Monday, March 4, 2013

Mediterranean Cruise Video

Josh and I decided we would treat ourselves for our 30th birthdays. SO, we went on a Mediterranean Cruise on the MSC Splendida! It's been a few weeks since the cruise (took that long to recover from the clusterfuck), and people are starting to get impatient with the fact that I haven't blogged about the cruise. (Really, that means my mom has been getting impatient.) I still haven't blogged about it, BUT, I do have an extra special treat for you guys (again, really just my parents). I have the first ever AYCOCK VACATION VIDEO!!

It is hilariously awful. 25 minutes of shaky Aycock awkwardness. I laughed while watching it, but mainly at how bad and slightly embarrassing it all is. Josh thinks I'm stupid for posting the video, and he hasn't even seen it yet. (His exact words were, "Courtney, no one wants to watch that crap.") Well, he may be right, but I'm going to post it anyway.

Now, I did learn three things about myself from watching this video.
1.  I should never be a cinematographer.
2.  I need to learn how to change my voice inflection every time I turn the camera on.
3.  I always need to carry around a compact so I can keep my nose powdered. 
I am still going to do a blog about the cruise, but this is just to tide you over til then.

BTW, to me, the last 3 minutes are the funniest - so don't give up halfway thru the video.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Wittenberg, Berlin and Poland - Part 3 of 3

Today was a day of errors. It was our day-trip to Poland. It blew. Our initial reaction after our trip was to say, "Eff you in the A, Poland!!" But, really, it's not Poland's fault that the trip sucked hairy balls. Well, it was *mostly* not Poland's fault. I will explain. (can you tell I'm trying to avoid getting nastygrams from upset Polish people?)

After breakfast, we had a day trip planned to travel to Szczecin, with a quick stop to check out Krzywy Las on the way. Krzywy Las is a crooked forest, and photos of the place have been floating around the internet for a few years. But, it's not that well known, and not really a 'destination'. I found out it was in NW Poland, and as luck would have it - that's where the town of Szczecin is located. So, perfect detour, right?

Anywho, we get in the car & load up the GPS. Yes, Poland is included in our GPS' maps...but for some reason - it wouldn't tell us how to get anywhere. It would tell us how to get to the town of Szczecin, but it wouldn't let us put in ANY addresses. I didn't have an address for Krzywy Las - just the name of a nearby town, and a general area to look for. But, we couldn't even put the name of that town in the GPS.

Slight panic. But, no worries - we decided to just run back inside the hotel & write out Google Maps directions to get to the town near the crooked forest, then from there to the mall in Szczecin where we were going to park before starting our walking tour of the city.

Ok, cool. I start writing out the directions....

Great Hammer of Thor, Polish is freaking IMPOSSIBLE! It's nothing but c's, z's, and y's. It was the hardest thing ever to write out three pages of Polish street names. I was starting to really dread the trip - how the hell were we going to be able to pinpoint street names, when I can't even decipher what the hell it is I'm writing down??

No, no, no. I can't think like that. We're awesome at adventuring, right? Suuure...

So, after my momentary hissy fit, we head out to Poland. It was going to take us a little over an hour and a half to get to our first stop in Poland. Initially, the drive was easy.

Then, as we started getting closer to crossing the border, the roads started to change.

These were the ruttiest roads I've been on in a looooong time. We were still on the autobahn, and I swear my bladder almost vibrated out of me. (gross mental image, eh?) They were truly awful. Once we exited the autobahn, it was basically a cobblestone road all the way to the Crooked Forest.

I could never find really good directions to get to the Crooked Forest - so I'll outline them here, for any of you who may want to make the drive. So, all of you folks that don't give a rat's ass about how to get to the Crooked Forest of Poland - look away now. (but only for a minute or two - I still want you to read my blog!).

The Crooked Forest is in between the towns of Gryfino & Nowe Czarnowo (good lord, even my hands know they're typing Mushmouth). If you're coming from Germany, head to the town of Gryfino. If you have a GPS that actually works in Poland - even better. Once you're in the town of Gryfino from the 120, you will HAVE to turn right or left. The 120 dead ends, and if you go straight, you'll run into a building. So anyway - You will have to turn right or left onto the 31. Turn RIGHT (south). And keep driving on that. Follow the 31 out of town. You will get to a fork in the road where the 31 veers left, and another road will take you right. Take the road to the right (I believe it's Łużycka street)!! At this point, there will be a pipeline on your right. Slow down, and keep watching the pipeline. There will be a dirt road on the right, before you come upon a power plant. At the entrance of the dirt road, there will be a *tiny* wooden sign that says, "Krzywy Las". Turn down that road. You'll see markers on trees that point the way. We just parked on the side of the road and followed the path on foot. There was NO ONE else nearby.

I know the directions sound like there is a lot of driving - but really, it took about 7 minutes to find our way (and that was driving slowly thru a town with lots of pedestrians).

While driving thru Gryfino to get to the forest, I realized something about The Mister...

He panics when he sees pedestrian crosswalks. If he even THINKS a person is about to cross, he'll gun the car, and blow thru the crosswalk. It's not like he's being an ass & doesn't want to wait on a pedestrian - it's not that AT ALL! He just absolutely panics, and says, "Oh my God, there's someone coming! I have to hurry up!"

What a freak show. (love you, babe)

Anyway - we made it to the Crooked Forest. It was small, but really cool! I am glad we took the detour. There is a theory as to why the trees are crooked, but no one knows for sure. They were planted before WWII, but once the war broke out, they were abandoned. The general theory is that they were planted & then manipulated to grow in a curved manner to build things such as ships or even furniture.

I think it was the aliens, though.

We get back in the car, and decide to at least use the GPS to get us to Szczecin (even though we'll have to use our handwritten directions once we actually get in the city).

The GPS won't turn on. The screen is frozen. Ugh. This happens sometimes (it's an old GPS) - all we have to do is take out the memory card for a few seconds, then put it back in & turn the unit back on. Then we'll be good to go.

Except that doesn't work this time. The screen is still frozen.


There is a reset button on the back (where you have to use a paperclip to poke the little hole). I get the bright idea to reset the damn thing.

And it works! The screen is no longer frozen, and it reboots just fine.

Except now it's asking for us to enter an ID#.

SHITBALLS!!! We bought this GPS used, and it didn't come with any of the software or paperwork (it was only $30, so we didn't complain).

You know what that means? We were the proud new owners of a $30 hunk of plastic. It was a completely unusable GPS unit. We were stuck in the middle of a crooked forest in Poland with no GPS and no map (yes, mom, I know we're always supposed to have a map with us...obviously that didn't happen...).

Whatever, we were headed to a mall in Szczecin (cheap parking), so we decided we'd just pick up a new GPS (hopefully we could find one that was cheap, had an 'English' option, and didn't need to be hooked up to a computer before we were able to use it).

So, we start driving to Szczecin using my hand written instructions.

Good googly-moogly, was it difficult. Not so much because the directions weren't good - but it was so hard to follow the street names. I can't speak Polish! I can't even DECIPHER Polish! I have no comprehension of that language, and I don't even understand the letters they use. Zcyyczzcyc is NOT a word that I know (ok, to be fair, I'm pretty sure that's not even a real Polish word - but that's how all the words looked like to me!).

Szczecin isn't a small town, either - it's population is half a million people. It's also not a fun town to drive in. As soon as we crossed the border into Poland, we noticed that the autobahn etiquette we were used to in Germany went RIGHT out the window. No more passing only on the left. No more paying attention to speed limits. No more letting people over.

I manage to follow my handwritten instructions pretty closely. Until we got right into the town. Then I was just lost. Then Josh got mad at me for not following my own instructions and telling him where to turn. How the hell am I supposed to figure out if that street just said, "Zyyzoxy" or Zyzyoxy"? Nope. Not working.

Like I said, our first plan was to go to the mall. There are two main malls in Szczecin - the Galaxy & the Kaskada. Our plan was to park at Galaxy, hang out at the mall for a bit, then explore the town. Poland is really cheap, and $1 = 3 Polish Zloty. We could park all day at the mall for $5. The Galaxy was also having a Christmas market - and I realllly wanted to check out a Polish Christmas market. Then, we were going to walk down to the National Musuem, hang out on the main promenade (Waly Chrobrego), and walk down to the Pomeranian Duke's Castle.

Well, things just didn't happen how I planned them to happen. We got lost heading to The Galaxy. But, we turned the corner & found the Kaskada mall! Well, at least we can go in there and find an information desk, or free wifi, or even an electronics store so we could buy a GPS. We circled the building several times trying to find parking. We entered one parking garage, but it was actually the loading docks for the mall...oops. Finally, we manage to find a garage. Thank Zeus, because I don't think Josh could have handled driving in that city any longer. The pedestrians wouldn't even wait to find a crosswalk, and the drivers were just as terrible.

We went into the mall, and walked around a little bit. It was fine. It was a mall. The mall map showed that they had free wifi, but our iPad never connected. But, THANKFULLY, we found a Saturn!!! (that's an electronics store) We were a little nervous to ask for help. Every single Polish person we saw had a grumpy look on their face. All of them. But, we did end up talking to a few of the Saturn employees, even though they looked like they wanted to die from grumpiness. As soon as we talked to them, though - they all got big smiles on their faces and were SO HELPFUL!!! We talked to three different Grumpy Gus', and they all ended up to be just really nice people. So, a word of advice - don't judge the Grumpy Pole by his face.

We managed to find a good GPS for about $120. YAY!!! We both breathed a huge sigh of relief. Josh wanted a snack before we headed out to the next mall, so we stopped at the food court. (again - grumpy looking McDonald's worker ends up to be really smily and helpful once he started talking with her)

We got back to the car, hooked up the GPS, and headed out to the Galaxy mall. Getting out of the garage was a mess, and we still have an orange imprint of a parking meter on the front of our car as a souvenir. :/

We're driving to the other mall, and the streets are just not fun in this city. It's confusing, and drivers seem to just take traffic lights as a suggestion - the pedestrians think they're invincible, because they take all lights as a suggestion as well.

Driving along, we see the other mall in the distance. Yay! As we're driving, a swarm of pedestrians start crossing the road in front of us. We still have no idea what light they were looking at. There was no traffic light for us, and we just have no clue what they were watching - but they had to have been following something, because they all went at once.

Well, Josh didn't really notice all of the pedestrians crossing as quickly as I noticed them. That's the benefit of being a passenger in a moving tend to notice scary shit a split second before the driver. I start yelling at Josh to "STOP THE FUCKING CAR". He does. In the middle of the crosswalk. We are surrounded by VERY angry Poles...several of whom are yelling at us. Josh is holding his hands up, staring straight ahead, and yelling, "HOLY FUCK, I ALMOST KILLED 50 PEOPLE!!!" (yes, he was exaggerating a bit...but, he was freaked out, so I don't blame him)

Josh manages to come to, and we continue on...two seconds later, we were in the Galaxy parking garage. Three seconds later, we both started breathing again. Five seconds later, we started recovering from our heart attacks.

At this point, it's already almost 2pm, and we've done fuck-all that we wanted to.

BUT, we were at the correct mall, so things had to start looking up, right?


First things first - the Polish Christmas market. I was really excited about it. I saw pictures online of last year's market, and it looked pretty cool!

Those pictures were lies. The booths were crap. All five of them.

Courtney is really cranky at this point. Josh is still having trouble breathing.

Fine, fuck it, we still have a lot of walking around & exploring to do. We decide to leave the mall & head out to the museum and the main promenade. Well, I wasn't really paying attention to which direction we needed to go from the mall. We walked in circles for a little while...finally we asked a local to point us in the direction of the museum. Of course it was in the exact opposite direction of where we were walking.

Ugh, we had a long way to go. Really, only about 1km, but it was SO FLIPPIN' COLD outside. But, we couldn't come all this way & not see what we came to see, right?

The backside of the National Museum. And a tractor convention, apparently.

We were two unhappy campers. It was cold. I had blisters. We were cranky. Nothing seemed to work out. We got to the museum, but at this point it was 4pm, and we just didn't feel like checking it out. We walked along the main street a little bit, but...bah, humbug. That's the only way I could describe my feelings at the time.

At least we look somewhat cute when we're freezing our asses off.

I knew there was a bar somewhere around the museum. We really wanted to try some Polish beer. And, beer makes everything better, right? (spoken like a true alcoholic)

Sure enough - we found the Colorado Pub. It was actually a really cute pub. It was all decked out in the Polish take on cowboys & Indians. I loved all of the totem poles decorating the place - clearly a Colorado thing. ;)

It was really nice to be able to sit in a warm place, though. And the beer was SO CHEAP! I found out I really like Polish beer. We each had two 0.5L beers, and our total came to around $8. Word.

As nice as it was to sit & relax in the warm pub, we had to be going. It was already dark, and we still wanted to run into the grocery store inside the mall.

Back to the cold. Oy. At least neither of us was cranky anymore!

We ran into Real (a grocery store) inside the mall & picked up snacks & cheap beer to take home. We ended up using our very last zloty (the Polish money) on parking. Boo! I like to keep at least a few coins from places we visit. Oh well.

It took us an hour and forty-five minutes to get back to the hotel. At that point, I was STARVING!! Josh had that snack at the food court, but I hadn't eaten anything except breakfast & a handful of chips in the car. We didn't feel like going out to eat, so we just got some to-go pizza from an Italian place near our hotel.

I can't believe I ate the whole thing.

But, I did. And, it was good. And, I don't regret eating the whole thing. So there.

We probably got back to our hotel, with food, around 8:30pm or 9pm. It had been a long day too, and as soon as we ate, we crashed.

I didn't even get up for breakfast the next morning (Josh won't pass up free food, so he did go eat).

We left Berlin that morning, unfortunately. :/ There had been snow in the interior of Germany while we had been in the city, and the drive back was a little slower. But, we hit NO traffic! It was awesome! It still took us a good 7 hour drive to get home, but traffic.

Even though we didn't have the greatest time in Poland, our trip to Berlin was SO AWESOME! We loved the city, and definitely want to go back.

And, here's our rundown:

Josh's favorite part of the trip: walking the streets of Berlin
Courtney's favorite: Christmas markets!!! and the self-guided walk
Josh's least favorite: driving in Poland
Courtney's least favorite: trying to write Polish

Next time: we'll do the museums on Museum Island, and tour Charlottenburg

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Wittenberg, Berlin and Poland - Part 2 of 3

Our first full day in Berlin, and we had a LOT of stuff planned. This was also the day that I realized I need new shoes. :/ Stupid blisters.

First things first - breakfast! The Hotel Gat Point Charlie breakfast was AWESOME! It should be, it cost €15 per person. We would NEVER EVER pay that much for breakfast - but, it was included in our LivingSocial deal. So of COURSE we took advantage. They had a full hot section - potatoes, sausages, boil-your-own-egg station, etc. Then the normal cold station - yogurts, meats, cheeses, fish, etc. And, the bakery section - cakes, crepes, breads, etc etc etc. Just sit me in front of some bread & cheese, and I'm a happy camper. Josh goes whole hog & eats one of everything. But, we traditionally don't eat lunch while we're traveling, so we have to fill up!

Our first order of business for the day was to go buy the Berlin Welcome Card. We bought the 48-hour card, which cost us €18.50 each. It gave us unlimited travel on the subways, trams, and busses - as well as discounts to over 200 places around Berlin (including museums & restaurants). This trip - we probably shouldn't have bought the card. For one thing - we never saw anyone checking tickets in the Subway. For another thing - we didn't have time to go to any museums. Also, we didn't even use the card on the 2nd day.

I'm not saying not to buy the card - it's definitely useful. We will probably buy one on the next trip. BUT, we just didn't need it on this trip. We did, however, use it for dinner. The restaurant we went to (I'll get to that) gave us 25% off the bill since we had the Welcome card. It was an expensive place, so the cost of the card & the 25% off the meal actually evened us out.

Anywho, we bought the Welcome Card from the front desk at our hotel, but you can buy it from the big yellow machines inside the subway, or from the bus drivers.

We started our day by going to the Reichstag (the parliament building). The subway spat us out right near the Brandenburg Gate, and from there it was just a very short walk to the Reichstag.

The Rick Steves book we used had a walking tour that started out at the parliament building. We also decided to go into the dome of the Reichstag & check it out.

It was almost 9am on a Wednesday, and the streets were practically EMPTY! Weird.

You kind of have to jump thru a few (easy) hoops before you can gain entry to the Reichstag. But, it’s totally worth it - especially since it's free. First, you have to reserve your entry online. Fill out the info, and request what time slots you want. Then, you'll get an email confirming that you requested entry. Then, as long as nothing is amiss (like, the times you requested aren't booked, or they figure out you're an internationally wanted criminal, whatevs) you'll get an email confirming your visit, as well as your time.

I took the printed confirmation letter with us, but I don't know if that's necessary. In front of the Reichstag is a small building. Go there. You give them your name, passports, they check you off their list, and then you have to go thru security. It's exactly like airport security, except they don't care if you have liquids. Then, once you're thru security, you have to literally be walked up to the front door of the Reichstag by one of the security members. You basically have to be escorted everywhere (on the elevator, thru the entry/exit doors, to & from the security checkpoint), except when you're right inside the dome.

Anywho, after our little song & dance, we made it up to the dome of the Reichstag. This is where we were given our gps-driven audio guides. As you walk up & around the dome, the audio guide will explain what you're looking at (based on where you are standing). It was actually really cool! Even though it was overcast, we still got to see a lot.

This mirrored 'tornado' actually reflects light down to the parliament chambers below. Nifty.

the Brandenburg Gate

At the top of the dome!

The audio guide is actually one of the best ones we’ve listened to. Even Josh, the Anti Audio guide Advocate, really liked it.

The Reichstag took us about 50 minutes. After that, it was time to do our self-guided walking tour. All Praise Rick Steves! (every time I say 'Rick Steves', I want to add a 'bitch' afterwords. A la Dave Chappelle's, 'I'm Rick James, bitch!'). Rick Steves really missed out on a good tag line.

Word to the wise - when you're facing the Reichstag, don't go left to go around the building. Go left to look at the river if you want. But, to get back to the Brandenburg Gate - go around to the right. Trust's a loooong detour.

Back at Brandenburg, we cut thru an art school building to get to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.

This was a pretty eerie place to walk thru, but a must to visit.

Another must? Visiting the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled Blanket.

We continued to walk down Unter den Linden, checking out the sites.

St. Hedwig's Church

Humboldt University

We got to the Humboldt University (Marx, Lenin, and the Grimms studied here) and decided it was time for a small rest. As highlighted in Rick Steves’ (bitch) book, we stopped in at ‘Tim’s Espressobar’ in the former state library. Good choice, Rick. It’s a typical college cafe, and the prices are AWESOME. We split a sandwich, and each had a drink, and it cost us *maybe* €7 total.

After we warmed up a little, it was back to walkin’. We walked straight over Museum Island without stopping. Next time we go to Berlin, we will DEFINITELY hang out on the island & go to the museums! We just plain didn’t have time on this trip. :(

Once we got off of Museum Island, it was just a few more minutes til we were at the famous TV tower. Supposedly. We never actually *saw* the tower. The clouds were just so low-hanging! But, it’s ok, because what did we come upon next?


At the base of the TV tower (again, supposedly) was the Alexanderplatz Christmas market. This is probably the best Christmas market that I've been to yet - at least, it's definitely my favorite. The stands/booths were turned into a cute little Christmas village (they all had old fashioned building facades). There were a ton of booths - food, drink, crafts. They had a little petting zoo, and a few rides. There was also an ice skating rink - Josh could have sat in front of that rink for hours. He loves watching people fall on ice (he once broke his nose while ice's gotta be some sick Freudian obsession of his at this point). Of course we had glühwein. It was just a really fun Christmas market! And, since it was in the middle of a Wednesday afternoon, it was relatively empty!

That's the TV tower on the right. I guess.

After the market, it was time to head down to Checkpoint Charlie. It was verrrry touristy down here, but it’s one of those places you just have to see. You can get your passport stamped at the checkpoint if you wish. They have like 10 different stamps, and if you want them all, it’ll cost you something like €12 (or is it 12 stamps for €10?)

No thank you.

But, like I said, it was cool to see the place.

From Checkpoint Charlie, it’s a quick walk to the Topography of Terror. Scary name, eh? It’s a large section of the Berlin wall, plus a covered section of the cellar walls of the former SS/Gestapo Headquarters. There is also a museum, but we didn’t have time (next time, I swear).

I’m not gonna this point, I was getting kinda grouchy. But, thankfully, we were now on our way to Charlottenburg. It was pretty far out (about 40 minutes on the least it *felt* like 40 minutes), so we had a little rest on our way. Good thing, too. One thing we did notice about Berlin - there are a lot of English-speaking students that live in Berlin! I never realized this city was a hotspot for study-abroad programs. But, based on all the people we came across in the trains - it definitely is!

Unfortunately there really isn’t a subway stop near the palace, so we had to hoof it for about 15 minutes. At this point, the sun was going down, and it was getting coooold.
But, no worries, because there was ANOTHER Christmas Market at Charlottenburg!!! Happy day.

Next time we go to Berlin, we will definitely take a tour of Charlottenburg. It was so pretty! But, since we were running out of time for the evening (we had to make it back to the hotel to freshen up before our big dinner) we just hung around the market. It was smaller than Alexanderplatz, and more crowded. But, it was still awesome. This one seemed to have more rides for kids, and more ‘higher-end’ shops for adults.

At this point, we headed back to our hotel to freshen up a bit before dinner.

You should be getting very excited at this point, because I’m getting ready to tell you about the restaurant we went to. It is the Unsicht Bar. It’s a blind restaurant!!! One of those restaurants where you eat in complete darkness!!

We were SOOOOOO EXCITED!!! We’d never done anything like this. Josh was a little scared (so was I). But, I have always wanted to do one of these. It was just a quick subway ride from hotel, and then a quick walk. Then, we arrived!

Our reservations were at 8pm. When you walk in, you are in the lit bar area. The lighting was very dim, but in keeping with any cozy bar, really. We checked our coats, then looked at the menu. You could get the 3-course (salad, main, dessert) or the 4-course (soup, salad, main, dessert). Really, you don’t need to look at the menu. They don’t tell you what you will eat - you just order which “theme” you want: seafood, poultry, red meat, vegetarian, and ‘surprise’. Josh ordered the ‘poultry’ menu, and I ordered the ‘vegetarian’ menu. The menus did try to give you clues as to what you were about to eat. For instance, the description of a dish might say, “The Asian woman swims naked in a sea of spicy tubers.” Really, that would be a Japanese soba ginger soup with chicken breasts.

We waited for about five minutes, before our waiter came to get us & another couple. All of the waitstaff in the restaurant are blind or visually impaired. Our waiter talked with us a little bit, and explained to us what was about to happen. In order for us to get to our table, we each had to grab onto each others' shoulders. So, I stood behind the waiter & held his shoulders. Josh stood behind me & held my shoulders, and so on. There was no door going into the restaurant, just an s-shaped hallway. The waiter told us that as we walked thru the hallway, it would gradually get darker - until we were in total darkness.

BULL! As SOON as we turned the corner, it was like black punched us in the face. We could hear the sounds of people all around us - the sounds of clinking glasses, silverware on plates, laughter, chatting. But we could literally see NOTHING.

The waiter showed me to my chair first, then sat Josh across the way from me. While he took the other couple to their seats, Josh and I sat there and giggled. We also felt the area around us. The table was large - lengthwise, at least. We were seated against a wall on one side. We kept reaching out to each other, to make sure we knew where the other one was.

It was the most surreal experience I have ever had. I didn't know what to do with myself!! Josh later told me he sat upright & alert the whole time. I had the opposite reaction. I leaned up against the wall, head cocked up, mouth halfway open (don't make nasty jokes), eyes half closed. If the lights were on, I would have looked like an absolute mental case.

The waiter came back to verify our meal choices & to get our drink order. We just ordered beer - I didn't want to have to deal with water glasses & wine glasses. Beer seemed the safer choice (I always need water at restaurants if I'm drinking wine. When I drink beer, it's refreshing enough so that I don't need water. Also, beer is the same price as water, if not cheaper, in European restaurants).

In the meantime, another couple was seated next to us. Remember how I said our table was long? We deduced that it was a 6 person table - but they leave the middle two seats empty - for good reason! I kept my beer glass pretty far out - I was really worried about knocking it over.

We opted out of the soup, so we started with our salad dish. Here's where the differences between Josh & I really became apparent. His reaction to being given food in the dark was to try and act completely normal. He sat up straight, kept his silverware in his hand, and tried to eat as normally as possible. Yes, he said it was hard for him to get food on his fork sometimes, but he managed. I, on the other hand, turned into Smeagol. I sat COMPLETELY hunched over my food. I kept my fork in my right hand the entire time - BUT I HARDLY USED IT! I spent the entire time eating the food with my left hand. I had to feel what I was about to eat. I know I made an absolute mess of myself. Or, I would have, if I wasn't hunkered over the plate like a hog at trough.

The salad was pretty easy to figure out, though. Josh figured he had a chicken skewer with peanut sauce. I EASILY figured out the main component of my salad - beets.


I am not a fan of beets. But, the lettuce & dressing was good. I did have a hard time figuring out that I had marinated grape tomatoes on my plate. Felt just like eyeballs.

After our salad, the waiter came by & said our main dishes were taking longer than usual.

Le poop.

But, no worries - we're pretty patient when it comes to restaurants. Especially since being in Europe. Eating out is an event not to be taken lightly. Eating out in such a special type of restaurant DEFINITELY warranted even more patience.

Finally, the waiter brought us our meal.

I actually debated on whether I should tell what happened next. But...for the sake of a story, I have to tell. We had SUCH a great time at the restaurant, and we would DEFINITELY go back (please please please don't let what I'm about to tell you keep you from going to the Unsicht Bar in Berlin)...however, we did have an issue.

Since I've been a vegetarian for 16 years, I am totally used to having to check my meals to make sure there is no wayward meat. It happens *all* the time. I order a salad - it comes with bacon. I ask for the black bean burger - they accidentally give me a meat burger. It happens, I get it. It doesn't make me mad, it doesn't gross me out. It's just something I know I have to deal with, so I deal with it.

The blind restaurant is no different. I had to double check the food with my fingers, to make sure I didn't feel any meat.

Sure enough - as soon as I put my fingers in my food, I KNEW it was a piece of meat. Veggie girl can always tell. I did have Josh try it, and he knew right away that it was meat. He actually ended up with a steak dish - when he ordered the poultry dish.


When you need to get your waiter's attention in a blind restaurant, you have to call out their name. They ask you where you are from before you get into the restaurant (so they don't have to remember names). So, we called out for our waiter, and he calls back, "Who's that?" Then we say, "It's Texas!" He came right to us.

So, we started explaining the situation to him. You could tell it didn't happen very often, because the waiter seemed to be upset about it. Then, the girl at the other end of our table pipes up - she thinks she has the vegetarian by accident, when she ordered the meat. Her guy ordered the 'surprise' dish, so he doesn't care. Really, I think they just must have turned around the tray on the poor blind waiter. I know it was just an accident, and not really anyone's fault. So - we didn't gripe about it. I'm a really careful veggie, though - if I had taken a bite of meat, I would have been pissed (but what self-respecting vegetarian would take a bite of food willy-nilly, without inspecting it for meat? Yes, that's really high-maintenance, but it's what we have to do).

Unfortunately, we had to wait even LONGER for our food. The kitchen was still backed up, so we were there for a lot longer.

Finally, we get our correct food. Again, I go to Neanderthal mode & start eating with my hands. I knew I had gnocchi, some sort of vegetable, and some sort of patty. The gnocchi was the only thing I could figure out. It was all really delicious, though. Josh had what he *thought* was chicken, over noodles & sauce.

After we were done with dinner, it was time for dessert!! This was the most fun. They gave us plates with three different little desserts. Some kind of crunchy, nutty square, a square of cake with passion fruit on top, and some sort of mousse. It was sooooo good. My fingers were a mess. But, at this point, we realize that there isn't a whole lot of noise going on around us.

Oh, holy crap. We were the last ones in the restaurant. I mean, I know we had an issue with our meal & had to wait, but still....

Since we were the last ones, our waiter let us walk out of the restaurant on our own. Everyone else was led out the way they came in, but we got to try it ourselves.

It was really difficult!

The waiter stood towards where I guessed the entrance was, and snapped his fingers for us - so we could follow the noise. He had us put our hands to our sides to make sure we weren't about to run into anything. Josh was in front of me. I kept getting scared that I was left behind, so I kept calling out for Josh - really, just to hear my own echo & to make sure that I was on the right path.

Finally, we made it back to the s-shaped hallway. We were literally blinded by the light for a few seconds - remember the dim bar light I was talking about? Yeah, that was blinding us now.

The waiter shook our hand, and I went to the restroom while Josh paid the bill. While I was washing my hands, I looked down & noticed the shelf of crumbs across my boobs. Oops.

At least the waiter didn't notice (blind joke - hey-oh!!).

With two beers each, and the 25% off for having the Welcome Card, our total came to €80ish. Expensive, yes. BUT TOTALLY WORTH IT!!

We got to read the 'real' menu once we came out. Josh's main dish was actually turkey, not chicken. The patty I couldn't figure out? Potato. The vegetable I couldn't figure out? Carrot. The mousse I couldn't figure out? Mango. Basically, I could identify all the weird shit (beet, gnocchi, passion fruit) but completely blanked on the basic (potato, carrot).

It was such a great time - we had an absolute blast. It was such a *weird* experience, too! We got back to the subway to go back to the hotel, and finally saw a clock. Holy Crap, it was 11:30pm!!!! We had just spent 3.5 hours having dinner! It definitely did NOT feel like it took that long.

Back at the hotel, we crashed. It was such a long day, but sooo good!! We love Berlin! But, Poland was on our agenda for the next day. We had to get a good night's sleep before our adventure there.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Wittenberg, Berlin and Poland - Part 1 of 3

I'm finally caught up with the old posts, so now I can post about our most recent trip. The Mister came back from his two month business trip on a Sunday, and on Tuesday - we were off on our own trip to Berlin! I bought a LivingSocial deal (you all know my love affair with travel deals) for a Berlin hotel, and it was going to expire on Dec. 31st. So, we had to hurry up and go! We did this trip the week before Christmas - we knew it wasn't going to be *perfect* weather, but that's never stopped us before.

The LivingSocial deal included three nights at Hotel Gat Point Charlie, a welcome bottle of wine & plate of fruit, free breakfast every morning, and a free drink at their bar. It also included 15% off bicycle rentals, but...who are we kidding, like we're going to use those, in winter, in a big city. Especially not after the Great Vagina Torture in Salzburg. The whole package cost us $400. A little pricy for us, but the hotel was in a GREAT location (just off Friedrichstrasse, a block or so away from Checkpoint Charlie), and it has 4.5 stars on Trip Advisor. Worth it.

We chose to drive to Berlin - a lot of people will fly or take the train. I prefer road trips, at least when we're staying in or near Germany. For one thing - we get American gas prices when driving thru Germany. Also, I grew up doing road trips. I know how to do them right. We bring a case of water (the big bottles - we don't waste room on little bottles), a box of wine or bottle of liquor (WAY cheaper than going out for drinks), an ice chest full of food, and a bag full of games. Not to mention a roll or two of toilet paper, just in case. Josh is terrified of getting his feet wet, so he always brings eleventy pairs of shoes. This time we didn't bring the ice chest - we were both in the mood for pb&js, so we didn't bother with bringing it (normally we load it up with meat & cheese).

Zeus help us when we have kids...we're going to have to buy one of those Chester Molester vans to pack it all in.

Anywho, we packed the car, and headed out at the buttcrack of dawn (5:20am for those of you who don't know the temporal equivalency of "buttcrack"). Our plan was to leave at 5am, but I think we did pretty damn good by leaving at 5:20.

The trip from our house to Berlin takes 6.5 hours, according to Google Maps. We almost never make the Google-estimated time. I have the bladder the size of a walnut. We also decided to make a stop in Wittenberg, Germany. Wittenberg was the home of Martin Luther, and where he nailed his 95 theses to the church door.

Yes, I know, we're not religious. But, we're history buffs, so we still wanted to see the place.

Wittenberg is only about an hour and a half from Berlin, so we had quite a drive to get there. It went by really quickly, though, and we didn't run into ANY traffic (which is practically unheard of in Germany). We only stopped twice on the way. For those of you Americans who live over here - there is an Esso station in Gotha, Germany. It's pretty much at the halfway point between Ramstein & Berlin. (We have to use Esso stations to get our American prices on gas.)

We made it to Wittenberg before noon. And, we were hungry! It was cold outside, and a little snowy, so we had a car picnic.

Finding parking wasn't the easiest thing in the world We parked in a really tiny lot, but I don't think it's the one that was listed in Rick Steves' book. So, if you go, make sure you do a little parking research. But, the lot we parked in was still really near Martin Luther's house.

So, Martin Luther...he started out as a law student, had a near death experience, then chose to become a monk. After he became a monk, he decided that the Catholic church was too corrupt, so he left. He married a former nun & they lived in what USED to be the Augustinian friary.

SO - the house that we went to was his house, which was also where he became a monk.

The Luther House was actually done up *very* nicely. The beginning section was converted into a museum, then you could go thru his house as it looked when he lived there (at least the main living quarters). There was also an official library, a display of Lutheran artwork, and you could go outside and see the former cellar & moat walls.

I know we had to pay to get in, but I can't remember how much exactly - it was something nominal like €4 each (give or take). Now, I was in the restroom (naturally) when Josh bought the tickets. So, I didn't notice the big sign behind the register that said, "No Photos". Well, Josh didn't see it, either. There was also NO ONE else in the museum that we saw (other than the people working the register - and a group of tourists that came in when we were leaving), so no one was there to tell us to cut it out.

So, you are about to see illicit photos of the inside of the Martin Luther home. Get excited.

One of the many many many many books on display.

Martin Luther's pulpit

We did get to see Luther's original robes, which was pretty cool.

The Luther family and all of his scholarly friends used to hang out in one main room of the house. This main room looks the same today as it did then, including the original stove & a signature of Peter the Great on the wall. (well, Peter the Great came much later, obvs)

At this point, we're starting to get a little bored with the place. I would have been happy with one large Luther Room, instead of a whole house-full. But, we marched on.

The library was awesome, I must admit.

Some of the statues were pretty fun, too.

But really, we just got tired of it. We went thru every room (that was open to the public, anyway), and every exhibit. Outside, you can go thru the original cellar where they have displays of what life was like back then.

Honestly, the cellar gave me the creeps. The exhibits were nicely done down there, but it was the type of place where I didn't want to turn around because I was for sure going to see a ghost staring at me. I even made Josh go into the different rooms before me. Normally I can handle the heebie-jeebies, but here - I just wanted out.

As we were leaving the Luther house, we noticed the "no photo" sign. Oops.

Even though we were almost Luther'd out, we still wanted to see the Luther Oak & the Church where he nailed his theses.

The Luther Oak is where he burned his 'papal bull'. However, we didn't really want to stop just to take a picture of the tree, so we went around the traffic circle a few times until I got a good-enough photo.

As I was trying to find a link to attach to 'The Luther Oak' on the last paragraph, I read something that makes me feel like a mo-ran. Apparently the Oak isn't original. It was cut down in 1813, and replanted in 1830. And, now it's dying.


Anywho...we still had to go see the church. You could totally walk to the church from his house, but we were running out of time & just wanted to get to Berlin - so we drove & parked at the Welcome Center by the church.

The Castle Church in Wittenberg is where Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door - basically pooping on the Catholic church & starting Protestantism in the process.

The door is, of course, not original. It burned down during the Seven Years War, and was replaced with a bronze replica in the 19th century. There is controversy over whether or not Luther actually nailed anything to the door, though.

But, truth or not, it's still an impressive church.

It really is a cute town, too.

Rick Steves laid out a nice walking tour of the town in his book. It would have been nice to do, but like I said earlier - we were just running out of time & wanted to get to Berlin. It was starting to get dark at this point, too.

So - would we recommend Wittenberg? Sure! But, with a warning:

Josh and I are non-Christian history buffs. The town was cute, the museum was too much & got a little boring. But, for €4, you can be bored for an hour.
If you are Christian - you will get a lot more out of it than we did. If you are Protestant, you will probably *really* like coming here. If you are a devout Lutheran...well, I can only imagine you may pee yourself a little at seeing these sites. And I say that with all due respect, seriously.

I do have a slight warning for some of you who may choose to visit Wittenberg. One thing I did NOT know about Martin Luther until this trip....he was an extreme Anti-Semite, and wrote horribly nasty things about Jewish people. The Nazis loved to quote Luther's works.

Even though he wrote his works hundreds of years ago, this newly learned fact still really bothers me. :/ Make of it what you will, though.

We left around 4pm or so, and it was foggy & getting dark. The drive wasn't the most fun, but we only had an hour and a half til Berlin. No traffic until we get to the very edge of the city. Ugh, it took forever to get to our hotel - which was on the opposite side of Berlin from where we were. Then, it started to drizzle. And, it was completely dark by this point.

Berlin isn't a fun place to drive. Well, it's not fun when you first arrive, in the dark & in the rain. Josh gets SUPER stressed out when driving in a new city. And then I turn into an awful backseat driver. Then we yell.

But, it's short lived. We made it to the hotel without hitting anyone or anything. And, without killing each other.

The hotel was..."trendy" for lack of a better word. Or maybe "hip". Typing that just made me feel about 75 years old. But it was really nice. Our LivingSocial deal gave us a "superior" room instead of a standard one. The room was small, and I think the only thing that made it "superior" was the fact that it had a view of the street, and not the inner courtyard.

We rested for a little while, and drank some wine the hotel gave us. Then - it was off to explore! Berlin loves Christmas markets. I love Christmas markets. There was a Christmas market 900m from our hotel. My love affair with Berlin was starting off strong.

The Christmas market near our hotel was the Gendermenmarkt Christmas Market. This is the only Christmas market I have ever had to pay to get into - but at €1 per person, who the heck cares? The entire market was located in the Gendermenmarkt square, so it got pretty packed in there after awhile. But, it was gorgeous. I just love Christmas markets - the smells, the decorations, the glühwein, the food. It's all awesome.

We walked around for a little while, then decided to eat somewhere in the market. This is the only Christmas market I've been to where they set up actual temporary restaurants - complete with walls, tables, chairs, waiters, kitchens, etc. Normally, it's just food stands. There was an Italian restaurant that I really wanted to eat at, so we sat down inside. But, really, the prices were kind of expensive. We decided to just get pizzas - but they were HUGE. I didn't want to have to carry around a bunch of leftovers while we were still in the market - and there was no fridge in the hotel (another reason we normally bring an ice chest when we go on vacation). SOOOO, we just got up & grabbed a slice of pizza from their to-go counter, instead of sitting in their restaurant. It was €4 for a HUGE slice (like, a quarter of the pizza) and it was sooooooo goooooooood. We stood in the crowd & people watched while we shoveled it in. Mine was just a plain cheese & tomato pizza with a little fresh basil...but there was just something about standing outside in the cold, at night, in a Christmas market that made it taste like the world's best pizza.

And then, of course - GLÜHWEIN!!! We HAD to get some glühwein - hot, mulled wine. Christmas markets also all have their own 'glass', typically listing the location & the year, so you could definitely become a collector. I did keep my mug (of course it wasn't til we got back to the hotel that I noticed the mug said, "Gendarmenmarkt 2010" on it...I later fixed it with a sharpie). Glühwein is so awesome to drink outside in the cold.

But, after a glass or two, we were ready to go back to the hotel. We were just soooo exhausted. It had been a long day, and it was time for a good night's sleep. We walked back thru the deserted streets of Berlin (we always felt safe, btw), and back to our hotel.

It was a good day.