Monday, April 30, 2012

Speeding to Ikea

Ikea in Ludwigsburg www.waymarketing.com

We're still in a hotel until our house is ready, but that didn't stop us from enjoying the wonders of Ikea today.  We bypassed the furniture and went for the ultra cheap desserts.  Lori and I shared a pudding and Jello-raspberry sauce contraption that had a chocolate covered marshmallow on top with whip cream.  We also shared a chocolate Tiramisu-esque thing that was delicious.  mmmmmm.

Oh, and we achieved the 150 kph (93mph) mark on the Autobahn (with our friend driving).  Of course, that's not too uncommon of a speed on I-95 in Maryland, but it was still cool.  What has surprised us though, is the sheer number of traffic cameras (some hidden) and the strict adherence to traffic laws.  Apparently, you can get fined heavily for flipping someone the bird here.  Interesting, eh?

Google Images:  http://www.destination360.com

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Early Initial Thoughts


Google Images-www.swissmetalassets.com

So, we're still quite jet-lagged and am currently going on less than 2 hours of sleep, but I believe I'm coherent enough to do a quick "initial thoughts" post:
  • Germany does not believe in:
    • Air Conditioning
    • Air vents in bathrooms (the steam doesn't go anywhere fast after a shower)
    • Idling cars (you can get fined if you leave a car idling for more than 3 minutes)
    • Speeding within any town or city (speed cameras EVERYWHERE)
    • Low voltage (everything is 220V)
    • Doing anything work related on a Sunday (everything is closed, except restaurants)
    • Crappy cars
    • Big kitchens
    • Screens on windows
    • Crime
    • Big refrigerators
  • Germany does believe in:
    • Cleanliness
    • Good beer
    • Comfort food
    • Nice cars
    • Huge, heavy, thick doors
    • Oil heating
    • Using fresh, local, in season, ingredients in food
    • Taking time to enjoy a meal (3-4 hours for dinner)
    • Staring
    • Concrete walls in homes
    • Wine cellars
    • Dogs, dogs, dogs! (They love them!)
    • Good coffee
    • Very long words ( Geschwindigkeitsbegrenzung = "speed limit")

Beer, Cars, Schntizel

Thanks to our wonderful new friends, we were able to explore the local area a bit today, including lunch at  Wichtel Brewery (Wichtel Hausbrauerei), where we had our first beer in Germany--a Hefeweizen of course!  We also had our first ever salmon pizza.  It sounds gross, but it was quite good, with onions, cheese, spinach and cream.


Enjoying our first beer on a beautiful day in Feuerbach District, Stuttgart, Germany

The brewery, which appears to be in an older factory shares the building with Meilenwerk, a facility that specializes in the sale of really, really expensive cars.  However, before we even left the parking lot, I noticed seven Porche's all parked in a row.  They later all left together; must have been a rich person's club for which we will never belong :-)



Inside, the cars were arranged as if they're in a museum and are jaw dropping indeed.  I've never seen so many Porches, Maserati's, and Bugatti's in my life!  However, it was pretty cool to see a '55 Chevy Bel Air prominently displayed among such swanky Italian and German luxury sport cars.

The 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air
Cool dunebuggy-esque car cruising past a row of Porches


A few pictures of the cars inside:








After a re-energizing nap, we headed out to an amazing restaurant that served truly authentic German.  The owner is the hostess and only server, while her husband is the one and only cook.  They live in the house connected to the restaurant.  It was certainly the best German food we've ever had and one of the best meals period.  We had family sized portions (to share) of schnitzel, maultaschen (German ravioli with pork and beef, cream and ham), shrimp pasta, garlic spinach cream soup, and beef roast with caramelized onions.  The maultaschen was probably our favorite and was absolutely delicious.
The eclectic interior of the restaruant
Garlic Spinach Soup
What's left of the maultaschen
The shrimp pasta.

Afterward, we took a nice stroll through a vineyard that offered amazing views of Stuttgart and then ended the night with a quick journey into downtown Stuttgart. The annual Spring Festival (Frühlingsfest) was underway, so there were quite a few "happy" people walking around with empty bottles and cups. We only saw small parts, and it was at night, but it seems to be a beautiful city with some great biergartens, nightlife, shopping, and cool architecture. Some of the sights:


View from hilltop vineyard of Stuttgart 
Cool bar that sits out on a reflecting pool
Stuttgart City Center
Downtown






Friday, April 27, 2012

Touchdown

The trip was daunting, to say the least.  Over 16 hours of travel, a nervous dog, rainy weather, and no sleep, but we (to include Gizmo) made it safely to Stuttgart!  The weather was amazing, everything is green, and we're beyond exhausted.  We've forced ourselves to stay awake as long as possible (just past 8:00pm now) so that we could acclimate.  We'll see if we have enough energy tomorrow to go explore the local area.  






Sunday, April 22, 2012

Rainy Day Back-up Plan


We decided that we were too close to Atlantic City to not go and check it out.  Despite a Noreaster-style storm hitting the coast, we decided to brave the weather and head up to AC.  After taking a quick driving tour around, we settled on Harrah's Hotel and Casino.  It was our first real casino and it pretty much fit our image of what an Atlantic City casino would look like: huge, lots of bright, shiny lights, hundreds of zombie-like people pushing button after button on slot machines.  However, it really was a cool facility and it had a massive, almost biodome-esque centralized pool.  We eventually chose Dos Caminos for some modern Mexican cuisine.  It didn't disappoint.  Lori had some delicious fajitas and "mexican street corn" (grilled corn on the cob).  I had two enchiladas, one with verde sauce and the other with mole.  All in all, I think we'd recommend a stay at Harrah's if you're in to gambling and have a weekend to kill.  Definitely not a "cross country flight getaway" though, like Vegas.

Harrah's Atlantic City (Wikipedia)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Part II: Off to Cape May

After an absolutely beautiful trip through rural upstate New York, we eventually made our way to Cape May, New Jersey, but not before taking a photo op at the tip of Lake Cazenovia.
Lake Cazenovia

Despite having sunny skies for the entire 5-6 hour drive, our destination had thick fog upon our arrival.  While we were bummed at first (couldn't even see the ocean), the fog kind of grew on us because it gave the town a cool and moody appearance.

Foggy View From Our Patio

There's The Ocean! (Next Day)

We decided to take a walk around and grab some dinner.  Here's a couple foggy shots:



 The next day had some decent weather, so we started off early and saw all the major Cape May stops, but not before we had some delicious bagels (mine was chocolate chip with strawberry cream cheese....mmmm) here:
Our Breakfast Stop


Afterwards, we meandered through the ultra-quaint streets lined with Victorian houses painted in bright pastels:




Cape May Lighthouse in the Back

Cape May Lighthouse

After checking out the lighthouse, we stopped by a family-run winery called Hawk Haven and did some extensive tastings (to include some gourmet cheeses).  Our favorite ended up being the 2010 Barrel Chardonnay which had hints of kiwi, mango, lemon creme brulee.  They also had an amazing mixed red, called the 2009 Talon which had "aromas of blackberry, jammy flavor or rich, wild strawberry." Definitely a must visit if you're in Cape May.
http://www.hawkhavenvineyard.com/

While doing our tastings we overheard a few people talk about having just come from a brewery tasting.  There wasn't any brewery listed on the main tourist map, so we asked the winery for directions, which they happily provided.  Cape May Brewing Company was just a short drive away and apparently just opened in July 2011 (which may explain why it wasn't on any map).  Their "tasting room," was really just a hole-in-the-wall within a commercial strip.  It was non-descript and we certainly would not have found it without specific directions.  The sampling area was more akin to an auto shop with a large garage door open in the back where people were gathered for some freshly smoked pulled pork and chicken.  They had four beers to sample, including a honey porter (made with local Cape May honey) and a really nice IPA.  I love the growth of micro-brews in the U.S.  This brewery started off with two college friends who got together and did something they loved.  They use many local ingredients, including some hops grown on a nearby farm (for which they give their spent grain as chicken feed).
http://www.capemaybrewery.com/

cape may brewing company




Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Pre-Trip Trip


After undergoing the hectic moving experience whilst getting our house ready for two friends who will be leasing while we're away, we decided to take one last U.S. trip before Germany.  After various Google searches and asking friends and colleagues, we settled on Mirbeau Inn and Spa at Skaneateles, New York followed by a trip to Cape May, New Jersey.  This place was quaint, relaxing, picturesque and everything we were looking for.  The 5 and a half hour drive from Baltimore was pretty scenic (despite the weather) and thus went fairly quickly.  


Our Trip Route

Part I:  Mirbeau and Skaneateles


Mirbeau is situated on the North tip of Skaneateles Lake (one of the famed "Finger Lakes"), which is apparently so clean that the nearby city of Syracuse uses the water unfiltered.  It's certainly the clearest lake we've ever seen...  It also has an unusual blue color to it.  



Here are some photos of what we have seen.  Be sure to check out the Photo Album tab for all our trip photos.

The shared, Monet-inspired pond and bridge




A lake shore park in the village of Skanealetes

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The German Endeavor Begins





Lori and I have put together this blog in order to share our experiences with family and friends as we embark on our three year journey to Stuttgart, Germany.  We are living in a small village just south of the city.  While we will obviously explore as much of Germany as possible we also have a goal of visiting every European Union country (there are 27), plus Switzerland, Norway, Croatia, Vatican City, and the Ukraine.  We would also like to do at least five "bonus countries."  These may include, Russia, Tunisia, Israel, Cyprus, Morocco, etc.  It may be an ambitious goal, but we think it's definitely achievable!

Countries we have visited so far:


create your personalized map of europe or check out our Barcelona travel guide

Our trip actually begins with a "pre-trip" to Mirbeau Inn and Spa at Skaneateles, New York. However, before we were able to relax at this mini-paradise, we had to undergo the hectic moving experience whilst getting our house ready for two friends who will be leasing while we're away. We did more house and yard work in three days than we did in three years.  Things largely went off without a hitch and we only have a few more things left to do.

Now that we're at Mirbeau, we can finally relax and take in this amazingly French-inspired cottage inn as well as the nearby village of Skaneateles (See the "Trips" tab for details).

Tomorrow, we head off to Cape May, New Jersey to take in the Atlantic views and quaint town.