Thursday, September 27, 2007

Wrapping up

Waking up this morning was not the greatest experience. In the interest of diversity, I am staying in a different hotel than this weekend. It's only for one night, thankfully. Copenhagen is still great, but this hotel is located right next to both a construction site and also the main rail line headed north from the main station. The bad thing about the construction is that apparently the Danes like to start work at 6:00 in the morning. The bad thing about the rail line is it's on a curved part of the line, so every few minutes a loud screeching of the trains echoes through the neighborhood. The odd thing is that my previous hotel is only about two blocks away, but I didn't hear any of either of those while I was there. Go figure.

Yesterday was my day trip up to Sweden for a business trip. Even though it was only for a day, the town is pretty small so it only took an hour or two to walk around pretty much the entire area. I took some pictures, but will get to those once I get back as I need to go get some breakfast and pack. In a couple hours I'll make my way down to the main station where I'll catch a train to the airport. Then I have a direct flight from Copenhagen back to O'Hare. Yay for direct flights! Of course, I'm not all that excited about air travel again after being spoiled after two weeks of pain-free train travel. But on the bright side I'll be on my way back to a place where English is the main language again. So I've got that goin' for me.

All told it has been a great trip. Did a lot of good stuff for work but also had my first change to tour a foreign country on my own and I totally survived. I also learned a lot of things that Americans should know:
  1. Ladies, get ready for incredibly tight pants! That's right, assuming that all fashion in the US comes from Europe, I can safely say that this fall and next winter you'll be wearing pants so tight that they look like they are body paint. Because that's what all the women over here are wearing. Now you all know what to ask for for Christmas/Hannukah!
  2. People here are just as interested in the presidential election as we are.
  3. If you're coming, take trains. Screw air travel, get a Eurail Pass and go crazy.
  4. European chocolate makes American chocolate taste like wax. Sure, we all know that already, but it's still true - just so you know.
Two hours until the airport. Five hours until I'm on the plane. 14 hours until I'm back home. Then I'm taking tomorrow off. After last night I'm gonna need it. There sure as heck had better not be any construction on my street once I get back.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Copenhagen - I'm lovin' it!

Sunday, I hooked up with a friend of mine from Chicago (who moved here recently) for a day-long guided tour of Copenhagen. While we didn't really get started until about noon, I managed to cram an awful lot of the city into a single day. So let's go!

First stop was the central square. First thing you notice is the number of green roofs on various towers. Sure, I've seen the green patina form on copper structural forms before, but never like I've seen it here. Seriously, it's like every other roof has the copper roof with the green patina. The other thing one noticed in the main square is the amount of advertising on the buildings. If you click on this picture and look closely, you'll even see "McDonald's - I'm Lovin' It!" on one of them. Sigh...

Then we wandered down a little pedestrian area. It's an interesting thing about European cities - they've all had a little area in the city center that acts more like an outdoor shopping mall than a street. But here was another one, again full of musicians and people walking around. Honestly, I love it and I'm going to miss it when I get back home. Sure, lots of people are walking around North Michigan Ave, but it's not the same really. Also - note more of the green patina rooftops? See? I *told* you so...

Then we got to another little square that I think was called the King's Square (only, you know, in Danish) where I saw the old Opera House. Like the opera house in Hanover, it was beautiful. Unlike the one in Hanover, it was no longer the actual opera house. But more on that in a minute.

Just another shot of more architecture with the green patina roof....

Eventually, we had worked our way though thte city down to the harbor front, where T introduced me to the "new" opera house, which was apparently funded almost entirely by Copenhagen's richest man. Obviously an eccentric, the design of the building is quite modern in comparison to the old one. So much so that when T. pointed it out to me, he referred to it as "the building with the Samurai hat".

Across the harbor from the Samurai Building is the home of the Danish Royal family, including Queen Margarethe. Here's a view looking from the harbor up through the palace. Notice the big domed building (again with the patina, see?), it's not a part of the palace but we'll get to it in a bit.

Denmark has it's own version of the famous palace guards in England. They come complete with the big beaver hats. As T was quick to point out though, the Danish version isn't obliged to do the whole "stoneface" routine like the Brits are - if you mess with the Danes, they'll just arrest you. Seemed like good advice, so I just took my shot from a distance...

Here's the Queen's house. It's identical to two others that are located right next to it. that form a little circle o'identical houses. We weren't quite sure why they were all built exactly the same, but the best theory we could come up with was it's a way to fight terrorism.

After walking through the Queen's front driveway, we made our way over to the big domed building from the earlier photograph. It's a big church called Fredrick's Church, or "The Marble Church". The largest dome in Scandinavia, it's pretty darn big.

A little video clip of the inside:

Next up was the old fortifications known as the Kastellet ("Citadel"). These are intact old fortifications on the north side of the city proper. While the military value of the fort is a little questionable, it's still held by the Danish military and used as a home for the Home Guard, Judge Advocate's offices, and some other administrative functions. Soldiers still live in some of the buildings, but the grounds around it are known more as being a big park that is open to the public during the day and where people bring dogs to run along the ramparts.

Just outside of the Kastellet is the famous statue of The Little Mermaid. Yes, it's much smaller than you'd think. Yes, it's very popular with Asian tour groups. And yes, it was still in possession of its head that day.

Just a little ways up from the little mermaid was a little monument. Leaning in to examine the plaque on it, I was a little shocked to see that it was a memorial/fundraising tool for raising money for "Aged Seaman and Seamen Widows".

Why was I shocked? Simple, take a look at what the memorial is made from. That's right, it's a defused mine - the exact thing that probably turned some of those women into widows to begin with. Irony anyone?

Another picture of the area around the Kastellet. Is it any wonder people walk their dogs there?

After touring the Kastellet, we walked over to the "King's Park" where we saw the king's "old place". I mean, after seeing *this* dump, who *wouldn't* want to move into three of four identical houses on their own cul-de-sac? Sheesh...

Conveniently enough, fairly close to the old castle is a grave full of famous Danes! No, not Hamlet, but just about everyone else including Neils Bohr, Hans Christian Andersen, and Kirkegaard! So, obviously, a picture of at least one of those is pretty much obligatory:

After checking out the cemetery, we made our way to an area of Copenhagen called Christiana. This is another former military base that was abandoned by the military and taken over by squatters in the 1970's. Since then, it has essentially functioned as an independent geopolitical entity within the borders of Copenhagen. The people there live basically in a hippie society with their own metalsmith, bike repair shop, and a few booths selling tchotchkes to tourists. Of course, it's most famous economic engine was the hash trade, which pretty much functioned in the same open air market for decades. But of course, that attracted the uncomfortable attention of the police who cracked down until they agreed to take the hash trade underground (see the entire history of Christiana here). Of course, the people of Christiana don't take kindly to strangers with cameras taking pictures, so I don't have any of the area. But it was really fascinating. Like a combination Grateful Dead theme park, abandoned neighborhood, hippie commune, and that part of the playground where the "misunderstood" kids hung out.

After walking around the area for a while, we pulled into a little live music venue where there was a blues jam session going on. Who would have thought that everyone in Christiana was a blues musician? But apparently, they are as the signup sheet was about a mile long. We listened over beers for a while and then headed back into the city.

This is one of the most well-known churches in Copenhagen - the Von Frelsers Church. That spiral around the spire is a staircase with 400 steps that goes all the way up to the top. Unfortunately, it was closed on this day, so I had to figure out a different way to see Copenhagen from up high...

Hello, Tivoli Gardens! Fortunately, they have a ride (much like the Kite-Eating Tree at the old Camp Snoopy in the Mall of America - only about 250/300 feet tall) which helped me satiate my love of things up high.

Of course, this video is *highly* taboo according to the rules of the ride. But I was subtle about it so I escaped!

The rest of Tivoli Gardens was an odd combination of Disney World and Central Paris. It felt old, but still had a bunch of entertaining and modern rides. And good food. So it was a great place for my day in Copenhagen to wrap up, over beer, tapas, and good conversation catching up with a good friend. Yay!

More pictures of Tivoli Gardens:

The last thing we did there was watch a little bit of the final concert of the Tivoli season, featuring "Nephew" which is a band that really wants to be Duran Duran plus the Police. Only the lead singer plays key-tar. They weren't terrible. Kind of poppy - sort of the boy band of Denmark.

Finally, on the way out, I passed by the Hard Rock Cafe. Yup, just walked by. It's amazing that those are so blahse now that they are ubiquitous. I remember being in junior high and beign *so* healous when one of my friends woudl come back from vacation with s Hard Rock t-shirt. Now I couldn't take one if they were free.

Of course, it didn't help that it is located right next to a "Build-a-Bear workshop". Yeah, honey. I went to Copenhagen and I got you a Hard Rock t-shirt and a Build-a-Bear. *That* will score you points...

On the rails again II - the revenge

I do have a *ton* of pictures and stories from my wanderings in Copenhagen, but at the moment, it's taking longer to assemble than I originally anticipated. For now, here's a few interesting points about Denmark to tide ya'll over until I get into Sweden tonight as I'm about to leave for the train station.
  • Danish is a *weird* language. And for the life of me I can't figure out what *anyone* is saying. Actually, to me people talking in Danish sounds an awful lot like English being played backwards. I keep expecting to hear satanic phrases pop up in conversations on the street like in a Black Sabbath album.
  • In Denmark, while they have "Danishes" (the breakfast pastry) they do not call them "Danishes". Instead, they call them "Vienna Bread". Potato, po-tahto - either way they are pretty damn good here. Except for this morning when a ginormous Japanese tour group cleaned out the free breakfast buffet before I could get down there; at 8:30 in the morning, too! Grrr...
  • Finally, I saw this on Geekology yesterday and could not believe my eyes. They really are transforming clothes. (Warning - there is fashion model nekkidness at the very end of the clip, but it's pretty tasteful for fashion nekkidness. The outfit itself is much less tasteful, and WAY less utilitarian. I mean, when would one *ever* need a dress that can retract all the way up into the hat?). Anyway, the rest of the clip is so fascinating I'm posting it anyway.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The trip from Bremen up to Copenhagen felt much quicker than it actually was. First, I had to take a train from Bremen up to Hamburg to catch a connection to Copenhagen. But what I hadn't anticipated is that since it was Saturday it was football game day in Germany! And apparently, Hamburg had just played a match in Bremen that morning, which they had won. So the train platform was not only populated with people traveling to visit friends and family, but it was also full of very happy Hamburg supporters. It was a much different experience from anything I'd ever seen in American sports. Beer and Champagne was flowing freely, not only on the train, but also on the platform as we were waiting for the train. And, of course, every few minutes, the songs would start up:

Sure, I could have taken a longer shot, but you get the idea.

As for Hamburg itself, well, I didn't really get to see a lot of it, as my connection only left me with about 30 minutes between trains. In fact, I barely had enough time to walk around the station a little bit before making my way to my train to Copenhagen. And that part of the trip was one of the most fun because I got to take a ferry from Germany to Denmark - while still on the train! It was neat because the whole train just drove right onto the ferry:

Note: the face that appears a few times in that clip is not, indeed, a ghost. Rather she is a very nice English translator I sat across from who was returning from a conference in Germany. She was really friendly and spoke incredibly clear English, which was refreshing after a week of German.

Once on the ferry, I had 45 minutes to wander around on deck, exchange my Euros for Danish Kroner* and wander up on deck to watch the transit. It was beautiful:

Then, once we were docked on the other side, we really started to make time. As fast as the trains I rode in Germany were, they were pretty much all short-run trains. Now that we were on a long-distance train, we were really moving!

Pulling into Copenhagen after six hours on various trains, I was more than happy that I had chosen a hotel a block away from the central station. Yay for short walks.

* Denmark is in the EU, but like the UK it has an exception from switching to the Euro.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

On the rails again, just can't wait to get on the rails again....

After a week in Bremen, I'm suddenly finding that it's a lot harder to pack everything back into my suitcase than it was before I left. Hmmm... Good thing I've got an "expandable" suitcase and an extra duffel bag packed away. Otherwise there's a bunch of stuff I wouldn't be able to bring home.

Yesterday on my last day here I finished up some touristy shopping and managed to catch a glockenspiel show back in the little Bottcherstrasse (fake Diagon's Alley) before I left. Yeah, when they rebuilt the area after the war, the installed a full-size glockenspiel at the top of one of the houses.

The show only plays three times a day, but it goes on for a *long* time. And, oddly enough, it is accompanied by an interactive display that sings the praises of various famous people in the transportation industry - including Robert Fulton and Charles Lindbergh (who is also apparently famous in Germany):

But this morning, I'm packing. I leave for the train station at 11:28 on a trip that will take (allegedly) six hours by train. Suddenly, I find myself wishing that I had brought more reading materials with me, because I doubt I'll be able to find a new book to read at the station that is in English...

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Day 5 - Wandering Hannover

Today I was able to finally spend a few hours wandering around Hannover. Sure, I've been coming for almost a week, but most of my time has been spent at the show. First, coming out of the subway, I wasn't all that impressed. Like many cities in Germany, most of the town was leveled due to allied bombing in WWII. So much of the architecture is 1950's and later. And let's face it - the architecture of the 50's doesn't do anything for me. Case in point, this is the maing shopping area in downtown. Kind of like Michigan Avenue in Chicago, it's full of pedestrians walking around with shopping bags. Unlike Michigan Avenue - none of them were carrying American Girl Store bags.

Yet just down the street from this intersection is the Hannover Opera House. Allegedly, it's one of the best opera houses in the world. And it was rebuilt in only 5 years after the war. Those Hannover folks suuure love their opera!

In the Market Square is the old City Hall ("Rathaus"). Similar in function to the one in Bremen, this one is a lot more Gothic in design - without having the Renaissance facade that was added to the Bremen Rathaus.

By this time, I had finally found my way into the Old City ("AltStahdt"). After block after block of 1950's modernism (and yes, opera houses) I was finally back in the Old German city with all its Gothic gorgeousness.

Of course, one can never completely escape America when in Europe. And while I was expecting to see McDonald's, Subway, Pizza Hut, etc while I was here I was shocked to stumble upon a Big Boy statue. Especially one with an arm being held up by duct tape and advertising a restaurant called "Route 77". Something tells me whichever German restaurant owner bought this statue off of Euro-eBay has no idea which restaurant these came from.

Back to the old city. Not all of it completely escaped the bombing. This portion of the neighborhood consisted of old buildings that were re-built from timbers when they collapsed in the war. They were all collected from a variety of parts of the city - wherever they could find buildings that were damaged, but still pretty much all there. Then they moved them and reassembled them along this one street so people could see what old timber fronts used to look like. It looked pretty convincing to me!

A few blocks away from those old buildings is the oldest standing house in Hannover. Built in 1422, this building escaped the bombing and is full of character. Click on the (I know, sideways) picture and look at the woodworking between the windows and between the floors. I know, it *looks* like it's just painting, but the wood was carved, then painted. It's really gorgeous.

Then, of course, the requisite picture of another example of freakin' weird German sculpture. This time it's a dude sitting in the antlers of a deer. Go figure.

Then, because I only had about an hour to explore, I made my way back to the Hannover Hauptbahnhof ("Central Station" for you non-TOWWAS readers). It's actually much bigger than Bremen's station, and architecturally, more impressive. I couldn't even get it all in one picture.

I have more pictures, of course, but I didn't want to bore you all with more sideways pictures of outrageously tall church steeples which I could only take sideways. Besides, the architecture here is pretty representative.

One amusing story from the day is my quest for a "Hannover" magnet. A friend of mine at work requested magnets from each city I visited to add to her collection. It was a reasonable request, so I was running around the train station before my train came trying to find one. But what I discovered is that apprently Germans have a lower tolerance for cheap tourist tchotchske than Americans do. Despite the fact that the Hauptbahnhof is basically a shopping mall in addition to a station, and despite the fact that it had something like 50-75 different stores, only one had a magnet that said "Hannover" anywhere on it. And it only had *one* of them. And I hadn't seen any stores during my wanderings that might have carried them either. Sure, I had found three different stores where I could buy dildos, edible underwear, and furry handcuffs. But there is only one "Hannover" magnet in the entire city - and I bought it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Quickie - The joys of language

Funny story about my commute out to "work" this morning. As I was taking the subway from the train station to the show, I was sitting in front of three men who were speaking spanish. It was a joy to hear a language that I actually understand for once. And as much as I didn't *want* to eavesdrop, they were right in front of me, and I couldn't understand anything that anyone else was saying anyway. They were mostly talking about business and negotiations*, and after about 4-5 minutes, they suddenly all switched to English. It was weird. For a second, I thought my Spanish was so good that I was understanding it as English.

But no, they were actually just speaking English. And they were talking about some pretty saucy stuff. Maybe that's why they switched to English, I don't know. but it sure seems like the wrong language to switch to to discuss dirty stories in a country where pretty much *I've* encountered speaks English anyway.

Anyway, about 4 minutes from the show, one of them was discussing a particularly interesting negotiating tactic - claiming that "And then, as she was gently manipulating my private parts I suddenly became much more interested in making an offer!"

The other two laughed heartily at this. Me, I was wondering what line of work these guys were in.

* It turns out they were businessmen who were goign to the same place I was

Day 4 - On with the show!

After a few days of bustin' my hump to try and cover all of this ginormous show, I'm doing pretty well, and was able to throttle back and take in some of the floor shows at the various company booths here. And let me tell you, it was worth it. You see, some of the companies roll out new products at the show. Others (who may not have anything terribly new or innovative) rely on extravagant, overproduced, occasionally comical entertainment*.

Let's start off with something simple. Since we're in Europe, how about some dancing Benny Hill girls!? Or better yet, Benny Hill Girls who play their own instruments?

If dancing girls aren't your thing, how about girls bouncing from ginormous rubber bands?

Maybe that didn't do it for you either. Maybe this is all pretty conventional to you, typical of what you'd see at your locak Halloween parade. Well how about three Robin-Hood-type dudes in primary colors battling an army of Euro-Matrix Ninjas in a battle to the finish!?!?

Yeah, I thought the same thing. Wow. On the way back I passed by the giant Lowenbrau lion that I showed the picture of a few days back. What wasn't captured in that picture is that is animatronic. And it roars! ROOOAARRRR!!!...well...kind of. To me it sounds a little more like a giant cow, but maybe Lion roars sound like cows in German:

When all was done and I'd finished up another 11 hour day, I stopped by the lounge to take a video that would actually upload. Too bad the pianist wasn't there this time...

* Think the orchestra-cum-keytar pop group from earlier.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Day 3 - Myths dispelled and confirmed

Remember back when I knew nothing about what this trip was going to be like? Well, after two days walking the show and four days (basically, including my travel day) living here I can say that Pretty much everything I thought about Germany was true (pretty much everyone speaks at least passable English, the weather is for hte most part great, and taking the train is really easy), but a lot of what I had heard about the show was pretty far off. The booth babes are not, actually, nekkid and covered on body paint. In fact, they are more professional here than they are in most American shows. They are dressed quite professionally, but they basically act as a waitress in most booths - serving to bring cookies, sandwiches, and water when one is meeting with the actual company reps. Actually, the only stereotypical booth babe that I was was the "Eve" character that some cutting tool company in America uses at all it's trade shows. I felt kind of bad for her actually. Walking past, I could see this look in her eyes that was something like "Got in himmel! Why did *I* have to be hired by the pervy Americans..."

Anyway, I got two short clips to share today using the higher resolution setting that I discovered today. Of course, now I discover that Google downgrades it as part of it's "processing" step. Stupid Google. Anyway, first, ride with me on the super fast train! Wheeee!

Then, a little view of the grand lounge area in my hotel. Yes, TOWWAS, that is an actual piano player down there.

All right forget the lobby. I'm tired of waiting for the friggin video to load Stupid Google. I'll try again tomorrow. Maybe. In the interim, here's a completely non-trip related video that I ran across while waiting for *my* video to load. It's way funnier anyway:


Other than that today was pretty dull actually. Not for me, I was meeting with different companies all day, including one meeting that went for about 3 hours straight. But in terms of blog material it's been pretty dry.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Day 2 - Back to work

Ow, my feet...

I went to the biggest trade show I've ever experienced today. Not that this was a terrible shock, after all this *was* the reason that I was sent over here to begin with. After waking up this morning, I moseyed down to the Bremen station and caught a 8:18 am train to Hannover. This was my first experience with German trains and it was pretty awesome. The train showed up *right* on time and whisked me away to Hannover, nearly 90 miles away. The trip was incredibly smooth and stunningly quiet. As someone who rides Chicago's commuter rail system every now and then I can now say that I am filled with shame by comparison. Best of all it was ridiculously fast! Wheeee!

By the time I got to Hannover and figured out how to use the subway system, I found myself in a huge campus of exhibition shows that were populated with some very odd examples of architecture (I know, again with the sideways-ness. Blame Apple, I've tried everything I can think of). For example, here's a building on campus that looks remarkably like the Starbases from Star Trek:

After wandering through the first massive exhibition hall, I found one of hte aisles blocked up for a few minutes by very tall and intimidating security men, wearing the ear microphones that secret service agents wear. For a second, I was beside myself thinking that maybe Angele Merkel was going to show up, but instead it was a bunch of guys that I didn't recognize. If you can recognize any of these guys, you're more knowledgeable about German politics than I am:

This picture is for the GF: It's a Japanese rock orchestra that we saw on Public Television during pledge week. They play very pop-sounding music on violins, viola, cello, and yes - keytar. Classic stuff...

By the time I walked through the first two buildings, I had spent nearly Eight hours on my feet walking mile after mile. So when I saw the giant robotic lion swigging a huge mug o'beer, you'll understand why at first I thought it was a hallucination:

So then I made my way back to the train station, because allegedly there was a DB train that went directly from the trade fair area back to Bremen. Better yet, it was an ICE train, so it went even faster than the one I was on this morning. But then something happened that I never thought I'd see in my lifetime. My scheduled 5:27 train didn't show up on time - it was late! When the train finally did show up at around 6:00, the funny thing was that the whole DB system was basically just in denial about the whole thing - referring to the train as "the 5:27" and saying that it was still arriving at 5:27. Oh well, I suppose if a train is late but the entire country still believes it's on time, then the train isn't actually late.

Still, as long as the train gets me back to the hotel, I'll believe whatever they want me to believe.

About last night

So, after all my posting yesterday, you probably thought I was too tired to do anything else, right? Well you'd be wrong!

About the time I finished last night, I had dinner reervations for actual dinner at the Ratskellar. on my way out the door, though, I got caught up watching a little bit of the free orchestra concert taking place in the rear of the hotel. Like in America, the people gathered around had brought their own torches. Unlike the US, where the sight of a crowd with huge beeswax torches would elicit cries of a riot or legal liability, here, it's just a bunch of people sitting out with huge candles.

Of course, by the time I pulled myself away and made it down to the restaurant, I was a little late for my reservation. But since it was kind of a slow evening, I was still able to get into an available dining closet! Obviously, all the dining closet types were busy sitting on the lawn, imperiling their children with torches and non-flame resistant clothing.

I, on the other hand, was enjoying some kind of traditional dish involving a kind of German version of Corned Beef hash involving ground sausage, some sort of cous-cous like pasta, a ton of butter, and some fried potatoes with a side of applesauce. This, of course, was coupled by a nice big stein of beer. Mmmm...

I swear, as someone who grew up eating meat and potatoes, this was friggin' awesome meat and potatoes! Man, it was so filling even I couldn't eat the whole thing. Then I finally got a good picture of the huge wine barrels that populate the dining room. I'm not sure whether or not those are original, but they looked like it. I could almost stand up vertical inside one.

Of course, then I had to haul my stuffed belly all the way back to the hotel. But given how many calories I had just consumed, it was probably all for the best.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Sights and sounds of my trip

Because pictures just aren't enough to capture my time here

Short clip inside the Ratskellar:

In the pedestrian area just north of the market square:

Finally, I ran across a street crew doing a video shoot near the pig sculptures. They weren't interviewing anyone, just sitting around using the pigs as benches. In fact, everyone was using the pigs as benches, it's a very popular thing to do with them, apparently. I think I did end up in one of their shots. So if you're watching MTV Europe tonight, look for the bald pasty guy!

Bremen - In Color! Pt. 2

After walking around the market square for a while, admiring the charm of the buildings and being slightly confused by this one drain opening that had been wired with a speaker so that occasionally, the sound of a cat meowing would eminate from it* I headed south, past the old Guild Hall, another old and gorgeous example of medieval architecture:

Off on the left side of that picture, can you see a little square of yellow? So did I, so I meandered down that little alley and discovered it's a pretty big bas-relief sculpture, covered in what appears to be gold leaf (again with the sideays thing - damn you blogger for not having a way to display these picture correctly!):

The scultpture is right above the entryway into an even smaller alley. In fact, at first I would have sworn this is where they got the design for Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter movies:

This street is called "Zur Bottcherstrasse" (street of the barrelmakers) and is a half-actual, half-recreation of the way streets used to be laid out back when only people needed to get around. It's full of little curio shops and places where people can buy touristy stuff. I picked up some stuff for myself and some friends, but didn't go overboard, since there is still a lot to see. I figure I'll load up on my way out of town anyway and whatever I can't get then I'll just come back.

More examples of the buildings in Zur Bottcherstrase. Initially, these were all houses, but since they were built most of them have been turned into shops or hotels. Naturally, the Hilton is in this area. And, as I thought, lots of the buildings were from the 1950's and just made to look like they were old, with some more contemporary decorative touches, like these stained glass windows next to a coffeehouse:

More of the buildings, this one was a little older

And this house was the only original one left in the area, from the 1400's. I think it's a bar now.

By this point, I was starting to get a little hungry, so I made my way out of Zur Bottcherstrasse and headed over to the Ratskellar, which is a 600+ year old restaurant located in the basement of the Rathaus. It's particularly well known for having a ginormous German Wine list, and you end up sitting around these huge wine barrels from god-knows-when. The picture's a little fuzzy, since I didn't want the flash to bother the people at the table next to me.

You can kind of see the ceilings in this place, which are vaulted just right that you can completely overhear people sitting directly opposite you in your portion of the room. Because the vaults are shaped just right, they act as reflectors, collecting and bouncing people's voices so well that it's a little disturbing. So I suppose the odds of anyone eating there at lunch today being an international superspy was fairly low. For privacy, there are also these little dining booths which look more like closets than anything else.

Sadly, the kitchen was closed for lunch by the time I arrived, but I did score some strudel and coffee, which was good:

I did make reservations for dinner tonight**, and from what I saw of the menu, I think I will be pleased. Although I haven't really eaten much on this trip so far. Something happens to me when I go overseas, I stop feeling the need to eat altogether. I'll go for days without eating because I don't really get hungry. This is probably due to a combination of me not feeling comfortable ordering food in other languages as well as my constantly being distracted by other things to do and see. It was a real problem for me the last time I was in Europe too. But the strudel was enough to keep me going through the afternoon, but hopefully I'll be actually hungry by the time I go back for dinner.

* Seriously, it was weird.
** And I scored one of the closets. I'm stoked!

Bremen - In Color! Pt. 1

I've only been here for one day and already I kinda love this town. It's not outrageously huge, so one can walk it pretty easily. I spent last night and much of today wandering around down in the Altstadt ("Old Town") area, which includes the big marketplace area and all the old historical architecture. To give ya'll an idea of what I've been doing today, come along with me and I'll show you around!

Let's start off with the hotel where I'm staying:

It's called the Park Hotel and it is fan-freakin'-tastic. Designed to look like an old Baron's residence, it's the only 5 star hotel in town. The beds are incredibly firm, but for some reason I slept incredibly well on them. Perhaps I'm not as big a fan of the soft beds as I thought.

To get into downtown, I have to pretty much walk through the Bremen Central Station, or the Hauptbehnhof:

Honestly, I don't think this picture really does it justice. But hopefully this is set up so that when you click on it, you get the big version. Trust me, it's gorgeous. Also full of little newsstands and restaurants and whatnot.

Then, I crossed over the remnants of a moat that used to protect the north side of the city. Of course, there used to be walls there too, but I think they were taken down in order to facilitate the construction of windmills and parks, as there are examples of both all along the old moats. Unfortunately, the only picture of the windmill I got won't display right in blogger since I took it with the camera held sideways, but just tilt your screen or your head and you'll get the idea.

By then it was just a few blocks into the market center. The market is a large open area surrounded by buildings that are really quite old. Or, at least, they are supposed to appear old. Because big portions of Bremen were destroyed in WWII it's not unusual to find that buildings that appear really old were actually built in the 1950's. Here's an example of buildings that I think are actually old, that face the marketplace and are pretty representative of the architecture:

Just to the right of these buildings, on the north side of the square, is the old city hall or "Rathaus". It is gorgeous, built in three phases, first Gothic and then later a renaissance-style facade was added in the 1600's. It is simply beautiful, and totally worthy of clicking in order to see the full-size picture.

Located in front of the Rathaus (and visible in the above picture too) is the statue of Roland, the patron of Bremen. Legend has it that as long as the statue of Roland stays standing, Bremen will remain a free city. I'm not sure whether that's just superstition or a sign that Bremen has some sort of magical stone golem who will come to life if the city is threatened and smite Bremen's enemies with his pointy knees. They must be some sort of weapon, I don't know why they would be pointy otherwise.

Also in the square, just east of the Rathaus, is St. Peter's Cathedral. The steeples are nearly 300 feet tall, it's got real medieval mummies inside, and local legend says that local men who reach 30 before getting married have to sweep the steps of this cathedral until a local girl gives them a kiss to free them from their task. Good thing I came when I was 32, because that might have taken up a lot of my morning.

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