Friday, October 9, 2009

football baby

For the first BYU game we decked the kids out in appropriate BYU attire.  Lizzy was a natural with our toy football.  Doesn’t she look fierce?

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(the wisconsin football is only because it was bought in Wisconsin.  We actually have no loyalties to the badgers and in fact usually cheer against them.  Sorry guys, but your offense is pretty boring.)

Heading back to the states

September 22, 2009

So I made a tactical error when setting up our flights.  Either I had got the time wrong that the nice (commercial contract jet that runs between Baltimore and Ramstein air force base) return flight was arriving or they changed it after I bought our Southwest tickets with the result that the trans-atlantic flight would arrive after the Southwest one left.  It wouldn’t be a big deal if I didn’t have to be back at work (something that could be worked around) or Henry didn’t have to be back at school. Apparantly in Texas if your (pre) school child misses 8 days or more they send the Truancy Officer to your house to lop off the parents heads, fine them $350 and proudly display the piked heads on the playground fence to intimidate other parents from giving their children cultural experiences.  (sidenote, we did have a note from the truant officer but so far our heads our attached and we have solemnly sworn not to have him miss school for any reasons except being sick until Jan 15th when he can once again miss up to 8 random days.)

So as I type I am sitting on the top deck of a C-5 (huge cargo plane which can carry 8 tanks, yep tanks) headed to Dover, Delaware.  This is the real Space-A.  They have actual airplane seats (not webbing) but they face backwards. It’s pretty loud so we all have earplugs in.  (Lizzy’s are held in by the hat she is wearing) and the temperature isn’t really well controlled so we’re kind of bundled up, but Anna and both kids are sleeping so it’s not that bad. Kind of a fun adventure.  And it’s the first time in 6 years being attached to the Air Force that I’ve actually flown in an Air Force plane.  Now I just need to fire a gun and I may even feel like a soldier.  We were hoping to get spots on a Medevac flight to Andrews AFB in DC since Dover is actually in the middle of nowhere as far as the East Coast goes, but couldn’t get on…darn wounded soldiers taking seats from vacationers.  We still need to find a way to get to Baltimore for our flight tomorrow but I’m sure we’ll find a way.   

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(flying in a C-5.  We look pretty comfy huh?  There’s so much leg room that I think I prefer it to commercial.  We even got a box lunch with lots of food and drinks.  Henry liked being able to wander around and peek down into the cargo hold.  No tanks this time though.  Just boring pallets of stuff.)

update: we did find a way to Baltimore.  There ended up being a bunch of us needing to get to baltimore so we called around and found a taxi that brought a big van with a trailer for our luggage and drove all 12 of us (eight adults, 4 kids) to Baltimore.  It’s a long drive and it was the middle of the night with most of us having been up for the past 20 hours.  Our nice driver dropped us off at our airport hotel after dropping everyone off at the airport where they were meeting local rides.  We hung out at our cheap hotel until morning when we took the shuttle back to the airport and spent the 7 hours until our flight hanging out at the USO (oh bless their kids play room, internet, playstation, big screen tvs, free books, cribs with clean linens, and free ice cream and cookies hearts.) We also discovered a fun place at baltimore airport if any of you non military people are passing through with kids.  There’s an observation deck with comfy chairs and lots of airplane related things for kids to play on.  Henry had a wooden plane to fly- with room for 10 passengers, a wooden baggage truck to pretend to drive, and there were actual plane parts that you could look at.  It was fun for Henry to see a cross section of a 727-- “here’s where your bags go” – and the rest of us were a little worried when we saw just how small the tires on the landing gear are.  “We really land on those things!”  Henry especially liked being our tour guide and showing us around the airplane related exhibits.

the Rhine

September 21, 2009

Another late start, we tell ourselves that we’re trying to ease the adjustment back to US time zones, but the apartment is so comfortable with Henry in his own room and Lizzy in the living room that it’s too tempting to not take some time for ourselves.  An hour and a half drive got us to Bacharach, a wine-making town on the Rhine. We drove down the steep Rhine gorge walls covered with grapes into basically a long, charming one-street town to catch one of the Rhine cruise boats. We had a few hours to spare before the boat left and had lunch at a rather yummy Italian restaurant and of course some more ice cream.  German dairy products are just better. 

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(the streets of Bacharach.  Notice the all important sign Eis Cafe.  Eis is german for ice cream.)

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Bacharach

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(Throwing rocks in the Rhine while waiting for the boat.)

The Rhine cruise was awesome.  It was nice to be able to just sit one the deck in the sun (without which the cruise would not have been nearly so nice) and watch the villages, their churches and castles, and cargo barges go by.  Lizzy made friends with a friendly flight attendant from Singapore who stayed interested even after the little one spit up all over her shirt.

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(a view from the boat.  The castle in the river was key in the napoleonic wars.  General Blucher was very sneaky here and built the first pontoon bridge to victory.)

We got off in St Goar another lovely little village and hiked up to the Castle overlooking the river. As we went up through the castle garden and vineyard Henry brushed up against a sawtooth leafed weed with silvery things dangling from it…yup, stinging nettle. That took about 10 minutes to take care of and by the time we got up to the castle it was time to head back to the boat for the ride back. 

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(walking to the castle, or in Henry’s case riding.  Such a hard life.  Riding on your dad’s shoulders while eating a European pastry.  Dell has crumbs in his hair.  Such a good dad!)

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(Hey Henry what’s that plant?  Oh stinging nettle.  And how do you know that?  Yep, Henry found stinging nettle on the hike.  It even blistered.  Luckily we were kind of prepared and had water, alcohol wipes, neosporin, and bandaids.)

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(view from the hike.  Notice the vineyard in the foreground.  It was heavy with grapes.)

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(Lizzy slept most of the hike up)

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(the castle.  We had to turn around and hike back to catch our boat almost as soon as we arrived here.  There are some benefits to having a car when you’re traveling with kids.)

The return ship had a slide and playground toys on the sun-deck which allowed both of us to fully enjoy the scenery.  A 5 year old little Japanese boy named Takami kept calling for Ren-ri (took us a while to realize he was saying Henry) played together on the slide and were really cute despite the complete language barrier.  Turns out his family are our Japanese counterparts travelling Germany with 2 kids nearly the exact same age as ours, unfortunately the language barrier extended to the adults as well or I’m sure we would have had fun comparing kid traveling stories.

 

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Henry was very hesitant to play with Takami at first but as you can see from the picture by the end they were playing really well together.  They did this over and over, laughing each time, then racing each other up the ladder.

Etternach:Luxembourg

It was raining/drizzling while we were in Etternach.  But that didn’t deter Henry from heading straight to the river.

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We fed the ducks under this old bridge

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Hanging in the park.  I love European parks.  I always feel less like a tourist and more like I belong when at a park.

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The streets of Etternach.

Trier and Luxembourg

September 20, 2009

We got off to a slow start this morning. Anna and I stayed up too late watching USC lose to Washington in college football and hoping to catch a bit of the BYU game…soo sad, glad we couldn’t watch it.  Once we got moving we drove to Trier, a city on the Mosel (a tributary to the Rhine near Luxembourg) that had at one point actually been home to the Roman Emperor Constantine (yes, that Constantine that converted the empire to Christianity and all). I don’t think it was really a capitol for the empire though as there would have been more ruins left. What was left was impressive though—the black gate which was made without mortar and still stands several stories tall, Constantine’s palace/throne room which was converted into a church, and the ruins of gigantic baths.  After seeing so many ancient seeming castles and such from the medieval period going back another thousand years in history was really astounding…and I’d never realized that Northern Europe was that important to the empire.  We had lots of fun exploring the tunnels beneath the baths with Henry pretending to be the slaves that kept the water coming and warm.  Despite all the meltdowns, whining, feeding stops, traveling with kids leads to fun things you wouldn’t otherwise do.  (And to be fair to our kids, there weren’t as may meltdowns as you’d expect from jetlagged kids and the feeding stops just let you savor an area for a bit longer.)

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(the black gate)

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(The Dom.  My favorite of all the cathedrals we saw this trip.)

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(Inside the Dom.  The Dom is famous because of a relic it has.  Supposedly the Emperor Constantine’s wife, St. Helen, brought Christ’s robe back from Jerusalem sometime in 300 A.D. or so.  The robe is kept here in the Dom.  A beautiful alter holds it but it’s behind glass and I couldn’t get a good picture of it.  The ceiling over the alter is like the white one in the earlier picture only the background is a salmon/pink color.  Very pretty.)

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(addition but onto the roman basilica- red brick structure behind the pink-  Lizzy had a snack in this lovely garden.  Henry played I spy and Simon Says with me while she ate.)

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(the slaves in the tunnels)

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(Leaving the tunnels- the slaves escaping toward freedom!)

Besides the Roman ruins the old-but-not-Roman-old city was charming with interesting French influenced architecture and a long pedestrian market square with several ice cream shops that had to be sampled if we were to come to any conclusion as to which was the best. 

The cathedral was one of our favorites that we’ve ever been too (I think Anna said it was her favorite). Instead of a Prince or King, Trier was ruled by an Archbishop who was also one of the Electors (of the Holy Roman Emperor…aka German High King) which granted him considerable wealth and influence and the cathedral was largely a memorial to the Bishop Princes of the centuries.  What made it different was the back was done in a beautiful black and white marble design and the remained in green and red marbles. It was also unusual in the range of access tourists were allowed—usually the choir and nave areas are off limits. But you could go all the way forward to where there was a shrine containing a holy relic that was claimed to be the one of Christ’s robes.  I generally assume that all relics related to Christ or the original apostles are shams, but this one was brought back from Jerusalem around AD 320 by the Emperors wife so I give it a 1-3% chance of being real.

After Trier we drive a few miles to reach Luxembourg…unfortunately we had just filled up on gas, because the clever Luxembougois apparently realized that if their gas tax was only $3 a gallon instead of $4 all their border resident of their larger neighbors would buy their gas there and they’d end up with more tax revenue.  Anyway, we stopped in Etternach, one of the recommended small medieval towns and enjoyed a walk along the river, some rain, feeding ducks, an Abbey, and some baked goods.  We kept the day short and headed back through the Ardennes forest to the base. 

pictures of Rothenburg OB

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Dell and Henry in the city center near one of the medieval fountains.

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Lizzy having a snack in the courtyard of the cathedral.

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so cute!

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The convent garden

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Henry peeking through an opening in the wall around the city.  I’m holding his foot because this part of the wall is on top of a very high cliff and even though I don’t think he could fit through it made me feel better.

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in this picture I think Henry is cuter than the city in the distance.

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tree climber!

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De-sanding shoes after a stop at one of the playground/parks on the outside of the wall.

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Henry up on Dell’s shoulders after getting tired of walking for two hours.  But you can tell he’s still having fun.  We loved Rothenburg.  Everything about it was cute and it was a perfect place to wander at a kids pace. 

Rothenburg OB

September 19, 2009

Garmisch, Germany—Woke up to another beautiful mountain morning and unfortunately had to pack up and head northwest.  Incredible traffic coming into Garmisch, must be for the weekend, glad we’re heading the other way.  We skirted past Munich…German freeways seem to generally avoid the towns and cities. Got off the freeway to join the “Romantische Strasse” (the street was actually used to haul salt from the mountains to the Rhine river where the salt is transferred to barges…not particulary romantic, but great marketing, the Japanese especially love it). We stopped at a few small towns,  Donauwertwhich had pretty pastel buildings connected one to another all the way up winding streets. Then Dinkelsbuhl, a medieval walled city with similar architecture (very different from Bavaria) and a yummy bakery for lunch.

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(Pretty cathedral in Dinkelsbuhl)

Our main destination today was Rothenburn ob der Tauber, said by the eminent historian Rick Steves to be the best preserved Medieval walled city in Germany.  We liked to it. The town within the walls was well preserved and had beautiful colored stucco houses. You could walk most of the way around the town on top of the wall and there was a beautiful greenspace below the walls that looked out over the Tauber river gorge.  We actually got out the guidebook for this city and followed Rick Steves walking tour.  He was right, the clock was a bit of a let down—when they mention moving figures we actually thought the figures would move, but it seemed two windows opened, then closed.  The little gift store Rick recommended though was amazing.  The friendliest people own it.  The parents, kids, and grandkids all work there.  They all chatted with us.  We bought a little Christmas decoration thing, but they gave Lizzy and Henry little toys for “being good kids.”  There was such an air of kindness there, that in some way it was one of my favorite parts.  Though the beautiful castle garden and the walk along the wall were probably the top activities of the day.  There’s really no way to describe how fun and wonderful it was just to wander the city.  Then the kids started to get fussy (There’s a town down south called Fussen that we’ve started telling Henry “Fussen ain’t just a city in Europe”) and we had a long drive Northwest to Spangdahlem to make or we would have liked to stay longer and wander some.  We stopped for dinner in an industrial town that seemed a lot more like America complete with sprawl, families with more than 1 child and grown men wearing shorts and t-shirts…it was kind of nice.  We’re staying at another base, Spangdahlem, located in the center of a triangle made up of Luxembourg, the Mosul valley and the Rhine Valley and we’re trying to decide what to do with the 2 days we have here.  We’re in a fantastic $42 a night furnished apartment with 2 bedrooms, laundry (perfect timing), living room, kitchen and dining room…even had a pak-n-play waiting for us in the room.  

Garmisch day 2

Friday September 18, 2009

Garmisch, Germany—After three days of drizzle, clouds, rain and kids up in the night I awoke to one of the most beautiful mornings ever.  Clear blue skies with wispy clouds trapped in the crags of the mountains, the smell of fresh rain and a little woodsmoke in the air.  It was amazing.  We were beginning to thing our whole trip would be accompanied by English weather, but we were spared this day and made the most of it.  I took the kids to look into some activities while Anna got some much needed uninterrupted sleep.CIMG3364

Then we had a quick breakfast and headed over to rent some bikes from the Edelweiss Lodge.  Luckily they cater well to families and we were able to rent a tag-a-long trailer bike for Henry and a bike trailer for Lizzy and headed out on a trail across emerald green cow pastures studded with little barn, through quaint little alpine villages and through lush forests on our way to the Eibsee about 1000ft above the valley floor.  Unfortunately, the gear was not as light as ours at home and we’re not as fit as we once were and as the trail got much steeper Anna had to give up and feed and played with Lizzy while I essentially dismounted for the last 2km and pushed Henry and our bikes the rest of the way up.  (Anna also learned the valuable lesson of making sure you eat something before trying to bike up the alps.  She felt better about herself as she watched plenty of people on nice bikes in spandex turn around at the same point too.) The lake was serene and beautiful, but with Anna waiting I bought Henry an ice cream cone which he calmly ate with one hand holding onto his handlebars with the other while we flew down the steep (but pretty smooth) mountain path.  The ride home was fast and lovely again.  Even though we bit off a little more than was reasonable it was a fantastic ride on a perfect day. 

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(Henry pedaling along)

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(biking through a pasture on the way to the lake)

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(a little pit stop in said pasture.  Notice the cows in there with us.)

We turned the bikes in and headed across town to a little alpine slide which is perhaps a better value than anything else denominated in Euro’s—9e for 6 rides.  Anna and I took turns with riding with Henry and let him control the speed for the last few. I would brake for him occasionally, but Anna was gutsier and let him floor it. We ended up buying the picture they took of the ride (again reasonable at only 2e) because Henry looks exhilarated with his hair blown back and Anna looks like someone who knows the consequences of going too fast but being driven by one who doesn’t.  (We didn’t hit the brake once the whole way down.) (I’ll try and scan and post this picture later)

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We still had some daylight left so we all drove up to the Eibsee (Lake we were biking to) so Anna could see it and Henry could feed the ducks.  We all got a kick and a few nips out of tossing bread crumbs or even letting them grab them out of our hands.  Then finally back home for another microwaved dinner (we eat out once a day) as clouds were rolling in again. Both kids actually went down well and are simultaneously sleeping, a seeming first since arriving in Germany, and so should we.

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trying new windows live writer

So, we’ve been having computer issues.  First we got a virus, then we ordered a new computer, then that computer had an issue with its video card where everything on the monitor was a nasty shade of green.  Made you sick to look at for too long.  Now we once again have white tones instead of green and blogging can resume.

thanks dave for the recommendation

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awesome, my picture is now the right way.