Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Germany: A Summary

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After eleven days of traveling, we made our way back to Izmir happy, tired, and a little hungover.  Words cannot explain how much fun we had in Germany or how much we adored the German culture (and food and beverages!).

After three months of life in Turkey, a little bit of German order and structure was refreshing.  For example, in Turkey, there are crosswalks, but no one uses them.  People just cross when they think it's safe. In Germany, a man glared at us for jaywalking even when there weren't any cars coming.   I think we were both happy to be in our apartment and to be able to relax, but coming back to Izmir wasn't as easy as I would have liked.  I'm always secretly kind of excited to get home after a vacation.  I am a person who thrives on routines and normalcy, so going home is always comforting after a vacation.  This part remained true, but the dark clouds of Turkey that loomed over us when we left were still there.  We still don't know anyone here and haven't had much luck meeting people.  The language barrier is still a thing and even though I'll be starting language school again soon, it's a tough language.  Mike is still trying to figure out the school thing (more coming on that soon) and it's proving to be more challenging than we though.  All that being said, I was happy to get back and in a routine.  Plus, I was getting a little tired of sausages and beer ;)

Now that it's all done and we've had a little bit of time to soak in everything on our trip, we're still in love with Germany.  We're already planning our next Oktoberfest trip for next year.  We're thinking Stuttgart and a western Germany trip.  Anyone want to join us?  We've heard Stuttgart actually hosts the best Oktoberfest.

I didn't know anything about German geography before this trip, so I had to look at the map a ton to visualize where we were going and how far things were.  For the most part, we didn't drive more than a couple of hours each day, but here's the breakdown of how we planned the trip (each of the cities should link to the blog posts).

We first flew from Izmir to Cologne where we spent a full day and a night before leaving early.
We then flew to Munich and drove to Dachau (an hour and a half) where we spent the afternoon before driving an hour or two to Garmisch.
After two nights in Garmisch, we drove two hours to Neuschweinstein, then to Regensberg with a stop at the Church of Weis in between.
After a night in Regensburg, we drove about an hour and half to Bamberg where we spent the day.  After a day there, we drove another hour to Weimar, which we found kind of disappointing, but stayed the night.
The next day, we had a three hour drive to Berlin, but we stopped in Wittenberg on the way.
After two days in Berlin, we drove an  hour to Dresden to see another scholar, Claire, where we spent a day and night.
Our last stop was Munich for Oktoberfest,  which was a five hour drive from Berlin.
After two days at Oktoberfest, we flew directly back to Izmir and slept for days.

I'm not sure if you can actually see the cities and stopping points, but here's a little map of our driving tour

And last but not least, I wanted to let Mike put all of his hard work to use.  After drinking over 90 beers in 11 days and refusing to order anything but coffee or beer at a restaurant ("water is for the weak" was his unspoken motto), here are Mike's top beer recommendations from his eleven day drinking tour.  He picked his favorite type of each style beer (after consulting his trusty Untappd app where he logged all 90 beers over the week.  If you have the app, friend him. He'll love it!) and this is the list he came up with 

Mike's German Beer Recommendations
  • Ayinger Brauweisse
  • Kloster Scheyern Dopplebock Dunkle 
  • Koenig Ludwig Dunkle (dark lager)
  • Peter's Kolsch
  • Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier (found in Bamberg)
  • Hacker-Pschorr's Oktoberfest

We loved Germany and are definitely feeling the post-vacation blues.  We can't wait to go back, but I think our bodies and our bank accounts are glad for a little break :)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

The Pope

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As I said in the last post, there's been a lot of freaking out about the Pope in our household.  Solely by me.  I mean, don't get me wrong, Mike likes the guy, but he definitely wasn't glued to the television like I was.  I was raised half Catholic (my dad is Catholic and my mom is Episcopalian), but I hadn't really paid that much attention to the Pope's schedule since, well, I wasn't going to be anywhere near him.  In fact, I'm closer to him when he's at the Vatican than when he was in the United States.  Add in a 7 hour time difference and I figured I'd be asleep for most of the fanfare.


Karen texted me on the day of his arrival and said to turn on the news because the Pope was almost in America.  It was around 11:00pm our time, but we were still a little jetlagged from Germany, so we were still wide awake. Thanks to AFN, the one news channel we get was CNN at the moment and was showing the Pope's trip to America live.

And so we watched....

Waiting anxiously for him to get off the plane!!
There he is! In the United States!!
And chanted "Francisco! Francisco!" (okay, that was just me)

Two of my faves!

And over the next few days we watched some more....

I just love them all so much!

Address the crowd (including Karen!!) on the lawn

And I fell in love with the little old man with the big hat even more than I already did....

He put on his hat for Mass shortly afterwards

I think it's fair to say that this pope is different from the last. I think there is a perception that the Catholic Church is outdated in it's rulings and teachings.  It doesn't let women be priests, doesn't recognize marriage besides those between a woman and a man, and doesn't promote the use of birth control except that of Natural Family Planning.   Even I have been turned off by many of those aspects, but in the end, I think those are just small parts of the Catholic faith.

I think one of the greatest things that Pope Francis has done is help change that perception of Catholicism.  While he has not changed any of those rules of the faith, he has been more open and accepting.  While he has not allowed gay marriage in the Church, he has said "Who am I to judge?" what people do outside of the Church. He has been more open to what a family looks like, has interacted directly with the poor and the imprisoned, and has been more accepting of people who had previously been outcast from the church.  He has shown that mercy and inclusion is more important than the actual rules of the church, which I believe is the true example of what it means to be Catholic.

I don't think the Catholic Church is perfect, nor do I agree with everything Pope Francis has said.  There are still a lot of things that need to be changed (their view on women would be a good start!), but I think this pope is helping people see that Catholicism can be welcoming and inclusive and that all types of people can be and should be welcome in the church.

So, after he leaves and the fan fair around his visit has subsided, I hope that people remember the words that he spoke and the way that he made them feel. I hope that people, even non-Catholics, feel encouraged by him to just love a little more and a little deeper. And maybe, just maybe, I'll let Mike watch something other than Pope....

Some good vibes and quotes from my buddy Frank (are we friends? can I call him that? I wish!)

"God bless America."

"Teaching is a beautiful job; as it allows you to see the growth day by day of the people entrusted in your care.  It is a little like being parents, at least spiritually.  It is a great responsibility."

"We need to avoid a common temptation nowadays: to discard whatever proves troublesome. Let us remember the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” (Mt 7:12)

Oktoberfest day two

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We learned a lot on our first day of Oktoberfest and were determined to put our newly learned knowledge to good use, mainly being that we didn't need to drink so much beer so fast.

Mike had a friend, Scott, who is stationed at Naples who was coming, so we were determined to spend day two of Oktoberfest with him.  It's amazing how hard that is when you don't have a cell phone (we didn't have an international phone plan).  You realize how reliant you are on technology when you don't have it.  Luckily, the train station where we were supposed to be meeting him had wifi in some spots, so we were able to communicate and coordinate. 

The three of us arrived at the park around 8:45 and decided that Augustiner was going to be our destination for day two.  Before we actually arrived in Germany, we had visions of going from haus to haus, but that's not the case.  Seats are so hard to come by that once you get one, you just kind of stay there all day or at least until you're ready to leave.  

We once again were greeted by lines outside of the houses, but not nearly as long as the day before.  We were almost at the front of the line!!  When the doors opened at nine, there was no pushing, shoving or running.  It was very orderly and German-like.  In fact, we grabbed a table and there were tables around us that remained empty.  Scott had other friends from Naples who were there and we were able to save basically the whole table for them. It was definitely different from the day before. 

When we sat down, a waitress came up to us and we thought she was there for food.  She looked at us and said "Three beers?"  We all looked at each other confused because we thought they weren't serving beer until noon.  Oh, were we wrong! They start serving beer at nine after the first day!  We ordered beers and began to wonder how the day was going to go since we were starting to drink in the morning.  I don't remember if it was Mike or Scott who just shook their head and said "You can't drink all day if you don't start in the morning."
From the Naval Academy to submarines to Oktoberfest

Mike, Scott and I
Oktoberfest is fun!

The day went much smoother than the previous day.  We drank a little slower, ate a little more, and just had a great time!  We hung out with Scott's friends who came and soaked in our last full day of Germany.
For those who were wondering if everyone wears lederhosens and dirndls, the answer is yes.  Plus, the little guys look so cute!

Despite our attempts to last all day, by three o'clock, we were done.  Not only had we drank a lot, we were tired.  Oktoberfest is hard. We headed back to the hotel for a nap with the thoughts that we might return later that night.

That didn't happen.  We didn't leave the hotel again.  I think if our hotel had been right downtown, we might have tried to go back out again, but since it was almost an hour trip into and out of the city, it was just too much effort. Plus, Oktoberfest is hard.

We napped, watched TV, FaceTimed with my parents and eventually got dinner downstairs at the hotel restaurant.  Mike did get a beer with dinner, so it's not like we stopped partying all together.  Needless to say, Oktoberfest is fun, but hard.

Overall, we had a blast.  I had pretty low expectations going into it because I just envisioned long lines, lots of people and not a lot of beer.  There were long lines and lots of people, but if you get there early and are prepared, it is worth it.  Being in the tents is a blast and the atmosphere is so much fun and not something that I've ever experienced. It's a party like no other!

My tips for Oktoberfest

1. Wear an authentic lederhosen or dirndl.  We saw people in all sorts of things that kind of resembled them, but it's definitely more respectful to be in the authentic ones. I thought we might stand out in them, but, as it turns out, you stood out if you didn't wear one.

2. Get there early if you are going on the first day. Depending on the size of your group will determine the time.  If you have more than two or three people, you should get there before seven. If you only have two or three people, you can probably wait until nine, but don't wait until after ten.

3.  Don't go too crazy with beer.  I promise they won't run out. Take it slow.  You don't want to drink too much and then have to leave early.  They serve it by the liter, so you'll definitely get a nice buzz even without trying.

4. If you don't like crowds, don't go on the first day.  The first Sunday was not as crowded and much more mild.

5.  We had a ton of fun sitting with random people and made great friends! If you are in a big group and are there for multiple days, spend one day apart from the group and find a random group of people to hang out with.  Both Mike and I agreed that we're glad that we did one day with our friends and one day with strangers.

6. If you don't want to deal with the lines and chaos of the actual Oktoberfest, look into the brauhauses outside of the park.  Lots of them have events and host their own mini-Oktoberfests and are equally as fun.

Step Count: 10,575 steps

Oktoberfest: day one

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Oktoberfest.  Every beer drinker's dream.  Including Mike.

When we were planning this trip, Mike was elated when he realized that we could extend our weekend in Germany to a week and be there for the first weekend of Oktoberfest! It's like Mike's Christmas!

The concierge at the front desk of our hotel told us that we should leave the hotel at 6:00am in order to get there in time. SIX A.M.????  Oh man.  Neither Mike and I were really feeling that, so we decided to leave around 7:00, which was still kind of early in my eyes, but I didn't want to be the one to ruin Christmas, so I was up and ready at 7:00 and we were out the door.  As our friend Mark told Mike, "you've been training for this your whole life.  Don't screw this up!"

The only drawback to our hotel was that it was so far out of the city.  It took almost an hour to get to the park via public transportation, so we got to the entrance a little before eight.
I should have taken a picture of Mike's face when he saw this sign! He was so happy!

When you walk into the park, there are bierhauses on either side of the road.  There are other things, such as carnival rides and games, food vendors, and souvenir shops, but we never made it to those.....We were surprised to see that there were lines in front of most of them and quickly got worried.   We were planning to watch the parade at 10:30 and then go to the bierhauses since they didn't tap the ceremonial keg or start serving beer until noon, but quickly decided that we should pick a bierhaus and get in line.  I left that up to Mike since this was really his weekend and he knows beer a lot better than I do.

He chose to get in line for Hacker-Pschorr, so we joined the crowd of people in line there.  To the left of us was the Hacker-Pschorr biergarten, which was full of people who had gotten in line really early (I heard that those people were there at 6:30.  That's dedication!).  They weren't serving beer or anything, but they did have a place to sit.  The rest of us were just standing outside in a Black-Friday-like line.  We joined the line not really knowing what the protocol was.  There were security guards around, but they didn't speak English and we didn't speak German, so we just kind of hoped that we were in the right line.

Around 8:45, the people in the biergarten started lining up and around 9:00, the doors opened! I kid you not, it was like Black Friday.  People just started charging the doors and little 5 foot 2 me just kind of got shoved along.  I don't even think I really picked up my feet.  As we got close to the door, I looked behind me and grabbed a hand with a blue checkered sleeve like the one that Mike was wearing.  As we got through security and the crowd dispersed, I realized that, in fact, that was not Mike's hand that I was holding!! Luckily, Mike was nearby, but it made for an awkward moment with blue-checkered guy.

Once we were inside, the challenge was finding a table.  It was absolute chaos! There were people standing on tables claiming them for their group and it was amazing how fast people were able to get in and claim a table. I guess if you have a large group, you have to be aggressive and claim a table.   Once again, being only two people really helped us. We walked around and were able to find a table to squeeze into pretty quickly.

The Hacker-Pschorr tent is decorated like Heaven.  Fitting because I'm pretty sure that it was exactly like Mike imagines Heaven looking like

Happy Oktoberfest! Love, The Hogans

The inside of the Hacker-Pschorr tent
Translation: Bavaria is Heaven.  I think I kind of agree :)

After we found a table, the waiting began.  As I said before, they didn't start serving beer until noon, so we had a while until we could get our first alcoholic beverage.  They were serving food, such as pretzels and sausages (very German), as well as sodas and water, but no beer.  We made friends with the people at our table and hung out with them.  Two of them were from Australia and two were from Germany (Frankfurt).  One of the German's had been to Oktoberfest twice before, so he was an expert.  Plus, both him and his brother were able to translate for us throughout the day.  Overall, all four of them were really fun.  The Germans were really funny talking about the United States and Australia.  I had to assure them that most people in America didn't actually want Donald Trump as their president....

Around 11:45, the ceremony began.  The owner? of Hacker came out and gave a little speech and then they did a little ceremony for the tapping of the keg. Them, right at twelve, they began handing out the beer! SO EXCITING!  We had heard that it can take up to an hour and a half to get the first beer since they have so many people asking at once.  I thought Mike was going to die with anticipation. People around us began getting their drinks, but our table seemed to be in between waitresses sections.    It was funny to compare the tables who had beer vs. the tables that didn't.  The tables that had beer all had smiles on their faces, were laughing and just looked happy overall.  The beer-less tables, on the other hand, were sluggish, quiet and looked downright sad.  I wish I had pictures because it looked like a scene out of a movie.  

The master of ceremonies
We got our first beer around 12:30 and the drinking began!!

Merry Christmas!
I imagine that twinkle in his eye is the same twinkle he had as a little kid on Christmas morning

Alicia (an Aussie) and her husband Dane across from her (next to Mike), Phillipp (next to Alicia) and his brother Carsten

Everyone is happy now that we have beer!

Mike was a little over-eager and drank a little too much beer too fast, so we didn't last past four.  Our friends were still going and were taking it a little bit slower than Mike.  We left and went to get an early dinner of Indian food.  I know, a weird choice after a day of drinking, but it was delicious and luckily didn't cause any issues.  

We were both feeling a little refreshed and maybe ready to try drinking a little bit, so we headed back to Marienplatz where we were the previous night.  There was a Lowenbrau house that Mike wanted to try, so we headed there.  They were basically having their own Oktoberfest at this bierhaus, even though they also had one at the actual Oktoberfest site.  There was a man selling tickets outside, so we bought two from him.  What we didn't realize was that we didn't need tickets and these were for his reserved table.  He showed us to his table and we joined a bunch of 55+ German men (continuing the trend of making friends with actual adults on this trip).  They didn't speak English and we didn't speak German, but we managed.  Unfortunately, the day of drinking caught up with us and we didn't stay long. I struggled to get down a rattler and Mike slowly nursed one beer.  We called it a night and were back at the hotel by 9:30, preparing for another day of Oktoberfest.

As we're getting ready for bed, Mike was reliving the day with his friend Brad.  I'll leave you with this conversation....

Mike: I'm dying. Oktoberfest is hard.
Brad: It's okay. You'll make it. Or you'll die and wake up right where you were today.

Monday, September 28, 2015


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We woke up on Friday to some light rain and much cooler weather than we had the day before.  We thought we were going to grab breakfast with Claire after her meeting, but it got pushed back an hour and we didn't want to wait since we had a four hour drive from Dresden to Munich.

Little did we know how long. Five and a half hours later we arrived in Munich.

Let's back up though because breakfast is a whole story in itself.  We wanted to grab something to eat so that we could wait until we got to Munich for a late lunch. We first stopped in this cafe, but as Mike said "it was too hipster."  They did have some creative menus choices, a lot which involved goat cheese.   We found a restaurant a few shops down and grabbed a table.  Menus were on the table, but it took what seemed like forever to place our order and then even longer to get our food.  By the time we left, it was 11:30.

After breakfast, we packed the car and got going. The first hour went relatively smoothly and Mike was enjoying his last day of driving on the Autobahn while I napped.  About an hour in, that all changed.  For the next four and half hours, we would sit in traffic, be rerouted by the gps for a quicker route, and then sit in traffic some more.  Needless to say, we were glad to finally arrive in Munich, even if it did mean having to return our rental car (we would be in Munich for the rest of our trip, which has excellent public transportation and we'd be drinking a lot of beer!).

We dropped off the rental car and navigated public transportation to our hotel.  We stayed at the Radisson in Munich and were very happy to see how nice it was.  We were a little disappointed to see how far out from downtown it was, but the quality of the room made it well worth it.

By this point, it was almost six and we hadn't eaten since our breakfast-turned-lunch at 11:00am. Mike had been to Munich before and knew that Marienplatz was the place to go.  It has lots of restaurants, bierhauses (his main motivation) and pretty architecture.

I'm not even tired of all of the churches because they're all so pretty, especially against that sky

Our first stop was food and beer.  Ayinger has a beerhaus in Munich, even though they aren't a "Munich Beer."  In order to have a beerhaus at Oktoberfest, the beer has to be from Munich.  That being said, we knew we wanted to go to Ayinger on Friday.  

We arrived at Ayinger and it was packed.  Every table was taken and there was a line of people waiting to get in.  We were lucky, though, since we were only two people, they were able to seat us right away. The service was a little slow, but the beer and the food was so good!  I'm not even a beer drinker, but in the spirit of Oktoberfest, I tried their Weiss beer and actually really liked it. 

So happy to be in Munich!

Look at that pork shoulder! It's huge!

 After dinner at Ayinger, we headed over to Hofbrauhaus, which is apparently the most famous bierhaus in Munich (I had no idea about any of this).

There are multiple floors and tons of people and tables on each floor.  It's amazing!! It was super crowded though and we finally decided to just ask a group of guys if we could squeeze in at the end of their table.  They agreed and we sat down and got to know our new friends.  There were four of them, two of which lived in Brussels (I think...) and the other two lived in Seattle.  They all worked for the same company and had all lived in Seattle at one point. One of them went to Virginia Tech, so I quickly introduced myself and then dropped the 21-16 score from when JMU beat Tech in 2010.  Obviously starting off on the right foot :)

We had fun hanging out with them and drinking beer.  Lots of beer.

 Around 10:30, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel in order to prepare for the first day of Oktoberfest!!

Not our best picture, but CHEERS TO GERMANY!

Sunday, September 27, 2015


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After a great day in Berlin, we arrived back at our AirBnB to find out that our internet had quit on us.  We tried resetting the router and doing all sorts of things to get it to work with no avail.  I think it was just a fluke and hopefully a quick call to Berlin Comcast will fix it (glad I'm not the one who has to make that phone call).  That was the motivation we needed to get on the road early the next morning and make our way to Dresden.

Before we left, though, we headed to a cute cafe around the corner from our AirBnB and grabbed breakfast and checked the interwebs.
My delicious breakfast

We were on the road around 10:00 and made it to Dresden without many issues. We checked into our hotel, but couldn't get into our room (when we eventually did, we were shocked at how big and nice it was.  Shout out to the Wyndam!).  There is another Olmsted Scholar who is going to school in Dresden, so we met up with her for lunch and an afternoon tour of the town.

Claire showed us around the town and explained a lot of the history behind the different buildings. The most impressive thing about Dresden is that the entire city basically melted in World War Two thanks to a bomb.  The Elbe was boiling because it was so hot! Isn't that crazy?  

Since the entire city basically melted, most of the buildings have been reconstructed, including this magnificent opera house and the churches.  Despite the fact that they aren't original, they're still pretty spectacular.  The entire city of  Dresden is just beautiful.  It's different from Bavaria, but has it's own charm for sure.

There is a huge square in the middle of town and this man apparently brings out his grand piano and plays all the time.  He was really good!

In one corner of the town is the Protestant Church

And in the other was the Catholic Church.

There is also a palace there that is pretty popular.  We didn't go inside the palace because they're museums that you have to pay for, but the outside and the courtyard were free so we walked through.

After the palace, we headed over to this little market/carnival which was super cute.  Claire bought some honey to send to another Olmsted-er and we were on our way.  We would have stayed for a beer and a ride on the ferris wheel, but we wanted to check out this park.  We also wanted to be true Germans and enjoy their open container laws, so we stopped at a gas station across the street from the park and grabbed some adult (well at 16 in Germany) beverages.   

The weather was perfect.  It was 80 degrees and sunny.  I could have sat in this park all evening, minus the fact that we were getting hungry.  We ended the night at a burger joint which was delicious.  If you've ever been to 80/20 in Norfolk, it was kind of like that.  Not quite as good, but close.

Claire had to go home to get ready for a meeting she had the next day, but she showed us where a cool little bar was.  It was set up like a living room, so there were lots of couches and lamps everywhere.  By this point, we were pretty tired and were wet since it had begun to rain, so we headed back to our hotel.

Both of us enjoyed Dresden.  It was smaller and not as urban as Berlin, which we both really liked.  It still felt like a small town, but had a lot to do and see.  I would definitely recommend a day here if you're in Germany!

Step Count: 22, 575 steps