Donnerstag, 13. März 2008

Back in Düsseldorf

We arrived in the Düsseldorf-Weeze airport to be greeted by my mom AND Shadow! Despite having lived here for over 6 months I’m still not used to dogs being allowed in most public places. I also don’t feel that Shadow is as well-behaved as most German dogs, so I tend to leave him in the car or at home. We were also greeted by the smell of cows when we stepped outside – the smell that lets you know you’re near The Netherlands. Anyways, mom drove us back to Kaiserswerth, where we did a quick walking tour through the village and grabbed some currywurst, bratwurst, and pommes (fries). I love German junk food! And then to be super-healthy we went over to the Eis-Café to get an Erdbeerbecher (strawberry sundae) and spaghetti ice cream. When we finally got to the house Kat and I decided the best plan of action was a nap – we were both completely exhausted from the busy week and early morning.

After our nap we went out to Vapiano (a new German Italian food chain concept – I think they’re starting up in the U.S. in D.C./northern Virginia) with Jenny and my mom for pizza. It was packed, but I guess that’s what you’d expect in Düsseldorf on a Saturday night. After dinner Kat and I went into the Altstadt to see what was going on, and as usual, it was packed with people drinking beer. We stopped at Zum Uerige briefly to try Altbier, picked up some drinks for the road, and went over to Max’s apartment in Oberkassel. We hung out there for a little bit with Max, Max’s friend Patrik, who was in town from Sweden, and Feli (who studied in Virginia for a year) before going into the city to meet up with Dinesh and Elise. We went to Buddha Bay, a club off of Berliner Allee, and danced the night away . . . literally. Kat and I began to get tired around 3AM and when we eventually went to the train station we figured out that the next train to Kaiserswerth wasn’t coming until 4:45am. Yikes! So we grabbed some food and hung out in a pub in the Altstadt to pass the time. In the end we wound up just taking a cab, which I was grateful for because it got me back to my bed faster. I can’t stay up as late as I used to be able to.

Naturally, we slept in the next day, but were eventually able to pry ourselves out of bed and hop in the car to drive to Amsterdam. Normally it only takes a bit over 2 hours to get there, and technically we were IN the city in that amount of time, but we hit terrible traffic in the city center. By the time we actually found a parking spot the trip time had hit 4 hours, which was annoying. It was nice to finally get out of the car, stretch our legs, and walk around the city. We walked through the Dam and moved onto the Anne Frank Huis. Then we hit the FlowerMarkt just as it was closing, managed to buy a bouquet of tulips from a stand that was still open, and went on a long search for a restaurant. We finally settled on an English pub (honestly, it was one of the only things we could find), got burgers (which I hadn’t had in a while), and enjoyed being warm and inside. By the time we finished dinner it was starting to get late so we wandered back towards the car, via the Red Light District, which is always a bit of a shock to see, and were able to leave the city with no further traffic problems. By the time we got back to Düsseldorf, Kat and I were both exhausted and went straight to bed.

The next morning was an early one because we had to get Kat back to the Weeze Airport near The Netherlands. It was sad to see Kat go – we had a lot of fun. But the good news is she may be coming back for a visit?

After dropping Kat off my mom and I drove to Essen, an industrial town north of Düsseldorf, for a doctor’s appointment. We parked the car and needed help finding the exact street and location of the doctor’s office, so we asked a member of the Polizei (a policeman) for directions. The woman next to him was able to help us out and we found the office fairly quickly. After the appointment we came out of the building to discover that a movie or TV show was being filmed just outside, and low and behold, the scene that was being worked on was a police car chase scene. And who was one of the main actors? The officer we had asked directions from. How embarrassing – he wasn’t even a police officer and probably had no idea where anything was in Essen. So, we had a good laugh, discreetly and hastily walked away from the movie set, and went to Vapiano for a quick lunch.

Since then, what else has happened?

Well, Mom found out she had a hernia (just like I did a year ago) and was scheduled for surgery less than a week later. She’s been home for a little over a week since surgery and is doing very well. She is still doing too much post-surgery if you ask me, but I can’t seem to stop her.

We received a package from Chris, who was here in January, filled with chocolate-chips, brown sugar, and assorted candies that you can’t get here in Germany. It was an extremely nice surprise and will be put to good use. Thanks, Chris!

I joined Dinesh, Max, and large group of expats for a night out in Köln last weekend. It was a lot of fun and Köln has arguably better nightlife, but the trek down there gets to be a little much for one night.

Laura has been in town since Saturday for her 2-week long spring break. We’ve been hanging out, but haven’t done anything tooo exciting yet, aside from going to a Bayer Leverkusen v. Hannover soccer game. Tim, Laura, and I went (unfortunately, Jenny wasn’t home yet from a basketball tournament in Antwerp, Belgium) on Sunday and it was craaaaazy! I’ve never seen more dedicated and excited sports fans in my life. We sat in the Hannover (away team) section because it was the only place we could get tickets together, and were possibly more entertained by the fans than the actual game. It would have been even better if we had been able to understand the cheers! Fyi, final score: Bayer Leverkusen 2 – Hannover 0.

And now Jenny is packing for her school ski trip to Austria (where she plans to learn how to snowboard) and the rest of the family is packing for a week-long trip to Rome. As soon as we are back in Düsseldorf again, Mom, Laura, and Jenny hop on a plane to go to Connecticut – Laura for school, and Mom and Jenny for a visit. So we have an action-packed couple of weeks coming up.

Hope everyone is doing well – we miss you all! Send emails with updates whenever you get a chance!

London (Round 2)

Tim gave me a ride to the Weeze Airport late on a Tuesday night last week (thanks, Tim – it’s the one that’s almost in the Netherlands) so that I could fly RyanAir over to London. I was very excited to be going back to London (one of my favorite cities) and to see Kat (one of my college roommates who is au-pairing in London)!! I arrived in London at the same time I left Germany (due to the time change) and caught a series of buses and underground trains into the city. Kat met me at King’s Cross Station and walked me to the University of London apartment that she and the Fowler Family (the family she is au-pairing for) are staying in. It was late when I arrived, so Michael and Nicholas (the 2 ½ year-old) were already asleep. I got to meet Tyler, the mother, who is really great. She is an art history/archaeology professor at UVA and has a fellowship at the University of London right now. After settling my bags into the apartment Kat and I went to check out some of the pubs in the area. Being a Tuesday night it was fairly quiet, but we found a nice, old pub on the corner and got a drink. By the time the place closed we met two guys (one English and one Irish) who wanted to take us bowling. Unfortunately, the bowling alley we went to was just closing down, so we found another bar and chatted for a while.

The next morning I woke up, walked out into the living room and met Nicholas for the first time. He was a bit confused to see a stranger walk out of one of the rooms in his apartment, but eventually warmed up to me. Kat and I went into the city with Nicholas to meet Kelly, another friend from UVA (who is currently completing a Masters at Oxford). We got off the tube at Victoria Station and walked past some of the “must-see” London sights – Westminster Abbey, Big Ben, and on to Trafalgar Square, where Nicholas chased the pigeons. We moved on to Leicester Square where we bought food at Burger King for Nicholas and went into Soho, which was still decorated for Chinese New Year, for lunch. We went to a 5£ buffet at a Chinese restaurant – you can’t do much better than that in London. By this point it was getting close to Nicholas’ naptime so we went back to the apartment, enjoyed some tea, and then Kelly and I went to the British Museum (which was just a few blocks from Kat’s apartment). We saw the Rosetta Stone and an abundance of artifacts that the British have “borrowed” from Egypt and Greece. We tried to see the Terracotta Soldiers, but the exhibit was sold out. Maybe next time.

After the museum Kelly, Michael and I went to Tyler’s lecture on Grecian vases at the University of London. It was strange for me to be back in an academic environment again, but fun. Then Kelly and I joined back up with Nicholas and Kat and got Indian food (my favorite) from down the street. Once we finished up our dinner and Tyler and Michael returned home, Kat, Kelly and I went back out. We went to King’s Cross Station to see the famous Platform 9 ¾ and then took the tube to Victoria Station to get Kelly on her bus back to Oxford. Finding the bus wasn’t as easy as we thought it would be because it didn’t actually stop where it said it would online. After getting in a little late-night jog while re ran around asking for directions we finally found the bus and Kelly was on her way. It was still fairly early in the night so we decided to stop at a pub near Kat’s apartment before going in for the night. Apparently there had been a soccer game going on because the place was filled with fans. We had our drinks bought for us (yet again by one English and one Irish guy) and then went home for a good night’s sleep.

The next morning I left the apartment with Kat, Nicholas, and Michael. We were all headed to Regent’s Park; however, they were going to take the tube/underground and I was going to run and meet up with them – despite the traveling I try not to skip my training runs. London has an abundance of parks and Regent’s is particularly enormous. It contains a large number of soccer fields, ponds, gardens, playgrounds, and birds. I ran for a good hour and didn’t see everything. I even stumbled upon the London Zoo on the northern part of the park, so passed some peacocks, warthogs, and wild dogs during the run. I also ran through an area called “Little Venice” - a canal filled with boats and lined with mansions. It was very cool! I met back up with Kat, Nicholas, and Michael at one of the playgrounds in Regent’s park and we headed back to the flat for naptime. We managed to grab some great sandwiches at Pret a Manger for lunch on the way back. We actually had a very productive nap time. Michael stayed in the flat in case Nicholas woke up, which allowed Kat and I to pop down the street to buy some movies for later, and to buy a large box of tea for me to bring back to Düsseldorf. And what do you know? Being in England, and close to Easter-time, there were Cadbury’s Crème Eggs on sale in the grocery store. We bought some for a snack and had I known at the time that they don’t exist in Germany, I would have bought more. Once we got back to the flat we also called up Her Majesty’s Theater and bought tickets to a showing of Phantom of the Opera for later that night. Once Nicholas was up and it was time for dinner we walked down the street to get fish and chips and mushy peas (which were actually better than they sound). Despite the time I had previously spent in London, I had yet to try fish and chips and I would have been very upset with myself had I missed out again. The food was great and once Kat was off duty we went into the city for the show. Her Majesty’s Theater was very impressive. It was a much different experience than seeing Wicked the last time I was in London, although both shows were great. When I saw Wicked, the theater was very large, modern and without frills. Her Majesty’s Theater, however, was obviously very old and intricately decorated. Additionally, the Phantom of the Opera is a classic show and I know most of the music by heart. We wound up walking all the way home after the show (which wasn’t too bad) because it was a nice night and the city was bustling. We were humming Phantom of the Opera songs the whole way back. We bought a bottle of wine just down the street from Kat’s flat and watched one of the movies we had purchased earlier in the day before falling asleep.

The next morning we woke up and took Nicholas to a nearby park complete with a large sandbox, playground, and petting zoo. The park was extremely kid-friendly and as an adult you had to be “escorted by a child” to be allowed entrance. I really enjoy playgrounds and may have had as much fun as Nicholas did, especially on the trolley. After thoroughly tiring Nicholas out, we went back to the flat for lunch and naptime. While Kat got Nicholas fed I ran out to grab us some pasties for lunch. If they had pasties in the U.S. I would eat them all of the time – they are small pies filled with different meats and/or veggies and are great on the go. If you’ve seen Sweeney Todd, they’re like the pies they make in the play/movie sans human flesh. My eyes were much bigger than my stomach and I wound up buying waaaay more than we needed to eat, but the leftovers served as part of our breakfast the next day, so it was alright. While Nicholas napped, Michael stayed in, and we were able to run out quickly again. We went down the street to a small shopping mall, where I made a few purchases for much cheaper than I can get in Düsseldorf. We went back to the flat, started a movie, fed Nicholas once he got up, and then went out to Oxford Street for some more shopping. We shopped until the stores closed (which sounds like a long time, but was really only about one hour). We went out to Wagamama, an Asian noodle restaurant, and one of my favorites. I wasn’t going to let myself leave London without eating there. It was PACKED, which makes sense since it was a Friday night, but it made eating and talking a little difficult. Still worth it, though. After Wagamama we wandered through Leicester Square and grabbed some ice cream at Häagen Dazs. We went home and Tyler returned from a party in Oxford shortly thereafter. The party was to celebrate the book she had just gotten published in. I got to look at a copy and it was very cool. After everyone else went to bed, Kat and I packed, finished our movie, and eventually got to bed by 2AM. We then were up just after 5AM to begin the trek to Düsseldorf – walk to King’s Cross Station, catch the tube out to Golder’s Green, then take a bus to Stansted, and fly to Germany.

Dienstag, 11. März 2008


A couple weekends ago Jenny had a NECIS (International School) Basketball tournament in Hamburg, Germany. Jenny left school early on Friday with the team and mom, Tim, and I drove up a little later in the day. With traffic the drive wound up taking a little longer than we expected (just over 4 hours), so we went straight to Jenny’s first game at ISH (the International School of Hamburg). The ISD Alts did very well and won their first game 61-12. Due to a faulty scorer, or scoring machine, the final score appeared as ISH 12 - ISD 3, but I kept score the whole time and know what really went down. Mom, Tim, and I drove to the hotel afterwards, inadvertently through St. Pauli, the well-established Red Light District of Hamburg, while Jenny went home with housers from the other team. Then we went out for seafood on the harbour. I haven’t had seafood in a while and it was great!

The next morning we woke up and went to another one of Jenny’s games. The Alts won 38-10, so overall it was a very successful tournament! The team took the bus back to Düsseldorf, but Jenny stayed with us to explore Hamburg. We started off by taking a bus tour of the city to get oriented. Hamburg is really quite beautiful, especially some of the areas around the Alster (a large lake in the middle of the city). Fun fact: apparently Hamburg has more bridges than London, Amsterdam, or Venice! After the bus ride we walked on our own past the impressive Rathaus and the very Italian-looking shopping esplanade near the Alster. We made a pit-stop at Starbucks to warm-up for a bit and found out we weren’t the only ones who had the idea – it, and every other coffee house in the city, were packed. We walked back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. We wound up going to a place called the Old Commercial Room – a Hamburg institution, which of course served great fish. The Old Commercial Room’s list of famous guests was impressive and included the likes of Sting, George Clooney, and maaaany more people I have since forgotten.

On Sunday we woke up and enjoyed the massive breakfast buffet at the hotel. There are so many nationalities in Europe that hotel breakfasts aim to make everyone happy, so there was American breakfast food, German food (mostly meat), sushi, etc. There was everything you could ever want. It was great. Then we drove back into the city and checked out St. Nikolai’s Church, or what used to be a church. St. Nikolai’s is the bombed-out remains of a once-grand church that was the tallest building in the world from 1874-1876 and was ruined in the Second World War. Its steeple is the second tallest in all of Europe after the Kölner Dom. We made sure to stop by Europa Passage for some shopping afterwards. We were especially excited to shop because it was a Sunday and most places in Germany are closed on Sundays. But since I was listening on our bus tour I figured out that the shop owner’s in “Europa Passage” (a large shopping arcade in old town Hamburg) elected to hold their own opening hours and were therefore open on Sundays. When we finally got to Europa Passage we discovered that my German is not as good as I thought it was and everything was closed. So much for getting our hopes up. Maybe next time. Disappointed and dreading the 4-hour drive home we got some more Starbucks and got going. It was a short getaway, but we had enough time to figure out that Hamburg is definitely worth a trip back.

Montag, 3. März 2008


I recently booked a last-minute trip to Prague to meet up with Sarah Dupee (one of my roommates from UVA, who is currently teaching English in a small town in eastern France). And by last-minute I mean very last-minute. I bought my ticket on Friday night and left Monday morning. We figured out accommodations at some point over the weekend. When I arrived in the Prague Airport and checked the status of the arriving flights I was shocked to find that Sarah’s flight had been canceled!!! And this was after she took a five-hour train ride to Geneva to catch the flight in the first place. Luckily she was able to get on other flights to get to Prague – it would have been awful if she had gotten stuck. So I hung around the airport for several hours until her new flight came in and we hopped the bus and metro into the city. We got to the center of Prague as it was getting dark and all of the lights were coming on – the Old Town Square looked very impressive as we walked through to get to our hostel. We attempted to navigate our way to the hostel with the poor directions I had printed from the website, but eventually had to resort to asking in shops before we stumbled upon it. We checked-in, dropped our bags, and went back out into the city to find an ATM and dinner. We went to a traditional Czech restaurant, tried the variety of meat and dumplings that are so popular in the Czech Republic, as well as some of their famous beers, before heading back to the hostel to get some sleep.

On Tuesday we woke up, ate breakfast at the hostel, and took a 3.5 hour walking tour of Prague. We were out for 3.5 hours straight and while we saw a lot, we only scratched the surface of all there is to do and see in Prague. We started in the Old Town Square, saw the astronomical clock (which reminds me a lot of the Glockenspiel in Münich) and various churches before moving into the old Jewish Quarter. We had a quick break, during which Sarah and I got extremely good spinach and cheese pancakes/crepes and warm drinks, before crossing the Charles Bridge to the Lesser Quarter and Castle Hill. The Charles Bridge is very impressive and OLD – it dates back to 1357. It holds more than 30 statues across its length. Once in the Lesser Quarter we saw the Lennon Wall – a wall with a bust of John Lennon and an enormous amount of graffiti. It was used to present grievances and to protest the government under communist rule, but people still decorate it today. We then moved towards Castle Hill, passing MANY cafes before climbing several hundred stairs to get to the castle. The Guinness Book of Records names the Prague Castle as the largest ancient castle in the world. It is 570 meters long and an average of 130 meters wide. Maybe a better idea of size and scale is given by the fact that a gigantic cathedral sits comfortably in one of the many courtyards within the castle walls. The tour ended at the castle with views across the city. Sarah and I took some pictures before heading back down the hill towards the cafes we had seen before to warm up with some hot chocolate and tea. The weather wasn’t great at any point while we were in Prague, but it wasn’t raining, so we were happy. We just had to make frequent café stops to warm up. We ducked into a classical music shop to find out about concerts in the city. If you want to see classical music in Prague you will have no trouble finding a concert. We were told that we could find a concert at virtually any church (and as with most European cities, Prague has a bunch of ‘em). We wound up taking the store owner’s suggestion and trekking over to the Municipal Hall, the premier venue in the city, to see if they had cheap tickets for that night. Luckily, they did! We bought tickets to see the Prague Symphony Orchestra in Smetana Hall, the largest and most beautiful hall in all of Prague, for roughly 10 euro. Not bad.

We had a little time before the concert started, so went back to the hostel to relax and stopped at Bohemia Bagel to grab a bite to eat before the concert. I had read about Bohemia Bagel (a bagel café/restaurant aptly named for the region that Prague is located in) before getting to Prague and was excited to go there, mainly because I have yet to find bagels in Germany. Once we got to Prague we discovered that Bohemia Bagel was about two blocks away from the hostel, so very convenient. We ordered, went to find a table, and when we sat down we spotted Emily and Lee, people we had gone to school with at UVA, at the table next to us!! Talk about a small world! As soon as we saw Emily we remembered that she had mentioned she was getting married and moving to Prague after graduation. But the fact that the four of us wound up in the exact same place at the same time in Prague was pretty crazy. We caught up quickly and made plans to meet up the following morning since Sarah and I had to eat and run. We made it to Smetana Hall just in time and listened to the Prague Symphony Orchestra play Suk, Kabalevsky, and Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” The concert lasted for about two hours, but it went by really quickly for me, meaning it was a good concert. After the concert we decided to walk around the city to see it at night. We went to Charles Bridge and were slightly underwhelmed – not much was lit up, but it was still nice to be out. We wanted to hang out somewhere for a little bit before going to bed and settled on a Moroccan Café near the hostel – we had mint tea, which was great!

The next morning I woke up early to get a training run in before we met Emily and Lee. I crossed the river and went up a large hill (it didn’t seems very big until I started running it) to find a park and great views over the city. Afterwards, Sarah and I met Emily and Lee and we took the tram south to Vysehrad Castle and the Church of St. Paul and Peter. Here's a view from Vysehrad. It was really nice to get out of the city center and the touristy areas. The Church was beautifully painted and decorated inside. A woman who worked there told us stories about the Church in Czech and luckily Lee was able to translate them for us. When we left the Church we walked through the adjacent cemetery where most of the well-known Czech people have been buried (i.e. Franz Kafka and Antonin Dvorak, the composer). We stopped at a café on the castle hill to warm up before taking the metro back into New Town Prague. We arrived in Wenceslas Square, where Prague Spring took place, and Emily and Lee took us to one of their favorite lunch spots. It was a small sandwich/deli shop with open-faced sandwiches of all varieties. Sarah and I never would have found it on our own. We each got three sandwiches and a beer for less than 4€!! That’s amazing! Emily had to run as soon as we finished to get back to school to teach and Lee pointed Sarah and me in the direction of the best places to shop. Sarah and I went into one shop before we decided we were already tired and needed another café break. Afterwards, we went in a few more shops, with very little luck, before heading back to the hostel for a nap.

After our much-needed nap we decided to walk back over towards Prague Castle for dinner. We found another Czech-style restaurant, ate some good warm food, and then went back over to Old Town Square to find some live jazz. We went to a place called Ungelt Jazz & Blues Club, which we had found on the internet, and the music was great. But by 11pm, as most of our nights went in Prague, we were tired and ready for bed.

The next day was Valentines’ Day, and also our last day in Prague, so Sarah and I checked out of the hostel and went out for breakfast/brunch at Bohemia Bagel (you have to get bagels while you can over here). We had egg bagels, which reminded me soooo much of Bodo’s! We went on a quick postcard search afterwards, got some chocolate croissants for later, and then I had to get my bags and head to the airport. It was a short visit, but really nice to see Sarah! Hopefully she made it safely back to France after the rest of her travels!

Lately . . .

I realize I haven’t written much lately, so here is what has been going on over the past couple of months. The holidays were great here in Germany. I for one think that Europeans do an amazing job of celebrating the holidays – lots of time off, lots of good food and drinks, and Christmas markets. I won’t go into too much detail about the Christmas markets, since I already described my slight obsession in the Austria entry, but we enjoyed them, and the abundant Glühwein, very much. Laura was here for the holidays after a successful first semester as a “Camel” at Connecticut College. We got to show her around Kaiserswerth and Düsseldorf and get all of our last-minute shopping done together. We found it slightly difficult to do our Christmas shopping on the far side of the Atlantic. When it came to books and movies we wanted things in English, but to ship those things costs an INSANE amount of money and you even get charged a customs fee, so it’s not worth it. Luckily, we managed to find something for everyone downtown.

We had a nice, quiet Christmas morning in Kaiserswerth. It was the first Christmas that we had with only our immediate family. It was a bit strange and lonely, but hopefully we’ll be seeing people in the years to come! We sat by the HUGE Christmas tree and enjoyed the view of the backyard, although it was without snow, while we opened presents. One of Tim’s Christmas gifts to the family was a trip to Paris. I would have enjoyed the trip, but had already made plans to go to Budapest, so Laura’s friend Chris (from Minnesota) got to take my place when he flew over to visit. I flew to Budapest early on January 2nd and the rest of the family and Chris drove to Paris. I heard good reports from the trip when we all got back to Kaiserswerth! On Chris’ final day in Europe we tried to do a whirlwind tour of the nearby areas – we went to Köln to see the cathedral and Altstadt, into Zons, and around Düsseldorf – the Hafen and Altstadt for a dinner of currywurst and bratwurst. The stops were a bit rushed, but hopefully he got a feel for what this part of Germany is like.

Not long after Chris left, Uncle Jon came to town! He had been on a business trip in London and decided to pop over for a visit. On his first night here we went to Im Schiffchen, the extremely fancy restaurant on the square in Kaiserswerth. Apparently it is one of the top ten restaurants in Germany and it is in our little village – pretty cool. The food was good, but was so fancy and obscure that it was somewhat lost on me. The wine was definitely the highlight. For the rest of Jon’s stay we planned day trips. On Saturday we drove to Amsterdam, walked around, saw the Anne Frank Huis, and went out for dinner. I still love that city. Then on Sunday we went into Luxembourg City. It was nice to return there in clear weather. The views from the “city on the cliff” are beautiful, but the weather was so horrible the first time I was there that you couldn’t see a thing. There were also many more people out in the city this time, which made for a much more upbeat atmosphere. We walked along the edge of the city walls, stood atop the casemates (the old tunnels and armaments on and inside the walls), looked down into the valleys, and stole glances into many of the fancy bakeries around the city. On our way back to the car Jenny and I found one of the coolest playgrounds we have ever seen, complete with a teepee and pirate ship.

The end of Uncle Jon’s visit marked the end of our holiday travels and visitors – meaning back to real life. Since then Jenny has started school again, had lots of soccer and basketball games, and Tim is traveling as much as ever. Mom and I made time to visit the Renoir exhibit in the nearby town of Wuppertal. And Shadow gets lots of walks.

At the beginning of February we had more festivities to look forward to at Karneval!! Karneval is basically the European equivalent of Mardi Gras and it is HUGEly popular in cities along the Rhein River. Düsseldorf and Köln are among the top cities for Karneval. For the official start of the festivities I joined my mom and members of the American Women’s Club to “storm the Rathaus.” At 11:11am, once the Altstadt is filled with people, the mayor steps out on the balcony of the Rathaus (city hall) and tells all the women to go home and take care of the kids, cook, and clean (all part of the tradition, of course). Then the women refuse, break through the doors of the Rathaus, and take control of the city for the night. We got there extra early to make sure we were in the group of 50 women that actually get let into the Rathaus at 11:11am. Once we were inside there was free beer and drinks and we got to watch as all of the women cut the ties off of the city officials (also part of the tradition – you should bring scissors with you on that day if you’re a girl and not wear your favorite tie if you’re a guy). Here's mom with a pirate in the Rathaus. One of the other American Women’s Club members brought her daughter Catherine with her. It was nice to have someone my age around! Our whole group was interviewed and we even made the paper - pretty cool! After enjoying the Rathaus we went back into the streets to find something for lunch. The streets were crazy! You could barely walk around because there were so many people. All of the costumes were great. They were much better than most of the Halloween costumes I see in the States.

The main Karneval festivities went on for 5 days, with the trains and streets always filled with people. On Saturday I went back into the city with Catherine for an English-speaking young person’s meet-up. It was a good night, filled with drinks and rugby-watching. And I’ve been able to keep in touch with people since then, which has been fun. On Monday my mom and I went into Düsseldorf, despite the rain, to watch part of the parade – one of the final Karneval events. We met up with Jörg and Elise on the train and met some of their friends in the city. Overall, Karneval weekend was a great time – too bad it’s only once a year!