The Tower, Homework, and Random Observations (London day 3)

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We started off today with our first official “class” time, held at a place called Vincent House. We were supposed to have our own conference room-type set up, but they had our reservation mixed up so we just sat in the lounge area for today. We used these few hours to write about yesterday’s tour of the Museum of London. You can read the post I collaborated on here.

The street Vincent House is on has beautiful flats that are very obviously for the wealthier part of society. Their facade had that gorgeous white, cream, and faint yellow coloring, with cute little balconies, trim, and foliage. I’ve decided when I move to London, I’ll live here.

Hey, no one said dreams had to be realistic.

Hey, no one said dreams had to be realistic.

After class we picked up some lunch. I forgot to take a picture of the sandwich I got yesterday from Pret A Manger (pronounced pret-uh-mahn-zhay), a popular pre-made sandwich shop, but it was pretty darn good. Another sandwich shop, Eat, is in competition with Pret, so I tried a sandwich from them today. It was really good, too. Now I’ll have to make my own sandwich and really see which is the best.

We ate lunch once we got to the Tower of London. I’ve toured this one before, too, but it still doesn’t cease to amaze me how there’s this old stone fortress in the middle of a modern business district, and how millions of people from all over the world come to walk around in the same place that British royalty, prisoners, and long-dead soldiers once lived in. Does that not blow your mind?

And people here just walk by it on the way to work like it's no big deal.

And people here just walk by it on the way to work like it’s no big deal.

The moat was drained and filled quite a while ago, and in it today they were preparing for a jousting tourament this weekend, the first one at the Tower in 8 years. I don’t know if it’s possible to go, but I’ll be looking into it tonight.

Once inside, we joined one of the warders for a tour. I couldn’t tell if our guide was the same I had last time or not, but he was pretty funny, too. Yelling at everyone, making fun of the French, making history jokes…. I heard that the warders don’t just protect the Tower, but they actually live there. Wouldn’t that be a great job? Of course, you’d have to serve at least twenty-or-so years in the military in order to qualify, and I’m sure repeating the same stories and jokes to a crowd of unpredictable people might get old. But compared to a boring office job? Yeah, it’d be great.

"The E-R stands for errr, as in, Errr Majesty. Now if you have any other questions, keep them to yourself."

“The E-R stands for errr, as in, ‘Errr Majesty. Now if you have any other questions, keep them to yourself.”

The end part of the tour landed us in St. Peter Church, a small little chapel with quite a history. The remains of Henry VIII’s two executed wives lie buried beneath it, and several other notable people were laid to rest in the adjoining cript. The ceiling had been made for Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, out of wood from Spain so that she could pray to God under trees from her home land.

After the tour, Faith and I ended up doing our own thing again, choosing to first go through the White Tower.

Everything has to be called a tower here at the Tower.

Everything has to be called a tower here at the Tower.

In the past this was used as living quarters for the royal family and other nobility, as well as a prison for traitors to the crown (or people who just said something the king didn’t like). For the past couple hundred years-or-so now, it has housed the “Line of Kings” exhibition. Bascially a display of armor worn by past kings and their horses. It was interesting to see how certain pieces were once mislabeled in order to sound more impressive, or because the records and technology weren’t available to correctly identify them until recently.

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Don’t know how that face coming out of it helps, but at least the horse looks like a badass.

We were also able to go below ground in what used to be wine cellars and dungeons. It’s now a gift shop.

Flags not for sale.

Flags not for sale.

We also looked at the big attraction: the Crown Jewels. There was quite a lot of bling in this exhibit, from golden maces back in Charles II’s time to golden plates used for special feasts to the bedazzled crown of Queen Elizabeth II herself. Unfortunately, no pictures were allowed inside, so you’ll just have to come and see them yourself some day.

If you can make it past the guards.

If you can make it past the guards.

We wandered around the Tower until closing time, learning about how it was once a zoo, spotting the infamous giant ravens, and taking pictures of prisoner graffiti on the walls. By the time we made it back to our flat (after half an hour of searching in vain for a pastry shop), my legs were on fire and my feet about ready to fall off. When exactly am I supposed to be used to this?

Medieval graffiti: taking it to the next level.

Medieval graffiti: taking it to the next level.

Some little cultural things I’ve noticed so far that I feel compelled to mention… First, the fashion. In the touristy areas of the Tower and Trafalger Square it might not be so noticable. But in other areas and districts, you can tell what’s “in” among Londoners. Apart from the business-wear that’s also very common, men tend to wear really tight pants with button-down shirts and nice shoes. Women usually have an all-black look going on with ankle boots or flats. I’ve also noticed this thing with striped shirts; it seems popular among the Asian tourists as well.

Speaking of Asian tourists, I noticed several groups of Korean school kids about. One group had badges over their necks that said something like “Western Culture Trip.” Why is this not a thing in America, I ask you? Why can’t we have Asian Culture Trips, or European Culture Trips for our youth? I’m sorry, but Korea gets more cool points from me on this one.

Final thought: my snot is black. Maybe you didn’t want to hear about that, but I feel like it’s important to know. It’s not something you would expect or think about, but it is what it is. You spend enough time in a city and taking trains underground, your snot is going to be tarnished with smog and soot. And probably second-hand smoke, too, because like the rest of Europe, Brits love to have a smoke. So now you know and won’t be freaked out when it happens to you.

But in case that was too unpleasant for you, enjoy this...

But in case that was too unpleasant for you, enjoy this…

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HelloEurope! Part 3: Wherein I discover the true meaning of pine cones

HelloEuropePart3 Welcome back to the Great Europe Adventure of 2012! Before we get to see what Germany: Week 2 was like (hint: more adventures, less complaining), I’d just like to take a moment to reflect on reflections.

See, you distance yourself from something long enough, and when you finally come back into contact with it, you have a whole new perspective of it. It’s like you get to experience that thing all over again, only as a different person. You learn even more about yourself back then than you did at the time. You surprise yourself with the little random details you remember, and get frustrated with the ones you’ve forgotten. You look at a photo and realize you see so much more than what the camera captured. Reminiscing can be pretty rewarding in that way.

Okay, weird, abstract thinking time over. Time to get back to the main program…

So we finished the weekend with a trip to Heidelberg, another historic town with a castle. This one wasn’t in the best condition, and didn’t come with a knowledgeable tour guide. But it was nice to walk around the ruins and soak in the view.

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At least I have a better excuse for not knowing anything about the place.

I guess with that picture, it would be a good time to bring up the fact that approximately half of the country was under construction when we were there. Every place we went, there was either a road torn up or scaffolding covering up part of a building. We never saw anyone work on anything; just places blocked off for future maintenance that seemingly never came. To this day, whenever my brother and I see multiple construction sites in an area, we jokingly complain, “What is this, Germany?”

Heidelberg itself was a nice looking town. The Neckar River runs through the middle of it, and the architecture there is just incredible. So many different styles all eclectically mushed together, but never tacky or obnoxious. Many of the other towns and cities we’d visit that week were similar. There’s just no comparison in America.

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Though the States are a bit better with the whole don’t-drive-where-people-are-walking thing.

Another pretty amazing thing we saw there was the second largest wine barrel in the world.

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So large, it won’t even fit in the shot.

Never mind where the first largest is… Just be jealous that I’ve seen, touched, and stood on top of the world’s second largest wine barrel and you haven’t.

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Just for some perspective… And yes, there is actual wine in there.

Speaking of beverages, the water situation in Germany was quite bizarre. In the States, water at restaurants is free and the waiter often pours you a glass while you’re scanning the menu. In Germany, we had to ask for it. And that day at lunch, we discovered you also had to be specific with what type you wanted, otherwise the default was sparkling. Let me just tell you, there is nothing less refreshing after a day of walking among castle ruins and giant wine barrels than carbonated water.

And thus ended our weekend, but the adventures kept on coming. The next day, Alex and I went to the Wilhelma Zoo. Looking back, I have mixed feelings about this. I’m undecided what to think about zoos in general, but this particular instance of going to one in another country seems questionable. Maybe if it had some kind of rare animal species or breed that you couldn’t find anywhere else, or maybe if it was renowned for some kind of unique exhibit or design, then it would’ve made sense to go. But going just because you don’t know what else to do seems like it might warrant another Pro Travel Tip warning.

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Brought to you by my beautifully intimidating friend the Snow Leopard.

However, we were able to pick up on some subtle cultural nuances that would’ve otherwise gone undetected. For example, we discovered that outside of California, Sequoia trees are a pretty big deal.

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This is actually my first and only time seeing a Sequoia in person. Some Cali girl I am, right?

As are farm animals…

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California cows are too busy leading the country in dairy production to be put on display.

And we learned that the Justin “Beaver” insult is actually rooted in German zoology…

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Obviously the most useful fact we could’ve gleaned from this trip.

Getting to and from the Zoo was a learning experience, as well. Up until then we had only been using the “S-Bahn” trains. The other type was the “U-Bahn,” and I don’t know the difference but for some reason we wanted to just stick with the one Uncle Eric had shown us how to use. Well, there was no direct S-Bahn to the Zoo, so we either had to transfer to a U-Bahn line or walk. We decided to walk. It ended up being a tragically long trek that involved us roaming through sketchy streets and getting lost in sudden parks. So while I may be hesitant to completely discourage visiting a zoo in another country (this one was pretty impressive, I must admit), I will go ahead and pose this. Pro Travel Tip #3: Know what transportation method is best for a certain situation. You might not be familiar using a train, for example, but compared to your terrible map reading skills it would still be more convenient than navigating on foot. A certain method could also be safer over another, or cheaper, or more rewarding, or more culturally acceptable. It’s just something you have to think about.

Okay, so moving on to the next day, where Uncle Eric arranged for us to stay at a nearby hostel. Apparently we would be staying in one when we visited Münich later, so he wanted us to try one out in a city we were already familiar with. Hostels, if you don’t know, are like dorms that you can rent while travelling. They’re typically cheaper than hotels, too, so it’s preferred among the thrifty, backpacking type of travellers.

We didn’t get any pictures of our Stuttgart hostel, so you’ll have to use your imaginations on this one. I was put in a four-bunk room with a small bathroom. One other girl was in the room with me that night. She only spoke German, and I only spoke English, so communication ended once that was established. Alex I think had two or three other roommates in his room across the hall. Overall it wasn’t too bad; I just wish someone had told me it was a bring-your-own-soap-and-towels kind of place.

After we had checked in early that afternoon, we went off to another car museum for the day. The Porsche museum was a little smaller than Mercedes since the company hasn’t been around as long, but it was still fun.

Not exactly a race car, but I'll take it.

Not exactly a race car, but I’ll take it.

We had breakfast the next day at the hostel. Breakfasts for us at Uncle Eric’s apartment consisted mainly of cereal, fruit, and tea. But at the hostel, we were treated to the full German spread. Cold cuts, bread rolls, more cold cuts, some cereal and fruit options, and… cold cuts. Being a pescatarian, Alex found some difficulties creating a substantial meal. And being a person that doesn’t enjoy meat in the morning, I was a little disappointed as well. I don’t remember what we did for the rest of the day after we checked out. Probably something really exciting like watching TV.

Then it was off to Münich. We couldn’t check in to the hostel until later that afternoon, so we decided to wait at yet another car museum.

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Guess which one.

The BMW museum was split into two buildings. The “Welt” had a lot of newer models on display that you could get in, including a motorcycle section.

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I’m telling you, I have a future as a racer.

The main museum was pretty much like the other museums we’d gone too. Lots of cars. I really enjoyed this one, but I still think my favorite is the Mercedes.

Though this car makes BMW a close second.

Though this car makes BMW a close second.

A few hours later and we could finally check in to the hostel. At this particular one, we were placed in a co-ed room that took up the entire top floor and must’ve held at least fifty beds. We didn’t interact with anyone, and because that sounds like such a lame thing to say, I have to make Pro Travel Tip #4: Talk to people. If you’re fortunate enough to be in a place where multiple cultures/ethnicities/countries are represented, don’t pass up the opportunity to get to know those people. Ask questions. Share your observations. Invite friendly discussions. Make new friends. And be grateful you’re not the antisocial loser in the corner.

The next day we went to the famous parts of Münich, the Rathaus-Glockenspiel and the Hofbräuhaus. The Glockenspiel is this old thing that plays music at certain hours and has little figurines that play out stories. The whole town square in front of the building was packed with people when it started playing.

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Honestly the most boring, overrated tourist attraction ever.

Finding the Hofbräuhaus proved to be our biggest fail yet. We weren’t interested in drinking there, we just wanted to see it and maybe buy a commemorative stein to take home. But the one little sign we found had an arrow pointing in a very vague direction, and long story short, we spent a good hour walking in a completely different part of town before giving up and going back to the city center. Uncle Eric eventually met us there, and then proceeded to drive us no more than a block away to the Hofbräuhaus.

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Okay, I give up on navigating.

After touring the beer hall, we than began our three-day road trip weekend. Now, I don’t want to rush through anything, but come on. I’ve been dragging this blog out for like a million years, and we’re not even halfway through the whole vacation, and my tangents are making babies cry, so let’s just skip all the fluff in between and look at the highlights, okay?

That said, a quick bit of background info is needed first. Our road trip was planned along what’s known as the Romantische Straße, or the Romantic Road. It’s supposed to connect all the pretty, historical sites in southern Germany for tourists like us. We didn’t feel like going all the way to the end, in Füssen, so we just started at the next stop, Schwangau.

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Oh joy, more construction.

You probably don’t recognize that castle because of the freaking construction. So here’s the view from the back.

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This involved a hella ton of climbing to see, so you’d better appreciate it.

Look familiar now? Neuschwanstein is a pretty well known castle, and it was built solely for looks and not function. The word is Disney based Sleeping Beauty’s castle on it. Because no one ever lived in it, we skipped touring that one in favor of Hohenschwangau, a functioning castle on the adjacent hill.

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Can no one make a castle that’s stylish AND comfortable?

That night we ended up in Augsburg, a city with a lot of pine cone imagery everywhere. Consulting my Germany guidebook for the first time, I learned that the pine cone symbolizes fertility. And because that’s hilarious, we went into a gift shop and got an assortment of souvenirs with pine cones on them.

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And took pictures of every pine cone we could find because we’re mature like that.

Uncle Eric stayed at a hotel while Alex and I went to another hostel. Our rooming situation here was more like the one in Stuttgart. Because I had decided against taking a shower in the co-ed Münich hostel, I took one here. To my conservative horror, the shower doors were completely see-through. See through, people. I had to shower next to an elderly lady with only a slightly fogged up screen for protection. Oh Germany….

The next day we drove up to Dinkelsbühl, a quaint and charming little village. And yes, you may giggle at the name; it is pretty funny.

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So are these, er, detailed signs we found…

We walked around the whole outside village wall, toured some dungeons, and climbed a church tower.

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Dinkelsbühl is just so stinkin’ cute.

After Dinkelsbühl came the last stop on the not-very-romantic tour, Würzburg. We checked into another hostel for the night, this one built inside an old stone building right beneath a castle. Alex and I shared a small room just between us. The showers (and toilets as well) here only had a flimsy curtain for privacy, in case you were wondering.

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Germany: the land of ruining picturesque moments with dumb cranes and scaffolding.

We toured the Würzburg Residence the next day. You might recognize it from the Three Musketeers movie with Orlando Bloom a few years ago.

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Or you might not because you’re not a cool movie geek like I am.

This is also where you can find the world’s largest ceiling fresco. The Sistine Chapel actually isn’t the largest, because it was done in sections and pieced together. You’ll see what I mean when we get to the Rome post (if we get there…).

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I don’t have a picture of the ceiling, but I do have this one. Germany Cat Count: 2.

We took a quick detour to Nürnberg before heading back to Stuttgart. I don’t remember much about this part, only that I desperately needed to pee and the bathroom (called Water Closets by the locals) I finally found had a little gate that required you to put in coins before entering. A similar situation would later happen in London, and I just can’t for the life of me figure it out. I feel like I can accept a lot of cultural differences, but paying to pee? Are you serious, Europe?!

And now, at long last, the Germany stories come to a close. It was quite the first-time-out-of-the-country experience, but you haven’t seen anything yet. Once Alex and I reached London and met up with the rest of our family, things went from weird and adventurous to wild and crazy.

Pictured: two kids who have no clue what's coming...

Pictured: two kids who have no clue what’s coming…

HelloEurope! Part 2: Wherein I very briefly live my dream of being a professional race car driver

HelloEuropePart2 Previous episode recap: Dad sends my brother and me off to our uncle in Germany, I do nothing to prepare, I enjoy flying more than is socially acceptable, and I arrive with only four solid hours of sleep and a half-hour of spotty napping on a plane.

That last bit is significant. Apparently it makes jet lag that much worse, because despite my uncle’s best efforts to keep me on a normal schedule, the day after we landed I literally (like, literally literally) passed out from fatigue in the middle of the afternoon. I woke up around dinnertime, ate, and then went back to sleep for the night. So Pro Travel Tip #1: Don’t travel to the other side of the planet with only four hours of sleep. In fact, I’ve heard that it’s best to change your schedule to that of wherever you’re going a few days before leaving (while you’re still at home, presumably not doing anything important). I’ll try out this technique before my trip to London in a few weeks and let you know how it goes.

We spent two whole weeks in Germany, mostly in Stuttgart where my uncle lives, but we also travelled to some other places around the south (within Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria, for you geography enthusiasts). If you’re as big a geek as I am, you might remember Stuttgart as one of the locations in the first Avengers film. Well, little fun fact: it wasn’t. They said they were in Stuttgart, but really they filmed it in Cleveland, Ohio. Dumb, right?

Anyway. Quick disclaimer: those two weeks in Germany were packed with new experiences, and while I do remember a surprising amount of details, some things are a little fuzzy. It’s been three years, so cut me some slack. I’ve managed to find the names of places online, and piece together some of the timeline based on pictures. But I’m sure there’ll still be inaccuracies. I had hoped to use my travel journal as a reference while writing this, but after searching everywhere for weeks, I can’t find it. I’m so upset. I don’t even remember what it looks like. I just know it has priceless, information gold. Now lost. Hang on, I need to go cry.

Okay, that’s out of my system now (not really), and it’s time to get on with the stories! So strap on your patience seat belts, kids. Here we go with Germany: Week 1…

Uncle Eric, my dad’s older brother, had moved to Stuttgart a few years previously to work on the U.S. military base there. He continued working while we were there (since Dad just kinda threw us on him), so Monday through Friday until dinnertime Alex and I were on our own. Uncle Eric was a gracious host, however, and plopped us right into the heart of Stuttgart on our first full day, leaving us to fend for ourselves.

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Living in suburban Fresno just doesn’t prepare you for this level of shopping

The “Königstraße” (könig meaning king, and straße meaning street) is like Stuttgart’s Main Street, essentially a shopping district mixed with some businesses and historic-looking statues. Alex and I wandered numbly among them, still emerging into the culture shock phase of our travels. You wouldn’t think Germany could be too different to a white American (of some distant Germanic descent, as it were), compared to, say, an Asian or South American country. But cultures are often different in unexpected ways, and it’s even possible to experience culture shock within your own country. For us, navigating the trains, paying in Euros, deciding which of the two buttons to push on the toilets, and seating ourselves at restaurants were some of the many little things we had to get used to. And many were things they don’t prepare you for in guidebooks (not that we really read ours, but I imagine there aren’t any sections dedicated to the intricacies of European toilets).

What is this madness?

What is this madness?

Additionally, neither my brother nor myself were particularly fond of shopping at the time (for the record, we are now; just ask our bank accounts). So we passed by most of the stores and buildings and just sort of took everything in. And ended up in places we shouldn’t have been. We accidentally walked into an art museum that required you to pay. We accidentally sat in an outdoor restaurant with lunch from a different eatery. We accidentally wandered into a courtyard that was being set up for some kind of event. We were probably not supposed to sit on the public park benches, either, because an old lady came up and started reprimanding us in German. Or maybe she was just paying a compliment. It was hard to tell. You might also remember the screaming British school kids from the flight over. They were there, too. Still screaming. We avoided eye contact with them as much as possible.

Oh, and here’s something you might find interesting. When we got back to the apartment later that afternoon, we thought some TV would ease our culture shock struggles. While there were several channels in English (the Disney channel and Friends reruns became our go-tos) we did check out the German ones, too. And… we came across this little beauty:

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Um… what?

If you can’t tell, it’s the German version of Sesame Street (Sesamstraße), with its own set and puppets and completely in German. At first we were entertained. Then we became a little weirded out and decided never to watch it again.

You might also be interested in the food we were presumably eating. Germany is known for its sausages, sauerkraut, and beer. So what was I eating? Hamburgers that didn’t really look like hamburgers, baked potatoes that didn’t really look like baked potatoes, and boxes full of pasta. That’s right, you heard me. I went all the way to Germany and ordered Italian food.

So this leads me to Pro Travel Tip #2: Don’t order Italian food in Germany. This is literal and figurative. If you go to a country that has its own cuisine, then get that country’s cuisine. Don’t get some other country’s food. Don’t go to McDonald’s. Don’t stick with your hotel’s room service. Accept the fact that you are in another country, and eat the food that country is known for. There are only a few exceptions to this rule, but I’m not even going to mention them because you should never focus on finding exceptions. Stop trying to be special and just follow the rules, doggone it!

So yeah, those first few days I made some pretty embarrassing food choices. But I did eventually learn and started ordering sausage and spaetzle and “bäckerei” items. I created a gallery of the food we took pictures of for all you foodies out there. I’ll be updating it as I go along, so be sure to check back.

Navigating the trains turned out to be a piece of cake (food reference unintended), so our next adventure was taking one out to a little medieval-looking village called Esslingen. I don’t remember much about this place besides not knowing what to do. The museums we found were all closed, including the visitor’s information booth. We ran into the British school kids again. So we just wandered around for a bit taking pictures and then left.

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1) Wall and moat, 2) Church door, 3) Random courtyard

The next day, however, was much more successful for our spur-of-the-moment sightseeing (Uncle Eric would basically give us a brochure of something the night before of a place we could visit the next day). This day, we were off to the Ludwigsburg Palace. I wish I could remember the details of when it was built and who all lived there, but we’ll just have to settle with ooh-ing and ah-ing over the beauty of the architecture.

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My new dream home.

Alex and I completely walked past the entrance, which is hilarious because it’s kind of hard to miss.

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The R stands for “…Really?”

We got probably half way around the property (a lot farther than it sounds) before backtracking.

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At least we got a view of the backyard.

Once inside the gate, we booked an English-speaking tour and were led around with a small group of others to view the Palace. We weren’t allowed to take pictures in certain areas, but the ones we got should give an idea how marvelous this place was.

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If you don’t have statues on your staircase, you aren’t decorating your Palace properly.

I vaguely remember walking down a long hallway full of royal portraits, though I couldn’t tell you which family or from what time period. It was at least whenever they still used chamber pots and dumped buckets of perfume on themselves to make up for the fact they hated taking baths.

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To help you get over that unsanitary image, enjoy this ornately decorated ceiling…

So that was a nice day. Next on our travel itinerary, thanks to Alex’s interest in cars, was the Mercedes-Benz museum. Did you know they have museums for car companies? I didn’t, either. But it ended up being one of my favorite sites and I’d definitely go again.

So. Many. Cars.

So many cars, and we’re only half-way up on the elevator.

It’s hard to tell in that picture, but the museum’s designed as a spiral. You start at the top, with the first Mercedes models, and wind your way down through the timeline to the modern Mercedes at the bottom. Every floor also has a small room off to the side, showcasing special sets like service vehicles and celebrity cars.

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Example: the Pope’s pimped out Mercedes

When you get to the end, there’s also a section for the Mercedes race cars, from back-in-the-day until now. Formula 1 is a pretty beloved racing series in my family, so we quite enjoyed this part.

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And as I fit perfectly into the model of Mika Hakkinen’s car, I discovered my secret dream of being a professional racer might not be that far fetched…

If my timeline thus far is accurate, we’ve now made it to the weekend. On Saturday, Uncle Eric took us a bit outside of Stuttgart to spend time exploring Hohenzollern Castle.

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We did not miss the entrance this time.

Because it’s way up on top of a hill (as all great castles are), we had to climb a freaking ton of stairs to get there. In high altitude. For my untrained body, it was torture. And apparently being too winded to speak made for good comedy, as Uncle Eric and Alex teased me about it. “Look, more stairs!” would become a running joke among the three of us. Needless to say, by the end of my travels, I was a stair climbing master.

Started from the bottom...

“Started from the bottom” has never been a more appropriate caption

Another inside joke that sprung up at this time was “But dad, I wanna build a castle!” Once we got inside (no pictures allowed), and put on these big slipper things over our shoes so the floors wouldn’t get scuffed, we went on another educational tour. Again, I don’t remember many details, but I do remember the place was built because a prince whined about not having his own castle until daddy gave in. See? History can be humorous.

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And also terrifying, as evidenced by this tunnel of prison cells.

And because we weren’t allowed to take photos inside, I’ll go ahead and leave you with a little collage of the Hohenzollern’s outside.

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It just doesn’t get more castle-y than this.

By the end of the first week, I had learned more about cars, German history, and what not to do when in a foreign country than I had ever imagined. But despite these amazing sites and experiences, I was struggling. Reliance on my uncle to give me things to do made me hesitant to get out and explore on my own. The language barrier and residual culture shock kept me on edge. I missed my bed and my cats. My acne had spread rapidly, making me look like I had some kind of disease. I felt unprepared, bored, anxious, and totally out-of-place, which then made me feel guilty because I wasn’t as excited to be there as everyone else was. I can look back now with fondness and laughter, but at the time I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into.

I don’t mean to end on a downer; I just want to be honest. I was immature and inexperienced back then. I had a bad attitude about some things. I regret that now, but that’s kinda the good news. Three years doesn’t seem very long, but I feel like I’ve grown so much. I learned a lot from that trip, and I’ve learned a lot since. Maybe I didn’t appreciate things as much as I should have, but I definitely do in retrospect. And that puts me in a better position to go on new adventures and make new memories that I won’t regret.

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Also, speaking of cats, a surefire way to judge the greatness of a new place is by how many cats you see. At this point in the story, the Cat Counter is at 1.