Saturday, December 3, 2016

Life in Berlin

I feel like I've gotten so far behind on the blog that I skip over the days we're in Berlin, which is not fair.  We've done a lot of cool stuff in Berlin since being here and it's definitely worth documenting.  Two of the highlights being that we've gone to two concerts, Three Doors Down and Red Hot Chili Peppers!

Three Doors Down was first and it was an experience. The concert hall was literally around the corner from our apartment and it was pretty small.  We didn't buy tickets ahead of time, so I went at 5:30 when doors were supposed to open to get them while Mike came home from class. At six thirty, after an hour of waiting outside, tickets went on sale and doors opened.  I came back home with Mike to warm up while he ate dinner quickly before we headed back out at 7:00. We found spots on the balcony and were excited for the concert to begin.  After waiting 45 minutes, the opening band came on and they were TERRIBLE.  The funniest part of it was that they thought they were so cool. They said things like "Put your hands up if you believe in rock n roll!"  They played for 45 minutes and it was pretty obvious that everyone was just waiting for them to finish.  Well, everyone except for the man next to Mike who was just totally in the zone dancing and singing.  It was great.

The opening band finished around 8:40 and we were excited to finally see 3 Doors Down.  I'm pretty understanding when it comes to time in between sets, but we ended up waiting for 45 minutes for them to get everything set up and ready.  I told Mike at one point that I was going to go home if they didn't come on by 9:30 because it was getting ridiculous.  Luckily, at 9:30, they came on and were ready to go.  People were excited and the energy that had disappeared came back.  They put on a great show and I was surprised at how many songs I knew and still remembered.   Not only was the guy next to Mike dancing and singing, but so was everyone else around us. Unfortunately, they only played for about and hour and we were home by 10:45. We were pretty annoyed because we spent so much time waiting for them and only ended up seeing them for about an hour, but for the hour that they performed, they were great!

The day that my parents left, we had tickets for the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  This concert was a lot bigger and was at the big sports arena in Berlin.  Unlike 3 Doors Down, this opening band was actually pretty good, albeit a little strange. They were an American techno-y band, but had all sorts of weird dance moves and lighting.  Their music was pretty good though and got everyone pumped for Red Hot Chili Peppers.   Luckily, unlike last time, it didn't take 45 minutes to switch sets and RHCP made their appearance less than 20 minutes later.  Their performance was great and the entire arena was singing along at parts of different songs.  Unfortunately, the entire performance was only about an hour long.  Overall, it was a fun concert, but we wish it had been longer.

We've also met our neighbors from the second floor. We met them when they received one of our packages and then ended up getting invited over for dinner one night. He's an American and she's German and they lived in Brooklyn until about a year ago when they moved here.  They're a little bit older than us and have a three year old son, but we had a lot of fun discussing the differences between the United States and Germany.

Mike's classes are in full swing, although his professors seem to cancel class a decent amount.  He never seems to have the same schedule as the week before.  I don't get it, but luckily he seems to.

We got our Christmas tree and decorated the apartment. We bought the tree from an IKEA parking lot (seems to be a trend since we got our tree last year from IKEA) and it fit in the car! Apparently, tying it to the top is not a thing here.  Instead, they store it in the car.  After cutting the bottom off ourselves, we spent the afternoon decorating and listening to Christmas music.  It truly feels like Christmas!

We're preparing for two weeks of Olmsted visitors in Berlin! We're so excited that people want to visit us now and are allowed to come!  I'm sure December will FLY by because as soon as our visitors leave, we leave for vacation, but we are so happy to show people around our new home.  Plus, the city is all decked out for Christmas and it has this winter-y charm that just makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Life has been so busy and I feel like we haven't been home for more than a week (without visitors) in forever, but it's been a lot of fun.  We've had so many visitors and there is so much to see in Berlin that we always have something new to try.  I still miss home and will be kissing the ground when we land next summer, but life isn't too shabby over here in Berlin :)

Friday, December 2, 2016

Bucharest, Romania

After a day of castle exploration, we headed to the capital of Romania for the night.  There is an Olmsted Scholar and his family who gladly opened their home to us for the night.  We love staying with fellow Olmsted scholars because it gives us a chance to meet so many great people and swap stories.  Taylor is a class behind Mike, so he and his family just arrived in Romania about the same time we arrived in Berlin. We arrived after the kids were in bed, which gave us a chance to chat with Taylor and his wife to hear all about their experience in Romania thus far. 

The next day, we were greeted by two little smiling faces (the third was already at school) who were excited to have people staying at their house.  We hung out with them for a little bit before Mike and I headed out to do some exploring.  We spent the morning wandering around the town, not going inside anything and instead, just taking in the feel of the city. For the most part, it felt like another big city.  There were glimpses of the communist past, but as always, I think Mike and I were both impressed with the recovery Bucharest has made.

We met up with the Francises for lunch before we had a tour to explore the most impressive building in Bucharest, it's parliament building.  It's the second largest government building in the world, after the Pentagon.  We opted for the hour long tour based on the timing, but there is a more in depth one that goes into the basement. Unfortunately, pictures aren't allowed inside, but let me just tell you, it's impressive.  In one hour, we saw 3% of the building. 

My dad's dream job....not!

After the tour, we headed back to the Francises house for dinner before catching a late flight back to Berlin.  I'm not sure if Romania will be high on our list of favorite places we've traveled, but there were definitely some cool moments and experiences.  I'd give it five or ten years and Romania will have a booming tourist industry. It's definitely worth consideration if you are looking for a more off-the-beaten-path destination.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Castles of Romania

I think everyone thinks of castles and immediately thinks of Germany and Austria.  While this is justified, Romania had some great castles as well. We spent our second to last day exploring two of the "best" castles in Romania. 

Our first stop was Rasnov Fortress.  This was different from the other castles that we've been to because it was all outside.  It made for some interesting climbing in the snow, but was a cool and different castle experience.

Scout's Romanian cousin trying to stay warm

Transitioning from Fall to Winter with leaves in the background and snow on the ground.

After Rasnov, we headed to Bran Castle, which is supposed to be the basis for the Dracula Castle!  After listening to the book, I could definitely see some of the similarities.

Winter Wonderland in Romania!
Unlike Rasnov, it was much more preserved and most of the rooms were decorated like they would have been when the castle was in use. 

Mike and I wandered around the castle for a while getting ideas for our dream home before calling it a day and hitting the road for our last stop in Romania, the capital of Bucharest!

PS Happy December! The best month of the year!

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Brasov, Romania and a Bear Sanctuary!!

As I said in my last post, our trip got better as the week progressed.  I think this is also apparent by the number of photos I took. Get ready for lots of pictures!  Our next stop was Brasov, but along the way, we stopped at some of the Fortified Churches.  They are a UNESCO sight and definitely a great place to stop and stretch your legs. I was definitely impressed by the paintings on the outside and the preservation was also impressive.  

When we arrived in Brasov, we had a few day trips and things we wanted to see outside of the city, but a lot of things were closed either on Sunday or Monday, so we needed to plan out the next few days.  Mike found this bear sanctuary, The Libearty Bear Sanctuary, that does tours that he really wanted to go to and since it was closed on Mondays, we knew we had to go to it on Sunday.  They also only offer tours twice a day, at 10:00 and 11:00, so if you miss those times, you're out of luck.  So, we aimed for the 10:00, which was good because we ended up getting lost along the way and missed that time, so we hung out until the 11:00.  Getting to the sanctuary was also not an easy feat since we had a tiny little car and lots of mud.  We also had to cross a tiny bridge over icy which meant I just closed my eyes and said a prayer that the bridge held up and we didn't go crashing into the water.  Luckily, we made it, although I'm not sure either of us breathed until we got to the other side.

Anyways, we joined the 11:00 guided tour, which was incredible.  I honestly didn't know what to expect from a bear sanctuary, but Mike and I both walked away saying it was one of the coolest things we've done. And we've done a lot of cool things!!  It was FREEZING and snowing at times, which made me a little hesitant, but I honestly think it added to the ambiance.  Seeing snow covered bears was something I know both of us will remember for a while. 

There was even a wolf hanging out in the sanctuary!

Mike and his buddy Max the blind bear!  

Walking in a winter wonderland....literally


The bear sanctuary was such a cool experience.  The guide was great about translating his speeches into English for us and the bears were out and about.  We saw about 20 bears, but they have over 80 on the premises.  All of them have been rescued from some sort of abuse or poor living conditions.  Their stories are so sad.  Don't tell Mike, but I'm "adopting" Max for him this coming year by donating to the sanctuary.  It will make for the perfect stocking stuffer.  I figured Max was a good one in honor of Baby Maximus. 

After the tour of the bear sanctuary, we headed to Peles Castle.  You have to park down at the bottom and walk up, which was about a ten minute walk.  Unfortunately, the castle was closed for the month of November for construction and maintenance, but that's okay because the outside was pretty remarkable. We walked around the outside for a while before grabbing a late lunch and heading out. 

This was by far the best day of our trip! It made the slower days at the beginning worth it.  We realized that staying in a town and doing day trips from it was the way to go and when one of those day trips is a bear sanctuary (or a castle), you can't go wrong!