Journey to Europe Winter 2016

Off to see the child

What follows is a travel blog of our trip to Europe where Alex was studying.  I will try and upload pictures later.


Bonn, Germany-the first two days

Morning in Bonn

Scott Sitner-Bonn Germany, December 2016

I am writing this for lots of reasons and no reasons. I have not been to Europe since the Christmas season of 1986, when was a high school senior going to visit my girlfriend, someday to become wife in Belgium. It is a little sad but not a lot that our prevailing memory of that is asking for waffles in Brussels on the street, something I can still taste, and the fresh fish in dover, caught feet from where we sat. Made all the more amusing as we had just enduring a frightful trip on the water from Antwerp, so many nationalities, so many people violetly ill.Flash forward 30 years, almost to the day. No longer married but we have a son in Bonn Germany and daughter about to graduate high school, so what better way to spend Xmas(with apologies to parents in Florida) than to run to Europe for the traditional family trip. Mom, her husband, dad, and kids. Thankfully we are all on the same page and get along so no issues. We even got permission form our son to come visit and he does not even seem annoyed. I am going to spend the first three days with just hm, then a a few days together, the I get three days alone in paris, kids join me then we will all finish in Berlin where a truck just drive through a market. That hit home.This is being written for family and friends and anyone who is over 45 or 50 and who has not been to Europe ever or in decades. This is not designed to set your budget, or some crazy tales of things that only happen in Las Vegas,but just normal tales, hints, suggestions and whatever comes to mind. It’s not high literature, but hopefully not low brown either.

Alex after three months-shaggy

1600s building in Bonn and street scene

Day One-The FlightI don’t check bags, I mean, why? I had to check a bag. 70 people inline, three people checking in, thanks Delta. just under an hour, no issue at security time to buy snacks. Smart. Yes Delta serves dinner and a “breakfast” on the plane. No I am still not sure what I was given was chicken. Surprisingly the three piece shrimp cocktail was true bien. as was the brownie. Thanks to the airport places for the tomato and mozzarella sandwich. Flight was easy, nice skinny man next to me, funny middle aged guy from Hanover in front of me so we chatted. Flight was 75 minutes early. Amsterdam airport very cool, even at 5 am. I went through customs for what I guess is all of Europe at the airport. No sure he even looked at my passport.A 25 minute flight to Dusseldorf. No one hear naturally speaks english, what’s up with that? Doesn’t anyone know who we elected as President? What was disconcerting was simple stuff. How do you use a machine to buy a train ticket when the machine peaks only german? WTF? Thankfully a nice lady saw my ignorance and bought my ticket. I got on the right train, hailed a taxi, who drive me easily to my hotel in Bonn. No one told me that a tip is small here. No wonder he seems so grateful for three euros. Saying at Bonn Hilton. yes it is charmless. However it is user friendly and I am tired. they speak english, the rooms are big and I don’t feel stupid.My son Alex wanders over at 4. he looks older, which I guess technically he is. haven’t seen him in 4 months and only one Skype call. I think he has grown. We go wander Bonn which is charming. It feels like I am in a foreign country which I guess I am. he buildings are old and not huge and have character. The streets are brick and cobblestone. There are century old churches in the middle of the town. Everything feels authentic, which it rarely does at home, even it can be charming or pretty. We eat at a bar he likes, I had fried pork. I know its weinerschneitzel. But really, it’s breaded and fried pork. Alex ordered and drank a beer. He’s not 21. Oh well. We wandered the City, it really is very cool, save for the pizza hut the mcdonalds and the few stores that I go to at Somerset. We walk along the Rhein which is outside the hotel and I sent him home, at some point three hours of sleep in 48 hours will catch up.

Day 2.I slept. Stayed awake until 11, up at 630 Like being at home. I cannot for the life of me figure out the room thermostat. TV is fine, but except for CNN, no real english tv, it’s all news. Dubai tv is fascinating, I think. Unless they are calling for my death, in which case, never mind.I ate breakfast. Except for the chocolate chip granola, it was breakfast. They had a butter machine. how cool is that. Of course I was sitting at a table overlooking the Rhein, which is better than sitting at home eating Lucky Charms. The time difference is odd, I keep looking at e mail for work until I realize that it is 3 am and most people are not working. Took a walk, then rested some until Alex came. We then marked on a walk.Observation: no one is overweight. I mean some, maybe a little, but really no one. I don’t mean to shame but it i a huge change from home. Everyone seems heathy, everyone is walking, riding bikes, smoking too, which is odd. But Alex just says he walks everywhere. we did a few mils though the City, saw the University’s botanical gardens, some very cool, homes and areas where you can feel the history. If you look at pics you will see a church from 1670. Beat that Virginia and DC. There are also no free refills on drinks and I have not seen anyone walking around with a 32 ounce coke you know has been refilled 4 times that day.Pizza for lunch. Big pizza. For one. Alex ate all of his, I am old, I ate half. I can order but he still has to ask for the check. Maybe he can pay one day.

I went to TJ Maxx. I needed shorts for sleeping. My debit card worked. Not sure why that fascinates me so much. It does. The Xmas market was not as impressive the third time although we went tonight and it was mobbed. I had a waffle, underwhelmed.. Lots of stuff, some cute, nothing that better than art fairs at home. Still, a fun festive atmosphere. even with the smoke. We walked for a bit, I had to acquire for someone a Bonn starbucks mug, done. Some german gummies from the Hairbo store, one place everyone speaks english. Now home. resting. jet lag not so bad, but tired, more worn then sleepy.The sun rose at 8:32 today, it is setting now, at 4:30, short short day. wow.Dinner his choice, looks like Indian. Cute. 

The Indian was good, save for the fact Alex drank some goofy odd indian drink and gained five pounds We saw the end of the Xmas market at 8:00 pm when it ended and it was done, have a nice Xmas, see you next year. Well, ok then. Home now, everyone else comes tomorrow. I sent alex home to digest and pack. I’m still thinking I am going to get tired. Or not. Next stop Cologne or Koln.

housing and park in Bonn

park scene in Bonn
Xmas scene in Bonn

Cologne, Germany-History and some culture

Scott Sitner-December 2016-Koln Germany

Cologne Castle circa 1200s…..

I guess this is day three? Did one last walk around Bonn and daughter a train to Cologne to meet with with everyone else and see this City. Uneventful train ride. But what you do not know, or I did not, is that when you get out of the Cologne Station what you see is the Cologne Cathedral which was built starting in 1248, and finished sometime around the mid 1300s. as you can see from the pictures it is am amazing structure. To think that people used this almost 800 years ago is amazing. they have pictures of the city and how it looked also after WWII. How it survived is shocking,the City was in ruins, but it stood. Also walking around, you see structure and others built hundreds of years ago. I found one building that was built to protect a structure found that was dated to 4 AD, found in 1965. It puts our 240 years of american history somewhat to shame.

street scene Cologne Germany

We then met up with Alex’s mom and Mari and spent the afternoon walking around what s Old Cologne. The buildings some date back a few hundred years, others are more modern But you do see the history in some of the streets, the ancient and crumbling cobblestones, the roofs and pictures of the old houses, and some of the statutes of ancient “leaders” dating back a few hundred years. I took a longer walk and it is fun to see the history right next to adult book stores, bakeries and liquor stores, It’s a fascinating contrast.

We then saw the Cathedral at night and heard the old town church ring in Xmas eve with a half hour of bells. the streets are quiet but not empty, and you hear many different languages of visitors. We found and adequate restaurant, made somewhat more excite by two orders of rabbit and one of “geese”. I had hoped for goose,and I am left wondering if they just priced together two of them to make a meal. It was “fine” saved though by some really amazing apple strudel with hot vanilla sauce.

ancient roman leader-really old state
castle at night

interior of castle

Tomorrow exploring the city in daylight

Christmas Day-Very quiet. It i a holiday, so not surprising. We decided to walk everywhere. We first went to what is the second oldest jewish temple in Cologe, that was largely destroyed in the war and rebuilt. Its origins got back to the late 1800s, and some of the stone work was preserved. The inside was much like modern temples built in the fifties. One of the things we do not see at home are the constant reminders of the holocaust. From plaques on the walls to plaques in the streets memorializing the dates people were born and then killed. It’s hard to describe that until you see it and see plaques with whole families written on them.

date born, date taken by nazis, date died, plaque outside of his residence. scattered throughout the City

cologne river

We then walked around all of cologne and went back to the old Cathederal, which was open for services today. As you can see from the pictures, it is amazing what they could do in 1248. Even not christian you can feel the importance of the building. It is filled with artifacts from centuries ago, crypts of priests who died 500 and more years ago, and current people worshipping. It is very beautiful inside, with amazing high an open ceilings and old stone. At first is it is touristy, but then you realize it is still an active church.

The city itself is old, like I said. some small areas, and old walls from roman times. Flanked by Claires, Starbucks and Foot Locker. We at ate Fruh am Dom, which was recommeded. Sort of like Ray’s pizza. God, you have to go, you don’t have to go back.

Lastly and the best part, we were invited to a small temple for a family hanukah service and party.It reminded us of what must have been the beginnings of our temple at home. maybe 50 families, all young with small kids, they made their own food and did a half hour very cute but formal service. We stayed and played, and met the congregation who were amazingly welcoming even with a small language barrier. It reminded Amy and me of when our kids were 4 and 5, a special way to end Christmas Day.

temple in cologne

Next stop.Paris in the morning.


Scott Sitner-Paris France-December 2016

me in Paris……
perfect day in Paris

Alex took the rest of the family to Bonn, and since I spent three ays there with him alone, I am going to Paris, where the kids will meet me on Thursday. meanwhile I have there days alone in Paris. Tok the TGV from Cologne, which is there high speed train. It goes about 300 KPH in the rural areas and is a smooth as a plane. The only issue is it was 200 dollars because I waited too long to book. Getting of at Gar de Nord you can see the effects of terrorism. security is everywhere, unlike Germany where is was surprisingly non existant or seemed to be. after I got to the hotel and the smallest room I have ever seen, I just went off and wandered. 

paris street scene
Seine—as I imagined

You can see the pictures, I am staying in the Latin Quarter, which is by the Sorbonne so very bust, lots of theaters shops and restaurants. I went to walk along the Seine, then took the subway to the Arc d Triumph and Champs Elyses.

The interesting part of all of Paris, so far, is that it is like you expect. Everything is old, and feels historic. Like you read about in books and see in movies. Buildings that are centuries old, museums, bridges and parks. It does not feel manufactured old because it is actually old. Walking through les halls and Marais and before that went to the Modern Art Museum. From there they have an observation area that is about 7 floors above the City and as anyone can see you can see from miles and miles over the City. Even with my fear of heights it was special to see the sun set over the river with the Eiffel tower in the background. The museum, form the few pictures I saw was like MOMA. If you like modern art its great, if yo u do not, an hour is enough and nothing you haven’t seen,

I had lunch on the Champs Elysees. It’s a giant beautiful mall. While the buildings are 19th and 18th century,, they are flanked by Foot Locker, Gucci and Cartier. Somerset south outside. I ate at a little sidewalk place and had a croque madame and beer for 22 euros. I am sure I overspent but it was quaint. Plus everyone speaks english, so it is easy. I walked through again, Marsais as it is net to the art museum. Tons of small bistros, and stores, clearly very wealthy. Found Uniglo for Mari. Took a cab back as I was lost and my phone died.

Tomorrow will just be walking.

Paris 06 Luxembourg, France-Day 2 of Culture and Eating

Scott Sitner-December 2016-Paris France

taken form top of museum of modern art
lafayette castle and park
same park-dating back to the 1600s

Day two of travels in Paris. Most of this can be done through the pictures that I tried to attach. I walked to a little Bistro by the hotel today, just a normal breakfast, but looking over the Latin quarter streets is nice. all the waiters speak english which is nice too but there were only two choices on the menu, French Breakfast, with eggs or without. 12 Euros. After Breakfast I decided to explore the area around my hotel, which again is the Latin Quarter mostly it is upper class, lots of families and shops and a different Bistro on each corner. I wandered around in the Luxembourg gardens. This is a city park that dates back to the 16th century, and was partitioned and sold off until it became what it is now in the late 1800s. It has pavilions, parks, food,running paths and statutes dating back 150 years or more. As anyone can see from the pictures it is a massive park, runs around city offices and the Sorbonne, the building dates back to the late 1800s and houses the local senate.

Spent the rest of the day walking around 8 miles or so, though Marais and Les Halles. I found the jewish area because a friend told the me best falafel in the world is here, and he travels the world was at This place As it was an hour wait for carry out, I sampled three and left. It was very good, but I cannot see waiting an hour for fried chick peas so I found a Bistro, sat outside and ate smoked salmon and drank wine and petted the dog next to me.. Prior to that I walked to Notre Dame, it was too crowded to go in, but you can see how massive and imposing it is. Everywhere you turn there are statutes and buildings dating back centuries that only the tourists seem to pay attention to. The streets scenes are like out of a movie, the neighborhoods are all charming, and I even found another Gap and Foot Locker.

One of the things I have noticed is that they sell books. Everywhere. Dozens of books stores of every kid, stands on the street on the river. They read here. we may read at home but there are no more bookstores and seeing all the ones here and the people in them, reminds me that something is lost when all the book stores close.

Walked back along the river after going to a place called angelina for hot chocolate. It was a mile and a half out of my way, and reminded of serendipity in NY. Good but just heavy and more like melted chocolate. The pastry was good though, and I am now very adept at saying “mini chocolate beignet” in french.

Notre Dame…
plaza scene near Notre Dame


Scott Sitner-Paris France-December 2016

from Muse D ‘Or

I guess this is day three. My first observations are: 

Kind of a perfect breakfast

dinner-yeah not sure what half of this was….

At some point averaging 23,000 steps a day takes a toll.
I will never again believe a travel agent who tells me “don’t worry it’s prepaid”
The french apparently don’t believe in de boning fish.

just like I imagined

First, I decided I should see a museum as just walking while fun, gets redundant. I went to the Museum d Orsay, which is a classical museum with impressionists paintings and sculptures It was a 45 minute wait in line but I had my first conversation with someone since Sunday night with a very nice woman from Toronto in line. the museum as you can see from the pictures is not huge, and is easily handled in two hours. It really concentrates in late 19th century so a lot of Manet, Renior, Monet, Degas. Plus a lot of furniture and house wares, really. The views from the top floor are also amazing. 

inside mus d ‘ or

I then just walked. shopped, bought presents, and had lunch at a seafood restaurant outside, It is not that warm, but all of these places have heaters and people do not think twice. I then just walked to the Park, Luxembourg gardens from the other day. This time there were hundreds of people just sitting, reading, kids playing, dogs running around It was nice to see the park as part of the local culture as opposed to just a piece of art that isn’t functional. I sat for an hour and watched the sun set and people dissipate back to their lives.

After a rest I walked to the river to see it lit up at night. It’s hard to express in either a picture or more what It looks like, or to really see the scope of the City at night. There is constant activity which is nice. Even after all of the restaurants have people in them. I ended up a little place called Cafe Latin. It was not at all Latin. After awhile these places all sort of look alike, the menus are similar if not exactly the same. I had skate, which is fish, in black butter sauce with boiled potatoes and wine. It was very very good, but they do not remove the bones, which was a little surprising. I eventually got it, but in America this would have been horrifying.

Kids come tomorrow, hope they don’t get lost off the train.


company-the kids

kids at the Louvre

Scott Sitner-December 2016-Paris France

My very tired but seemingly happy children got here about noon today. Their mom warned me they were tired and Bruges had been cold and busy. But they were stuck in Paris and said it was ok to go. We basically walked the City. They only have two days here and want to see what they can. So we walked from the hotel to see Notre Dame, then walked through Marais and Les Halles districts just to see the buildings and history and get lunch. Mari can now say she had a Croque Madame in Paris, but shopping was not successful. We walked about five miles and then they went to sleep. we will eat in our area tonight and hopefully see the Lourve tomorrow along with other highights.

Dinner was traditional french bistro, I had herb roasted chicken, alex had coq au van with wine, and Mari had pasta with local seafood. No t cheap but very good, and felt like french. except that our waiter spoke perfect english. We walked though the neighborhoods at night, I am finally learning my way around and am not getting lost. They crashed by 10, and I let them sleep in, this is a trip as much as a vacation and they needed to rest.


inside the louvre

Scott Sitner-December 2016-Paris France again

So I guess you have to go to the Louvre. To no go is to admit I think that you are classless and have no taste. So after a french breakfast, we walked to the Louvre, about a half hour from the hotel. I had done some research about entering and and saw that entering through the attached mall was easier an quicker. the line outside looked to be 1000 people deep, so we went inside and found no wait at either security or getting in. The kids were both free also. We spent about 2 hours and what strikes people is that it is just massive in size. The DIA could fit in one wing, and where we are amazed at the breadth of what that has, the thousands of works here just surpass it by miles. We spent about two hours, aw the Mona Lisa as best you can, the masters and the sculptures and by 1230 it was overwhelming the amount of people and the line even at the “fast entrance” was at least 500 people(I asked). So we took a walk for lunch, wandered Marais to shop and then came back for a rest. Today is chilly and breezy. We walked around 6 miles and just needed a break. Tonight small dinner and Eiffel Tower.

from 50 feet back, it’s really small
at the Eifeel Tower
paris street scene

The Eiffel tower was imposing, much more impressive than any of us thought and after ten minutes we had seen enough and got back on the subway and went home. It was worth the trip as you can see from the pictures otherwise if was just a lot of small stores, shops, vendors, and lots and lots of people speaking english. Dinner was at another Bistro type please near the hotel. Lots of americans, and felt like being on a street place in NYC. Like they knew we were tourists and were treated like it. The upside is the food was very good. The kids are beyond exhausted so we came back after dinner and the kids are going to sleep while I work.

Tomorrow breakfast and Berlin.


note how filthy-Berlin

Scott Sitner-Berlin Germany

Yesterday, the 31st, was a travel day. We took a walk around Paris for a half hour, it was pleasant, cloudy but ok. We took a taxi to the airport, by the time we got there, snow, fog, ice, two hour flight delay. Charles de Gaulle airport was surprisingly boring. The shops were all fancy, Rolex, Gucci, etc, and really no restaurants. One interesting thing is they only sell to you if you show a boarding pass. Not sure I get that as we were already through security.

Berlin is cold, and at first glance not real scenic. We just checked in and then took a walk to dinner. Ate at the equivalent of fridays, we were al tired and had not eaten, then walked around for two hours to see the City. Alex had already been here so he helped show us around. It was NYE so as is customary in by 11:30. The fireworks did not stop until 2 am.

Today we were tourists. As anyone can see from the pictures, we took a four hour walking tour of the streets and history of Berlin. Save for the fact it was freezing, we saw the highlights form the museums, to the Wall, to the holocaust memorial and Hitler’s Bunker. It was all highlights. It is not “pretty” like paris or even Cologne, but all very interesting. You can still see pieces of the wall that are standing. It was interesting to see people climbing on the holocaust memorial laughing and taking pictures. 

Berlin is interesting, the center of world war one and two, so thee are interesting sites. On some you can still see bullet holes and where bombs struck, which they have patched over but still exist. The wall parts were interesting but not at all overwhelming after you see the world war memorials and history.

Good place to end with one more day, tomorrow is the jewish museum and an antiquities museum and shopping.

holocaust memorial in Berlin-no one really sure what it means..
brandenburg gate

she didn’t even like it…
always cool


river-I guess sort of neat

Scott Sitner-Berlin Germany-January 2017

This will be the last entry to this as I am sure no one will want to care about the Amsterdam airport or the flight home. Today was our second and last day in Berlin. We decided to see a few of the museums that were recommended on the “highlights” tour and the jewish one that Alex saw and liked. First, it’s raining, and grey and awful, just like being at home. The first museum was the Pergamon museum on museum island. It contains a number of very large artifacts from hundreds of years BC and a few hundred AD. The main focus is on large artifacts, like you can see from the pictures. Huge gates, and recreations of massive wall projects and coverings. Some of the museum was closed but what we saw was impressive basically for the wall ones, they were given hundreds of crates of rubble and spent decades recreating what you see. There is also a small islamic section with some artifacts and rugs.

Our next stop and last was the Berlin Jewish Museum. For people reading it is really dedicated to culture and NOT the holocaust. When you enter the first part is a section of artifacts from people taken and killed during WWII, but it is a small selected group of materials. Personal items from families that were recovered even during the war and post war, items saved form victims or found later, clearly a vey well selected group of materials and there to remind people of the humanity of the event. The rest of the museum is really dedicated to jewish and german culture, religion and the arts While later on the Holocaust comes back and is of course noted, they do a very good job to emphasis contributions of jewish people through politics and culture and society. It is done in a very concise and educated way. 

The we were done as it was 730 pm. We all decided we were tired, Mari is craving chicken fingers and a hamburger so she stayed back and the rest of us went to a local german restaurant close to the hotel. Very boring and we all agreed we had had enough of german food. Tasty, but it was sort of running together. Sorry we could not spend more time as we have been told there are many god and new restaurants. Another time.

Thanks to anyone and everyone who read this. It was written for a specific audience so thanks both indulging in a somewhat self serving report and hopefully enjoying some of if. Any questions or comments, please feel free to ask or write or comment. Safe travels

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