Monday, November 30, 2009

Thoughts from a semi-seasoned traveler

Surprisingly, Copenhagen is very similar to Amsterdam.  Both sit on the water and have matching architectural styles. Both cities are quite flat and have many bike paths thus providing an ease at which to ride a bike.  Both are generally rainy at this time of year, and are small enough cities to get from point A to B on foot. People in both cities speak English, and...that about sums it up.

What got me, though, was the fact that each similarity was slightly different. (Yes, I know that's an oxymoron). But, let's take English speakers for example.  Although I have no problem getting anywhere I need to go in Europe by speaking my native language, some countries are more fluent in English than others.  I've been to 3 of the 4 Scandinavian countries now, and before I had gone to Denmark I thought everyone in Scandanavia knew English just as well as my fellow (current) countrymen.   -- Guess I have to be wrong about something at least one time a year.--    The number of English speakers in Copenhagen, although quite a large amount, was drastically less than what I am used to here in Amsterdam... or than what I had encountered in Sweden and Norway for that matter.

Just to throw in one more example, for the sake of... one more example I'll mention the bikers. There are plenty in both cities, however in Amsterdam we have no fear and dominate the roads; in Copenhagen they ride with helmets(!!!), what?? Here we lock our bikes with non-penetrating, industrial strength iron chains - generally more than one; in Copenhagen all they use is the flimsy back lock. Here, if the light is red and there are no cars coming, we go; there... they wait. Obviously we're the tougher of the two and would win a smack down with one arm tied behind our backs. No contest. Although, if an honesty/law abiding/safety first award was given out, we'd probably be given second place.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Wonderful, wonderful Copen-sumthin’

Over the weekend I came to discover that Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales were not at all like the "happily ever after" versions Disney dreamed up. The Little Mermaid kills herself, Thumbelina is told by her husband that her name is ugly so he changes it to one he feels is suitable, the Emperor was made a laughing stock because he was scammed by the makers of his "new suit" - thus walked about in the nude, and the Little Matchstick Girl freezes to death on New Years Eve.

No wonder Denmark is ranked #1 in suicide rates among children!

(above remark is a joke, not an actual fact)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Where was Claire?

Clue #1: This city is one of the two most expensive in the world for tourists,(recently beating out Tokyo). Added note: I've already visited the other of the two.

Clue #2: The culinary specialty of this country is an open faced sandwich. A slice of rye, piled high...

Clue #3: The city's landmark sits on the water, an image of beauty and imagination.

Clue #4:

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Stroke... stroke!

I recently read that 95 percent of all Dutch children have a swimming certificate by the time they leave primary school. The other 5 percent are of ethnic minorities who's cultures don't place a priority on swimming as an upbringing. Upon asking a colleague if his children have their certificate yet, he responded, "Well, of course. They're required to have it by 8 years old. This is Holland after all." True, this is Holland... we're surrounded by water.

Not only are we surrounded by water, but without the dikes we'd be under it. No wonder nearly the entire Dutch population knows how to swim. If, by any chance, the dikes broke the country would go from looking like this: to this:Swimming master or not, maybe adding a life preserver to the first aid kit would be a good idea, since no one can tread water forever.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Rothenburg revisited

She lives in an excellent location, my mother that is, right near the heart of Bavaria. It actually couldn't have been a better location if I had hand picked it myself. Not only is she only 2 hours away from the Neuschwanstein castle, but she's a mere 30 minutes away from Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The small walled in city of Rothenburg just happens to be my all time favorite, and was so nice to see in the fall - to contrast the summer views I had seen last year.

We didn't do anything particular while there, other than eat at our favorite restaurant, walk inside (nearly) every shop the city has, and take pictures... lots and lots of pictures.
And we can't forget the laughing...
... because there was more of that than anything else.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Once apon a time...

... in a land far, far, away lived a man in search of an abode suitable for his beautiful, sleeping, princess. Why, she could not wake up in any old castle! Nor could her memory be attached to a structure anything less striking than she, herself, was. So the man looked high and low, he traveled vast continents, battled mighty dragons, and swam the mighty oceans to find his inspiration. It wasn't until his journey reached Bavaria that the search was over. There it stood, atop the mountains, as magical as any castle ever before seen. It was all the inspiration Disney needed to create a castle for his Sleeping Beauty.

And if Walt Disney found it beautiful enough to replicate, for what is known as the symbol of Disneyland, then it has to be special. The Neuschwanstein castle is one I've wanted to go to for years, all thanks to pictures I've seen and my visits to the most "Magical Place on Earth". Now that I've been to my fair share of European castles, I can honestly say that Mad King Ludwig's Neuschwanstein castle is by far my favorite. King Ludwig spent most of his life's savings (and that of his family's) on the construction of the magnificent building. His entire vision was based on Wagner's operas. The only tragic part is that Wagner and King Ludwig died before it's completion. Fully completed or not, the castle stands supreme. It's situated on a mountain that overlooks the entire valley and is accessible by bus, horse drawn carriage, or by foot. Although it appears, from a distance, that a hike to the castle would take nearly an hour, it took us no longer than 25 minutes to arrive at it's gates. All but one of the 16 completed rooms were lined with murals on the walls depicting one of Wagner's pieces. The murals weren't only confined to the rooms alone, but the corridors as well. And the one room that does not have murals adorning the walls was turned into a cave... an all out cave, with stalagmites and stalactites and one opening that lead to an indoor garden/reading area. It houses two chapels -one public, one private-, a state of the art kitchen (at least it was at the time), a concert hall where Wagner's music was to be played (and actually is once a year), indoor plumbing, and central heating. It truly is a castle well before it's time, and absolutely amazing.

It's just a shame that in the middle of construction King Ludwig was killed, or committed suicide - no one is quite sure because after his body was found in the river it was immediately buried, thus hindering any possibility of discovering what truly happened. But crazy or not, I hardly doubt his death was an act of his own accord, especially with the prospects of living happily ever after in such a magestic castle.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

"Home is where your mom is."

As you can probably tell by now, I don't pass up any opportunity to travel - even if it includes a 16 hour round trip car ride in a 3 day period. My mom and brother officially moved to Germany last weekend, as I accompanied them in a rental car with all of their suitcases (which were stored in my apartment while they were house hunting the week prior). And I thus donned the role of being the dutiful daughter, while my own selfish desires loomed beneath the surface. I wasn't really going to Germany to help them move, I was going for the two extra days we'd have for exploration-- once all the suitcases were brought into their house, of course. The journey "home" in and of itself was quite the memorable experience. Leaving at 10:30 in the evening, traveling throughout the night on roads that were not lit in dense fog made for little sleep when it was my mom's turn to drive. Despite my love for her, her driving - especially at night- scares me and at some points along the way I feared for my life. The Tom-Tom, which we were so glad to have, wasn't always on our side. We were only 15 minutes away from her house when the it directed us to a road that was blocked. After requesting to change the route, we were directed down dirt roads made for tractors in never-ending fields. It was dark. Pitch dark. We could have hit a cow. Thankfully we didn't. But we did nearly end up in a ditch.

Right before I returned to Amsterdam the Tom-Tom stopped working. I was in a panic. Yes, it's not always accurate. Yes, it sometimes leads us onto dirt roads in never-ending fields. Yes, it sometimes shows us driving off the road, when in fact, there is asphalt under all 4 wheels. But I, for one, can't live without it. And to take it one step further, I haven't a clue how people managed driving on poorly identified roads before it was invented. There's no way I would have made it home if the Tom-Tom didn't miraculously started working in the brinks of my desperation... which, thankfully, is exactly what happened.
So, I drove home stress-free, while enjoying the autumn leaves on the trees which lined highways for hundreds of miles,... until I got closer to the Dutch border when all I saw was rain. At least, then, I knew I was nearly home - my home.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


My mom and brother have arrived.