Europe on a Budget

A co-worker had mentioned that a holiday was approaching and that we’d have a day off from work that equaled a long weekend.  He had planned to go to Paris with the free time. Which got me to thinking maybe I should use the time to travel as well. I got the idea that maybe my mom could come for a visit and we could travel together.

After asking around about European cities others had been to and recommended, I was informed of United Airlines European cruises. Initially I had wanted to go to Italy since I had never been, luckily I found a cruise leaving from Venice and that’s when I went into planning mode. My mother was immediately on board to go wherever I chose.

I searched and put the trip together from beginning to end including getting my mom from the states to me in Germany on a budget.  I found a roundtrip-direct flight from BWI (Baltimore) to FRA (Frankfurt) for my mom on Condor Air for $781.00 USD. I booked this exactly one month before our trip to Venice.  My mom arrived on the 27th of August to Frankfurt. We left on the 29th of August to begin our vacation together.

On the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy
On the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy

RyanAir is a popular cheap airline that services many locations throughout Europe, but their flights usually leave out of the less popular airports. Since I was ballin’ on a budget this seemed like a great idea. For Germany that airport is HAHN, less than a 2-hour drive outside Frankfurt.

We took the Bohr Bus from the Main train station in downtown Frankfurt to HAHN for 14.00 euros ($18.76 USD) per person for a one-way trip. Our direct flight on RyanAir was from HAHN to Venice-TREVISO and I pre-paid for one checked bag for each of us and ground transportation from the airport in Venice to nearby our hotel.  The total was $211.45 USD for both of us. Not bad at all.

My mom picked our hotel, Casa Sant’andrea, was booked through Olotels for 29 through 31 August 2013 with a twin room and breakfast for $240.00 USD. Luckily the bus let us off about 3 blocks from our hotel that was right on the water. So it was very conveniently located.

Our Royal Caribbean cruise booked through United Cruises came to a total of $1,659.85 for the both of us and the itinerary is below. Even better was how close our hotel was from the departing port, walking distance or the next stop on the “People Mover” the elevated train system in Venice.

  Day  Arrival Departure
1 Venice, Italy 5:00 p.m.
2 Split, Croatia 7:00 a.m. 3:00 p.m.
3 At Sea
4 Kusadasi (Ephesus), Turkey 8:00 a.m. 6:00 p.m.
5 Mykonos, Greece 7:00 a.m. 5:00 p.m.
6 Argostoli, Kefalonia, Greece 12:00 p.m. 8:00 p.m.
7 At Sea
8 Venice, Italy

I used a total of 25,000 United Airlines Award miles (plus $52.60 in taxes) for our return flight from Venice to FRA, Frankfurt’s main airport.

So here’s the math not including the $781.00 for my mom’s roundtrip ticket from the US to Germany…

Cost Item
37.52 bus to HAHN
211.45 RyanAir flight
240 Venice hotel
1659.85 Cruise
52.6 United taxes
2201.42 Total

Maybe $2182.65 seems like a lot of money but for two people at close to only $1000 per person for a 7-day cruise and roundtrip airfare and 1.5 days in Venice, I don’t think it’s too bad. This was my first time putting together a trip like this and with less than a month prior. I was proud of myself. I now know I could have gotten the cruise for a lot less but it was -really my first cruise, now I know better.

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What’s it Like to be with a Black Woman?…My First Solicitation in Frankfurt: The Serbian

So I get a call from Nicola, the Serbian here in Frankfurt. He asks if we can meet and I oblige. We meet close to downtown at a popular cafe chain.  We talk more about the car I want to purchase and he provides me some information on dealerships etc. I ordered sweet potato fries and water because I was starving and he order ginger ale.  We stay and chat for about an hour before he walks me across the street to the U-bahn station.

As we’re about to depart he confides that he wanted to be honest with me.  He asks what I thought about him, adding that he was curious to know how I felt about men seducing me.  Confused, I asked what he meant by seducing me. He stammered a bit before sharing that in this context he was referring to having sex.  He went on to say that he’s attracted to me, and that he think’s it a huge curiosity for European men to want to be with an African or African-American women, in particular, because the European women that the European men tend to date are physically much different. Black women have big butts and boobs and it’s enticing for him and other men like him to want to know what it’s like to be with a black women.

He asked me how men in America approach me or other women with the same intention. I said honestly, they’re usually not very upfront about their sexual intentions and will date a girl as long as it takes to get sex out of it.  It’s not always the case but it can be many times.  He asked me what my thoughts were on all of what he had asked and shared, hoping I wasn’t offended.

I assured him that I wasn’t offended, mainly because he was respectful, and I could understand his curiosity.  But I let him know that I wasn’t interested in being his science project or open to charity sex.  Maybe if I was 5 years younger I may have been down to test the waters. But at this point I’d rather not waste my time entertaining someone who has no intention of getting to know me or any intentions of building a real relationship.

We talked a bit more and I learned that ultimately he wanted to marry a woman like him, Serbian. I completely understood that. While I don’t know what my future holds I typically picture my husband to be a reflection of me.  In the sense that he’ll look like me and we’ll share the same understanding of what it means to be an African American.  So I understood his desire to marry a Serbian woman.  For many minorities, I think it not only is easier to date and marry someone with the same ethnic background, but it many cases is just who you happened to be most attracted to. The same goes for religious affiliation.

We ultimately agreed that we’d likely not see each other again but I was happy to have met him and understand his perspective of interracial dating, and curiosity about black women.  Luckily he was respectful about it, as I’m sure that is not always the case with other people I may meet.

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My Second Solicitation in Frankfurt

So im waiting at the bus stop on Sunday to go downtown. I see this older man crossing the street towards me in a Shalwar Kamize. I acknowledge him and he sits a seat away from me. After a few seconds he acknowledges me  back and says something in German. I reply “English?”.

He asks where im from and I tell him American. He tells me I’m  beautiful a few times before asking if I liked him. Confused on how to reply to that, I shrug and say I dont know.
Then he makes his request clear asking if I like sex? 

Im thinking oh boy here we go…
I didn’t respond so he continues.  Do you like sex outside?I said no!

You don’t like sex outside? And proceeds to point to the park behind us.  Only 2 or 5 minutes he adds, as if that was suposed to entice me to take him up on his offer. 

I just ignored him
                                                    
He asks if I have kids I say no. And adds you dont have kids, and you don’t like sex? Im not following his logic.  Does the fact that I’m a single woman traveling alone mean that I’m open for sex with any random, or that I’m a prostitute?

Oh did I forget to mention that he asked me how much? As in how much it would cost him to get with me.

Then he starts with the are you from africa?  I mean the fact that I consider myself an African American suggests that im of African descent. But I had to explain once again that my parents are american as are my grandparents and their parents.

I found out that he was Indian.  
He noticed my tattoo. And asked if I liked music.

And somehow he ended up          asking me about terrorists and the twin towers in NYC. I WASNT sure what exactly he was asking me at that point though. It seemed like a series of separate and seemingly unrelated questions. 

Finally the bus came and I was hoping he didn’t try and sit near me.

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I waited too late to try and snap a picture of him. But that’s him getting onto the elevator.

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“Your Skin is Not Like Mine”

One day last week I stopped at a nearby travel agency. I wanted to see if they could find me a good deal for my upcoming trip to Italy.  I walked in and sat down in front of the other available agent as there was a gentleman occupying the other agent’s desk. I explained to the agent what I was looking for.

We chatted briefly before she got up to find a brochure.  I smiled at the gentleman sitting who was being helped by the other agent, and said “Hi”.  But he turned his head without responding. I started to get indignant because I was frustrated that Germans rarely speak back, after I greet them.  I had been told and forewarned about their temperament but thought surely they can’t all be that snobbish to not speak when spoken to.  I wanted to say hello to him again in an even louder voice than before just to ensure that he had heard me.  Surely he would respond this time.

My agent returned and I ultimately decided to ignore him. He left about 5 minutes later. And I left about 10 minutes  later.  As I’m crossing the street I see him approaching me on his bicycle.  He stops me and asks if I speak German. I replied “ein bisschen” “only a little”.  Then he asks if I spoke English, when he clearly heard me speaking English to the travel agent. But I responded positively. So he proceeded to ask me if I had time to talk over coffee.

In my mind I’m thinking “Is this the same guy who just snubbed me 20 minutes ago?”  Clearly, I was confused.  So I agreed to go to the cafe across the street.  As he locked up his bike he begins with the questions…

Him: Are you African?
Me: No
Him: Are you Haitian?
Me: No
Him: Are you Brazilian?
Me: No
Him: Dominican?
Me: I’m American
Him: Afro… American?

With every negative response I supplied him, he grew more and more confused. We sat down and I explained to him that I’m American, yes, African-American.  He then asks where my parents are from.  I said America so he proceeds to ask about my grandparents. Yup they’re American too.  I explained that at least 4 or 5 generations of my parents are all American.  But of course he follows that with “So where in Africa is your family originally from” I said to be honest I couldn’t tell you.  (I spared him the details of the Transatlantic Slave Trade, a little to heavy for me after work and over coffee at the cafe.)

Finally, it was my turn to ask the questions.  I found out that he was a Serbian living in Germany named Nicola. (It sounds really sexy when says it, compared to how it looks on the screen. )  Then I asked why he ignored me when I greeted him in the travel agency. His response was that it is atypical for Germans to speak to people they don’t know.  “But you’re not German”, I say.  And he gives me a sly smile.   He went on about how he doesn’t like German women, because they’re “hearts are cold” and his people i.e. the Serbs (is that even politically correct –the Serbs) are not like that.

I ordered a cappuccino and he ordered water.  And then we start talking about race, and color, and interracial relationships. He said it was an uncommon thing in Germany, but I disagree. I see a lot of black, mostly African, women with white, European men. Additionally, Germany has a huge U.S. military population and a great percentage of military families are biracial especially ones living overseas. So I see a lot of biracial couples and children here in Germany.  I have only seen one biracial couple where the woman was black here in Germany and the man was white.

I asked him if he had ever dated a black girl or an African girls to which he replied that he hadn’t but would like to. Adding that it’s not easy to meet them. I said for starters you can speak back, if they speak to you. He attempted to gauge my interest in dating white guys, I told him that I don’t discriminate.

He noticed the tattoo on my arm and touched it, asking if I had only one.  Then he rubbed my arm and hand, stating that “It’s so nice…your skin is beautiful, not like mine”.  As he’s rubbing his skin and rubbing mine trying to compare, I assure him that there really is no difference. But he rubbing, turned into a petting, so I removed my hand from the table. I’m nobody’s pet!

After paying for our beverages we left and began walking. He looked older but not too old, so I asked him his age.  His response was, “How old do I look?” Everyone knows that that response really means  “I’m older than I think you’ll care to entertain” OR “I’m younger than I want to share with you”.  I knew it was the former and he finally told me that he was 40-years old.  I told him my age, right before telling him that we needed to part ways. (I didn’t want him knowing where I lived, so I didn’t want to get too close to my house/neighborhood).   He asked for my number and I obliged but giving him the spelling of my name was a chore.  I spelled it in English AND in German and finally he got it right but not before pointing to signs that contained the letters in my name.  I guess I shouldn’t complain his English was way better than my German.

Of course he sent me a good morning text the following day, but managed to spell my name wrong.  I’ll never understand why people insist on spelling your name wrong when they send you a Facebook message or an email at work when my name is clearly in the address. It’s annoying as hell.

Subscribe to my blog and click here for Part II, the follow-up meeting with the Serbian.

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The Mainz Festival, The Speakeasy and Cooky’s Reloaded

Friday night I went to the Mainz festival by the river. (I’m a week behind on posting so this is from the previous Friday.)  I’ve learned that Germans like to have festivals for any reason. And I couldn’t begin to tell you the meaning behind this one besides just being another reason to eat and drink your choice of alcoholic beverage.  The Mainz festival was similar to a big carnival, complete with rides, local goods, and of course beer and wine. I was excited about the crepes, they were yummy and I was hoping it would help soak up some of the alcohol I had consumed.  When I realized that my tab was growing largely due to my choice of mixed drinks and my colleagues who choice wine and beer had minimal tabs, I quickly switched to wine.

German Culture Lesson 1:

Wine costs less than water in many cases. So hydrate well or you’ll find yourself dehydrated AND intoxicated very quickly. If you’re on a budget skip the hard liquor and opt for the beer or wine.

Later that night, closer to midnight, I headed out with another friend to hit the club scene.  We met up with one of his male friends who had stepped outside of the spot he was in to meet us and direct us back there.  This place was unmarked and blended easily into the neighborhood.  He rang the doorbell and we waited for about 5 minutes before someone came to the door to let us in.  There was a small group that had come and was waiting behind us to get in as well. Unfortunately, they weren’t allowed inside.  We met up with another female inside who was a really cool Kiwi.

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Surprisingly, the music didn’t bleed into the outside, so it was hard to tell what the vibe would be like inside, but it was definitely live inside.  It almost reminded me of a speakeasy from the way you were allowed or not allowed in. But the inside décor was nice as was the crowd.  The bartenders were very attentive to the patrons. They made unique drinks that were quite tasty and garnished with fresh fruits that I wasn’t quite able to identify.  This place was different than any place I had ever been but hoped to return again. I made sure to thank the bartenders as I was leaving, in hopes that they would remember me, should I return, and not get the treatment of the group they denied entry to. I think the name of the place is called “Popular”, and the guy who escorted us mentioned that he usually ended his night there instead of beginning it there, so I’m not sure if it’s more of an after-hours spot or even what time they close.  By the time we left we could hear the music spilling outside that we couldn’t before.

Ironically, we left after an hour or so and made our way over to Cooky’s.  This time however,  it was a decent crowd and the music was decent and I danced a bit. Although the music was mostly from the early 2000’s, it was still pretty good.

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Weekday Club Scene Fail!

Shot of Cooky’s from their website that is surprisingly exactly what it looked like when we went.

So last Thursday I had decided I would go out and explore the nightlife and club scene in Frankfurt.  I had done a little research and found some spots that claimed to play Hip-Hop so I jotted a few down and planned to go alone.  It was a weeknight and I didn’t think anyone I knew would be down to hang out on a “school night”.

I received a call from a new friend asking what I was up to. I told him I had planned to go out and explore, to which he was surprised since it was a weekday.  His comment about the day of the week led me to believe that he was uninterested in accompanying me.  But after I told him where I had planned to go he offered to take me somewhere better.

Ultimately, we ended up starting at a spot called the King Kamehameha Club but it was closed. Later, I found out that the party was likely moved to a boat on the River and open Wednesday nights.  I’ll have to check that out soon, because the river at night is beautiful.   We then tried the original spot I had planed to go to called Cooky’s. It was 5 Euro per person to get in, and once we were in, we realized that we were the only ones there. Literally no one else, but he and I.  #fail   This night was not panning out like I had imagined.  We ended up just walking to Sauchsenhausen and smoking  at a hookah spot for a bit before heading home.

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Wine and Ass Man What?

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The weekend of  July 27 was spent sipping wine and exploring quaint towns in Hesse.  A few gal pals and I went up to the Frauensteiner Weinfest (Frauenstein Wine Festival).  It was smaller than what I had expected for a wine festival but it was interesting nonetheless. There were a handful of wineries represented from the area as well as a few food vendors and a barely there live band.  We met a super cute guy whose family owned one of the wineries represented at the festival.  He lives in Berlin and works for Lufthansa in the First Class Lounge and was very well traveled.  He had spent a few months in the states so his English was really good.

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The town was so cute, I took the shot below directly across from the festival. You can see a castle in the back.

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After flirting and a few glasses of wine later we decided to head over to another nearby town, Rüdesheim am Rhein and Assmannshausen.  The river is really nice and you can apparently take a lift over the town to the other side of the river, with a great view.

With a name like Assmannshausen, you’ll never forget it…

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Walking though the town was pretty fun too, it was rather warm out and we thought this restaurant had the right idea. And these fellas were more than happy to oblige my photo taking.

For dinner we stopped at traditional German Restaurant. It was too hot for heavy German food so I had a chicken salad and saved room for Gelato. Yum!

A few shots of me enjoying the scenery and trying not melt. It was literally between 96 and 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

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We continued walking around for a bit, luckily during the summer here it doesn’t get dark until about 9:45 or 10:00 PM.

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We saw a big group singing as they proceeded into Bollesje which seemed to have a prisoner’s theme with wardrobe and all. There’s a holding cell inside the restaurant and it seems like it would be a fun place for bachelor party, which I imagine they get a ton of.  Here are some flicks:

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My First Castle

Blogging is difficult when you spend your time Living Out Loud.  But better late than never …right!

A view from the garden.
A view from the garden.

My world-wind weekend ended with my first Castle visit. A new friend offered to take me to see my first castle. So of course I happily obliged. We drove about an hour from Frankfurt to the city of Heidelberg. The drive there was very scenic and beautiful. The scenery is much like what I imagine the French countryside looks like. I guess I never imagined the German countryside to be so beautiful.

Upon arriving in the city and parking, we walked up a few steep cobblestone hills. And I’m so glad I happened to bring my “walking sandals” with me. I didn’t initially know what we’d be doing that day and had just purchased sandals made for walking, although they’re ugly, they do a good job.

We visited the garden outside of the castle first. It was a great day and the view was amazing. I left my camera home, stupidly, but my phone took surprisingly nice pictures. We enjoyed the views for a while before heading over to the castle.

Unfortunately, the castle was closed until 11pm for a performance. So we were only able to take pictures of the outside. That just means I have to come back.

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Mon Amie Maxi

Part of my full week of going out every day included reservations at a nice French Restaurant in downtown Frankfurt.  Eating Mon Amie Maxi was a great experience. The food was good, the wine was good and the atmosphere was good.  I ordered soup (Lobster Bisque) and a wedge salad and even that was good. This was my attempt to watch my spending.  That didn’t work out so well since the two bottles of wine we ordered were 69 and 35 respectively.  That’s Euros!!!! I still ended up shelling out close to 50 euros towards the bill.

Here are some shots of the food we ordered and there were no complaints…Chicken Cordon Bleu, the Maxi Burger, and the Catfish (I think).

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The Marshall, the Shovel, and the Waiter

The Marshall

I’ve gone out every weekday this past week for dinner and drinks.  This is probably not the best idea, since I’m spending Euros and not US dollars, but I’m sure my spending habit will be curbed in a few weeks when reality sets in and I see my bank account.

One night we went to the Westin downtown. It was quiet at the bar maybe 2 other people besides the two I was with.  That was until Jerry the loud and obnoxious U.S. Air Marshall arrived.

Jerry literally stood at the end of the bar where there was no chair or stool and awkwardly close to my friend as if he was waiting to be invited into our conversation. My friend has a good relationship with the bartenders and we were generally enjoying their company. Until Jerry made an appearance…  I guess when you are in a foreign land and you hear other people speaking your native tongue you sort of have an overwhelming desire to talk to them or at least listen and feel comforted in the fact that in some small way, you are not alone in this big foreign place.

Jerry made it very clear that he was from the Jersey Shore, but really he was from Queens or Brooklyn rather. He actually sounded just like he could be ‘The Situations’ father.

Jerry insulted the bartender; made several accusations about my friends and I, and almost got into a fight with a British guy who offered his input on a question we were having trouble answering.  Oh, and somewhere in all that he bought me a glass of wine and had 5 or 6 more beers of his own.

Jerry was literally ready to fight the British guy for trying to help us out. Jerry had asked us if we knew which popular film had recorded a scene in the Westin that we were in that night.  None of  us had any clue. So he offered us one, telling us it was one of the Jason Bourne movies. I like that series and couldn’t remember them being in the last one at least which would make the most sense in my mind. Anyway, we started trying to name all the Bourne movies and got stumped. That’s when the Brit yelled out the answer in a polite way. Jerry didn’t seem to take to kindly to this for some reason, however. In the end, between our smartphones, none of them were able to find this ‘fact’ that Jerry mentioned and the bartender who had worked in the bar for over 14 years knew nothing about it either. Jerry might have gotten his facts wrong.

The funny thing is that Jerry kept trying to invite my friends and I back to the lounge upstairs, which is for the premium customers and where, because he has so many hotel rewards, he can drink for free all night instead of paying for his drinks down at the bar.  As his guests we would also be able to drink for free.  But we wouldn’t have cared if they were paying us to drink, none of us wanted anything more to do with Jerry especially if that meant he would continue to drink and be even more obnoxious.

The Shovel

I was informed about a restaurant in Frankfurt, the Feldbergblick, that serves a huge meat platter adorned with an almost equally massive amount of potatoes and veggies. The kick is that it is actually served on a shovel. Yes a Shovel. The men or women who can clean their plates and down a pint of beer, wins bragging rights, and rightfully so. The picture doesn’t do it justice, it’s a lot more on the plate that can be displayed and I believe it comes with potatoes instead of fries.shovel

A guy visiting my female acquaintance attempted this mighty feat. He literally had asmall leaf of lettuce left on his plate and had down all but an ounce or two of his liter of beer before he “released” it in the garden near our table. I advised him against ordering the glass of still water, as it would surely expand his stomach, making him feel fuller than he already was.

We were all rooting for him and he couldn’t have been any closer to completing the task, but I think we all recognized him as having successfully conquered the ‘shovel’.

The Waiter

Our waiter was having fun with us the whole time, and he gave me a particularly hard time the whole night. I’ve been trying to practice my German with bartenders and waiters and he was no exception.  I ordered Kalbsrahmschnitzel (fried veal in a cream sauce) and it came with spaetzle, homemade noodles.  He was trying to help me say it properly but I was failing miserably, and he wouldn’t leave until I said it properly.  Meanwhile the whole table is laughing at me and I finally get it right.  Then I later ask for water and a coke and repeatedly confirmed that I don’t want a diet/light coke as my colleague had ordered.  When he returns, he takes my glass of bottled water pours most of it into an empty glass and then turns the glass bottle completely upside down into the glass. Somehow the water in the bottle managed to stay in the bottle. By this time the whole table is laughing hysterically. My glass of Coke was huge and as I start drinking it he says “I’ll return with a straw for the baby”.  He brings back two straws, a larger and smaller one and stick them both in the glass of water, that still had the upside down water bottle. He removed the bottle from the glass without spilling it or pouring any additional water in the glass.

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