Monday, October 31, 2022

California Vacation 2022

 As I write these posts, I'm realizing that 2022 was a big year of vacations for me! I love traveling and making memories, so I hope this trend continues in the future, if my work schedule allows. Our favorite Germans, Kim and Fabi, were in California recently while Fabi completes a fellowship at Stanford, and there was no way we were going to miss the chance to see them while they were in the US. It just so happens that the 49ers are Meezy's favorite team, and the stadium is in Santa Clara, not far from Stanford. Why not kill two birds with one stone?

We arrived on a Friday and checked into the Hyatt Regency Santa Clara. It's ideal for getting to Levi's Stadium by foot on game day, so we figured we'd stay there for the whole weekend. First order of business was checking out the adorable Airbnb they're staying in. It's a guest house in a beautiful neighborhood in Menlo Park. The redwoods in the backyard are breathtaking! (And forgive me for being shocked at seeing black squirrels running around. I'm not used to anything other than gray or brown ones!).

We headed to Stanford to check out the campus and it's a good thing I was wearing walking shoes - the campus is huge! I loved seeing the palm trees lining the street leading to the main entrance.

We ate at Pacific Catch in the Stanford Shopping Center and ended up spending a couple hours there catching up and sharing funny stories from our recent trip to Oktoberfest. Afterward, we walked back to Menlo Park to discuss our plans for the next day and then called it a night. My watch tracked more than 9 miles covered on foot that day! 

The next morning we met back at their Airbnb and then walked to the Menlo Park train station together. Our plan was to take the Caltrain into San Francisco, but a few minutes before our train was supposed to arrive at the station, we got word that it was cancelled. The next one wouldn't be coming for an hour, so we opted for an Uber instead. Once we arrived in San Fran, we started sight-seeing. First stop was Oracle Park and we walked north along the shore, checking out all the piers. We saw the Bay Bridge, the Ferry Building, the famous seals at Pier 39, and the SS Jeremiah O'Brien. We ate lunch at Pier 23 Cafe

After lunch we headed away from the piers, toward the interior of the city. First stop was Coit Tower, where the elevator was out of order! We didn't want to miss the 360 degree views, so we trekked up the 250 stairs to get to the top. On our way back down, right around the 7th floor, a winded-looking family asked us if it was worth it to continue the climb! We thought it was, so that's what we told them. Hope they felt the same afterward!

Next stop was Chinatown, where we saw Dragon Gate and a performance by some dancing dragons. 

From there we hit up Ghirardelli (which was founded in San Fran) because my youngest loves their chocolate. The selection was much larger than what we're used to in Texas, so we filled a bag with goodies to bring home. Salesforce Park was nearby, which is a really cool building/transportation hub with a lush rooftop park and city views.

We were due to meet Fabi's parents for dinner (as they were vacationing in Cali at the time), so we headed to Vina Enoteca. Food and ambiance were great and there were plenty of options for us vegetarians. We ended this day with almost 11 miles walked!

Sunday was the day we were most looking forward to, because we had pre-game field passes and lower level tickets to watch the Chiefs and the 49ers. We headed to the stadium 2 hours before game-time, to ensure as much field time as possible! We didn't get to pick what zone we were in, so we ended up right next to where the Chiefs were warming up. Bummer for Meezy, but I was pretty happy because Mahomes is my favorite player. (Wreck 'em!). It was really cool to be that close to the players, coaches, and owners, and we even had a football bounce over to our area, where I picked it up and returned it to the team. At one point, Chiefs wide receiver Smith-Schuster knocked over the endzone pylon right in front of us and we all teased him for not knowing how to fix it. He grabbed a nearby orange safety cone to denote that he broke it and put up the "shhhh" finger and laughed. 

Our seats were on the lower level near the end zone. The first half was pretty exciting for Meezy because the 49ers seemed to be in control. The second half was another story, unfortunately, and the Chiefs ended up running away with it. It was still a really fun experience and we were happy to show the Germans a real American football game, close up!

We met Fabi's parents again for dinner this night. Even though Meezy, Kim, and I are vegetarians, I thought it would be fun to bring the Germans to Fogo de Chao. The meat-lovers in the group were impressed, and of course the rest of us were happy because they have a very extensive salad bar. There's always dessert too! We visited until the restaurant essentially kicked us out due to closing time. It was hard to say goodbye! The next day it was back to Dallas for Meezy and I. We'll see you again soon, Kim and Fabi!

Friday, October 28, 2022

Oktoberfest in Germany 2022

This year we were lucky enough to check another item off the bucket list. A huge group of us traveled to Munich, Germany for Oktoberfest and it was an unforgettable experience! There were 16 of us in total, most coming from the United States, but 2 coming from the Netherlands. We all arrived in Munich on a Monday and stayed at Hotel Marc Munchen because it was close to the festival grounds. The first night's dinner was at Steinheil 16, where I think we took up the majority of the restaurant! We left an American-sized tip on our large bill, so the waiter brought out free Jager shots to show his appreciation. Ha! 

Dinner with friends is fun, but dinner with a ton of your friends, on vacation in Germany, is even more fun! After dinner we headed to Boilerman Bar, where we ended up taking over the piano and singing some Elton John and Billy Joel for the rest of the patrons. Americans...we're an entitled bunch, aren't we??

Tuesday was our first day at Oktoberfest and the weather started out beautifully. We posed for a lot of pictures to capture the moment, since all 16 of us were dressed in traditional Bavarian costumes!

We had tent reservations at Schutzen-Festzelt for lunchtime. "Tent" is a misleading word because they're actually very large, fully-enclosed buildings with everything you need to enjoy yourselves. 

The reservation came with dedicated seating for all of us, a meal, and 2 beers each. The first couple hours of our time block were spent eating and drinking in a relatively calm environment. As the hours passed, and the tent filled up and people consumed more alcohol, the band started playing more upbeat songs and the crowd got into it! We stood on our benches, danced and sang, and that's when it felt like the Oktoberfest you'd imagine.

After 4 hours, they kicked everyone out, so we walked around the festival grounds. It reminded me of our State Fair here in Texas. There were carnival rides, games, souvenir shops, snacks, etc. There are also tons of other tents, so we decided to check out the famous Hofbrau one. We didn't have reservations, so we had to find room wherever we could fit and it was standing room only. It was packed and definitely high energy! 

By that time, the weather had taken a turn for the worse, so we decided to leave the grounds and look for a dinner option. A few of us ended up at Munchner Stubn, which was right around the corner from our hotel. (We actually ate there 3 times during our entire stay in Munich!). It had been a long day, so we called it a night after that.

The next (dreary) day in Munich was spent doing some sight-seeing and shopping around the Marienplatz, where we saw a performance by the Glockenspiel. The whole group had lunch at Ratskeller before we split off so some could go back to Oktoberfest, some left to return to the Netherlands, and some returned to the hotel to rest and regroup. That night, a few of us went to dinner at La Burrita because we were craving comfort Mexican food! You never know what to expect when you try to eat Mexican food in Western Europe, but we were pleasantly surprised by how good the food and drinks were. We ended the night back at Munchner Stubn for dessert and were entertained by some of the restaurant patrons thinking they were still at Oktoberfest and trying to get everyone to join them in song.

The next morning we had a flight to Dublin, where we spent one more night before returning to the US. This trip was definitely one we'll never forget. Being able to share this experience with so many of our friends was priceless. Auf Wiedersehen, Germany! I'll be back soon.

Monday, October 10, 2022

Dublin and Northern Ireland 2022

The first destination of our Europe trip this year was Dublin, Ireland. Joining us was my sister and her husband and two great friends, Scott & Kyle. We rented a car, which was an adventure in itself. Thank goodness we got an automatic, so as not to make it even harder on ourselves. Ireland drives on the left side of the road, so the driver sits on the right side of the vehicle. The lanes are so small and there are tons of walkers and bikers to look out for. Meezy and I took turns with the driving responsibilities, but everyone in the car was on "look out" duty no matter who was driving, lol.

We stayed at the Royal Marine Hotel, which is situated on the coast of Dublin Bay, about 30 minutes south of the city center. The hotel was nice with good parking, shops and restaurants nearby, and beautiful views, but if I was going back, I'd choose a hotel closer to the city. It was a bit of a drag having to drive that distance before and after each day's activities.  

After resting at our hotel for a little bit, we headed into Dublin for a guided tour at the Jameson Distillery. I couldn't care less about alcohol, but of course I was going to be a good sport and participate in everything. The tour was actually fantastic and we had an awesome tour guide. We added on a private cask draw experience, which included a tasting directly from a barrel. Then we finished up with a drink at their bar. 

I'd recommend the tour even if you don't love Jameson, or alcohol in general. The facility is very cool and we all enjoyed the experience. Afterward we headed to Token for dinner. They have ample vegetarian and vegan options and cheap, old-school arcade games to play after you're done eating. Not wanting to call it a night just yet, we then walked over to The Brazen Head, Ireland's oldest pub. It had live music, so we felt like we were getting the authentic Irish pub experience!  

Day Two started with a visit to Trinity College, where we learned about and saw the Book of Kells (no pics allowed) and got to tour the Long Room. This is the main chamber of the Old Library, built in the 1700s, which is filled with 200,000 of the oldest books from Britain and Ireland. It's stunning! They are closing in October 2023 for a 3-year renovation, so we feel lucky we got to see it while we could.

After the library, we hit up some tourist attractions around Dublin - Ha'Penny Bridge, Temple Bar District, and Dublin Castle.

We ate lunch at The Bank on College Green, which is a very ornate former banking hall. After that it was time for our Guinness Tour. I'd never even tasted Guinness before that day, and will most likely never drink it again, but the experience was well worth it. We booked the Connoisseur tour, which meant 16 people got a private tasting at our own bar for 1.5 hours. Our guide was fantastic! The sample pours were really full glasses and they gave us 5 to try. They also taught us how to do the "perfect pour" of Guinness from the tap. The tour ended with a drink at the Gravity Bar, which has outstanding views of Dublin. We met a couple Welsh guys and ended up talking about American sports for quite a while!

Dinner that night was at The Church, which as you may have guessed, is a 300 year old church converted into a restaurant. It still has an impressive organ and stained glass windows on display.

After dinner, we walked over to Grafton Street, but most of the shops were already closed. We did get to see the cute umbrellas on Anne's Lane though.

We thought our night was ending then, but little did we know another adventure was around the corner! When we got back to our car park at 8:30pm, we discovered the gate was locked up, with no way for us to get inside and retrieve our car. Oops. Apparently closing time was 8pm. There was a phone number posted, so we called for help and they told us it would likely be an hour before anyone could come. So, we sat on a street corner in Dublin for an hour, waiting for rescue. When the guy arrived, the first thing he said when he got out of the car was, "I hope I have the keys." !!!! He dug around in a bag in the trunk for an uncomfortably long time before finally finding the keys and unlocking the gate for us. We had to pay him 40 euro (on top of the parking fee), but then we were on our way! 

Day Three took us to Northern Ireland for some outdoor adventures while Scott & Kyle had booked a guided tour elsewhere. We stopped for brunch at Dooleys (yummy Nutella pancakes) to break up the 2+ hour drive. We were literally just a few minutes away from our destination when we discovered the round-about exit we needed was closed and the only available detour added 20 minutes to our drive. That was a bummer! Also, the last road heading into Todd's Leap was tiny, yet supposedly was supposed to be able to handle two-way traffic. Talk about stressful.

At the adventure park, we booked off-road driving, blind-fold driving, and the giant swing. Meezy, my sister, and brother-in-law attempted the off-road driving, which meant driving a manual Land Rover on their treacherous course, but after having already driven us for the last 2.5 hours, I opted out! The cars had obviously been beaten up by previous drivers, and my sister left her mark too. Lol.

Next up was the big swing. We've done similar swings at amusement parks, but we figured we'd give this one a shot since it was in a new country. It didn't go as high as others we've seen, but the views were cool once you started swinging. Meezy was responsible for pulling the rip cord and he snapped the string during one of our rounds. That was a fun mini heart attack for a second. 

Last up was blind-fold driving. It was light-hearted and surprisingly less stressful, so I gave it a shot. Basically, your guide sits in the front seat beside you and handles the gas, and you're only responsible for steering. If you get too crazy, she has a kill switch to prevent you from crashing. The rest of the group is in the back and is supposed to help you navigate with directions of "left", "right", "straight", etc. Of course there is going to be some deception to make it more fun! 

We headed back toward Dublin for dinner and met up with Scott & Kyle at a cool sports bar called McGowans. We were able to catch some American football since it was Sunday night. We didn't stay out too late though because the next morning we had a very early flight to Munich!