ein Prosit

If there is one thing I love above all else, it is an occasion to dress up in a silly outfit and drink with my friends.

I am lucky enough to have some friends living in Southern Germany (the best part of Germany, obviously) and last weekend we met up for a good old-fashioned Bavarian Bier Festival. Picture Oktoberfest in the forest.

Despite the fact that I already own a bright pink Dirndl, I found myself in the Tracht section of a department store and walked out of there with a brand new one (though not without first swapping blouses for one I liked better).

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We spent the rest of the day enjoying Festbier by the liter, eating pretzels the size of steering wheels and dancing on tables. Not a bad way to spend a sunny Saturday, if you ask me.

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don’t be a whine-r

Over a year in the making, Kelly and I finally got to have our Wine on the Rhine weekend.

After arriving in Oberheimbach, a town so small you can practically spit from one side to the other, we quickly found that most things are already closed by 8pm on a Friday. Thus, we enjoyed a very fancy dinner for two, and ate so much that we barely touched our Apfelkuchen dessert.

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The next day we rose with the sun (my bad for not closing the sunshade on our window before bed) and after a homemade German breakfast embarked on a 17km hike through the wineries and hills surrounding the town. Though we got rained on (more than once) and my crankiness showed its face (more than once) in the end the views were totally worth it.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon and evening enjoying some local wines and the best Schnitzel I have ever tasted, while trying to get the restaurant dog, Arthur, to play with us (to no avail, sadly).

The next morning, a little worse for the wear though still ready for adventure, we decided on a whim to take the train to the next town over, Bacharach, and boy was that a great decision. Our visit happened to coincide with a Renaissance Faire, and we nursed our hangovers with savory crepes and lots of excellent people-watching.

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don’t stop believin

There is something so magical about reuniting with friends, some of whom you haven’t seen in a over a year, and just spending time being a whole lot of ridiculous.

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Also, “celebrating” the fact that the school you all earned MBA’s from has gone bankrupt. (I wish I were kidding). Thank God for dual-degree programs!

April showers bring May flowers

After returning from Spain, April has been pretty quiet. Which is good, because I have something planned for every weekend in May (and parts of June) so my bank account really needed a chance to get prepared for the onslaught of trips and visitors.

That’s not to say that I haven’t been busy.

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I’ve spent every Sunday on a hike with my walking team. We’re training for a 100K charity walk this September. So far, the furthest we’ve walked is 17K so… we have a bit more training yet to do.

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I saw one of my favorite bands in concert. There is nothing better in this world than singing along to your favorite songs, live, with the actual people who made them famous.

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Kedar and I went to this little Volksfest near his apartment. I got my favorite German festival food, fried cauliflower with garlic sauce, and I won some pom-poms for hitting a few balloons with darts.

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My friend Maren came to visit on one of the most beautiful weekends so far this year. We wandered around the city during the day, and spent the night coming up with excuses to not perform at Karaoke night.

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Had my first meal on my balcony of the year, and introduced cabbage to my diet (totally in love with Asian-inspired cabbage salads these days, and even made it into filling for Vietnamese spring rolls last night!)

I am crazy jazzed for May and all the cool things I have planned, but April has been pretty great too!

donde esta la biblioteca?

Did you know that Spanish is listed under “languages” on my resume? Bet you didn’t. But after a weekend in Spain with a friend who kept getting confused and answering questions in German (instead of even attempting Spanish or just speaking English, which everyone speaks anyway) I feel confident enough to add “Spanish – Tourist Proficiency” to my list of skills.

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After spending Easter in Spain I can also add the following to my list of skills:

  • Choosing a vacation destination based on “what is the cheapest flight out of Germany on these dates?”
  • Nodding and smiling when someone answers my broken-Spanish question with a rapid-fire Spanish answer.
  • Making very detailed lists of recommended restaurants and things to do on a trip, and then not consult that list a single time.
  • Managing to visit at least one of the recommended restaurants for dinner (by accident!), though spend the night drinking copious amounts of Spanish wine and not eating many of the actual Tapas.
  • Getting sunburnt from spending a few hours rotating between the beach, a cafe in the sun, and back to the beach in Palamos.
  • Choosing a restaurant based not on recommendations or menu, but on its name (Fish!)

I may not have gotten an Easter basket or eaten a single chocolate egg, but I still consider Easter 2013 a wild success. 

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run, Forest

Last weekend I dug out my Under Armour leggins, laced up my adidas, braved freezing temperatures and ran a 10K! If you are a dedicated reader you might remember that I attempted to run a 10K in the fall, but hurt my knee partway through and never finished.

This time, thankfully, I did finish! Certainly not with the most stellar time, but I was not last and escaped with merely some sore legs for the next few days.

The best part of running a race in Germany? Free beer at the end.

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allein in einer fremden Stadt

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At the end of February I took a few days off of work and met Rick in Amsterdam for the day. We arrived around the same time on Thursday morning, but since had (literally) just flown from America, I gave him a few hours to nap and wandered the city on my own. After accidentally walking through the Red Light District I treated myself to a latte and the most delicious sandwich (goat cheese and hummus and honey and zucchini) at a cafe called Staalmeesters. Which does not seem to have a website but by no means does this mean that I do not recommend it!

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After seeking out the famous big yellow clog (near Dam Square in front of a souvenir shop, for anyone who is wondering), we spent the afternoon at the Heineken Experience. Of course it was very touristy but you get some free beers during the tour and my dad even bought me a bottle of Heineken with my name on it, which was pretty cool.

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We rounded out the day with dinner at Winkel 43 which, if you will recall, I went to the last time I was in Amsterdam. We had actual dinner but really went there for the apple cake. Delish.

The next day I was left to my own devices, as Rick had to go back to America (no rest for the weary!) After staying in the hotel as long as possible (thanks for the free lodging!) I headed out for a day of wandering. I stumbled upon some real gems, notably the Eichholtz Delicatessen, which was utterly overwhelming, and Kitsch Kitchen where I had to really restrain myself from purchasing any household items. I also fell in love with Hopjes (coffee-flavored candies), and would not turn down a bag of them from anyone who visits Holland in the future (!)

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Eventually it was time to go home, along with my backpack full of American treats my mom sent along and enough Stroop to last me the 2:45 train ride home.

kölle alaaf

It’s nearly impossible for me to adequately describe Karneval to someone who has never experienced it.

I could say that nearly everyone in the city dresses in costume Thursday through Tuesday. Which is true. My favorite thing is seeing someone’s 80+ year old Opa wearing a red sponge clown nose, or a granny with her hair spiked and dyed Cologne red.

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Or that there are parties (OH ARE THERE PARTIES) where they play seemingly the same fifteen songs over and over again but it just doesn’t matter. There is something about Karneval music that warms my heart and makes me jump around like a fool and sway with the rest of them, regardless of the fact that I rarely know any of the words.

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But in the end, it’s the atmosphere that really makes it. The smile that creeps across my face anytime I see a man dressed as a woman (why this is such a popular costume, I have no idea), random shouts of “Alaaf!” during those six glorious days, the weird traditions that I do not understand (even when they are explained to me) and all the ‘new friends’ that are made, only to be forgotten by the next day.

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It’s this time of year that makes me feel like I never want to leave Cologne. (Give it a few weeks, my mind will change… it always does!)

(I made those Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle costumes myself. I’m awesome, I know)

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Sometimes I have little moments where I need to step back and say to myself “Self, your life is really a lot more awesome than you give it credit for.”

Most of the time my life is pretty much the same as it would be living anywhere else: I commute to and from work 5 days a week, I go to the gym and have to force myself to do laundry and don’t vacuum as often as a woman of my age probably should. But when my weekend plans include (for example) going to Munich and not seeing a single touristy thing because I only went to hang out with my friend (and I’ve been there, done that with the tourist stuff anyway) sometimes its easy to forget how cool my life really is.

Here’s a quick recap of the best stuff that happened to me in 2012. Because who doesn’t love a wrap-up in February.

One year ago: I got my nose pierced on a whim on my birthday while on a three-week vacation in India. I would lose it in July sometime during an open-bar-at-a-wedding-induced blackout.

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In April I went back to Hannover for a long weekend. I visited all our favorite spots from the year I lived there: sang karaoke, drank entirely too much beer and had a tuna melt from Henry’s.

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In May I took myself on my first solo vacation, to Nice. And in June I returned to Freiburg only to have my phone stolen whilst I was sleeping.

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In September we had a team-building activity in which we climbed and flew between trees many meters up in the air. I was terrified, hated every second of it, and I will never do it again.

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I had many heart-to-hearts with my dear friend Kelly; some were awkward and some were not. I ran seven-tenths of a 10K through a park at night in September before succumbing to wrenching knee pain, and started wearing contact lenses in October.6

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I’ve already got some crazy things lined up for 2013, we shall see how it pans out!

everybody has the mania

If there is one place I love above all others it is, for sure, Pennsylvania. My mom and I hit some hot spots of Northeastern and Central PA yesterday.

The day started with picking up some Pitza and breads at Senape’s in Hazleton, a personal favorite of mine. I haven’t figured out how they make room temperature bread, tomatoes and a bit of cheese taste so heavenly, but I won’t question it.

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the goods

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mom going in for the kill

After stocking up on fresh-baked goods, we checked out Eckley Miner’s Village, where apparently someone in my family lived at one point. Despite the fact that the road was closed (and snow-covered) and we were only able to see a bit of it, it was still pretty cool to see.

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just some old houses and lots of snow

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thanks to the Verizon repairman for taking this pic

We capped off the journey with a stop in Jim Thorpe (“The Switzerland of America”… no lie) where I had pierogies for lunch at Hotel Switzerland (well, in the pub downstairs, anyway) and bought some awful postcards at the 5 and 10 on Main St.

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I prefer the city’s old name, Mauch Chunk

I return to Germany forty-eight hours from now. Though I have yet to figure out how I’m going to carry all the groceries and Christmas presents I acquired over the last two weeks.