A Travellerspoint blog

The Rhine Valley, Germany

Germany’s wine region

overcast 70 °F

We were surprised to learn that Germany had a wine region that can be compared to that of Napa Valley. In fact, the town of Mainz is listed as one of the nine “great wine capitals” of the world! We started our journey up river in the town of Cologne, famous for its large “Dom” cathedral. We were told by the locals that this building requires so much cleaning that once is finally cleaned, the cleaning process starts all over (sounds like the Golden Gate Bridge!).

We headed down river via train and boats towards Mainz. We went to Oberweissen and then to the small town of Bacharach where we hiked up the top of a hill to a castle called Burg Stahleck that had been converted into a hostel. While walking through the town we stopped at one of the wine shops and sampled a young wine straight out of the tap. It was an early season harvest that is still fermenting called Federweiβer and it was sweet with a yeasty bubbly essence.

Our next port of call was the town of Bingen, where we found a great walk through the vineyards with a view of the famous Mäuseturm on the water just behind the Basilika.

After we reached Mainz we met up with Tom and Leah, where we learned that it is typical to have the Federweiβer with onion cake. Apparently the sweet wine compliments the stringent, sour taste of the onions, and all over the town we saw little kiosks where people stop in for a glass of fresh Federweiβer and onion cake. The typical German breakfasts that we were served included lots of strange meats (think liverwurst) and cheeses; it is very different from the typically sweet breakfasts that we have in the States.

Excited to be in one of the top wine capitals of the world, we were ready to go wine tasting! Unfortunately it was a huge shock to find out that “wine tasting” as we know it does not exist in the city or in the surrounding wineries. The standard thing to do here is to call a winery and set up an appointment or go there for dinner and order a bottle. So instead we opted for the second famous thing to do in the area… skinny dipping! Across the Rhine River from Mainz, is the city of Weisbaden, famous for its Kaiser-Friedrich Therme (German spa). We decided to pay a visit for Kevin to experience his first spa, and to have a little relaxation. Spas are a bit different in Germany in that they are completely naked, with mixed genders. Although a little intimidating, we had a wonderful hour of pampering in saunas, steam rooms, heated rooms, cold pools, warm rooms, and of course, an ice dunk.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 23:25 Archived in Germany Comments (1)

Bikes, Bikes, and more Bikes

Our favorite bike pics and videos in the Netherlands

We thought this post would just be some great pics of the bicycles that we saw while in Amsterdam, and a little video that we made to give you a taste of what it is like to ride in Amsterdam.

Don't forget where you parked!

Bike lanes down the middle of the road

We love bikes too!!

The low-profile green rental bike (green color used to warn the locals)

Bike highway signage

Riding through parks

And our little video of riding the streets of downtown Amsterdam

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 06:50 Archived in Netherlands Comments (0)

Dutch Cuisine, Netherlands

Unusual yet tasty foods

With the help of our Dutch friends, we sampled an abundance of new foods in the Netherlands! We wanted to share just a few of our favorites.

Snacks – not to be confused with ‘a snack,’ this is probably the most unique food to the Dutch mainly because of the way that you purchase a “snack.” It is even faster than fast food joints! The snacks are behind little windows and when you put enough money into the slot, you are allowed to open the window and retrieve your snack. It is like a vending machine for hot food. Snacks come in all different colors, shapes, sizes, and with different fillings – and all are deep fried. Our favorite snack was Bami – which was made of noodles.

Stroop Waffles – these are delicious mini waffle like cookies that were invented in the town of Gouda. A single waffle is cooked and then sliced in half while it’s still hot and then a caramel syrup sauce is spread in the middle.

Fries with “Special Sauce” – the Dutch love their ‘french fries’ and there are plenty of shops that sell only fries. The real treat is in the “special sauce” which is mayonnaise, curry, and raw onions. They also have an amazing contraption that forms mashed potatoes into long tubes that are then deep fried and topped with thick peanut sauce – these look like just like regular fries but have an entirely different taste!

Filet American – we are not entirely sure why this is termed ‘American’ as there is NO WAY anyone in the USA eats this. The spread is made from raw beef… yes, RAW beef. It is bright red, and contains beef, tomatoes, onions.

Raw Herring – the Netherlands has a lot of seafood, as they are close to the sea. One of the favorites is the herring, which has to be eaten in a proper fashion – by picking the raw fish up by its tail, tipping your head back, and eating it. Usually there are some raw onions on the fish. It was described to us as the “Dutch Sushi”

Hagelslag– while Americans only put chocolate sprinkles on ice cream sundaes, the Dutch sprinkle them on top of buttered toast for breakfast!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 05:11 Archived in Netherlands Comments (1)

Road Trip, Netherlands

Gouda, Den Haag, Delta Works and Gorinchem

sunny 75 °F

We were absolutely in love with Gouda from the minute we arrived. It is like a very rural, small, version of Amsterdam with walking streets, canals, windmills, and cute little shops. We met up with Ralf and had a great time walking around the streets sampling stroop waffles with the kids and talking with what must have been the world’s last living clay pipe maker.

We then headed to the coast of Holland to Den Haag, home of the international court of justice, the flame of the Peace Palace, and a fresh supply of raw herring, which the locals like to cover in oil and raw onions and then pop ‘em down the hatch!

Den Haag is also the home of MC Escher! About 75% of his artwork is on display in what used to be the Queen’s winter palace. It was really interesting to walk through a palace turned into an art installation. The paintings were fantastic and so were all the descriptions of Escher’s different techniques.

Our last stop in the Netherlands was in Gorinchem where we met up with our friends Dan and Sam (whom we first met in Laos, and then again in Vietnam). We had an amazing taste of real Dutch life and visited one of the 7 Wonders of the Civil Engineering World… the Delta Works. Since Holland is mostly below sea level, there is an enormous amount of energy put into keeping the country from being under water.

As we said our goodbyes, Dan and Sam surprised us with one last Dutch tradition – the Flugal! It is a syrup like shot that must be taken while wearing the yellow cap of the bottle on your nose, if the cap falls off, you must drink another one…

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:38 Archived in Netherlands Comments (1)

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

A city of bikes and tolerance

sunny 75 °F

The first thing we noticed when we stepped out of the airport in Amsterdam was the bike path to the airport, way cool! Once we settled into the city we faced our first big problem: where were we gonna park our bikes?! We couldn’t stop smiling at how many bikes there were and in our stunned state almost got run over. There were kids, grandmothers, business men, everyone riding bikes! It was such a cool feeling, like being in critical mass every second of the day. There were bike paths everywhere, including special lanes in roundabouts and on sidewalks sometimes making it a challenging to be a pedestrian.

We met up with Dan and Sam (whom we met in Laos and Vietnam back in March) for an Ajax football match. We arrived a little early and headed into the fan club. Everyone was totally staring at us! It turns out even amongst the white folks in Europe we still stand out in the crowd as a buncha tourists! This game was no Wednesday night A’s game. This stadium seats up to 80,000 people who all train in from every part of the country!

We only had two bikes, so we road the Dutch way (where Robin and Sam rode sitting sideways on the back racks). Needless to say, the Dutch are very skilled at this, and you will see ladies riding with the legs to one side all the time. It took us a little getting used to, but by the time we were in the heart of the red light district we were pros.

The next day we rode our Dutch Bikes north to visit Volendam and Edam. Although Edam is about 30k from Amsterdam, it only took a few kilometers to get out of the city and into the beautiful countryside. The bike network is clearly labeled with lots of maps and routes for riders to follow. We rode through farm land, small villages, and on some of the most beautiful bike paths!

The Amsterdam history museum was definitely noteworthy. It took us through why the Dutch have such tolerant laws and how they have survived the low water table by building the entire town on pylons! We loved our stay here and are looking forward to more of Holland!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 10:41 Archived in Netherlands Comments (1)

Top three nasty nibbles

What is the worst food you’ve ever tasted?

We heard stories about the infamous national dish of Scotland called haggis, and even after hearing how they made it, we were still gung-ho about giving it a try. We are sad to report that even if we didn’t know that it was made from leftover sheep pieces squashed together, we still would have hated it. We investigated the ingredients at the market only to see the marketing wizards trying to mask the (heart, liver and lungs) as ‘lobes’ or ‘pluck.’ To be honest we don’t know what lungs taste like, but from the dish that we were ‘lucky’ enough to sample, it was hard to taste anything but the ‘yuck!’

Now the real question is; where does Haggis stack up in the “all time worst foods we’ve ever eaten list?” Well, without any hesitation it makes the top three for sure! Drum roll please…

The top three worst foods we have had so far on our trip around the world:

  1. 1. Italian Chicken Liver Risotto (we thought we were so cool ordering from the Italian menu when we could read two words of the menu item “pollo” and “risotto” little did we know that one of the words we didn’t know was actually the most important. In fact, liver has snuck into our meals in several different countries, it is like liver is haunting us aroudn the world!
  2. 2. Scottish Haggis (one bite was one too many).
  3. 3. Dirty armpit/sock smelling Chinese Durian Fruit that has been banned from being carried on public facilities (including the metro and busses).

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 04:30 Comments (0)

Road Trip, Scotland

The Scottish countryside

all seasons in one day 70 °F

We hired a car in Glasgow and had so much fun. We can’t really do justice to the feeling of being in the open country and experiencing Scotland. We saw, ate and learned so many new things but will spare you all the details and only highlight a few in this post. Here what our route looked like:

Highland Coos! (aka “cows” pronounced with a Scottish accent). These coos are a rare breed; they look heavy and medieval but stay up with the new fashions by sporting dreadlocks.

Urquhart castle on Loch Ness was empty at dusk so we had the castle grounds and the sunset all to ourselves. They have great info placards, a good lookout spot for ol’ Nessy and a house sized catapult to play with!

The roads are sign posed with clear driving routes for places of interest. We followed a few different trails including the “Malt Whisky Trail” that stretched for mile and miles across the country. Distilleries here were like coffee shops in Seattle, they are all over the place and could barely drive for 10min before we had stop for another sample!

While the Greeks have the Olympics, Pitlochry has the Highland Games! We watched competitions like ‘tug of war’ and ‘tossing the caber’ (a kilted man trying to flip a telephone pole lengthwise). They had a hospitality tent stocked with whisky and homemade treats for foreigners with an up close view of the 27 bagpipe bands each taking their turn to circle the field.

We participated in a reenactment of the Battle of Stirling at the Sir William Wallace monument and climbed up the monument to see the sword that Wallace himself used in that very battle.

The on-and-off drizzle in Scotland makes for some fantastic rainbows! We must have seen at least one rainbow every other day… here is one we saw while staying in the quaint little village of Stromeferry.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 08:39 Archived in Scotland Comments (2)

Road Trip, Ireland

Kilkenny, Dungarvan, Midleton, Cohb, Cork, Kilkarney, Burren

sunny 75 °F

In order to get a little bit off the beaten path and into the countryside, we hired a car in Dublin to drive around the countryside for a week. Here what our route looked like:

We were impressed with how friendly the locals were, for example, in Dungarvan we stumbled across a pitch a putt with a beautiful course, but there wasn’t anyone in the clubhouse when we arrived. Luckily a nice lady was just finishing up her round, offered us her clubs to use, and said she would be back in 2 hours or so. So she gave us tees, balls, clubs, and a scorecard and we were on our way. . .

We absolutely lucked out and got to experience the only 7 days of summer that Ireland seemed to get this year. The countryside is very similar to that of England and Wales with the green pastures and of course, Barley fields for the Guinness brewery and for the Jameson Distillery. But what makes the Irish countryside a little more unique is the enormous amount of castles and gothic churches they seem to be everywhere. We visited a few of them including the famous Kilkenny Castle and St. Canice's Cathedral.

We couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to kiss the Blarney Stone (one of the Discovery Channel’s top 99 things to do before you die). So we can now say that we are blessed with “the gift of gab” which apparently means that we can speak Blarney and NOT baloney.

We enjoyed all of Ireland’s beauty by exploring endless fields of rocks in Burren National Park, trekking on the highest mountain in Ireland (Carrauntoohil - 1,038 meters) and visiting the infamous Cliff of Moher (commonly known to those who have seen the movie Princess Bride as “The Cliffs of Insanity!”)

We also enjoyed all of Ireland’s whisky and stouts by visiting the 18th century Jameson Distillery in Middleton and popping into pubs for Irish Folk music and taste tests of the finest Irish beverages in little country villages with only a few buildings scattered around the focal point of the town… the pub.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:22 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Dublin, Ireland

Does Guinness really taste better in Ireland?

sunny 70 °F

Of course everyone talks about Guinness as an Irish beer, but do the Irish really drink Guinness? Or is it a marketing gimmick like Fosters beer – which is NOT the choice amongst the Ausies. We headed straight for the pub with our hosts Barry and Bownie for some classic Celtic music. Luckily, the rumors are true, and almost everyone in the pubs drink Guinness! So we decided to head to the Guinness Brewery and find out how to pour the perfect pint. It hard not to notice how much land the Brewery owns in the middle of the city center, and were quite impressed with their multi story interactive tour.

We must have easily walked 10 miles a day in and around the city. There are loads of parks and free museums. Our favorite was the Natural History Museum, also known as the Dead Zoo because of all the stuffed animals. We were quite impressed by the vast display of countless animals.

Through our walking around we learned about Oscar Wilde, the Yeats family, and Trinity College. With a picnic lunch we sat in the sunshine to enjoy the beautiful college courtyard but were sad to have been forbidden to walk on the grass… we imagined how weird Berkeley would have been if we wouldn’t have been allowed to play Frisbee, read, or sunbath on Memorial Glade.

We liked the feel of Dublin, the bus system and scattered castles. There is an interesting contrast throughout the city between the new and the old. Even the Dublin Castle had a colorful addition to contrast to the old black stones.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 22:50 Archived in Ireland Comments (0)

Road Trip, Whales

Montgomery Castle, Lake Vyrwyn, Bedleggert, Snowdan, Conwy Castle, Morfa Nefyn, Abersoch, and Pwhelli

all seasons in one day 65 °F

We went with Robin’s parents on a road trip through Wales. Once we crossed into Wales from England, it seem as though all vowels had been replaced by ‘w’ and ‘y.’ Seriously, how would you tell someone to take the A5 exit after Vyrnwy towards Llanfair Pwllgwyngyll to reach the Cynorthwywyd gan Fwrdd Tourist Office?!

There were Castles and Bed and Breakfast’s as far as the eye could see! Our favorite castle was probably Conwy because you could explore lots of rooms and climb up the tall towers for a panoramic view of the city, but we also really enjoyed the feel of Montgomery Castle (c. 1280) which had an old ruin of a castle set in the mist of the country side looking down on squares of farm land.

Wales has a fabulous coast line with lots of beaches, bluff walks and ridgelines to follow.

One of the hikes we did took us up into the clouds onto the highest mountain in Wales, Yr Wyddfa Snowdon at 3559ft.

We also spent some time exploring the Llyn peninsula where one of the highlights was catching the Pwhelli rafting races. Once a year the town’s folk build their own makeshift rafts and race then in the harbor for charity. It was reminiscent of the concrete canoe competition in engineering school, and we loved the creativity. Our favorite raft was built by a brave father and son who used an upside down chassis of an old Reliant car. While they didn’t win due to lack of speed, they didn’t sink like some of the others!

We said our very sad goodbyes, as Robin’s parents dropped us at the ferry dock in Hollyhead, where we jumped aboard for our journey across the Irish Sea to Ireland.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 05:45 Archived in Wales Comments (0)

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