Cologne’s famous Cathedral & Kolsch

We were lucky enough to have visitors just a few months after moving to Germany.  Our friends flew across the pond for a 10 day German extravaganza (just for some background info-all the men went to college together and the wives are all close now too).  Our first stop on this whirlwind trip of ours was to Cologne which is about 2.5 hours north of where we live.  Cologne is most famous for it’s cathedral, which is breathtaking, and the most visited place in Germany.  The cathedral is home to the skeletons of the three kings/wisemen, which has made it an important religious site to visit, in addition to a stunning architectural one.

This is a life size replica of the tips of the spires of the cathedral, so you can see how huge it really is.

When we visited Cologne, the city was buzzing with excitement. The square was full of people, street performers, and soccer football fans.  Cologne played Berlin the day we were there and the fans were pretty rowdy.  We saw them all over the place decked out in team colors, carrying beers (yes, in Germany you can walk on the street with a drink), singing, and chanting.  And because of all the fans, there were a lot of policemen out on the streets watching, which was a little unnerving.

 Also in the area in front of the cathedral is this arch that has been standing since Roman times.  The city was a part of the Roman Empire, and has many Roman artifacts in it.

We are looking at a mosaic floor made by the Romans.  The original Roman city sat underneath where the street level is now.  
We had just enough time for a beer before our cathedral tour.

Time for the tour! It ended up that our tour guide was a little less than entertaining, but gave lots of interesting information.

There are so many different stained glass windows inside.  Some are from the 1200’s and 1300’s, and some are as new as 5 years old.  The cathedral has suffered damage throughout some of the wars here which is why some of the windows are much newer.

The flags with the three crowns (for the three kings) is a symbol for Cologne.
This window shows stories involving children, and you can see a depiction of David and Goliath (middle left).
This is the window that is only 5 years old.  It’s obviously much different than most stained glass designs you see in churches.  It’s all colored squares, there is supposed to be some symmetry in it, but I couldn’t see it.

After the cathedral tour, we decided to climb 509 steps up the spiral staircases of the tower to take in the view.  The climb was not my favorite part, the staircases are very narrow and when you walk up you have to walk on the inside of the staircase where the steps are smaller and there is no railing.  Every time we would pass people going down I would feel like I was going to fall down the stairs.  And it was such a tight spiral that going around and around made me feel really dizzy.   However if you can get past all that, the view was great!

The Rhine River from above.
Checking out the view.

After the tour we headed over to a brewery to try the local beer, kolsch.  Here the waiters don’t ask if you want more kolsch, they just keep bringing you the small glasses and mark tallies on your coaster for how many you’ve had.  You put your coaster on top of your glass when you don’t want anymore.

The men enjoying kolsch and a meat and cheese platter.
Our coaster at the end of the night, I believe the total was 131.

Needless to say we had a wonderful time!  I really wanted to go to the Ludwig Modern Art Museum,  but we couldn’t quite fit it in to our day.  I guess we will just have to go back!

Where are your favorite places to eat, see, and sleep in Cologne?

Quick Getaway to Palm Springs

Over the weekend the hubby and I had a chance to jet down to Palm Springs, CA for a wedding of two dear friends.  We opted to leave the little lady behind with Grandma (this is the first time we’ve done that).  It was exciting and sad at the same time.  I knew she would be fine with Grandma, who is plenty capable.   I still worried though, maybe more for Grandma than for little girl.  Two year olds come with tantrums and meltdowns, I am used to it, but poor Grandma is not!

Either way, we were off.  An early flight out of San Jose down to Ontario.  I have not traveled without our little one in two years-since she was born.  I forgot what it’s like to travel so footloose and fancy free!  All I had to tote through the airport was a half empty purse-purse, not diaper bag!  I felt naked, like I was forgetting something.  Ahh how nice it was!

flight

With no toddler to entertain, I could even do a sudoku puzzle!

The flight was quick and easy, and once there we picked up our rental car and started driving the remaining hour to Palm Springs.  We stayed at the Riviera Palm Springs, where the wedding would be held.  The Riviera has a beautiful lobby, a couple different pool areas and lots of vintage-glam.  Upon arriving, we quickly changed into swim suits and met up with the wedding crowd out at the pool.

IMG_0966The hotel had a Vegas pool party vibe.  The main pool had more of a party atmosphere than the smaller pool which was more family friendly.  If you’re looking for the party scene, this is your place.  If you’re looking for a quiet spa-like atmosphere you may want to look elsewhere.  The food we ordered at the pool bar, though pricey was pretty good.  That evening after getting cleaned up, we took the hotel’s private trolley bus over to a house where the rehearsal dinner was being held.  Plenty of tacos, flamingo straws, and good times were had by all!

The next morning the hubby and I decided to walk to a nearby diner for breakfast, Rick’s Restaurant & Bakery.  Food was delicious, they were big portions, and much less expensive than the hotel restaurant.

Corned beef hash, french toast, and a cup of joe

Corned beef hash, french toast, and a cup of joe.

Pretty fountain on the walk to and from Rick's

Pretty fountain on the walk to and from Rick’s.

After a nice little walk back, it was time to visit the bride and bridal party in her beautiful suite.  I studied the makeup artists to see what products they were using and how they were contouring the girls’ faces.  Not sure I have what it takes to master that each day but it was fun to watch!  I let the girls get back to their prepping and went back out to the small pool for a couple hours.  The pool service was taking a while to bring out food to our friends, so we decided to run out and grab a quick bite before it was time to shower up for the wedding.

Not too shabby

Not too shabby.

We ended up going to a strip of shops and restaurants along Palm Canyon Drive.  We opted for a patio restaurant named Greek Islands.  Our food was tasty, and the patio reminded us of being back in Europe, though we never actually made it to Greece…sigh.  It’s on the list for next time!

greekThe crowning jewell of the afternoon was a few more blocks down from Greek Islands, the #1 restaurant according to TripAdvisor… Great Shakes!  A place devoted solely to frozen treats, this was my happy place.  Great Shakes boasts a menu of 25 different milkshake flavors including classics like chocolate and strawberry, as well as some more unique flavors like pistachio, white chocolate lavender, and date.  There is a reason the line is out the door to pay $6.50 for a milkshake, they are yummy!

Heath bar with caramel swirl & peanut butter cup!

Heath bar with caramel swirl & peanut butter cup!

That would conclude our free time in Palm Springs.  That evening we attended our friends’ beautiful wedding in a garden at the Riviera.  It was a joy to watch them marry, and to sit by my husband hand in hand as we remembered our own wedding.  The dinner and desserts were fabulous and included a gorgeous wedge salad, raspberry sorbet, and tender beef short ribs.  The reception space was elegantly decorated with colorful flowers, sequined table runners, and a chandelier to die for.  I did my best to get out on the floor and dance with the bride, but my baby bump decided I was over doing it and I didn’t make it through too many songs.  It was back home for us the next morning.  I wish we could’ve stayed longer to enjoy our friends’ company more, but am so thankful to have been a part of a wonderful wedding weekend!

Where are your favorite places in Palm Springs?

Innsbruck

Our first big trip since arriving in Germany was to Innsbruck, Austria.  We had such a great time with our friends and would love to go back to Innsbruck again.  It was about a 6 hour drive from where we live.  After a little confusion trying to find the hotel, check in, and find parking, we settled in and started to enjoy the view!  Here is the view from our hotel rooms…

You can see the Golden Roof on the left.  It was built in the 16th century for the Emperor Maximillian to watch tournaments and events down in the square.
Close up of the Golden Roof
Also from the room we could see the clock tower, which we later climbed to the top of!
Kathryn reading to us about some of the sights in town
Enjoying wine and snacks before heading out

We had reservations for dinner at a restaurant on top of a mountain overlooking Innsbruck.  We knew we would need to take a cable car up the mountain, but weren’t exactly sure where the cable car station was, so we walked around town for a while looking for it and checking out the sights.

Cathedral of St. James
The river runs right through Innsbruck and has the prettiest pale aqua color
Most of the buildings here are painted in these beautiful pastel colors.  It makes the town look so inviting and vibrant.

The view from the other side of the river.
We finally found the cable car station!  Those lights on top of the mountain are where we were headed.
The cable car has arrived.

We took the cable car to another station halfway up the mountain, got off and had to buy a ticket to get all the way to the top.  When we got up there, we found a little surprise​…

An igloo bar!  We had no idea it was here, but it was a fun addition to the night! 

Enjoying some gluwein (it was the only drink that sounded good because it’s hot, and I was freezing!)
Gluwein and a fire on top of a mountain, so much fun!
The view of Innsbruck from the top

We eventually headed inside to our dinner reservations, and the meal was delicious!  There were 3 spreads set out on the table with bread.  We were trying them all and loving them, when we started to try to figure out what one of them was.  We finally asked the waiter and found out it was a duck fat spread!  Interesting, never had that before! It was so good, but finding out what it was kind of ruined it for me 😦  After dinner we went back out to the igloo bar to use up our free drink tickets that were given to us by the man in the ticket booth.  The bar was now packed with mostly people who had been skiing all day.  It was funny to see people dancing at a club in all their ski gear and bundled up.  There was some dance contest on stage where the bartender got up and sang “Macarena, Macarena, Macarena, Macarena” to the tune of Macarena, and a couple club goers were on stage with her doing the dance, then she poured a shot in their mouths.  I guess the Macarena is truly an international hit!

The cable car ride back down was amazing.  We were so high in the air looking down at snow-covered trees and steep slopes.  It was almost eerie in the dark, but such a cool view.  It’s too hard to describe, just something you have to see for yourself.  When we got down to the middle station to get on the other cable car, we unexpectedly found out that station was closed!  A few moments of panic set in before we luckily saw a city bus nearby and hopped on that instead.  It was late to bed and early to rise for the next day.

Our first ski day was to Axamer Lizum.  We got dressed in all of our snow clothes, grabbed our skis from the car, and walked around looking for the right bus stop.  All the ski resorts around Innsbruck have free buses from the city out to the mountains.  The bus we rode to Axamer was like a regular city bus, and so many skiers and snowboarders packed themselves onto this thing.  It was about a 45 minute ride out to the ski resort.  When we got there we had planned to take a ski lesson since both of us were new to skiing.  The lesson wouldn’t start for about 2 hours, so we thought we’d try some easy slopes with our friends (the experienced skiers) to see if we could get the hang of it a little before hand.  We rode a tram to the top of a mountain, and by the time we got to the top I was terrified.  Did I mention I’m afraid of heights?  I won’t go into all the embarrassing details but basically it did not go well for me.  Hubby did alright and actually made it down the mountain, I did not.  My girlfriend was so patient with me and I really appreciated her help and calm demeanor.  The run ended up being much more steep and challenging than we expected, not a good place for a beginner skier afraid of heights.  Hubby came back to get me and I ended up walking back up to the top (I didn’t make it that far down)  and it was official that I was done skiing for the trip.

However, the view of the Alps from the top was amazing!

Breathtaking view!

Gives you a little size perspective.  You can also see the trail a little bit.
Hubby did pretty well on the skis but missed his snowboard.

We ate lunch in the restaurant at the top.  It was a beautiful sunny day and the restaurant’s huge window panels were open, making it like eating outside.

There were a lot of people just sitting with the sun shining on them and relaxing
The view out of the restaurant.  So gorgeous!
Beautiful!
This is the restaurant from the outside.
Innsbruck hosted the Olympics in 1964 and again in 1976
End of the day, happy travelers!

Once we got back in town, we decided to walk around a little bit before all the shops were closed up.

Checking out the goods.

We wanted a Christmas ornament and spotted a shop for them.  The amount of ornaments inside was incredible.  There were also all these eggs painted with any theme you could think of.  Sets for every holiday of the year.

Which one do I want?

Bustling streets.

We also found a little food shop and picked up some treats.  We had seen on a Rick Steve’s DVD that Mozart Balls (little chocolate balls with a picture of Mozart on the wrapper) are all over Austria.  So when we saw them we had to try them.  I got a jar of macadamia cream-so good.  And after asking if it was legal, we each got a drink to carry around with us.  We eventually wandered back to our hotel to get ready for dinner.

Ready to eat!

The next day was a little bit of a picture fail.  We went to the Stubai Glacier. our friends skied, Hubby rented a snowboard, and I enjoyed the ski lodge with a book 🙂  The glacier was awesome, we saw deer and mountain goats on the slopes on the way up.  It was a huge ski resort with a ton of different runs and lifts.  Pictures wouldn’t have turned out too well anyway since we had a lot of snow that day and the visibility wasn’t very good.

Last day in Innsbruck was spent seeing last minute sights.

Mozart stayed here once.
Our hotel!  Hotel Happ was perfect, great location and a wonderful breakfast each morning.
We wanted to go into the Hofkirche (a church) but there was a special ceremony to commemorate an Austrian soldier who was a hero for them, so we weren’t allowed in.
Hofkirche
View from the top of the clock tower
Cathedral St. James from the clock tower
On top of the city!

After the clock tower it was time to head back.  We stopped for lunch in Ulm, Germany which is the birthplace of Albert Einstein.  It also has the largest church steeple in the world, which sounds surprising but the reason is because this is a Lutheran church, not a Catholic cathedral.

Inside the church.
It was lined on both sides with these statues that seem to be looking at you
Ceiling of the church
One of the stained glass windows 

Finally time to really get home.  There was little time for relaxing though, as we had Fasching the next day.  More to come on that soon!

Heidelberg

One of our first weekends in Germany we decided to try out a tour to Heidelberg.  This tour caught our eye because it was also billed as a way to learn about the German train system.  You always hear in the states how cheap it is to travel in Europe and to just get a rail pass.  Well, when we looked into it, it didn’t  seem like that great of a deal and traveling by train appeared to be pretty expensive.  We felt like we were missing something, so we were hoping this tour would fill in some blanks for us, and it did!

We had to meet at the train station at 7:00 AM and it was FREEZING!  We decided to go on our first tour on the first weekend where temps were hovering between 0-10 degrees.  Our excitement to travel trumped some of our rational thinking.  We found our group at the station and met our guide Sandy, and the rest of our tour group of about 17 people.  Sandy showed us how to read the schedule and how to use the ticket kiosks to buy the right kind of ticket.  There’s a ticket you can buy for about 20 euro that will work for up to 5 people (dogs can come too) and on the weekends it’s good for both days.  So for our whole group, we only needed 4 tickets.

Our train ride to Heidelberg was about an hour and a half.  When we arrived we walked straight out of the train station and into the town.  The first part of the morning was spent doing a walking tour of the old town or “altstadt.”

This is one of the main squares in town
A view of the castle overlooking Heidelberg
One of the churches
The Neckar River runs through Heidelberg
This is a statue of a baboon holding a mirror, I don’t know why they have it, but “they” say if you rub his foot you’ll return to Heidelberg, if you rub the mirror you’ll be wealthy, and there are some little mice next to him you rub for fertility.  And my scarf is over my face because I was so cold!
I think this is just called “Old bridge”, it’s really pretty though
Walking though town
Yay!  I found a Starbucks!!  I have to say, they really took their time here, there was no rushing the baristas.  The barista was taking her time to make sure my carmel drizzle was perfect!
Inside of the beautiful Jesuit church
This is the tram you can ride from town up to the castle.  You can also walk but it was way too cold for that.
Walking up to the castle

Castle entrance, notice the knights guarding it up above
This castle was huge, it blew little ol’ Burg Nanstein out of the water!
It looked Greek or Roman to me because of all the columns and statues on the facades.

We started our tour in the barrel room.
World’s largest wine vat, literally! Sadly it’s empty now, but at one time was full of wine.
The building on the right is the oldest part of the castle, the castle was destroyed and rebuilt several times but not in either World War, back in the 1600’s and 1700’s.

Inside a hall
The castle’s cathedral

View from the castle.  Across the river there is the “Philosopher’s Way” which is supposed to be a really pretty walk.  I rubbed the monkey’s foot so I can come back another day and go on that walk 🙂
This is a model of what the castle would’ve looked like in it’s prime.  Pretty!

After the castle tour, we got some gluwein (hot mulled wine) to go and headed back down to town for some lunch.  We made lunch a long one since it was so cold.  The food we had was great, we haven’t had a bad German meal yet!  After lunch we walked in and out of some of the shops and then it was time to walk back to the train station!  It was a really fun day (despite the cold), we would love to go back to Heidelberg, and we are excited to start using the trains to travel around!

Wildparks in Germany

The German wild park

One of the fun things to do where we lived in Germany was to visit the local wildparks.  A wildpark is similar to a zoo, but more local and tame animals than wild animals like lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!).  They are fairly small, and you are able to feed most of the animals.  Sometimes you can bring in your own food (carrots, vegetables) and sometimes they ask that you purchase special food for the animals (about 1-2 euro for a box).  The one closest to our house was even free!  You could go at anytime and bring your own food and have a free day’s worth of entertainment!  It was a great way to get out of the house and enjoy the sunshine.  My little one loved visiting these parks and seeing/feeding the animals.  Here are some highlights of our visits to our local wildparks!

Mama and baby wild boars

Mama and baby wild boars

The goats came to join us for lunch one day

The goats came to join us for lunch one day

Eagle out for a practice flight for the daily bird show

Eagle out for a practice flight for the daily bird show

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The animals are not shy once they see you have food!

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Multiple eagles, hawks, and falcons at this wildpark

Multiple eagles, hawks, and falcons at this wildpark

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Pen full of guinea pigs and bunnies

Feeding the horse some peppers

Feeding the horse some peppers

Have you ever visited a German wildpark?  Or been to something similar in other locations?

Tea at the White Hart

I recently had the pleasure of attending afternoon tea at the White Hart in Pacific Grove.  The White Hart is a charming old Victorian home that has been restored and has just opened for tea service.  I wish I could’ve taken a tour of the whole house but apparently the owners actually live there, so I doubt they want their patrons wandering their private space!

We were seated in a light filled room overlooking Lighthouse Ave.  The table was set with antique floral china that reminded me of my grandmother’s own china set.    We were given menus to look over and decided to have the full afternoon tea which included 4 different sandwiches, scones with clotted cream, lemon curd, and strawberry preserves, and a selection of desserts.

Over the course of an hour or so my friend and I chatted over several cups of loose leaf tea and indulged in all the wonderful treats that were given to us.  It was a very peaceful and enjoyable afternoon.  I’m hoping to return to the White Hart again before we leave!  The White Hart will be open every 2nd and 4th weekend of the month and can also be reserved for private parties.  Check out their website HERE for more information and to make a reservation.

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Gilroy Gardens

About 45 minutes north from where we live is Gilroy Gardens, an amusement and water park.  We took our little peanut there to celebrate her 2nd birthday.  I thought the park was great for her age, she could ride most of the rides and was even able to get on some by herself (which she loved but I was a little unsure about).  Unfortunately the water park areas were not open when we went, but should be opening in the next few weeks.  It was surprisingly not very crowded for a warm Saturday.  The wait times for most of the rides we wanted to do was very short.  Some of the roller coasters and the boat rides had longer waits I believe.  The crowds probably increase as the summer hits but we were able to get through a lot and even repeat rides because of the short waits.  The other nice thing about this park was how shaded it was.  It can get pretty warm in Gilroy so it was wonderful to have shade over the lines and much of the park.

If this park was closer and I wasn’t pregnant I would definitely get a season pass, but I’m just not sure how often I would get up there and how much fun it would be for me to chase little girl around as I enter the final months of pregnancy.  All in all we had a very fun and full day at the park.  So fun that this little girl didn’t nap or want to get in her stroller at all the whole day!

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Carousel ride

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Driving the firetruck

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Cruising in the race car

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High-fives for hot air balloon rides!

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Hands up!

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The lush lake full of swan boats

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Who’s ready to ride an artichoke?

The very popular goldfish ride

The very popular goldfish ride

Spinning around!

Spinning around!

Check out the Gilroy Gardens website for information on ticket prices and attractions.