My Life as a Traveler

May 2010

Taking Flight

Sitting in the USAirways Envoy lounge, waiting for our flight, enjoying a nice glass of Bordeaux with some brie and grapes, I am thinking about two things that are taking off today.

The first is our flight to Europe. At the Gibson’s, we were treated to excellent food and entertainment. After a bounteous breakfast by Chef Preston of pancakes and sausage cooked on the grill outside on the deck, we were invited to attend a critically acclaimed and charming play by Miss Abigail Gibson, age 10. The play, Prom Dance,starred Miss Gibson as a beautiful, yet lonely, girl at the dance, surrounded by couples dancing, as seen drawn on the chalkboard set behind her. The plot thickens as her co-star, Preston Gibson (otherwise known to Abby as “dad”) notices her from across the room and walks up to her, introducing himself, and inviting her to dance. They talk and dance a scintillating box-step around the floor. The prom dance is a success! We laughed, we cried, and walked away with a feeling that we need not be lonely, after all.

After a somewhat tearful goodbye to Anna from her sibs, we head to the airport. Anna is holding up well, a little nervous, understandably, for her first trip abroad and the longest she’s been away from her immediate family. Morgan has fallen asleep, tired after a long, late, night of playing video games with Jon. We check in, get through security, and now we’re in our lovely lounge. We tell Anna that George has upgraded her to first class, leaving Morgan and I back in coach. Nice. The flight will be taking off soon.

The other thing that’s taking off is my business. Probably most of you know that I’ve written and self-published a book (the definitive book on women’s self-defense, if I say so myself) entitled DEFY The Bad Guy, Powerful Practical Self-Defense Strategies for Women. I sent out advance copies at the beginning of the year and have edited and added testimonials since February, finally culminating in an improved Second Edition printed just a few weeks ago. It will be available as a print-on-demand selection on Amazon sometime in August. The goal of my business, Julie Greene Personal Safety Solutions, is to get this “Self-Defense 101” information out to as many women and girls as possible, by book sales, seminars, and eventually, an at-home DVD program.

Marketing the book has been problematic with all the traveling I’ve been doing. However, our lovely Anna has been taking Freestyle Martial Arts and mentioned my book to her Sensei. (Thanks, Anna!) He read the book and thought it had valuable information that he could use to supplement his curriculum of hapkido, taekwondo, kickboxing, Shotokan karate, and grappling. Julie (Anna’s mom) took me to meet him this morning, we talked, and he bought all of the books that I brought! He is considering making my book required reading for all of his adult and teen students. I will also be working with him in the future to update his self-defense curriculum. Yay! This is a market I had not thought of as I was writing the book, although I certainly wrote it because many martial arts classes who claim to be “self-defense” classes really don’t include much on self-defense, focusing on the rules and style of their particular art. So, maybe this means the business is finally taking off as well.

Time to fly!

Flying Home

Up and at ‘em 6am, breakfast and a taxi to the airport gets us to the check-in counter a little early. Normally we print out our boarding passes, but the Holiday Inn where we are staying can’t help us easily do this.  We get boarding passes and go hang out at the Star Alliance lounge. We can come here because we have flown over 50,000 miles last year on Star Alliance airlines like US Airways and Lufthansa. They have 3 kinds of champagne, and it’s sort of a ritual to have a farewell mimosa before we leave Europe. There’s an Airbus A380 on the runway. We fly to Frankfurt, then to Philly, then to Norfolk.

We board as soon as we can and stow our luggage. The handle on my carry-on red bag is broken and won’t go down all the way, sticking out so that I have to load the luggage the long way in the overhead instead of wheels in first. The flight’s not full, though, so there’s no problem. We get to Frankfurt and visit the lounge for one more mimosa and some spargel suppe.

On the international flight, I am sitting in a window seat, 9A, with George and Morgan in front of me. Usually, I have pretty good luck with seat partners this way, but there’s a guy in 9B who is from North Carolina. When he finds out that George is from Morganton, he launches into a 20 minute history lecture telling me who the Morgan of Morganton was. OMG, it’s interesting, but I’m not in the mood. While he is talking, I get my iPod and my earphones out, hoping he’ll get the message. Nope. I get my pillow out and blow it up. Will he get the message now? No. I know I should just tell him that I would like peace and quiet, but I just can’t, I really believe that he’ll be done soon. Finally the story ends, we take off, and I fall asleep.

The best plan for the westbound flight is to wait until the meal is served, watching a movie at the same time, sleep for 2 hours, then wake up and watch as many movies as you can until we hit Philadelphia. Due to the annoying seatmate, I fall asleep early, wake to lunch, and fortunately, I can watch a movie. My seatmate advises me on which movie to watch, and when I watch it later in the flight, he has to make comments on what is going to happen. I want to punch him, but restrain.

Our flight arrives in Philly, we breeze right past the baggage claim and see that our flight is delayed, but the earlier flight is also delayed, so we get on that one and head on home.

We get home around 7pm, and Morgan wants to go to Target to get Super Mario Galaxy 2 for his Wii. Sure, gotta drive my car, which has been sitting in the garage. The Mini won’t start, bummer. The van goes, though.

At 9pm, it’s like 3am, and the goal is to try to stay awake til at least 10pm.  Our cats, Shadow and Smoky are glad to see us, but were rather upset at us being gone. There is cat pee on the comforter on our bed (George’s side) so the bed must be stripped and made. They have also left tons of cat hair everywhere and I’ll deal with that later. In my own bed for the first time in 33 days. Good night!

Note: I’m going to take a few days break from the blog. When not traveling, I’ll catch up with you all just a couple of times a week, for the two weeks. See you then!

Hitting the Wall, Part 2

One day left in Berlin; flying home tomorrow. Since we didn’t see the sights yesterday, we are starting early today. Morgan is better and we are hitting the wall today, the Berlin Wall, that is.

First, we visit the Reichstag, Germany’s House of Representatives. Burned mysteriously right after Hitler became Chancellor, it members of the opposing Communist party were blamed, jailed, and then were the first sent to the concentration camps. It is recently rebuilt with a modern clear dome. On top, looking around, you can see the entire city, looking down, you can see the members of the Bundestag as they vote bills into law.

Next, we go to Germany’s Holocaust memorial, also new to the city. Looks like graves from the street, but when you wander between them, you find it’s a dark maze. We move on to the “Topography of Terror”, where Hitler’s bunker and the headquarters of the SS were located. Just an empty lot with some rubble, it’s the first time we actually see what’s left of the Berlin Wall, running down the street. This area was bombed to smithereens at the end of the war, so there’s not much left.

We follow the footprint of the wall to Checkpoint Charlie, the most famous gate in the wall between West Germany and East Germany. There’s a little museum here, built on the Western side, opened in 1962, right after the wall went up, documenting the travesty of the wall and the different ways people have escaped through it.

After an excellent lunch of pho (soup) at Viet Bowl, it’s museum time. I bought a museum pass yesterday and the goal is to get to as many as we can for the rest of the day. Here’s where we went and the high points:

  • The Jewish Museum, which not only documents the Holocaust, but the lives of Jewish people since the time before Christ. The Holocaust memorial is quiet and a little creepy.
  • The New Museum, which has a 3000 year old sculpture, a model of Queen Nefertiti, in full color.
  • The Pergamon Museum, where they have moved entire temples from Greece and Babylon and built a museum with an extra-high roof to accommodate them.

We close them out at 6pm, and then make one last trip to the outskirts of the city to see the Berlin Wall East Side Art Gallery, a part of the wall that they left standing and now adorned with paintings from artists from all over the world. Very cool.

We get back to the hotel. George is working and Morgan is not sure he wants to go out to dinner. I must go out tonight, my last night of this fantastic European trip, and I’m dining alone if I have to. Morgan changes his mind, and we go out for the meat platter at the local pub. In the German restaurant, a Spanish singer plays for us. We have berries and vanilla sauce for dessert and go back to the hotel to pack, happy.

Glad we hit the wall today!

Hitting the Wall, Part 1

First full day in Berlin. I’ve never been here before and have a list as long as my arm of things to see. Good homeschool stuff, too. I try to wake Morgan up at 830am, ready to go. He rolls over and says he was out of bed last night at 1am, throwing up. Poor baby. He did say last night that he wasn’t feeling well. So  I let him sleep….. and sleep…. And sleep.

I think we have both hit the wall, figuratively. I’m tired myself, but there are just two days left of my European odyssey, and I do not want to waste them. While he was sleeping, I caught up on my blog writing, photo uploading and some email. If I was home, I’d be lying on the couch all day, watching the results of Dancing with the Stars and American Idol. However, I’m in Berlin, so I feel like the last leg of a marathon, I can do this, I can do this. I could take a nap, but need to catch up on the blogs. When the blogs are caught up, I try, but I can do this keeps me from relaxing. I need to get out there. It’s 1:30pm, I’ve wasted the day so far, and need to wake the boy up. I put on “Satellite”, the song that won the Eurovision contest the other night and play it on my computer. (Google Eurovision Germany Lena to see who won the European version of American Idol – Germany! Front page material yesterday.) Morgan hates this song, so he wakes up.

After verifying that he is ok, just needs a day in, I’m out at 3pm. Hopping the bus, I go to the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin’s excellent museum on 14th through 17th century art. The audioguide comes with admission, and I am in art heaven, getting details on paintings that neither Morgan nor George care about. I love the 14th century painting of the mother smooching her son. I have intimate moments with Rembrandt and Gainesborough.

When the museum closes at 6pm, I head back to the room to see how everybody is. George has a dinner meeting and Morgan is happy lying low. Great! I head back out and buy myself a ticket for the Berlin Symphony in their amazing acoustically perfect hall. Mozart! The conductor is energetic, jumping up and down at times, and I can see the hot pink lining in the tails of his black jacket. I am thinking that one thing about the city is the incredible sheer talent that you can find when you have a larger population to work with. I have Prosecco and a little lox on a cracker to celebrate, my tiredness of the morning disappearing. Hit the wall? Me? Never!

If it’s Monday, this must be Berlin

After a hearty Braunschweig breakfast brunch we are in the car and heading to Berlin, the last leg of my European odyssey.

It’s raining as we drive through once was behind the Iron Curtain. Not much to see but fields interspersed with wind generators. We’ve seen them all over Europe, but they are out in full force here.

Arriving in the city, we return the car and George goes off to his meeting and Morgan and I do some sightseeing. It’s cold rain, not even 60 degrees. We can see our breath and Morgan is complaining of cold. Unusual. We get a transport/sightseeing pass, grab some noodles in a box from a stand on the street (Berlin is known best for it’s ethnic, not German, food) and head off for some sightseeing.

The bus we take is a double-decker and we drive down the Kurfurstendamm, past the bombed out church left standing as a memorial, past the former Royal Park, past the President’s house, to the Reichstag. This is the building that when it caught on fire (nobody claims to know how) and Hitler blamed the Communists, his main political opposition. People believed him and gave him enough votes rise to power and open the camps to jail said Communists, then any opposition, then anybody different. This building has a new dome and has a line that stretches almost back to our hotel. We have two more days to visit, so we pass it by.

The Brandenburg Gate is nearby and we stand in the former “death zone” inside where the Berlin Wall used to stand. Standing here 30 years ago, we would have been shot. The gate was first built in the 1800s to represent peace. Napoleon stole the statue at the top, the Prussians got it back and named it for Victory. There is a room of silence built into the gate where you can ponder the effects of peace and/or victory. My stomach growls loudly, interrupting everyone’s meditation, and we have to leave.

We walk down Unter den Linden, the gorgeous (Linden)tree-lined boulevard lined with embassies, department stores, cafes and car dealerships. It’s the Champs D’Elysees of Germany. We see the hotel where Gloria Swanson said, “I vant to be alone”, not impressive to Morgan until I also explained that this was the hotel where Michael Jackson dangled his baby over the balcony to the delight/horror of the media below. We visit a VW dealership and Morgan finds a girlfriend (the best kind, tall, sporty, and plastic). We find the square where the Nazis burned the books. Next door to that was the Opera’s fabulous pastry shop, the longest dessert counter in Germany. It is 5pm, but we’ve gotten into the habit now of tea time treats, so we ruin our dinner with some of the best desserts we’ve had this trip.

Walking a little farther, we find the Radisson hotel with a cylindrical aquarium in the lobby. For about $17, you can ride an elevator through it. We pass and get on the bus back to the hotel. Morgan is really slowing down, says his stomach is upset. Unusual.

Back to the room, we connect with George back from his meetings. Nobody is really hungry, especially Morgan (unusual), so George and I go to the supermarket to get some water, wine, and dinner. I get a pre-made salad and some rotisserie chicken. George gets a sandwich. Back in the room, we watch tv, the movie Galaxy Quest, with Tim Allen. It’s in German, it doesn’t matter, it’s funny in every language.

I think we’re all slowing down on this last leg…

Lazy days with Friends

When was the last time you didn’t get out of bed until 10:30am? Well, for us, it was today. Ten hours of sleep were interrupted by church bells from at least five different towers calling the faithful on Sunday morning. Morgan spent the night with Leo and it is luxurious just lying in bed, talking. A little blogging gets done, then we go to brunch at the hotel before we head up to Frank and Suzanne’s for one of their famous walks. It’s alternating sun and rain through the parks and nice neighborhoods.

We knew Suzanne and Frank when they lived in Hampton; they were friends of friends. Even though we didn’t know each other terribly well in Hampton and don’t keep in touch between visits, we are the best of friends when we come to Braunschweig. Whenever George has a meeting within two or three hours from here, we come early or extend our visit so that we may visit. Their son, Leo, is Morgan’s age, and they have a younger son, Georgie, who is eight. I like to get the boys together with the future hope that maybe one day Leo can come to visit us or Morgan can go to spend some time with them, a foreign-exchange, if you will.

There is a rhythm to our visits, we take them out to dinner (we’re on per diem, after all) and they take us on amazing walks through the parks and fine neighborhoods of the city. Morgan spends the night. We have cake and coffee/tea at 4pm then go out to dinner about 8pm.

Last night we went to an Italian chain restaurant called VaPiano. There are no waiters, just stations for salad, pasta, pizza, and drinks. You bring the card, like a credit card, they give you at the door and it is swiped for everything you order. They make everything fresh at each station and you stand there and watch while they create your dinner(except for pizza, they give you a beeper). Sort of like Subway, but not with sandwiches. Prices are reasonable and the atmosphere is fun. Some tables are taken up by bumblebees and cowboys.

Tonight, Frank is cooking good German food. Braten (roast) with gravy and semmelnudeln (dumplings made with old bread), plus red cabbage and salad. So nice to have a home-cooked meal! Rotekrutze (berry compote topped with vanilla sauce) is for dessert. We enjoy dinner with their view of the town and church towers.

Nice to have a lazy day.

Braunschweig: Party Town

We’re in our apartment in Hahnenklee and the innkeepers said that they would bring our breakfast to the door at 9am. It’s 9:05 and nobody has knocked. Did they forget? I open the door investigate and find a little trolley cart, covered with a lovely embroidered cloth sitting outside the door. Whoa. I wheel it to the dining room and we get plates, cups, and silverware. We lift the cloth and find a breakfast feast: meats, cheeses, yogurt, eggs, cereal, breads, fruit salad, coffee, milk, and juice. We are loving this place even more. We set it out on our table and breakfast with a view of the garden and mountain.

We check out (sad face) and walk over to the skyride. It’s just like Busch Gardens, but slower, because some of the “cars” are bike carriers. In the line are some extremely muddy young men, waiting for other muddy young men to bring their bikes so they can go up together. I’m sure Morgan would really want to do this, but we don’t have the time. We just go up and then take the 30 minute walk back down to our hotel. We can’t find the pedestrian trail, so we walk down the ski run. We find a smaller trail, the mountain bike trail; there is padding on the trees. George slips and ends up stepping in the mud. Oops. Morgan and I laugh, inappropriately.

Back to our car we drive down the hill to Goslar, a beautiful medieval village not bombed in WWII. We are pretty much half-timbered out by now, so George doesn’t even want to stop. I jump out of the car and take pictures of the main square, full of action on a Saturday afternoon, people eating and drinking outside, walking their dogs, and watching some kids compete in a soccer game in a fenced-off area. As we drive away, we follow streets full of old half-timbered houses until we get to the old wall.

Tonight we’re staying at the Movenpick, the Braunschweig edition of the ultra-modern Swiss hotel chain. Braunschweig used to look like Goslar, but was bombed heavily during WWII. It was a center of German industry and didn’t stand a chance. Most of the architecture is post-war, although there are pockets of medieval and belle-epoque here and there. It’s a university town, though, so there’s a lot going on.

The funniest thing is the walking parties of young people. I don’t know if there is anything like this in the US. There seem to be two types of groups: the ones are getting married and the ones that (for shame!) are not. They roam the streets of Braunschweig like gangs looking for trouble, but really, all they want is to complete silly tasks, drink (a lot), and maybe sell you some trinkets, to earn money for their upcoming married (or single) life. In the daytime, they are fairly serious, but in the evening, they are quite um… happy.

On the steps of the city hall, a young woman is diapering a baby doll, surrounded by her friends wearing leis of polyester flowers. There’s a custom that, if you aren’t married by your 30th birthday, you must perform some silly act like this. However, before you think how sexist this custom is, you should know that the guys get in on this, too. A herd of guys dressed as cowboys dragging a covered wagon full of beer is led by the celebrant wearing a skirt. We saw groups of girls with angel wings, guys carrying brooms (they have to sweep the city hall steps), and girls with bumblebee hats. Often, the bumblebees will flirt with the cowboys and a bigger party will erupt in the middle of the street.

A group of people whizzed by on what looked like a big table with a roof on wheels, pedaling and drinking and singing. It’s hard to tell now, which are the bachelor/bachelorette parties and which are the singletons who must do penance. Some sell trinkets or small bottles of local alcohol for 5Euros (about $6) on the street to strangers, supposedly to pay for their upcoming wedding, which for some, will be sooner than others. Frank bought some body cream for Suzanne from some very cute, rather drunk girls dressed in black.

Party on, Braunschweig!