Monday, January 21, 2019

Christmas Market time, Part III

Next stop was Rothenberg ob der Tauber. It is highly recommended among the Frankfurt Consulate Community and I had been saving the trip to do when the whole family was here. The city's oldest part was built about 1000 years ago, and it is a walled city that has retained its entire wall.

We also planned to pick up a couple of holiday gifts at the homeland of Käthe Wohlfahrt, the company whose wooden Christmas items have graced pretty much every Christmas Market I have ever attended. The store can be a bit overwhelming, and it is sort of set like the Duty Free section in an airport - you're forced to walk through every single section from entry to exit - which can be annoying when a child needs the bathroom in the middle of the store and you have to wind your way through half the store just to get out the door (apparently no restrooms for customers there).

Between the bad weather and the too-short amount of time budgeted to this town, we didn't do half of the wandering we'd have liked to do. The Christmas market was darling. The highly recommended Night Watchman Tour, starting at 8pm, was everything we'd been told it would be. The man who runs it has a wonderful theatrical presence, even with a crowd of 50+ people he can be easily heard and the information he relays is interesting even to the kids. It was Alex's favorite part of the trip. We will absolutely make time to go back once more before we leave Germany.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Christmas Market time, Part II

The morning after our return from Köln we hopped in the car and headed down to Heidelberg. I had such high hopes for Heidelberg!!  BUT other than the castle, which is spectacular (I love a good ruin), there was nothing much for us. The multiple Christmas Markets were each tiny with little we hadn't already seen. Or eaten. I was so disappointed with Heidelberg I didn't even keep the glühwein mug.
 View of the castle
View from the castle

Heidelberg is a beautiful city. The bleak weather kept us from venturing up to the Philosopher's Way and the intermittent rain kept us from pulling the camera out at all most of the time.

For what I am sure were solid reasons at the time, I had booked us for two nights in Heidelberg - our only two-nighter of the trip. For the second day we ended up deciding to pop over to Speyer. In hindsight, this might have been a blessing in disguise because otherwise we would not have ventured over there and the city is darling, the Christmas Market is lovely, and the Technology Museum is absolutely worth the visit. It was by far the most expensive museum I have visited in Germany and we're talking about going back. It has an incredible collection of machinery - cars, boats, airplanes, helicopters, motorcycles, even a space shuttle - and visitors are able to wander around inside many of the exhibits. A major highlight was the submarine. This was the pouring-rainiest day of the entire trip so no photos of the market. Here's one of a piece of the Berlin Wall and mannequins in period costume. The light blue car in the bottom corner is a Trabi.

Friday, January 4, 2019

Christmas Market time, Part I

Terry was here for the kids' winter holiday (which is still ongoing, entering its third week, dear Lord will we survive this much togetherness?) To celebrate the last winter in Germany, we went a-Christmas Market-ing.

Stop One - Köln. Home of the only decent Ferris Wheel we saw the entire trip. In hindsight, I feel a little bad about only letting the kids go on once. The Chocolate Museum was decent although compared to other museums on the trip, pricey for what it was. A major highlight for the kids was, as usual, the bunk beds in the hotel room. Köln Cathedral never ceases to stop me in my tracks, although this was the first time I went inside.

On our way to Köln the train was switched out for another train that was exactly the same except the car numbers were different which means that no reservations were honored. Thankfully we were able to secure identical type seating to what we had paid for so no complaints. On the return trip, however, we got to the station too early so when we saw that train was also switched out I went to the DB travel office to see if we could switch to an earlier train given that our reservations didn't matter anyway. The lady first explained that I couldn't switch us to an earlier train because of the class of ticket we had purchased ... but ... we could depart on a train that left 30 minutes after our scheduled one, and arrived 30 minutes earlier and have the exact same type of seating to what we reserved. Customer Service!!!

* Tip to the wise: Frankfurt to Köln can be a 1 hour trip or a 2 hour trip, so pay attention when booking tickets.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Why do we buy them toys?

Each child has spent a large part of this evening entirely encased in a sleeping bag. First they wandered around testing out life as an inchworm/a caterpillar. Then of course they started bug battles that ended with my son suffering an objectively minor, but emotionally major, wound. This will not end well.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Epic Road Trip part 3: Wroclaw

From Saxon Switzerland, we headed into Poland. Although we stopped at Boleslawic for the night and a bit of pottery shopping in the morning, our real destination was Wroclaw. All we knew about it was that it was a little city filled with brass gnomes. You can buy maps at the tourist info center, or find maps online, or just wander around with eyes peeled. Gnome hunting was a highlight of the entire trip for the kids.


 It reminded me a bit of Boston's Freedom Trail, in that the gnomes seemed specifically placed in neighborhoods around the city that tourists might not otherwise visit, but that the city might benefit from tourists discovering. Once such location that comes to mind is a small network of back alleys that sheltered, in addition to the gnomes, some brass farm animals and a number of independent shops, cafes and souvenir stores.

In addition to the gnomes, the town center area is also quite picturesque.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Epic Three-country Road Trip, Part 2: Saxon Switzerland National Park

On Day 3 of the Epic Road Trip we left Pilsen for Saxon Switzerland National Park, which is not in Saxony nor in Switzerland, but instead in Germany near the borders of Czech Republic and Poland.

Kudos to Microsoft or whoever has that program of rotating beautiful places on earth as the logon background.  That's where I first saw a photo of the place a couple of years ago, with its spectacular rugged rock formations. By then I knew I was on my way to Germany for my next tour and I made a plan to get to it. It's a big pain to get to from Frankfurt, but it is a mere convenient waystation on the Epic Road Trip!

We took the usual tourist route across the Bastei Bridge, which is free although parking costs a little bit. The half-price fare (due to construction) to go into the space that was once an old castle was more than worth it, as it had several decent exhibits and signs explaining what used to be where. It also had some of the best views and closest approaches to the edges of rock. Imagining what could have encouraged people to try to live in such a harsh environment was a fun mental exercise.

We also got to watch a number of rock climbers try their luck against the sharply peaking faces. But apparently none of those photos met with Terry's critical eye because none of them appeared again after he finished editing everything.

 Iconic photo of Bastei Bridge
 That is not a person. It is a sculpture known as the Angel.
Terry and Alex hanging out in a cave while Zoltan and I rest elsewhere. It's hard being 8 when everyone else is older and stronger.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Epic Three-country Road Trip, Part 1: Pilsen

Terry came for the kids' fall break and we took a road trip - something we normally don't do. Something we probably won't do too much again. But as the title indicates, it was epic.

We started with a plan to get to Pilsen early enough for one of the last Pilsner Urquell tours of the day. However, they were sold out so we got a tour for the next day. And for good measure, we went ahead and bought tickets to the Pilsen Underground tour for the next day as well.


Terry and the brewery and a stunningly beautiful day

Pilsen has nice parks. The kids had a great time playing on a series of mosaic'd faces and animals they lay on the path between the town center and the Pilsner Urquell brewery.
I've got to be honest - we have gone on a LOT of brewery tours. This was without question the worst. I don't know if our tour guide was new and didn't know anything or if this was the norm, but we spent a lot of time just waiting for things or watching a movie or two. For comparison, the Guinness tour was a 100% electronic experience and they still did a better job of getting the tourists interested in the brewing process and the history of the brewery.


Tour highlights: riding in the Czech Republic's largest elevator - in the brewery - then eating lunch in the Czech Republic's largest restaurant - on the brewery property. Other highlights included getting beer mugs for each of us and letting the kids get theirs engraved because, as Terry noted, this may be the only time Zoltan gets a touristy tchotchke with his name on it.

After lunch it was time to head to the Underground tour, which was far more interesting. To be fair, tromping through a city's hidden world is always going to be interesting no matter what, and it was a nice touch to have signs marking which street corners now-closed passages to the surface would have opened onto. Apparently people kept many of their valuables in the underground passages, to include, for some, their livestock. I can only imagine how that worked!

Another stop on our Pilsen experience was to the Great Synagogue. It was absolutely stunning and a testament to the size and wealth of some previous Jewish citizenry.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Lisbon

We went to Portugal nearly a year ago, when Terry and the kids came to visit me last winter break. It took Terry a while to edit the photos.

After three days in Porto, we hopped a train down to Lisbon. There, we cashed in hotel points and stayed at the Marriott. It's a lovely hotel, but a bit far from most things.

On the day that was supposed to be rainy (but was in fact sunny), we went to the Lisbon oceanarium - one of the world's best aquariums. My family would definitely agree with the assessment, as we ended up spending the entire day there. Zoltan even spent allowance to acquire Oscar the otter to commemorate one of our favorite exhibits.
 Puffins!
 This guy doesn't even look real
 The otter was absolutely the highlight

The next day was supposed to have nice weather and rained all morning. Gloriously, as we approached our tour guide around noon at the appointed spot, the rain softened and dried up and we went on our "food tour" - put into quotation marks because it was so much more. Our tour guide, Silvia, was recommended by a friend who had been in Lisbon about a month before us and who also had kids.

She took us all around the city, introduced us to the city's "secret" street elevators, mounds of delicious food (and got our very reluctant kids to at least try more different dishes that Terry and I could have on our own). We had alerted her to Alex's intolerance so after bringing us to what she considered the best place to get Pasteis de Belém, she took us to a different bakery for treats Alex could try.In addition to all the food, she was a wealth of information about Lisbon's, and Portugal's history and some contemporary issues. I was so skeptical of some of what she told me I went and looked it up myself (yes, tempura, that Japanese delicacy, came from Portugal!)

 We took very few photos in Lisbon. This gem is of a comic depicting Lisbon's history, painted into an archway by a public toilet.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Kronberg

Friends invited us to accompany them to the "Apfel Fest" in Kronberg that boasted 100 different varieties of apples. Like Milli Vanilli, we'll blame it on the rain, but there were only two different stands of apples that included fewer than two dozen different types. Admittedly, within that much smaller sampling there were a bunch we had never heard of, much less tasted. And of course we brought home several kilograms of apples to eat fresh, make apple chips, apple crisp, and other delicious apple treats.

Then we took the opportunity to wander around the town. Absolutely charming. The kids gave out assignments: they handled scouting duties, I was the photographer, one friend was the "noticer" (noticing and pointing out cool things to look at) and the other friend was the all-around "helper."

I hope I fulfilled my duties sufficiently :-)

 Half-timber, but with brick
 Carving on the corner of someone's house. 
The guy who makes up the beam on the right has a flower covering his crotch.
 A Socratic quote someone decided to paint on their home. 
The real question is, why don't we all do this?

According to the slate numbers (look closely among the slate tiles), the house was originally built in 1456.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Single Parenting is Hard

Disclaimer: I am still happily married to the father of my children, who provides financial and emotional support as much as the six hour time difference allows, so I recognize I do not face many challenges truly single parents do.

I'm into my first month as a single parent. For three days in the first week I tried to get to the grocery store but by the time I got home from work, cooked dinner, fed the kids and myself, cleaned up and spent a few decent moments with them, it was their bedtime. I could have gone to the store then, and one night I did pop out for milk and bread, but generally the remaining hour before my own bedtime was filled with dishes so we had clean things to eat from in the morning, a bit of work I had brought home in returning for leaving a bit early, other chores and maybe a shower.

My work day is pretty solidly 8 hours, plus 1/2 hour lunch and the 20 minutes or so it takes to get there or back. My children do plenty of chores, from dishes to laundry to cleaning the bathroom on the weekend. On the evening that we came the closest to running out of food we just had sandwiches for dinner. In the world of actual hardship, mine barely registers.

And yet.

Single parenting is hard.

When one child is completely melting down and needs my full attention for an entire hour, dinner doesn't get made. The other child's needs are ignored. Lunches aren't planned, dishes aren't cleaned, and everything waits until the storm passes. The evening logistics become especially challenging because children have a relatively short window for all that must be packed in between coming home from school and going to bed, and generally the adult things need to just wait. The work day is crunched back into eight hours - for the last few months it had been expanding longer and longer - so now there is always a small anxiety that something there is being missed or forgotten.

Bless the people who do this without an end in sight. Bless the people who do this with younger children, unreliable transportation to work, erratic or long work hours, a rush hour commute.