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Sunday, July 28, 2013

Germany, Alexanderplatz

 

 

SAM DE D2 005After having breakfast filled with fruit at Bar Stop and getting a few deals at the Euroshop on Potsdamer, we arrive at Alexanderplatz.

 

 

 

We are here to get a close up look at what was and maybe still is the tallest structure in Germany.

 

 

 

CAN DE D2 001Fresehturm, Berlin

 

Located in what was formerly East Germany, Fresehturm stands at 1207 feet and you can visit it for a birds eye view of Berlin. However, seeing Berlin from this TV Tower point of view will cost you E$11.

 

CAN DE D2 007Our destination in Alexanderplatz will give us about the same view for about E$3.

Strolling towards the Park Inn, we enjoy all the activities and scenery in this very cool area of Berlin.

 

 

 

 

 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Germany, A Night Time Peak Of Berlin

 

We arrive in “The Capital City” of Germany with maybe just enough time to take an evening tour of Reichstag which tonight is open until 12am.

 

DE D1 035A few minutes walk from our hotel we go underground and board the U-Bahn, E$2.40 fare for a 2 hour one way ticket.

 

 

 

One exchange and about twenty minutes later we surface at Potsdamer Paltz.

It is a beautiful evening as we stroll towards Reichstag. The streets are busy with others also out enjoying this amazing city that was once a focal point of conflict during the Cold War.

 

 

 

CAN DE D1 009Reichstag

 

Not surprising since the last time I visited Berlin some things have changed. I do not recall having to make a reservation to visit Reichstag.

This disappointment turns out to be fine as the dome is closed for cleaning until July 26th.

 

CAN DE D1 016This evening it is still nice to just stroll the grounds of the German parliament.

 

 

 

 

 

In our walking around we get to learn about the history of the building and modern day German politics as we watch a nice multimedia show along the riverfront.

As we approach the popular Brandenburg Gate, I am reminded of two of my favorite US Presidents that have visited Berlin during its post war history. Both men in my opinion played a vital role in shaping what this city and country has become today.

 

 

CAN DE D1 023Brandenburg Gate

 

“All free men, wherever they may live, are citizens of Berlin. And therefore, as a free man, I take pride in the words, 'Ich bin ein Berliner!”

“Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”

From Brandenburg Gate, we make what is a reflective stop for me at the Holocaust Memorial. Besides being an awesome architectural structure, this memorial is a great reminder of Berlins past and more importantly its progress.

 

DE D1 038It may seem odd to some that in Germany we end our evening with pizza and spaghetti.

However, we are sure to savor the taste of Italy with “Ein grobes bier, bitte”.

 

 

 

 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Germany, Hangin Near Hitler

 

 

DE D1 003We enter Germany and I have one regret, there are no signs along the highway like in the United States welcoming us to the land of great food, beer and the “Autobahn”.

 

 

A stop at a local McDonald's and we are surfing the web for E$4.95 (24hrs access) to find hotel rooms for the night. Our best choice is about 25km away and with the E$2 special of a Coke and a Caramel Sundae already enjoyed, we set off south on A33.

Leaving A33 we are pointed in the direction of Hitler but our final destination is in Bad Laer. Of course, we are curious about the historical connection to the area we will be hanging out in for the next twelve hours or so.

 

SAM JTT1 059At Landhaus Meyer we settle in for the evening and discover that we have by chance come across a quaint accommodation for the night.

 

 

 

From our first floor patio we enjoy the silence of a wide open night scenery as we count a few stars in the moon lit skies.

 

 

 

SAM JTT1 062Church In Bad Laer

 

 

Osnaburk Hotel 001A nice breakfast is served the following morning and we get to see more of what we think is a very unique property and then a little confusion occurs at check out.

 

 

 

Our reservation was made for Haus Monter Meyer which is located a few kilometers down the street.

On checking in the previous night, between us speaking no German besides “brats” and the wife of the gentleman checking us out speaking little English is where our problem began. However, a phone call to the other property and we are told it has all been taken care of and we are charged the same rate we had previously booked.

 

DE D1 002With our minor problem behind us we set off to continue our journey to Berlin but not before making a stop in the town of Hitler for road trip provisions.

 

 

At a local grocery store we spend about E$25 and feel like we got a bargain compared to spending E$32 just for lunch the day before.

Back on the road I do something I never do at home or have done nowhere else but in Germany, I put the pedal to the medal and watch my VW Polo accelerate to about 160km/h. I am figuring at this speed about 100mph we will be in Berlin in no time. No time at all.

 

 

 

Holland, Seeing Amsterdam Like A Dutch

 

We arrive at Schiphol Airport (AMS) on an early morning flight and after picking up our rental car we head on the A-10 for Central Amsterdam. Finding a paid (E$5 per hour) parking spot on a side street, we set off to explore the city on an already hot summer day.

 

 

SAM JTT1 009Vibrant Amsterdam

 

This is not my first time and hopefully not my last time in Amsterdam, so it is sort of a trip down memory lane as I share this wonderful city with family.

From years ago, one of the things I enjoyed about being in Amsterdam is eating at the “Falafel Stands”. Eating all those interesting vegetables and olives you can stuff in a pita was fun. I am disappointed to discover one of my favorite stands is gone.

 

SAM JTT1 012With hunger pains knocking on our stomach doors, we settle for a sub par lunch for E$32.

 

 

 

 

I knew when we stepped into the restaurant and a can of Coke was E$3, we were in for trouble. No doubt this is our last sit down restaurant meal for the next 10 days, at least at those prices.

In a city that moves quite a few people on two wheels, I know one way to see it like a Dutch is by being on a bike. With that in mind we head over to Green Budget Bike where for E$6.50 per bike we set off on a 3 hour self guided tour of Amsterdam.

 

SAM JTT1 057Our first destination is towards Anne Franks house then Vondel Park.

 

 

 

 

 

All along the way we enjoy beautiful scenery along with unique buildings and canals in this vibrant city. From Vondel Park it is back to Central Amsterdam then towards the famous “Red Light” district for a “Fockink Experience”.

 

 

SAM JTT1 027Vondel Park

 

At Wynand Fockink we do what many have done here from the late 1600's. We slurp our first taste of the good stuff from a tiny fluted glass and then savor the rest of the fruit flavored liquors that we have chosen.

 

SAM JTT1 037We have just had a “Fockink Experience” that should not be missed if you visit Amsterdam.

 

 

 

 

Next, it is time for probably one of the best deals in the city. Along the busy “Walking/Shopping” street we have a summer treat for E$0.50.

 

 

SAM JTT1 050Hema Ice Cream

 

 

A delicious, smooth and flavorful soft serve ice cream is enjoyed as we people watch before our 3 hour bike tour comes to an end.

Walking back towards the Central Station, I am reminded why I love visiting Amsterdam and I am glad that over the years I have had the opportunity to share being here with family and friends.

 

 

 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Tibet, Tashilumpo Monastery

 

 

TOEBC D1 012Our day starts out as usual but with one exception.

After having breakfast we leave the hotel without our tour guide.

 

 

 

A short drive and we are dropped off at Tashilumpo Monastery with about an hour to tour around on our own. We are told our tour guide has gone off to get our permits to visit Mt Everest.

 

 

 

TOEBC D1 001Entrance To Tashilumpo

 

 

After paying the now common entrance fee and going through security, we begin a steady climb into the courtyard area of Tashilumpo which was built in 1447.

 

TOEBC D1 008Tashilumpo Monastery is the seat of the Panchen Lamas, the lineage of religious officials next to the Dalai Lama.

Interestingly, the current Panchen Lama is a twenty something year old appointed by the Chinese.

 

 

Located at about 12,000 feet, some of the walking around is a bit of a challenge especially having to climb an occasional steep set of stairs. However, in my opinion this becomes the best monastery that we have visited, so far.

 

TOEBC D1 023Two things I find amazing here.

One, walking into a large open room and seeing a group of monks sitting on a table counting and stacking piles and piles of yuans.

 

 

 

Secondly, seeing about a 90 foot tall Buddha statue that I am told is made from about 600 pounds of gold. To take a photography of this statue is officially about US$50, I sneak one for free. Feeling a bit guilty, I make a donation to the chanting monks nearby.

 

 

TOEBC D1 014 A 90 Foot Buddha

 

 

Bill and I become exhausted from the walking around and wait in a courtyard area as the rest of our group sets off for more exploration.

 

TOEBC D1 026Being on our own we have such a good time exploring that we exceed our anointed one hour time.

For a change our driver and tour guide are waiting for us instead of us waiting for them to move on.

 

 

A few fruit and snacks from the street vendors at the entrance of the monastery and we are again ready to hit the road.

 

 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

El Salvador, Hangin “10” For Two Seconds, Maybe

 

 

2013-06-11 10.03.31After a nice fresh made to order breakfast at Hotel Del Posada, we are headed back to the airport not to leave El Salvador but to pick up a rental car.

Turns out it is a lot cheaper to rent a car at the airport than in the city.

 

 

Leaving the airport we head for Sabas Resort hotel in La Libertad where we are given a warm and friendly welcome. With a recommendation from the front desk clerk we drive just a few miles to Kayu Surf School and sign-up so to speak for two US$20 per person surf lessons.

 

2013-06-11 15.01.21Kayu is located at one of the more popular surf areas in La Libertad.

A restaurant above the surf school location gives nice views of the area and the breaking waves below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013-06-11 14.59.32Restaurant View At Kayu Surf School

 

 

A quick brief lesson on standing up on the surf board and my son and I set off to see if we can experience what so many come here to do. Unlike in Waikiki where I took a lesson many years ago, there is no sand beach area here just lots of smooth and sometimes large charcoal pebbles. With these conditions it is a small task to get in the water in between the crashing waves but manageable.

 

 

2013-06-11 16.39.29Neither one of us by any means consider ourselves “surfer dudes” but I do instantly enjoy paddling my board across the warm tropical waters.

 

 

 

 

Even if we do not “catch a wave” being able to be out here will still have been a worthwhile experience. My son and I have different instructors and go our separate ways as we paddle out.

A few words and gestures from my instructor in Spanish and I make a few futile attempts to relive my Hawaii experience. However, it seems that too much time has passed or these waves are a lot bigger than the one I rode out west because this is not coming as easy I expected.

More paddling sometimes with the help of my instructor and after about forty five minutes out in the water the moment of truth arrives. I get ready as my instructor repositions my board and we both watch as a wave approaches. Something is said in Spanish and I know what I must do.

Grabbing the edge of the board, I feel the surge of the wave and somehow manage to pull myself up right and let the ocean carry me forward without me having much control. My excitement last about one or two minutes in my mind but in reality it was probably only two to ten seconds. We spend a few more attempts trying to duplicate my minor victory but I only face repeated defeat that however still turns out to be a lot of fun.

 

 

El Salvador, If Everybody Had A Notion

 

Sharp streaks of bright white lights fills the night sky as my flight from Dallas makes its arrival descent into El Salvador.

It is summer time and awesome lighting shows along with evening thunderstorms and showers are just a part of visiting here this time of the year.

This is a midweek getaway to El Salvador primarily to attempt surfing in La Libertad with my son and to complete my goal of visiting all of the countries in Central America.

 

2013-06-11 00.25.02

 

 

Our evening is spent sampling Salvadorian cuisine like ribs with lime, avocado and tortilla slices along with a popular local drink “Michelada Nacional”.

 

2013-06-11 19.20.44This drink is sort of like a Bloody Mary but made with beer, tomato juice, chili and lime served in a salted rim glass without a celery stick.

 

 

 

 

Tomorrow we head to La Libertad to experience what many come here for. It been at least ten years since I have “Hang 10” and I doubt I still can. However, hanging with my son is what will make the challenge fun.

 

 

2013-06-11 15.00.59

Tibet, Finally A Good Night Sleep

 

 

Tibet D2 015After a longer than expected time on the road, we finally arrive at a hotel were I could get a nice hot shower and a quiet night sleep.

 

 

 

 

Our next day starts off as normal with a plan to meet for breakfast around 8:30am. Although our stay is at a “4 Star” hotel, I am not thrilled with the breakfast except for the fresh fruits (which quickly run out) but something else impresses me.

All packed and ready to hit the road, we are met by a hotel staff member and individually presented with a “Khadah”. This is a ceremonial silk scarf used to welcome or bid farewell to travelers.

For me, this is a lot more meaningful and done with more thought than the ones we were casually given when we first arrived at the Lhasa train station.

Maybe, this is a sign that the trip for me will turn the corner and become more of what I was expecting it to be.