When I was initially planning my Europe trip my main focus was history and while Berlin is obviously an excellent choice for this history lesson there are so many other reasons to visit Berlin. Keep tuned to this blog as I focus the next set of blog entries on our travels around Germany and the amazing cultural and historical places we visited!
A trip to Berlin is not complete without walking shoes and the ability to laugh at oneself. Clinton and I got lost one of the nights we were walking around town and tried in vain for many hours to find our hotel. We had been almost walking in circles when we discovered the hotel. All of our time in Berlin was part of the bus tour we took our first two weeks in Europe, but we were able to jump ship when they announced they were heading back to the hotel and visit a few places we wanted to spend more time than they originally allotted. One place was a discovered Gestapo Headquarters laid beneath the ground. When we first arrived we only had a few minutes, but between the waysides and informational structures there was no way we had enough time to really delve into the topic. We did find our way back to this place before attempting to find our hotel!
Our bus tour actually started that day bringing us to the Brandenburg Gate and Checkpoint Charlie. The Brandenburg Gate is a magnificent structure that was constructed originally between 1788 and 1791 by architect Carl Gotthard Langhans. It is pretty obvious at even a first glance that the inspiration was Greek revival, but what you may not know is that the inspiration was specifically the entrance to Acropolis in Athens. While this is a beautiful structure it is located in a busy and congested part of town so just be aware how popular this will be! We went via a bus tour so I am also not really sure how to access the place beyond a bus tour but there were plenty of hotels and restaurants around so I can’t imagine this would be too difficult. A big reason behind the popularity is the modern history of the Brandenburg Gate. Part of the exclusion zone during the Cold War, many locals and all visitors were unable to visit this history landmark. Such a stunning divide was crushed when the Wall fell in 1989 and thousands of people gathered to celebrate the first joined New Years Eve.
Another iconic place to visit while in Berlin is Checkpoint Charlie, the third checkpoint opened by the Allies in Berlin which later became the most famous crossing between East and West Germany. Named after the phonetic alphabet (C = Charlie, the third letter), it witnessed numerous attempts to escape from East Berlin. Make sure to pay attention as you walk around – there is an open air exhibition that tells the story of failures and successes in the attempt to escape from East Berlin during the Cold War. We did not spend an extensive amount of time in this location because it was very busy and rainy! Plus, it literally is an intersection in busy Berlin…today. Amazing the difference when you take a minute and realize the difference time and technology imparts.
During our walks we had the fortune of seeing so many historical buildings I had read about in my history studies. Berlin has an abundant amount of memorials, museum displays, and outdoor open air exhibits; not to mention historical places! I’ve really only had the same feeling when visiting places as old as Jamestown or St. Augustine, though they are much older than many of the places we actually visited while in Germany. Spend more than just one night in Berlin if you can, it will be worth it and you will be able to visit places not mentioned on this trip. We walked by buildings where Hitler gave misguided, passionate speeches, and right by where Kings of the past made important decisions. I can’t really explain it, but definitely go for a long walk when possible!
Speaking of walks, on one of them we were able to cross off another memorial from my list – the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe. The memorial opened in 2005, and was designed by Peter Eisenman. Covering 19,000 sq meters and 2711 concrete slabs at different heights the memorial can create a moment of uncertainty to start. The uneven concrete floor, the wave like form, and the size of the memorial is a conventional concept of a memorial. It was interesting when we visited and walked through the first time. Surrounded by so many people, when you walk through part of it you really almost become lost, like in a maze, and don’t even realize how quiet and alone you are…even surrounded by people. Very interesting!
While in Berlin we were able to eat delicious food, pretend we knew more German than we really did, enjoyed many different tours and walks around the town, and realized how much the Soviet Union really influenced the architecture of the city. Don’t skip this town if you are visiting Germany – it is worth the trip!
Clinton and I were able to log a bunch of #TalleyYourMiles during our Thanksgiving adventure through California. In case you forgot between the other blog posts, we left and drove through Death Valley, north through Yosemite, around the Sierras to Sequoia/Kings Canyon, and then back around the Sierra through Death Valley for a second time before heading home. One of the spots we wanted to revisit that we had the pleasure of seeing back in 2011 when we lived out west was the Alabama Hills. Back then we hiked a bit more around the rock formations, but this time we had our dogs with us. There are plenty of places to stop off and park once you enter the Alabama Hills Recreation Area. In the distance are the Sierras with Mt. Whitney on display through the two different types of rock exposed at the Alabama Hills. Natural arches are easily accessible and there are a few notable arches including Mobius Arch, which gives many photographers an easy picture as it perfectly highlights Mt. Whitney in it’s arch.
The Alabama Hills Arch Nature Trail is an easy 15 minute round trip hike around the recreation area. If you are driving in like we did there is plenty of space to park around the park and explore, even if you aren’t able to walk the traditional trail. The Alabama Hills were formed at the same time as the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The increasingly arid climate weathered the rocks on the east side that were exposed, and sculpted the into ledges, spires, and natural arches. The landscape looks as surreal as the history of this interesting part of the country. Because of its beauty, there area many Hollywood films and TV shows, including the Lone Ranger series and 2008 Iron Man that was and still is filmed in the area. It is very beautiful but also very popular. We did bring our dogs with us, but that didn’t leave us much opportunity to hike too far off at this location. We recommend visiting the Alabama Hills under any condition – even if it is just a quick drive through!
We’ve had the opportunity to visit this gorgeous place twice so far in our lives and hope that we can go back again and again! This is only one part of our multi-day trip through California in 2019 while celebrating Thanksgiving and adding to our #TalleYourMiles. 219 miles did not come easy, but we hope that we can encourage you to follow the trail before you and visit more of your public lands!
Last year for Thanksgiving Clinton and I took more than just a few days off and took to the road with the dogs. Our goal was to drive to Death Valley and see where we wanted to go from there. Last time we had been to Death Valley was in 2011 when we worked out in Panamint, and we wanted to drive through some of the same areas. Driving from Page to Las Vegas takes about 5 hours depending on the traffic through various parts on your trip, and another 2 hours to get into Death Valley. We decided to take Hwy 95 to Beatty and turn on 375 towards Stovepipe Wells. We traveled this route frequently when we worked that summer and recognized that most everything was the same. Pretty neat since our experience living in cities means constant change even over short periods of time!
Our trip didn’t end here, though we did decide to head up north towards Yosemite before doing an elaborate loop around the Sierras to get to Sequoia and Kings Canyon later during this journey. On our way back to Page we decided to take another journey we had done back in 2011 to get back into Death Valley and head through Ridgecrest south of the park. Heading north on 198 towards Panamint Springs brought back many memories of traveling in such a remote and desolate place. That being said, we love Death Valley! It is such a unique place. One of my favorite things about this desert is the heat and the sand. It does not have the same red rock or painted desert look that the canyons hold in Arizona, or the stark sandstone formations that are located in Utah. It is dark, with very low cover, and dry sand with cracks everywhere in the earth that surround a hot dry atmosphere. Death Valley is simply an amazing place to sit and watch the world go by – with the comfort of water of course. It’s hard to put into words how great Death Valley is…but don’t let it fool you. Clinton and I always carry more than enough water, which is at least 1 gallon a person. Salty foods are you friend, as is finding shade whenever possible and keeping exercise to a minimum during the hottest parts of the day. Usually 1-4 p.m. In Death Valley it was not uncommon for the temperature to reach over 100 by 9 a.m., however. Be smart and enjoy your visit to Death Valley!
During our visit we had the chance to drive out to the charcoal kilns – one of the best reasons to drive up through Ridgecrest. Wildrose Canyon is host to these amazing architectural features located in Death Valley. 10 total beehive shaped structures about 25 feet high survive as the best example of such type of kilns in the western states. These kilns were completed in 1877 by the Modock Consolidated Mining Company for fuel usage in two smelters located in the Argus Range west of Panamint Valley. There is not evidence that the kilns were used after 1879 which is a good reason these kilns are in such good condition. If you are able to make it out there, and we did with our Honda Civic and Honda Accord on two separate occasions, we definitely recommend visiting this unique and awesome area!
Death Valley is actually full of life. Darwin Falls is a hike near Panamint that starts in the desert sands and ends in a small pool of water with trees and dragonflies. Rainstorms flash across the desert periodically, not normally, but when they do it shows how much life is everywhere in Death Valley. If you end up only having a few hours and can divert you can drive across definitely take the time. You’ll probably never see anything as unique and exciting as Death Valley National Park!
We still have not been up to Scotty’s Castle or the Racetrack – but now that we have our truck we have added this to our list! Stay tuned for an update on this wonderful National Park!