Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How's Berlin?

We've had a bunch of people ask us that recently, so I figured I'd answer it here.  Berlin is great!   We're almost completely unpacked/settled.  We have a few more light fixtures to hang and possibly another end table to buy, but our apartment is being lived in and loved.  We've officially worn it in and figured out all of it's kinks.  On top of that, we're enjoying living in Berlin, where there is a plethora of things to do and see.  We've bought bikes and it's starting to feel like fall.  

We've also learned a few things about our home country.

  1.  Germany is a cash society.   They're ahead of the times in almost everything else, but they still use cash as their primary mode of payment.  It's not as much of an issue with big payments, but we've definitely gotten the snake eye when we've tried to pay for smaller things with a card.  
  2. Germans are all about recycling.  Guys, we have four different trash receptacles in our house with the option for a fifth.  Trash, paper, glass, and other recyclables are all we have right now, but we have the option of composting if we want.  It's a lot to keep track of, but after a year sans recycling in Turkey, my heart doesn't hurt when I throw things away (even if they end up in the wrong bin).
  3. They're also all about plants. If you look at all of the balconies in our apartment complex, they're all covered with plants. There are big plants and little plants.  We're literally the only ones without them.  I bought a basil plant the other day and then it died while we were gone this past weekend, so I think we're just going to call a spade a spade and be plantless.  Plus, winter is coming so all of the plants will die, right?
  4. You can have your groceries delivered! I feel super pretentious doing it, but really, it's worth it.  Our grocery store is super small since it's in the heart of the city and doesn't have the selection that I need/want. Plus, I haven't learned all of the names of foods yet, so it's easier for me to do it from my computer than from the grocery store. Judge away.  I'm judging.  I still go to the Turkish market to get all of our produce, though.  
  5. It's all about bottled water here. I'm longing for my free and refillable water at a restaurant.  I guess the translation for "tap water" is something closer to "toilet water,"  so there is this stigma of drinking from the tap.  It's completely fine and we do it all the time, but if we go to a restaurant, we almost always have to pay (an exorbitant amount) for a (small) bottle of water.  It's usually more economical to just drink beer. 
Overall, it's been a pretty smooth transition.  There are a lot less tears than during our move to Turkey, which both of us are extremely grateful for.  We're still getting used to some things, but are starting to embrace others.  Mike has been riding his bike all over town registering for school, the university, and getting our apartment settled.  I've been running all around our house getting unpacked, as well as on the phone trying to renew my driver's license (don't worry, the DMV is just as miserable on the phone as they are in person), so although it hasn't been quite as exciting of a week, it's been productive.

We have our first visitors come tomorrow! We're super pumped for Steve and J. Leiu to come and stay with us and show them around our new town!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How to Survive Hours in the Car

We've been doing a lot of driving this summer.  The second half of the year we were in Turkey, we couldn't drive within the country due to restrictions, and since we were on the coast, that meant that to travel, we had to fly.  I love flying and it's become second nature to us after this year, but driving definitely has it's benefits.  You can really see the landscape and the culture of the country you are traveling in.  Last summer (2015), before all of the chaos in Turkey, we were lucky enough to drive down the southern coast of our new home country and man oh man was it beautiful.  Both Mike and I remarked at how similar it was to the drive along the coast of California.  Plus, driving allows you to stop and check out places along your route.  I'll never forget seeing signs on that drive in Turkey that advertised all sorts of different foods.  We must have seen a different sign advertising a different food every kilometer.  We were so excited and hungry by the time we arrived, only to find out that the foods they were advertising were variations of kofte (Turkish version of a meatball).  While we were a little disappointed, we embraced it as the full Turkish experience.  I'm sure in Germany, you could replace kofte with sausage and have a very similar experience.  We've learned a thing or two in all of our driving trips and now feel just as comfortable driving as we do flying.

  1.  GPS. In order for our marriage to survive, we need a GPS.  It was the best Black Friday purchase we ever made.  The number of arguments and tears have drastically decreased since that purchase.  
  2. Snacks.  I'm all about snacks and I usually put myself in charge of that department.  There is nothing worse than being stuck in the car and being hungry.  Plus, if you're like me and get motion sick, being hungry just exasterbates the problem. One time when we were driving to Istanbul last summer, we discovered that there is NOTHING between Izmir and Istanbul.  I mean nothing.  I longed for the McDonald's at every exit that we have in the United States.  That's just not a thing in Turkey (probably because having a car and traveling is such a luxury).  After that miserable experience, I swore to never drive anywhere without snacks.  I try to make them relatively healthy, but sometimes I'm guilty of baking a loaf of banana chocolate chip bread.  Judge away, but it's so good. 
  3. Water.  I'm pretty cautious about this one.  I have the worlds smallest bladder and if I drink ANYTHING, I'll have to stop for the bathroom.  Therefore, I don't normally bring water unless I know we're in for a really long haul.  I just plan to drink a TON when we arrive at our destination. That being said, Mike almost always asks for water or something to drink, so we usually have something in the car. 
  4. Comfortable clothes.  If I'm going to be sitting in a car for hours on end, I'm going to be comfortable.  It's the same for flying.  I always have shoes that I can take off and slip back on easily when we stop for lunch or a bathroom break.  I also try to wear layers.  Mike is a lover of the AC and I am not. Therefore, it may be 85 degrees outside, but you better believe I'll have my cardigan.  Judge away. Last, I try to wear looser clothes.  I don't wear my tighter jeans or more fitted shirts because that's just not comfortable. Loose and flowy always win.  If we're going to a beach or somewhere super casual, I'm usually just in gym shorts and a tshirt. I try to look somewhat presentable when we roll up to our hotel, but I'm always trying to find that happy medium of comfortable and presentable. 
  5. Entertainment.  Mike is almost always the driver, which means he gets to pick the entertainment.  It's only fair.  Plus, I'm usually napping (those Russo genes!), so it's more important for him to enjoy what's playing.   We have the necessary cords to play our music from our phones, but that either requires having a lot of playlists on your phone (more music = more storage), or you have to use data (more data = more money), neither of which are ideal.  While we have been known to rock out to Backstreet Boys and 'NSYNC for a decent amount of a road trip, I can only listen to the "I love the 90s" playlist so many times. Once we realized that we'd be able to drive to  a lot of our destinations,we started to reevaluate our entertainment situation and decided to try books on tape. We downloaded the Audible app and got the three month free trial.  Along with that, you get a free book download a month, so three free books.  We had so much fun listening to our first three months worth of books, that we decided to continue our subscription to Audible, at least for the year we're in Germany.   We still get our free book download a month and, as long as the book is worth more than $15, we've earned back our monthly fee.  It's been a great distraction on days when we've had a long drive or the scenery stays the same.  Plus, we've definitely had a time or two where we've gotten to our hotel and then stayed in to finish the chapter or book. Our biggest hurdle is finding a book that we both will enjoy.  Mike is a big sci fi/ fantasy reader, while I'm more of a coming of age or mystery fan.  The easiest compromise is historical fiction.  We've done a few WWII books and are now trying to branch out and find some that are more relevant to Turkish/Ottoman history (if you have any recommendations, send them our way!) What books have we listened to?
  • Modern Romance: An Investigation by Aziz Ansari.   This was our first audiobook and we weren't sure what to expect.  It's nonfiction and narrated by the amazing Aziz himself.  That was probably the best part.  The study that he conducted on modern romance around the world is fascinating and he proves himself much more than just a comedian.  We both enjoyed it, although I thought it was a little bit slow at times.  It combined my undergraduate major in Communications with Mike's love for quantitative data, so it was a perfect combination for us. 
  • Boys on the Boat written by Daniel James Brown and narrated by Edward Hermann.  This was probably my favorite book that we've listened to so far.  It takes place in the years leading up to the 1936 Olympics and is about the boys that make up the crew team that represents the United States in Hitler Germany.  It was perfect to listen to while the 2016 Olympics were taking place and I definitely found myself more interested in rowing after listening.
  • The Martian written by Andy Weir and narrated by R.C. Bray.  I was a little hesitant about this one since it's science fiction, but the fact that they made a movie out of it meant that I should be able to follow along and enjoy it.  I was right.  We both got into this book and found ourselves hanging on to every word the narrator said (although I did wish it was Matt Damon narrating).  Towards the end, it got a little long/technical in my book, but that didn't end up being a huge deal and I was still able to follow along. I definitely want to watch the movie after listening to the book. 
  • The Book Thief written by Markus Zusak and narrated by Allan Corduner.  This was another historical fiction novel that we both really enjoyed.   It had been on my to-read list for a while, especially after they made a movie out of it, so I was excited to listen to it.   Again, we both really enjoyed it, although I think me a little bit more than Mike.  It was another great perspective into Nazi Germany and Europe at that time.    We finished it after our less-than-stellar day in Wiesbaden and then ending just crushed both of us.  We just drove in silence for what seemed like forever while I frantically looked for an upbeat podcast or something to kill our last couple of hours.  That being said, it was a wonderfully written book and both Mike and I found ourselves close to/in tears at different points in the book.  I'd watch the movie, but I don't think my emotions can handle it.
Next on our list is The Girl with all the Gifts by Mike Carey.  It's definitely right up Mike's alley of distopian fiction, but I'm willing to give it a try.  Although, that means I get to pick the next book ;)  We're hoping to find a Turkish historical fiction book, but we're not having quite as much luck as we are with WWII.  We'll keep looking....

Do you guys have any books/audiobooks that you think we'd enjoy? Any tips for making a road trip great?  Let's hear 'em!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Freiburg with the Foglers

The great thing about living in Germany is that there are three other Olmsted families, one being the Foglers in Freiburg.  I met Kelly last spring in Croatia on the Ladies' Trip and knew that we would have to make a trip down to visit her and her husband Warren at some point.  When we realized we had to get the car in Wiesbaden, which is only a couple hours away from Freiburg, we jumped on the opportunity to make a stop there.  It turned out to be some much needed relief from a stressful car retrieval.

On Tuesday, after we rented the car and made the decision to continue on to Freiburg, we stopped in Triburg to do a little hiking and check out the world's largest cuckoo clock store.  Triberg is the perfect afternoon stop, but could also be a great home base for a few days of travel in the Black Forest.  There are a ton of hiking trails that one could spend days exploring, but they are also a great way to stretch your legs after a long morning. Neither of us were dressed for serious hiking, but most of the trails were pretty easy and only involved a mild incline.  Perfect for a quick walk.

After our hike, we stopped for a beer (Mike) and some goulash soup (me) at a nearby restaurant, while trying to figure out the best place to purchase a cuckoo clock. The Black Forest is known for it's cuckoo clocks, all of which are handcrafted and made from wood originating in the Black Forest.  We have tried to get a souvenir from each place we go.  Some souvenirs are as small as a magnet or ornament, while others are larger (and more expensive) like our Turkish rugs or our new German cuckoo clock.   After checking out three different stores, we chose Oli's because of the great reviews it received online and because we loved their clocks.  They looked more authentic than some of the bigger stores, but had a large selection that we could tell had been carefully designed and crafted.  We spent about 20 minutes deliberating on which clock to get and decided on the one below.  We wanted bears because they are the unofficial mascot of Berlin.  Plus, this was a more traditional design, which we both surprisingly liked. 


After the purchase of our cuckoo clock, we were ready to get on the road and get to Freiburg.  Since we had made the choice to come at such last minute's notice (aka less than 12 hours before), our hotel was outside of the city and essentially the upstairs of someone's house.  That being said, the owner was so friendly and helpful in getting us downtown via the tram.  After checking in, we took his advice and headed downtown for dinner and a beer.  

The next morning, we headed outside of the city and up the funicular to see the Black Forest from high up.  It was beautiful and breath taking.  There were tons of opportunities for actual hiking, but we had a lunch date with the Foglers and only got a chance to walk around a little bit. 

After our ride down the mountain, we met up with the Foglers and Kelly's parents who were in town, for a bratwurst and a little tour of the city.  The Foglers have definitely acclimated to Freiburg life and were able to tell us all sorts of little fun facts about their city.  We ended the afternoon at a biergarten before making plans to meet back up in a few hours after they ran some errands and we did some more sight seeing.   

Mike, General Lorenz (Kelly's father), Warren, Kelly and myself enjoying a bratwurst at the local market. 

While the Foglers ran some errands, Mike and I explored the city.  There is a beautiful cathedral in the center of town that we popped into.  I think the cathedrals in these smaller towns are often the most beautiful.  They still have the stained glass and Catholic ambiance, but there is a simplicity that makes them seem more welcoming and down to earth.

After the cathedral, we wandered around the town and enjoyed the beautiful weather. People kept telling us that the weather was changing on Thursday (this was Wednesday) and that we should enjoy the 85 degree weather while it was here.  They were right.  Thursday brought rain and the days following had cooler weather. 

Couldn't go to the Black Forest without getting Black Forest Cake!

That evening, we met back up at the Foglers' apartment for a drink and appetizers before heading out to dinner.  We had such a great time with Warren, Kelly and her parents.  Her parents were so supportive of the Olmsted experience, which meant a lot since her dad is a retired Air Force General.  They wanted to hear all about our experience in Turkey and the transition to Germany.  We had such a fun time and are hoping Kelly and Warren make it up to Berlin at some point this fall!  Thanks Kelly and Warren for showing us around your new home.  We're big fans!

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Evacuation Complete

I like to think we're good people.  We try to do the right thing.  We try to help others when in need.  We do things that merit good karma.  Well, somewhere along the line, we must have done something terrible because our karma on this move has just not been so great. While this week wasn't as bad as being stuck in Turkey during a coup, there were concerns that we were going to be stuck outside of Frankfurt.

We flew to Frankfurt on Monday night after spending the entire last week unpacking (I'll do another post on that once our house is presentable and I can take pictures) and took the train outside the city to Wiesbaden, where our hotel was.  There is an Army base there (where some people from Izmir went during the evacuation), as well as our car that had arrived from Turkey! It was the last step in completing our evacuation.  We had our household goods, an apartment and, soon, our car. Our plan was to pick up the car on Tuesday and head to see some fellow Olmsteders in Freiburg, Germany on Wednesday and Thursday, as well as stopping in Leichtenstein (checking off countries!) and some other German towns along the way home.  We were excited to have the car and make our own schedule as we headed back to Berlin.

 We knew we would have to get our driver's licenses, register the car and get temporary military plates in order to be issued our car.  Luckily, the office is right next door and all of our research (okay, just Mike's...I leave the military stuff up to him) told us that they only took walk-ins.  There was no need for appointments.  We got up early on Tuesday with the thought that it might be crowded and we might have to wait.

As we were walking to the building, Mike and I were joking and saying "what do you think the new rule is going to be?"  It seems like whenever we try and do anything related to the move, there is a new rule that makes things infinitely more difficult.  Sure enough, when we arrived at the building to register and take the driving test, there was a sign that stated, "Beginning September 1st, we will not be accepting walk-ins.  Appointments only."  We just laughed because there it was.  The new rule that was going to make things difficult.  We walked in and asked if we could make an appointment to take our driving test and register the car. Since it was 8:00am, we had missed the driving test by a half an hour and the next one wasn't being issued until Wednesday.  On top of that, the next appointment they had to register the car was Friday at 12:30.

In complete shock and despair, we went back to the hotel to reevaluate our plan.  At this point, we had three options.  First, we could stay in Wiesbaden all week, which was not something we wanted to do (there's nothing there except an Army base). Second, we could rent a car for the week and head down to Freiburg before coming back on Friday, which would have been fine, but we weren't expecting to pay for a rental car and we would have to sacrifice the rest of our trip.  Third, we could fly back to Berlin and just try again another week, which would have been expensive and accomplish nothing.  We opted for the second option after finding a cheap rental car and were out of Wiesbaden before you could say "Appointments only."

After two nights in Freiburg with great friends (I'll do a separate post on that!), we headed back to Wiesbaden.  The testing center for the licenses offered a 7:30 test time and we had made an appointment for a 12:30 registration.  The test was actually really hard because a lot of the signs are different and there are all sorts of rules like "If your car breaks down, you have to put the warning cone 200 meters behind your car" and only Mike ended up passing.  Luckily, I can retake it online (which would have been nice to know before because we could have just taken it at home, but alas...) and then I just have to go to a base to get the actual license.  I was really hoping that was going to be the worst part of the day, but I guess that just wasn't bad enough karma.

After the test, we headed to the registration office.  We had an appointment at 12:30, but it was an hour early and we wanted to see if they were available so we could get things rolling.   They did, in fact have an opening for us (makes me wonder if they had appointments earlier in the week and we didn't have to wait until Friday, but I don't like to think about that!).   Let me just preface this next part by saying that I understand working in customer service has to be hard.  You answer the same questions a million times and deal with people who have no clue what is going on.  That being said, you should give everyone at least one chance before treating them poorly and should probably be a little understanding when they get frustrated over things that are justified.  When we got to the guy's desk, we were prepared.  We had all the documents needed to register the car and had filled out the proper forms.  Our next hurdle came when he realized that our military mailing address was based in Berlin, not Wiesbaden.  He made a call and came back with some bad news.  We had to go to Sembach where the head of car registration for all military serving in Germany is.  Sembach is an hour away.  It was 12:30.  The latest we could pick up our car was 4:00.  If we didn't have any traffic or any issues at Sembach, we would be able to make it back in time, but that was a big if.

This is where the guy could have shown a little sympathy for our frustration.  We had been waiting all week for this appointment.  Unlike the people stationed at Wiesbaden, we couldn't just walk home and try again later. Without the car, we would be stuck in Wiesbaden all weekend until we could try again on Monday.  Mike was visibly frustrated and instead of just saying the simple words of "I understand how frustrating this is.  I'm sorry there isn't anything we could do," he just said "I don't know what you want me to do."  I thought Mike was going to lose it.  In fact, he kind of did, but luckily it was as we were walking out.

We went next door where the car was and explained the situation to them and luckily, the lady in charge was extremely friendly and sympathetic.  She gave us her cell phone number and told us to call her if we didn't think we'd make it back by four and she'd probably be able to hang around until we got there, barring it wasn't too late.  Thank God.   With that, we hopped in the car and headed to Sembach.

Side note: I was starving at this point, but there was NO WAY that I was going to ask to stop for lunch.  I probably would have been left on the side of the road. :)

We made it to Sembach in record time (probably thanks to Germany's lack of speed limits on the Autobahn) and got our name on the list.  Luckily, we only had to wait about ten minutes before Mike met with someone who was able to get the car registered quickly.  While Mike was doing that, I got to sit in the waiting room and watch the Today Show.  Oh, the joys of being on an American base!   Thankfully, the registration process isn't actually that long and Mike was done only ten minutes after his name was called.  We stopped at another office to quickly get a gas card (gets us gas without having to pay German taxes....aka cheap gas) and I stocked up on Cheez Its and Peanut Butter M&Ms.  Y'all, it was a stressful day.  I don't normally eat a lot of junk food, but this was the only way I was going to keep my sanity.  Plus, if there's one way to Mike's heart, it's peanut butter m&ms. I figured we deserved it at this point.

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We hit the road back to Wiesbaden and, once again, thanked the good Lord above for the lack of speed limits on the Autobahn. When we bounded into the office where we could pick up the car with huge grins on our face, I'm sure we looked like we had just won a race.  In fact, we did.  We won the race against the clock.  The lady who we spoke to before looked so surprised to see us back so soon, but quickly showed us to our car where we checked for damage, put the plates on the car that we got when we registered it, and signed the paperwork to make her all ours again!  I don't know if Mike and I have ever been so happy to have a car.   I thought about giving a hug to the lady, Cristal, who handed us the keys, but figured I should save any shred of sanity she thought we might have and went with a handshake and smile instead.

Oh Anya, we didn't realize quite how much trouble you would cause, but we're glad to have you back.  Hope your trip from Turkey was enjoyable.

After we got the car, we had to return the rental car.  We knew it would be a few hours late and were willing to just accept the fine.  When Mike ran in to turn in the keys, there was a distraction and the guy didn't even notice that it was four hours late! Hallelujah! I guess we've earned some good karma somewhere along the way. 

Our last stop was completely for me and Mike probably would have just skipped it completely if doing so wouldn't have warranted a complete meltdown by me. Mike had promised me a trip to the commissary before he knew how this week was going to turn out and I wasn't going to let him forget it.  I figured after the week we had, we deserved American brand food and some of our favorite things. Plus, at this point, it was almost five, so we were going to be getting home late anyways, so we might as well just add an extra half an hour to our trip. Amiright?  Guys, I was like a little kid in a candy shop.  I was SO HAPPY to be at the commissary.  I went a little crazy, buying all sorts of things, like peanut butter, Wheat Thins and four cans of canned pumpkin to make all sorts of things fall-ish.  It's a good thing we didn't have a way to take home any perishable goods because our grocery bill would have been double the $103 it already was.  I didn't even care.  I was so happy.  Like a kid in a candy shop, I tell ya.  Don't worry, Mike stocked up on his favorite things too. That ramen is all for him.  Now you know, if you ever are in need of a gift to send us, American food is the way to our hearts and will not go unappreciated.

We made one last stop at the food court on base for our first meal in way too long before hitting the road at 6:30pm, six and half hours after we expected to.  We arrived home around midnight and didn't even unload the car.  We just walked upstairs in a daze, sat down on the couch, and were grateful that we can officially say the last part of the evacuation is officially over.  At one point on the drive home, we were reflecting on this little tidbit of information and talking about all of the easy and difficult things that came out of it.  It's funny because, while the military took great care of me while I was at Ramstein and I'll be forever grateful for that, it's been the military stuff that has been so hard to deal with.  We've encountered red tape almost every step of the way after I was evacuated that made everything so much more difficult.  Funny how that works out, isn't it? You would think moving to a foreign country would have problems dealing with foreign things and, while there have been a slew of those, they've paled in comparison to the issues we've run into with the American side of all of this.  It's a learning experience, y'all and a humbling one at that!

After our tumultuous week in Wiesbaden, traveling was just not in the cards for us this weekend.  Instead, we are enjoying a quiet weekend at home.  I ordered groceries online (judge away because I'm judging myself), hung the last of our pictures, and are excited to watch some American football tonight.  The calm AFTER the storm. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Glasgow and One Last Castle

Our last stop on our Scotland tour was Glasgow, but before we got there, we made a stop at Stirling Castle.  We were a little disappointed in this castle compared to Edingburgh castle because a lot of it was closed off and there wasn't as much information available.  That being said, you could get a guided tour or the audio tour for a few euros and I'm sure would have had more information than you needed.  

There were a few rooms that were open that were pretty cool, such as the Queen's sitting room and bed room.

They had actors and actresses throughout, which made it seem a little cheesy, but they played the role quite well!

I'll take that view out my window!
We walked around the castle for about an hour before heading out. 

Our final stop was Glasgow, where we would spend the night before catching our flight back to Berlin.  At this point in our Olmsted experience, we've been a lot of places.  There are definitely places that we've enjoyed more than others and places that we won't go back, but we've never been a place that we felt was a waste of time.  That is, until Glasgow.  We both felt like there wasn't anything to do, except one church and overall, the city just felt kind of run down and trashy.  I know it's a major city in Scotland, but if I were planning a trip to Scotland, I would skip Glasgow.  I feel bad saying that, but we were not impressed and didn't see anything worthwhile there. 

Despite Glasgow being such a bust, we had a blast in Scotland.  It is by far one of the most green and beautiful places I've ever been.  It was so refreshing to get out of the major cities and do a different type of sight seeing on this trip.  Mike had a blast golfing and scotch tasting and I loved the fresh air that came with such a wonderful place.  Scotland, you win. 

Monday, September 12, 2016

Edinburgh, Scotland

It was an eventful day at St. Andrew's, but we couldn't hang around forever because we had to get to Edinburgh.  We arrived a little before dinner and checked in to our hotel before venturing out.   I know this is super cliche to say, but Edinburgh reminded me of Harry Potter.  I felt like I was living in a town near Hogwarts.  I loved it!  

This was the first place that we were met with rain and, combined with our hunger, we opted to go for the first restaurant we saw.  Our (really Mike's) usual approach is to research on TripAdvisor and find the restaurant that has the highest ratings, regardless of where it is. This usually involves a lot of walking and wandering, but almost always results in a good meal.  Because we  were so hungry, we nixed that plan and went with whatever was closest.  We found an Italian restaurant, Prezzo, across the street and dashed inside to get out of the rain.  After being seated quickly and receiving our appetizer almost immediately, we ended up sitting and waiting for our main course for almost 45 minutes without any attention from any of the wait staff.  When we flagged a waitress down and asked her about it, it became apparent we had been forgotten. When we finally received our food, my order was wrong and neither of our meals were actually that great.  The manager came and brought our bill and asked how everything was.  Mike responded "Not that great actually" and then the manager DIDN'T SAY ANYTHING! It was so awkward as he processed our credit card (they do that at your table in Europe) and we signed our bill.  It was the worst service and the most awkward end to dinner.  We left and never looked back.  In hopes of rectifying our night, Mike had researched a beer bar to go to, but it was closed for maintenance.  It was just not our night so we headed back to the hotel with hopes of a better day tomorrow. 

The next day, we were up and ready to go, hopeful that our day would be bright and sunny.  While it wasn't quite bright, it was sunny and a good day for sightseeing.  Our first stop was the Edinburgh castle, which was included in the Explorer Pass we had.  It was totally worth it.  The castle was huge with lots of rooms to explore and information to read.  You can take a guided tour or rent headphones for an audio tour, but there was enough information to keep us entertained without either of these options.  We could have spent a whole day there if we wanted, but opted for a couple hours of exploration. 

I love that they have a cemetery for soldiers' dogs!

Mike and a huge cannon!


I had one request while in Edinburgh and it was to go to the cafe where Harry Potter was written, the Elephant House.  This worked out well as our next stop because Mike wanted some coffee, so while he ordered, I took pictures.  They're such a great cafe and understand the fanfare surrounding them.  There are pictures of JK Rowling in the cafe and a few pieces of HP paraphernalia signed by her.  They welcome pictures and just ask that you make a donation to the Children's Fund in their cafe, which I gladly did.  I'm sure that there are people who are bigger fans than me that come into that cafe, but I was giddy with excitement and had a huge grin on my face the entire time I was snapping pictures.  


Guys! This is so cool!!

After I calmed down from my HP high and Mike finished his coffee, we walked around the city of Edinburgh for a while.  It's a pretty cool city with lots of character and tons of side streets with nooks and crannies to keep you entertained for hours.

Mike asked if he could go to day care after seeing this sign.

After wandering around, we grabbed lunch and spent the afternoon wandering in and out of pubs and cafes.  We were hit with wave of exhaustion.  Not only were we tired, but we were kind of tired of sightseeing.  Edinburgh is a beautiful city and I'm sad that we didn't have the motivation to keep going because I'm sure there was more to see (or was there? Some people say it can be done in a day), but after an exhausting few months of travel and transitions, we were tired.  So, we took the afternoon off and rested.

After we re-energized, we signed up for the Dooms, Dead and Buried Tour through Mercat Tours.  We did a Boos and Brews tour in Savannah on our honeymoon and it was SO FUN!  While this one definitely didn't live up to that one (and you couldn't drink), it was fun and our tour guide was fantastic.  This one included a lot of fanfare and less information, but it was still entertaining.  They took us underground, to a cemetery and around the city to places that are known for their doom, dead and buried.  It was a fun way to end our time in Edinburgh and learn about an alternative side to Edinburgh.

Our tour guide Heather who made the tour worth it!