Checking Out Cologne, Germany

It was a little sad waking up that day in Croatia – maybe because it was only 4:30am, but also because it was our last full day together on this incredible trip. We had to clean up and finish packing before checking out because a taxi was arriving to pick us up at 5:30am. I always suggest having a taxi come earlier than you need because they are rarely actually on time – especially in other countries! Our taxi did come late, so we were happy we had plenty of time to get to the airport. Turns out the driver had been stopped by police on his way to our hotel – something that is pretty common there. He took us to the airport and was so nice talking to us the entire way. He explained how hard living in Croatia is because of the government, corruption, and the economy. He explained that he worked in Italy for years to get extra money.

When we got to the airport, it was really tiny and our options for passing the time were slim. We had some ice cream for breakfast – super healthy perk of being adults – so we fulfilled our daily ice cream dose.

After checking in and going through the short security line, we found our gate and sat there for what felt like forever. There was one shop and a cafe that sold booze at 6am but no food. There were people sleeping all over the place because it was so early.

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We had had a wonderful time in Croatia and it was every bit as magical as I hoped when we had originally started planning this dream trip. But the time had come to get going and make our way back to Germany.

I passed out on the short plane ride, but Katharina was so excited about the perks of economy plus that she wasn’t able to sleep. I’ve become spoiled with those benefits because I fly so often.

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I did catch some of the views though before we landed!

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So we made it back to Germany and arrived in Cologne or Köln at 9:30am.IMG_4226

To save on some money, we were going to stay with Katharina’s friend, Lena, but unfortunately she wasn’t going to be around until late that afternoon like 4:30pm so we needed to occupy ourselves for a while. We went to the main station to lock up our bags in this pretty sketchy system. Basically we put in money, then two doors open where we put our bags in, then the bags get sucked down underground somewhere and disappear. I’m not going to lie, I feared we wouldn’t be seeing those bags again.

But then we stepped outside and I almost fell over, I was so blown away. There stood the famous giant cathedral and it was unlike anything I’d seen before. This is why I travel – moments like this. Where you find out you can still be surprised and feel something so profound. The cathedral is Germany’s most visited landmark – an average of 20,000 people come here each day! The cathedral was built between 1248 and 1880. The towers are 157m or 515ft tall!

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Katharina’s other friend called and was able to meet us for a few hours to hang out, so we decided to go back to the cathedral later in the day since we had so much time. We went to a cafe where we could sit outside and get some food while we waited for her. I felt truly exhausted and worried how I would get through the day. I think suddenly for the first time during the entire trip I began to feel very homesick. I was relieved when Katharina’s friend arrived and was able to show us around so that we could keep moving and make the best of our last day and I could get my mind off missing home. It’s a strange feeling being homesick, it’s one I have not felt often despite my many travels. Because it was also Katharina’s first time in the city, we were able to basically tour all the main sites and walk around all over the place and discover it together.

We walked across the The Hohenzollern Bridge, which is famous for locks being placed all over it. It was built between 1907 and 1911. I couldn’t believe how many locks there were! Katharina’s friend said that they’ve considered having to cut the locks off because it is too heavy.

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Her friend works for the Hyatt so she took us there to take a look at some of the really fancy parts that only VIP customers are able to see – it was beautiful!

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Then we walked along the water of the Rhine and headed back to the other part of town on another bridge.

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The views from there were just as amazing!

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Then came the best part of the day – the ice cream!!! Let’s have a moment to take this in and appreciate the amazingness:

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I think I’ve had dreams about this ice cream since – maybe that’s weird.

Anyways, then we walked around a ton more and slowly made our way back to the cathedral.

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We had a chance to go look inside, which was as spectacular and impressive as the outside!

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Although I am Jewish, I absolutely respect and appreciate other religions – so it was really neat that we could go inside and witness part of a Sunday mass in this breathtaking cathedral.

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I already said it, but even now just looking at the photos – I’m still amazed and blown away by the detail and beauty of this place.

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So this was where we parted with Katharina’s friend and headed into the train station to hang out until her other friend, Lena, was ready for us. I looked at my phone and we had walked over 26,000 steps! It sure was a long day especially with such little sleep.

We waited at the train station for an hour before meeting her friend Lena. We got drinks at a cafe in the station and I managed to fall asleep at the table because I was so so so so tired. We found Lena and then went to retrieve our bags – and of course there were major issues. We waited in line for 20 minutes to have the machine break down as we were second to next in line. People started panicking and getting very upset because, like us, they were worried about this sketchy system. A ticket woman finally arrived and told us we all had to use a different machine – so we had to wait in another line for half an hour. When it was our turn, we were both really nervous. We each took a minute to pray and cross our fingers, but then finally our bags popped out of the machine!

We took a tram and walked a short bit to get to Lena’s apartment, it felt like a long walk with our heavy bags and exhaustion sinking in. I was at the point where I was barely functioning. As soon as we got to the apartment, Lena was nice enough to let me take a nap in her bed before dinner. This was perfect because Katharina and Lena were able to catch up. I woke up feeling incredibly refreshed and actually alive again – no more delirium!

So we walked through the city to find dinner and it was nice to see another part of the city. We found this awesome burger place and had an amazing dinner while sitting outside and talking a lot. It was fun to see Katharina relax with her friend and interact in German. I met a guy from the Dominican Republic who worked at the restaurant and he was so nice. I told him I’d been to his country before and this made him really happy. He was interested in my story because he said he loved the way I spoke English and said it was so different from other people around there.

So after a fun night, we headed back to Lena’s apartment and sat outside on her balcony. We drank champagne and talked about everything we could think to talk about. They told me hilarious stories about people from their home town and the boys of their lives and we talked about our experiences along the journey those last few weeks.

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We went to bed early around 10pm so we would be a little more refreshed for the next day because we had to make our separate ways home in just a few hours. What a day!!

Exploring Pula, Croatia

As I’m looking through photos for this post, I still can’t believe how beautiful Croatia is. Although the timeline of our trip only gave us a few days there, I’m so glad we had the experience and could witness the beauty.

When we woke up on our second morning in Croatia, we were both a little exhausted from not sleeping well after the incident the night before. We grabbed breakfast on the hotel balcony overlooking the water again.

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We spent the morning relaxing by the pool and the sea, swimming often. Again, the sea was crystal clear and the views around the beach were breathtaking.

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We felt very lucky because so many people in the world can’t or don’t make time to experience moments like that – to see the world, to find a beautiful place, to just enjoy a moment. I value my time and don’t take it for granted.

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We shared pizza for lunch outside and swam for a long time in the pool. It was hot enough outside that my hair would dry after swimming within minutes. By mid-afternoon, I headed to the room to clean up and get out of the sun. After resting for a short time, we decided to head out into town and explore the city Pula. We both agree that when one travels, it is so important to break out of the tourist bubble and put in the effort to actually see the place you’re visiting – not just the hotel and tourist section. So we found a bus stop and figured out how to get to the center of the city, just 45 minutes away. It was really hot and stuffy on the bus, but we were able to see some of the smaller towns of the area and where and how locals actually live. We were the only tourists on the bus. When we got off at the main station, we started exploring and walking around. We didn’t have a map or plan – we just walked.

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The city is so beautiful! We found the famous Pula Arena – the only remaining Roman amphitheater to have four side towers and all three Roman architectural orders completely preserved. The arena was built between 27BC and 68AD. Today the area is used for concerts, theater performances, cinematic showings, and even a few sporting events.

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As we kept walking around, we had no idea where to go so we walked along the harbor’s edge and looked at the stunning architecture and views.

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And we stumbled upon this establishment:

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Anyways, we were hungry and wanted dinner. My advice for finding somewhere to go when you’re lost and looking for dinner – find other tourists if you can and follow them. We noticed an American family and overheard them talking about dinner. They seemed to have an idea of where to go, so we walked behind them casually for a while and they led us right to the section of town that’s lined with restaurants and shops – the smaller touristy section of that part of town. As we walked through, men were cat calling at us, telling us how beautiful we are and trying to hit on us – whatever, we weren’t into it.

We picked a smaller restaurant where no one was standing outside harassing us to sit down. We were able to sit outside and take everything in.

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Unfortunately, our dinner was taken over by some very rude people sitting next to us. They had a large group of people, probably just a few years older than Katharina and I, and one of the couple’s had a small child as well. So people say that stereotypes exist because there is some truth behind them – and this group did not let anyone down with how the rest of the world stereotypically sees Germans. This German group was so incredibly rude and obnoxious with sending food back, complaining about dishes, giving the server terrible attitude, and they were nasty to the child as well. They were outrageously arrogant. Poor Katharina was so embarrassed because, as a German, being even remotely associated with people like that bothered her terribly. It’s always interesting when you travel to see how stereotypes or ideas about other cultures and even your own culture and nationality play out. Eventually, the owner of this little restaurant stormed out from the kitchen and told them if they had such a problem with her place then they could leave. I was kind of happy when she did because their attitude nearly ruined our dinner. You would never see a manager or owner talk to a customer like that in America, but sometimes maybe it’s not such a bad thing to put people in their place.

But regardless of that, the food was great!

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When we needed to pay, they told us the credit card machine was broken – another reason why it’s always important to have some cash around with you when you travel in other countries. But we were prepared.

After dinner, we ran into a parade of people dressed in traditional clothes with all sorts of props, which was exciting to see. This was the second time on the trip that we accidentally stumbled upon a parade like this!

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We slowly headed back to the bus station, and it was ridiculously crowded and hard to walk because of a concert at the arena. When we got to the station, we were a little confused where our bus would be. Sometimes things aren’t so clear in other countries. We stood where we believed the bus would be and waited and waited and waited. After a long time, we both got nervous that maybe we had missed the bus or had been waiting in the wrong spot. We finally asked a man if we were in the right place and he assured us that we were, but for some reason the bus was late. We know from our other travels there that the bus timeline isn’t always accurate. Eventually the bus pulled in and we figured it out. The reason the bus was so delayed was because of the concert in the arena – the traffic was worse than LA! It took us twice as long to get back to the hotel because of it. When we got back, we quickly packed up and organized all of our things and went straight to bed because we had a big day coming up!

Waking Up In Croatia

I was so excited when I woke up and realized where I was. I made sure to get up early around 7 in the morning so I could grab some good spots by the hotel’s pool because I knew it would get crowded early on with the 100+ degree weather. We enjoyed a great breakfast on a balcony overlooking the pool and ocean – so beautiful! The food was excellent and we had the best chocolate croissants of all time.

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We headed back to our room so we could get ready to spend the day in the ocean and by the pool (something we had been looking forward to the whole trip). It was so hot outside it was hard to breathe, the air felt so thick. We don’t get weather like that in Buffalo. We had to go in and out of the water all the time to handle being out there – not that either of us were complaining!

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I can’t tell you how good it felt to swim in that crystal clear water and walk along the smooth rocks that line the sea. Even better, it wasn’t crowded and we felt very safe in the water. This may come as a surprise considering how much I travel and some of the crazy things I’ve done in my life, but I’m a little scared of swimming in open water and don’t actually do it very often. But this I couldn’t resist and it was so warm, yet totally refreshing.

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The pool’s salt water felt so good to swim in. We did water aerobics with a group and had a lot of fun!

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It was a blast of a day and we were able to eat lunch outside too!

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But a long morning in that heat and sun was more than enough for me and by the early afternoon I definitely needed to take a break and rest inside a little. I enjoyed just being able to lie down and not have to run somewhere or sit on a train. I was able to talk some with family and friends from back home. It’s amazing how much you can stay in contact with people now. I remember as a kid when we would visit family in Sweden for the entire summer without cell phones and only dial up internet that one of us could use at a time. Things have definitely changed and improved with staying connected to those across the world!

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So we got dressed up and went out for an early dinner. We ate seafood right next to the ocean. It was delicious and we had the best views!

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They cooked the food in this little open kitchen right in front of us:

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When our bill was brought out, we were also given two shots. Anyone who knows me knows that I rarely ever drink anything alcoholic, it’s just not my thing. We hadn’t had any drinks the whole trip and we both felt like we didn’t want to be rude by not taking what was given to us – so we each took a shot. So we left and started walking along the beautiful water and watched the sun set.

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But all of a sudden the shot hit me. It hit me really hard. Because I don’t often drink, it’s not uncommon for one drink to affect me, but this was a lot more than that. And when I looked over at my cousin, I realized it wasn’t just me feeling it. She was breathing hard and holding her stomach as she walked. I asked if she was okay, she said no, and I said me neither. We both needed to sit down and suddenly I couldn’t see straight and felt really dizzy and ill. Katharina thought maybe it was food poisoning, but I was sure it was the shots. I began to worry that we had been drugged because it all happened very quickly and we both felt it within the same minute. Although I don’t drink much, I have never in my life felt so sick from any amount of drinking, let alone one drink. I decided we needed to try to get back to the hotel before things got worse so we were at least somewhere safe if we were in fact drugged. We had to walk slowly though and it felt like it took ten times longer than it had the way there. We stopped a few times to catch our breath on the beach. I was very relieved when we finally made it back safely to the hotel. We sat out by the pool for a little while to stay in the fresh outside air.

I don’t know what happened to us after dinner. I don’t know if it was just a really strong shot, if there was something else mixed in, or if just the combination of the heat with dehydration and the alcohol was what did it, but I do know that it was scary and not at all worth it. Turns out in some situations being polite is totally overrated. It’s not always a good idea to drink in foreign countries.

We rested and hung out for a little while and eventually started to feel normal again. We decided to go out once more to get some fresh air and we felt like walking around would be good after what had happened, especially since that was our original plan for the night before the shot incident. So we walked down the promenade and looked at different shops and restaurants.

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And we got some popsicles because, even though it was late at night, it was still so hot outside! We enjoyed looking at the water and taking in the beautiful scenery.

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We got back to the hotel and saw that a band was playing music out by the pool. It was a great way end to the night, being able to sit and listen for a few moments, before heading to bed.

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Although we had a long day and both felt exhausted, neither of us were able to sleep well. It had been quite a day!

Our Journey to Croatia

It has been my dream to see Croatia since I can remember. The original reason we organized this entire trip was because of this dream – so we just looked at a map and planned from there.

We were relieved at the train station when our bus pulled up and was large, spacious, and had this magical invention called air conditioning. The bus was not crowded at all, which made it even better. They say the best way to see a country is to drive through it, so I was excited to have some time off a train and to be on a bus. It was a great experience to look at little towns as we drove through and to see other parts of Slovenia.

We got off the bus as this little train station, Divaca, in what appeared to be the middle of nowhere. We had an hour to wait until our next train would be leaving. We later found out that the train waited for the next bus from Ljubljana, so if we had taken the later bus, we would have been fine. But we couldn’t have known that before and it’s better to be safe and prepared. So for this hour we hung out in the heat because there was nothing to do around there. Inside the station there was one person working who didn’t speak any English and there were no other waiting passengers, shops, or anything going on. So we sat outside and talked with two French girls who were hiking and camping around different parts of Europe. We were happy when our train finally arrived – that is, until we got on board – because it was very warm, humid, and uncomfortable. I fell asleep for most of the hour long ride.

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At the next station, where we were to switch onto another train, the next train was there waiting for this one to arrive – something I’ve never seen before. Their whole system waits for buses and trains because there are so few passengers – if one train is late and the next one does not wait, they barely have any passengers to make it worth leaving on time.

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We had thought the last train was uncomfortably hot, but we had spoken too soon. This next train was over a hundred degrees inside without any sort of fan or air conditioning system. It was close to one hundred degrees outside, so with the greenhouse effect happening and the heat having nowhere to escape from this train, it was brutal. I didn’t think it was possible, but it was even worse than the trains on the previous day. On the ride, we went through pitch darkness at one point as we passed through a tunnel without any lights, which was a little creepy. I stood most of the ride to keep my face against the open window, desperate for fresh air. This train ride was a little different than our other experiences on trains this trip. Despite the heat, there were beautiful views as we entered Croatia.

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It was so exciting to finally see the ocean appear – our energy returned almost as quickly as it had disappeared earlier.

When we got off the train in Pula, we arrived at another very small train station with only one employee working who was extremely rude, indifferent, and unhelpful. She didn’t know or care to answer any of our questions and was too busy looking at Facebook to be interested. So we decided to call a taxi because there were no other buildings nearby and the walk to a bus stop was far enough that it didn’t feel worth it in the heat. It turned out our hotel was a bit further than we had expected from the train station, so the taxi ended up making much more sense in the long run. We had a really nice driver who showed us around and talked about the city and gave us great advice. It’s always nice to meet people who take real pride in their towns. His hands and arms were badly deformed from burns, and I wonder if those scars were from the war.

When we finally arrived at our hotel after a full day of buses, trains, walking, and car rides, it was such a relief! Our hotel was so beautiful and different from the other hotels we had been at because it is much more for families and sits right on the beach. It is slightly outside of Pula in a town called Medulin. We picked this area in Croatia because it was pretty easily accessible from the rest of our trip, it is famous for its beautiful beaches, and Katharina remembered being there as a child and said it was the perfect spot to end the trip.

We had to wait to checkin because a British woman was throwing such a fit at the front desk that it required all the staff’s attention. She claimed something was wrong with her bill. But once we finally checked in and walked around to look at the hotel, we were so excited and happy to be there – like just look at this!

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We got settled in and immediately went for a swim in the pool because we both needed to relax and cool off after the long day we had been having. Behind the pool was a stone beach and a long promenade full of shops and restaurants. After we cleaned up, we took a walk along the water to find dinner and chose a small Italian place right on the beach. It was a five minute walk from the hotel and a fifth of the price of the hotel restaurant – sometimes in touristy areas it’s worth exploring to find cheaper options.

We were so happy to get back to our room and get some sleep in the air conditioning after the long day. It felt good to be settled in and finally be in the country I’d been wanting to see for so long.