Thursday, November 12, 2015

Summer in Texas, in Virginia

It used to be that every summer, Matt's family would all get together for a long weekend (or a long week) at Inks Lake in Burnet, Texas. It hasn't happened in several years, and that makes me kind of sad.

It was only a few short months after Matt and I started dating. We were sitting in a hammock together, heads on opposite ends, feet propped up. I was reading The Other Boleyn Girl for the first of many times. He was doing math puzzles.

I looked over at him, smiling. I thought, "If we're still doing this in 50 years, I will be happy."

Ten years have passed.

Matt wasn't having a very good day, as far as I could tell. My car was in the shop, so he had to come pick me up at work. He must have been tired, or at least deep in thought, because we didn't talk much. Work has been stressful for both of us lately. We let "the grind" grind us down, and we try to come up with ways to take the stress off each other.

I suggested we get Starbucks on the way home, a rare treat for us. By poor circumstance, we missed the entrance to the main Starbucks, and I suggested we go to the one in Target a few blocks up. Matt had the better idea, suggesting the 'Bux in Barnes and Noble. He won.

We browsed for a few minutes. He snagged a book of math and logic puzzles. I found the newest book in a series I'd loved that I had yet to read. And we got our drinks and sat across from each other at a little table in the café.

Matt got up to get a napkin, and then promptly did number problems all over it. I powered through the first 60 pages of my book.

I looked at him and smiled as he went for more napkins, having run out of room on the first.

Past Allie was so right.

I am so happy with this life.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Few Hours in Frankfurt

I may have missed seeing the Red Light District in Amsterdam, but I sure found out where all the prostitutes and sex shops are in Frankfurt!

So. I got lost on my way back to the train station. I had an eight-hour layover in Frankfurt, so I planned to take the train into downtown so I could wander around and see the city. I was there on a Monday, so most of the museums were closed, which was kind of a bummer. But the one I REALLY wanted to see — the Jewish history museum — was not only closed for Monday, but closed through 2018 for renovations! #themoreyouknow

Even though my plans for the city didn't really pan out, I did wander around Frankfurt and see some cool churches and shops.

Thankfully, the city is laid out in a grid so it wasn't too difficult for me to read a map. (I am notoriously bad at directions. For some reason, my mind assumes that the direction I am going must always be north. It rarely is.)

So I had finally gotten comfortable enough with the map, in that I had managed to find my way to this cool old church (Alte Nikolaikirche) and back, so I was feeling confident enough to wander off the main drag that the helpful lady at the tourist office told me about. I moseyed through a nice park that had a statue of Beethoven that looked like he'd just been caught having a threesome.

It's totally because of the expression on the face of the girl on the right. Scandalous!

I found the Alte Oper opera house and decided to rest my legs and people-watch for a while.

Frankfurt is a big financial hub in Europe, so I saw lots of smart bank workers in fancy suits and pretty shoes.

And then, assuming that I knew the general direction from which I came, I wandered back that way. And got completely turned around.

I knew I was in the wrong place when I walked past a casino midday and saw a woman in micro-shorts and heels with her stomach bared, when I was regretting not having my heavy coat with me.


In addition to hookers, I also saw more cool buildings!

Statues holding up a bridge!

Gold detailing and strung lights!

An American restaurant that presumably serves Chicago-style food! (I did not eat there.)

One of my favorite parts of the day was ducking into the Alte Nikolaikirche church. I took some photos outside, and then I wasn't sure if it was open for visitors or not, so I tested the door, not wanting to disturb any worshippers.

Inside, it was empty save for this older gentleman. I'm not sure if he was a church member or a historian or what, but he told me all about the church, and about some of the pieces of artwork and stained glass. Some of the glass creations had survived World War II and were now on display in this 11th century building!

Gravestones depicting the man who gathered land to create the city of Frankfurt, and his rich wife.

Crazy hair day. A 4 a.m. wakeup call will do that to you.

I also loved that there was a big river that cut through the city and that there were nice walking bridges across. There was an accordian player performing on one of them! That was so cool.

There were locks all around the bridge.

After I had a quick, late lunch (not much to say about it; most places in Frankfurt I popped into to try to get out of the cold did not take credit cards and I only had a few euros that I had gotten from my co-worker, so I just had a simple sandwich), I made my way back across the bridge, back to the train station and shuttled back to the aiport in order to get ready to fly back home! (The gate agent asked me where I was headed. I said "the United States!" He told me that wasn't good enough, that I needed to tell him WHERE in the U.S. So, that was embarrassing.)

And thus ends Allie's First Big European Trip. Hopefully I'll get to go back to all these places someday, as there's still so much I'd like to see and do!

Have you been to Frankfurt? Are there any other places in the world where people actually play the accordian?! Do you prefer researching places to visit, or just wandering?

Monday, November 2, 2015

I'm Here For The Food: A Love Story for Milan

I really, really loved Milan. I got to spend four magnificent days in the city (one and a half of them on my own), and while we did some things for work, I'm not going to talk about them here.

I loved the food. Oh my gosh, the FOOD! I had fresh pasta three times while I was there, and it was just so amazing and creamy and wonderful. I had gelato twice. Gnocchi once. Panna cotta for breakfast, which blew any panna cotta I've had completely out of the water. Lemon sorbet that was more like a creamy drink than an ice cream, but was oh-so-good.

"After" photo of a melt-in-your mouth salmon taglioni in cream sauce. Sorry, I didn't get a "before," but it was basically the same but with a significantly larger amount of pasta.

I ate as much of the deliciousness as humanly possible, but almost every restaurant we went to in Europe asked me if the food was okay, because I could never actually finish everything I ordered. If only I could have taken a cross-continental to-go box!

Gelato #1 from a street vendor near the Duomo cathedral. Italian Cream flavor, and it was amazing.

Italy made me realize how much I love eggplant, when it arrived on a vegetariana pizza. (In the U.S., it's one of the few veggies I find generally kind of icky. It's that thick skin, it makes it hard to eat.)

Fresh pappardelle with porcini mushrooms. We asked the hotel concierge for a restaurant recommendation, and she recommended a restaurant where they would come pick you up (at the NH Hotel off Sesto Marelli). The sign on the place literally just said "Ristorante," and the food and wine and dessert were all fabulous.

The most unusual pasta dish I've ever had. It was a ricotta-walnut-chili pasta from the Sheraton Milan Malpensa restaurant before a 6 a.m. flight to Frankfurt. I had to ask the waiter if all the flowers and leaves were edible! Also, I love that every meal in Italy starts with prosecco. Mmmm prosecco.

I could basically just wax poetic about the food forever, but I won't bore you. If you have not been to Italy, get to Italy if just for the food! I could just eat the whole city and be perfectly happy.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Castles and Canals in Holland

Even though I flew into Amsterdam, and had a day to spend there, I spent more time in the Eindhoven area than Amsterdam proper. And that was okay, because I actually think I liked Eindhoven better.

Though it's hard to argue with beautiful canal views.

Amsterdam was bustling, busy, people everywhere. I usually love bigger cities, but I felt so overwhelmed when I got there.

It was way more crowded than it looks in this photo.
Also, every train station I saw in Europe was super duper fancy. 
This one had a golden weathervane on one pillar and a golden clock on the other side.

I saw coffee shops (which don't sell coffee), and cafes (which do sell coffee), and walked along some of the canals.

You may think this looks like a nice place to get coffee, but you'd be wrong. This is where you go to buy weed.
(Dear Mom/Grandma/Nana/in-laws, no I did not buy weed in Amsterdam.)

I saw the huge multi-block line for the Anne Frank house and, sadly, decided not to wait in line (since my original plan of going first thing in the morning and getting in line before it had even opened didn't pan out due to Allie's panicky insanity). I also didn't manage to make it to the Red Light District, which I had heard such interesting stories about and wanted to see for myself.

Some people live in the canals on house boats! This isn't one of them.

So I guess Matt and I will just have to come back sometime so I can see the things I missed.

There were people on bicycles and little motor-bikes everywhere! In fact, I saw a four-story parking garage that was only for bicycles!

In comparison, Eindhoven felt much calmer, like it was a more moderate-sized city that people lived and worked in. It was greener, felt more peaceful, while still having plenty to see. (I went there to meet up with my co-worker and go to visit one of our company's European distributors.)

Of course, I may just be biased because my first morning in Eindhoven started with Nutella for breakfast, and my first morning in Amsterdam didn't.

I wish I knew what this castle was called! I didn't catch its name and I couldn't find it in a Google search! 

In addition to all the work stuff, the distributor asked me what I most wanted to see in Europe, and I said castles. So he took me to see one!

Dutch castle not open for visitors today, but it was still neat to see.

It had a moat and everything! (The distributor had actually gotten married inside it!)

Later, we all went to dinner at a really nice restaurant that used to be a brick factory.

De Steenoven Galerie, where I had tomato basil soup, salmon hollandaise and delicious red wine!

We also walked to lunch at a local hotel and I had a wonderful salmon-cream cheese sandwich. I got to see a Dutch windmill, and the distributor told me that it used to mill flour (and happened to be attached to a closed bakery that used to bake with that flour)!

Of course, jet lag was the worst. I took the train from Amsterdam to Eindhoven on the first day, and kept falling asleep on the train. I was in bed by 6 p.m., only to be woken up for dinner around 8:30 p.m. (pear and mushroom risotto), so I dragged myself up for that because I wanted to make a good impression.

Sorry if you're not interested in hearing about food. The food was one of my favorite things about this trip, especially in Italy.

After a day in each city, I packed up my carry-on and we took the train back to Amsterdam to catch our flight to Milan! Can I just say that I have never had a more chaotic airline experience than I did on the way out of Amsterdam? There were no seats near the gate, and when they said it was time to board the plane, everyone literally just surged forward and crammed down this little staircase and I got stuck behind a whole mess of people even though my ticket said Priority Boarding. It was insane. Apparently transportation in Europe is a free-for-all, because no one seemed to do any transporting in an orderly fashion.

Have you ever been to the Netherlands? Do you prefer visiting big cities or smaller ones? What's the most chaotic travel experience you've had?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

It Turns Out I'm Really Into Old Architecture. And Cats.

Alternate title: Did you know it's possible to pickpocket yourself?

It turns out that I might not be the biggest fan of traveling alone. For reasons that are entirely my fault and may not be representative of my actual feelings on traveling in general.

Yes, it's empowering and all, being able to find your way around train stations and cities you've never been to before. It's amazing to be independent and immerse yourself in another culture where you don't understand the language. It's great being able to do the things that you want to do, when you want to do them, without having to take another person's interests into account. (Want to sit outside an opera house and observe the fashionable locals? Done. Want to eat gelato for lunch? Obviously. Want to wander around a foreign castle looking for feral cats? ABSOLUTELY I DO.)

So it was a massive bummer that, when I first set foot on foreign soil, the first thing that I learned was that my debit card — which I had gotten solely for the purpose of going abroad — did not work abroad. And I had $10 cash in my pocket, because I had expected that I would be able to withdraw Euros with my debit card.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

I had a scheduled day of sight-seeing in Amsterdam before meeting up with a co-worker, followed by several days of meetings and tradeshows, with two additional solo sight-seeing days in Milan and Frankfurt at the end of the trip. And realizing that I was on my own with one international credit card (and one U.S. credit card with huge international fees) and no other money was TERRIFYING.

So I did what any irrational human being would do. I split up my two credit cards (one into my wallet, the other into my luggage). I had hidden it in a separate compartment in my purse that would have been harder for pickpockets to get to. And then I promptly forgot — in my complete panic — that I had done so and flipped out when I couldn't find my own wallet. So I essentially pickpocketed myself, and spent two hours wandering around the Amsterdam train station trying to find something that had been in my purse the whole time.

EXPO (World's Fair) in Milan, Italy

I think that if I hadn't started off my trip on this note, I probably would feel better about traveling alone. Outside of that, there were no major mishaps, and I had a really awesome trip. There were a few things I wish I'd had cash for — turns out many of the little local eateries and cafes in Frankfurt don't take credit cards, and the Sforza Castle in Milan was having trouble with its credit card machines and so I didn't get to do any museum tours inside — but otherwise it wasn't a huge problem. Even the Milan train station had an app so I could buy tickets via Paypal!

Alte Oper (Opera House) in Frankfurt, Germany

With that behind me, I will share some better stories from my trip soon. :)

Have you ever traveled alone before? What are your favorite travel activities?