Tuesday, October 5, 2010

And we're off!

As I sit in our empty apartment, on our last day "living" in Europe, I can't help but think of all the great times we've had in the last 18 months. Wow what a whirlwind.  It feels like only yesterday Nathan called me and said "Want to move to Europe?  We have to be gone in 30 days..." 

How do you turn down an opportunity like that?  You don't. 

From the initial shock (30 days is a really short time to get your mind wrapped around moving to another country) to landing in Switzerland (I didn't know the language or simple things like where to find the grocery store or how the damn dishwasher worked) to our first outing (I wasn't about to spend all week in a 600 sq foot apartment and not get out on the weekends) to making my first friend (Thank God for you Miriam) to feeling comfortable as a Zuricher (sure I can give you directions!) - life as an Ex-pat has been pretty fabulous. 

We've learned a lot about ourselves during the last year - like the fact that we won't actually kill each other if we live in a space as small as 400 sq feet - who knew?!  Or the fact that we love being outdoors doing stuff like hiking or biking.  Hopefully we won't go back to our "old ways" of working all the time once we get back to Raleigh - it really would be a shame.  

The best times here have been spent with our family and friends (both old and new) traveling and see the world - so thank you for all the memories!  Since I was reminiscing and looking at all the pictures from the last year and a half, I thought I would put together a picture collage of some of my favorite times.

Finally, a special thank you to Nathan's co-workers (and their significant others!) in both Switzerland and Finland, you all have been so welcoming and helpful.  It wouldn't have been the same without all of your kind gestures and hospitality!  So THANK YOU  from the bottom of my heart to everyone at ABB - you made our time abroad so much more enjoyable.

Now off to Greece for our final hoorah and then back to Raleigh.  Although we have had so much fun, it is time to come back, because as Dorthy said "There's no place like HOME!" 

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

I want to be the Deep Fried Ambassador for the NC State Fair!

Note: This blog was originally posted on the Swagger Gifts' Blog - Let's Talk Shop

So I know what you are thinking - THE WHAT?!?!  Yes, the Deep Fried Ambassador.  And I think I would qualify.  My family and I have eaten EVERY deep fried item found at the NC State Fair!

Hmmmm.  My niece pondering. What can we eat next...

Deep fried Oreos.  Check.  Deep Fried Pecan Pie.  Check.  Deep Fried Cheese.  Check.  Deep Fried Candy Bars.  Triple Check.  Deep Friend Coke.  Yes - Coke.  Check!!!  And the list could seriously go on. 

But we don't stop there.  We eat everything else too.  And we check out the competitions, livestock, Village of Yesteryear, the rides (LOVE the rides), games - we've even purchased a bunch of stuff from the Commercial and Education Building booths (you know - the stuff that basically looks like it should be on an infomercial)! We leave no rock unturned - deep fried or not.

We love the candy apples!

I'm even cutting a vacation to Greece short to attend the NC State Fair with my family this year.  GREECE people!  Yeah - Nathan isn't thrilled with this decision, but strangely he understands my obsession with the fair! 

The NC State Fair is good old fashioned family bonding FUN!  My sisters and their 5 children even travel in from other states to go to the fair!  We are a Fair Junkie Family! 

Do we look like we can rock the State Fair - or what?!?!

Last year we were living in Switzerland during the NC State Fair and I CRIED because I couldn't go.  Real tears.  But my family was so gracious to Skype me with their cute painted faces, prizes, and stuffed bellies.  (Thanks guys you really know how to make a girl feel better.)

OKAY - what's my point here.  I want to be the Deep Fried Ambassador to the NC State Fair (yes this is a real (really awesome) title bestowed upon one lucky person), but I CAN'T :( .  I can't because I don't arrive back from our trip to Greece until October 14th and the Deep Fried Ambassador's official duties start on October 11th.  *sigh*

So I'm telling all of you guys about it so maybe one of you bloggers out there will get the title and possibly let me tag along one day.  I even promise to carry your winnings, hold your fried food, kiss a carnie (okay - not really) - but you get the point!  I NEED one of my friends to WIN THE TITLE of DEEP FRIED AMBASSADOR

If you are interested (and why wouldn't you be?), here is the link to the NC State Fair Deep Fried Blog post where you can get all the details.  And if you win, will you put in a good word for me for next year?!  I would appreciate it!

Long live the NC STATE FAIR and fried food!:)

p.s. - You can even "like" the NC State Fair on Facebook!  Heck yeah!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Hamburg - we think we love you! Anarchists and all...

A couple weekends ago (Sept 3 - 6) we went to Hamburg, Germany to visit our friends Miriam and James! You may remember them from many of our Zurich posts on hiking, oktoberfest, Zurich Street Parade, skiing, and more.  We actually saw The Hangover (for the first time) in a cinema in Zurich with them, and I would definitely consider them part of our "pack". :)  

It has taken me forever to write this post, because I thought I lost the cable that gets the pictures out of my camera and onto my computer and a post without pictures would be lame - right?!  Anyway, found it this weekend as we were cleaning/packing up our Finnish apartment to move home!  YeAh!

We arrived pretty early on Friday, so we had the whole day to sight see and hang out - boy were they lucky that they had to entertain us for 4 WHOLE days:)!  We started off our day by walking from their place, past Alster lake, down Mönckebergstrasse (shopping street!), to the Rathaus, and then to get a beer/lunch on the water.  I could already tell by the first 4 hours of being in Hamburg why they loved it so much.  Hamburg is a beautiful city with a LOT going on!

View of the Alster from lunch

Nathan was at a different table on a conference call... it doesn't look like it was going that well.:)

Miriam's work building had a paternoster - a perpetual elevator with no door that you just "hop on/hop off" when you get to your floor.  No way in HELL you would find one of these in a building in the States.  I'm sure some idiot would try to jump out too late, hurt themselves, and sue.

We did a little shopping at Becker's Jewelers and I got some special German Trollbeads!

The weekend we were there, there were three street festivals going on!  The first night we met up with some of their friends (all Americans no less:)) at the Alstervergnügen - a festival that was around Alster Lake (where we had been most of the day).  Typical fair food (lots of fried stuff - mmmmm), lots of sausages (hello - we are in Germany!), bands, games and one of my favorite parts - beer and Caprihinias!  They definitely don't sell alcohol at the NC State Fair - that's for sure!   Around 10 pm there was an International Fireworks Show, after which we hung out and watched a band sing well known German songs (poor Miriam was sitting with a bunch of Americans and had no one to sing with:( - I'm going to have to learn some of these songs for her!)

German sausages - mmmmmmmm!  Somehow we never got one though:(

Saturday morning Miriam and I woke up and went to the Goldbek Market - a street market near her house where one can buy cheese, meat, local vegetables, etc.  We had a market similar to this near our place in Oerlikon, but this one was awesome because of all the handmade items - like jewelry, knitted items, and jewelry:).  I wish there were more of these in the States.  I know we have some streets fairs like this, but they are usually once a year - this one is every weekend!   And if you guys are thinking "well we have farmer's markets in Raleigh" - it isn't really like that either - you would have to go to one to see what I mean - just a different feel and atmosphere than that.  This is something I will definitely miss when we move back State side.

After this we met back up with the boys and headed down to the Schanzenfest - by day the largest unorganized flea market in the world (okay - I just made that up - I'm not sure if it is the largest - but it seemed like it) and by night an Anarchist riot.  Yes riot.  In 2009, once it turned dark, 1000 masked anarchist threw bottles, stones, fireworks and even torched a police car (you can read an article about it here).  Although we went during the day, Nathan said he wanted to stay until dark to "see what happens".  Ummm - yeah - riiiiiiiight.

There were a lot of people selling and shopping at Schanzenfest.  My favorite were the people with no shoes on, that hadn't taken a shower in at least a month, that were selling homemade food.  Uh yeah - I don't think so...not even one of those brownies.

There was a lot of street music and other cool stuff mixed in with the clothes and food.

The street festival takes place in a trendy neighborhood called Schanzenviertel.  The area was super cute with all its boutiques, restaurants, and pubs.  However, the main thing that sticks out in the area is the Rote Flora - a building that was taken over by squatters in 1989 and is a place for left wing activists to meet.  The boys wanted to try to get inside this building (yeah, I don't think so), but they dragged us around the side/back of the building to see what was going on (I'll admit I was a little scared).  Thank God we couldn't get in - there was a guying guarding the door - and I'm pretty sure they weren't letting guys with Polos on inside!:)

Rote Flora

I translated this on google to mean - "bulls in the blood rushing" - not sure what that means but obviously it is a police man with blood on him.  I guess they don't like the police:)

Although it seemed like a free spirited street fest, you could actually feel the tension.  We read in the paper the next day that riots had broken out that night.

From here we moved on to another street fest called STAMP in the Altona district.  STAMP stands for Street Art Festival.   At first I wasn't sure what "street art" was, but then I had the ahh-ha moment. "Street art" is street music and street dancing (think guys breaking dancing on the corner in the '80s) :).  Performance groups traveled to Hamburg from around the globe and it was cool to see all the different types of  street art. Once it turned dark, there was a carnival like parade of all the performers - and you know we LOVE a parade!:)

About to watch a breaking dancing "dance off"!  I have video but was too lazy to upload it - sorry!:)

If I ever have to been in a parade I want to wear THIS!  It's probably really heavy but it looks so cool!

Miriam and James have made some great friends in Hamburg!
Finally we headed to the Reeperbahn in the St. Pauli area which is the "red light" district in Hamburg.  Call me sheltered, but I had no idea that this was one of the largest red light district in the world!  Sex shops, prostitutes, drag queens - you want it - they've got it!  Surprisingly it wasn't that seedy though.  Okay - it was seedy, but I didn't feel grossed out.  Sure there were prostitutes on ever corner soliciting Nathan and James, but the atmosphere of the area was more of a wild party!  Although I wouldn't think of a red light district so much as a tourist attraction - that is exactly what it was.  We saw everyone from 80 year old grandmas to bachelorette parties living it up!  A must see in Hamburg for sure!
I didn't take one picture in the Reeperbahn - what's up with that?!  I guess I was too busy taking it all in (and keeping the prostitutes off my man:))! I stole this pic off the internet - it is the entrance to Herbertstrasse.  Only men over 18 are allowed behind the wall,l so I'm not sure exactly what it looked like and Nathan's not saying:).  All I know is they were behind it for a while.... 

Sunday morning we all woke up at a reasonable hour (which was a shock considering all the ridiculously big beers we drank the night before) and actually made it to the Sandeman Free Walking Tour at 11 am.  Nathan and I love a walking tour and feel it is a great way to learn more about the history of the city.   Although our tour guide was a bit of a goober, we all learned alot about Hamburg (even Miriam and James said they learned stuff they didn't know)!

The tour started at the Rathaus (Town Hall)

Chilehaus - it was designed to resemble the front of a ship
St. Nikolai Church - it was bombed during WWII and never rebuilt as a reminder to the people the perils of war.

Deichstrasse - origin of the Great Fire of 1842

Binnenhafen - the inner harbor

The tour ended in Hafencity (Harbor City) where we continued to walk around look at all the amazing architecture.  Wow!  You have to go to really appreciate it, but I could see us living there (after we earned a couple million of course:)).


In the distance you can see the Elbe Philharmonic Hall that is still being built.  I want to come back when it is finished and see a performance there - it looks really cool!

At the end of the tour Nathan and I were drafted to be part of the reenactment of the death of the infamous Pirate Klaus Störtebeker

That night Miriam made us another amazing dinner (thank you Miriam!) and we just chilled after a fun filled weekend filled with lots of German beer, street festivals, and walking!  Although it felt like we covered the whole city - apparently there are even more areas to see - I guess we are just going to have to go back! ;) 

Thank you Miriam and James - we had an amazing time!  Can't wait for you to come visit us in North Carolina!:) 

p.p.s. - I hope I got all the facts right and if not - Miriam please let me know!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Weekend touring Helsinki, Tallinn & Porvoo

Last Wednesday our friend Bernadette came over from the States to visit with us!  We didn't really have much of a plan on what to do, but ended up having a fantastic weekend traveling in Finland and Estonia!

Thursday we woke up and decided to go to Tallinn, Estonia for the day, but the weather didn't really cooperate with us!  We were booked on the Linda Line - fast boat to Tallinn - but the sea was too rough so all the trips up to 2 pm were cancelled.  We made the executive decision to tour Helsinki instead and rebooked our trip to Tallinn for Friday.

We started out our Helsinki tour with Old Market Hall and Market Square - two of my favorite places for Finnish goods and foods!  I had to laugh at the sign below - we obviously missed seeing this when Sarah and Zann were here - because a seagull almost took off with Zann's reindeer sandwich!

Seriously - these seagulls are as big as dogs - and very aggressive!  They will definitely rob you of your sandwich!

The food inside Old Market Hall is gourmet - doesn't this look super appetizing?:)

Both Bernadette and I had read about the Finnish Cloudberries (the orange ones above) in our research on Helsinki (mine back in May and hers more recently).  They are supposed to be sooooo good - so we bought some to go along with our reindeer sandwiches.  However - note to self - they are not good to eat out of the carton like other types of berries because they are really tart!  I guess that is why people usually mention cloudberry ice cream or some other treat made with cloudberries.  So we spent the rest of her time in Finland searching for some of this elusive Cloudberry Ice Cream - unforunately to no avail!:( 

Next we headed to Senate Square, Uspenski Cathedral, and Suomenlinna - my typical sightseeing tour of Helsinki:)  Bernadette and I did go into the Sederholm House - a Branch of the Helsinki City Museum - which is across the street from Senate Square.  I felt a little more cultured on Helsinki when we came out:)

This is my favorite pic in Senate Square - thank you random other tourist - you rock!

Love this photo of Bernadette at Suomenlinna!

We finished up our day with a beer at Kappelli in Esplanade Park and shopping at Stockmann and other other shops not in the States, before meeting Nathan for a traditional Finnish dinner at Lappi. 

Lappi was suggested by some of Nathan's co-workers as one of the best places to get reindeer - which Bernadatte HAD to try before leaving Finland!  Although the restaurant was a little pricey, the food was amazing!  I definitely recommend it for anyone who wants traditional Finnish Lapland treats like reindeer and elk - this was our best reindeer meal by far!

Outside Lappi

The interior of the restaurant is very "woodsy" - for a nice cozy "I feel like I'm at the North Pole" kind of atmosphere.

From top left - reindeer, deer sausage, and elk. It was even served with "game gravy"

Tallinn, Estonia
Friday morning we got up at 6:00 am (so much for vacation!) to get to the Linda Line ferry on time.  The Linda Line ferry is the shortest boat ride to Tallinn from Helsinki and only takes 1 1/2 hours. 

Once arriving in Tallinn we weren't 100% sure where to go, so we took the 1 Euro bus into town.  This was a VERY short bus ride (as we found out - you can easily walk to the old town from the port) but if nothing else we got a map with a great walking tour from the bus driver:)  We got off at the first stop near the Viru Gate and started our tour there. 

Viru Gate is the once grand entrance to the town of Tallinn

It wasn't long after this that we started seeing "Closed on 8/20" signs on all the museums and some of the churches.  What was going on?  Estonia Independance Day.  Who knew?  We still had a great time walking around and looking at the architecture from this quaint medieval town though.  And of course all the souvenir shops and restaurants were open - they weren't about to turn away the hundreds of tourists from all the cruise ships!:)  We had a great day in Tallinn and I would definitely suggest it as a day trip from Helsinki if you are headed this way!
Catherine's Passage

I had to take a pic at the Three Sisters - a typical dwelling house combination from the 14th century

Part of the old city wall that is still standing today.

Bernadette had read that there was an amazing view from Toompea Hill, so we asked a local where it was.  He said to walk straight, climb the "ladder" to the top, and there it is.  We both looked at each other as if saying "I'm not climbing no ladder" but this is what he was talking about:)  I guess I can see how the two words could be confusing!

The View!
(You have no idea how long it took to get this pic! I've decided that cruise tourists are the worst - very rude.  Obviously they didn't know I'm not above throwing elbows:)!)

Alexander Nemsky Cathedral
This church reminds you of the Russian influence on Tallinn - it definitely looked like something that could have been in St. Petersburg!

We had lunch at Bossanova in Raekoja Plats (Town Square).  Here's Bern with her Estonian beer - Saku (even though she has a smile on her face the beer wasn't that great) - I think we will stick with the Finnish beer Karhu from now on!

We had to take the 3 o'clock boat back so we could be up at Nathan's work as close to 5 pm as possible.  Nathan's coworker, Jukka, and his wife, Katia, were so nice to invite all of us to their summer cottage to experience a traditional Finnish crayfish dinner!  The Finn's are known for their crayfish - and it is all I've been hearing about since Nathan had some last summer so I am very grateful that I got to have some before leaving Helsinki. 
The view from the summer cottage - not too shabby!

I think we burned more calories opening up these little guys than we consumed:)
They were boiled in a dill/salt water brine - soooooooo freaking good!

Girls - don't play with your food!:)

What a fantastic end to a great day - even if the toilet was outside in a hut instead of inside the house:)  Thank you so much Jukka and Katia - you were amazing hosts! We definitely owe you one!

Saturday morning we got up and decided to hit Finland's second oldest town, Porvoo, which is about 1 hour from Helsinki by bus.  Once arriving at the bus station in Porvoo you will find a very nice (I was impressed) tourist book of medieval Porvoo with a walking tour filled with facts about the old town.  Most of the Old Porvoo buildings house restaurants, antiques, and souvenir shops.  You must stop by Brunberg for some chocolate - they give the Swiss a run for their chocolate money! 

Porvoo is well known for the red ochre painted wooden shorehouses linng the river banks (they are on all the brochures).  Here is the picturesque view from the bridge at Mannerheiminkatu Street.

Everyone told us about the amazing snail restaurant so we had to try it out!  We highly recommend Restaurant Timbaali - try the rouquefort escargot it was to die for! 

After our meal, we rushed back to the bus station to catch the bus to Helsinki so Bernadette could get on her cruise ship to Stockholm.  We cut it really close and hope she made it (we figured we'd have heard by now if she hadn't:)!)  Thanks Bern for coming - we had so much fun!  Of course I probably gained 5 lbs since it seems all we did was drink and eat, but it was worth it!

Much love,

p.s. - to see the rest of our pics from the weekend click here.
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