Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saying Goodbye to 2011 (and to life on the road)

One year ago today, Greg & I were in Vientiane, Laos. We had survived a harrowing 11-hour bus ride from Luang Prabang two days prior so I was quite glad to be on solid ground for a few days. Although there wasn't much to do in the capital city overall, we rang in 2011 at a huge party in Vientiane's main square complete with live music, bubbles, firecrackers and cheap beer.
Greg celebrates the new year in Vientiane, Laos
This year things will be quite a bit more subdued. Since returning to Nashville on December 4th from our 3-month honeymoon we have been busy planning for our move to Portland, OR. Originally scheduled to fly out on January 4th, we quickly realized that with all the Christmas parties and other things we had planned over the past month, we would not have sufficient time to prepare. Not to mention we still haven't found a place to live! So we delayed our departure until January 25th which gives us a bit more breathing room.

Yesterday I went to Summit Primary Care for my annual physical and well woman exam. I had almost forgotten that our insurance (Blue Cross Blue Shield TN) provides 100% coverage for these checkups once per calendar year and luckily I was able to snag an early-morning appointment at the last minute. The last time I saw a doctor was in Rome, Italy in late March for treatment of bursitis in my left shoulder. And the last time I had a physical was prior to our round-the-world trip in May, 2010!

They ran all of the typical bloodwork, did a chest xray and EKG, and I got poked & prodded pretty thoroughly. The good news is that the doctor pronounced me in good health overall (assuming all the test results come back clean) with the exception that I need to see a dermatologist to have a mole removed on my upper back (one that has gotten larger & darker over the past year). Unfortunately I returned from our Christmas trip to Indiana with a cold so I am now suffering with sinus congestion and frequent sneezing. The doctor prescribed an antibiotic in case it gets worse but in the meantime I have to rest and let it run its course.

I don't plan to stay up to ring in 2012 tonight. And sadly I won't even spend the night with Greg since I'm trying to avoid making anyone else sick. Instead I'll have a quiet night at my grandmother's house in Hermitage and probably go to bed by 10pm.

I want to end this post on a more positive note with a few highlights of 2011. Greg & I completed the first leg of our RTW trip on May 4th after 278 days of traveling through 22 countries and 4 continents. Greg proposed to me on Memorial Day so we spent the next couple of months preparing for our wedding and organizing all of the parties we decided to have as an alternative to the typical same-day post-wedding reception. We got married on July 29th in a small, meticulously planned ceremony in Nashville. Then we were featured as Couple of the Week in The Tennessean's Wedding section on September 11th. Finally, we traveled to 23 countries in 92 days for our honeymoon!
I am thankful for the quality time we were able to spend with friends and family over the past year. We were actually "home" for about five months total, during which we spent lots of time with our immediate families, visited with our extended families a couple of times, took a trip to New York City to see friends there, incorporated visits with friends in Europe and the U.S. into our honeymoon, and I got to take two separate trips (girlfriend getaways) with my best friend Amy. On a sad note, my maternal grandmother passed away on November 9th, so I am especially thankful for the extra time I got to spend with her this year.
Greg & I with Grandmother Patterson at one of our wedding parties this summer
I have no idea exactly what 2012 has in store for us. For the first time in our three year relationship, we are actually planning to stay in one place for longer than a few months! We will soon be searching for new jobs in Portland, OR but are looking forward to enjoying all of the things we love about the city, including lots of craft beer, the mild climate and a car-free lifestyle. I am sure we will face many new challenges that are quite different from what we encountered while traveling in the U.S. and abroad over the past two years. But I think with patience, compassion, good communication, and lots of love we will not only adapt to but also thrive in our "new" life together. Happy New Year, everyone!
check out my star tiara!

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Chasing Rainbows - Cruising Across The Atlantic Ocean

I wrote this post over one month ago but have been gradually catching up on my blog over the past few weeks. Today is Christmas and since I am sitting in the Delta SkyClub in Nashville on a 3-hour mechanical delay, I thought I would put the time to good use. Merry Christmas everyone!
While the first week of the cruise was busy with port calls, for the final seven days there was not a speck of land in sight. While wary of turbulent waters, I looked forward to this time to catch up on my writing. I discovered a desk tucked back in a quiet corner of the library on Deck 5, where I could work undisturbed for hours. There was even a window looking out to the expanse of blue stretching to the horizon.
Other than my writing, our ship offered plenty of diversions during our days at sea. The daily program was filled with activities divided into four categories: Our World, Food & Entertaining, Technology, and Wellbeing. I attended talks by the two guest lecturers - Warren Salinger, who worked in international development and whose seminars focused on globalization; and Dick Magaldi, a retired police commander and sea captain, whose talks covered diverse topics like diving for treasure, piracy, and maritime history. However, while both were good speakers, their lectures were always rushed and jumped from topic to topic a bit irratically, so after a few tries I moved on to other things.
In addition to the lectures, every day there were cooking demonstrations, computer classes, spa seminars, jewelery seminars, gambling tournaments, trivia challenges and many, many more activities to choose from, almost all free to attend. We also took the behind-the-scenes kitchen tour, getting a glimpse at how the culinary staff prepares over 6,000 meals each day.
Greg & I developed a routine of getting up at 7 or 8am, working out in the gym for an hour (walking on a treadmill or using an elliptical machine is interesting when the ship is rolling), then eating breakfast in the Lido Restaurant (buffet-style). We usually split up to do our own things until around 5:30pm, when we'd regroup for dinner. Since we were assigned open seating, we could dine in La Fontaine (the more formal dining room) any time between 5:30-9:30pm. However we preferred to be seated by 6pm, as service was not always expedient and dinner sometimes stretched to almost two hours. But the food was consistently delicious!
After dinner, we had to choose between seeing that day's feature film (mostly new releases) in the small movie theater, or catch the early musical performance in the Showroom at Sea. Often we did both, watching the movie first, then catching the late show at 10pm. We also celebrated Greg's birthday during our crossing. I made arrangements to have surf & turf on a night when it wasn't being served as well as a custom-made red velvet & chocolate birthday cake. The waitstaff even sang Happy Birthday in their native language, Bahasa!
I really enjoyed the variety of entertainment that was offered. The in-house performers were all very talented, from the Adagio Strings (an all female string quartet that played in the dining room), to the pianist and guitarist who played in the bar, to the house band "HALCats" and the stars of the Showroom at Sea. While the cast shows were entertaining, I especially enjoyed the guest performers: Tom Sutton (comedian), Passionata (Flamenco Fusion dance performance), Julian Gargiulo (pianist), Livewire (husband & wife Celtic duo), and Jay White (Neil Diamond impersonator). The crew show on the final night was also original and entertaining.
We were very fortunate to have good weather for the crossing. Sometimes there were swells that caused the ship to roll a fair amount, but generally it was quite calm. During the entire week at sea, I only had to take Sea Calm (meclizine) twice and that was just to combat the dizzy feeling; I never actually got sick. In fact, on the couple of days that it was extraordinarily calm, to the point that you almost couldn't tell you were on a ship, I was unnerved by the lack of motion!
After experiencing cool nights during our port calls, the warm & humid air during the crossing was a pleasant surprise. While skies were often overcast, sometimes the sun would shine and the glare on the water was almost blinding. One morning it was raining off & on while we worked out in the gym (on Deck 8 facing forward) and I saw a brilliant rainbow off the bow of the ship, thus the title of this post. All in all it was a great cruise and if you're looking for a mix of port calls and relaxing on a ship (and have about 15 days to spare), I would highly recommend a transatlantic cruise.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Four more ports of call

This post is a continuation of The High Seas of the Mediterranean, which covered the first three days of our transatlantic cruise on Holland America Lines' ms Rotterdam.

As mentioned in my previous post, our 15 night cruise included six ports of call in the first seven days. Part of the reason we chose this particular itinerary was for the diversity of destinations, which, with the exception of Barcelona, were places we had never visited before. It was also attractive because all were ports where you could walk off the ship to see the sights without needing to book a tour or transfers.
our ship docked in Cartagena
Our third port of call was Cartagena, Spain. The city is an important naval seaport dating to the 16th century but has been inhabited for over three thousand years. While there are not many highly rated tourist attractions in Cartagena, Greg & I enjoyed exploring the city on foot for about three hours. Most of Cartagena's oldest monuments date to the Roman Empire and there are several archaeological sites of interest. We did not pay to visit any of them but were able to see pretty much everything by climbing up to vantage points in the free public parks. It was also free to enter the Art Nouveau City Hall and the Caridad church. I particularly enjoyed strolling the Calle Mayor, the pedestrian-only street in the heart of the city lined with boutiques and bars.
Roman Theater ruins, Cartagena
Day 5 of our cruise brought us to Malaga, in southern Spain. It was a beautiful day and after a 30 minute walk from the ship to the city center, we picked up a map from the tourist information office, then started our explorations at bustling Atarazanas Market. Paying little heed to the cruise tourists who were converging on the market, the locals continued their shopping for fresh fish, meats, fruits & vegetables and other items. We got to sample some tasty salted almonds and would have loved to spend much longer browsing the tempting stalls. But the market was busy, so we continued our walk with the intention of seeing as many of the old churches as we could.
Atarazanas Market, Malaga
The narrow pedestrian-only lanes in the historic center were a joy to discover and we happily meandered from one church to another for over an hour. Upon reaching the massive Cathedral, we ultimately decided not to pay the 5EUR per person entry fee but just took photos of the awe-inspiring exterior.
a bell tower of Malaga's Cathedral framed by an orange tree
After being offline for a couple of days, I was anxious to check email and see if there was any news from my family. We grabbed an outdoor table at a cafe that had free wifi and ordered a pitcher of sangria. Unfortunately, as soon as I connected, I saw a message from my mom indicating that my grandmother's health had further declined and that she did not expect her to live much longer. Then, there was a one-line message from my step-dad, "Your grandmother passed away at 11:30am today." That message had been sent the previous day, so it had already been almost 24 hours since she died.
the jug of sangria we ordered before we checked our email
Of course, I was very upset to receive this news, despite knowing that there was a good chance when we left on our honeymoon in early September that I would never see my grandmother again. I was especially sad for my mother, who had taken care of her for the past six years. I was also sad that I could not be with my family to mourn our loss together. Thankfully, I was able to talk to my mom on Google Talk shortly after I read the messages. It was difficult because I was outside, didn't have my VOIP headset, and there was lots of background noise. But I was still comforted to hear my mom's voice and to know that my grandmother did not die alone.
a Bird of Paradise I saw as we were walking back to our ship; one of my grandmother's favorite flowers
Not in the mood to do any more sightseeing, we made our way back to the cruise ship along the Avenida de Cervantes. With beautiful weather year-round, Malaga's trees & flowers are almost always in bloom. We detoured through a small park with fruit-laden orange trees and wonderful-smelling roses, then walked along the Malagueta (beach) to reach the ship.
our shadows on the Malagueta
The following morning we arrived in Tangier, Morocco. This port call was one of the primary reasons we chose this cruise; I have always wanted to go to Morocco and this was the only transatlantic itinerary fitting our schedule that included a stop in North Africa.
We had to laugh when we got off the ship and were greeted by vendors hawking all sorts of exotic souvenirs plus individuals offering their services as tour guides. The relentless pestering continued as we made our way into the Medina (old town) which is enclosed by 15th century ramparts and dominated by the Kasbah, a palace and administrative quarter since Roman times. The map that was provided by our cruise ship was not very detailed and we had much difficulty identifying any streets. After walking uphill with the primary intent of entering the Medina, we eventually found ourselves at the entrance to St Andrews Church.
vendors lined up by our ship in Tangier
The history & architecture of the church is very interesting. Open to all denominations, the church was consecrated in 1905. The interior is a fusion of many architectural styles, most notably Moorish. The cemetery outside is filled with war heroes, well-known bankers and historically famous generals.

St. Andrew's Anglican Church
Having asked the church's caretaker for directions to the main tourist sights, we made our way to the Grand Socco, the city's main square. However we still were at a loss as to how to get to other specific locations, like the American Legation Museum and Jewish Cemetery. One local gentleman even offered to help point us in the right direction but he couldn't make any sense of our map nor could he instruct us with a simple "turn right, turn left."
Sidi Bouabib Mosque in the Grand Socco, Tangier
Getting frustrated that we would not be able to see everything I had identified as places of interest, I gave up on using the map and decided to step through a passageway into the Medina. It wasn't long before two young boys, about age 12, offered to lead us around and show us all the sights. Speaking to them in French, I conveyed that we had no money to give them (we really didn't -- the only cash we had left was a 5 euro note and a few small coins). Still, they stuck with us so I decided to let them be our unofficial tour guides, with a little apprehension that we would be unwillingly led into many shops but also knowing we could say no at any time or else just walk the other way.
following our "guides" through the Kasbah
Our impromptu guides turned out to be fairly knowledgable for their young age and not only gave us plenty of space, letting us follow along a comfortable 10 or more paces behind them, but also rebuffed other wanna-be guides and trinket sellers. With their help, we thoroughly explored the Kasbah and the Medina and even got a glimpse into a local bakery. We were only led to one shop where we first climbed up four flights of stairs to a beautiful rooftop terrace overlooking the entire Medina and beyond. In appreciation for the view, we patiently let the salesman roll out a few carpets but then nicely turned down his offer of tea and merely browsed in the downstairs shop for a few minutes before thanking him again and continuing on our way.
When we reached the lower Medina, next to the Grande Mosquee, the boys said our tour was over as we were now within sight of the harbor and our cruise ship. The primary guide said "You give us each 15 euros." To which I replied, "No, I already told you we don't have any money." Then he tried "10 euros." Again, I said "I'm sorry, we really don't have any money." But I had already indicated to Greg that it was okay to give them what we had left, so as a demonstration of good faith, I asked Greg to (carefully) open his wallet to reveal the remaining 5 euro note. I gave that to the boys who replied "What about the change?" so we gave them all of it, too (a total of about 80 euro cents). They were already starting to bicker about who would get what so I had to admonish them with "Partagez, partagez" which means to share in French. They didn't seem too disappointed with their haul and I thought it was well worth the equivalent of about $8 to have seen all the main sights in Tangier with much less hassle than we would have encountered on our own. Also note that we were in Tangier on a Friday when children are not in school. If I had thought that the boys were skipping school to make money off tourists, I probably wouldn't have "allowed" them to be our guides, much less given them money.
locals hang out by the Grande Mosquee after a funeral
After a two nights and a full day at sea, our final port of call was Funchal, the capital city of the Portuguese Madeira Islands. It was overcast and rainy on the day of our arrival. Since our ship was docked a good 30 minute walk from the old town, the cruise line provided free bus transfers into town. We started our exploration with a walk along the Avenida do Mar and within minutes were caught in a downpour. After taking shelter and putting on our rain jackets, it quit raining and didn't rain again the entire time we were off the ship.
walking toward the Fortaleza de Sao Tiago in Funchal
As it was Sunday, many shops and attractions were closed. Since our only intention was to explore the town on foot as well as get online for a few minutes, this didn't pose any problems for us. After walking as far as the 17th century fort of Sao Tiago we made our way back to the area near the Central Market. There we bought a bottle of Madeira wine from the grocery store which is in a large shopping complex where we also picked up a free wifi connection in the food court.
a pedestrian-only alley in Funchal
After checking our email one last time (we would be offline for a full week during our transatlantic crossing), we continued exploring around the town hall and cathedral, including a brief walk through the Sao Francisco municipal gardens. Already tired and hungry, we then caught the next bus back to the ship where we ate lunch and spent the remainder of the afternoon reading until the ship sailed at 5pm.
view of Funchal from our ship
At first I watched the two tugs and pilot boat from a table on the pool deck (8) but eventually made my way to the rear of the ship on Deck 9 where I stood at the railing, enjoying the fresh air and last sight of land for the next seven days.

The link to all of my cruise photos is embedded in this post's title.

Monday, December 12, 2011

A Grand Duchy and a city with three identities

Luxembourg was an intriguing destination for a variety of reasons. First, it is the world's only remaining sovereign grand duchy. It is also one of the world's smallest countries with the highest GDP per capita in the world (although that the number is inflated by the Belgians, French and Germans who commute to Luxembourg for work).
Place de Metz, Luxembourg
We spent a brief two nights in the capital city as we made our way south from Germany to Italy, with one full day for sightseeing. The main tourist office is located in the heart of the historic center and, since I had discovered on their website that they offer a free self-guided walking tour brochure, we stopped there first. We also picked up information on the American Cemetery and ultimately decided to start our exploration there.
To get to the cemetery from downtown we took the #15 bus to the next to last stop and then walked 20-30 minutes, following the signs, to the cemetery entrance. We arrived right at noon and were treated to Amazing Grace playing at the chapel. There were only a few other visitors so it was very peaceful as we walked around the memorial, studying the pylons with operations maps and the names of the missing, then making a loop through the graves area which contains the remains of 5,076 American military dead. We finished our tour at the grave of General George S. Patton, Jr.
Patton's grave at Luxembourg American Cemetery
We retraced our route to the bus stop and caught a ride back into the center of town. From there we started our City Promenade as outlined in the brochure. However, it was easy enough to deviate from the designated route in order to focus on the areas or sights in which we were most interested. After a quick look around the Cathedral to the Blessed Virgin (dating back to 1613), we made our way to the Corniche, which was described by Luxembourg writer Batty Weber as "the most beautiful balcony of Europe."
view from the Corniche
From there it was a short walk to the Bock Promontory and the UNESCO World Heritage-listed casemates, a network of underground tunnels and bombproof rooms built upon the rocky foundations of a 10th century fortress. We decided to pay three euros each for the privilege of wandering through the tunnels. Unfortunately, the brochure provided at the ticket desk was not very informative and there wasn't much to see or do in the casemates other than try to imagine them filled with thousands of soldiers.
view from the Bock Casemates
We returned to the center of town and eventually settled on a simple cafe for dinner where I decided to order grilled horse. Yes, I have eaten horse steak before, usually in France. If not overcooked it is a very lean and tender meat with a taste similar to beef but slightly richer. Greg opted to have a more standard meal of sausages & potatoes.
Luxembourg's Adolphe Bridge at dusk
After dinner, we enjoyed a sunset walk back to our hotel, which happened to be across the street from the train station. Not wanting to miss out on any cultural enrichment, we did take a quick detour into the red light district which was only one block long and was pretty tame around 7pm.
Luxembourg's red light district
The following day we continued by train another three hours to Basel, Switzerland. We shared a compartiment with an elderly Belgian lady who was accompanied by her 27-year-old nephew. I passed the time by editing photos and occasionally chatting with the lady in French (she wanted to know where we were from, where we were going, etc).
inside the Basel train station - this way to France
Our arrival in Basel was confusing. The conductor announced "Basel" and the train soon came to a stop. But I knew we were supposed to disembark at Basel SBB and the signs only said Basel, so I stepped off to ask a rail employee. He did not speak English or French very well but what I came to understand was that we had stopped at the French station and if we stayed on for a few minutes we would stop at the Swiss station. Soon enough the train reversed and backed up just far enough to switch tracks, then proceeded forward another few hundred meters into the Swiss station.

Basel tram
We picked up the Basel walking tour booklet from the tourist info center in the train station then caught a tram to our hostel. All accommodations in Basel offer a "Mobility Ticket" which allows free use of public transport for the duration of your stay, including transport from/to EuroAirport. As the cost of a day ticket is 8.50CHF ($9), this is a nice perk if you're staying outside the city center.
Unger Brewery next to Basel Backpack
When we arrived at our hostel we discovered it was located next to a brewery; very dangerous you would think! But with beer costing about $5 for 33cl and food at a restaurant averaging $20 per entree, we decided we would save money by purchasing our beer at the nearby grocery store. And since our hostel had a kitchen, we could also cook basic meals there, too.
these must be the narrowest houses in Basel
As we only had one full day for sightseeing, we decided to use the walking tour booklet to maximize our time. It features five walking tours of the historic Old Town which are named after famous citizens (e.g. Erasmus, Hans Holbein, etc.). While the walks are well-signposted, the map in the booklet only listed a handful of street names, so was otherwise useless for navigation purposes. We ultimately chose to do a combination of all five walks, fully circling the city as well as criss-crossing the center, and thus seeing all of the key sights.
Munster Cathedral and the Basler Herbstmesse (autumn fair)
Once we had exhausted ourselves after hours of walking, we stopped in for a late lunch at Fischerstube Brewery (not the one by our hostel, which was Unger Bier). Luck was on our side; the young couple seated next to us had a voucher for a free 2-liter jug of beer and, as the man was the only one drinking, he graciously offered to SHARE his beer with us! We splurged on some pub grub to accompany our beer and enjoyed a few leisurely hours at the restaurant until it closed for an afternoon break.
a Fischer of beer
We returned to our hostel to do laundry and prepare for our early-morning flight to Rome. At 5am the following day we were walking through the empty streets of Basel, back to the train station, where we caught a bus to the airport. According to Wikipedia, Basel-Mulhouse-Freiburg is one of the few airports in the world operated jointly by two countries, France and Switzerland. It is located completely on French soil but has both French & Swiss sections. Due to its unusual international status, EuroAirport has three IATA airport codes: BSL (Basel) is the Swiss code, MLH (Mulhouse) is the French code and EAP (EuroAirport) is the international code.
sunrise on our 7am flight to Rome
This was the last part of our honeymoon adventure that wasn't cruise-related. We only spent one night in Rome since we had just spent a full week there in March. Then we departed on our 15-night transatlantic cruise. I have already covered the first couple of days of the cruise in a previous post. My next few posts will be about the remainder of the cruise, my overall impressions of Holland America Line, and what we decided to do upon our arrival in Miami.
nave of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome
Here are the links to my photos:

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Friendly Foray in Germany (by way of Vietnam)

Last December, Greg & I had already been on the road for over four months and were traveling in Southeast Asia. We had started our tour of Vietnam in Hanoi, followed by an overnight boat excursion to Halong Bay, then traveled by train to Sapa in the far north. There we had booked an overnight trek to a traditional village. That's how we met Karl Strotmann.
Greg chats with Karl as we prepare for our trek
As there were only four in our group (Greg & I, Karl, and a girl named Monica from Romania), we had plenty of time to get to know each other quite well over the 24 hours we spent together. Traversing steep valleys and the mud & muck of rice terraces, it took the better part of one day to hike almost 20km from Sapa to the village of Tavan. With no reprieve from the wet weather, we spent a soggy & cold night at our homestay. But we were warmed by our natural camraderie and whiled away the hours chatting about our lives and travel adventures, toasting each other with local rice wine.
that's Karl, always far ahead of us!
A few weeks later, we were sitting, improbably, at a Texas barbecue restaurant on the main backpacker road Bui Vien in the southern capital of Saigon, now known as Ho Chi Minh City, and who should walk by but Karl! We shouted for him to join us and spent another hour catching up on our latest adventures and discussing our future travel plans. We also exchanged contact info as there was a possibility we could cross paths again in Cambodia or Thailand.
Greg walks along Bui Vien street
While we never ended up being in the same place at the same time, we kept in touch with Karl for the duration of our trip as well as after our return to the U.S. So when our honeymoon travels unexpectedly brought us to northern Holland, we realized we were quite close to Karl's hometown of Munster. He offered to pick us up from Martine's house in Emmen, and that is how we came to spend two lovely days & nights with Karl in Germany.
Karl lives in a one bedroom apartment near the perimeter of Munster's old town. It is a cozy, light-filled space with a beautiful view of the surrounding neighborhood. After giving us a chance to settle in, Karl served us a delicious lunch of homemade German potato salad along with wursts (hot dogs). Then we hopped back into the car for a driving tour of Munster.
view from Karl's apartment
Our first stop was the newly revived harbor area along the Dortmund-Ems Canal. Instead of tearing down the old warehouses and factories, they have been renovated and now house trendy cafes, art spaces and offices. We strolled the length of the canal then stopped for a beer while the sun set.
the revived canal district of Munster
Continuing our driving tour, Karl took us to the Aasee, a large lake surround by footpaths. The Annette Allee is where some of the most expensive homes in Munster are located on prime waterfront lots. After pointing out some of his favorite houses, we stopped by the grounds of the old zoo, where the beautifully-designed zookeepers home is still located.
Hungry for dinner, we ate some delicious German food at the traditional Altes Gasthaus Leve, where I ordered the huge pork knuckle. After our leisurely meal, we made one last loop in the car by the Schloss, which was originally built as a residence for a prince-bishop but now houses the central administration of the Westfalische-Wilhelms University. Then it was back to Karl's apartment to relax, drink beer and listen to some of his records until we eventually went to bed.
yummy pork knuckle
We awoke to another beautiful day and after a wonderful breakfast featuring assorted meats, cheeses, breads, granola, and more, we set out on foot to explore the heart of Munster. Walking first through Karl's neighborhood, which is enhanced by many architecturally-striking pre-World War II townhomes, we then reached the promenade, a foot & bike path which encircles the old town. While I'm sure it's beautiful at any time of year, the promenade was like a path of gold on this fall day.
Munster Promenade
We turned toward the city center, passing through the Kuhviertel, a street with many popular bars, as we made our way to St. Lambert's Church, which originally dates to around 1000AD but has been destroyed and rebuilt many times (most recently after WWII). We continued meandering, with Karl always pointing out specific buildings or other sites of interest. We eventually returned to the Prinzipalmarkt, the heart of the old city. There we stopped to have a beer at the historic Ratskeller.
drinking beer at the Ratskeller on Prinzipalmarkt
The Stuhlmacher restaurant next door features lots of old photos of Munster and is well worth a look, which we followed with a brief stop at the town hall where the Peace of Westphalia was signed in 1648. We then headed to St. Paul's Cathedral, the largest in Westphalia, consecrated in 1264 with a fantastic astronomical clock dating to 1540. We made our way to a modern construction, the Munster Arkaden, a popular shopping mall in the city center. After a brief look around, and ready for something to eat, we had a budget dinner at China Corner, where you can get nicely prepared Asian cuisine for about five euros.
St Paul's astronomical clock
The next stop on our walking tour was the Aasee, where we timed it just right to see the sunset. We strolled along the footpath before circling back to have a few beers at one of the trendy waterfront bars. From there we passed the Schloss on our way back to the Kuhviertel where we were "treated" with some Halloween candy (a holiday that is largely unobserved in Germany) to go along with a round of beers at the Blue House.
sunset on the Aasee
Our final stop was Karl's favorite neighborhood bar, Meyer's, where we were surprised to discover that smoking is still allowed indoors in Germany. This is possible in restaurants or bars that have two separate rooms and then it is the owner's discretion as to whether to designate one room as smoking (but there must always be at least one nonsmoking room). We then returned to the apartment for another relaxing evening, already sorry that we had to continue our travels onward the next day.
German beers under a heat lamp at a bar on the Aasee
Neither Greg nor I had expected Munster to offer much in the way of sightseeing, but this turned out to be a completely inaccurate assumption. Not only are there many diverse museums (which we didn't visit), but this university town is full of historic churches and other buildings of interest. Plus it is an immensely enjoyable place to walk, with a high percentage of green space and foot/bike paths. Karl was an encyclopedia of historical & cultural information and proved to be a fantastic tour guide and host. I just hope he will come to visit us in the U.S. as we would love to repay his kindness and have no doubt he would enjoy the relaxed & friendly vibe as well as the multitude of beer in our future hometown Portland, Oregon!
Karl as tour guide
The link to all of my photos is embedded in this post's title.