60 of a trillion reasons why I love you, mama

Mama,
Here are 60 of a trillion in-no-order reasons why I love you on your 60th birthday.
1. You’re so modest. You’re cringing at the fact that I’m publicly blogging about you, but that’s what you get when you’re an inspiring person. You move people. And you’ve moved me to tell others about you, in hopes that the light you bring into this world will touch them, too.
2. You’re a light. That’s right. Your voice, your vibe, your laugh, your smile, your questions, your stories, your ENERGY. You light up every room you walk into.
3. You add a JOLT of electricity to every phone call + FaceTime sesh you hop onto.
4. You make friends everywhere you go.
5. You make every person around you feel like they’re the most important person in the world.
6. You’re a damn good talker. You can be woken up at 3 a.m. and be ready to chat.
7. You’re somehow an even better listener.
8. You are the QUEEN of questions. I love this as much as I hate this! LOL!!
9. Let’s face it. You’re a babe. You make 60 look like the new 30.
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10. Perseverance is your jam. You always, always, always move forward. I remember asking you a looong time ago, “Mom, how do you stay so strong during hard times?” And you took me back to a time when your good friend was taken entirely too young and what her mom told you. She said, “I could sit here in this rocking chair and be sad and helpless, or I could move forward like she would want me to.” You took a lot from that. You’re so unbelievably strong.
11. You’re selfless. Even in the hardest of times, you’re always thinking of others.
12. You have THE best memory. I don’t know how you vividly remember so much from your childhood and then some, but you do.
13. You love MAKING memories. You are a moments-with-people cherisher and a keeper of ALL the details.
14. You’re just as quick to let go of the tangible as you are to save what truly needs saving. You know, old-ass soft pajamas, pictures, those fall leaves I mailed you in college. The important things. 😉
15. You’ve taught me the divine power of pajamas and how it’s totally OK to spend an entire day and night in them. and sometimes shower and get back into them. and have too many pairs of them. matching pairs of them.
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16. I will always remember the Christmases that were entirely spent in our PJs! And the new pairs we got every Christmas Eve! And the new pairs you continue to mail me!
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17. And the socks!! The crazy socks. You’ve taught me the power of comfy feet. Christmas-socks-in-July-and-Halloween-socks-in-January feet.
18. You started the Ugg trend…in 1992.
19. You’ve taught me the power of dancing. And dancing in the kitchen.
20. You’ve taught me the power of music. And music in the kitchen.
21. You taught me friendship and slumber parties.
22. You taught me the art of documenting. pictures. pictures. pictures!!!!
23. You’re all ABOUT the little things. You’ve instilled this in me, and I love you for it. Every day is so full when you can see so much power in the littlest of things. A cool flower. An adorable dog. Convos with others. Sitting in the sun. Lipstick. Ice cream. Blankets. You know, PJs. The trolley in Laguna. Greeting cards. COFFEE. Really good bread. Calling for the sake of calling. A pineapple martini. Morning routines.
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24. You are the QUEEN of routine but you secretly LOVE getting out of your comfort zone.
25. You’re coming to Germany. You’re gonna get on a plane and fly to Germany. This is HUGE!!!!!! Words can’t sum THIS up!
26. You’re the reason I love fall.
27. You’re the reason I play golf!
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28. I miss winning Ladies Night Monday golf with you…and the laughs that ensued!
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29. Remember when you and dad used to bring Maddy puppuccinos…but only on the weekends?
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30. You make such an impression on people. It’s no wonder they remember you everywhere you go.
31. You make people laugh on purpose. You also make them laugh on accident with your innocence. Isaac from The Fray, “Hey, Debbie…you gotta come to my rock show!” You: “Oh…I’ll have to tell my daughter! She used to collect rocks!”
32. You could convince dirt to turn itself into gold. I *truly* believe it would listen to you…not because you’re some skeezy saleswoman, but because you’re a genuine believer in people and making things HAPPEN. You have a *way* with people.
33. You’ve built more than an empire of returning shoppers with your job. You’ve built a family of engaged men and women that  I’m convinced don’t show up for the great deals and quality clothes. Pretty sure they return for the *experience* and to catch up with Deb.
34. You were an amazing maid of honor. Planning the details of that winter wedding with you was one of the best stretches of my life!
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35. You and dad have taught me what marriage is all about: commitment. friendship. laughter. simplicity. honesty. modesty. gratitude. family. tradition. rolling with the changes. being there. always moving forward.
36. I love that you’re friends with my friends and vice versa. I hope D and I are considered cool enough to be invited to our kid’s birthday parties and karaoke outings, too. I hope my kid/s go out to dinner my friends (even sometimes without me), too.
37. I love how much you love the ocean and returning to Laguna time and again.
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38. I love how much you cherish the humor in things not going as planned and how you’re not afraid to ask a cab driver to come pick a group of ladies up, even when he says “You could walk!” …even when it’s literally next door. Best. trip. ever.
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39. You taught me how to be goofy…how to have fun.
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40. Thank you for keeping all the incredible clothes you did over the years. You curated the BEST dress-up collection ever…the BEST wardrobe to some of my BEST high school memories.
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41. You are the BEST mimi. And this was fun to come across this morning:
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42. Thank you for learning The Wobble with my friends.
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43. Thank you for going to Laguna with us before we moved to Germany. It was SO dang hard not to be there for the real deal last month, but man, it truly meant so much to spend that time by the ocean. We WILL go back! DUH!
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44. I love that you read every word of what I write. You are my biggest cheerleader, my biggest fan. You are one of the main reasons I move forward with what I DO!
45. You are SUCH a good friend. GEEZ. It shows.
46. I love that I was born in the 80s. I wouldn’t have this life any other way. Thank you for giving me life, mama and daddio, and for everything you’ve done for me. I’m forever grateful.
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47. You sacrifice and GIVE so much for your family. This will never go unnoticed.
48. I love texting with you!
49. You have NEVER not been there for me.
50. You will always be the youngest-at-heart person I will ever know! And that’s a HUGE compliment!
51. I love how you used to check my Instagram and business Facebook page from your browser then text me about each post.
52. I love how you “heart” every single one of my IG posts, now. I always know when you’re up and at ’em…when I get that notification.
53. You think you’re a bad speller, but you’re always right on the first try.
54. You think you’re bad with technology, but look at where you’re at, now, Miss Email, Miss Text, Miss iPad, Miss FaceTime, Miss I-Can-Send-Videos, Miss IG, Miss I-know-more-about-the-places-you-visit-than-you-do.
55. YOU are so much smarter and wiser than you give yourself credit for!!!
56. YOU were the one who told me about Uptown Funk.
57. YOU were the one who believed in Jordan Spieth first. 😉
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58. You’re my confidant.
59. You’re a light.
60. You’re my bestie, mama. I love you. HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!!!!!!!!
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Cherished solo traipsing from a soggy Hamburg Monday

It seems Hamburg is one of Germany’s best-kept secrets. I’d never heard of this place till moving to Deutschland, but when I do hear of it, it’s accompanied with “Go when it’s warm.” The water. The Elbe. The city-crawling canals. The outdoor eateries. The “beach.” The harbor. The Alster lake. The restaurants on the harbor.

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When I saw the forecast for our time there, well, let’s just say it rained on my solo-exploring parade. All 4.5 days of it. I was bummed, but still excited to experience a new city. While my other half worked, my plan was to plop down in cafes and write, write, write and start the book that’s been inside me.

WELL…

Turns out I STARTED it on the train!

Immediately after I finished reading Paris Letters, I busted out my laptop and just started typing.

What sparked it? First off, this book is about “one woman’s journey from the fast lane to a slow stroll in Paris.” (Diana. Where would I be if you hadn’t brought this sweet book to my attention?)

Janice MacLeod completely simplifies her life, saves up loads of cash, quits her ad agency job in the States, travels to Europe, falls in love with a Polish butcher and taps into her untapped passion for art. She builds a business out of mailing personalized, painted letters to thousands of subscribers around the world. She marries the butcher, stays in Paris and revels in her new, slow life. True story, folks.

I resonated with so much of what Janice discovers in her European life, and I’d be crazy to say living abroad hasn’t been a catalyst for huge lifestyle shifts. But here’s my theory: You don’t have to escape your life or physically leave what you know to find your truest self…to discover what truly matters most. You simply have to leave the way of thinking that you know

TONS more on where THAT comes from…in the book.

So, what made writing a book finally feel so practical?

I know what you’re thinking: “FINALLY. She’s found the proper outlet for her ridiculously prolific emails, texts, blogs and FB statuses.”

NOPE.

Believe it or not, it was the prolific end product that was holding me back. Oh, and a little thing called perfectionism.

Immediately after I finished Janice’s book, I flipped back to the list of chapters. Five pages here, eight pages there…

That’s when it clicked.

As soon as I saw writing a book as writing editable, out-of-order chapters one free-flow sentence at a time and NOT a monstrous stack of pre-planned, I-know-exactly-which-direction-I’m-taking-this perfection, I was ready to begin.

When I DID crack that door open? Wow. Things started clicking. The chapter outline started coming. The why-would-anyone-read-and-benefit-from-my-story thoughts began to fizzle.

>>> I’ve finally realized that sharing your own story is not a selfish thing. I’ve finally realized that through reading others’ experiences, we do two things: 1) We take what resonates with us, or better yet, 2) We open our eyes to new perspectives.

In short (Gahahaha…really?), I’m proud to report that this longtime dream is now a work in progress! I just had to START!

Back to Hamburg.

I was expecting a buttoned up, quaint German city with measly tourists, but this place felt like Amsterdam and London had a brilliant little love child…a well-behaved German one, of course.

We were in the thick of the city, and we weren’t there nearly long enough to get to know it all too well, but first impressions were strong to quite strong. It’s a perfect mix of nature + city, media + maritime, traditions + trends and young + old. It is over 800 years old. It’s had time to roll with the changes + WWII punches while keeping its historic charm alive.

I’m obsessed with the NYT’s 36-hour routine in many a city. Here’s their take on Hamburg.

We plan to return when David’s not working and especially when we’re both not sick!

That brings me to Monday. I’m pretty sure traipsing around in the rain the entire day was the catalyst for the cold I caught. But, hey! It was worth every single soggy second…every last drop. Why? Here goes…

After free-hotel-breakfasting with D, he was off to conduct another Deloitte training for managers and partners (Ugh. I’m SO proud of that guy.), and I was off to explore with me, myself and I. But first…as any annoying, proud wife would do and any modest husband would cringe over, I must share a visual of Deloitte Hamburg:

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And a visual of the sweet architecture across the street:

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And a visual of the sweet street nearby:

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The last time I tagged along on D’s work trip was actually this time a year ago. We were in Stuttgart, we’d just gotten our first taste of what life in Dusseldorf would be like (I was in love, thank gawd!), and lo and behold, it was raining, raining, raining. I spent lots of time in and around the hotel that week.

This time around, nothing would stop me! I was SO inspired by this city (Yes, the trek from the train to the hotel was reeeally good foreplay.), and gosh, what a difference a big ‘ol sturdy umbrella makes…even if it has huge MARRIOTT letters on it.

Here’s a visual sliver of what the city has to offer. I can’t get enough of the vintage brick + water, water, water!

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A dear friend told me to check out Schones Leben (Thanks, Emi!), and I’m so happy she did.

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Any restaurant called “Beautiful Life” is sure to steal your heart, right? Aaand there’s nothing like walking into an adorable restaurant and realizing you have it ALL to yourself. Not sure that’s ever happened before. Normally, I’d be concerned, but judging by the charm, the fancy menu and my early arrival (Pretty sure it was 11! Ha!), I knew I was in good hands.

The wait staff was so welcoming. They told me I could sit, well, anywhere, but I was immediately distracted by the little knick-knacks and adorbs décor items. They were so cleverly placed, it took me a while to realize most were for sale. (Genius concept, right? Restaurants, take note!)

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Then, like a little fish lured to a bright light, I was pulled to a bowl of red hearts. I just had to call this one my own…

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Stillness + LOVE. Pretty much two things I’ve learned to live by these past 10 months, and two things I never want to lose sight of.

I snatched up this tangible reminder along with a few gorgeous postcards and nestled into the perfect people-watching-from-the-window seat. My spi-dar (Ahem, spider radar!) alerted me to a few friends in the window. (Spiders. They’re all UP in the Hamburg windows. Ancient webs eeeverywhere. As long as they stay on the other side like the CAGED BEASTS THEY SHOULD BE, I have no problem with them. In fact, I enjoy spotting them clever mathematicians.)

Back to the romance. Candles were lit. The music was perfect. Beatles* songs were being sung by people like Karen Carpenter (Oh, how I channeled you, mama!), classic love songs were filling my cup and even NSYNC’s “I Drive Myself Crazy” was sprinkled in. Every. single. song. tugged on some fond memory or familiar feeling.

*Ready for three fun Beatles facts I bet you didn’t know? Here we go:

  1. Where did The Beatles perform their first concert? Hamburg.
  2. Where did they record their first song? Hamburg.
  3. Where did they hone their performance skills from 1960-1962? Hamburg.

Don’t believe me? Read on.

Back to lunch. My plan was to write, but I was too swept off my feet by this romantic lunch for one and only one. I just wanted to spend time with myself…and just be. And when my creamy mushroom potato puree arrived, it was too dreamy for distractions.

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This moment was very telling of how far I’ve come. Joyfully noshing solo and intently desiring no device, journal, book, etc. on the side? That was not me a year ago. Eating slowly and mindfully taking in each bite with gratitude? Definitely not me a year ago.

My entire experience with food has changed. I mean, I actually enjoy grocery shopping (80 percent of the time) and cooking (90 percent of the time). It’s become a mindful, grateful experience and no longer a chore (80 percent of the time).

I’ve been asking myself how and why this all shifted. The answer to that question? It’s an already-started chapter in the book.

Anyway. I loved Schones Leben so much I shamelessly brought David back for dinner. This time, we didn’t have our pick of any seat in the house. There were PEOPLE! BUT…we were coincidentally (I think not!) seated at the same table I lunched at. It was delightful. My fish. His shrimp pasta. Ugh. SO good. I look forward to returning again.

Now for my next favorite memory from that Monday? The Fleetschlösschen!

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As soon as I saw this “little castle on the canal,” I HAD to see what it was all about. Here’s what it looked like inside:

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This “little castle” has seen a lot since 1885. First, it was a small church. Then, it was used as a registration point for imported goods. (All those brick buildings you see along the canals? They were used as stocking warehouses for the imported goods.) And now, since 2004, it’s the adorbs little bar/cafe you see today.

Meet the bartenders. (Are they old enough to be tending a bar, or am I just that old?)

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I loved talking with these ladies. Well, the short-haired gal smiled the whole time because she didn’t speak English. The blonde gal chatted me up, though.

Naturally, I was the only patron again. I asked them, “Where IS everyone?

“Ohh…it’s Monday. The weather is bad. People’s vacations are over. And it’s early.”

I mean, it was around 13:00. (Yeah, what’s up, military time? Acclimation, people. Acclimation.) So, I ordered a cappuccino and nestled into another window seat. (Not visible but totally there: more spider webs!)

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I was window’d out. Why stare out of more glass when I actually had humans to chat with? So, I turned around and started asking the girls about the history of this place.

Blondie told me it’s stood since the 1700s, but the website said 1885. Hmm. Either way, it’s still ancient. and awesome. and probably full of unwritten stories.

“Do you have recommendations of things to explore and places to write?” I asked. “Every local café I’ve poked my head into shows no sign of people on laptops.”

For laptop writing, she recommended Starbucks or Balzac Coffee. (Fun fact: Balzac Coffee was started in Hamburg by a woman!) Also. Every single Starbucks I saw was tucked into an insanely cool building. It’s impossible to escape grand architecture in this city. If you land on ONE SB, I highly recommend THIS one:

starbucksHere’s the addy, yo:
Neuer Jungfernstieg 5
20354 Hamburg, Deutschland

Here’s what the inside looked like:

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Yeah. I definitely didn’t take that picture. But Wolfang Meinhart did.

Go upstairs, melt into one of the many wide armchairs by one of the many windows and enjoy the view of the Alster lake.

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If a sweet girl from Bulgaria by the name of Gena is sitting across from you reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, ask her how the book is. Tell her your newfound thoughts on living in the present and “leaving what you know.” She’ll put her book down and tell you her thoughts, too. Tell her Brit said hi.

Enough about what happened on Tuesday. This blog is about Monday! Back to the exploring.

On my way out of the Fleetschlösschen, blondie (I really wish I remembered her name!) pointed me to the harbor. She said even in the rain, it’s worth a look-see!

She. was. right. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, the harbor keeps going…and going…and going. Get a load of these snaps:

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Then, there she was. Just in time. The BLOCKBRAU. Mama needed a BEER. (I know. I like BEER, now.)

<< Queue cheesy German music >>

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I’m really starting to fall in love with local German breweries. There’s a familiar feeling when you step into any brauhaus, but with each new city comes a new brew.

Just when it feels like you’re traipsing through a quiet scene of “The Walking Dead” (It started to get a bit eerie!), all you have to do is open the door to a brauhaus, and THAT’s where you’ll find all the LIFE. And a Monday afternoon, there’s loads of, well, retired life

My goal was to find a safe, solo seat at a bar, but as I wandered around, I quickly realized there was no such thing. Only tables. Tables filled with at LEAST two or three peeps at each. No solo-goers. Just as I was about to dip out, I was caught. “Table for one?” a server asked?

“Ummm…”

“By the window?”

“Ummm….” The seat he was pointing to was right by three elder folks. Oh, what the hell. “Sure!”

I squeezed my way over to yet another window seat (No spiders this time!), hesitantly laid my umbrella by their soggy three and was quickly welcomed into their family. I was at another table, yes, but the nice old man to my left and the two lovely ladies across from him immediately made me feel at home.

My new little boyfriend promptly instructed me to order an Alster (half lemonade, half beer). It was delish. Next up, I tried a Block Brau Hefeweizen with Elderberry syrup. Mmmmm…who knew such a combo could be so yum?

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They were visiting for the day to see a play (There’s a big theater scene!) and holy moly, were they getting their afternoon buzz on. It was 14:30. The play didn’t start till 18:00. Well done, old folks. Well done.

My friends didn’t speak English, but thanks to my slowly-but-surely-measly-German, we were getting the job done.

I loved when I asked them if they’d been to America. The man said he once spent a week seeing Vegas and the Grand Canyon but that was 20 years ago…in 1959. Gahahaha! Now that I know my numbers, I know exactly why he said it that way. (In German, instead of saying ninety-five, you say the second number first. You basically say “five and ninety.”)

These three, man. They made my heart smile. They were SO excited to tell me where to explore and kept TRYING to recommend places for me to go, but couldn’t quite get it out auf English. One of the women told me of a tourist info spot right across the nearby bridge where I could get English pamphlets.

But then, just as I thought my boyfriend had left to use the WC, he returned to the table…totally soaking wet…with a stack of English and German (for my learning) pamphlets. He went and snatched ‘em FOR me!!! This poor guy went out in the rain, over the bridge, into the tourist kiosk and picked up about eight pamphlets and three maps. So amazingly sweet of him.

Finally getting their hands on visuals and translated snippets to explain all they were trying to convey, these three went wild. They were circling places on the maps, marking pages, telling me about special landmarks, arguing over who was more accurate about this and that…oh man. Too cute. The one woman just kept recommending the zoo. Over and over. Next time. Next time.

When it came time to round up these soggy booklets and an even soggier umbrella, I thanked them for their incredible help and company and the man said in perfect English, “It was a great time.”

Indeed it was, old man. Indeed it was.

Storming the Rathaus + Keeping Up with the Karnevalians

Now that we’ve thrown in the towels (and ties!) on our first Karneval in Dusseldorf, it’s time to recap (more like recover!) on these last five days.

I’m STILL trying to wrap my head around all of this! Still in a bit of an altbier ‘n’ bubbly fog, but come ON! How many times in your life are you able to don a pink bob and “double-fist” in City Hall?

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So what IS Karneval?

For starters, imagine Halloween, St. Paddy’s Day and Mardi Gras (minus the nudity*) teaming up, pumping themselves with steroids and throwing a massive, FIVE-day costume bender brimming with confetti, booze, Karneval songs on repeat, more booze, the mayor playing along, old folks throwing down everywhere and a politically incorrect parade (with plenty of candy for the kids and/or greedy adults like me) to polish it all off.

*After seeing what an openly naked bunch the Germans really are (Americans, if you’ve been to locker rooms or saunas here, you know what I’m talking about!), it’s surprising there’s no public nudity in the midst of the Dusseldorf debauchery. For the record, I am not complaining about this missing element.

People of all ages and walks of life come out of the woodwork, AND those seemingly having the best time in their BEST-dressed attire are, well, usually some of the OLDEST!

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P.S. The woman to my left later GAVE me her medal. That is apparently a BIG deal. I will cherish it forever!! It’s a “Markt Frauen” (Market Women) medal from 1998. I LOVED talking to these ladies, or, well, trying to. Slight German-English barrier…but clinking, smiling, hugging and laughing are surely universal!

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Upon further investigation and scrolling through pics of years past, pretty sure this guy was Hoppeditz at one time.

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THESE ladies. Loved them. Dusseldorf natives.

I can’t say enough about the older and elderly folks I see walking around town, fully participating in these annual celebrations and functioning in ways that aren’t common in the States.

Europeans are outliving a lot of us, so it’s time we take some notes.

OK. So, what’s the HISTORY of Karneval? I’ve been reading up to give you a proper download.

Every year on Nov. 11 at 11:11 a.m. (coinciding with St. Martin’s Day), the Hoppeditz (AKA the jester carnival mascot) wakes up, drops out of a mustard pot (Hello! The Dorf is famous for its mustard!), playfully roasts the mayor on the market square, then, Karneval begins. I still can’t figure out where the jester originated or what this has to do with St. Martin’s Day, but, hey! He starts the party, and that’s all anyone cares about.

With the exception of the Karneval Verein, the carnival club/planning committee that meets, DRINKS and sings regularly in silly hats, not much happens between November and the start of the pre-Lent partying. Everyone else is too busy guzzling hot gluhwein (dangerously delicious spiced wine), noshing on piles of kartoffelpuffer (really, really greasy potato pancakes dipped in apple sauce) and celebrating Christmas harder than their children to even THINK about Karneval!

Although, in December, I do recall spotting sprinklings of old men in animal onesies and medieval gear smoking outside a brauhaus or two.

Then, after everyone and their mother, brother and lover blasts their own fireworks into every corner of the Dorf, the only medicine for their New Year’s hangovers and post-Christmas blues? KARNEVAL!

>>> Whoever told me Germans are fun-haters was totally wrong.

>>> Forget retiring in Florida, people. All the fun’s in Dusseldorf!

From here on out, perhaps the best way to explain the rituals and customs of Karneval is to recount my personal experiences…in pictures, of course.

HERE GOES!

It all kicks off on Altweiberfastnacht (Women’s Day/Women’s Carnival), the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. This is the day when “all the women can assume control,” cut ties and shoelaces off of men and apparently even kiss any man they want. (I didn’t see much random lip-locking. Luckily, everyone in City Hall was goin’ for cheeks.)

So, at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, my scissors, champagne and I were ready to rock. I thought the tram ride down to the Altstadt would be a bit awkward, but some other costumes were surprisingly in my view. Phew!

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Thanks to a gracious invite to join the American Women’s Club in their annual “Storm the Rathaus” festivities, I met my fellow “Heartbreakers” in front of City Hall.

As you can see, we were some of the first women to line up in the “holding pen.” They only allow a limited number of ladies through the doors each year, so you best get there early! It was COLD standing there till 11:11 a.m., but there’s nothin’ a little spiked coffee and champagne can’t fix. Am I right or am I right?

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After a while, crowds started filling the square…

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Then, things started rolling. Per tradition, the mayor came out and chatted with the ladies!!!

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Then, we sandwiched the mayor…

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Then, I turned around and saw these bitchin’ witches.

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Meanwhile, a news guy planted himself right by us, so I had no choice but to video-bomb him. If you want to see me on live TV (HAHA, what?!), mosey over to 13:30.

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Our group got interviewed a number of times!! Note to self: “Spreche Sie English?” does NOT get you interviewed, so I just stuck to video-bombing. LOL!

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Per more tradition, the mayor hopped on the mic from the City Hall balcony and rattled off all kinds of charming comments to get us ladies riled up.

“Women, you should be home cooking kartoffel for your husbands!!”  

It was all in German, of course, so, that was entertaining…

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If you look really closely for the most confused looking woman in the crowd, you’ll see me.

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At about 11:09 a.m., I joined in on an aggressive chant in German. I turned to a girl next me and asked, “WHAT are we chanting?” She laughed and said, “Let us IN! Let us IN!”

At 11:11 a.m., they counted down and opened the DOORS!!!

Want to see the footage? Scroll down to the first video. Recognize anyone at 1:30? Eh?? Eh??

Here’s a fun view from inside. I loved how we matched the decor!

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THEN, I cut my first tie!!!!!! What a good sport this man was. Notice how he’s wearing TONS of ties? Ha! He was popular.

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Awww…a post-tie-cut kiss!

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There were media people everrrywhere, and most of them were in costumes, too. Amazing.

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The PRINCE! We got a picture with the PRINCE!

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Ohhhh…and now for my favorite. guys. ever. As soon as these Dusseldorf natives knew I was from Colorado, they were pretty pumped.

“We smoke marijuana every day, so we can’t wait to get to Denver!! We saw on TV that there’s a type of weed out there called ‘into the couch.’ When you smoke it, you go INTO THE COUCH. Bahahaha!”

So, I made them pretend to be smoking with me…

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The crowds in the Rathaus were INSANE!! Don’t worry. This woman really doesn’t have two heads…

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These guys were guarding some VIP room. I tried to squeeze in. They weren’t impressed with my antics.

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This guy said, “Now I’m married,” then, put on his golf glove that clearly covered his wedding ring and said, “Now I’m single.” OH BOY…

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Total debauchery, I tell you!! I thought we were going to bust into City Hall and see people carrying on business as usual, working at desks, yada yada yada. NOPE. OPEN BAR for EVERYONE!

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Hey, House Hunters International fans! Recognize the gal on the right?? The Wilhelm episode? Eh? Eh?

When it came time to leave, the crowds had grown even bigger!!

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HELAU!

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Then, came Friday.

What happened on Friday?

Couldn’t tell ya. We were hiding out, cooking chili and NOT keeping up with the Karnevalians! I have a pretty good guess of what it involved though. Costumes? Check. Booze? Check.

Thennn, came Saturday. Earlier in the week, David asked me to buy (or in his words, scoop up) the most ridiculous Karneval costumes I could find. I believe I accomplished the task. Am I right or am I right??

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Poor David was having a severe identity crisis that night.

“Am I a dog? Am I a bunny? Or am I a hare?”

“What does a bunny sound like?”

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We couldn’t have asked for a better group to celebrate this first Karneval with. We are so blessed and grateful to have met such great people out here!!

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Awww! {xoxo} So happy Deloitte connected us with these two!

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LOL! David was having a ball photo-bombing all the lovers.

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Then, he was taken in by a family of pink pigs…or cows…or whatever they were. “Goodbye, honey! Good luck in your new life!”

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We tried to go home. We really did. But next thing we knew, we were “shuffling” on cobble stone with full beers in our hands (THAT takes talent, P.S.) and cheering on Michael Jackson.

One of my favorite nights, ever! Hands down!

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THEN, it was Sunday. OOF! Can you say Sunday FUNday?! Hundreds of thousands of…you guessed it…MORE COSTUMED PEOPLE gathered along the Konigsallee and Old Town again.

I love this pic of David and his German coworker…especially everything happening behind them. Nuns, superheroes, you know…typical Sunday.

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Haha…I don’t know what it was about this man, but I just had to capture him and this awkward exchange.

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LEGO conga line!!

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Hmmm…some people put more effort into their outfits than others, and I’m pretty sure he stole my robe.

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“It would be ridiculous NOT to have a Killepitsch dance mob right here!”

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When in doubt, just put on a mustache!

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Whoa. Dang. McCormick, is that you?

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THEN, came ROSE MONDAY!! 

If stores boarding their windows isn’t a telling sign that Karneval gets KRAZY, I don’t know what is!

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Just when you thought everyone had had their fill after four days, they came back for more. I think 1 in 4 men was wearing an animal suit. I had no idea I was dressing David in such trendy attire.

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Just a couple of old boys waitin’ for a parade…

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I LOVE HIM.

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I REALLY, REALLY LOVE HIM.

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And THEM.

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And these little cuties!

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Whoa. That’s one jester you don’t want to mess with…

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Don’t you just love her and her best view in town?

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The KALM before the KRAZY! Local news reported that one million people gathered in the DORF for Rosenmontag!

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Gotta love how this important guy is just taking down a cigarette.

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The first group of the carnival!!! I’d say we got a pretty good spot, yeah?

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“Helau!!!” “HELAU!!” “Helau!” “HELAU!!!”

Loads of candy, caramels, taffy and flowers were flying out of these floats. It was like trick-or-treating backwards. I even got a hold of a mini mascara and tiny toy car!

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Then came all the political floats…

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You can get a load of all the floats here.

It was a serious ghost town in other parts of the city yesterday! Clearly, everyone was pulled to the parade!

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Well, Karneval, you were amazing.

I GUESS I’ll hang up this chicken suit once and for all.

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Until next year!!

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The power of shifted perspectives and tenacious pertinacity

Just in case you, too, had no idea what pertinacity meant until laying eyes on the word:

Pertinacity is a quality of sticking with something, no matter what. It’s a type of persistent determination.

People who have pertinacity won’t give up, and they stick with things doggedly. Pursuing a difficult career requires pertinacity. Pertinacity is a mix of courage, conviction, and a little stubbornness. Pertinacity requires a strong will and self-confidence. Pertinacity can also be called perseverance, persistence, and tenaciousness. Pertinacity is related to the word tenacity, which is also a quality that combines determination and commitment.

Do you ever have those moments where a mix of random and significant happenings from the last few weeks or months suddenly piece together in your brain? Sometimes they piece together in the form of a bright, neon list of words…or an intense feeling you can’t quite label…or even a reoccurring theme. No matter what the puzzle looks or feels like, it’s an incredible “Ah, HA!” feeling.

I just had an explosion of realizations about perspective + perseverance in my little head, and there’s nothing left to do but let them FLOOD from my HEART to my FINGERTIPS to YOU.

It all started piecing together yesterday morning. I woke up mentally and physically exhausted. These last five weeks have consisted of two back-to-back, rigorous experiences: three weeks of intensive language courses + eight days of intensive job training.

These intense stretches exercised muscles in my brain I didn’t even know EXISTED. They worked my nerves like no other and tested just how much I could cram into my memory. They were tiring, BUT they were a blessing.

So with my face smashed in my pillow and my motivation melting into the mattress, I thought something to myself I haven’t thought yet: “Man…I REALLY miss having a car. I could reeeally use a trip to a drive-thru Starbucks right now.”

(When I asked David if he’s thought about his car, he replied, “ALL the time.” His BMW is in the hands of his twin brother until we return. When our nephew rides in the car with him, he goes, “Dad, why are you driving Uncle David’s car?” SO dang cute.)

All I wanted to do yesterday was put on some sunglasses (I haven’t needed those things for MONTHS), hop into Rhonda (I miss that 13-year-old silver Honda!!), blare some Spoon (GOSH, I miss driving to music!), have my long lost Americano-with-steamed-nonfat-and-a-sprinkle-of-cinnamon handed to me in record time (Germans don’t know what Americanos are unless you’re at a Starbucks), then, call my mom on the way back (All my long-distance calling, er FaceTiming or Skyping, depends on WiFi.).

UGH. In short, I was REALLY missing home and all the little comforts that came with life in Denver.

I could have sat there and continued to wallow in those feelings, BUT instead, I decided to cease the morning for what it was, not what it wasn’t. So, David and I bundled up and dragged each other out the door and walked to Starbucks. The cold, crisp air woke me up immediately, the SUN was out and actually shining on our cheeks, and all my favorite little ducks and geese dotted the water along the way.

While it’s comforting to think about what I’ll eventually get back to in Denver, it’s also pretty cool to think about what’s in front of us HERE. And get this…we liked that first-thing morning walk SO much, we rolled out of bed and got straight to it again today. We even stumbled upon an antique market this time!

Guess what? We’re approaching our three-month mark. Just about a week away. Apparently, three months after you move somewhere new, all the honeymoon (…or shall we say honeymove?) dust settles. You realize you’ve really actually moved away, and you ask yourself just W-T-F you were thinking…BUT you get through it.

So far, I haven’t had the panic or WTF questions about actually moving here, but I definitely had the panic thoughts about work this week. On the sixth day of my training, my thoughts were riddled with doubts:

Was this teaching thing the right choice?
Is this going to immerse me in Germany?
Will teaching English pull me away from learning German?
How am I going to do this??
This is going to be way harder than I thought.
Will I be able to think on my feet and roll with students’ expectations?
Every time I’m put on the spot to mock teach, I freeze. How will I ever be ready?
I’m so overwhelmed.
I’m not sure I’m meant for this.

I messaged David all my thoughts. He was out of town for work. His response was perfect: “Use these feelings as motivation to prove that you can do it.”

Then, it clicked. Those little reminders about growth and perseverance that have gracefully gotten me through this journey so far…they all hit me again.

>>> All this tension is just what I need. It’s a sign that I have room to grow. I’m not meant to have all the answers right now.
>>> Why look at these challenges and complain about them when I could be channeling that energy into motivation to overcome them?
>>> I should be turning fear of failure into fuel for growth. OH, that’s GOOD. I like that. I will stick with that.

I have no idea how teaching is going to go, but I do know that I will learn from these experiences. Yes, it’s going to be challenging, yes, it’s totally different than anything I’ve ever done before, but the only thing I can be certain of at this point is that something amazing awaits – even if it’s an incredible lesson.

God is at work, and he’s throwing a great test at me. I’m surrendering to his design, and it feels amazing.

Even though it may not feel right or comfortable on the surface at times, I know deep down that I’m exactly where I need to be.

When we’re in the thick of a storm, sometimes it feels like the clouds will never part, but eventually, in some way, shape or form, they always do.

When we make it through a challenging day, week, year or heavy stretch of our lives, we always come out stronger and primed for more. We are graced with new appreciations and perspectives THANKS to these challenges. We CAN look back and think, “Gosh…that seemed so monumental at the time,” or “Wow, I DID it!” or “OK, that was actually really funny.”

For example: The Sunday night we got back from Amsterdam, things were a little overwhelming…

In between FaceTiming with family and nervously practicing my first mock class for Monday, we found a leak under our kitchen sink, then, we noticed some weird mildew/mold growing near the ceiling…THEN, the icing on the cake? I realized I’d forgotten my retainer and mouth guard in the Netherlands!!! GASP! (Or if you say it with a mouth guard in…GASSHP!)

>>> Soapbox Sidenote: Yes, in the grand scheme of life and everything happening on this planet, these “challenges” I’ve been babbling about are very laughable. While I almost always remind myself of this reality in reflection, I also think it’s 200% appropriate to own and embrace the experiences that are unique to our journeys. There will ALWAYS be bigger problems out there in the world. There will ALWAYS be smaller problems. As long as we’re finding significance or learning opportunities in everything we can, who cares how mundane or privileged they might be perceived by others? OWN it! It’s YOUR life! OK. Stepping off my soapbox, now.

And YES, at the age of 30, I still wear a retainer. Laugh it up, punks! I’m convinced my teeth have the muscle memory of goldfish and will start swimming in random directions if not properly caged in!

At the time, it felt like the world was ending, but you know what? Everyone survived!!! And it makes for a pretty funny story…a story that even made a GERMAN laugh! 😉

(Ask David about the sense of humor level in the Dusseldorf office compared to Denver. His jokes, oh-so-often taken too literally, fall flat more than he can count. BUT his recounting of these failed jokes? Hilarious.)

So, poor Oliver, a fellow Berlitz trainee hailing from the DORF, was subjected to the dirty details of my forgotten, disgusting dental devices.

Me: So, Oliver. This is reeeally random and also quite embarrassing, but do you know anyone who has to wear a mouth guard when they sleep?
Oliver: [laughs] What??? A mouth guard???
Me: Ya. I grind my teeth. Did you ever have braces?
Oliver: Braces?
Me: You know, those awkward silver things that straighten teeth?
Oliver: OH, I think I know what you mean, but as you can see, my teeth are perfect. I didn’t need them.
Me: OH! Well, mine were ALL over the place, and after I got my braces off, I needed to wear a retainer…and I STILL wear it…AS WELL AS a mouth guard.
Oliver: OK….?
Me: So, there IS a point to this. I FORGOT THEM IN AMSTERDAM.
Oliver: [laughs] Oh, NO!
Me: I know. I called the Marriott last night. That was a funny phone call…
Oliver: And?
Me: They HAVE them, but they won’t MAIL them! Someone has to pick them up. So, I’ve been brainstorming which poor, innocent soul I should burden with the task of picking up my slimy “headgear.” David’s friend from high school whom I’ve never met? No. The girl I befriended in the bathroom at Meerbar who lives in the “DAM?” No. My friend is heading there this weekend with colleagues, and I DO feel comfortable asking her, BUT no matter how well I know the person, it’s still weird. It’s like asking someone to cart a body part across town. It’s like asking someone to hand you your dentures.
Oliver: Are they in a case?
Me: Yes, thank GOODness, but whoever lays their hands on that black case is going to have that curious feeling you get when you drive past a car accident. No matter how disturbing the scene, you can’t help but want to look, you know? I’m not sure I want someone seeing these things!! It’s like lifting the lid of a coffin and finding the corpse of the…TOOTH FAIRY!
Oliver: [laughs and laughs] You should be a storyteller! Your stories…they’re so far from any sort of plot, but hilarious all the way through!
Me: Hmmm…I’ll take that as a compliment, Oliver.
Oliver: And you know, I feel sorry for people who go through life and can’t laugh about their embarrassing moments!
Me: You know what?? I AGREE.

Like my dad always says, if we couldn’t laugh, we would all go insane!

So, what am I getting at? What’s the overarching moral of these long-winded, random stories??? I’m starting to ask myself the same question.

Let me try to sum it up. AHEM. OK.

Focus, Brit. Focus.

So, back to pertinacity. Why did I toss that in? Not only can we embrace pertinacity in our actions, but I like the idea of applying it to the way we SEE things and letting it trickle from there. We can persevere through anything, and God will not hand us anything more than we can handle. 

Don’t give up!

Remember: You can always shift your perspective.

The sun must set before it can rise!
A seed must endure darkness and incredible weight before it can grow!
The glass is ALWAYS half full! 😉 I had to go there.

Life is so incredibly freeing when we see things for what they are and not what they aren’t! 

Fox example: Our little nephew turned 3 on Friday. I completely spaced to get a card or gift in the mail in time.

While David and I were bummed about missing his party, I shifted my perspective of the situation and instead asked myself how we could embrace it for what it IS. So, we planned a quick Skype date before his party, bought a huge piece of cake, a “3” candle and plotted the perfect “virtual blow-out.” We, er, David, practiced putting out a tea light from a distance with a spray bottle. Good thing we practiced. The first few times, David missed the candle and totally sprayed my face.

SO, when it came time to chat and sing Happy Birthday to him, we told him to blow into the screen. From his view, he saw the candle blow out magically, and from our view, David successfully sprayed the flame and we saw a PRICELESS expression. I planned on videoing it, but got so lost in the moment. My nephew’s smile made my world stop. THAT, my friends, totally beats everything I was sad to miss. We were able to share in a super special moment, all because we decided to shift our perspective.

OK. I’m sick of hearing myself talk, and as you can see, I have lots to say about this topic.

Until my next babble sesh, I want to hear about your own shifted perspectives and “Ah, HA” moments!

Leave a comment or drop me a line. I would LOVE to hear from you.

Hugs and high fives,
Brit

How language classes taught me way more than just German

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Today, I completed the last day of my intensive German classes, an experience that taught me more than I signed up for. Not only did I start chipping away at my understanding of this ridiculously hard but intriguing language (Got an A1 “diploma” under my belt, peeps!), but I also gained some incredible insights about people, other cultures and myself.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been going Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and churning out nightly hausafgaben (homework). OOF! It’s been pretty intense, but it’s been great. If my job training didn’t begin next week, I probably would’ve signed up for another week with this eclectic crew!

(The hubs and I had originally registered online to take two weeks together starting Dec. 29, but on that Monday morning, we arrived to a note on the front door saying Sprachcaffe would be closed until Jan. 5. Waw wawww. Unfortunately this threw a wrench into David’s plan of attack with work. So, long story short, he had to dip out of classes altogether.)

On the Sunday before these classes started, I was bah-humbugging big-time. We had just spent 17 straight days together, and I didn’t want them to end.

This was truly one of the best. stretches. ever.

It kicked off with four nights in Rome, followed by the most dreamy overdose of home-cooked meals, champagne, Christmas movies, “Big Bang Theory” benders, wine, family FaceTime dates, sleeping in, recording my dreams, blogging, city strolls and a few parties sprinkled in.

I didn’t know how Christmas would feel being away from family, but by focusing on what this holiday season WAS, rather than what it WASN’T, everything felt exactly the way it needed to be. I realized how much I’ve taken for granted on holidays while also learning the power of being truly present in what’s in front of you.

It was also during this time that I had two huge realizations: 1) For the first time in YEARS, I was completely immersed in and 200% OK with pure and utter relaxation. 2) Since arriving in Germany, this experience has been unintended rehab for the workaholic in me. (More on that epiphany-in-progress later.)

So, when it came time for this first-and-likely-last-ultimate-holiday-vacation-bender to actually come to an end, I was pissed. I wasn’t ready to dive into a routine with responsibilities. I had no idea what to expect with these classes. Knowing that you’re about to spend days upon days cooped up in a room with people you’ve never met is a little intimidating, you know?

As D and I were walking down to the gym that Sunday, my mind was riddled with whining, which for the record, has been a very rare mindset since moving here. With how fleeting this journey has been and will be, I refuse to spend too much energy in the dumps about how different, new and challenging almost everything is. I’m trying to embrace it as much as humanly possible.

You see, I’ve been practicing the art of seeing every challenge as a blessing in disguise, a lesson from God, proof that I have more room to grow, or all of the above. It’s been remarkable to think this way. It’s been life-changing.

SO, it was only fitting that right when I was in the thick of my bah-humbugging…SPLAT! A bird POOPED on me. In all of its white, bright glory, right on my black North Face coat…a dollop of doo-doo had descended onto my chest, just barely missing my face. We started dying laughing.

THEN, it hit me: BIRD POOP IS GOOD LUCK! It was a sign from the Big Man Upstairs and all the birds I’ve been stalking to SNAP out of it.

See? Not everyone can say that shit landing on their coat turned their frown upside down, but that’s the power of positive thinking, people!

Now that all these pre-class jitters have turned into memories, I’m anxious to share what I’ve learned.

1. I’m officially obsessed with international environments.

You guys. I was the ONLY person from the States that stepped foot into this class for three weeks, with the exception of one guy who dropped in for a day from California. All the other students were from Hungary, Spain, India, Japan, Iran, Turkey, Czech Republic, Mexico, Colombia, China, Russia and France.

Some came and went depending on their level or instructor availability, but how COOL is that to be with people from ALL over the planet? People of all different ages, origins, interests and personalities cramming together into one room to learn the same language…THAT was fun. I want more.

Dusseldorf is a massive melting pot. I love it.

2. Assumptions are dangerous!

When I found out on the first day that mostly everyone in the class wasn’t even living in Dusseldorf, I was a little bummed. “These people won’t care to get to know me. Why spend energy becoming friends with people who don’t even live here?”

Well, that was a silly way to think, and I’m glad that mindset quickly faded.

I sat next to this adorable couple who lives on the island of Majorka in Spain, and let me just say that David and I are SO going to visit them. IT is GORGEOUS. Apparently this is where tons of Germans flock to, hence why they were here studying up on Deutsch.

And it turns out that this college student from Mexico, who just moved to Dusseldorf, will be taking German and English classes at Berlitz. He may just be one of my students! He also seems to have a pretty good green chili hook-up. 😉

Then, there was this hilarious, pony-tailed guy from the Czech Republic, who on the first day was wearing suspenders and a tight T-shirt that accentuated his beer belly and said “GO HARD.” He spoke often and proudly about his two main hobbies: trinken bier and hören Heavy Metal. He also gave me a pretty stellar list of the best places to drink bier and wein when we go to Prague and beyond.

3. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong place.

After the second class, I tried to get a one-on-one tutor. I felt super intimidated and way behind. I felt like I was holding the class up with all my questions and confusion. This Russian mother-daughter duo was already rattling off the German alphabet, impressive vocab and full sentences…AH!!! BUT, I’m soooo glad my instructor encouraged me to stick it out. We ALL struggled at times, and we ALL helped each other at times.

FRAN, if you’re reading this, I’m so grateful for you always pointing me to the right pages and sections…and ALL the vocabulary keys that I seemed to never notice!

In short: It’s good to surround yourself with people who keep you growing. It’s OK to ask for help! We’re all in this together.

4. Living here is like getting a second chance at growing up. 

Speaking of the alphabet, I feel like I’m growing up all over again. It’s hilarious sitting in a room of all adults as we stumble over our words. It’s SO exciting to be recognizing certain words on signs or in people’s conversations on the tram.

I’m learning at LEAST one new thing every hour. If only my brain were as fresh and spongy as a child’s…

5. Laughter, smiles, music and hugs are universal.

We may not have always understood each other, but we laughed…A LOT. This guy from Japan even beatboxed for me one day.

And today??? My heart SANG when these people got up to give me the biggest hugs goodbye when they knew I was done with the class. One guy from Turkey barely spoke English (OH MAN, I felt for him and how lost he was!), but he had the biggest heart and made me laugh.

6. I miss being around the same people every day.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to go to the same place with the same people for weeks in a row. I think that’s partly why I loved this so much. In the States, I was working solo much of the time at home, coffee shops or client sites, and meeting spots and faces were always revolving.

7. I’ve been lying to myself. I’m SO not used to shorter days and grey skies.

OK, that’s not really something I learned. It’s more of a complaint. OOPS! I can’t tell you how many days I overslept and slugged my way to Sprachcaffe (The sun is still not rising until 8:30 a.m. Bahhh!), but once I arrived, everyone’s energy got me movin’ and groovin’.

8. Attempting to speak German with people here is more FUN than it is intimidating.

OK, I’m still a HUGE beginner, but I’m finding it so fun to have mini conversations with people and attempt to ask properly for things at restaurants, bars, cafes and the grocery store. I’m finding that people really do appreciate your efforts to speak German. Their demeanor really changes as soon as you say “Entschuldigung, aber ich lerne Deutsch.”

Last weekend, I was even talking to the woman behind the cheese counter at EDEKA and a guy next to me about how Colorado is beautiful, has great mountains, lots of sunshine, and thanks to the guy pointing it out…that Robert Redford is from there…ha ha ha! I told him he went to my college! Of course, half of this convo was in English, because if someone knows it, they’re either excited to practice it or they simply prefer efficiency. 😉

Yesterday on the tram, I was even having a mini chat with an elderly woman from Poland. I love it.

9. The world’s a more tolerant, peaceful place when you’re in language class.

It’s pretty unreal how many cultures came together and got along as well as we did. We’ve got a LONG way to go out there as a human race, but at least this class gave me a little taste of what I wish for this world.

10. We can be the change we want to see. 

I’m more inspired than ever to interact with as many different people and cultures as possible out here, whether it’s through butchered attempts at German or the native language at hand, more smiles, more questions, more attempts to make people laugh…or maybe even some dancing!

This country hasn’t been introduced to my notorious, injury-inducing dance moves…yet.

ROME: Organized chaos and the best people watching in the world

Disclaimer: You’re going to be here for a while. Grab a beverage, cozy up to your screen and get ready to reeeeead! 

“Did you bring the camera?” David asked, as we made our way down to the Colosseum on our first afternoon in Rome.

Oops!! Completely spaced that one. Thank goodness for the quality of iPhone pictures these days! But let’s be real. They don’t quite cut it in certain scenarios…

…like when you’re trying to chase a seagull.

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…or tiptoe through flour to snap a glimpse of a bakery’s ovens at 2:00 a.m. (IT WAS SO HOT IN THERE!)

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…or zoom in on a…uh….a seagull, ahemmm, YES, that’s what I’m referring to here. This bird had no idea it was mocking an ancient statue. What’s quite funny is when we passed this place a second time, there was a seagull on his head again! Must be a good view.

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Nonetheless, I think you’ll still enjoy this mini tour and hopefully pack a few tips in your traveling pocket. These are just SOME of the sights, tastes and places I cherished whilst exploring ROMA with the hubs.

Oh, wait! Before you get scrollin’, I strongly suggest you get the lowdown on Suite Sistina. From a disco bathtub to the “Sexy Menu” I accidentally sent my mom to why I’d actually recommend staying at this hotel, go get your read on.

OK, ready? Let’s start walkin’. (When you stay at Suite Sistina, you can walk to practically everything. You walk anywhere from four to eight miles a day, but when you’re crushing pizza, pasta, wine and gelato, it balances everything out.)

We begin near the Roman Forum. 

Standing before you are some the city’s most ancient ruins. These are remnants of government buildings, temples and platforms that were once part of the bustling marketplace and town hall that was THE Roman Forum. Elections, processions, speeches and more took place in this area.

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Don’t you just wish you could go back in time and see what everyone was wearing, what they talked about and how it smelled?

Another thing you see on your way to the Colosseum and all over Roma:

STREET PERFORMERS. Everywhere. And street peddlers. Everywhere.

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THIS guy. I know. Amazing, right?

Unfortunately, he’s tricking us. There is a method to his mad illusion. Can you guess what it is?

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…then THIS guy. He’s not darting down the sidewalk like you think he might be. He’s completely still.

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Here he his from the back. I love how the folks approaching him aren’t impressed. Boy, I sure was. (It doesn’t take much.)

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Here is the Lupa Romana, a famous statue that represents the founding brothers of Rome: Romulus and Remus.

Me: AH! David!! Wait, look! Come here! Do you know what this is?
David: Oh, yeah, I’ve seen this. Romulus and Remus.
Me: Yes! I saw this on Rick Steves’ video! These are the twins who founded Rome. Were they really abandoned as babies and taken care of by a she-wolf?
David: Umm, you know that’s not really true, right?
Me: ….
David: It’s folklore. A myth. Fake.
Me: Oh. Psssh. Yeah, of course I knew that…

OK, I lied. But gosh, the wolf on that statue dates back to the 13th Century A.D. I feel like anything could have happened that long ago. And in my defense, these are ancient Romans we’re talking about here…people who:

  • drank gladiator blood because they believed it helped with epilepsy and fertility.
  • washed their clothes in urine. Pee was a hot commodity, people. They’d collect it from public bathhouses, sell it and, yes, tax it.
  • appointed horses as priests. OK, there’s only one instance of this apparently happening, but isn’t that enough? Oh, Caligula. You silly emperor.

SO, if these things happened, I wouldn’t be surprised if two babies were really suckled by a wolf. HA!

Then…

In the distance…

We could see her…

The colossal, magnetic monument that pulls millions of people on this planet to her each year. I gasped. I didn’t expect to see her smack dab in the middle of the city!

And then…

We arrived at her doorstep.

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This, my friends, is the largest amphitheater in the world: The Colosseum, originally called the Flavian Amphitheater.

I can’t believe we were actually standing in front of something that was completed in 80 A.D.

Even more shocking? It took under a decade to complete.

How would you like to be the project manager on this job, eh?

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Here’s the inside.

It’s absolutely breathtaking. Literally. It’s been calculated that approximately 500,000 people and more than a million wild animals took their last breath here.

Can you imagine spending your lunch at this place? People did that. Watching humans and animals fight to the death was, ya know, normal.

I’ve been reading all kinds of things on this arena of death since seeing it with my own eyes. I didn’t know enough about it going in.

There are tons of varying facts, stories, investigations and myths floating around out there, but here are some cruel and intriguing tidbits (I’m scared to call them facts!) that have raised an eyebrow or dropped my jaw:

  • The Colosseum apparently fit up to 80,000 spectators.
  • More than 9,000 animals were slaughtered during the inaugural games.
  • It had tunnels and elevators under the main floor so that animals and gladiators could miraculously appear when needed. Remember: There was no electricity, so slaves were the ones man-handling such elevators.
  • Many of the animal hunts were conducted by experienced men, but others involved unarmed criminals or prisoners of war. To avoid dying in the arena, many of these men would kill themselves first with whatever they had on hand. One man allegedly stuffed a lavatory sponge (Yes. A lavatory sponge that was shared by in-mates.) down his own throat. There were even 29 prisoners who strangled each other. It was bad, people.
  • On the off-chance that a prisoner managed to kill one of his animal opponents (think anything from lions and cougars to boars and wild bears), another wild animal would be unleashed onto the floor, sometimes even before the man had a chance to finish killing the first one.
  • Emperor Commodus apparently fancied decapitating ostriches in one swift sprint and chucking their heads into the crowd. I mean, what happened to slinging free T-shirts into the stands?
  • It’s still debatable whether they had aquatic fights in here. They’d allegedly bring in boats and specially trained swimming horses and bulls. How they’d get the water in aaand flush it out is beyond me, but Romans were pretty amazing plumbers.

OK. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time to lighten up the mood.

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Stretch break, anyone? 
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HA! There’s David trying and succeeding at being a tourist.

“I love when you make me stand in front of things and take my picture,” said Denver never.

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I know I worked up your appetite with all those tales of death and gore, so it’s a perfect time to tell you about Antica Birreria Peroni.

I had two firsts here: 1) my first taste of carbonara and 2) my first exposure to an Italian sink.

Time to break some news to you: It’s hard to find nomtastic, authentic Italian fare in Roma. It’s not horrible food, but your options are quite limited if you’re in touristy areas, which is basically all of central Rome, it seemed. Everywhere you look, you’ll see “pizzeria ristorante.” Get your palate ready for pizza-pasta-salad-gelato-repeat.

We went a little off the path, though, and stumbled across this gem. I already said it, but I’ll say it again: ORDER THE CARBONARA if you go here.

It’ll be a miracle if you find anyone to translate the Italian menu or even speak English to you, so again, just order the Carbonara…all of it. Order it until they run out, then mail me some. Oh, my mouth is watering just thinking about it. *nom-nom-nom*

So, now for part II of the firsts. That Italian sink…

After using the oh-so-tiny solo lady loo, I worked up a nice lather and did what any American would do if they didn’t see faucet handles. I waved my hands in every possible spot that would trigger a motion sensor. Nada. I tapped the faucet. Nada. I pressed my palm on the spout, and out came enough water to get a little productive, but after about six more tries of that…nada. Drat.

I grabbed a big wad of TP, successfully made the situation worse, then heard someone finishing up in the men’s loo. I lollygagged. He came out.

Me: Excuse me, but is your sink working?
Italian Man Who Didn’t Speak English: No? ….
Me: My sink…no water! Can I use yours?
Italian Man Who Didn’t Speak English: (motions me to his own sink but looks confused and walks away)

I went back to my mess. A few seconds later, I heard mumbling outside the door. It was him! He motioned me over to his sink again, but this time pointed to the ground. The heavens opened, singing angels appeared and beams of light pointed to my rescue.

Me: Ohhhhh….A PEDAL!!!! Oh my goodness!!! Thank you SO MUCH!!!
Italian Man Who Didn’t Speak English: Hahaha, yes! This is very typical of Italia!

So, yes. LONG story short, if you want water to flow in your bathroom sink in Italy, ya gotta press a pedal. I had no idea!

OK, here are some other random observations, in no particular order.

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This is traffic…at MIDNIGHT!

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Teensy-weensy cars and ridiculous park jobs…everywhere! It can take HOURS to find a parking spot.

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The Tiber River is so charming and romantic at night, even with that mysterious green tint…

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If it weren’t for the amazing group of Italian natives our good friend Chad hooked us up with, we would’ve totally missed the magic that happens that Cioccolata e Vino.

This was our first stop in Trastevere, an adorable part of town with tons of bars, cafes and restaurants. This entire area was packed with people, yet everything just worked.

Back to these shots. You basically hop in a long line that moves very quickly and browse a menu of chocolate shots with names that’d be fitting on Suite Sistina’s Sexy Menu. In short, they’re basically “quickies.” Or as one of the Italians put it for me: like having “fast sex.” *blushing*

When it’s your turn, you grab your mini chocolate cup filled with rum, whipped cream and other sinful treats, tilt your head back and drop that beauty in. It was deeeeelicious and deeelightful.

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I loved this alleyway!!! Liiights! Travestere is a winding, confusing mess of awesomeness. It’s definitely a place you’d be happy to get lost in.

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These are some of the amazing Italians we had the opportunity to spend close to eight straight hours with. We’re so grateful for the new friends we’ve made and that some of these natives live in Cologne! (Grazie, Grazie, Grazie, Andrea, Andrea, Andrea + Team!)

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Smoke break on the bridge at 3 a.m. David and I were using all of our energy to keep up with the Italians who were just getting started!

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AH. Trajan’s Column.

Can you guess how many carved images are on this massive column? More than 2,000. This thing is TALL…so tall that I had to lay down on my back to capture the whole dang thing. David was shaking his head, and those two people walking towards me were a little confused.

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Then, we approached The Pantheon, ancient Rome’s most preserved and influential building. Even 2,000 years later, it’s still a tremendous sight to see.

Some fun facts I’ve dug up for ya:

  • It was originally built as a temple for all gods, hence the name.
  • It was apparently the first building in the whole world to be built with concrete. In fact, the exact composition of the materials is still unknown, but it’s very similar to modern-day concrete. Whatever the recipe, it was a good one, because it’s stood the true test of time and gravity. Earthquakes and massive raids have nothin’ on The Pantheon.
  • Raphael is buried here.
  • My favorite part? The oculus, as seen below.

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The oculus is that massive circle of light we’re “touching.”

Guess what? It’s NOT covered. It never has been. When it rains, water flows perfectly away thanks to the slightly convex floors and the drainage system in place. I told you Romans were genius plumbers.

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The dome is so unbelievably impressive. Pictures don’t do it justice. The Earth stops when you walk in.

It’s still the largest, unsupported dome in the world. It’s pretty wild to think that what you see in The Pantheon is almost exactly the way it looked 2,000 years ago. While everyone’s looking up and taking pictures, are they thinking about how they’re standing on the exact flooring that emperors and some of the world’s most influential artists and kings walked on? Probably not. I had no idea until now. Drat.

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It even steals your heart as you’re walking out. Dang. Stop it, Pantheon! You’re too good.

OK, let’s go make a wish at the fountain over yonder…

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Excuse me, ma’am? Is that a sword balloon or are you just happy to see that fountain? (Har. Har. I couldn’t help myself. By the way, David took this picture. Perhaps he thought taking it diagonally would disguise his efforts. Oh, David.)

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Not much to report here except that I LOVED ALL THE LIGHTS and ALLEYWAYS! Not so much the crowds. 😉

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AH! The outside of The Vatican Museum. Thank goodness we signed up to join a tour group in advance. Otherwise, you have to stand in looooong lines.

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Our tour guide gave David her “flag” when she went to get everyone’s tickets. He really rocked his duties.

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I’m telling you…everything looks better from the cobble stone, no matter how many strange looks you get whilst setting up the shot.

Then, while everyone else was fixated on an informational stop about the Sistine Chapel ceiling and the history and restoration of Michelangelo’s work (You can’t take pictures or video while inside. I LOVED that. It’s such a beautiful moment that you can only store in your memory. It’s so refreshing to be in a room where everyone is just taking it in…in silence.), I was zooming in on this seagull (Ya know, something I never do), and by some miracle, captured it taking flight.

These things are all over the Vatican. They’re ginormous. They’re gorgeous. It’s glorious.

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OK, now take in the ceiling of the Vatican’s Gallery of Maps.

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Spotted: David’s forehead.

See all the people? Apparently, this is considered “off season.” In the summer months, we were told it’s shoulder-to-shoulder everywhere.

Now, take in the all and powerful St. Peter’s Basilica. Do you see the pope in the window?

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…BAH! Gotcha. No-go on the pope.

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#obligatoryselfie

Where are those aggressive street peddlers and their selfie sticks when you need them?? That was most certainly an annoying piece of Rome. If someone wasn’t in your face to buy their little gadget or toy, they were luring you into their restaurant or cafe.

Thankfully, the Vatican was a breath of fresh air on that front. And no, St. Peter’s Basilica is not on a slant. Wish I could blame the iPhone again…

Here’s part of the inside. Incredible, right?

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If the dome could take a selfie, this is what it would like:

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#anotherobligatoryselfie:

More views from the cobble stone. More strange looks.

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Motorbikes. Everywhere. If you’re not dodging one, you’re likely walking around one.

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Next up is the Trevi Fountain, the largest and most famous fountain in Rome.

Here’s what it’s supposed to look like:

OHHHH my goodness. It’s GORGEOUS, right??

Here’s what it looked like for us:

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Waw wawww. Gotta love restoration.

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“Was ist das?”

Oh, what is that, David? You want me to take your picture again?

You can sit and have a glass of wine, beer or cappuccino pretty much anywhere. The choices are endless. The people watching is magnificent.

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BUT as for those random sax serenades? Those are a little harder to find…

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Hmmm. These are the Spanish Steps, a stone’s throw from Suite Sistina (up to the top of the stairs, right and down the street). I had much higher expectations for these things, to be honest. Am I missing something?? Too crowded down here!

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Ahhh. But the view from the top is pretty great.

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More lights and alleyways!!!! We bought a “Roma” clock from that little store on the right.

Last but most certainly not least, I am so pleased to tell you about another restaurant recommendation.

On our final night in Roma, Andrea and Andrea (Yes, that’s a very common name in Italy for men – pronounced on-DRAY-uh.) took us to the most incredible spot. I had, hands down, one of my favorite meals ever. We even tried truffle bruschetta. Who knew truffle was a root???

The restaurant: Traverna Trilussa.

The award-winning dish that landed on my all-time favorite list? Bucatini all’ Amatriciana

From the menu: Rome’s most famous dish. Thick hollow spaghetti with tomato sauce, guanciale bacon and Pecorino cheese. We owe most of our notoriety to this dish. Approved by the Comune Amatrice, home to the original recipe!

It comes to you fresh off the stove in your own pan. It’s perfection.

When asked if we wanted dessert, the Italians didn’t take no for an answer. I wish I knew the name of this divine dessert below (another horrible quality image), but I didn’t order it. Hmm…just make sure you get dessert. They have TONS.

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Plus, if you’re not over-indulging or completely overstimulated in Rome, you’re probably doing something wrong.

WHEN IN ROME!

Congratulations! You made it to the end of this post.

Now it’s your turn. Have you been to Rome? Do you want to go? What struck your attention in this post or in Rome?

Leave a comment!

When in Rome: Adventures at Suite Sistina

You can take the girl out of Dusseldorf, but you can’t take Dusseldorf out of the girl…

OK. That’s not entirely true. And it sounds a lot better with “Texas.”

But pull me out of Germany, put me in Rome and my comfort bubble’s going to POP. Just as I was starting to adjust to life in a new country that’s rooted by rules and order, we took a 180 and planted ourselves right in the throbbing heart of a city in Italy where anything goes: ROME.

After dodging all kinds of up-in-your-face offers for overpriced cab rides, we hopped in a taxi with a fifth-generation Italian who carted us through the organized chaos (Chad, you are so right!) that is ROMA. I held my breath and grasped the seats like I did when we were in Beijing.

Motor bikes, mini cars and taxis were plowing their way through narrow cobbled alleyways. Motorists love ignoring street signs, and they come inches away from pedestrians.

Thankfully, our driver was hilarious. Well, his words got terribly lost in his accent, but he still had us laughing…laughing off the anxiety of whether we were really going to make it to Suite Sistina.

But, contrary to Rome’s startling accident stats, we successfully made it to this adorable spot.

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Spotted: David putting out the vibe.

But this time, another adventure awaited.

When we were escorted up to floor IV and let into a room named “Curve Pericolose” (which I later found means “Dangerous Curves”), THIS was happening:

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Ah, yes. The heat was cranked to 78 degrees Fahrenheit, weird music was playing, and there was a rotating disco ball…above the bathtub.

But wait…it gets better.

It was steps away from the BED:

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But wait…there’s more.

What to our wandering eyes did appear on that sexy, circular bed over there?

Not rose petals, my curious lovers…

No way, Jose! But these, instead:

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Muy, muy caliente!!!!

Ummm…this is more scandalous than any honeymoon setup I’ve ever seen, heard of, or, let’s get real for a second: wanted.

I mean, I know our two-year anniversary was approaching, but we’re not those people. (TMI? Have we got it all wrong?? LOL!)

I know for a fact that David booked this place with two priorities in mind: location and a stellar package deal. We scored flights, this hotel and a tour guide for a pretty good price.

We didn’t get wind of the scandalous side of Suite Sistina until we got an introduction email from the owner that I accidentally forwarded to my MOM saying, “Look at how cute and accommodating this place is going to be!”

Here’s the email:

Hello David,

We would love to know some details to make your room more fitting to your taste….

How do you imagine the soundtrack of your vacation? Jazz, rock, ambient….
On what temperature would you like to find your room? From 0 to 100 degrees…

Our breakfast has a high rate of calorie and coddling, but  we also take care of those who prefer vegetarian, gluten free, low calorie….

Would you like to: Have a candle light dinner in our room? A refreshing massage without even getting up from your bed? Do a wild shopping with a personal shopper? A new look to your hair and nails? Winning the lottery?

… And of course if you need a ride from the airport just give us a whistle and we’ll arrange it for you.

If you are coming by car we can suggest you a private parking very close to our Hotel, the name and address is “Parking Ludovisi” in Via Ludovisi 60, it’s open until 1 AM  and it’s not necessary to reserve it.

Lastly, and we promise this will be the last information, we attached herein our Sexy Menu created in collaboration with Zou Zou Sensual Entertainment where you can choose your favourite hot and spicy game.

We remind you that our reception is in via Sistina 54, located in an ancient building of which its particular architectural design cannot accommodate an installation of a lift.

Ciao, 

Antonio

She sent back the emoji where the monkey’s covering his eyes and said, “That is SOME hotel! I saw the menu.”

The menu?? OH, NO. My stomach sunk. Should I have read that email in complete detail before forwarding to my mother? OH, YES.

Gosh, I just thought this Antonio guy was oh-so-charismatic and that maybe their food was so delicious he called it sexy. Eh? (Italians are great sales people, you know. And please note: In my skimming, I failed to see the words “ZouZou Sensual Entertainment.”)

I saw “hot and spicey game” and thought this PDF menu pertained to food. Mmm…elk. Bahaha!! Nalp. Different kind of game at Suite Sistina, so, when I opened the attached PDF for myself, I…I died.

All I’m going to say is this: There were options of things to order from the Sexy Menu that you, your mother, or any other member of your family need NOT discuss. Bahahahahahahaaa! I’m blushing again.

ALL silliness aside, after days of custom breakfasts being served in our room (as late as we wanted and heart-shaped sugar cubes for coffee to boot), hand-drawn Post-its with the following day’s weather forecast, no disturbing stories to report, a very friendly staff, stellar WiFi, sleeping in the most comfortable bed on the planet and a truly amazing location that allowed us to walk to almost evvverything, I took back my decision to supervise David’s future hotel bookings.

After all, I really would recommend this hotel for what it was for us. I guess it’s good to always be prepared for what it could be for others, eh? Just don’t stay here with a family member…or business partner. The End.

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If walking out to this street doesn’t feel like you’re in Roma, then I don’t know what will!

What are your thoughts? Leave a comment.