I'm now back from a wonderful trip to Germany and the UK. After the Paralympics were over, I decided that I definitely needed a break and should take advantage of the fact that I was in Europe. Plans called for Frankfurt, Berlin, and London and seeing a bunch of old friends along the way! This was the first long vacation (other than visiting my parents over Christmastime) that I've taken in the 7 years I've been at Motorola, and I think I have to take many more now!
Vacation started with a flight from Manchester to Frankfurt. I flew my most-hated airline, Lufthansa. The flight was late as always and they had no vegan food, but at least I got some United miles for the trouble :) The day before, I had talked to my friend Helen up in Bonn and we figured out some dinner plans, so after checking into my hotel in Frankfurt, I got on the 300km/hr ICE train and made my way up to Bonn.
I really enjoyed Bonn and the quick tour of town Helen took me on. I find in funny that everyone I tell about going to Bonn asks if I saw Beethoven's house, and yes, I did! Bonn looks like a nice city, and we had some great Thai food before I had to jump back on the train to Frankfurt.
Frankfurt, part 1, was fun as well. I spent the morning wandering around town seeing some of the more historic parts as well as the new crazy mall designed by Fuksas. For dinner, I met up with my old MIT friend Eliza-Beth for an adventure at a veggie restaurant there. The food was great, but I had a curry that didn't come with rice. Oh well, it was thick and tasty :) And wonderful to catch up with an old friend!
The next part of the trip took me to Berlin on the ICE. One of the most interesting things to me was all of the wind turbines that I passed along the train route. The 50 mile stretch outside of Berlin in particular was just full of them. I wonder what percentage of Berlin's power comes from wind? I am just so impressed with the German train system. From the giant boards that show the arrival and departure time of every train on every track all day long, to the boards that show you exactly where every car of every train will stop so you can line up, it's just so amazingly organized and nice.
I spent a few days in Berlin and tried to take in as much as I could. From the super-touristy things like Checkpoint Charlie and the Holocaust Memorial, to some of the museums. The Pergamon museum was fascinating with a whole Greek temple moved to Berlin. It was a temple to Athena, so it was fun to see a bunch of Athena statues and such there. They also had a recreation of the entrance to Babylon which was impressive. The IM Pei Wing at the German History Museum was really interesting and they had some temporary exhibits in there including one on tearing down the wall. It's amazing to think that it was only 20 years ago. It's crazy to think that everything capitalist in what was East Berlin that's there today was built since that time.
One of the most amazing sights was the Reichstag, which was designed by Foster and has these mirrors all along the length of it that rotate to provide natural light to their parliament throughout the day and has some crazy natural ventilation systems in it so that they don't need to heat or cool the building most of the time. With that and all of the wind power and trains, it's so amazing how far behind we are in America.
I must add in here how much I love Starbucks in Europe. Not only do a lot of people stay in to drink their coffee, but they also give you big Starbucks mugs instead of paper cups if you're staying in. As a big coffee mug fan, that's just awesome :)
I had some good food in Berlin, including a Thai place called Restaurant Goodtime. They had some amazing veggie spring rolls and really nicely cooked tofu in their mains. Across the street was an organic cafe that I had lunch at one day. Very excellent curry soups!
From Berlin, it was back to Frankfurt on the ICE. I was mainly just back there to catch a flight the next morning to London, but saw that they had a big river festival going on (thanks to the little translator app on my phone!). FlussFestMeile, as it was called, was a fun music and food festival along the river front. They had lots of vegan food - african, indian, thai - and lots of great music. I had time to take in one band, Fräulein Wunder, and they were fantastic. An all-girl rock band with some very addictive songs. They definitely put on a fun show! They were just the opening act though, but so many people came to see them that after they finished most people left. The organizer was up on the stage on the mic repeating "Das ist nicht gut!" and begging people to come back.
I took an early flight to London (a Lufthansa flight that also was late) and made my way into town. I love that I can get around London without a map now. That evening, I met my high school friend Jess for dinner at a fun veggie restaurant near Baker St called Eat and 2 Veg. Weird name, but great food! I had gone here for tea and cake with a colleague last summer, but had never sat down for a proper meal. The food was fantastic and it was great to hear what Jess was up to out there!
My final day of vacation was filled with being touristy with Alison and her family. We started the day out with the Tower of London, which was much larger than I had thought just going past it on the bus or seeing it from the London Eye. The crown jewels were crazy and it was interesting to see all of the places where prisoners were kept over the years, and read about how the political ones were fairly free to have guests and live a fairly normal life, except for not leaving.
From there, we went on to the National Galleries. Stacie and I had spent about 2 minutes in there when we first came to London, but Alison and I got to spend a few hours there. The Monet's were amazing as expected, and they had another of Serat's works from the island that goes along with the one at the Art Institute in Chicago, so that was fun to see. We also made it to the National Portrait Gallery, where they had a few rooms devoted to portraits of scientists and scholars throughout British history. Which of course Alison and I could not pass up :)
We also couldn't pass up a photo at Platform 9 3/4 at King's Cross. We just had a few minutes as we had to get back to change for dinner, but I knew exactly where the platform was. Or so I thought! We made our way over to the track to Cambridge, but everything over there was under construction. And right where the platform should have been was a wheelbarrow and other construction equipment. But they had a little sign with directions to where they had moved it, and we got our pictures :)
The day ended, as I think all of my trips to London do, with a trip to Hakkasan! It was just as amazing as always, although they took down this really cool candle wall that Stacie and I liked. But the food was wonderful as always including their veggie chicken. This time I was there with a meat-eater, so I had Alison try it to see how much it really tasted like chicken (since I have no idea after 8 years of vegan-ness). The verdict...it was chicken to her :) I really wish there was something like Hakkasan in Chicago with so many great veggie options.
All in all, a wonderful vacation. The next day I was back home and back to work. I really need to take the time for vacations like this more often. I came back all energized and ready to go. And really happy to have spent time with so many awesome people that I don't get to see nearly enough!