we heading to the art museum, which was closed because it was Monday, so we walked around Chinatown and Kensington (the hippie district) which was a lot of walking. For dinner I made "steamed" broccoli, pasta sauce and gnocchi, [Significant Other] made baked squash, we had an enjoyable evening with [Significant Other's Brother] as he had to work the next day.

October 6th - Tuesday
[Significant Other] and I had the day to ourselves so we started off by going to St Lawrence Market, which I can only describe as amazing, if I lived in Toronto I would want to live near it so I could shop there everyday. They have stalls/shops with fresh fish, meats, cheeses, produce, baked goods, little restaurants/cafes...wonderful! My luggage (biggest suitcase) decided to break that morning (zippers both broke and ripped near the metal) so I had to buy a new case - went to Bently at Eaton Center. After dropping that off at [Significant Other's Brother] apartment we walked to CN Tower but decided not to go up b/c I wanted to wait till we could do the stuff with [Significant Other's Brother] so we walked to Little Italy b/c I wanted a pastry and [Significant Other] figured that would be the best place. Let me just say it was a lot of walking that day and we bussed it back from there to [Significant Other's Brothers]. That night [Significant Other's Brother] took us to Copa Cabana, a Brazilian restaurant that is just amazing, waiters circulate with huge skewers of meat, at least 12 different kids, from chicken, to pork to beef... there was almost nothing they didn't have. [Significant Other] was really thrilled with the beef stuffed and oozing cheese, lol. My favourite things were deep fried bananas, and roasted pineapple ... and the corn bread muffins that rival my own, they were unbelievable. That pretty much concluded the day for us.

October 7th - Wednesday
I made us breakfast and [Significant Other]and I went walking while [Significant Other's Brother] had an appointment, we met up afterwards and went to Bonjour Brioche for lunch - another great meal! I had a Fig, Caramelized Onion and Gorgonzola Tart with a tasty green salad and chunk of baguette. It was great, though maybe a little to much Gorgonzola for a person who isn’t a huge blue cheese fan (me). We headed back to [Significant Other's Brothers] (after [Significant Other] and I went to exchange some CND for some € at €1.00 to about 1.66 CND - not very good - that’s about 626 € for 1000 CND) - we headed to the airport and the day proceeded - we flew out a little late b/c of some winds which caused a line up for flights b/c they all had to fly out the same direction....a little over 7 1/2 hours later we landed in Zurich to wait over 4 hours to the plane to Amsterdam.

- I know you all want me to get to the good stuff (i.e. EUROPE stuff) but my computer time is almost up, [Significant Other] is bored and drinking beers and we have to be up at 6:30 am to drive to Munich - about a 6 hours drive. It's about 9pm and I want to go find some strudel!

October 8th - Thursday
The flight to Zurich was extremely turbulent, it felt like i was on a train for half the trip (and it was a bit scary!) I didn't sleep at all on the flight despite the fact that it was late...[a friend] was right, I was probably too excited. Flying into Zurich was amazingly beautiful...breathtaking...on my list of countries to visit if I ever travel to Europe again. So green and lush and spotted with little communities, I tried to spot the Alps but I don't know how close we were.

We arrived in Zurich at about 8:30 am EST (1:30 am CST) and grabbed a bit to eat. I had a lox (salmon) sandwich with capers and red onion on Challah bread after searching all over for something with eggs. Even Burger King didn't have eggs for breakfast! (I know I was warned but it was hard for me to believe until I got here!) [Significant Other] had beer!

The wait for on our layover was tough b/c we were tired but didn't want to sleep for fear of missing our flight but on the 2 hour flight to Amsterdam I slept almost the entire way, much needed seeing as how we (I) still had to drive to locate our rental car company. I picked a location not at the airport for financial reasons and turns out it was a good idea b/c the traffic in Amsterdam is CRAZY! Bikes and buses and cars all jammed into the streets and it didn't seem like there was too much rhyme or reason to it all. It took us awhile to get from teh airport to the train station and being exhausted and edgy didn't help. Once we got out of the city it was smooth sailing...until we hit Hannover.

The Autobauhn is crazy, fun and surprisingly easy to be on with speeds ranging from 80km to 150km, I was passed once when I hit 160km. [Significant Other] slept a bit on the way which was good b/c my driving makes him nervous sometimes (I don't blame him). I know if he was driving I would have been scared too but luckily you have to be 25 to rent a car more year to go! I may have been scared too if I knew my driver was going on an hour and a half of sleep in 30 hours and after 13-14 hours of traveling already. Luckily German roads are very well maintained and built (meanwhile the road systems and signage are wack...yes, I said wack, lol) The car I am driving, an Opel Corsa, handles really well but picks up speed slow, only goes to 200km, doesn't have exhaust (don't understand this) and seems to be choking us with gas fumes inside the car about 1/3'd of the time...we can even smell the windshield washer fluid very strongly when I wash the windows...I think 'Opel' means 'Ford' in German:P

We traveled about 400km that night and ate up about 3/4 tank of gas....I haven't worked out the mileage yet but I think it's crap and at €1.30 liter (2.19 CND/liter or 7.20 USD/gal) a liter that wasn't good news.

We got lost for about two hours in Hannover trying to find our hotel in the dark ... the city was impossible (as you will hear is a running theme in our experiences) and reading my journal entry from that night I clearly did not understand that I was going to be in for more fun like that!

It was a stressful day altogether with minimal yelling and cussing by both, lol. Oh the fun that's been, but luckily [Significant Other] is the bestest boyfriend ever and is very forgiving.

Originally posted, with photos

A Travel Journal Part II: Berlin, Germany

Original blog post date: 11.09.09

Berlin to Munich, Germany: October 5 - 8, 2009

October 9th - Friday
So the first night, as I mentioned, we stayed in Hannover and after locating our hotel as late as we did we ordered pizza, which was not good. Too little sauce was the top complaint. Our hotel, however, was great (Ghotel was the name of it) - room was spacious enough, shower was good. The interesting thing about the beds is that instead of a double bed they squeeze two single beds together instead (so far in every hotel we've stayed at) which is fine until they start to spread apart in the middle of the night or just while you are relaxing and you fall into the floor, lol. It's only happened once b/c now we are sure to be careful.

On the way to Berlin we stopped at a town called Magdeburg to try to find a floating bridge I read about, exchange some cash and get lunch. It was difficult to find a bank, we stopped at a shopping center and tried to get directions from the information center but even with out "instructions" we managed to get a little lost so we parked the car in a little neighbourhood and wandered the area to find a bank, of course the two places we stopped thinking that they were banks were not, I think they only dealt in loans but eventually we found the bank, stopped at a little bakery and picked up some bread, cheeses and meats and got back into the car to Berlin...this adventure took a couple of hours.

On the Autobahn [Significant Other] accidentally lost my highlighted map out the window, we had a good laugh and my only real concern was that one of our routes (the Romantic Road - an old trade route with several castles and cool little villages along it) was highlighted and it is a complex one, still don't know how we are going to manage that one.

Anyway, we had bought a Shell map book of Germany in Hannover ... I do not recommend their map books, they are terribly insufficient for cities as half of the streets in the cities are not even listed, streets do not exist on it and streets that should run parallel are shown as running across. It is however good for Autobahn driving and small village/town driving...but bad for a relationship

We took a wrong turn going into Berlin, which was worse than the wrong turn in Hannover and to add to it the hotel (Hotel Hoppengarten) I booked, while listed as being in Berlin on the website was not in Berlin but about 18 km from the edge of it AND the street name also existed in Berlin so we thought that was our street ...was not good. We arrived in Berlin about 3pm and did not find our hotel until 8pm, tension was high and I was not happy about it so we stayed the night and while the hotel was very nice I cancelled our reservations for the following three nights and booked us into a much closer hotel in Berlin (Winter Hotel Messe Berlin). It was easy to find, the water pressure was great in the showers (a trait we are finding in all the hotels here - making [Significant Other] very happy), the room was large and the staff friendly (another great trait in all of the hotels so far!).

No matter the stress of that first day I reminded myself how lucky I am to be here, how beautiful the countryside had been and how great most of Germany smells - fresh and green, except when it smells like a dairy milk barn...I know there are many of you who will not be familiar with this smell but for those of you who are...that's the way it smelled half the time. We saw a lot of cows and pastures the firs two days as well as lots of wind power windmills, which adds to the theme I am noticing here which is one of conservation and efficiency. I think it is great.

October 10th - Saturday
We started the day by getting coffee as we headed into Berlin from Hotel Hoppengarten, the coffee here tends to be on the strong side. First stop in Berlin was Checkpoint Charlie, the old entrance into Berlin from when the Berlin Wall was still up. It was very interesting, where the wall had been they now had plywood walls with information on how it started, information on people who got killed trying to go across the wall, conditions of the people and much more. I was never interested in history in high school and now regret it b/c there is so much more I should have known to better understand all the sites we have been seeing but I am fortunate that this experience has inspired both [Significant Other] and I to learn more about the history of Germany when we get home.

When we left Checkpoint Charlie we headed to Postdamer Platz which was the area of the city in which Hitler’s bunker had been (the place where he, Eva and his most loyal followers committed suicide) - the bunker and everything is long gone but I had read that there was a plaque there - despite several attempts during our stay in Berlin we were unable to find it.

On the way back to the car we were drawn into an art gallery, we didn't stay long but while we were there we met an artist there who spoke English very well and had a nice chat with him about Berlin, the food in Munich and Berlin, Canada, the United States (he had lived in New York in the 70's for a period). He was very friendly and it was nice to meet and have our first conversation with a German.

Next we stopped at the Jewish History Museum, we started by viewing all the information on the Jews and WWII, there was first hand accounts, belongings that once belonged to Jews murdered and who had disappeared and Jewish survivors, art installations and more, we also went through most of the museum having to do with the history of the Jews from the middle ages. It was very enlightening to learn about the strife that the Jews have went through almost the entire history of the their existence, I had had no idea about this information, it described and explained how they had received all the stereotypes and gave information on just about everything. Very interesting, emotionally and mentally exhausting...I cannot describe how [Significant Other] and I felt at this point in the day.

At this point we still had not had a meal and it was about 2pm so we decided to first find our hotel and then immediately grab some food. Our "breakfast" that day consisted of a burger and fries from a burger/tex-mex café called Galaxy Cafe, at that point we were too hungry to find anything else but the burgers and fries were great, the bun just the right amount of crispy and the fries awesome, of course we were famished so we think maybe that is why it was so good. Incidentally that has also been a theme, we seem to be eating very little and are usually starving by the time we find a place to eat.

After breakfast we went to the Ramones Museum which was very cool, they have all sorts of memorabilia, the original lyrics to Blitzkrieg Bop, Johnny Ramones pants that he wore in the 90's all of 1995 (it could have been 1996 too), his guitar, the receipt for his first guitar and so much more, it was pretty comprehensive.

October 10, 2009 – Saturday(cont.) That afternoon we went to a German restaurant called Bavarium where I had a Munich-style sausage with a pretzel (the pretzel was very good, the sausage was disappointing). [Significant Other] went for the local specialty: Roast pig knuckle with sauerkraut and bread dumpling. It was delicious, the knuckle crispy and sauerkraut the perfect amount of tart and the dumpling, wonderfully meaty texture with a faintly salty crunch.

We had heard about a Tarantino's themed bar in Berlin so before we left I looked up the address and that night we stopped in for a few drink. The bar was pretty cool; a big mirror behind the bar reflected Pulp Fiction playing on the wall opposite. Autographed pictures, movie posters, memorabilia and pictures of Quinton Tarantino when he visited while filming Inglorious Bastards decorate the walls and music pumps from the D.J. Station while well dressed young men and women bump and grind on the small dance floor. On the way back to the hotel we stopped for a little fast good-street food. [Significant Other] had currywurt, which was delicious and I had some chicken nuggets that was served with a bit of a salsa style ketchup, the whole of which was also very good.

By this time it had gotten easier for us to navigate the city once we had gotten a map made more for tourists. We had plans to go to Poland the following day but the next morning would prove to put a wrench in our plans.

October 11 – Sunday
Woke up this morning planning on going to Poland to search out the countryside from where my ancestors were last traced before moving to the United States in the middle to late 1800`s.

Our new room at the Winter`s only carried one channel for English speaking guests and as anyone knows who watched it, if you catch about an hour of it a day you can pretty much get a version of the news for the next twenty four hours. So, with nothing to listen to while [Significant Other] took a shower I paged through my rental agreement and came across a page referring to restricted countries for the agreement. Poland happened to be on the list and as much of a “bad-ass” I like to be at times I realized that being in a foreign country would not be a good time to have my “agreement voided”, my insurance revoked and potentially my car “seized by border patrol” just because I wanted to do whatever I wanted.

So at about 7am with our plans scrapped and an empty itinerary we had the day in front of us. We stopped at a bakery called Bagels Croissants & Co. and picked up fresh croissants filled with a cream cheese mousse filling, dipped in almond slices and sprinkled in powdered sugar and fresh from the oven pretzels with small coffees. We went back downtown the area where Checkpoint Charlie is and took another stab at locating Hitler’s bunker site, after another failed attempt we went instead in search of the Topography of Terror, a museum that chronicles the violence of Germanys past with heavy emphasis on Hitler’s reign of terror. It was dismal and rainy all day and by the time we finished the museum, currently an outdoor exhibit while the new building is being constructed, we were cold and feeling ill from more emotionally draining information and imagery.

We followed Topography of Terror by a visit to the Natural History Museum which currently holds the world’s largest dinosaur skeleton. Needless to say the museum is pretty awesome with its vast collection of prehistoric reliefs and skeletons. The museum also has a very interesting exhibit on the evolution of man, an underwater exhibit, a room with the history of the big bang and a computer simulated example of the theory on how it happened and much more.

We stopped for soup at an Indian restaurant called Warsteiner. I had tomato soup with garlic naan and [Significant Other] had the chicken noodle. Both soups were excellent and warmed up us sufficiently so that we were able to continue our day.

We visited the Brandenburg Gate, Trier Park and the Parliament, an amazing structure. We followed this up by visiting the Kaiser-Wilhelm Memorial Church, a beautiful piece of architecture poorly located in a popular shopping district with a view of the logo of the Mercedes corporate building in the background.

Being in the area of the Erotic Museum already, we decided to check it out before we headed to find some dinner. They start your self guided tour in a large gallery with video installations, hands on stations and fact centers on every aspect from oral and self pleasure to positions and fetishes; it’s follow up by a second level full of erotic art from history from the Orient, Europe, etc., including fertility statues from all over the world and many different parts of history. A display on aphrodisiacs shows a shriveled whale penis and various other exotic placebos. Some drawing portraying some acts of bestiality where the most disturbing thing. The building the museum is in also houses a large supply of adult stores and video viewing booths. Worth a visit if you ever find yourself with free time in Berlin, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit it again.

By the time we left the museum it was 7pm and we hadn’t eaten anything but breakfast and soup so we went out in hunt of food.

We ended up on our second attempt at getting decent pizza in Germany and we ordered from a place called Pizza Bull whose slogan was “Fast Like Bulls”. We may have been starving but the pizza still yielded sub-par satisfaction and from that point we vowed no more pizza in Germany!

Originally posted, with photos

A Travel Journal Part III: Munich, Germany

Original blog post date: 11.09.09

Berlin to Munich, Germany: October 5 - 8, 2009

October 14th - Wednesday

We were up early to grabbed breakfast and meet up with our group for the Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Tour. [Significant Other] started his day with a couple of pork ribs to go, very tasty if I must say so myself, and a pretzel. I tried to enjoy my turkey schnitzel sandwich, which before 9am was not easy for me to do though it was tasty. What I wouldn’t have done by this point for an egg for breakfast, an accompaniment not easily found in most parts of Germany, I was finding.

The tour, which lasted about 4-4.5 hours, covered what is left of the Concentration Camp abandoned munitions factory in Dachau north of Munich which was used to house political prisoners prior to WWII (1933) and during WWII housed Jewish prisoners, political prisoners and other who were imprisoned for being different than others, for example gypsies, homosexuals, people with mental and physical disabilities. The barracks next to the camp which formerly housed SS troops, are now occupied by the Bavarian Bereitschaftspolizei, the Bavarian riot police.

Dachau was used as the prototype for all other WWII Camps. Deeply interesting and heartbreaking to see; not to mention freezing, the tour took place outdoors while the museum, the old “maintenance” building, full of historical data, pictures, belongings and documents from prisoners outlined both the war, it’s root causes and the process prisoners endured when being checked into the camp. This building, also containing the showers used by the entire camp and was the first building they entered where they would be stripped down, shaved from head to toe, classified and sterilized, all while enduring verbal and physical harassment of the personal. Our guide also explained some of the installations from contemporary artists commemorating the memory of the lives lost at Dacha

We went into the barracks, there are two left, the others being torn down by the government due to the cost of upkeep on 34 buildings. Beds of gravel surrounded by old foundations is what’s left of the 32 barracks torn down and the two remaining barracks have been recreated to show both styles of sleeping arrangements used during WWII. The first was a bit more spacious if you could call a space of that size designed to house 180 prisoners, spacious. There were two dorm rooms in each barrack and each had 15 three-tiered bunks for a total of 45 beds and were meant to sleep 90. There was also a room with two large wash basins, approx. 10 flush toilets and a large room with tables and lockers. The second barrack displayed the changes made in 1937 when the barracks were redesigned to fit, very tightly, 5,000 prisoners; in 1938 over 10,000 Jews were brought to the camp and by 1942 there were over 12,000 prisoners living in a space made for 5,000.

The cold weather that day was uncomfortable but despite how cold it was their was little to no complaining as people regarded on the cold conditions the prisoners must have had to cope with while poorly clothed and starving. Prisoners would sleep back to back and in a building with no heat in the winter this is what likely saved many of the starving prisoners from freezing to death; however being an unhealthy and malnourished as the prisoners were, one death in the middle of the night could induce several additional deaths from freezing, once the bed mates body temp cooled through the night.

On the tour we also were shown the death strip, an area near the guard towers where, if you stepped onto the green, you were immediately shot. Many prisoners chose this route rather than die starving, freezing and abused by SS soldiers.

The tour also included the crematorium. The original crematorium that was replaced by a larger building, built to deal with the added deaths, still stands near the newer, larger and more modern facility. The new facility also has added rooms and additional features like a “shower”, the painted words above the door read simply “shower” in German. The shower, not being the type used for bathing, was positioned near the room filled with several ovens used for cremation. Those who would suggest that this building was used for disposing of those already dead would be wise to consider the fact that dead people don’t need a shower. The room adjacent to the oven room was used to hold bodies waiting for the ovens.

The crematorium was the endpoint to the tour before we took a walk through the area now designated to honour fallen prisoners and also the location where they emptied the ashes from the stoves.

The tour, physically cold and emotionally draining ended earlier than expected which gave us time to grab a bite, and apple for me and some sort of pastry filled with a dry white cheese that I did not like; beer(s) for [Significant Other] and a stop to check our e-mails and Facebook accounts. I made sure for most of the trip to update my status so my parents knew I was still okay.

Later [Significant Other] found out was bad idea drinking all that beer before our tour because our next tour, about a 3 hour walking tour, afforded no planned bathroom breaks and the average beer in Germany is about twice the size of an average North American beer.

The next tour that day was titled Hitler and the Third Reich and was about the best history lesson I can remember and better than any class I can recall. The tour started with a brief history on Hitler before he became involved in politics, back when he was an artist and the Jewish population were the only ones buying his art.

The tour then moved on to the building, previously a beerhall and now an Apple computer store. This former beerhall is where meetings of the German Workers Party, a group with similar anti-Semitic beliefs, took place and where Hitler got his first taste of leadership while doing undercover for the German Military in local beerhalls. Adolf Hitler became the 55th member of the party in 1919 and within 5 weeks, due to his charismatic methods of speech giving, the membership increased to 2000. The name was changed in 1920 to National Socialist German Workers' Party and was more commonly known as the Nazi Party. Adolf Hitler, the last leased of the party, became Chancellor of Germany in 1933 and established the totalitarian regime known as the Third Reich. The Third Reich used a set of ideas and propaganda feed through mass media controlled by regime to create hero worship, economic control, regulated freedom of speech and restricted criticism, used mass surveillance and bully/scare tactics know as state terrorism.

Having grown to such a large number they relocated their meetings to a beer hall nearby, HB (Hof Braühaus), famous for other reasons in Germany, capable of holding large groups, the pub area alone can seat 400. This was our next stop on the tour.

The second level of this massive drinking establishment houses a very large, very impressive room with a two tier stage, ample seating and a decorative ceiling. This room on the second level was where the Nazi Party used to exclusively meet. As I sat in the room I was overwhelmed with the history that the room held and thought “if these wall could talk” … and wished they could.

I have always been interested in WWII, mostly because I cannot wrap my head around the mentality involved in the kind of hatred and intolerance that was not only forced upon people but believed by thousands. How so much has changed and yet so much has not changed. How people still believe that they are superior, causing them to act out in violence. How people still have lists, whether consciously or unconsciously, of qualifications they perceive as having greater moral weight and value or genetic superiority to such as sexual preference, race, religion, the list goes on.

The foot tour took us past the Four Seasons, a building significant because it was once owned by a wealthy man who backed Hitler’s regime with his own money and then exiled to another country when he no longer wanted to back the army, only to be tracked down and imprisoned at Dachau for being a traitor. Another nugget of knowledge shared at this stop was that the company who made the SS uniforms still exists today, we know them as Hugo Boss.

Another stop found us at a building that previously housed the royal family and is now the Bavarian State Chancellery, a government building reconstructed after the bombings of WWII that destroyed over 75% of the city. This property was also the location of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, dedicated to the “fallen heroes” of WWI and “those fallen” in WWII. Also existing here is one of at least two memorials dedicated to The White Rose club, an small underground organization that used to produce and distribute anti-Nazi pamphlets and who, once caught by the Nazi, where put on trial, found guilty and executed by guillotine in 1943. A movie about the only female in the group, Sophie Scholl, called Sophie Scholl – The Final Days, was released in 2005 by German filmmakers.

Our tour guide happened to be a German Sculptress so we gathered near The White Rose Memorial, situated between near the Bavarian State Chancellery and The House of Art (formerly the House of German Art), and learned about Hitler’s attempt at cleansing the art world. The House of German Art was the museum Hitler set up to show the public what acceptable German art was to be. He had an intolerance for what he called “degenerate art” which included artists such as Picasso, Dali, Van Gough and several other very famous and well known artists. His intolerance was born from his inability to “understand” the art, his preference leaning towards realistic scenery and nudes.

The art that Hitler disproved of was auctioned off at an auction advertised around the world and despite these funds being used to assist the German war efforts, at the time it was also the event that saved millions of precious pieces of art from being saved from the fires, a fate for art that had not been purchased, and also a fate for books also not approved of. Our tour leader read us a few quotes found in a list citing specific passages that were the cause of specific books being burned. One quote that stood out and I hope to never forget was a 1821 play by Heinrich Heine called “Almansor”. Heine’s play was ultimately about the burning of the Muslim Quran by the Christian Inquisition in Spain but the irony was the burning of the book in 1933 at Berlin’s “Babelplatz” (Babylon Plaza) during the Nazi book burning. The quote? “Where they burn books, they will ultimately also burn people”

The final stops along out tour took us to the location where the Nazi party attempted to overthrow the Bavarian Government and Hitler escaped death, by abandoning his comrade who was shot while linking arms with him, ran off to stay in the mountains, was caught and imprisoned in 1924 where he served only 9 months during which time he began his literary work, Mein Kampf, a book banned in Germany today except for educational reasons.

We finished the tour at Nazi headquarters, now a music school. It is only standing because so much of Munich had been destroyed and the American troops needed it for offices once they got into Munich. Most of the monuments and special facilities built by Hitler and the Nazi’s have been destroyed by the government, not to cover up the history but to prevent them from being places where people might make pilgrimages to for all the wrong reasons. Germany makes up for its “shameful” past, my tour guide says, “they are not proud of”, and wants to prevent such a thing from happening again by educating people on it’s history.

Our closing story for the tour was that of Hitler suicide by ingesting cyanide pills, along with several loyal followers and Eva, his much younger, long-time companion, which took place on April 30th, 1945 at what is now Postdamer Platz in Berlin, ending 11 years of terror.

I stood on the steps inside the building, across from what was once the door to Hiters office, where countless double-crossed deals had gone down, where volumes of evil had been plotted and outside where he stood before he stepped out onto his balcony to deliver speeches that bred hatred, intolerance and executed thousands.

I can’t explain how I felt by the end of the day but I was happy that I had signed up for tour with Radius Tours. [Significant Other] and I headed back to the room to have hot showers and warm up before dinner.

Dinner that night was at a restaurant whose name I cannot recall but the dinner was unforgettable if only because it really brought to light how un-universal food can be. An item called by a familiar name does not necessarily mean it’s what you expect. I ordered meatloaf; a traditional comfort meal I thought would warm me up and make me feel a little more at home. What I got was a washed-out salmon-coloured slice of a ham-textured substance, probably closer to what I remember Spam to being, with a fried egg on top and a huge side of German potato salad. The potato salad was not what I grew up knowing as German potato salad but rather was a runny combination of sauce, potatoes and a lot of onions. I was pretty happy to see that egg though! [Significant Other] ordered safe with what he knew best, currywurst. You can’t go to wrong ordering currywurst in Germany, never fails to satisfy; pile on a heap of fries and it’s an okay meal by anyone’s standards.

Surprised and disappointed by the lack of butter at the table in a country full of cows I asked the front desk attendant, when we returned to our rooms, if I could please buy some butter from the hotel restaurant. He brought me a big bowl of pats of butter, jams and Nutella (very popular here). I was a happy camper for the night and we headed to bed to decide how we would spend the next two days in Munich.

October 15th - Thursday
Thursday we decided to have a low key day and we spent the day walking around, doing some window shopping, and walking, and walking. We ate here and there picking up the odd pastry and coffee to stay warm and just took in the city. We discussed the continued lack of homeless people, the obsession with fizzy water (why was it so hard to find water that was still), what restaurant we were going to try that night and the plans for the next day. For dinner we went to a little restaurant called Gap, a hole-in-the-wall restaurant no doubt catering to local people. Simple dishes were offered here, light on the protein, with a small variety of soups and pasta dishes and some appetizers including nachos. I don’t want to comment on the Nachos but it’s another case of mistaken identity.

October 16th – Friday
Today we were heading to Nurnberg by way of Ingersoldt because I had read of an outlet center there. The adventure just getting to the city was immeasurable as far as exploring goes. I had set out a route to get to Ingersolt but knew full well, from experience, that it might not stick. We took smaller roads, opting for seeing the countryside other than cars whipping past us at unheard of speeds on the autobahn; when I saw a tiny little sign attached to a road sign with a Celtic cross and an arrow and decided to follow it I am sure [Significant Other]’s stomach dropped; and continues to drop as I followed paths that according to the road signs may or may not have been accessible to vehicular traffic. Following the sign didn’t yield much except for the discovery of a, yet another, beautiful church. We drove around in the German countryside until we could locate ourselves on a map and went in search of castles and ruins that may not have existed because we couldn't find most of them and I imagine it hard, though not difficult, to hide a castle in the lowlands of Germany.

We did come upon one formal castle, that was now a church and the compound had a pictorial history of the castle, laying out how it had once been a castle in 1074, then an orphanage in 1878 and then a church Catholic Church in 1974. That’s what I gathered from the mural anyway.

Eventually we found the outlet center, full of high end stores that did not seem to hold any outlet-esque prices. It was outdoor style and what with the sheets of freezing rain and wind, we did not last long. We braved our way down the autobahn while the wind whipped, cars flew and visibility decreased. We stopped at a truck stop restaurant, our first time trying one out and I had a half a chicken with some potatoes, [Significant Other] had something breaded and we attacked the green salad, feeling the lack of healthy additions to our meals. We learned quickly that truck stops where not home to cheap eats and got back into the car, where several Km later we decided not to risk driving anymore, turned around somewhere in the country, got a little lost (or as I like to say, took a little adventure) and then headed back to Munich, deciding on the way back that we would skip Lake Constance the following day and get a head start on the Romantic Road, an old trade route with quintessentially German architecture that also passes by many castles and palaces as well as the never completed, 19th century Neuschwanstein Castle, the castle made famous not only by it’s inhabitant Ludwig II of Bavaria but by Walt Disney when he used it for inspiration for the 1955 Sleeping Beauty Castle at both Disneyland Park and Hong Kong Disney World.

Posted originally, with photography, at

A Travel Journal Part IV: Germany - The Final Days

Original blog post date: 11.09.09

Of course the days in Germany are just typed notes, and October 20th-through October 23rd is almost completely unaccounted for…somewhere notes exists, on paper…but the notes mostly have to deal with the types of weed The Other Girl and Significant Other tried while in Amsterdam for three days on layover to Cairo, Egypt; the notes on Amsterdam also include some of the food they ate and notes about what they saw.

Time spent in Amsterdam can be boiled down to: “Got up, had a snack, went to “coffee shop” and got a variety of strains of weed for the day, walked in circles in central Amsterdam for roughly 14 hours a day, because they have it laid out so you can get lost, but you’re lost walking in circles; ate delicious food.”

End up at Saturday night’s accommodations…in the Austrian Alps just at sundown. Dave exclaims “how is this place on the internet” and we marvel at the destinations resemblance to a horror film, and begin our version of [feeling like we were in] Texas Chain Saw Massacre – Alps Style.

Jongholz, a village in the Austria Alps only accessible by Germany with a total residency of 323, is quiet and seemingly deserted, our accommodations at Pension Katherine while creepy are the most comfortable beds on the trip thus far, and will prove to be the best throughout the entire trip.

We ate at a local inn where the family who owned the inn were also enjoying dinner. Only one guy knew enough English to communicate with us and he tried desperately to decipher the menu for us, even running off to get a German-English dictionary. [Significant Other] ended up having ribs, a whole side, such a big piece that they had to cut it in order to fit it on the cutting board plate. [Very rustic]

The town was dark and desolate and our room had no phone so [Significant Other] walked to the nearest phone booth, while he walked the few hundred meters to the booth he [claimed he] heard footsteps behind him. [At this point we removed whatever else The Other Girl had written; it appeared she was going to talk most about Significant Other and the desolation of the small mountain town we stayed the night in.]

Breakfast – boiled egg, liverwurst, thinly sliced meats, breads, butter, jam, Nutella, honey, juice, coffee,

Sunday market – almond pastry, shops and food

Hotel outside Wurzburg – biker motel with 24 hour check-in [a horrid nasty little motel]

Back to Rothenberg then straight to Frankfurt and then to Dusseldorf [to spend the night in another hotel]

Up the next day to Amsterdam

[Got] lost out of the city – [a theme, really, of trying to drive around a country whose language you have no comprehension of]

[Returned the car in] Amsterdam hotel [and walked for at least an hour dragging tons of luggage until we found the hotel]

Originally posted, with photos

A Travel Journal Part VII: Cairo, Egypt

Original blog post date: 11.09.09

October 23rd - Friday
I know I have skipped far ahead in my stories and I will, of course, back track with my following stories but for now I wanted to write about my experience today in Egypt. Having said that there is no way I can describe the experience I had today but I will try my best.

We arrived yesterday evening to fairly cool weather and after dropping our luggage off at [Significant Other]'s dads house we went to an authentic Egyptian restaurant and had an amazing meal, one I will describe in detail in another note. The cab ride there was a trip in a really old taxi at night navigating Cairo traffic listening to Arabic dance music bumping from the radio. Older vehicles here only occasionally use their car lights in traffic at night to conserve battery power. It was a pretty interesting evening and after dinner I tried Shisha, a tobacco product, from a hooka ( - very nice tasting a relaxing.

Today is the first day of the weekend and a holy day for Muslims (95% of the population), so this morning was very quiet as we headed to Cairo Tower to have a look at the city.

I don't know where to start...words escape me, adjectives run through my head. Words like overwhelming, intense, sad, filthy, alien, unsanitary, unbelievable and surreal.

The temperature today was on the cool side for Cairo, we just missed a heat wave last week of 38 C (approx. 106 F) so today's temperature of 28 C (approx. 96 F) was considered a very cool day. [Significant Other]'s dad said it was one of the coolest days since he got here at the end of August.

Cairo has a population of 20 million and is the most polluted city in the world, beating out LA and Mexico City. At the top of Cairo Tower today we were lucky to have a "clear" day for Cairo and we couldn't see the pyramids though we did see an outline of one.

Traffic here is disordered order, what works for the Egyptians would never work the same way in North America. We did see a couple of traffic lights today but they were continuously yellow and blinking. Crossing the street is some dangerous and bizarre game of Frogger, pedestrians have no rights and cars are not likely to stop. One ways turn into two ways with budges of other cars, every trip is constant near miss accidents, horns are honking all day and into the night as it is the way the vehicles communicate, instead of using blinkers and break lights. People on bikes are transporting everything from empty baskets, to food. Woman carry laundry on their head among the cars and pedestrians roam among the bumper cars of the moving traffic. Having said that the train system/subway seems incredibly efficient...

We also went to the market today, something I have seen on countless programs, movies and in books. It dates back to the 1400's and is gigantic. This is not a place for the faint of heart. It is not close to what they show you in books, tv and movies. I consider myself to be a pretty tolerant strong person but by the end of the it was too much. The people who work in the market are incredibly pushy, if you have ever shopped in Mexico I can honestly tell you they have nothing on the Egyptians. The pressure is so great that it makes you dizzy and by the end of the day incredibly annoyed. You can't sit and have tea or eat a meal (not that you would want to eat here...) without people approaching you trying to sell you everything from beaded headdresses to "Gucci" watches and Kleenex...yes, Kleenex. I have to say, if I don't bring you back a gift from Egypt at this point it is not because of a lack of wanting too. You can't look at anything without Egyptians hounding you. They even have men yelling and competing to get patrons for restaurants.

The men here are incredibly forward to the point that it is not flattering. They openly stare at you, which eventually makes you feel, for a lack of a better word, uncomfortable. They try to talk to you, touch you, wink at you, tell you they love's all too much. On the bus, walking around the street you can feel everyone staring at you.

We went to the spice market, which takes you through the areas where they sell food. It is a sanitation NIGHTMARE. Nothing is refrigerated, everything is covered with flies, meat and animal parts (hooves, intestines, etc) are out in the heat with nothing covering them. Live chickens peck at corn while stray cats roam the streets looking for food (possibly one of the saddest parts). The smell is pungent and reminiscent of rotting fruit, rotting vegetables, rotting meat, animal feces and a whole other array of smells you have to experience to understand.

Food gets picked up directly from the ground and transported to restaurants and markets and then eaten. We observed this with pita bread today and later, when we attempted to eat at the market, we could not eat the bread. [Significant Other] was shocked because he considers himself an adventurous eater and he couldn't stomach more than a bite.

Having said that the Egyptian people themselves are clean, fairly well dressed (both traditionally and modernly), there is much Western influence, and it shows. They are technologically savvy with computers, cell phones, etc.; are very nice and friendly people and it is hard to understand with the advances they have why they choose not to regulate food more, or sanitation - the city is covered in garbage despite the fact that they DO have garbage service.

I know there are so many of you who said you were jealous about the Egyptian portion of my trip and all day I thought about you. I strongly think there are very VERY few people who walk away from this city in love with it. I feel fortunate that I get to experience this while at the same time I am very sad that the romanticism of Egypt has been stripped from my mind.

Tomorrow we head to Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea and I have a feeling I will enjoy it more and it will being back some of the images I have long held in my mind.

Needless to say today was a very overwhelming, sobering experience that even now as I re-read my story still does not bring to light the entire experience of my day.

Original post, with photos

A Travel Journal Part VIII: Alexandria, Egypt

Original blog post date: 11.09.09

October 24th - Saturday

Today we headed to Alexandria which is on the Mediterranean (keep your ooo's and ahhh's at bay...).

Our mode of transportation was the Egyptian Train, first class. First class here does NOT mean the same thing as it does in North America, or when you are flying. First class means you get a seat, people are not packed like cattle into your car, and you have toilet facilities. Toilet facilities...that are a straight drop to the railway, trickles water to remove any waste that didn't drop (i.e. tissue paper, etc.) and gave the impression that someone(s) decided that urinating on the floor was preferable to using the toilet. I was the first to use the train bathroom, trying the left bathroom first and realizing the smell was too pungent to tolerate, and then decided to check out the right one. A little better smelling.

The boys didn't take me seriously so when their turns came to use the toilet I waited to see their expression when they came out, and it was exactly as expected, a revolted grin that said "boy where you right!".

The train ride in first class was pleasant enough...we had air conditioning! The sights that I could see through the mud smeared windows were pretty amazing as we drove north along the Nile Delta. You were nearly transported into biblical times for most of the trip, seeing farmers with donkey and plow in the field, windrows of wheat felled from sickle in hand and woman transporting their produce, baskets on their heads, children in tow.

This country is not for animal lovers (or people with sensitivity to smell, sensitive or delicate stomachs, those nervous about being lost in a foreign country, those uncomfortable with not understanding a word of the language including 99% of what is written on the signs...i could go on...). The animals along the delta, like the stray cats that roam the city, are dirty, thin and dehydrated looking (think beef jerky stretched over bones). They drink from the Deta streams that are overrun by garbage, animal feces, other dead animals, and most likely human feces.

It is interesting to see along the way the little towns whose buildings, like so many in Cairo, have no roof on the top level. I had previously though this was because they don't need a roof, receiving only about 1 cm of rain a year, but have learned that until a building is complete the taxes don't have to be they just don't finish the building!

Alexandria was a 2 1/2 hour ride from Cairo and when we arrived I was relieved to see there was a little less garbage, although not by much. We wandered off to try to find the Mediterranean, and a restaurant near it that was recommended called the Sea Gull. We finally came upon the Mediterranean, dodged a freeway full of traffic to cross (there was no crosswalks...why would there be?) and got a whiff of lovely salty sea air. We watched some fisherman drag in their nets from the rocky shore and continued on to locate the restaurant. We walked a long time before we realized we would have to consult someone and possibly find a cab.

On our cab ride I had my first and only real fear on this entire trip. The cab driver seemed to be taking us in an odd direction, stopped at a gas station type place and signaled something to someone and then continued on until it seemed we were leaving the city. It was at this moment all the warnings and stories ran through my head, the ones where they take you in the middle of nowhere and demand money, or leave you in the dessert...and worse. I was not the only one who felt this way, as we exited the cab at the restaurant [Significant Others Dad] expressed that he was also concerned.

Lunch was pretty interesting, upon entering the gigantic restaurant, and passing, of all things, huge pelicans, monkeys, birds and rabbits, they take you to an area where fresh fish are displayed on loads of fresh ice, not a fishy smell to be found as far as I could tell. In this room you get to choose the fish you want, the EXACT fish you want! I ordered grouper to be grilled, [Significant Other] ordered red snapper and [Significant Others Dad] had big shrimps, also to be grilled. While we waited at our seaside-ish table we got to observe the offshore oil rigs, ships in the distance and ponies. I have a feeling this place doubled or tripled as other things, seeing as there were tons of antiques everywhere and animals all over and a play area and I think a pony ride area. It was actually such a gigantic place that these things were pretty spread out.

They served us some appetizers which was fresh baked pita, and about 9 different dips which included hummus dip, chickpeas that were very lovely flavored, cold cooked potatoes and cold beets. While we enjoyed the start of the meal a man walked by our window...he was walking a camel!! Although it was really stinky it was pretty cool....while we ate, ponies ran by our open air window. Overall the restaurant was pretty cool. On the way out they gave us peanuts to feed the monkeys...I actually got to feed moneys peanuts!!! One of them grabbed my hair when I didn't give him the next peanut but instead opted to give it to his cage mate. Sad as it was that they were caged I thought it pretty amazing that I got to feed real live monkeys...and now I want one as a pet!

After lunch we headed to the catacombs which were recently uncovered in the late 1800's when a donkey and some horses fell through the roof. They have unearthed 300 mummies from the tombs which we will likely see tomorrow at the Cairo Museum. I actually got to touch the walls and feel what was left of hieroglyphic carvings and reliefs. It was simply amazing! We got a bit of an unauthorized tour from a guy who wasn't supposed to take us in a closed area still under excavation. He got yelled at. They took my camera as I entered but [Significant Others Dad] kept his and once we were in the catacombs we were encouraged to take pictures by the guide. Seems everything can be had at a price here and protocol, rules and regulations can be ignored most of the time. I can't explain fully the tombs, it was by far the best experience so far and made the day that much better. when will I ever get to touch ancient walls inhabited by mummies for centuries AND feed a monkey peanuts?

While the Mediterranean was pretty dirty and disappointing the rest of the day was exciting. It was another day of people staring and it seem amplified today, at one point [Significant Other] commented that I was "totally getting stared down" and it was by EVERYBODY. I think it was the combination of the three of us, a white women and two white men who were showing their legs! (Men here do not wear shorts) I felt like I was half naked standing in a mall the way people stared, I wanted to yell to them that they should just get a good long look and get it over with. [Significant Other] suggested I carry around picture of myself and just hand them out so they can look at a picture of me instead. LOL

I am now off to have my dinner and fall asleep to the sounds of honking car horns, the faint smell of burning tires (pollution) and a smoky mesquite bbq smell that lingers in the air. Hopefully after I am awoken at 6am by the chanting from a local mosque over a loudspeaker I will be able to get a little extra sleep!

NOTE: I do want to just mention that I am in no way trying to sound negative about Egypt, I am simply stating the facts and experiences. We picked up a Lonely Planet guidebook today and they also do not cast Egypt in the greatest of light and actually reiterated a lot of what I have said.

Also, in yesterdays note I mentioned that some still wear "traditional dress", and I should elaborate that it is traditional Muslim dress, not traditional Egyptian.

Originally posted, with photos

What happened to Travel Journal Posts V and VII? Those were days in photography. I decided not to carry those over to this website. If you'd like to see them scroll down for a preview and a link to where they are.

Photography From The Trip
(more archived travel photography can be found: