Sunday, June 29, 2014

Last day in Germany


Unfortunately, this is the last day of our vacation in Germany, but I must say that even after two weeks, I am starting to look forward to going home. Mandy has been here for an additional week so I can imagine she misses home even more strongly. Today we decided to have a more chill day. We had breakfast at the hotel (another perk about staying at hotels), and then headed to the Natural History museum. It was actually quite cool - they had a lot of (replica) dinosaur bones, fossils from a bunch of different animals, minerals, rocks and all the other good stuff that you would expect from a Natural History museum. It was pretty cool, but it was unfortunate that almost all of the exhibits were in German, so we only had a surface appreciation of all the exhibits.

Comparing head sizes with the dinosaur. I think I win

Mandy getting crushed by a brontosaurus leg 

Different kinds of elephants from history

From then, we headed to Museum street, which had museums lined up right beside the river Rhein. We were starting to get really hungry, so we headed to Sachsenhausen, an area with a bunch of restaurants. Frankfurt is also known for apfelwein, which is an apple cider beer with an acquired taste. Significantly more different than what you would expect from a Strongbow, it was much more sour. I had a seafood pizza (quite good) and Mandy ordered a spaghetti carbonara with pig cheek.

Very strange apfelwein

Mandy happy to see her pasta arrive

Pizza with scallop, shrimps and imitation crab

From then, we crossed the iron bridge and took a few photos. We were running out of things to do in Frankfurt, so we walked back to the hotel to chilax on our last day. We spent some time working up a sweat in the hotel sauna (3rd plus about staying at a hotel) and took a nap until dinner. We headed back to the opera house food festival for our last dinner in Germany. We ate a schnitzel sandwich and a chicken breast in a mushroom-cream sauce. Mandy also bought some chocolate covered strawberries which were delicious.

Now we are back home and as I am completing the last blog entry for Europe, Mandy is busy packing up my suitcase. Canada, we'll be back tomorrow!!!

Iron bridge, with "New Frankfurt" in the horizon

Iron bridge, with "Old Frankfurt" in the horizon

Love locks, with the Dom cathedral in the backdrop

Romer much better now that there are fewer people on the street

Jewish Memorial Wall we stumbled upon

Last German meal!

Schnitzel in a bun

First day (and last city): Frankfurt!


Today we headed to our last destination of our journey: Frankfurt! Frankfurt is best known as the banking city of Germany, so I didn't expect it to be as "hip" as Berlin or as "German" as our experience in Munich. This was also one city that I wasn't able to meet up with any of my German friends so we were left to fend for ourselves when faced with German food menus and some subway stations.

After a fairly brief train ride (only about two hours), we arrived at Frankfurt and took the subway to the city. This was one place where we actually stayed in a hotel and after so many AirBnBs, it was quite nice to have a nice clean room, with a flexible check-in time and room service to clean and provide new towels every day. We dropped off our stuff and our plans were to check out nearby landmarks and may be do some last-chance shopping, since tomorrow (Sunday) all stores are closed (dammit Germany!)

Our first destination was the Romer (which is a set of medieval buildings in a square and also where the City Hall is located). On the walk there, we were lucky enough to find a food festival with a bunch of international foods being offered. From Greek, to Malaysian, to Indian, there were almost too many options. In addition, there were cultural shows and tourism promotions for these countries. We ended up eating some Greek souvlaki, Malaysian beef balls and Indonesian curry-puffs. We also found an old-style steam engine that actually carried passengers and only actually comes once a month!

Mandy saved me from the speeding locomotive just in the nick of time

Soooo many people at the international food festival and traditional clothes from respective countries

Mmm souvlaki with extra tzatziki sauce

Mmm currypuffs straight out of the fryer

Beef balls with spicy sauce (iron bridge in the background)

Afterwards, we headed a little north and checked out the Romer. The architecture was quite distinctive compared to all the other high-rises in Frankfurt and it was a really neat little square. However, the sheer number of people that were spilling over from the food festival made it difficult to navigate. We continued north to check out the Zeil shopping street. Given that the Germans only have Saturday to go shopping since everything is closed on Sunday, the streets and malls were crowded in full force. It felt like boxing day in Germany, except sales weren't as good and we didn't end up buying anything. 

Cool facade in the Romer architecture

After walking down Zeil, we headed towards the Dom cathedral, which is one classical building that stands atop the many skyscrapers in Frankfurt's landscape. We took a few quick photos and continued exploring the city. Interestingly, while we were walking around Frankfurt, we saw a bunch of Chinese shopping tourists going crazy and Zwilling Henckels kitchen store. There were people that literally bought an entire kitchen's worth of pots, pans, knives, and cutlery. $$$$$$$$$

Dom cathedral from the inside (pretty sure we snuck in after it closed)

Dom cathedral (exterior)

While we were exploring the city, we missed out on some luxury shopping malls since everything closed at 6:00 pm. However the trek wasn't in vain; as we explored the new area we walked by the opera house and found a SECOND food festival. We stopped by there to have some mediocre paella (I was craving good paella since my parents recently visited Spain) and proceeded to head towards Haagen Daz for some dessert. Mandy had a cherry waffle with ice cream and I just had nice and simple Merlot, while watching the nail-biting football game of Brazil vs. Chile. To end off the night, we went to a grocery store to pick up some snacks and I had a second dinner with some doner.

Paella in a big pot

Opera house with many food options. Too bad it was raining

Brazil vs Chile, with wine and dessert

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Day Trip to Dusseldorf


We soon found out that there is not too much to do in Koln, especially since we didn't want to visit anymore museums or memorials. After speaking to Christoph, we decided to take a day trip to a nearby city called Dusseldorf. It was only a 25 minute train ride but it was a bit pricey (25 euros a person for a round trip ticket). We chose to go to Dusseldorf because they have one of the largest Japanese communities in Europe due to the large number of Japanese companies with a European branch located there. The first thing we did when we got to Dusseldorf was to find a delicious Japanese restaurant for lunch in Japan Town! Norm looked up a few restaurants on Trip Advisor the day before and they were all located on one street so it was very easy to choose one. We ended up choosing the one called Takumi with lots of Japanese businessmen waiting outside for the restaurant to open at noon. It was a ramen restaurant and it definitely did not disappoint. Norm got the karage shoyu ramen lunch special and I got the regular miso ramen. The karage was nicely deep fried and the chicken was still moist and our ramens were delicious. After lunch we headed to the “German Champ D'Elysee” street since Dusseldorf is also known for being a great shopping city. Unsurprisingly, the shopping street is in no way comparable to the one in Paris. We also checked out the old town and Norm had the Dusseldorf local brewery beer which is a lot darker than the one in Koln. Matthias told us that there is a big rivalry between Koln and Dusseldorf because of the two distinct beers they offer. (Make sure you don't order a kolsch in Dusseldorf!) Unfortunately, almost all of the historic buildings and monuments were destroyed during WWII so there wasn't much to see in the old town. We also didn't end up buying anything in Dusseldorf and decided to have a second lunch before heading back to Koln. (Good thing we didn't buy the return trip in advance because we initially thought we would return to Koln around 10pm.) We went to Naniwa Sushi to try our luck with finding good sushi in Germany. The sushi was expensive and it wasn't as delicious as Toronto (surprise surprise =P). We made it back in time to Koln for me to go to this store called Offermann that had really good deals on Longchamp bags. I think I am officially a big fan of Longchamp now that I own 6 of their bags =D We took the rest of the afternoon to relax in our airbnb apartment since it was raining outside anyway. We only left again to grab dinner at a nearby Italian restaurant called L'Osteria. It was one of the largest restaurants I have been to in Europe. We are off to Frankfurt tomorrow for 2 nights and then we're on our way back to Canada!!  

Train rides are so much better without big luggage

Karage on rice


Big slurp

Shopping by the river

What's left of old town

Dusseldorf's tower

"What do you want?"

Craving sushi

Uerige beer

Caprese salad was not as good as Al Forno

Squid ink pasta and penne

Instead of giving out breath mints they give out mini haribo gummies!

Koln Cathedral Climb & Shopping


As we are nearing my 3 week trip and Norm's 2 week trip, we already visited many museums/memorials/cathedrals so we aren't too interested in visiting many more. However, the main attraction in Koln is their gigantic cathedral that is right outside the Koln Hbf. The cathedral reminds me of the one I saw in Strasbourg and Barcelona, darker and more Gothic. We decided to climb the 300+ steps up to the top to have a bird's eye view of the city. The warm weather and having one set of spiraling stairs to go up and down the cathedral made the climb very unpleasant. Also, other tourists seem to never wear deodorant =( When we finally got to the top we snapped a few photos, cooled down for a few minutes and headed back down. Since our trip is nearing the end, it also meant it was time for more shopping! Koln is known for its long shopping streets so that's where we headed. We also checked out the Belgian Quarter which is named after the streets in that area that have Belgian street names. We grabbed a quick bite to eat there before we headed back to the area we ate dinner with Matthias the night before to catch the Germany vs USA game. We ended up going back to the same restaurant as the night before because their food was pretty good and there were still tables with a good view open. Soon after we sat down, the patio tables filled up with German football fans. Since we had a very late lunch, I ended up only eating fries and a chocolate sundae while Norm had a proper dinner. Germany won 1-0 by the way!


View of the cathedral from the top

Square right infront of the cathedral

Say cheese!

Massive cathedral

Pork knuckle

Friday, June 27, 2014

Vroom Vroom on the Autobahn


The day has finally arrived....We are driving on the autobahn!!! (Well Norm did) Berlin was fun but we wish we received better weather. It was chilly and rainy for most of the time and our very last hours there were no exception. We had to walk quite far to and from the metro stations to arrive at Sixt, our car rental company. Luckily picking up the car went smoothly and we got our VW Passat station wagon in a jiffy. Norm was not too fond of the station wagon at first but after driving for a few minutes in Berlin, he realized that most people drive station wagons. (We think that's because station wagons are the equivalent of minivans in North America.) We were surprised that it takes quite a long time from the Berlin city centre to get on the autobahn. Luckily the car had a GPS and finding our way was quite easy. (How did people have roadtrips without a GPS?!) The autobahn is famous for not having speed limits in some areas of the highway. The fastest Norm drove was 205km! Even at that speed, cars were speeding past him. Norm wanted to go a little faster but the car wouldn't let him (phew!). Our first stop on our journey was to visit Christoph in his hometown called Braunschweig. Christoph described Braunschweig as a typical German suburb, nothing exceptional, nothing terrible and that is exactly what it was. Christoph's parent's place is very cool though. His neighbourhood used to be houses given to Nazi's for their services but now that time has passed, the houses have been renovated. Their house is definitely not a cookie-cutter house and they even have a guest house. We also learned that in Germany, every house has the names of the inhabitants listed under the doorbell. Cool or strange? We had pizza for lunch from one of Christoph's fave pizzeria and he gave us a tour of his town including the city centre. After a short detour, we were back on the road to Koln. The rest of the drive went smoothly. Every driver was considerate and a good driver except for one person and he turned out to be an older asian guy -__- 


At least we knew we had the right house!

Pizza lunch

Guided tour of Braunschweig

Our baby for the day

Christoph's (parent's) pad

vroom vroom!

When we finally arrived in Koln we met Matthias for dinner. He was in Koln for a meeting and luckily it was on the same day we arrived. He took us to a local German restaurant that serves the local Koln light beer called Gaffel Kolsch. Gaffel Kolsch is poured in 0.2L glasses and once your glass is empty the waitor will bring you a fresh glass without you even asking unless you put your coaster ontop of your glass. The waitor keeps track of how many glasses you had by ticking your coaster. First time seeing that system but it definitely makes sense!

My type of beer (light) and my size (0.2L)

LSE reunion continues

German pasta