Well friends I'm back from my break!
Where I went:
My home base was Hanover, Germany. I took a day trip to Berlin, a 2-day trip with my sister to Bruges & Ghent (in Belgium) and I went on my own to Amsterdam for 3 days. The rest of the trips were in Germany, and selected in hopes of finding good weather. My sister and I went to Goslar (gorgeous day!) and Lubeck (not so much) and I did a trip on my own to Schwerin.
Traveling by train:
I used all 8 days on my Eurail pass and loved the convenience of
just showing up and hopping on a train. It's possible to pay a bit extra
to book a reserved seat, but not at all required. Once my train was so
full I had to sit on the floor for a couple of hours, and once a kind
woman let me have her seat while she visited friends elsewhere on the
train, but the vast majority of the time there was no trouble with
seating at all. Those trains are crazy punctual, and as my sister said,
you just have to trust the timetable. If you are expecting a train to
Brussels on platform 5 at 11:03, don't get on the one that is there at
10:50 or you might wind up going someplace unexpected! And don't wait
around for an invitation to board when your train shows up - they often
stay in the station for under 5 minutes.
Clothes and Gear:
I made some last-minute packing list changes (I ditched one cool-weather shirt and added two warmer-weather shirts) and my packing was nearly perfect. I could have skipped one of the short-sleeve shirts and the 3/4 sleeve sweater, but only because I got to do laundry twice. After all the agonizing I did over whether to bring my rain jacket, I guess I should be happy the first half of my trip *fully* justified its inclusion!
I managed to try several local specialties.
In Germany: In Hanover I had schnitzel, and in Berlin I got currywurst. In Lubeck (since it's near the Baltic sea) I tried fried herring - big mistake, crazy bony - and my sister got smoked herring, which was quite nice. Lubeck is also the home of a famed marzipan company, so I bought a little marzipan from them. We also tried salted licorice from a vending machine at the train station - YUK.
In Belgium: I had the famed waffles twice, but sadly concluded they're too sweet for me. In Ghent we found a local candy called "Noses of Ghent" that were cone-shaped things about the size of a nose. They're purple and a bit jellied inside and were kind of good but kind of gross. I also had some Belgian chocolate, of course! We had mussels for dinner, including fries with mayo. For breakfast our hotel included speculoos, a sweet spread made from cookies that is pretty yummy (Trader Joe now sells it labeled as Cookie Butter).
In Amsterdam: Fresh springtime asparagus is a big deal in that part of the world, and I had perhaps one of the best salads of my life at a randomly-selected cafe. It was made of mixed greens, walnuts, mushrooms, aged Dutch cheese, and asparagus. YUM. Speaking of cheese, I stumbled on a place that buys high-quality fresh cheese, ages it carefully, and wins awards for the results. I attended a wine/cheese seminar there and had a delicious time. The next morning I got to try a traditional breakfast offering in the Netherlands: chocolate sprinkles for your bread. They were quite good!
Beer, beer and more beer. I took pictures and will post about that separately, but: Germany does some weird but tasty things to their beer! I had beer with lemonade in it while sitting in the sun in Goslar. In Lubeck I got to try "Berliner Weiss mit Schuss" which is a specific brand of wheat beer, with a shot of colorful sweet syrup poured in - that's the Schuss. You have to indicate if you want red or green syrup; red is raspberry and I really liked it. Green... is called woodruff flavor, but I don't know what that is. Suffice to say I wasn't a big fan, but it wasn't terrible. Finally, I tried banana juice in my beer - also delicious!
Oh yeah, the TOURING thing. My sister and I usually found a Tall Thing (belfry) in whatever town we were in and paid to go up inside it. I did two free walking tours, one in Berlin, the other in Amsterdam (you tip the guide according to how well you liked it) - both tours lasted at least 3 hours! I took two canal boat rides, one in Amsterdam, the other in Lubeck. In Amsterdam I also went to the Van Gogh museum, the Anne Frank house (highly recommend it if you're headed that way), and caught the World Press photo exhibit.
And I walked and walked and walked and walked and walked. It was great.
...pictures to follow!