Eating and Drinking Our Way Through Karlsruhe

One of our biggest worries when deciding to spend this next set of adventures in Europe was the budget. The cost of living is notoriously high in the EU, and unlike in Asia and Australia, we were at a currency disadvantage, so our meager $26 per day wasn’t going to stretch nearly as far here as it did in, say, Thailand. Therefore, we were expecting to eat at home a lot more often, and a lot more peanut butter and jelly.

Thankfully, the price of food in Karlsruhe was very affordable. When we arrive at each new sit, we like to do an initial grocery run and pick up some staples, usually consisting of cereal, instant coffee, milk, bread, peanut butter, jelly, chips, rice, zucchini, carrots, garlic, 4 chicken breast, and ice cream. At home, this would cost between $20-$25. In Karlsruhe, we were able to get all of the above for about the same price, around €20. As an added bonus, the beer ended up being cheaper than we were expecting, around €2 each. With some careful meal planning, we’d be able to keep our usual menu and stay well under budget, which was quite the relief.

Dining Out in Karlsruhe

The restaurant prices in Karlsruhe were also quite affordable, though not enough for us to eat out as much as we wanted. Still, we made it a priority to try out the local cuisine, and frequented the bakery down the road almost daily. I loved the pretzels, donuts, and hand-made bread loafs! And it wouldn’t have been a successful trip to southwestern Germany if we didn’t try a Black Forest Cake, which was delightful.

Black Forest Cake in Karlsruhe, Germany. Three layer chocolate cake filled with layers of chocolate cream and cherry jelly. The outside is frosted with chocolate cream and chocolate shavings.

In an attempt to try local food in Karlsruhe that a blue collar worker might enjoy on her lunch break, we headed to one of the nearby lunch counters. Unlike almost everyone we met in Germany, the staff there did not speak English. We fumbled our way through ordering with our poor German and ended up getting stuffed red peppers, spaetzle (thick, egg pasta), and alcohol free beer. It wasn’t at all what we wanted, but I would be lying if I didn’t say it was all delicious.

Stuffed red peppers covered in a dark brown sauce, spaetzle, and Vaeltins beer.
Not the most attractive meal, but still tasty

Our favorite places to eat, however, were the beer gardens. They were often beautifully located, had outdoor seating, and inexpensive food. We tried several beer gardens and loved them all. The beers were cold and plentiful and the food was basic, but well-made. They were the sort of places we could sit for hours… and did. My favorite was the Rheinkiosk Seyfert, located off a quiet bike path next to the Rhine River. I ordered the cashier’s favorite wurst (sausage) and a bottle of Hoepfner Hefe-Weizen.

Beer Garden Food in Karlsruhe - The Places We Live

German Beer Tasting

Our worldwide beer tasting tour continues with a truly amazing selection of German beers. The majority of our tastings were purchased at the grocery store to keep the prices down, though we did enjoy a pint or two at the beer gardens and a local pub. However, our most enjoyable tasting experience, by far, was with our house sitting host over dinner. She had read on the blog that we enjoyed drinking beer, and prepared a wonderful spread of flavors for us to taste. It was a great way to get to know one another and get a taste of what the locals enjoy.

German Beers - The Places We Live

For the most part, we had only two styles to choose from, either Pilsner or Hefeweisen, but each brew had subtle differences in flavor that made each one feel special and unique. My favorite brew of the trip was the Warsteiner Premium Verum, a German Pilsner. With one new tasting per day, plus a wonderful spread by our host on our final day in town, I ended our Karlsruhe adventure with 15 new German beers.

German Beer Collection - The Places We Live




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House Sitting in Karlsruhe, Germany

After an amazing journey across the Atlantic Ocean, we arrived in Europe to begin the next leg of our world travels. We started it all off with a house sit in Karlsruhe, Germany. Truth be told, I’m not sure we would have ever gone to Karlsruhe if not for this sit, but I’m so glad we did. It was a city unlike any we’ve been to before, with natural beauty, a great art scene, delicious food, and the most down-to-earth people. We loved Karlsruhe and are already looking for an opportunity to go back.

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Karlsruhe, Germany

Karlsruhe is in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg, located in the southwest corner of Germany. The city’s western border sits on the Rhine River, which separates Germany and France. As the city lies exactly on the 49th parallel (same as the border of Canada and USA), the climate is consistently a little bit chilly but can rarely be called hot or cold. However, it is said to be one of the sunniest cities in Germany.

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The Neighborhood

Our Karlsruhe home was located in the far northwest corner of the city, literally on the edge of town. However, everything we needed was within walking distance: grocery store, bakery, park, and several restaurants and pubs. Our hosts were gracious enough to let us use their bikes, which extended our range quite a bit, and there was a train station right nearby, so we had full access to the city anytime we wanted.

Bicycling in Karlsruhe - The Places We Live

Exploring the area was a challenge at first, in part because it seemed like no one wanted to talk to us.  We would smile and nod at each person we passed on the bikes or at the markets and received nothing in return, sometimes not even eye contact. A little digging around on the internet revealed this to be a quirk of the local culture. It turns out our attempts to be polite were viewed as attempts to start a conversation, hard to do when one party is riding past on a bicycle. Once we got the kinks ironed out, we found the local people to be incredibly welcoming, kind, and truly hilarious. Scattered among the homes were tiny pubs, each one only large enough to seat a dozen people. We popped into one on Easter simply out of boredom and ended up having an amazing day chatting with some locals. The quote of the day was “Do all Americans really smile this much?” On another occasion, I nearly plowed into a small child on my bike. I stopped just in time, but in a horribly embarrassing fashion. The parent didn’t start yelling at me or threaten me. Instead, he began laughing and offered a hand to help me back up and going. We found the people of Karlsruhe to be the true highlight of the trip with so much kindness and a penchant for fun and laughter.

Our Home

Our home in Karlsruhe ended up being quite a bit larger than we were originally expecting. It was a three-bedroom home with three partial bathrooms (two rooms with toilets and one room with a tub). There was a large kitchen and dining room combo along with two large living areas. The best part of the home, however was the beautiful outdoor area with the large back deck and garden that looked onto a pond. Neighboring properties in the area are on sale for around $650,000.

House Sitting Karlsruhe Patio - The Places We Live

We slept in the master bedroom on the main floor. The whole house was very comfortable and functional, but had some fun and interesting quirks. For one thing, all of the light switches were pull-strings. It was very curious at first, but we eventually found it to pretty common place throughout Europe. Another was the mysterious yellow wedge in the bathroom. Next to each of the bathroom sinks was a small football shaped block attached to the wall. We had no idea what it was at first, wondering if maybe it was some sort of strange wall art. Eventually, my complaints about the lack of soap in the bathrooms tipped me off to the realization that the “art” was actually bar soap. Once I figured it out, I really liked the idea of having soap that wasn’t constantly sticking into the counter.

German Sink - The Places We Live

Our Family

Due to the timing of our arrival, we were unable to meet our hosts at the beginning of our sit in Karlsruhe. Instead we met their father, who put our German language skills to shame with his beautiful English and even better Spanish. We were lucky enough to meet the whole family for a dinner party upon their return. Some of their friends showed up as well and we talked and laughed well into the wee hours of the night. We left feeling delightfully full, and our faces hurt from all of the smiling and laughter.

Our fur-babies for the house sit in Karlsruhe were two independent cats named Ruhchen and Suri. They didn’t speak English and even if they did, I am sure they would have ignored us. But we enjoyed their company and they seemed to tolerate us well enough. We even got a number of “presents” in the mornings, so we must have done something right. Haha!

Cat House Sitting in Karlsruhe - The Places We Live

Ruhchen seemed constantly disappointed in us. We apparently didn’t open the door the right way, sit on the couch in the right formation, or walk down the stairs in the correct cadence. He tried each day to train us, but seemed constantly befuddled by our lack of understanding. When he wasn’t judging us, he was either playing in the tall grass, snoozing on the couch, or eating.

Cat House Sitting in Karlsruhe - The Places We Live

Suri, on the other hand, was very easy going. If I didn’t open the door the way she liked, she walked the extra couple of feet to let herself in through the cat door. She enjoyed regular tickles, sleeping in the top bunk of the kids’ bunk beds, and napping at Josh’s feet while he worked… I think she just really enjoyed napping.

Our Lives

Life house sitting in Karlsruhe was pretty great. Ruhchen and Suri were easy going and the house was very little trouble. This left us with plenty of time to really see the area. The weather was all over the place with several chilly and rainy days, but also several warm and sunny days. We took advantage of each, using the sunny days to ride our bikes and the rainy to try new foods. Karlsruhe had so much to offer and left us wishing we had more time to see it all. It was a great way to start off our European adventure, and we can’t wait to get back and see more of Germany.


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Spain – Alicante & Valencia

The last two stops of our Trans-Atlantic Crossing were in the cities of Alicante and Valencia along the southern coast of Spain. They were little slices of paradise, each one beautiful and special in their own way. Unfortunately, we only had a few hours ashore in each city, which merely whetted my appetite to explore more of this amazing country.

Alicante, Spain

After several weeks of rainy, overcast skies and sloshing, whitecapped seas, we were treated to a warm and sunny day in Alicante, a coastal city of about 300,000 people. From the moment I got off the boat I was in love. It was only a short walk from the port to the city, where we came across an ornate marbled promenade that tracked the coast for a mile or so. Just off the promenade were beachside restaurants where people sat enjoying paella, sangria, and sunshine. Nearby, an ancient castle stood on a hill overlooking the entire city.

Alicante - The Places We Live.jpg

While the cruise offered several tempting shore excursions, we chose to simply wander around and enjoy the beautiful weather. I loved all of the colorful, pedestrian walkways and the random art installations. Our walk included stops at a couple quirky shops, a grocery store to buy some wine to share with our table mates (you can bring up to two bottles on board), and an enjoyable visit to a local market.

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I’ve already mentioned how much I like grocery stores, but markets are even better. There’s something about the craftsmanship on display that makes each booth special. However, my favorite part is watching the shoppers. Watching the locals visiting all their favorite stands, I like to pretend that the market is my market, too. What color shopping tote would I have? Which stall owners know my name? Do I get my usual, or ask for a recommendation for something new? It might be a bit silly, but it’s a fun way to feel a part of the community, if only for a little while.

 

The limited amount of time we had in Alicante wasn’t nearly enough. Due to our limited budget, we didn’t get the chance to try out any of the local delicacies, nor did we climb the hill to explore the castle. This is one of the downsides to cruising, that each stop isn’t enough time to really get to know a place. Thankfully, we’ve got the time to come back and visit.

Valencia, Spain

Thankfully, our time in Spain wasn’t completely over. We had one more stop in the nearby city of Valencia. If our time in Alicante was too short, then it was way too short in Valencia. The city hosts a population of 2 million people and is packed with things to see, experience, and eat. Once again, the weather turned poor on us, cutting our exploration time down even further, so we didn’t even see a fraction of what Valencia has to offer.

Valencia - The Places We Live.jpg

Although we were dying to see the beautiful and modern City of Arts and Culture, we were limited to the port area due to rain and high transportation costs. However, it did clear up long enough to enjoy the feel of solid ground underfoot before our last day at sea. Needless to say, we are planning to return to Valencia as soon as we can so that we can see all this beautiful city has to offer.

Journey’s End

After 14 days on the ocean, we finally landed at Rome’s nearest port, Civitavecchia. After all is said and done, I am still very happy that we took the cruise instead of an airplane. We met some amazing people, ate some great food, and got some much needed exercise, relaxation, and peace of mind. It was a little more expensive than flying, but for all we got to experience, it was definitely worth it. The boat pulled into port, and it was time to for our European adventure to begin.

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And what a way to start! As soon as we landed, we hefted our backpacks and said goodbye to the ship, then hopped on a bus into town, hiked to the nearest train station, rode the train into Rome, then finally got on another bus, this one taking us overnight to Germany, all so that we could reach our next house sit THE FOLLOWING DAY. It was a hectic adventure, but more on that next time 😉


Gibraltar, United Kingdom

Our arrival at our second port of call (after the Azores) came with a bit of unexpected advice: “Don’t mention Brexit.” This was a bit confusing until we remembered that Gibraltar, even though it’s located at the southern tip of Spain, is controlled by the United Kingdom. Still, we weren’t quite sure why this would be a subject to avoid. Without internet, we had to ask around to get the scoop, which led to a lot of uncomfortable mumbling and few answers. The boat pulled in to port, and we stepped off into this stormy climate (both literally and figuratively) to explore the tiny yet strategically important territory of Gibraltar.

Map of Europe, highlighting Gibraltar. Collage of Rock of Gibraltar, monkeys, and the city of Gibraltar.

Gibraltar, UK

As mentioned, Gibraltar is a British territory located at the southern tip of Spain. This territory has changed hands many times over its long history due to its strategic importance. This is the place where the Mediterranean meets the Atlantic Ocean. Gibraltar overlooks a major world shipping route – half of the world’s seaborne trade passes through this strait. Therefore, in times of conflict, controlling the naval traffic through this area is of great importance.

Border Between Gibraltar and Spain - The Places We Live
Border Between Gibraltar and Spain

The Territory itself is only 2.6 square miles in area. From the top of the Rock of Gibraltar, we could see it all plus the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea, Morocco, and Spain. Ownership has been a point of some contention in modern times. The English captured the territory in 1713, and signed a treaty with the Spanish granting them ownership in perpetuity. Since then the Spanish have asserted their claims to ownership, which have gone nowhere. The Gibraltarians themselves have been given the chance to vote on leaving to rejoin Spain, but the people have voted to remain in the UK.

Rock of Gibraltar Cannon - The Places We Live

Brexit

This makes Brexit a bit of a spiky subject in Gibraltar. The ~30,000 residents of one of the most densely populated areas of the world benefit greatly from the UK’s inclusion in the European Union. For one thing, it makes trade and movement across the Spanish border much simpler. 82% of Gibraltar’s population came out to vote for the Brexit referendum, with 96% of them voting to stay. Needless to say, they’re worried about the coming transition. It’s to this environment we arrived as clueless tourists, ready to wander the picturesque streets, take pictures, and climb to the top of the famous Rock.

♦ Thank you LegTravel for helping us book this cruise! ♦

Rock of Gibraltar

Our adventure today takes us to the top (-ish) of the Rock of Gibraltar, also known simply as “The Rock”. Our table mates all opted to take the cable car up, which in retrospect was probably the right decision. We chose to walk. The walk from the port to town was nice. It took us through Casemates Square, which was packed with shops and restaurants and had a lovely pedestrian way leading off of it.

Casemates Square, Gibraltar - The Places We Live

The Walk

We began the climb from one of these little side paths. At first it was quite nice, with gently slanted sidewalks and short flights of steps. The path was lined with houses that had been built against the side of the hill. It was a delightfully dramatic scene. But, as time went on, our moods turned sour.

It wasn’t that the walk was too challenging, but that everything just started going wrong. First, the sun moved behind a cloud and it started to get chilly. Next, we realized we had to pay to walk up The Rock (£5) and pay again if we actually wanted to see anything once we were at the top (£13). Then, the wind started to blow. A little ways further, some road construction and poorly placed signs caused us to get briefly lost and double-back. Then the rain started, and we decided to call it quits.

The Rock of Gibraltar Stairs - The Places we Live

The Top-Ish

However, we did see the Moorish Castle… from the outside (once again, you had to pay to go in). It is a relic from 711 CE, when the Moorish ruled over Gibraltar. There wasn’t much to look at, but the view around it was amazing and we even got a shot of our ship in the background! Although not visible in this particular picture, we also had the pleasure of seeing some of the local Barbary macaques. They’ve been roaming freely within the nature reserve for years.

Gibraltar Moorish Castle - The Places We Live

All Aboard!

After a challenging day on land, we had a challenging evening on board. The weather was less than ideal for cruising. We received a letter in our room after dinner letting us know that they would be shuttering our window in case of water damage (see the pre-shuttering video below). We were able to avoid motion sickness, but had some trouble remaining comfortable in bed. I had to wedge myself between pillows to keep from rolling around. Haha! Otherwise, the journey was a pleasant one and we were eventually able to get some good rest before our next stop in Alicante, Spain!



Ponta Delgada, Azores

The first stop on our cruise from Miami to Rome was Ponta Delgada in the Azores. We were about 1,200 miles (1,930 km) southeast of Canada and 850 miles (1,360 km) west of Portugal. The Azores are pretty much in the middle of the freaking ocean! It was crazy to look out on an endless ocean before going to bed and wake up on land the next morning. After a quick breakfast, we headed off the boat to enjoy some solid ground and a beautiful day in Ponta Delgada, Azores.



The Azores

The Azores are a collection of nine volcanic islands and is an autonomous region of Portugal (similar to Puerto Rico and the USA). Although it is usually pretty cloudy and wet, the temperatures are very mild year-round, at an average of 70° F. It makes for a good agricultural economy focused on dairy products. Cheese seemed to be the must-have item at all of the shops and the local supermarket.

Map of Europe highlighting Paris and the Azores. Ponta Delgada, Sao Miguel, Azores, Portugal. The Places We Live

São Miguel

Of the nine islands in the Azores, we ended up on São Miguel (St. Michael in the national language of Portuguese). The island is bisected by many geological faults, giving it a lot of interesting geographic features. One of the most famous is the Lagoa do Fogo, a crater lake in the center of the island. Many of our friends on board took the tour to see Lagoa do Fogo and I was very jealous. We, instead, wandered the streets of Ponta Delgada… which was also nice, but maybe not as nice.

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Photo by Sylvain Cleymans on Unsplash

Ponta Delgada

At less than 70,000 residents, Ponta Delgada is still the economic capital and largest municipality in the Azores.  Although Ponta Delgada is surrounded by volcanoes and volcanic fissural systems (linear vent), the last eruption  on the island was in 1880. In contrast, walking in the city-center, we were completely unaware of the volcanoes that had created the islands. Instead, we found ourselves in awe of the quiet town and distant rolling hills covered in greenery.

Jen and Josh Explore the Azores

It was a rainy and cloudy day, so we opted to forgo our planned exploration of the crater lakes. Instead, we hopped off the ship and hit the town. The city center was a lovely collection of old buildings that had been repurposed to hold Burger Kings and McDonalds. Steps away from the city center, the old buildings showed more obvious signs of decay and disuse. It felt like a city that had been abandoned and only recently rediscovered. It was eerie, yet peaceful.

Buildings in Ponta Delgada, Azores

Finally, we wandered through a couple of tourist shops and farmer’s markets, before walking out of town towards the more local grocery store. As I’ve mentioned before, I love walking through foreign grocery stores. The thing that set this one apart was the large collection of local cheeses (at a quarter of the price of the gift shops). We didn’t try any of the cheese, but did pick up a case of soda (cans cost $3.25 on board). And that about wrapped up our exploration of the Azores. Although a short visit, it was nice to touch solid ground again and see a new place that neither of us have ever been to before. I hope we can make it back some day to enjoy some of the natural beauty of these lovely islands.