Thursday, July 22, 2010

Ich bin ein Berliner.

In his 1963 speech, President John F. Kennedy made the remark, “Ich bin ein Berliner.” Although he meant for this to mean, “I am a citizen of Berlin,” it actually translates to “I am a jelly donut.” Oops. To this day, you can still buy postcards and t-shirts with JFK’s little slip-up.

Marianna and I had the opportunity to eat some Berliners (the donuts, not citizens of Berlin) during Carnival in March. Irmgart brought us some home after school one day. She always was getting us little treats because she felt sorry for us having to live in such terrible weather conditions. Sweet Irmgart.

After four months of being a Berliner (a citizen of Berlin, not a donut), I truly feel that “Ich bin ein Berliner.” I came to love that city! I loved getting to know my favorite restaurants, cafes, weekend markets and shops. I loved getting to know the workers at the fruit and vegetable stand and the bakers at the local bakery. I loved being able to walk on a frozen lake in February and then witness it as a haven for canoers in April. I loved working in an international school and teaching in such a unique environment. I just loved it!

So if anyone is planning on a visit to Berlin anytime soon, I will gladly tell you all there is to know about my German hometown. After all, I was a Berliner for four months of my life (a citizen of Berlin, not a jelly donut...well maybe that too...I'm okay with that).

As Irmgart would say, "So much to do!!"

With two weeks in Berlin left, Marianna and I had tons of places to go and people to see on our To-Do List! Since our teaching units were all wrapped up, we took the liberty to devote our afternoons and evenings after school seeing as much of Berlin as humanly possible.

Here are some highlights:

Berlin Philharmonie with Irmgart and Barbara (Irmgart's Best Friend)

Turkish Market and Crepes with Karla and Joe in Kruezberg

Neighborhood Thrift Markets

Riding Bikes along the Eastside Gallery (Berlin Wall)

Riding Bikes through Tiergarten


Homemade German Meal made by Irmgart

Sunday night, when we got back from Amsterdam, Irmgart had a traditional German meal all prepared for us! We had spargel (a white asparagus grown underground), with butter sauce, ham, and salad.

Bradenburg Gate and Reichstag

Bike Ride around Lake Schlaktensee

Dinner on our last night with Irmgart on Lake Wannsee

Monday, May 31, 2010

Dutch Wonderland

When I was a kid, one of my favorite places to go during our summer visits to Pennsylvania was the children's theme park Dutch Wonderland. I loved the rides, the windmills, everything about it. I guess you could say that the Pennsylvania Dutch inspired my dream to visit the real Dutch Wonderland. Thankfully, the Eyjafjallajokul volcano held off and Marianna and I got to visit Holland...and during tulip season! A DREAM COME TRUE!!

On Saturday morning, we headed off for Haarlem, Holland to visit the hometown of Corrie ten Boom--a remarkable Christian woman who hid Jews during WWII. Her book The Hiding Place is one of my favorites of all time. (Read it, if you haven't!) We explored the little town a bit before our tour of the ten Boom house. The tour was really great. We got to go throughout the entire house and hear all the insider stories. How surreal to be walking through the home of such a courageous, Christ-like family.

After our visit to the quaint town of Haarlem, we got on the bus to Lisse to see the tulip fields! When we stepped off the bus, I was greeted by hundreds and hundreds of vibrant yellow daffodils and people-lined streets. We were thrilled to find out that we were going to be in Holland during the annual Flower Parade -- the largest parade in the Netherlands. We got our spot along the parade route and waited for the most amazing (and fragrant) parade I have ever witnessed. The theme was "A Journey through Europe"--how fitting for us!

After the parade, we visited Keukenhof Gardens--the most beautiful spring garden in the world, they claim! Oh and it was. I kept wishing that my Great Grandmom and Mom-Mom could have seen it. It was unreal. Here are a few pictures from the gardens, though they hardly capture its true beauty.

On Sunday morning, Marianna and I walked the streets of Amsterdam. It's a great city. I loved how the canals just run through all the streets. People love their bikes in Holland! You should have seen them. I especially liked the bikes that were decorated. They were super cute and helped with spotting your bike in a packed two-story bike rack. (Yes, they really have those!)

We got to visit the Anne Frank House. I have loved Anne Frank since middle school and was so happy to get the chance to visit the Annex. Otto Frank wanted the house to remain unfurnished since the Nazis stripped their home of all the wood and valuables when they were found. So the museum was bare, but it didn't even matter. The museum was absolutely incredible. Quotes from Anne's book were posted all throughout the house. They had lots of memorabilia of the Frank's in the various rooms and models of what the rooms did look like back when they lived there. My favorite place in the Annex (besides seeing Anne's precious plaid diary--that's a given) was Anne's room which still had the posters and pictures of movie stars that she put up to make the room happier. I just love her.

Unfortunately, we had an early flight back to Berlin, but I was so grateful that I had the opportunity to visit the Netherlands in the Springtime. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I do hope to go back some day and see more of Amsterdam!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Ooh la la!

The next stop on our Spring Break itinerary was Paris, France! We went almost to the day that I visited with my mom, sister, and aunts eleven years ago, so I was excited to go back.

On Friday morning, we headed off to see the Catacombs. Although I'm not a huge fan of walking through dark places with skulls and bones surrounding me, it was definitely a Paris must-see that I didn't get to when I was 13. It was super creepy, but very interesting.

Then, Marianna and I explored the Montmontre area of Paris. We walked the streets, perused the cute boutiques, and then people-watched on the lawn of the Sacre Coeur Basilica. The rest of the day was spent exploring more of Paris. We wandered around the busy streets and just took in the sights of such an elegant Parisian city.

The next morning, we went to the Louvre. I have always wanted to see the "Mona Lisa!" And that I did...and so much more. I loved the Louvre. All of the art was so beautiful and unique. Besides the Mona Lisa, my favorite piece was "The Wedding Feast at Cana." It was a massive painting with unbelievable colors. The piece was actually directly across from the "Mona Lisa," and I found it a bit sad that people paid more attention to a simple portrait of a woman than the magnificent painting depicting Jesus' first miracle!

After the Louvre, Marianna and I started out on our journey to the Eiffel Tower! Since we could see it from the Louvre, we pretty much just headed in its direction without looking at our map. haha. It was fun not to have any plans in particular and no time frame. We stopped along the way at a local grocery store and bakery to buy our lunch--baguette, brie, bananas, and madelines for dessert. :)

When we finally reached the magnificent Eiffel Tower, we found a spot on the grass and had lunch. Marianna and I, then, got in line to go up in the Eiffel Tower. After lots of time waiting, we made it to the second platform. It was a really clear day, so we could see the entire city. I even recognized a soccer field down below that I had taken a picture of when I was in Paris the first time!

The Champs Elysees was our next destination. Since it was a Saturday, it was bustling! We went into all the shops along the posh avenue, including Louis Vuitton, Lacoste, and Guerlain (Paris' first perfumery). Our shopping excursion did not stop at the Champs Elysees--I really wanted to go to two of the most famous Persian department stores. So, we headed to Le Printemps and Galleries Lafayette. It was so much fun to see all the designer clothes! Once again, all of the dresses I liked were out of my price range. ;) I did come out of Galleries Lafayette with a pair of earrings for Sara Beth to commemorate where we got our ears pierced!

Our day ended with McFlurry's at the Champs Elysses McDonald's and then seeing the Eiffel Tower at night. It was beautiful! At 10 pm, the lights sparkled all over it for a few minutes. We were excited to happen upon such a special event.

On our last day in Paris, we took it easy since we had been traveling for two weeks straight! We walked along the Siene and staked out along a bridge to cheer on the runners of the Paris Marathon (including Marianna's cousin). Then, we walked around Notre Dame and went to a couple of Sunday morning markets. It was fun to get out of the touristy spots and hang out with the locals for a little while. After lunchtime, it was time to pack up and head to the airport and our "home away from home." What an incredible Spring Break we had!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mamma Mia!

The moment I found out that I would have a two-week spring break, my heart was set on Greece. Blessed beyond measure, I had the wonderful opportunity to spend 10 days in Greece. It was a fabulous vacation, and what made it even better was that my mom met me there!!

We arrived in Athens, Greece on Saturday afternoon and had to spend the night in a hotel before taking the early morning flight to Santorini the next day. It's actually really ironic because I was suppose to be in Athens, Georgia for the engagement party of one of my very best friends. I have the honor of being a bridesmaid in her wedding in August, so I was missing her that night.

The next morning, we got on the plane to Santorini! I was so excited! When we got to Santorini, we headed straight to our hotel which ended up being a cave hotel! Each room was on the side of the mountain in a cave! It was so great. Our balcony overlooked Santorini's volcanic island. Over the course of our time on Santorini, we did a lot of exploring of the villages of Fira and Oia. They are simply breath-taking. We also made a lot of new Greek friends, such as a shop owner who gave us names of clubs to go to ("if it is okay with your mom"...haha) and our very own Santorini key chains.

One day we had a tour guide named Vicki, and she took us all around the island in her stylish black BMW. She was hilarious and so much fun. Being from Santorini, she had so much knowledge and took us to the most spectacular places in all of Santorini. We went to the places where the professional photographers take the famous pictures of the island, and she showed us where scenes from The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Tomb Raider were filmed. After several hours of touring, Vicki took us to a local Greek restaurant on the bayside of the island. It was delicious! We had tzatziki, tomato croquettes, fried zucchini and eggplant, and Greek salad. My mouth is watering just thinking about it again... By the end of the tour, we were so sad to say good bye to Vicki--we had a wonderful day with her.

After a few days in Santorini, it was time to take the ferry to the island of Naxos! Whereas Santorini's economy is completely dependent on tourism, Naxos is much more agricultural. It is very much representative of true Greek island life. When we arrived in Naxos, Mom rented a car and we drove to the villa that church friends of ours so generously let us stay in. It was wonderful! The view from the villa was of mountains, farmlands, and beaches. Pretty unbelieveable to say the least.

We were in Naxos for five days and spent our days exploring all the little Naxian villages. We loved seeing the uniqueness of each town and seeing the people live their daily lives. It was such a neat experience. When we passed through the village of Filotti, we decided to stop and walk around because of the beautiful wisteria everywhere. As we were exploring, we were greeted by a Greek man named John who tried his very best to speak to us in his broken English. He also introduced us to his cousin, also named John. They showed us the old cinema, the Venetian tower, the church, and even their house to pick oranges and lemons from their trees for us. Just when we were leaving, our new friends John and John invited us back on Sunday for their family's Easter celebration. Of course we said we would be there!

It was so amazing to get to experience Easter in an European country. We were very excited to participate in all the Easter festivities. On Friday night, we went into Chora (the largest city on Naxos) and ate dinner at a fabulous restaurant where we could watch the Easter processionals of the local churches. We watched as lots and lots of people marched through the street chanting things in Greek and carrying icons of symbolizing Easter. It was really something to see all those people participating in such a tradition. On Saturday night, we went to midnight mass at a Greek Orthodox church in town. Around 11:40 p.m., we went inside with our candles and waited for the service to start. People would come in and kiss the various icons in the church and then socialize with their friends until the service started. Throughout the service, there was lots of chanting in Greek and the priest spoke occasionally. Then, the congregation lit candles and headed outside (which made me nervous because there were so many people and lots of flames to worry about). Outside of the church, the priests chanted in Greek while tons of loud firecrackers were let off. I'm not going to was pretty scary! We were glad when we got to our car without our hair catching on fire or ear drums severely damaged. haha.

We woke up on Easter Sunday to a glorious morning and we watched as a shepherd guided his lambs across the land below the villa. What a sweet reminder of the One we were celebrating! Around noon, we head over to Filotti to visit our new friends John and John. When we got there, we were introduced to the family and were given seats around the table in the courtyard. Once we were seated, food after food was set before us -- lamb, tzatziki, bread, salad, goat cheese from the goat that morning, and the list goes on. They kept refilling our glasses with Coke, which was a life-saver for me when eating the lamb! We ate and ate and ate. Throughout lunch, we talked with one of the grandsons named Johnny who spoke English pretty well. We learned he loved to folk dance and wanted to be a pharmacist. He was very sweet. I would have to say that my most favorite part of the whole day was getting to do traditional Greek dancing with the family! It was like something from a movie. I loved it! When we couldn't eat anymore and all of the family were cleaning up the first round of food, we thanked the Johns and the relatives for a wonderful Easter. It was the most unique experience!

The next day, we left Naxos and headed back to Santorini. We had a great last night in Santorini, eating delicious food and doing some last minute shopping. Marianna and I even tried some fig gelato! We were really sad to leave the beautiful Greek islands but were excited to see Athens!

We had a really early flight to Athens the next morning, so we had the whole day to sight-see! Our first stop was the Acropolis, of course! It was really neat to see the Parthenon and all those ancient buildings that I had learned about since the third grade. We also got to go to the Archeology Museum, see the Olympic stadium of the first olympic games in 1898, and watch the changing of the guards at Parliament.

After all that touring around, we were exhausted so we spent the rest of time in Athens taking it easy and exploring a little bit. We went to the Acropolis Museum and did some shopping! Although Athens may not have been as picturesque as the islands, it was really remarkable to see a city with so much history.

Greece was so much fun! I loved everything about it and am grateful for such an amazing once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Opa!

Saturday, April 17, 2010

a saturday in slubice.

"Slubice? Where in the world is that?" You might ask.
Well, it's actually in Poland!

One Saturday, a teacher from JFK took Marianna and me to Slubice, Poland. We went by train to a German city called Frankfurt (Oder) on the border of Germany and Poland. We crossed the Oder River and were in Poland!

We walked around and just explored the small town of Slubice. It was fun to see all the townspeople doing their normal Saturday afternoon activities--men were fishing on the river, moms were pushing their babies in strollers, and kids were playing and riding their bikes.

Our first stop was to get some Polish food. We went to a very Polish restaurant with the menu only in Polish. Thankfully, our friend Nate had been to Poland and could order us perogies. I had spinach perogies and cheese perogies (which are pretty much like filled dumplings). They were pretty good. I washed them down with a Coca-Cola Classic, just to have a taste of home. :)

After lunch, we explored a little more and then took a taxi a couple of miles to a Saturday market. (Side note: The taxi was an orange and blue duo-toned Mercedes with furry zebra seat covers.) It was an interesting cultural experience. The stalls had everything you could think of--imagine a Walmart in Polish market form. We had fun walking the aisles and seeing all the different things for sale.

Soon after the market, it was time to head back to Berlin. Though it was a quick trip to Poland, it was fun to visit another country for a few hours!

Monday, March 22, 2010

it's quite lovely, really.

I LOVE LONDON! It was so wonderful to have a weekend away from the snow, cold, and the German language--yay for sun and British accents! From Friday night to Sunday afternoon, Marianna and I explored the wonderful city of London, England! It was a dream come true, as I have always hoped to see London one day.

When Marianna and I arrived in London, we met up with her cousin Julia who is studying at the London School of Economics. We went straight to LSE's on-campus pub, George IV. Although I was a little skeptical to bring my big book bag into a pub, it turned out okay since lots of people go there after class. haha. We stayed there for a little while and then went to dinner at Weatherspoon's--a London chain restaurant/pub. It was so crowded, but we managed to find a table and enjoyed getting to know Julia and her friends--including a British girl with a charming accent and a very London style of fashion. Exhausted, we headed back to Julia's flat--she graciously opened up her cute apartment to us for the weekend.

On Saturday, Marianna and I were on the Tube by 9 in the morning I think. We went straight to the Portobello Market in Notting Hill! It was so wonderful! There were tons of antique booths and food stalls and the CUTEST shops you'll ever see. My two favorite places on Portobello Road were: 1. The Hummingbird Bakery with the most divine cupcakes you will ever have in your whole life. (I got a red velvet cupcake and Marianna got a black bottom cupcake that had cheesecake and chocolate in it!) 2. Cath Kidston--this precious little shop with fabrics, cute clothing, stationary, and everything in between. We also stopped by The Travel Bookshop from the movie Notting Hill. It was such a great bookstore--organized in sections by the various regions/countries around the world. The whole area of Notting Hill is just so magical. I could have stayed there all day, but we had LOTS more to see!

Our next stop was Harrod's! I was so excited since all my life my Aunt Kathy has talked about how much she loves Harrod's. :) It's pretty incredible--like an extravagant British New York City Macy's. I loved it...if only I had more time to spend perusing every department.

Next, we went to the National Gallery and the National Portrait Gallery museums. They were both awesome museums! I saw Van Gogh's Sunflowers, some Monet pieces, and other artwork that I have seen all my life in textbooks. So surreal. The Portrait Gallery is unbelievable because it has portraits of people from long ago up through today. My favorite pieces were Princess Diana's engagement portrait, Andy Warhol's art of Queen Elizabeth, and a photography exhibit of Twiggy (the first supermodel--she is from Britain and is now 60 years old...You may know her from being a judge on America's Next Top Model). I'm so glad that I got to go to both museums! They were so worth the time!

Then, we went to Big Ben, Parliament, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace! It was fun to see all those monuments. Unfortunately, I didn't see the round-about from European Vacation, but you better believe I was quoting from it. "There goes Big Ben...There goes Parliament." After Buckingham Palace, we took a taxi to the London Eye and saw it lit up at night. It was really pretty. They had blue lights up on the trees and the London Eye was lit up with white lights, so it was beautiful.

Finally (we had not eaten since the Portobello Market!), we went to dinner in the part of town called Covent Garden. We ate at this fish and chips place called The Rock and Sole Plaice. It was there that I had my first plate of Fish and Chips! And I really liked it!!

Completely tired from all of our adventures, we went back to Julia's flat to get some sleep for another day of London sight-seeing.

On Sunday morning, we went to the Spitalfields Market--near Liverpool Street. There were lots of clothing and jewelry booths that were neat to look at. I bought some decorative scarves and a cute handmade fabric headband. My cooperating teacher's daughter Christina is studying in Kensington and actually met up with us there. She, then, took us to the Tower Bridge and the Tower of London and that was really fun. I went into the Tower of London and saw the Crown Jewels. They are exquisite!! So sparkly and amazing. It is definitely the biggest diamond I've ever seen.

For lunch, we went to this pub nearby called The Hung, Drawn, and Quartered. It's called that because it is near the Tower of London where prisoners were kept and executed. Hung, Drawn, and Quartered is one of the miserable ways people were killed back then...yikes! Our last stop was St. Paul's Cathedral where Princess Diana was married. It's unbelievable. They had the crucifix up inside for Easter which was neat to see! I bet the services there are incredible.

Sadly, it was time to say "cheerio" to London, but it was a FABULOUS weekend, to say the least. I can't wait to go back to visit Kyle when she moves there! ;)