travel

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Germany in March

Opportunities for travel are definitely among the perks of my job, and this latest trip to our offices in Kaiserslautern was no different. Our meetings started Monday, but several of us took the red eye flight arriving Sunday morning (in order to be a little more well-rested for work) and thus had several hours to kill.

Jill, Mike, and I drove down from Frankfurt, which meant several stretches of unlimited-speed Autobahn. I rented the car because I wanted to open it up, but unlike last time, I don't think we achieved the top speed of our Volvo. This hatchback was much smoother at 180 kph than the Opal van I drove while last in Germany for work was at 170, and it was certainly fun to drive.

Once we settled in to the hotel, we met with Steve and drove through the Palatinate Forest towards Neustadt. We wanted to check out the Hambacher Schloß, a small castle said to be the “birthplace of Germany democracy” because of a protest march held there in the early 1800s. It was a lovely drive through the winding roads of the forest, with only a couple close calls where the road narrowed through some villages. Luckily we had a navigation system or we might have gotten lost several times, but we made it to the castle and found that lots of others had the same idea!

After passing several prospective parking spots up because we weren't sure they were legal places, we finally got settled into one about a kilometer down the hill. While we were parking an older couple gave us their parking ticket, saving us several Euros and probably a second trip up and down the hill to get change for the parking meter. As it was, we climbed the hill to the castle and spent several minutes admiring the views and enjoying the beautiful 60° weather.

The view from Hambacher Schloß

We explored the castle and had dinner in the 1834 restaurant. Unfortunately there were no seats outside but beer was still served, so we didn’t mind too much. I had an enormous roast pork chop, which was delicious and highly recommended. It was served with the back fat and skin on, which was excellent. Germany knows what to do with pork. (Beef, on the other hand… not as good.)

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Von Berlin nach München

September 22 was a travel day, putting an end to our time in Berlin and, for us, kicking off the Oktoberfest celebration. Before leaving the US, we purchased a group train ticket that was only good for a specific train, so it was imperative that we all make it to the Hauptbahnhof on time (Technically it was imperative that I be there on time. The ticket was in my name; I could have left the rest of the group behind…). We made plans to meet at the Starbucks across from the rest of the group’s hotel and then ride the U-Bahn from there, leaving well in advance of the departure time (On my suggestion…) to give ourselves more than enough time.

The next morning it took a little longer than I expected to pack up, meaning I left my hotel shortly after the meeting time. Since it was probably a ten minute walk to the Starbucks, this made me worrying late and I ended up meeting Jason and Dave coming to my hotel to look for me.

Already late, we needed to buy U-Bahn tickets. An annoyingly slow kiosk prevented us from catching the first train the we saw at the station, and due to it being Sunday the next one wasn’t due for some time. This caused some stress for the group. I learned that Dave in particular hates risking missing flights or trains.

Once on the train I made an offhand comment that perhaps we should have walked further to another U-Bahn station to avoid a change of trains. This shocked (Shocked!) Kortni because she and I had apparently had a spirited debate about this very topic the day before, with my taking the opposite side. I had no recollection of that. In my defense, I was tired at the time?

Luckily we made the necessary transfers successfully and arrived at the Hauptbahnhof with enough time to get breakfast. Without an overwhelming amount of time, we picked the first food we saw, which happened to be a McDonald’s. Unlike Jason and Dave, who ordered with no trouble, the kiosk we used didn’t give me a receipt. It was a little worrying but I ended up getting my food just a few minutes before the scheduled departure. I walked down the escalator with my food as the train pulled into the station, so in the end, we made it on-board and found our way to our seats.

Germany Countryside

German trains are amazing. In order to sit together on the trip, we ended up buying first-class tickets, which gave us plenty of space. The two couples shared a table and I sat across the aisle, sharing a smaller table of my own with a nice older German lady. When she sat down she started talking very excitedly to me in German. After about half a minute she paused, I said “Sprechen Sie Englisch?,” and she gave me a very disappointed smile and didn’t speak to me again.

The trip itself was uneventful. We chatted, snoozed, and watched the scenery go by. Several hours into the trip I did drink a couple beers procured from the convenient dining car.

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I ❤️ APIs

Last week I was out in the Bay Area for the I ❤️ APIs conference at San Francisco’s Fort Mason Center. I flew out a couple days early to spend some time exploring the coast with Kaitlin and Aaron, and then took in some interesting sessions covering API design, business development, and community building.

Golden Gate

Check out the rest of the pictures in the gallery.

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Berlin Beer Tour

To celebrate Jason’s birthday, Elizabeth suggested that we all buy tickets to a Berlin Beer Tour and surprise Jason with them when we arrived in Berlin. It was a fun idea and the tour turned out to be great. We went into it thinking we’d get to visit three different spots and ended up visiting at least twice that, with stops for Currywurst and Bierliquor sprinkled in as well.

We met Bastian (short for Sebastian), the guide, and the rest of the tour at the Weihenstephaner beer hall in Hackeschen Markt. That was also our first stop, which was convenient. The tour guide was a little worried because we had just enjoyed a liter in their Biergarten, but we assured him that it was fine and things got underway.

Dave, Jason, Elizabeth, Brian, Tom, Celeste, Jenny, and Kortni at Brauhaus Lemke.

In addition to the five of us, there were three others on the tour, plus Bastian. There was Jenny, a British woman who was clearly there to spend quality time with Bastian, and another couple from the UK: a rugby player named Tom and his girlfriend Celeste.

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Hackescher Markt, Marienkirche, Fernsehturm, and the River Cruise

The morning of September 21 was clear, an ideal day for sightseeing. We needed to be in Hackescher Markt later in the day for a Berlin Breweries Tour, so we headed to the eastern part of the city and started exploring.

Crêpes

In fact, our first stop was Hackescher Markt on the way to Alexanderplatz and the TV-Tower. Kortni bought a Nutella crêpe from a vendor who made it in front of us, and Dave and I bought bratwurst on rolls. Mine was delicious; unfortunately, his was not fully cooked and so he only ate about ⅔ of his.

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From the German History Museum to an Augustiner Beer Hall

Our second day in Berlin was a little rainy, but that worked out ok because we spent most of the day inside. Our goal was to visit the Deutsches Historisches Museum, which is basically the German Smithsonian (Note: I have not been to the Smithsonian.). En route to the museum, though, we ran into a couple of other sights which piqued our interest.

Between the U-Bahn and the museum we walked through an upscale shopping area where there was a Mercedes showroom / museum. They had several old Mercedes as well as some of their higher-end cars on display. Remo was very excited as he is a passionate Mercedes Man. In fact, one of his (unfulfilled) goals for the trip was to rent a Mercedes and drive it on the Autobahn. Alas, the showroom would have to do. He and Kortni did buy some memorabilia as gifts.

Zentrale Gedenkstätte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland für die Opfer des Krieges und der Gewaltherrschaft

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Germany: Day One, Part Two

Our story picks up after our late lunch at Maximillions. Our hunger sated, and four of us fairly delirious with exhaustion (Elizabeth has been in Europe for two weeks already, performing an audit of the Luxembourg office), we decided to head into a more residential area of the city for more beers. Remo had heard of a microbrewery called Hops and Barley, an idea that appealed to all. 

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Birthtoberfest 2013

Hallo aus Deutschland! I’ve been in Germany for several days, on a trip to celebrate the 30th birthdays of me and my friends Jason and David. Of course Elizabeth and Kortni are here as well. We spent three days in Berlin before taking the train to Munich for Oktoberfest!

Having been to Germany a couple times before, but never to Berlin, I was excited to see the capital city. I met Jason, Dave, and Kortni, who flew together, at the airport. After a short bus ride we arrived at our hotels and checked in, and Elizabeth joined us shortly after. I stayed at the Hampton Berlin City West with the rest of the group staying at the nearby Kempinski Hotel Bristol Berlin. It was a fairly convenient spot, with a nearby U-Bahn (subway) stop, Starbucks, Irish Pub, and döner kebap stand, thereby meeting all our immediate needs.

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The Penultimate Space Shuttle Launch

Some news about Space Shuttle Endeavour reminded me that while I blogged about my first attempt at seeing its last launch back in April, I never wrote about my trip with Kaitlin to see it actually launch. So, despite the long delay, here’s what I remember.

Space Shuttle Launch! Brian at John F. Kennedy Space Center Kaitlin at John F. Kennedy Space Center

We traveled to Florida on May 14, 2011, in preparation for the launch on May 16, and returned home on May 18.

While waiting at the airport in Moline to begin our trip, we heard over the PA, “Will Kaitlin Holt please report to the gate agent as soon as possible.” We had booked business class tickets with AirTran because they are refundable (Remember, the launch date of a space shuttle is likely to shift, so one’s travel plans need to be flexible.). The morning of the trip, when we were certain we were going, Katie canceled her business class ticket and bought a coach fare. We were thus concerned that AirTran had detected the change and was going to do something about it.

Luckily the mother of one of Katie’s classmates had seen our names on the passenger list, noticed my flying in business and Katie in coach, and upgraded her for free. The trip, therefore, began on a high note. We both enjoyed Screwdriver and Bloody Mary cocktails en route. When we landed in Orlando, there was some weather-related delay and we had to sit on the tarmac for some time. Katie had to ask special permission of the flight attendants to get up and use the restroom. They gave us a hard time about the cocktails, but it wasn't a problem. After she went, it opened the floodgates, so to speak, as a bunch other passengers did the same.

After collecting our rental car and getting our bearings, we decided to get dinner. I decided to treat Katie to a steak dinner at Ruth’s Chris, but first we stopped at Walmart to buy some things for the launch and the beach. We both bought chairs, which we used at the launch and at the beach, and I think I bought a tent (which I ended up returning before we flew home). Kaitlin bought a boogie board. We had a cooler so we had ice packs, deli meat for sandwiches, etc.

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Jamaica in January

January in the Midwest is generally a cold, dreary affair. Some of my friends decided to go to the Sunset Beach resort in Montego Bay, Jamaica for a week, and invited me to join them. It was a blast and I am very happy to have gone. Not least because it snowed just before we left Des Moines, and it was about 85°F every day in Montego Bay. My photos from the trip are online in the gallery.

Jamaica Group Beach View Sunset over the Bay

Jason and Elizabeth were the masterminds behind the trip, so they really picked the resort and the dates. Some of Jason’s family came too, but I spent most of my time with Remo, Kortni, Nate, Jen, Jason, Elizabeth, Jared, and Julia. The last four and I traveled together, meeting the rest of the group on the island.

We left Des Moines around 7:00pm on January 15, and drove to Kansas City (Flights out of Des Moines are unreasonably expensive.), where we stayed overnight at Jason’s brother’s house. After a fairly uneventful drive—although we did see a car pass us and then immediately get pulled over—we hit the sack and got ready for our 6:30am flight.

The beautiful beaches of Montego BayAfter connecting through Atlanta—and a few in-flight Bloody Marys later—we touched down in Montego Bay. The rest of the group had all booked their tickets through a travel agency, who had arranged for transfers to the resort. I booked mine separately, but after paying the driver $15, I was on the bus. We arrived at Sunset Beach around 4:30 or so, and Nate had fruity drinks waiting for us in the lobby. 

That first night was a blur. Between the exhaustion from our long day of travels and our exuberance at the all-inclusive nature of the drinks, we had a good time. I think I lasted until 11 or so before I had to call it a night.

Swim-Up BarThe rest of the days were mostly the same. Wake up around 9:30 to get breakfast before the buffet line closed at 10. Head back upstairs for a shower and a nap. Put on swimsuit, head to beach. Enjoy the beautiful weather, drink a few cocktails, play some beach volleyball, switch from beach to swim-up bar, etc. Ya mon!

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