Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Greetings from London!!

Greetings from London!

Mike and I are here in the UK for a couple of weeks splitting our time between England and Scotland.  The trip all started because Mike's sister, Kelly, is getting married today (!!!), but since we knew we'd be without our furniture in Berlin, we decided to tack on an extra week in the UK and do a little tour of Scotland.  It's a rough life we live, I know ;)

We arrived in London bright and early Saturday morning and made our way straight to Kelly and Sean's flat (look at me, I'm so British calling it a "flat").  The four of us headed out shortly afterwards to pick up the rental car.  None of us expected it to take quite as long as it did to pick up the rental car, but an hour later, we were on the road with Mike and Kelly's dad heading up north to Sunderland.   Sean's father's family is from Sunderland and everyone is a huge Sunderland fan.  When we realized that they were playing at home this Sunday, we couldn't pass up the opportunity to go and watch a match (there I go again, calling a game a match! So British!).

Because it took so long to pick up the car, we were cutting it close for our dinner reservation, but luckily we made it just in time. Dinner was at an Italian restaurant and it was delicious.  Sean's parents, his grandmother and two cousins joined us and we had a great time.  After dinner, we all headed to the pub for a fun Saturday night.  Sean's cousins had planned a bachelor party (sorry, stag party) for him, so eventually, Mike, Sean and the rest of the guys headed out, while Kelly, myself, Mike's dad and Sean's parents stayed at the pub. It was a fun first night in the U.K. and definitely felt authentic.

Sunday morning was a little rough for Mike and Sean, but they persevered and we headed to the pub for a quick drink (mainly of water) before heading to the match.  I've never been to a Major League Soccer match in the US, but I can't imagine it being as intense as the soccer matches here.  The fans were loud and so into the game, chanting and singing anytime anything exciting (or disappointing) happened.  Despite the fact that Sunderland lost, it was still a ton of fun.

We ended up getting stuck in major traffic on the way back from London and didn't get back home from dropping off the car until almost eleven.  We were all pretty exhausted and happy to settle into our beds (or air mattress for Mike and I).

The next day, Kelly and Sean had to work, so Mike and I set out to do some sightseeing.  Both of us had been to London before, but I'm 99% sure I had the swine flu when I was there last time circa 2009, so we figured we'd do a walking tour to see a lot of major sights in a short amount of time.

We spent the morning at the Tate Modern museum.  I know modern art isn't for everyone, but I love it and Mike can usually get on board.  We were there for two hours and only got through one floor out of six! The guide book recommended doing sight seeing and then spending the rest of your day at the museum, which probably would have been a better strategy and allowed us to see more, but oh well.  We had Indian food to eat for lunch! Since we were meeting the Sandeman's tour in Covent Garden, we found Dishoom Covent Garden for lunch.  We both thought it was delicious, although they never believe Mike when he says he wants it really spicy.

After lunch, we met Rachel, our tour guide in Covent Garden.  Our group of about 25 followed her all around London as she told us all about the kings and queens and the history of England.  She was probably the best Sandeman's tour guide we've had because she had people acting out different kings and queens and really got the crowd involved.  That being said, neither Mike nor I thought the tour itself was especially great.  We both felt the tour included a lot of walking and talking and not a lot of sight seeing, especially in the first half.  I think if I were giving advice, I'd say go with the Big Red Bus tour because you get more sights, even though you have to pay a little more.  We did manage to see a few things and the stories behind them were interesting.

Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery

Our tour guide Rachel

Buckingham Palace

The London Eye

Big Ben

Abe Lincoln?

Westminster Abbey

I don't regret doing the tour, but I'm glad that this wasn't our first time in London because it wasn't the best tour, but that's okay.  We'll be back!

We ended the night at a pub by Kelly and Sean's flat. Sean's brother, sister, sister's boyfriend and parents all joined us.  Even Giorgio, Mike's dad's dog who has come to live with Kelly and Sean, joined us!! I'd say he enjoyed his evening out, just as much as the rest of us!

Such a cute little family!

Today is the first wedding, which is the court ceremony, so I'll be back with a post about that, but now I'm off to digest the English breakfast Kelly and Sean made us!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Alternative Tour of Berlin

We've done more sightseeing in the past three weeks than we ever did in Izmir and I'm totally fine with it.  I feel like by the time we leave Berlin, we will have only skimmed the top of this city.  Last Monday, we did an alternative walking tour of the city.  We did the regular sight seeing tour the previous week, but this definitely provided an alternate look at the city...hence the name.   

The tour focused mainly on the street art around the city, but also talked about the squatters (both legal and illegal), gentrification, and some other alternative lifestyles that are around the city.  I'm not sure if I would take this tour if I was only in Berlin for a weekend, but if I was here for a week, it's definitely worth the time. 

In Berlin, it's a 50euro fine for littering and a 2000 euro fine for vandalism.  If you use spray paint, that is graffiti, but if you use paper and glue, it's only considered littering, so many artists, like this artist, choose to do pin ups.  These dancing girls can be seen around the city and are always close to somewhere where people can dance (clubs, outdoor performance locations, etc.).  What's really interesting is that our tour guide ran into one of these girls at a club and the girl had no idea that she was all over the city!

Little Lucy can also be found all around the city.  She is a remnant of an old Czechoslovakian television show.  The artist used a dark twist with her and now she can be found all around the town killing her cat in different ways.  I think it's supposed to make some sort of comment about communism....

We also saw all sorts of other street art besides 2D art.  There were all sorts of things throughout the city that I had never noticed before, but seemed to pop up wherever we went.  People tend to take these things, so it will be interesting to see if things have disappeared when we return to these locations.  Maybe we need one as a souvenir?

We went down an ally where there is a wall that is open for street artists.  Every few weeks, the art changes, so we will definitely be back to see what is new.

Berlin, you're going to make Donald Drumpf again? Yes please!

 The two pieces of street art that don't change in this alley are the Anne Frank piece and the astronaut.

After we left the alley, we walked a little ways and found these "stumble stones."  They are put into the side walk and raised up a little bit so that you stumble on them.  They have the names, jobs, and death date (if known) of Jews in Berlin.  They are usually placed in places that they worked or lived.  I think it's a pretty cool way to remember the victims of the Holocaust.

I think one of the coolest things we saw on the tour was this man, Osman.  When the Berlin Wall was designed and built, there was a flaw in the execution.  A piece of land that was owned by East Berlin ended up on the wrong side of the wall.  Lots of people in West Berlin placed their trash and unwanted stuff on this piece of property.  Osman, who lived in West Berlin, took it upon himself and created a garden on the property and built a makeshift home with all of the materials that were dumped.  He donated all of the food to a school that was across the street. He is now 91 years old and it's mainly up to his children and grandchildren to maintain the garden, but they do and Osman still sits in his yard and waves to people when the weather is nice.   He's also Turkish, so we made sure to say "Merhaba!" as we walked by :)

Our last stop was along the spree that runs through Berlin.  There is a cool hangout place called YAAM (Young African Art Market).  There is a bar, lots of chairs and hammocks, sand and even a place to play soccer.  They had a small gallery of artists who use spray paint, which was cool.

YAAM from across the spree.  I love how welcoming Germany is, too.  Everyone here is so kind. 

That night, we celebrated a great day with Dim Sum.  We had no idea what it was, but it turns out it's Chinese tapas!! How cool!! We ordered a lot of little dishes and tried them all out.  It was a ton of fun and delicious. Mike and I aren't always the best tapas partners since he wants all meat and I like vegetables, but we were able to compromise and got a few little dishes of good stuff!

sweet potatoes and tuna tar tar


korean pork chops


It was a fun day of new things! We both found the alternative tour extremely interesting and we now get excited whenever we see any of the street art around the city.  And, we'll definitely be returning for more Dim Sum :)

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Housing Update!

After three long weeks of waiting, it's official!  The apartment that we fell in love with on our second day of house hunting is ours! Hallelujah! The equally exciting news is that we  got an email letting us know that our household goods have arrived in Germany and are ready for delivery...a month and a half early!  All the praise hands because I am SO tired of this hotel room and so anxious to get our stuff in our apartment.

Three weeks ago, we began our house hunt and, after looking at an apartment that wasn't even finished, we saw this apartment and fell in love. We knew right away that this was the apartment for us and asked the real estate agent what paper work he needed.  We rushed home, sent over the pay stubs and passport photos that were required and waited.

We waited.
And waited.
And waited some more.

And finally, after almost a week of waiting, we called. Apparently, our realtor never got our passport photos.  Why he didn't call or email us is beyond me, but we emailed those over again and were promised a lease soon. So we waited.

We waited.
And waited.
And waited some more.

And finally, after almost a week of waiting, we called.  The realtor still hadn't heard anything from the landlord who was looking over the lease, but reassured us the apartment was ours.   We thought this was strange but went along with it.

All along, Mike has stayed pretty calm about the timeline, whereas I have been getting more and more anxious. Although the Navy allots us 60 days of hotel life, we are leaving for Mike's sister's wedding next Saturday and needed a place to dump our stuff.  There was no way I was flying to London with those beach chairs.  No thank you.

I think all of my anxious energy finally wore off on Mike and he agreed to email the realtor and say that we needed a lease within 48 hours or we would start looking elsewhere. I guess sometimes all you need to do is light a little fire under some people because less than two days later, we had a lease! We are so excited and thankful that this apartment worked out because we love it.  It's not quite as big as our Turkish apartment (which had more than enough room for us, visitors and an office!), but we will be the first residents since it's renovation.  It also has underground parking and storage space, both of which we will use.  It's in a cute little neighborhood with lots of restaurants and a huge market.  We fell in love with the neighborhood before we even stepped foot in the apartment.

Overall, we're really excited and anxious to get in.  We're going to try and arrange the movers for the day after we get back from our little adventure in London and Scotland, so that we will be able to minimize the amount of time we spend sitting in those beach chairs. dd

And now, for what you all have been waiting for...pictures.

No, that's not a tv.  It's an oven vent :)

A view from our sunrise balcony.  We also have a sunset balcony on the other side.  Rough life we live ;)

German houses don't come with light fixtures, so we'll have to go find a few of those, but other than that, the apartment has everything we could ask for...besides visitors :)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Happy Birthday Anna and Emma!

Birthdays are always fun and double birthdays mean double the fun!! Today is two of my favorite girls' birthdays and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to celebrate them on the blog!

 I can't believe it's been a whole year since our not-so-little Baby Emma was born!  While she had a rocky start to the world, she has done nothing but smile and laugh since she came home.  She has won both Mike and my hearts and we are constantly bothering Emma's parents for a video chat date with Baby Emma.  Spending a few days with her in June was a highlight of my trip home and I don't think I heard her cry once while I was with her.  When we have seen her upset, it's almost as cute as her smile and laugh. She is so close to walking and doesn't manage to stay on video chat with us for long due to her enthusiasm for crawling.  Our video chats with the Ficks now consist of talking to Anna and Mike while we watch Emma come on and off the screen as she crawls around.  Long gone are the days where she was on the blanket for the entire chat. It has been SUCH a joy to watch Emma grow into such a little lady this past year and we are so excited to continue this journey with her as her Godparents.

It's funny to look back at this picture and see this little baby because she looks nothing like the Emma we know and love! So little!

Fulfilling our Godparent duties from afar via Skype.
Be still my beating heart....

Maybe more deserving of a celebration on a baby's first birthday are the parents. I'm constantly impressed with Anna and Mike's parenting skills and how naturally it comes to both of them in different styles.  Emma's love for them is apparent every time we video chat with them and I'm sure it will only grow in the next year.  They are some of the role models Mike and I will try to emulate one day with our own family.

I still remember talking to Anna around this time last year and getting excited that Emma could be making her appearance that day! What a great birthday present! If there is anyone who is meant to be a mom, it's Anna.   She approaches motherhood with such ease, it's fun to watch.  More importantly, though, Anna is an incredible person.  While 99.9% of our conversations revolve around Emma, that other 0.1% of conversations are often my favorite.  She is so grounded and level-headed.  She is the type-A to my type-B. She is there to be excited with me over things like boyfriends that turn into husbands and there to listen to things like moving to Turkey freakouts. I've never had a sister, but I imagine this is what it's like.

Little baby Sarah and Anna on JMU move in day.  I'll never stop loving this picture!

Happy birthday to two of my favorite girls! I love you both so much and am so thankful for the roles you play in my life (and in Mike/Uncle Hoagie's).  Have a wonderful day celebrating and we'll do the same!!

Monday, August 8, 2016

Rio Olympics 2016

Checking in during an Olympics commercial break just to say how much I love the Olympics!  I mean, who doesn't? Tons of sports and tons of national pride.  I find myself watching things like rowing just to cheer on the good old USA (sorry Matt Smith!).  I truly believe that us spectators should earn medals for the amount of watching we do.   It's hard work, y'all.  Plus, I just find all of the athletes just so loveable.  I want them to win SO FREAKING BAD.  Mike and I have been watching from our hotel room and there have been a lot of yelling, screaming and gasping as we watch athletes do all sorts of dives, twists, turns and strokes that I've decided my body gave up on the day I was born. This year, I have the pleasure of watching the German and/or the BBC coverage, so I've seen a lot of German and British athletes, but luckily, the Americans are competing in most televised sports so we get a quick glance at them occasionally before we move on to the next German or British athlete.  Go Germany?

Inevitably, there are a few things that happen every year when the Olympics are on.

1. I cry. 

 Really?  Is anyone surprised at this?  I cry at commercials, so an athlete overcome with emotion over an exciting win or loss is just asking for me to lose it.  Oh and parents crying???  Bring me the tissues because that's just asking for the floodgates to be opened.

kristen bell tv ellen sloth happy crying
Me every single time.

2.  I think I know everything about every single sport. 

Don't we all?  It's amazing. I can't do a cartwheel, but you better believe I (and everyone else on Facebook) knows everything about gymnastics. Vault? Yup.  Bars? Absolutely.  Floor Routine? For sure.  The fact that half of the commentary we're listening to is in German and I don't understand a word just allows me to believe that all of my critiques are absolutely correct and I know absolutely everything about every single sport.  

The look on my face every time a judge gives a less than perfect score to the United States.  

3. I want to know everything about every athlete.

Right now, my Google searches consist of "Best (insert type of food) in Berlin" and every single American Olympic athlete.  I want to know where their from, their workout routine, their siblings and pets names, and their favorite ice cream flavor. Never mind that  I would be completely start struck if I ever actually got to meet them, knowing their favorite ice cream flavor is obviously going to be useful when we become best friends. 

Man Repeller computer office exercise mac
When does internet stalking become an Olympic Sport?

4.  I judge the equestrian events based on the horses.  

Let's just be honest, by the time you get to the Olympics, you're good.  You're really really good.  Unless you knock a pole over while jumping or your horse gets scared at a camera (never mind they weigh 1500 lbs, that camera is SCARY!), they all look pretty much the same to me.  Therefore, the only thing I have to judge you on is what your horse looks like.  I'm partial to chestnuts, so they're automatically going to get a medal in my book, but give me a good bay and you've got some serious competition. 

Some may call it a regional horse show with no qualifying events, I call it the Olympics with the cutest chestnut horse ever to be. 

While this year's viewing has proved a little more challenging due to time zone constraints and language barriers, Mike and I have persevered and we are just waiting for a complaint from our neighbors that our shouts of "STICK THE LANDING!" and "USA! USA! USA!" have awoken the sleeping baby next door. 

Happy Olympics viewing, everyone! May all the judges agree with your scores because we all know that you really are the expert in every sport, not the judges and athletes :)

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Berlin Week #2

We've made it another week in Berlin! It's been a little cold (in the 60s and low 70s!!) and rainy, so we've spent more and more time inside, but we've made it a point to get out and see our new home.  Speaking of homes, that house hunting update?  Well, I was hoping for some more definite and exciting news, but things are taking a while (very un-German).  We've found a place that we love and have gotten a verbal confirmation that it's ours, but the landlord is still looking the lease over, so we haven't signed anything yet.  We're hoping all of that will happen this week.  Inshallah. 

Anyways, while we've been waiting for our lease, we've taken to exploring the city.  We've gotten into quite the routine.  We wake up, go to the gym downstairs, go to lunch and then do some sightseeing.  We usually come back for an hour or two to hang out and rest (thanks for satisfying my introverted soul, Mike) before heading out for dinner and beer (the reason for the morning gym). 

On Sunday, we headed out to Alexanderplatz and museum island, which has four museums.  We only did two of them since we figured we would save some for when we have visitors.  Plus, we figured we had been to enough Pergamon museums/lived it.  We went to an art museum and a history museum, both of which were pretty interesting!

Monday, we went to the zoo! We thought it might rain, but we figured we'd risk it and it turned out to be a great day.  The zoo was beautiful and the animals were out and moving, which is always exciting.  We were also able to see the chimpanzees get fed, which had us laughing because they were just so freaking excited.  Don't worry guys, I get excited at meal time also!

I love zoos, but sometimes it creeps me out how similar we are to these big guys.  Plus, he looks so sad....

Mike and I saw this and both muttered "God bless America" at the same time.  Ain't that the truth!

Wednesday, we decided to go to the Topography of Terror museum, which is one of the many free World War II museums in Berlin.  This museum was extremely interesting and had TONS of information.  In fact, both Mike and I remarked that we wouldn't mind coming back again with guests because there is so much information that it will take multiple visits to cover it all.  There is a great exhibit outside along the actual Berlin wall which gives a great timeline, but the museum itself is inside and is fascinating.  While it's definitely not uplifting, it's extremely well done and informative.

 Thursday, we did the Sandaman's Free Walking Tour, which I highly recommend.  This was our second time doing it (we did it the first time we came to Berlin last fall) and it didn't disappoint.  We wanted to do it and brush up on our German history so when visitors come, we can give them the tour ourselves. Our tour guide was Canadian and just as informed and enthusiastic as the last one.  It was a little rainy this time around, so I didn't take a ton of pictures, but the tour ends at Humboldt University where Mike will be studying! Fun fact: there are lots of famous alumni, including 29 Nobel Prize winners, the brothers Grimm, and Albert Einstein (as a professor).

Friday was a rest day because the Berlin Beer Festival was that night! Mike's Christmas! It actually was a lot of fun.  There was live music, lots of good food and LOTS of beer.

Saturday had an early start (rough after a night at the beer festival).  Mike is an avid scuba diver and found a dive shop here in Berlin.  They do dives about once a month in the lakes surrounding Berlin, so we rented a car for the weekend and joined them for the dive that morning.  This lake was about a half hour away from the hotel.  We met the rest of the divers that morning, Mike suited up, and they headed out into the lake.  Like I said earlier, it's not so warm here and was in the 60s that morning, so I stayed on shore in my jeans and a sweat shirt and read the new Harry Potter.  I forgot how open and un-modest the Germans are and ended up seeing a lot of naked people going for a morning swim.  Welcome to Germany!

It's been a fun week here, although we're starting to go a little crazy in the hotel.  Hopefully, this week will bring a lease for us to sign, sunnier weather and lots of Olympics watching!