Sunday, September 13, 2015

EuroTrip 2015: Hamburg, Germany (Part 2 of 5)

We spent the month before we started grad school traveling in Southeast Asia (which I blogged day by day in case you're interested).  On half the trip we did an organized tour, which, besides ease and convenience, has the added benefit of meeting new people.

Two of those people were Stefan and Sascha:

Public airport beers!
Important side note before I proceed: Were you aware that drinking in public is completely legal in Germany?  Because it is!  The boys greeted us at the airport with frosty beers, and we stood right there in the arrivals hall drinking them.  Nobody even batted an eye.  It's incredible!

S&S are a couple who we have become good friends of ours since our time in Vietnam, despite our seeing them very infrequently.  When Germany was added to the EuropeTrip 2015 itinerary we knew that we'd be making a stop to see these two, wherever they might be.

That place wound up being Hamburg, in the north of Germany, and I had no idea before we got there what a fabulous destination it would be!

Hamburg is different than a lot of German cities in that it doesn't have one centralized town square.  What it does have is infinitely nicer, though, a big lake:

And what's even better than a lake?  Miles upon miles of canals perfect for water sports!

Word on the street is Hamburg has more canals than Venice.

For less than 40 Euro we rented a canoe for as long as we wanted, and got a couple of beers each.  Yes, even the canoe rental place sold beer.  There is seemingly no end to where one can buy beer in Germany.  It kicks ass!  So once we got tired of paddling we pulled off into the shade and enjoyed some frosty beers and watched the other canoes and SUPs (stand up paddleboards) go by.

We also rented bikes to rapidly transport ourselves through town and do a city tour of dry land.

I honestly don't remember the last time I rode a bike.  The last time was probably well before we first met S&S, which is a lot of years!

One of my absolute favorite things to do in a foreign country is go to a grocery store and just look around.  I could do this for hours upon hours, I swear, but I invariably get pulled away to do more "interesting" or "important" things.  Boo.

What is fascinating about German grocery stores is their seemingly infinite selection of jarred hot dogs in water.

What a heinously disgusting product!  And one, I'm told, not eaten by anyone.  So why is the selection so large then?!

That is a solid 6 feet of wieners in glass jars.  Fascinating, I say!  Though I must admit I never got around to eating a jarred wiener (something I do not regret).

No trip to Hamburg is complete without a trip to the Reeperbahn, which is the Red Light District.  As a port city, this is where sailors used to let loose during their shore leave.  Whatever your poison, you can find it at the Reeperbahn!

There are hookers to be had, both behind glass Amsterdam-style, and walking the streets.  There's  bars and clubs and plenty of (perfectly legal) drinking in the streets.  General filth that I am in no rush to return to!  However I would gladly go back for another one of these bad boys:

Much like Indian curry is the national dish of the United Kingdom, I consider a Turkish doner kebab to be about the most German dish there is.  The kebab shop naturally sold beer, so we wrapped up our evening of hooker watching with a kebab and beer.

Back at home the boys have 2 Senegal parrots for pets, which Martin (bird nerd extraordinaire) found exceedingly entertaining.

I don't know who liked their coming out to play more, the birds or Martin!  I thought these were beyond adorable:

Martin turned around the camera on his phone so the bird could look at itself.  Adorbs!  FYI there were "only" 2 poop accidents during cage-free playtime.

One thing I was continually surprised about in Germany is how technologically advanced everything is!  Maybe not advanced as in superior-to-Australia, more like "is this really something humanity needs?"  I felt like I lived in the third world because I saw so many things I'd never seen before.  For example this:

This is the dishwasher that projects the display onto the floor.  100% unnecessary!  Yet 100% cool.

Despite having been to Germany three times prior to this trip I had never noticed these before:

Rather offensively, I presume, I called them "Jew plates".  These are little plates outside of various buildings (both residential and commercial) that name the Jews who lived in that building and were "deported".  It lists their name, date of birth, what happened to them, and in most cases their date of death.  My god it was awful.  I've never been so thankful not to understand German before.  The ones I had translated were miserably sad.

Seeing several plates with the same surname - whole families - was the worst.  I'm told every city except Munich has these.  It seems like the Germans don't even notice they're there.  From speaking to various German friends it seems like they were force fed so much WWII history growing up that they don't have the stomach for any more of it now in adulthood.  I found that interesting, as my interest in the topic didn't even start until age 30, and it's growing each year.  But back to the Jew plates: the more they get stepped on, the more they get polished and they turn shiny gold.  They're really quite pretty if you don't know what unspeakable horror each one represents.

Finally, S&S's apartment is in a very beautiful, historic and trendy part of town, and has an incredible rooftop balcony where we spent a huge portion of our time together.

I just now realized we never got a shot of all 4 of us together.  Sad!  But fear not, even if it takes a decade I'm very sure we will reunite with Stefan and Sascha again one day!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

EuroTrip 2015: Norway (Part 1 of 5)

Before moving to Australia I lived in Europe for 4 years.  Three years in Norway, one year in Scotland, and another six months in Norway until we could get everything sorted to move to Australia.

So it's more than a bit nuts that I hadn't been back a single time in 3.5 years of living in Australia!  Martin has, twice actually, but for me it just didn't work out thanks to my sister getting married, having twins and us prioritizing travel in the southern hemisphere.  So EuroTrip 2015 was happening for me come hell or high water!

I've decided to break my EuroTrip blogging down into 5 parts, as I viewed this trip as five distinctive trips because of the people we were with and our geographical location(s).  Plus I didn't want to skip over important details for the sake of brevity.

Our first, and most important, stop was back to our old stomping grounds of Moss, Norway.  We lived there the entire time we lived in Norway and Martin's parents and brother still do, so this is where we spent 99% of our time during part 1 of 5 of EuroTrip.  Moss is a 40 minute train ride from Oslo (20 if the high speed railroad ever materializes) down the Oslo fjord, which means one thing:

Boat life!  Martin's dad has a spiffy little boat, and when the weather is nice you must seize the opportunity and head out onto the fjord.  That's because nice days are so rare you need to use them when you can; you never know when, if ever, another opportunity will arise!

It was so beautiful and relaxing to bake in the sun, which is not deathly strong for once, and watch the scenery go by.

Pictures don't do the scenery justice!  I had forgotten just how dang pretty (and undeveloped) the fjord coastline is there.  I got 2 boat trips out of my week there, which is a pretty average sun-to-rain ratio for summer in Norway.

We also had Martin's cousins and their significant others over one night "for dinner", which was so much fun!

I suck at taking pictures, I apologize this is the best shot I got
Dinner turned into boxes and boxes of wine (standard drinking procedure in Norway) until 3 a.m.  That night was the highlight of part 1 of 5 of my EuroTrip, as it was really great to reconnect with the Norwegian side of the family.  Plus we got craaaaazy drunk!

We had so many people to catch up with, most of which I haven't seen since February 2012 when we made our grand entrance to Australia, so Norway couldn't be all family, all the time.  Luckily our college friend Jonas was getting married while we were there, and the majority of our friends in Norway were conveniently gathered together under one roof.

A mere fraction of the Norway friend contingent.
Wrangling drunks is hard, yo.
Everybody we knew there was a graduate of the University of North Dakota, a fine institution of higher education indeed!  I hadn't seen some of the people since college, and I graduated almost 10 years ago (December 2005)!  Newflash: I'm old.

Here is Martin with the groom:

Fine examples of Norwegian men these two are.

The last time we had seen the couple, at least all four of us together, was in 2010 in Cambodia.  By some crazy coincidence we were both in Siem Reap at the same time and hung out drinking for the night.  Time really flies, I can't believe it's been five years (half a decade!) since then!

Late night food is pretty standard at weddings these days, but I was particularly impressed with how traditionally Norwegian their drunk food selection was:

For the record, a hot dog - from a gas station - was the first thing on my list to eat for my return trip.  They are disproportionately delicious, and arguably the most Norwegian food there is.  An awesome choice to feed drunken wedding guests!

As the wedding was at a small venue we weren't present for the entire thing, just the booze-y part of the evening.  That was a.o.k. with me, as I just wanted to see everyone and briefly relive the glory days of college, if only for one night.

It was such a fun time!  We hung out with these people every single weekend in college, and I can assure you despite marriages and children and careers and mortgages none of us have matured a day.  We picked right up where we left off.

I must say 3.5 years is far too long to be away from the family, friends and country of Norway.  I realized on this trip (part 1 of 5, that is) that Norway will always be a part of me, and it will always be a home of mine.  Is it where Martin and I want or need to be in our lives right now?  No, that I know for sure.  Could that change someday?  Absolutely.

I have been lucky enough to amass three homes: the USA, Norway and Australia.  Going back to Norway after all this time was definitely a homecoming.