Paris on a Rainy Day

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Luis and I decided to take the bullet train from Kaiserslautern to Paris over Valentine’s Day weekend. I mean, is there really a better place to spend with your Valentine?? With it being February, we weren’t expecting great weather at all. So, I came up with a few plans just in case the rain really started to come down. The good thing is that is only rained one of the days we were there. Even then, it was more of a light drizzle than rain. We definitely didn’t let it stop us! Here are some things we did during our rainy day in PARIS!

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  1. Les Invalides(Musee de L’Armee)

We could’ve spent hours in this place!! There was really so much to see. Napoleon’s tomb, WW2 and WW1 history, medieval tools and armor, etc. It is the military museum of France and is highly underrated! Sure, you could go spend a day in the Louvre on a rainy day, but you’ll be joined by just about everyone else with that same idea! Try heading to Hotel des Invalides, instead!

2. Catacombes de Paris

This was an awesome experience! The only downside of course is the line and the fact that you are waiting outside. The line is significantly shorter if it is raining, however. Also, if you arrive around 15-30 minutes before opening time you won’t have much of a wait at all! We arrived 30 minutes prior to opening time and I watched the line grow tremendously behind us!  Exploring the catacombs is a good choice for the rain because you’ll be nice and dry underground.10320348_1219472721401060_488624283883348913_n

3. Grab a bite and wait it out.

It’s no surprise that Paris has cafes and restaurants everywhere you look. Usually when it rains, it passes by within an hour or so. Find a cozy place and grab a coffee or enjoy a nice meal and people watch as Parisians continue their daily activities out in the rain!

4. Dress for the weather and explore the city, anyway!

As I stated earlier, the rain definitely did not intimidate us! We spent a couple of hours navigating the metro and walking around trying to get a feel for the city. The weather kept a lot of tourists and groups away and it really felt like we had the city to ourselves. Put on your rainboots and don’t miss out on such a beautiful city. Even in the worst weather! 😉

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“I love Paris in the winter when it drizzles.”- FRANK SINATRA

 

10 Must-Do’s in Barcelona, Spain

BARCELONAMUSTDOSAfter spending a few days in Barcelona, I’ve narrowed down my top 10 things to do in no particular order.

  1. Indulge in all of the tasty Tapas!– I think we had way too many Patatas Bravas…and that’s okay. 12499132_742436672579035_1960815564_o
  2. Drink Sangria.– You can find it just about anywhere!
  3. Marvel at La Sagrada Familia.- This HUGE church imagined by Antoni Gaudi isn’t enough finished yet and is still an absolute wonder. Pay the money to go inside. You won’t be disappointed.
  4. Dip your feet in the Mediterranean.– Our favorite spot was Barceloneta Beach, however we were bothered the entire time by hagglers. Not just one or two either. I’m talking about 10 to 15! Mainly because we were a couple of the only people on the beach. I mean, it WAS December.
  5. Take a break at Park Guell.–  Another one of Gaudi’s masterpieces. This is the spot to take your typical “tourist in Barcelona” pictures. Enjoy incredible views from here.12767822_742436809245688_800007759_o
  6. Side-trip to Montserrat. – I highly recommend doing this! Taking the cable car was exhilarating in itself. But once you get up there….wow. It will take your breath away. Make sure you see the Black Madonna in the monastery while here! *TIP: Eat before you go. Food choices are slim to none(you’re in the mountains) and the food we had was terrible!
  7. Cheer on the dancers at a Flamenco show. – This was our favorite part of the entire trip. We enjoyed watching the dancers so much, we went back a second time! We went to Los Tarantos for a quick 30 minute show. It’s a great deal for only 15 euros and they do three shows a night! We chose this over the more expensive, dinner flamenco shows in town.
  8. Attend a football(soccer) game.- While we were unable to do this, it is still high on our bucket list to see a matchup of Real Madrid and FC Barcelona!
  9. Get lost in Barri Gotic. – The gothic quarter of Barcelona is absolutely gorgeous. Take the time to stroll through it both during the day and nighttime to get different experiences.images-1
  10. Explore Gaudi’s Casa Mila and Casa Battlo. – While Luis and I found the houses to be underwhelming, I still think it is something everyone should experience for themselves. They do give you tablets with your audioguide to give you a different perspective of Casa Battlo and I found that to be interesting.

Underrated-Salzburg, Austria

For Thanksgiving weekend, we originally had plans to go to Paris. However, with the recent terrorist attacks, we were not able to. We are rescheduling for some time next year!!

Instead, we planned a last minute trip to Salzburg, Austria. This setting for the film The Sound of Music and Mozart’s birthplace is so beautiful. Even though we weren’t at peak season and the best weather, it was a great trip!

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We stayed two nights in an AirBNB apartment near the old town. Our hosts were wonderful and were able to give us directions and tips about Salzburg.

The first thing we did was explore the old town. We saw Mozart’s house, did some shopping, and ate an awesome lunch! We ate at Cafe Mozart(we went here 3 times in our trip) and it was delicious! They had amazing hot chocolate, traditional Austrian cuisine, and of course we had to try the Apple Strudel that Austria is so famous for! They even serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. (Heavenly!)

From there, we stumbled upon the Christkindlmarkt. In most European cities, they have Christmas markets with tons of vendors selling homemade items and sweets! I got myself a big chocolate covered pretzel and definitely did not regret it one bit. 12333047_712991532190216_1543306730_o

 

After strolling through the various small markets in the city, we headed back to the apartment to change into our nicer outfits and get ready for our Mozart Concert Dinner. This dinner was the highlight of the entire trip. It was not touristy at all. There were maybe only 25 people in the whole banquet hall, making it very intimate. For a 4-course dinner, you really get what you paid for! The musicians and opera singers were great and very entertaining! At times the singers would come up to your table and interact with the crowd. The food wasn’t too bad either, being inspired from recipes of Mozart’s time. The setting was perfect and the banquet hall couldn’t have been prettier. After the dinner, we were off to bed since we had an early start the next day.

The next morning we ventured off on a tour of the Salt Mines in Berchtesgaden, just over the border in Germany. Here you dress up as a miner and get taken deep into the mines for a look at how the salt is actually produced. First, you ride a mine train for a few minutes in the dark. When you get off, you have to go down a long slide in groups of 3 or 4 to reach the next level and step of the tour. This was the best part by far!! There were two slides in the tour. With light shows and interactive technology, you are shown facts and machines used in the mines. Our tour guide was speaking German, but we had audio guides in English around our necks.

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When we returned from the excursion, we grabbed some lunch at an italian restaurant in the old town and headed to the castle: Fortress Hohensalzburg. Now, we hiked all the way up to the top. It was a long way…and I was exhausted before I even made it to the top. I highly recommend taking the funicular train. It is very worth the money. The only reason that we didn’t take the train up in the first place is because we couldn’t find the station…silly us! It was a cloudy day but the views from the top were still gorgeous.

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And for dinner we had….CAFE MOZART AGAIN! Luis insisted on going back to get more hot chocolate and spending our last evening there. Another perk of dining here was getting to try the Salzburger Nockerl, which is a traditional dessert of the city. It was a sweet souffle…but it wasn’t for us. It was basically whipped egg whites with cranberries and powdered sugar. We weren’t fans…we thought it tasted like breakfast, haha. We were so tired from our excursion that day that we went home and got to bed earlier than expected.

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For our last morning, there were clear skies and we were able to see that we were surrounded by mountains in the Alps! It was such a nice view to wake up to. Since it was clear, we drove up to the mountains in Obersalzburg where the head of the third reich was in WW2 and were able to see the snow capped mountains and even Eagle’s Nest from a distance. Unfortunately, Eagle’s Nest was closed for the season. We stopped and played in the snow and took some pictures before moving on towards home.

I feel as though Salzburg is extremely underrated and I am shocked I haven’t heard more about this beautiful place!

All in all, the trip was a success and we had such a fun time! Next stop: Barcelona!

 

 

 

 

 

WW2 History in Bastogne, Belgium

BASTOGNE.jpgOkay, so Luis is a huge WW2 buff..with that being said, we decided to check out Bastogne, Belgium. An important battle in WW2, The Battle of the Bulge, took place here. The town is full of pride and museums dedicated to the troops and the 101st Airborne. They even have their own “Airborne” beer that you drink from a porcelain helmet! We weren’t fans of it, but I’m sure others would enjoy it.

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But what we did enjoy was the fascinating history and tour of the Bastogne Barracks. The tour lasted about 2 hours and we had a wonderful guide. He didn’t speak English too well, but he really tried his best! Lucky for us, on our tour there were two Belgian men who were retired military and spoke perfect English to help us translate between one another. We were also lucky enough to be in a small group of only 5 people. This made the tour much more personal than the other group of 20 we passed!

The tour began somewhat slow but it got better and better as it went along! We got to hold guns that were used in the war and time period such as an M3(Grease gun) and an M1 Garand. This was actually my first time holding a gun and learning how to use it properly.

From there, we were taken into the room that General McAuliffe responded “Nuts!” back to the Germans when told to surrender. By the way, you will see the word “Nuts” EVERYWHERE here, haha!

After that we were taken into a room with pictures of veterans from the Battle of the Bulge including those from Easy Company. This really excited Luis and I because we had just binge-watched all of the episodes of Band of Brothers before the trip!

And the best part of all was the end! The tanks!!!

 

I would highly recommend this tour to anyone heading to Bastogne! And it was free! But of course, I felt the need to leave a tip because it really was spectacular.

Up next: Salzburg, AUSTRIA!

 

 

 

1 Day in Strasbourg, France

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For a quick day trip, we hopped over the border and took the two hour drive to Strasbourg! It is located in the Alsace region of France and is by far, in my opinion, one of the prettiest cities to just walk around and take in.

We arrived with absolutely no plans…which is definitely not like me at all! I normally need EVERYTHING planned out. However, I didn’t feel the need to do so for this trip. We intended on eating a traditional french meal and seeing the gorgeous cathedral, but that’s about all. 🙂

And that’s exactly what we did! I don’t have much to write about Strasbourg so I will let the pictures do the talking.

Walking around Strasbourg is like taking a step back in time…I would go back in a heartbeat!

 

After Strasbourg, we went to La Montagne des Singes(Monkey Mountain). Here you can get up close and personal with… monkeys! It was so much fun! When you enter, they give you a handful of popcorn to give to the monkeys as a snack. Some of them were very bold and would come up to you while others were shy and would stare at your hand deciding whether or not to take the popcorn from you. It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience!

 

I hope to return to the Alsace region of France very soon!

 

Til next time 🙂

 

 

Medieval Bruges, Belgium

Recently, I went on a girls trip with a couple of friends to Bruges, Belgium. Bruges is known for its canals, cobbled streets and medieval buildings. They sometimes refer to it as the “Venice of the North”.

Since it was about a 6 hour drive there, we left Germany at 4AM, driving through Luxembourg on the way. When we arrived, we were greeted by our English speaking tour guide to show us around the area and give us some ideas of activities and sights to see.

The first thing we wanted to do was eat. We were so hungry from the long ride there. Of course, we had to get real Belgian Waffles.  I had no idea waffles could taste so amazing! They are also known for their chocolate….combine the two and it’s truly incredible. 10500475_666087230213980_4378274392324209063_n

All around the medieval town there are small waffle stalls and plenty of family owned chocolate shops. Some of the shops allow you to see in the back as they are making the chocolates.

We were told that riding through the canal was a “must-do” so we checked it out. It was only about 8 Euro a person and pretty enjoyable. They packed us like sardines on the boat and a couple of times I thought we were going to tip over, however. There were also swans all over the canal that were beautiful. The ride made for some good pictures.

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After the canal ride, we visited the Basilica of the Holy Blood. They claim that this church houses a venerated relic of Christ: his very blood, collected by Joseph of Arimathea. Supposedly, Joseph of Arimathea wiped blood from the body of Christ and preserved the cloth. To this day, it is still preserved here and taken out each year on Ascension Day for ceremonies.

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The next stop was the Belfry of Bruges. This giant bell tower houses a 47-belled carillon and one man sits at the top and plays songs on it every 15 minutes. We decided not to climb the 366 steps to the top and admire it from the ground 🙂

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After that, we decided to just walk around the town and enjoy the medieval feel of Bruges. We only had a few hours there and we wanted to make them count. Here are just a few more pictures I took:

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Next Stop: Prague, Czech Republic!

72 Hours in Berlin, Germany

Oh Berlin!

Such a fun, hip place…but such a historic place as well. It was the 4th of July and the hottest day of the year in Germany. We didn’t let that stop us, though! We woke up in the morning in Dresden and began on our way to Berlin.

We spent two nights (18 Euro/night) in our AirBnB apartment in the neighborhood of Pankow with our host Melissa. Being a true Berliner, she was able to give us some tips on how to navigate the crazy metro around the large, capital city.

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After meeting with Melissa and parking our car outside her flat, we walked to the nearest S+U Bahn (train station) to purchase our day passes and start exploring the city. It was only roughly 7 Euro for a public transportation day pass which includes buses(H), underground train(U Bahn), trams(M), and above ground trains(S Bahn). At first, navigating the metro was a bit overwhelming, but it was very convenient once we got the hang of it!

Our first stop was the Berliner Dom(Berlin Cathedral) and Museum Island. We decided to pay the 7 Euro or so to go inside the Berliner Dom and we were very glad we did! Both the inside and outside are absolutely breathtaking. We also decided to go about 300 steep steps up to the very top and get a city view. A pretty intense workout, but well worth it! A lot of Museum Island is under construction and with limited time we decided against going in each of the museums.

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A quick bus ride from the Dom took us to the Holocaust Memorial, or “Memorial to the Murdered Jews in Europe”. The memorial isn’t much visually, just a bunch of big stones in different sizes, almost like oversized gravestones that each represent hundreds of Jews that were killed. The artist that designed it wanted for each person to have their own interpretation of the memorial. It was very disorienting walking through. It almost seemed like a mirror maze in a funhouse. Every corner that we turned looked identical and it was easy to get lost. Luis took advantage of this and thought it would be funny to try and separate and lose each other. Ha! It was pretty entertaining trying to find each other after the fact.

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Just across the street from the memorial was the U.S. Embassy. Of course, we had to take a picture. Because same sex marriage was just declared legal in America, the Embassy was flying the rainbow flag.

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Just around the corner from the Embassy was the famous Brandenburg Gate! This gate made of sandstone is built on the actual site of a former city gate that marked the start of a road from Berlin to Brandenburg. After suffering some damage in WWII, the gate was fully restored in 2002 and is considered a symbol of peace.

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Ironically, we ended up bumping into a co-worker of Luis’ here outside of the gate! What are the chances of that? He was with his cousin that was visiting from England and showing her around. They walked a few minutes with us to the Reichstag Building, which is Germany’s Parliament Building.

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We decided to exchange contact info and meet up with them later since we were both heading back to our hotels/apartments to change and rest up a bit from the heat before heading out to eat dinner!

Later on, we went to HofBrau Berlin near Alexanderplatz. The staff wears the traditional German Oktoberfest clothing and you see servers walking around carrying over 10 beers at once! The food was alright. The live music and good company made it fun!

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From dinner, we went to Belushi’s Bar. We heard there was some kind of American 4th of July party so we wanted to check it out. Besides it being extremely hot inside, it was pretty fun! Not many actual Americans were there but lots of British were. They had red white and blue decorations and our flag everywhere around the bar. After enjoying a couple games of pool and the “band” that was playing “American music” (lol!) we headed back to the apartment to get some sleep and prepare for day 2.

DAY 2

Our first stop of day 2 was the East Side Gallery. This is a long stretch of the Berlin Wall that has murals from over a hundred artists painted onto it. Being that it was outside of the city center, we decided to drive to it and park our car at the train station across the street from it. The other side is full of graffiti…as most things are here in Germany. 1907502_661817377307632_8591537401716836868_n 11667279_661817320640971_1333393812127414240_n

We then hopped on the U Bahn and rode to another section of the Wall that had no graffiti/murals and a memorial for those that had died trying to cross it and escape communism.

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Right after viewing this section of the wall, we visited Checkpoint Charlie. This was the best known East/West Berlin crossing point during the Cold War and was only used for foreigners and members of the Allied Forces. Outside they have actors dressed in American Army costumes and they ask for 2 Euro if you want to take a picture with them…with your own phone! No thanks. 😉

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Then, we caught a bus and rode around the city a little bit to cool off. We rode past the Victory Column, the Bellevue Palace(where the German President lives), and the Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church that was bombed in WWII and left as it was to remind us of how terrible war really is.

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At this point, we were pretty hungry and just looking for some shade, so we just decided to check out Potsdamer Platz. With skyscrapers and fancy hotels, this is more of an urban- looking area. They even have their own “Walk of Fame” with the famous stars and important people of Germany. Right in the middle is Sony Center. It is a  pavilion area with a glass ceiling containing restaurants and a big movie theater. It’s also where they host a lot of big events. We ate lunch here and before taking the train back to our car at the station we parked it at.

 

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Once we got in our car, we drove about 20 minutes outside of Berlin to Wannsee to visit the House of the Wannsee Conference. On 1942,  there was a meeting of high officials from the Nazi Ministries and the SS in the Minoux villa by the Wannsee waterside. Under the direction of Reinhard Heidrich, negotiations took place on the organised deportation and murder (the “Final Solution”) of European Jews in the occupied areas of Poland and Eastern Europe. It was so crazy to think that the very room that we were standing in, was where the Holocaust was essentially planned. Inside was a museum set-up, with lots of informative and graphic pictures and audio recordings explaining what took place here and the results of it.

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Another 20 minute drive from Berlin was Potsdam. In Potsdam, there were two palaces that we wanted to see from the 1700s. Both were owned by Frederick the Great, King of Prussia. The first was “Sansoucci Palace” which was his summer home. The second was “Neues Palace” which was built after the Seven Years War and completed in 1769. It is considered to be the last great Prussian baroque palace.

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For dinner on our final day in Berlin, I was told I could not leave without trying Mustafa’s Gemuse Kebab, which is Turkish food. A small food stall on the side of the street, this place is one of the most popular and most famous “restaurants” in Berlin. People will wait over an hour in line just to get some “Doner”. We waited at least 30 minutes…and I have to say it was worth it! It was also very cheap being less than 4 Euro a person.

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This concluded our trip in Berlin and we drove home to relax and catch some ZZ’s! It was such a great experience and we really learned so much about WWII history being able to step into the middle of where so much had happened.

‘Til next time! 🙂

Dresden, Germany

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On our way to Berlin for our long weekend, we decided to stop in Dresden. It’s located just a couple hours outside of Berlin and is full of WWII history!

We arrived early in the morning and checked in with our AirBnB host, a sweet woman named Susanne that opened her apartment up to us for the night. (Way cheaper than a hotel!)

Our first stop was the Zwinger. It once served as the orangery, exhibition gallery and festival arena of the Dresden Court. Today, it is a group of museums including a grand porcelain collection and a royal cabinet of mathematical and physical instruments. The size and beauty of it really blows you away. We spent quite a bit of time here before the 97 degree heat started to get to us, and we moved on.

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After the Zwinger, we ventured back to our apartment to take a nap and have some sandwiches for lunch. We often pack lunch and lots of snacks to save ourselves money when traveling. We were exhausted from the heat and the 5 hour drive! Once we woke up, it was a little cooler outside and we ventured back out to explore. Right as you are walking into the main square, you see the Catholic Church and old Royal Palace.

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From there, we viewed the Procession of Princes, or “Fürstenzug”.  It’s a mural of a mounted procession of the rulers of Saxony. Made up of over 20,000 small porcelain tiles to be weatherproof, it is the largest piece of porcelain artwork in the world. It showcases portraits of the rulers from 1127-1904.

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The next stop was the Frauenkirche(Church of Our Lady). This beautiful piece of architecture was severely damaged in WWII bombings, but has since been rebuilt using as many of the original stones and parts as possible. We didn’t go inside, as you needed to wait for certain times to go in as a group. But, we still admired it from the outside.

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We were starting to get hungry, so we drove to “Brauhaus am Waldschlosschen” to enjoy some traditional German food! We had such a great experience here. Mostly every one was out eating and drinking in the Biergarten since it was so hot inside. (Germany doesn’t have air conditioning). The food wasn’t exceptional, but the atmosphere was what made it so good! There was live music and people enjoying themselves all around. The staff was also very friendly and appreciated our terrible attempt to speak German and say “zwei, bitte!” (two, please). 🙂

By then, the sun had set and we wanted to walk around the area at night and see how it was. There were a few musicians out, violinists and opera singers, performing traditional music in the streets and adding to the culture. We parked in an underground parking garage near the bridge  for pretty cheap and walked across to see the full Dresden Skyline. We sat in the grass by the Elbe River and admired our view for a few minutes. As we were getting up, we heard “BOOM!” A firework show had started on the river and we had the best seats in the house! Such an awesome surprise.

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It was the perfect ending to our quick stay in Dresden! After the fireworks, we went back to our apartment and got some rest because we were off to Berlin the next day!

Stay tuned for our next post on our trip to Berlin!