Tag Archives: travel

Europe: Third Leg

For once we left a location at a reasonable 12:30 p.m. instead of the crack of dawn. I had actually been looking forward to this long train ride. I wanted to read, to relax and become lost in the pages. Finally taking advantage of downtime by rail. So I gleefully filled about three hours of time with High Fidelity by Nick Hornby.

Europe Third Leg 1

We chatted with several very pleasant English ladies traveling on business. We were all in an uproar on one end of the train, whilst the Germans sat silent, starring or head-phoned-up on the other. Zack is great with languages but does a horrendous British accent.

We crossed the border into Germany late afternoon. On a whim, we decided to take the Dusseldorf stop. It was my fault. For days I’d been pondering a black leather jacket I spied at a boutique the day we arrived in Europe. The boys thought I should, indeed, have it. We stopped by Campus to buy the ultimate souvenir.

Then, to Essen, to spend some time in Zack’s city. First thing we did when arriving at his apartment… Laid on the couch and watched two episodes of The Wire on DVD. Our good intentions of picking up a few groceries at the market on our walk home earlier turned sour. Joe and I were too tired and Zack was too sickly to cook.

The lovers were prompted to take a date night, venturing out into the unknown without our German-speaking escort. Not gonna lie. We were kind of anxious. Zack sent us up the street to a legit Bavarian place. They speak English, he said, if you get in any trouble. We did enjoy the stroll to the restaurant, arm in arm peacefully through the stone streets at dusk.

Europe Third Leg 2We took a table at Der Lowe and began to study the menu. I’ll have the Weizen. We studied and studied and could not discern any that Zack had told us were his favorites. The sounds just do not match the spellings. And Joe took the notes, so I was frustrated when he couldn’t decipher what he’d written down. Pouty Aarika.

Wait! They have English menus. Okay. Wait! Does that show that we ordered non-alcoholic beers? Say it with me “al-ko-hol-frei”. Hahahahaha… Give me the other kind of Weizen then. My dish was pork meat loaf, fried potatoes and red cabbage and apple salad. Joe unfortunately ended up with a flatbread pizza. I swear I pronounced weisswurst in perfect German, but the server just ignored me.

We moseyed back to the apartment, put Zack’s leftovers in the fridge as he grumbled “thanks” from beneath a blanket cocoon, then fell into bed and slept.

The next day we were all wide-eyed again. I got to see my brother’s flat for the first time in the day. Flooded with natural light. His ties and shoes presented neatly. The balcony overlooking a park. The concrete courtyard outside where he does calisthenics. Tulips on the windowsill.

Europe Third Leg 3This was our Essen Day, Bub’s day to show us all his quintessential spots. We spent it gallivanting from corner to corner. The walkability in town was splendid. First pop-in was Konsumreform – Café / Shop / Mobility. There was a thrift store in the back. There were scrumptious stuffed pies and fresh salads in the display case – and on our plates.

Second pop-in was The Chocolate Room, with the absolute best hot cocoa I’ve had IN MY LIFE. I believe I got the “Peru.” Tough to sort out because they offer nearly 10 varieties. Yeah. We (well, Zack) spoke with the cutest little old lady while we sat on sofas in the storefront, sipping delicately. The first truly friendly German.

Next few pop-ins were different locales in search of souvies. I wanted an Essen-centric coffee mug. (I collect mugs, for when I enjoy my ritual morning coffee I like, even for an instant, to be reminded of great times.) We were fairly insistent on buying a scarf for Joe. When in Europe… And it’s cold… The man had never had one. Not being able to decide between the scarf Zack and I doted over and the garnet and black dressy scarf that he uncannily uncovered on his own, Joe bought two. Then we all bounded down the road giddily, scarf dreams fulfilled. (Picture us skipping.)

Europe Third Leg 4

A blessing, we were able to Euro-trip during my brother’s birthday, February 22. To celebrate in the true bro-sis fancy style, we planned a dinner in Dorsten at Zum Blauen See, a highly-ranked restaurant recently evaluated and rumored to be receiving an extra star. Four Star quality at Three Star prices, for the meantime.

Zack’s friend Ben picked us up and drove us via the Autobahn. We didn’t quite know what was happening until the BMW jets up to 200 kilometers-per-hour on the dial. We suck back into our seats and grin while trees, signs and other cars fly by. Dinner is exquisite. Wine and beer. Four-course meal. Tuna sampler, vegetable bisque, lamb shanks and berry dessert assortment. We were swimming in luxury. Tradition lives on. And is tops. And I love Zachary Michael Woods very much.

One final train ride. One final night in Germany.

The next morning we barely have time for coffee. We say our goodbyes. Our cab scoops us and delivers us to the Dusseldorf airport. Flight to Newark, layover, flight to Charlotte, drive to Gaffney… Twenty-one hours of travel, longest consecutive IN MY LIFE, and we’re home.

Europe Third Leg 5All in all, the holiday couldn’t have been more worth it. I saw my brother who I miss dearly. I spent quality time with my beau. I saw a lot of the world that I’d previously only dreamt about. It was excellent timing. I needed an escape. Everyday life has its woes. Europe was absolutely refreshing and astonishing. I think about a leisurely yet conscientious lifestyle. I think about efficiency and balance. I think about a renewed sense of priority and beauty. I hope to hang on to every bit of whimsy.

Europe: Second Leg

The train to Paris was an early one. It was a bullet train travelling at 200 miles per hour, but we could only really register the speed by how objects flew by the windows. We all donned our sunglasses and jackets over heads to sleep out the ride. I awoke to find us in the middle of a picturesque French countryside, rolling green hills topped with cream and brown colored chateaus, free roaming animals.

Europe Second Leg 1We wandered from the train station and out onto the streets of Paris, magical from first sight. For the first time, we were in a place foreign to my brother, with a new language. Most spoke English, although some perched a sneery eyebrow while doing so. Starving and unsure of where to go, we popped into a café straight away. We each took a traditional petit dejeuner (small breakfast) consisting of a croissant, baguette, crepe, orange juice and coffee. The French love their bread.

Paris is huge, and we deemed cabs being the best way to travel. We had disposable income. We were in Paris for crying out loud. Let’s live in style and not exhaust ourselves! We took one to the hotel that Zack had arranged with a high-class credit card. The Park Hyatt Paris Vendome stood grand before us, a lap of luxury beyond those doors. Doormen, chandeliers, marble floors, gold accents, soothing music and aroma…. Then we reach the guest services desk to check-in. Monsieur, Madame, oui oui, yes, welcome to our hotel, come in and be lavished. Oh, you’re a Gold Card member? Extend this man some cash, bring a trundle bed to his room, hand him vouchers for breakfast and cocktails – now.

The staff was very accommodating, to say the least. And then the room. I can’t recall many times when I’ve felt the need to take photos of a hotel room, but here I certainly did. The room was a reflection of the elegance from downstairs. Attention to detail was paid. White and gold, palatial décor with fluffed pillows, an armchair and ottoman, sheer metallic drapes. There were these svelte metal figures of men on the walls under light fixtures and as handles for the windows. The bathroom suite was my favorite. Stone from floor to ceiling, same gorgeous accents and lighting, steps into the “water” area with soaking tub and waterfall shower, a mirror and tiny sink in there. We also had a water closet with bidet, of course – heat, rinse, dry cycles. Ha!

Europe Second Leg 2

We each had our own soft terrycloth robe and complimentary bottle of still water (which does not come cheap in Europe). We lounged around sipping from gold-rimmed porcelain teacups with saucers. The windows actually opened so you could let in a cool breeze, and you could see so much beauty right outside. Even the standard office or apartment buildings here were visual pleasure. The ordinary was the most extraordinary IN MY LIFE.

Day one in Paris and not a minute to waste. We walked a block up to an impressive square with traffic circle. Joe consulted a map. Ventured toward some major attractions. First was the Louvre. We decidedly did not have time to go inside with our short stay in the city, but even the exterior was worthy. We strolled around the perimeter. Various courtyards, greenery, statues, birds, people laughing or sitting pondering. We suddenly felt the presence. We are in Paris.

Next was La Seine, one of the most famous rivers in the world. We walked alongside it. Observed all the pretty structures on the banks and boats passing by. We hung our toes over the edge. So close. We came upon a bridge full of lovers’ locks. There was a man selling locks on the street a ways before. And I thought, what is this man doing? Then I saw and regretted not buying a lock. What a tradition. What impact to see these symbols of love so abundant. How could I forget this right of passage? I stood in bemusement for a while here. The boys pushed forward.

Europe Second Leg 3

It started to rain hard. I was in the one pair of shoes that sucked for this, my sneakers. We fled to a nearby café for shelter. Hmm… We’re hungry again. Okay, let’s have a toasted ham and cheese sandwich and French fries, and another coffee, with double-sided handles on the cup so I can look sophisticated while drinking. We asked the server how to get to our next stop Pont Neuf. He said, “That’s not here. That’s in Australia.” I made a face. He smiled. He was joking. It’s hard to tell when the French joke. Zack and Joe pretended like they got it. They had been cracking on my all day anyway. Muster a tough skin for boys bonding.

Arrived at Pont Neuf, which is on the Seine, a point of land under a bridge passage that juts out into the water. It was a garden with pathways. Not in bloom because it was February but beautiful nonetheless. It was drizzly and cool. Joe and I walked out to the end and had a sweet moment. We were distracted by a woman walking her cat on a leash.

We made it to Notre Dame, a track-stopper. We stood back for a bit taking it in full frontal. Zack and Joe practiced a Beatles synchronized walk across the street. Under this towering beaut, people were everywhere. There was a birdman sprinkling seeds on bystanders’ shoulders and letting the pigeons flock to favorites. There were kids running with glee. There were couples embracing. There were young girls taking selfies in weird poses. This was a place to be, and no one wondered why. Extravagant history and architecture and a place of camaraderie.

Europe Second Leg 4

Hotel for a daily nap and sprucing up. Zack was still sick, relentlessly looking to Dutch cough syrup for relief. Sip, sip, sleep, Bubbles. Joe and I took the opportunity to be alone. We wound up at a sidewalk café sipping red wine instead. The dream of Paris – lovers and wine nuzzled under an awning and glow of heat lamp. After dinner at Le Poin Care with the fabulous deviled eggs, we stood at Place du Trocadéro, a renowned viewing platform for the Eiffel Tower. Man, did we see it. The majesty is hard to put into words. We were struck by that modern marvel just beneath us, all lit up and lone in the darkness. The top of the hour came, and the whole thing shimmered. We were so happy. Hugs and kisses and photos. We had to say no to buying stupid figurines from vendors about 15 times.

Day two was another exciting one. We started with breakfast at the hotel, the finest spread I’ve ever seen IN MY LIFE. The decorum was impeccable. We saw a server get chastised for not knowing how to use a cheese-carving wheel by the uptight supervisor. Dammit – Don’t not know how to use that device or you’re fired, missy! We also had cappuccinos, croquettes, berries, yogurt, olives, prosciutto, fresh-pressed juices and more. Fresh flowers and pastels topped this experience off.

The rainy walk after was actually very bright to me. Casually down the bustling streets sharing an umbrella. Parks and monuments. The ferris wheel, cheery in a cloudy sky. A reflection pond where a mother and daughter sat in patio chairs side-by-side, under their own umbrellas.

Europe Second Leg 5

Our must-do museum visit was to Musee de l’Orangerie, where the Water Lillies of Monet make you escape to tranquility and loveliness and then below the works of great masters preside. Renoir – I love his people. They’re so tender, so rosy and assured. Picasso – The shapes are famously odd. There was this one painting of a muscular women with the most piercing eyes. Marie Laurencin – She created fantasies of women with animals. I bought a silk scarf with a portion of her Portrait of Mademoiselle Chanel, featured in pinks, blues and grays. Chaim Soutine – Scenes of his surroundings turned sinister. His people were more caricatures, and you could see their true intentions on canvas.

Next began the Metro Situation. I was hell-bent on using the metro in the city, as a thing to do. Frankly, it turned out to be a rough ordeal. We had to ask instructions and directions. Joe got his fill of maps. We had to change lines a lot. The Yellow Line? The Purple Line? Solferino!!! I insisted on seeing the Eiffel Tower at daytime. Yet the guys were thoroughly awed once we finally got there. Worth it, they said. It was the masterpiece we’ve always seen in photographs and in movies right before us, above us, living up to the hype entirely.

As the day was getting long, we had to only see the Arc de Triomphe from a distance and head to our final stop. We climbed a great hill, all winding cobblestone streets and small shops. We reached what was to be my favorite spot of the entire trip – Montmartre. The end-all-be-all for Parisian artists. Where the greats we had seen at our museums all once lingered. The sqaure where today connoisseurs still paint and sell and hang out. I was quietly thrilled. I bounced from stand to stand to see landscapes and portraits on display. Moved by Renoir, in fact, I bought an acrylic painting from a local man of a nude woman. Her parts are covered, as Joe claimed that would be better when we one day hang it on the wall. She’s the epitome of what I was meant to do in Paris, an everlasting reminder of the magic, in a simple 8×10-inch canvas. True to form, we hulled up at a bistro on the edge of the square to have a drink. Montmartre is also marked by Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart church), outstanding street graffiti and a sweets store Biscuiterie de Montmartre where we bought goodies to bring home.

Europe Second Leg 6

Poor Zack had to coma again. Joe and I went to be romantic. Even though it could be considered cliché, we were destined to the lock bridge. We purchased a tiny gold lock from a convenient store, as well as a corkscrew. We didn’t have a marker, so the corkscrew was going to be used to scratch our initials in the lock. Joe manufactured it – A + J. When I told him I was worried, he said, “Don’t worry, girl. There are a hundred things I could have used to scratch this lock. I’m an American.” A riot. We picked a spot that we think we can remember and hung the lock. We stood in the center of the bridge and had a truly special moment, the most storybook moment IN MY LIFE.

Our last night in Paris called for fancy cocktails at the hotel bar. Surprised that most normally cost 30 euro (that’s about $35.70 U.S.), but vacation and half-off coupons consoled us. I mean, my drink did have a handful of garnishes including a chiseled log. Next was dinner at a cool Japanese-French fusion place Pascade. A pascade is a pastry shell both flaky and doughy at the same time filled with deliciousness. Mine was salmon and potato, and I think, the winner. This was a four-course meal completed by pureed leeks soup, julienned salad and trinket cupcakes.

A good sleep to morning. A quick hoorah down the street to collect final souvenirs. A kamikaze cab ride to the train station. (Side note… On this drive I saw a real life street graffiti tile piece on a wall from Space Invader!) One more petit dejeuner. Then we were off, back to Germany. Je T’aime Paris.

Europe: First Leg

Our flight was set to takeoff from the Charlotte airport around 7:30 p.m. EST. We had to ask a German man to switch seats so that Joe and I could be beside one another, on the biggest jet I’ve ever ridden IN MY LIFE. We watched Gone Girl on the in-headrest monitors. It was basically a red eye. We slept only a little though. Too much excitement.

One hour-and-a-half layover in Munich plus another quick flight and we arrived in Dusseldorf midday CET. My brother Zack and his friend Kathrin picked us up at the airport. Many hugs and maybe a jig. We headed back to Kathrin’s home for a bit of R&R. They had prepared a stunning brunch spread – soup, salad, cheese, bread, savory stuffed pastries, orange mango juice and champagne. We also sampled a couple of Belgian beers Kathrin had snagged, a welcoming toast to the beginning of a journey. We all napped. Well, Joe and I did. Zack and friend canoodled, I imagine. Joe’s sawing logs distracted them, but I snoozed right on.

Europe First Leg 1We traveled to a charming area called Altstadt (Old Town). This is a lifeline of Dusseldorf, full of restaurants, retailers and pedestrians. We walked down a few streets with local fair, especially patio seating and “hot mushrooms,” and around a common square at dusk, where people generally amass on a bank of stairs facing the river on pretty days. We saw Hamm Hamm, a sandwich shop playing a role in the meeting of Zack and the lovely Kathrin months back. We stopped in for beers at a local brewery. (Aren’t they all local here?) We learned to cover our glasses lest the barkeep continue to bring rounds for the table and a coaster flip game only Zack had mastered. Thirteen stacked and caught!

More strolling and sightseeing and window-shopping. Talked to a waify former New Yorker who relentlessly pounded on Germans’ lack of customer service. We finally stopped to have a much-needed caffeinated beverage – a latte macchiato served with a biscuit. Then to have the best Asian meal IN MY LIFE at Böser Chinese - handmade melt-in-your-mouth noodles.

We arrived by train in Zack’s neighboring town Essen. Tired and weary, we towed our luggage several blocks and then up six flights of stairs to his apartment. Because in Germany, everyone lives on the top floor. Crashed.

The next morning we awoke and headed out in a hurry. We had to be at the bus station for a 7:30 a.m. departure. We were there 5 minutes early but somehow got left behind, even after Zack asked each of the drivers of several waiting buses if this one was the one for Amsterdam. American speaking German still not helped. We felt the pomp. Purchased three train tickets after all, leaving at 8:45 instead because the next Flix Bus (damn you!) wasn’t until 11:30. All money was lost. The German way – no consolation.

It’s early in the morning, and we mustn’t go far. The only place open is Starbucks. So yes, that incorporated coffee phenom was part of our adventure. Danke, Hund.

Europe First Leg 4To switch trains at one point we literally had to run from one platform to another. Escalators, stairs and dodging. I had to carry my bag several times, the comical beginning to a wrist over-use injury from this trip. Joe slept with his J pillow. Zack wrote out physics-to-business equations. I attempted a hundred photos of the objects out the window, having never been on a train IN MY LIFE before this trip. The full trek to Amsterdam took about four hours. We arrived at the central station there midday.

Exhausted, we finally made it to our Airbnb around 1 p.m. It was in a pleasant neighborhood outside of the city center. Zack, having started to feel under the weather, promptly laid on the couch and took a coma. Joe and I set out exploring. First food at De Bakkerswinkel. Cup of koffie, please, along with tomato basil quiche, rye bread with fresh cream, green salad topped with capers and melon and a cinnamon scone with lemon jam. I sneakily photographed the cutest small boy I’ve ever seen, a blond Harry Potter nibbling a crumpet buttered by his mum.

We wandered the streets, waterway to waterway. We saw a thousand bicycles – people riding by, rows and rows on racks, a few propped on our stoop. I bought a braided white and tan leather bracelet from a vendor. The brand was “Mi & Joe.” I couldn’t resist. We also bought groceries but forgot that Europeans are conditioned to bring their own bags. Arms loaded, we walked with it all back to the flat.

Europe First Leg 3

Zack was up just long enough to go into the Red Light District, have a couple Desperados. You know it gets an award for shittiest beer if we argue over whether it tastes more like tequila or malt liquor. Sick and pitiful, Zack went home alone, to eat bananas and chocolate for dinner, when waking from periodic coughing fits. Joe and I continued on in the RLD. Very tamely, our first stops were at a drug store to get medicine for my brother’s suspected flu and at a Western Union to exchange U.S. dollars for euro. We hopped around, had a couple beers, saw some ladies of the night posing in windows and eventually ate at an unexpectedly quiet steakhouse with fondu specialties.

The next day was the big day in Amsterdam. We ate at De Bakkerswinkel again. Zack was only too jealous that we’d done it the first time without him. And that kind of became our café, like we were regulars after two visits. We roamed a bit. But then had to shower up and catch a canal tour. It took us an extra trip because Joe forgot the museum tickets and had to return to the flat to fetch them. There was a key-toss over the street and more running. We made the landing for a boat around 2 p.m. Water surrounds the city. Naturally, the best view and best method of transportation, considering wonderful sights and relaxation, is by canal. We all enjoyed this ride very much.

Our stop was the Van Gogh Museum. There we marveled at the glorious works of the famous artist – self portraits, early peasants, abstract still life, rowdy landscapes. We saw the evolution of his work, over few years really. I was most taken by his paintings of complimentary colors. I could stare at Sunflowers for hours. Outside, the group posed for pictures with the huge IAMSTERDAM sign.

Europe First Leg 2We hung out in a nearby area called Leidseplein, grabbing a bite to eat, a koffie fill-up and a Dutch liquor lesson and smell test from a friendly bartender over Bavaria beers. Then we headed back to the Red Light District for an evening of debauchery. Yet Five Points in Columbia, SC is arguable more wild. It was really just a chill spot to be. We did sit a spell at an Irish pub, where Zack was transfixed by Rhianna music videos on the TV. We had been coveting Indonesian food all day and finally got it. Mine was a large dish of fried rice, green beans, apple slaw, baked dough, gooey egg noodles and three meats. Lamb, pork and chicken with gravy and coconut shavings. Fat and happy, we returned home.

The next morning was another early one. Our train was leaving at 6:30 a.m. To simplify, we cabbed to the station, meaning we could roll out of bed and go direct, instead of the normal European hustle between public transit that usually comes first. Farewell, Holland. All aboard a bullet train to Paris…

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