Zürich, Switzerland

Posted by Karie on Mar 22nd 2008 03:10 pm

After dropping off our travel partners from Munich, we headed for our next adventure in close quarters with someone we don’t know – Couch Surfing!  Over the next 5 minutes, some of you will be thinking about how you can work this into your next trip, and others of you will think we are insane.

Here’s how Couch Surfing (CS) works: go to www.CouchSurfing.com and create an account.  Members can specify if they have a “couch” available for “surfers”, meaning, space for a visitor to come stay with them (a couch, extra room, dog bed, patio furniture…).  If you are traveling, you can visit the website (after creating an account) and search for available couches in the city you are visiting.

We found a wonderful girl in Zürich who agreed to let us stay with her and her two cats for 2 nights.  She had a gorgeous flat in a great location, she was friendly & hospitable, and gave us a wealth of information about Switzerland… the kind of stuff you would never know without spending a few hours with a local.

Here’s a little more about how it works, for the “tell me more!” crowd:
The people who make their couches available are typically travelers themselves… generally outgoing, like meeting new people from different places, and know that some day the favor will be returned when it’s their turn to travel (kind of pay-it-forward-ish).  For the travelers, it’s a great opportunity to really learn about the city from a local perspective.  Not to mention it’s usually free, although I personally think it’s appropriate to buy your host dinner, or something to show your appreciation.

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The Romantic Road and Munich, Germany

Posted by Karie on Mar 19th 2008 03:03 pm

In order to fulfill Scott’s dream of driving on the Autobahn, we rented a car and drove from Berlin down to Würzburg, which is somewhere in the middle of Germany, not too far from Frankfurt.  Unfortunately, we were not able to rent a Porsche, but our little Opel didn’t embarrass us too badly.

Scott is convinced that German drivers are the best in the world.  I’m sure this has nothing to do with the fact that he is of German decent.  Ok, I also admit that there seems to be a mutual respect on the road.  Drivers reserve the fast lane strictly for passing, no one cuts anyone off, and rules of the road are obeyed (whether those rules are laws or just unspoken etiquette).  Needless to say, we spent a lot of time in the right lanes, at a comfortable 130-180 kph (roughly 80-110 mph), and kept the left lane open for the Mercedes & BMWs that regularly fed us their dust as they flew by at 200+ kph.

After a 5-or-so-hour drive from Berlin, we stopped in Würzburg for the night, which is the beginning of the Romantische Straße, or Romantic Road.  Our hostel, on the other hand, was not representative of this title.  It felt more like an old hospital clinic than the gateway to the most beautiful scenery in Germany.  At any rate, we didn’t spend much time there, as we were off again early the next morning.

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Berlin, Germany

Posted by Karie on Mar 16th 2008 07:10 pm

I learned more in Berlin in 2 days than I learned in all my years of schooling combined. What a fascinating place, AND, to top it all off, the best things in Berlin are FREE!

If you remember one tip out of everything I share from our entire year here, let it be this: take the New Berlin Free Walking Tour. If you are ever in Berlin, or anywhere near Berlin, please take this tour. If you have been to Berlin and did not take this tour, go back and take this tour. The company, New Europe Tours, now offers free tours in several major cities, including Paris, London, Amsterdam, etc., but the history of Berlin made this one of particular interest to me.

The philosophy of New Europe Tours is that every person deserves a high quality informative tour, regardless of status or income level. The reason it works is that the tour guides are extremely enthusiastic about history, and they have to be good at what they do because they work solely on tips. So while it’s nice that the tour is free, that’s not necessarily why I recommend it. In fact, make sure you take money with you because you will want to tip your guide generously.

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Amsterdam, Netherlands

Posted by Karie on Mar 13th 2008 07:03 pm

While Las Vegas is the self proclaimed Sin City, Amsterdam is the real deal. However, a couple factors set it apart from the self indulgent attractions of Vegas. 1) everything is legal here, hence no “sins” have been committed (except as determined by your own conscience or moral beliefs), and 2) Amsterdam has so much more to offer that such a title would be a disservice to the beauty of the city.

The Amstel River runs through the city, as do 100+ other canals, and over 1,000 bridges. In the 1960’s, the city went to great efforts & expense to install safety railings around the canals. However, their hard work and money might have been more worthwhile if those railings were more than 4 inches tall. According to the tour guide on the canal cruise, an average of 1 car per week falls into the waterways… and certainly countless drunks or bicyclists over taken by the gusty winds that are typical of this area. Houseboats are also commonplace in these canals. As the city started to grow there was a shortage of housing, so many people took to life on the canal. Most of these homes are legal, and are supplied with water, gas & electricity. However, there are some boats docked illegally, and have no access to utilities.

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Brussels, Belgium

Posted by Karie on Mar 10th 2008 07:38 pm

A while back we watched a Travel Channel special on Brussels that really peaked my interest. Brussels is referred to as the Capital of Europe, being home to the European Union headquarters. Its country also stakes claim to the best waffles, chocolate, and beer, and swears that they invented the french fry. Some might argue that this tiny country has made more significant contributions to modern society than any other. Seriously, we could all live without the space program, but without waffles there would be no holes to keep the whip cream, juicy strawberries or softened peanut butter from sliding off your fried batter. The world would be flat – pancake flat… and my mom made terrible pancakes. (it’s ok, she’s a great cook otherwise, and she even laughs at herself once a decade when she tries them again.)

The most common scent in Brussels was sugar. I guess with that much goodness going around, it’s hard to be uptight. We found the locals to be very friendly, and never taking themselves too seriously. As one local put it, “Paris has the Eiffel Tower, New York has the Empire State Building, and we have Manneken Pis” – a famous statue of a small boy relieving himself. We later found a less famous female version along the same lines, the Jeanneke Pis.

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Just a Random Saturday Night in BCN

Posted by Karie on Mar 1st 2008 08:58 pm

You just never know what you’re going to find in Barcelona. I’m pretty sure that every night we stay in, we miss something. For example, we spent most of the day today inside, preparing for our upcoming trip, doing chores, etc. So about 6:00pm we were ready to get out. We had nowhere to go, so we just started wandering.

Walking down one of the main streets that we take pretty regularly, we heard some music, so we followed our ears. We wound up in the Plaza de la Constitución, where a band was playing and people were dancing the Sardana. Sardana is a traditional Catalan dance that represents unity. People gather in circles, holding hands up high, and step in unison. Coats and bags are usually placed in the center of the circle for safe keeping.

We’ve witnessed this before, usually with groups of senior citizens outside of the Barcelona Cathedral on a Sunday afternoon. We still don’t know the reason for this particular celebration, but we enjoyed watching it for a while.

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Istanbul, Turkey

Posted by Karie on Feb 14th 2008 01:25 pm

Our time in Istanbul was split into two parts. We spent a full day there on our way to Cappadocia, and a few more days on the back end. They say that Istanbul is “where the east meets the west” – both literally & figuratively, and that couldn’t be more true.

We found that most people spoke English in the city, and in many ways it was not too different from other major cities we’ve visited. Turkey is currently working very hard to join the European Union, so it makes me curious if the larger cities are embracing the “ways of the west” more than they might have several years ago? Maybe, maybe not. At any rate, there was still a feeling unlike anything else we had experienced in Europe. We definitely observed some cultural differences, despite the western influence.

Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country, and while probably not as “extreme” as many other eastern countries, you do notice some differences, such as there being fewer women and children out and about. It is also customary to hear the “call to prayer” 5 times per day. The call is broadcast from speakers on the minarets of the many mosques, and can be heard everywhere, including in our hotel room at 5:00am. Some shops briefly close while the owners head to the nearest mosque or prayer room, while others go about their business but respectfully turn down music or anything else to distract from the time of prayer.

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Eagle Creek Story - “Love on the Road”

Posted by Karie on Feb 13th 2008 10:04 am

Just wanted to share something kind of fun…

Eagle Creek (the makers of the backpacks and some other travel gear that we use), asked us to submit a story about “Love on the Road”, and they selected our story to be featured in their Valentine’s Day enewsletter!

Here’s a picture of the email that went out to their subscribers, and you can Click Here to read our story on Eagle Creek’s website.

Eagle Creek E-Newsletter

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