Sunday, August 16, 2009

Germany and Belgium: Summer Holiday 2009

So, here we are in Cologne, Germany. We're riding around on an open air bus taking a tour. It's a bit cold. Seeing some nice sights. Then, we glance at the ticket. There are coupons for free beer. Score!

Note: The images in this post link to my Picasa photo album with all trip photos.

But, first, let's back things up a bit. After having departed Copenhagen, TJ, Mike and I drove South through Denmark into Germany. Usually, we take the ferry from Rødby to Puttgarden. We decided to check out the scenery in Denmark this time around (and we're frugal). Lots of pastures. Lots of windmills (modern and old). Once in Germany on the autobahn, TJ got into a driving groove. And we raced towards Cologne.

Over 90% of Cologne was destroyed in World War II. The exception was Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral). I had visited the city and church 10 years ago. On this trip, we went up one of the church towers. At the top, 100 meters up, you get a good sense of just how big this church is. I had some nice video of the interior of the church, but that is gone as I mentioned in my last post.

After the bus tour, we headed toward the first of three bars to redeem our coupons (but 1, get one free). Now, Cologne is the home of Kölsch beer. Kölsch is traditionally served in small (0.2 liter) glasses so that the beer remains cold when you drink it.

The next evening, TJ's colleague, Frank, took us to a large local beer house where the wait staff is known for being surly. And where you have to cover your beer with a coaster. Or else the staff will bring you a new beer unsolicited when your glass gets low. TJ found this out firsthand. Frank also took us to a restaurant where I had a schnitzel. I always have to have a schnitzel when I go to Germany.

The next day we drove South from Cologne along the Mosel River with its restored and ruined castles. We toured one of the few preserved castles, Burg Eltz. Then, we headed through Luxembourg (blink and you'll miss it) and into Belgium.

Now, I had been through Brussels before (on a train from Berlin to Amsterdam), but had never stopped and explored the city. I wish I had, but was glad for the opportunity this time around. I love Brussels. Beautiful city. And very French. In fact, the city, which was remarkably clean, reminded me of Paris. I could have wandered around there for days.

But, our time was short so we had to make the best of it. Upon arrival late in the afternoon, we headed for the Grand Place, a large market square in the heart of the old city. We caught a nightly light show on the facade of the Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall) pictured above. The Baroque and Gothic styles of the buildings surrounding the square is decadent. It's almost too much. Almost. Like the food. Mussels are quite popular in Brussels. And tasty.

On the way back to the hotel, I was more than tempted by a Belgian waffle. Soft, warm, with a scoop of ice cream and some caramel sauce. That really hit the spot after an evening of sightseeing.

The next day, we visited a few more sights including the Palais Royal de Bruxelles (The Royal Palace of Brussels) and Cathédrale Saints-Michel-et-Gudule (St. Michael and St. Gudula Cathedral).

Belgium chocolate. Quite famous indeed. And delectable (if you like that kind of thing). There were shops with elaborate displays of chocolates. Two-meter high chocolate fountains. There's even a museum, the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, which Mike and I toured. And then there is chocolate-covered fruit. On a skewer. In Brussels, you can find decadence in all forms. take your pick.

For more photos of our trip to Germany and Belgium, click here.

Copenhagen: Summer Holiday 2009

Okay. So, after arriving back in Göteborg on Saturday, we relax for a few days before Mike gets into town. He was a little groggy late in the afternoon, but did not have major jet lag. Good thing cause we left the next morning for Copenhagen.

Due to a last minute review of the weather and some advice from Norwegian travelers in Greece, we opted to skip the fjords. Instead, we decided to head South. First up was Copenhagen which was hosting the World Outgames. Coinciding with Copenhagen Pride. How gay and festive!

The weather could not have been better. As such, we hopped on a boat and took a canal tour of the city. Once back on dry land, we wandered along Strøget, a long pedestrian shopping street that runs through the heart of the city. Note: The images in this post link to my Picasa photo album with all trip photos.

The next day was time to wander about. Off to Vor Frelsers Kirke (Church of Our Saviour) to investigate the stairs up the outside of the spire. You begin the climb inside and walk past the bell. Once you arrive at the outside platform, you're up pretty high; it is 90 meters to the top of the spire. The stairs take you nearly to the top. Just underneath a giant gold ball. Apparently, trying to touch the golden ball is some sort of manliness test. Had we known, that would have been the goal. Instead, we were left to enjoy the amazing view of the city. TJ, who was in front of me, did get almost to the very top where the stairs narrow to a point.

Later that night, we saw Kate Ryan in concert near Vor Frue Kirke (Church of Our Lady). She sings in both English and French and is fairly popular in Europe (and Canada). I've known of her music for a number of years. She was great! The gays loved her. Je t'Adore, Kate!

The next day was the Pride Parade. So we set about that morning to see some sights. Just as a gay cruise had docked. It was kind of amusing to see the guys from the boat slowly work their way through the city. Mike kept track of new arrivals. Hard to miss some of them in their tight shirts, worked out bodies, and shopping bags. Meow.

The Pride Parade was, um, interesting. Kind of what a lot of parades have become. An endless series of semi-trailer trucks filled with people dancing to music blaring from huge loudspeakers. Needless to say, with beers in hand, we enjoyed the show. Until that lesbian on the truck threw water at us. Karma, honey. At the end of the parade, we joined it. Yes, this was the quickest way to get back to Rådhuspladsen (City Hall Square) where the concerts and entertainment was taking place.

The entertainment included a Michael Jackson impersonator. I could not tell if it was a man dressed as a woman dressed as Michael or a woman dressed as a man...dressed as Michael. How appropriate. A drag review from Canada (is that an oxymoron?). And...Kate Ryan again! What luck. We stayed until the bitter end.

As luck would have it, TJ ran into some friends from Laguna Beach and Chicago. Both had been on the cruise. We were hanging out with the Chicago boys until late. They were witness to TJ making new friends with the usual suspects: lesbians, large-breasted women, little people, and fellow Swedes. At one point TJ jumped up on a rather large lesbian (she did invite him to do this), wrapped his legs around her waist, and let her swing him around. Unfortunately, I was not able to whip my camera out in time.

Speaking of which, the one casualty of the trip was my videos. A truly unfortunate circumstance. When I got back to Sweden, I downloaded the photos but forgot to download the videos. Then, later that day before I was to use the camera again, I erased all the photos. Ugh! I had purposely taken videos in place of photos on this trip. And had gotten some really great stuff. Well, okay, lots of Kate Ryan singing. And some nice virtual tours of Cologne and Brussels. All gone. But, be sure to ask TJ about the chicken dance.

For more photos of our trip to Copenhagen, click here.