First Few Days in Paris and a Rescheduled Birthday

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I love Paris. I know everyone says that, but you guys, I really love it. We have been to so many beautiful cities and small charming towns in Europe and I have loved those too, but there is just something about Paris. I know I mentioned it the last time we were here, but it gives me the same feeling as San Francisco… I feel like I belong here (I just need to go shopping so I actually fit in – everyone looks so fashionable and put together here).

I love these buildings.

I love these buildings.

We accepted this housesitting assignment all the way back in the beginning of April while sitting at a pub in London, only a week after arriving in Europe. We didn’t have any other plans really and maybe it was unwise to accept something so far in advance (which has not always worked out, but that’s for a different post), but there was no way I was turning down five weeks in Paris rent-free. We arrived last Friday, and have only actually explored the city once so far, because I’ve been so sick.

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Place de la Bastille.

Place de la Bastille.

The Bastille neighborhood on a quiet Sunday.

The Bastille neighborhood on a quiet Sunday.

Heh, if only he had a hat to wear that would take care of the bright sun problem.

Heh, if only he had a hat to wear to shade his face from the bright sun…

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Yesterday was my birthday, and I woke up feeling worse than the day before, so Jeremy and I decided to reschedule my birthday, and celebrate when I’m feeling 100%. I think the reason I get hit so hard when I do get sick is because I don’t sleep. I’ve been averaging 3-5 hours of sleep a night, which doesn’t do much for recovering. And I’m unable to take naps during the day, like a normal sick person. Come on, body! I spent the day mostly in bed, but I did get up to walk a few blocks away to a park we hadn’t been to yet, and what did we see? The Eiffel Tower!

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It may be tiny, but it’s there!

What a face!

What a face!

Our dogs for the month, Frimeuse and Leo.

Our dogs for the month, Frimeuse and Leo.

Jeremy made me my favorite breakfast (fried egg with toast, sliced tomato, avocado, and iced coffee), and made salmon for dinner. I’m feeling a bit better today, so I’m sure I’ll be back on my feet soon. I’m really itching to go running, and go explore every inch of Paris. One of my best friends Nicole will be here in six days, so I HAVE to be all better! Our apartment is near the Bois de Vincennes, which is the biggest park in Paris; it’s three times the size of Central Park. I have gone running there once so far, and I thought I covered a good bit of ground, but turns out I only reached one corner of it. It’s a perfect place to have close by!

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One of the lakes in the Bois de Vincennes; you can rent rowboats here!

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I got a little lost and found some [creepy] teepees in the woods.

Bois-de-Vincennes-Park-Map Today, I’m feeling a little better and Jeremy and I are going to walk to the health food store we discovered, which sells kombucha! It was a very exciting discovery. Now, if there was only a cold-pressed juice place nearby… Happy weekend!

A Week in Amsterdam

Well, I’m writing this post from bed in Paris because I’m sick. This is my third day in bed, and I feel worse today than the past two days, so that’s fun. It’s my birthday tomorrow and we had these grand plans of going to a cheese shop and wine shop and picnicking in a park with a view of the Eiffel Tower. I’m remaining optimistic that I’ll miraculously be better by tomorrow morning, but we may have to postpone the birthday celebration. Over the past few months, I kept telling myself that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t gotten a cold or anything yet, after having bouts of poor sleep and being around so many people while traveling. I never said it out loud though, in case I jinxed it. When we arrived at our housesitting assignment in Paris on Friday, I noticed the daughter of our host seemed like she was getting over a cold. I made a comment to Jeremy about it, and we both brushed it off and agreed that I wouldn’t get sick. Well, I woke up feeling like crap on Monday, and have felt worse ever since. At least my body waited until we were settled in somewhere for a while, instead of wasting half a week in bed in a place we were just visiting for a short time.

Anyway, I’m sure I’ll be feeling better real soon, and Jeremy is taking good care of me.

I wanted to share some pictures from our week in Amsterdam, which was really fun. Neither of us had ever been before, and the only things I thought about the city before visiting were weed and canals. And it’s true, there are lots of both of those things, but it’s also a really charming, clean city that has beautiful architecture and a lot to explore.

Leaving Berlin.

Leaving Berlin. Only half-thumbs up since we loved Berlin so much and were sad to leave.

We took a train from Berlin to Amsterdam, which was supposed to take about six hours. Since it was a long ride and the price difference wasn’t much, we bought first-class tickets so we’d have more comfortable seats. Turns out that on these specific trains, the only first-class cabins are compartments with six people in each. I thought it would be weird to be in a little enclosed room with six people for six hours, but everyone else ended up leaving after a few hours, and Jeremy and I had the whole compartment to ourselves after that, which was really nice.

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Unfortunately, that didn’t last long. About two hours away from Amsterdam, the conductor announced that the train was going to stop and everyone needed to get off because two of the cabins of the train didn’t have air conditioning and it was hot. There weren’t really any other instructions after that as to how to actually get to our destination, but we all got off the train in some random town in the Netherlands, and everybody was confused. We found an American family to talk to and ask, but they were just as clueless as we were. A regional train pulled up and everybody started getting on, so we got on too. Well, just a heads up: if you travel by train to Amsterdam on a Friday afternoon, people will be partying (could have also had something to do with the Germans just winning the World Cup). People had huge coolers full of beer on the ground in the train and music with speakers, and there were lots of drunk people. One guy dropped a beer next to me and Jeremy, and luckily it just got on my clothes and didn’t soak through my suitcase or anything (I guess that’s lucky?). I felt like such a square because I’m sure I was frowning disapprovingly when everyone else was just trying to have a good time, but I was just over it and wanted to be in Amsterdam. We ended up getting off that train after a little while because some other people were (the blind following the blind), then we took another train that eventually got us to the Central Station in Amsterdam, and we took a tram from there. Our Airbnb host gave us wrong directions so we got lost wandering around for a while after that, but we finally made it. Phew. From there, it was much smoother sailing, and we spent the week exploring the city by foot (as usual).

Finally arrived in Amsterdam!

The Central Station in Amsterdam.

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Inside our Airbnb apartment.

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I feel like we hadn't had a picnic in so long. We got a couple good ones in last week.

I feel like we hadn’t had a picnic in so long. We got a few good ones in last week.

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We went to the Albert Cuypmarkt specifically for these stroopwafels.

Fresh, hot stroopwafel.

Fresh, hot stroopwafel – two thin waffles with a caramel-like syrup in the middle.

Albert Cuypmarkt.

Albert Cuypmarkt.

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Beer tasting at the Amsterdam brewery, De Prael.

Beer tasting at the Amsterdam brewery, De Prael.

Huge rounds of gouda cheese. My heaven.

Huge rounds of gouda cheese. My heaven.

More pretty canals.

More pretty canals.

A little dish filled with local specialties... except we didn't know what any of it was. But it was good!

A little dish filled with local specialties… except we didn’t know it was, really. But it was good! Tasted like potato salad, maybe tuna salad. And mayonnaise. And maybe meat? Who knows.

One of the more interesting foodstuffs I found, sheets of coconut to eat on toast! They were absolutely delicious.

One of the more interesting foodstuffs I found, sheets of coconut to eat on toast! They were absolutely delicious.

Of course we had to visit the famous sign.

Of course we had to visit the famous sign.

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I’m in there… somewhere.

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Another picnic.

Another picnic.

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I found organic peanut butter and it wasn't expensive! And it was gone shortly after...

I found organic peanut butter and it wasn’t expensive! And it was gone shortly after…

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Amsterdam Noord

We took a day trip to the northern part of the city, Amsterdam Noord, which turned out to be a cool area with a lot less tourists. The ferry leaves from behind the central train station, and it’s free. We brought a picnic with us, and found a nice lawn outside that big white building in the picture below, which is a cinema museum called The Eye.

We took a five-minute free ferry to Amsterdam Noord and had another picnic.

We brought the middle beer from Berlin, and the Tripel Karmeliet is a beer I used to drink at a place in Athens, Georgia, when I was in the mood to buy an expensive beer. It was at the grocery store for so cheap!

We brought the middle beer from Berlin, and the Tripel Karmeliet is a beer I used to drink at a place in Athens, Georgia, when I was in the mood to buy an expensive beer. It was at the grocery store in Amsterdam for so cheap!

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I love these tiny cars. They drive in the bicycle lane!

I love these tiny cars. They drive in the bicycle lane!

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We found this place called Noorderlicht made out of huge see-through greenhouse/airport hangar-type building and stopped for a drink.

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It was right on the river and had a really nice view.

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Apartments made out of shipping containers.

Apartments made out of shipping containers.

A boat made into a hotel.

A boat made into a hotel – Botel.

Seen on our ferry ride back.

Seen on our ferry ride back.

A few observations:

– We made almost all of our meals at our apartment, and the grocery stores in Amsterdam were by far the nicest we’ve been to during our travels.

– They are very serious about their bicycles in the Netherlands. There are big bike parking lots, and if you step into the bike path without looking, prepared to almost get side-swiped. Tiny cars and motorcycles/scooters can also use the bike paths, so you’d better watch your step.

– It was really crazy to be walking around and see and smell people smoking pot out in public. There are about 200 coffeeshops (the name for the cafés that sell marijuana) in central Amsterdam alone, so you are guaranteed to walk by a few even if you’re just going a short ways. We went into a couple – just to see what they were like! – and the people working there were very nice to us, and there are menus with descriptions and you can just order whichever strain you’d like.

We really liked Amsterdam, and the next time we return to Holland, I’d love to explore other cities, and take a bike ride through the countryside (which we were hoping to do, but it didn’t happen).

What We Ate in Berlin

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We spent way too much money eating out in Italy. But could you blame us? Italy is known for its food, and especially being in Bologna, it was very hard to resist. But I don’t regret it, even if my clothes were getting increasingly tighter… So, leaving Italy and returning to Germany, we knew we had to cut back on expenses, and cook more meals ourselves, or find cheap street food. We ended up doing a lot more of the latter, because the street food turned out to be delicious in Berlin.

Mauerpark Flea Market

On Sundays, there is a huge flea market in Mauerpark, which is in the northern district of Prenzlauer Berg. It is really popular with tourists, and even though it had been raining moments before we got there and there were huge puddles everywhere, it was still packed. We didn’t do any shopping, but we heard there was good street food, so we wanted to check it out. There were lots of food stands and outdoor bars, and it had a general music-festival vibe to it; I kind of felt like I was at SXSW in Austin, Texas. But it happens every Sunday in Berlin! We checked out as many food stands as we could before making our decision on what to eat.

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A magician performing for people at the amphitheater in Mauerpark. There is usually karaoke held here, but it was cancelled due to the rain (I think).

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We ended up going to this stand that had fresh pizzas come out of the oven every ten minutes. Whenever there was a fresh batch, a lined formed immediately.

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We got a white pizza with potato on top. And of course a weissbier to wash it down.

We weren’t planning on getting dessert, but we couldn’t walk past this booth selling made-to-order waffles on a stick without getting one. And they were only 2 euro. We chose white chocolate to be poured on top of it. It was VERY tasty.

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Das Gift

The night of the World Cup final game, we wanted to go to a bar and catch some of the action, but not be surrounded by hoards of people (something like 200,000 people were watching the match at Brandenburg Gate). We walked from our apartment to Kreuzberg and beyond to Neukölln and decided on Das Gift, a bar owned by Barry Burns (of post-rock band Mogwai) and his wife. The menu is primarily Scottish food, and we ordered a mini haggis plate, which was only 5 euro. We got the vegetarian version, which sounds weird since haggis is primarily meat-parts, but it was really good.

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You know a bar is going to be good if they have Dolly on the menu.

Mini haggis plate, vegetarian style (

Mini haggis plate, vegetarian style (instead of meat, it was kidney beans, lentils, root vegetables, and cereals, packed into a man-made casing and cooked, according to Das Gift’s Tumblr. It was on top of a potato and turnip mash with a sauce made from whiskey.)

The plate was a little small for the two of us, so we ordered the Scottish cheese plate after, but I didn’t get a picture. After the game was over and Germany won, there was craziness in the streets with people yelling and all cars honking, but nothing out of hand. It was pretty fun.

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Right after Germany won.

I hope this video works:

 

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Falafel

Falafel has been so easy to come by in most of the big cities we’ve visited. The Turkish population is large in Berlin, and before even arriving we were looking forward to trying some of the popular places.

The first place we tried was called Maroush, and the rave reviews online were justified. Our falafel sandwiches were only 2.50 euro.

 

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Another place we tried was called Tadim, and I got a falafel sandwich, while Jeremy got a lahmacun, a Turkish pizza with doner meat on it, rolled into a burrito.

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My falafel sandwich from Tadim.

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Jeremy’s lahmacun.

One night, we were in a long line to eat at Burgermeister in Kreuzberg. But after waiting 15 minutes or so and not getting much closer to the front of the line, we decided to walk around and find another falafel to eat (we might be addicted).

Burgermeister in Kreuzberg.

The very popular Burgermeister in Kreuzberg.

We had read so many “best cheap eats in Berlin”-type articles online that all mentioned the same places, so we wanted to venture out on our own and discover something different. We ended up finding the best falafel we had eaten in Berlin so far, and they were wrapped like burritos.

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I don’t have a picture of the inside of the burritos, but just trust me, they were delicious. And we finished them off with some baclava, which was the best I’ve ever had.

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Street Food Thursday

A couple friends from Georgia, Kyle and Antje, now live in Berlin, and we met up with them at something called Street Food Thursday, held at Markthalle Neun. The big space is filled to the brim with food stands that include all sorts of food types. We met soon after it opened so we could hopefully get seats at the communal tables, and it was already packed by the time we got there.

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IMG_8036 It was SO hard to decide what to get, but I ended up with a ramen burger with kimchi on the side, and Jeremy got an empanada and a tofu sandwich with steamed buns.

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The packed Markthalle Neun.

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Our dessert, a freshly baked peanut butter cookie with homemade ice cream on top.

After dinner, we walked around Kreuzberg a bit and enjoyed catching up with Kyle and Antje, who we hadn’t seen in years.

Oberbaum Bridge at magic hour.

Oberbaum Bridge at magic hour.

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Street Food Thursday was a big highlight of our week, and just another example of what makes Berlin such a great city.

Running in Berlin

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Still excited about my new hat.

As huge as Berlin is, there is a lot of green space. And, like Bavaria, there are pedestrian and biking paths everywhere. Even though it would have been easy to run on streets since there are always sidewalks, and the blocks are huuuge, I wanted to stay near a park where I could run in car-free places. So we chose an Airbnb apartment near Treptower Park. All I had to do was run a block, cross a bridge, and miles of beautiful paths were at my disposal.

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Nice view of the Molecule Man statue.

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Seen on my run.

Seen on my run.

A club/bar that had techno music pumping 24 hours a day.

An outdoor club/bar that had techno music pumping 24 hours a day.

Hostel on a boat.

Hostel on a boat.

Once I was in the park, there were paths that ran along the Spree River, and also paths that ventured into the woods. I stayed on the dirt paths that went along the river for miles and miles.

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I love these Weeping Willows.

We returned to rent a boat from this place later in the week.

We returned to rent a boat from this place later in the week.

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Pedestrian paths for days.

Pedestrian paths for days.

Dirt path along the river.

Dirt path along the river.

The Spree River is massive.

The Spree River is massive.

I’ve been averaging three runs a week, and lots of walking on days I don’t run. I’ve been experimenting with listening to podcasts while running, and the first one I downloaded is called Motion Traxx. It’s actually just a techno-type mix that has a constant beat of 170 bpm. There are a lot of different ones you can download with different themes or bpm. I know I need to speed my cadence up, and so I made sure to keep on the beat the whole time while running. It made a big difference with my form, and I ended up running faster than usual, which is good since I need to start working on my endurance and speed again. I felt like I had so much energy, which was probably also thanks to the good night’s sleep I got the night before. I haven’t been sleeping great lately, and it makes such a big difference in energy levels.

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My two other runs felt pretty good too, and I just really enjoyed running in the park.

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I was hoping to join a sight running tour in Berlin, and I found one that runs part of the Berlin Marathon route. I contacted Mike’s SightRunning and was hoping to be able to squeeze into another group’s tour, since it was pretty expensive to take a private one just by myself. Unfortunately it didn’t work out, but I saw so many great reviews of Mike and he was very nice and responsive in our emails, I would recommend contacting him if you’re ever in Berlin and want to take a guided running tour!

Hello (again) Germany!

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Goodbye, Bologna!

After we spent a couple weeks in Germany in June, visiting Munich and housesitting in a small Bavarian village, we basically fell in love with Germany. I’ve always liked it, but have never spent that much time there. When we were deciding what to do with our two weeks between Bologna and our five-week housesitting assignment that starts today (!!) in Paris, our initial thought was to stay in Italy. But after being in Italy a month, we decided to head to a city we both have been to in the past, but not spent enough time in: Berlin! We figured we could spend a week in Berlin, and then spend a week in a city conveniently between Berlin and Paris: Amsterdam. We found reasonable plane tickets from Bologna to Berlin, and booked them.

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There were even meat and cheese stands in the Bologna airport.

There were even meat and cheese stands in the Bologna airport.

We had seven hours to spare at the airport and then our plane ended up being pretty late, so it was a long day.

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The Supermoon over Gemany.

The Supermoon over Gemany.

We arrived in Berlin at around 10:30pm, had to figure out how to get from the airport to the location our Airbnb host was at to pick up the keys, get back on the metro and find our way to our apartment in the Friechrichshain neighborhood, and made it at about midnight. Long day.

Our Airbnb apartment in Berlin.

Our Airbnb apartment in Berlin.

We spent the next week exploring, and if there is anything we were unprepared for, it was how HUGE Berlin is. I’ve seen online that it’s five, eight, or nine times the size of Paris. When we’d look at a map and decide to walk somewhere (our preferred mode of transportation) and thinking it would be a 45-minute walk, it would end up way longer. But it’s never a bad thing to get more walking in, and we took the (very efficient) metro when necessary.

Exploring the Wedding neighborhood.

Exploring the Wedding neighborhood.

Our neighborhood, Friechrichshain.

Our neighborhood, Friechrichshain.

We spent a lot of time exploring Kreuzberg, the neighborhood next to ours. Even after two full days walking for hours around the area, we still hadn’t seen it all. Kreuzberg is a really cool place, with lots of bars, shops, restaurants, and street art. I guess if I had to compare it to anything, it would be the Mission District in San Francisco.

Kreuzberg

Kreuzberg

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There are photobooths all around the city.

There are photobooths all around the city.

Within walking distance of our apartment was the East Side Gallery, a section of the Berlin Wall that is now an open-air art gallery.

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Probably the most recognized piece of the East Side Gallery.

I used to be super into Pink Floyd, so naturally this one was my favorite piece.

I used to be super into Pink Floyd, so naturally this one was my favorite piece.

Stopping to rest along the River Spree.

Stopping to rest along the Spree River.

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The really neat Oberbaum Bridge is behind me in the distance.

More art from the East Side Gallery.

More art from the East Side Gallery.

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Another highlight from our week was renting a rowboat in Treptower Park, which was really close to our apartment. It was only 8 euro, and we don’t usually spend money on things like that, but it sounded so fun, and it was. We brought some German beer and mini bottles of prosecco, and leisurely rowed around the Spree River.

Europe has such good mini bottles of prosecco.

Europe has such good mini bottles of prosecco.

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Kind of blurry, but I loved these teepees you could rent, floating on the water.

Kind of blurry, but I loved these teepees you could rent, floating on the water.

You could also take rides in this little plane.

You could also take rides in this little plane.

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We found an awesome market in Kreuzberg the Sunday after we arrived. All the stands had artisans selling their homemade jewelry or art or anything else, and Jeremy got me a new necklace since the only other one I packed broke.

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A few more random pictures:

Memorial of the Murdered Jews

Memorial of the Murdered Jews, in central Berlin

Golden hour with the Molecule Man statue behind me.

Golden hour with the Molecule Man statue behind me.

More street art.

More street art.

A pretty river crossing in Kreuzberg.

A pretty river crossing in Kreuzberg.

Doing laundry in our neighborhood (and using free Wifi).

The bar at the laundromat in our neighborhood (and using free Wifi while we waited).

Checkpoint Charlie

Checkpoint Charlie, the most notable crossing path between East and West Berlin divided by the Berlin Wall (the McDonald’s looks a little out of place).

Soviet War Memorial in the park near our apartment.

Soviet War Memorial in the park near our apartment.

Northern Germany is so different than Bavaria, it feels like a different country altogether. Berlin is such a great city, and I could see us spending a lot more time there sometime in the future.

Next up: running in Berlin!

Day Tripping: Venice, Italy

 

 

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During our week in Bologna, Jeremy and I wanted to take a day trip. Bologna is super central, and pretty much all trains going through the region stop there. Florence is only about an hour away, the coast is a couple hours, Venice is two hours, Parma is only thirty minutes (if I recall correctly), and more. I was hoping we’d make it to Florence and Parma, but we were having such a good time in Bologna, we only made it to Venice. We took a train around 10am and arrived around noon.

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We were starving, so the first thing we did was look for a place to have lunch. We wanted something with a nice view, but away from the tourist areas (which are known to be more expensive). We walked a bit but got to a point where we needed to eat immediately, and stopped at a place right on a canal. The view was exactly what I was hoping, the Aperol Spritzes were refreshing, and the food was just okay. But it was a quiet area and it suited us just fine.

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After lunch, we started walking. We didn’t have a map, as per usual, so we just wandered around, sometimes hitting the huge tourists spots, sometimes walking down tiny alleyways with no one else in sight. Man, those tourist areas were packed. Venice in the summer is obviously going to be very crowded, but we didn’t really anticipate just how crowded it would be. And it was real hot. But Venice is a beautiful city, and it was fun to get lost. We asked a gondolier how much a ride would be, and it was 80 euro for 45 minutes, so unfortunately it wasn’t in our budget. I took a ride in a gondola the last time I was in Venice as a teenager with my grandma, and I remember it was really enjoyable.

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After we had our fill for the afternoon, we hopped back on the train and arrived back in Bologna in the evening. A successful day trip, indeed!

Running in Bologna

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Running in Bologna was pretty fun. I had one of those “runventure”-type runs where I got kind of lost but just kept going to see where I’d end up. I ran up into the hills of Bologna, looking for a park I had read about that had a nice view of the city below. I think I successfully found it, but not before getting a bit turned around in a different park nearby, as you can see here:Screen Shot 2014-07-22 at 10.01.40 AM

It ended up being about five and a half miles, half of which was spent climbing hills. But at least I found those nice views!

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Villa Spada, the first park I found.

I think this was Parco S. Pellegrino, it wasn't so much a park as just a big expanse of green. There was no one else around though, and it was very peaceful.

I think this was Parco S. Pellegrino, it wasn’t so much a park as just a big expanse of green. There was no one else around though, and it was very peaceful.

With a great view.

With a great view.

BIG NEWS: I found a hat that fits my head! It's been a looong search, but I finally found one at the North Face store in Bologna, and it was on sale. It doesn't have velcro in the back, which is important since that got caught in my hair every time I tried one on.

BIG NEWS: I found a hat that fits my head! It’s been a looong search, but I finally found one at the North Face store in Bologna, and it was on sale. It doesn’t have velcro in the back, which is important since my hair would get caught in it every time I tried one on. It has been a game changer so far. 

Oops.

Oops, didn’t mean to run out of Bologna.

My other runs were spent closer to our apartment in the historical center, mostly in Giardini Margherita. The first time it was so, so hot and it was hard to repeat the loop around the park too many times, which was almost exactly one mile. Another time it started raining as soon as I left the apartment, but I kept going, hoping it wouldn’t be too bad. Well, it started POURING and continued pretty much the entire time I ran (and of course stopped right after I finished). It was really fun, actually, even though people waiting at bus stops underneath a covering looked at me like I was crazy. Once I was actually in the park, I took cover under some trees because the rain was so strong, but I saw a couple other people running through it, so I started up again. I hadn’t run in the rain in probably 8 years and it was when I lived in Georgia. Living in Santa Barbara, I never had to deal with any type of weather, really, but it turned out to be a really fun change, and I kind of felt like a little kid. It would have been nice to have a hat, since I couldn’t see where I was going half of the time (my North Face hat discovery didn’t happen until a couple days later).

Appropriate street art during a downpour.

Appropriate street art during a downpour.

Post-rain-run-selfie.

Post-rain-run-selfie.

I’m still running 3-4 miles during the week, but trying to get in some longer runs on the weekend so I can build my endurance back up. I’m still hoping to run a half marathon in early September, and I think I almost have one picked out!