Friday, December 27, 2019

Third time's a charm? Three strikes you're out? Bad luck comes in threes?

In the nearly 20 years Terry and I have been together prior to Calgary I can think of five ER visits: each of Alex's broken arms, when Zoltan "broke his head wide open" (needed one stitch), when Terry rolled the tractor over his foot, and when baby Alex had a fever and I foolishly went against every instinct to just wait another day.

We arrived in late July. We had our third ER trip recently. Dayenu! (Enough!)

Trip #1: our third day at post. We had gone to Shakespeare in the Park and after the performance Zoltan fell off the stage while playing around. He refused to put any weight on his foot for 2 days, we finally decided to get that checked out.
Diagnosis: Dramatic license

Trip #2: Zoltan is sort of, a little bit, run over by a car when on his way home from piano practice. In an abundance of caution, the driver called the police and ambulance, and the paramedic (when I arrived on the scene) convinced me to let them ambulance take him to the hospital to get checked out.
Diagnosis: Overabundance of caution, but we couldn't have lived with ourselves if he had internal bleeding and we hadn't gotten it checked out.

Trip #3: Terry was cutting our new ice skate guards down to the right size and his hand slipped on the boxcutter blade. We first thought it was simply a bad cut that would need stitches then realized he couldn't move part of his finger.
Diagnosis: sliced tendon. Needed surgery and will have a splint for up to 2 months.

In hindsight, only one of those visits actually needed to happen. Feel free to ask us about how "awful" Canada's "socialized medicine" is (hint: we feel so fortunate to have gone through all this here.) 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Troll Falls

Our first attempt at hiking the Rockies in the snow didn't go all that well - the temperature was significantly colder than predicted, Terry and I weren't properly attired, and I also realized a coat is too long for proper hiking and I do need a warm jacket.

So, fast forwarding a few weeks: we had the free day, the clear sky, and the apple cider to spice, heat and throw in thermoses.

Troll Falls is a recommended easy half-day trip from Calgary (between the 2 hour round trip and the quick jaunt to the falls). It is also highly recommended as a winter hike.

We almost didn't get there with all the stops the kids made to play in the snow. Seriously, the first kilometer took about 45 minutes. When the sign said it was only 0.3km to go, we got hardhearted and said no stopping until we get there!

It is early enough in the season that we could see water still running down the falls on the inside of the ice. From the front was all ice, and from the back it was all ice, but in the middle water ran. Our cameras were unable to capture this.

Climbing up the side of the falls is a recommended treat and Alex did not need to be told twice. The only regret is that we didn't have ice cleats, and the icy area just behind the falls was way too slick to venture towards without them.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Snowy Days

We got a decent snowfall overnight and the kids played outside most of the day. Using the snow they shoveled from the walkway as well as almost all the snow from the yard, they have constructed their own little living room in the back yard. Two chairs, two "beds", a table, some shelving. Also, my favorite, is that they constructed a giant Mancala board out of snow and they are using gravel from the side of the house as the stones.

The next day was our fist trip to Banff. We foolishly trusted the weather report and did not dress warmly enough for the hike we had planned, so instead we took a much shorter route. The kids have been complaining that they don't like hiking ... apparently, when "hiking" becomes "walk for a bit and play in the snow a lot" they are huge fans!

A blog post I can no longer find recommended the Park Distillery for eats and boy was that a good call! Between the beef and the buffalo burgers, the ah-may-zing Hikers Salad, and the really delicious house tea (I was too cold for a cocktail, although they looked tasty) it was a perfect, hearty way to refuel after all the playing (I mean hiking).

Sentences you never think you'll utter

Last weekend edition:

Was the gorilla always wearing that purple tutu?

If the onion was going to bite anyone, it would have been me.

Saturday, October 26, 2019

... Where everybody knows your name

One thing we've been wanting but missing most places we have lived in the last 10-15 years is a "go to" - a restaurant that is casual enough, tasty enough, and close enough to home to be the place we go regularly and where the waitstaff know who we are.

We found it.

The only consistently good food we have found so far is BBQ, which is something you can find on practically every corner. The place around our corner is very, very good. We went last week when my mom was in town, and as usual for the Madnicks (slightly less so with the Poczaks) gave our server a memorable evening. Which means when she handed us our menus tonight she noted the absence of one of our party.

She is very, very good. We are thrilled to have found our "go to" place so early in the tour. Now I just need to convince Terry that we are not really going to go every week. It's BBQ. Our hearts probably can't handle that.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

New School Year

I should start with the day Terry went to register the children in school (one week before school started, and the day after we had a signed lease). Being supporters of public school when our children can actually learn, i.e., they speak the local language, we had decided not to send them to private school in Calgary.

I get a text from Terry around 20 minutes after the appointment time. Canada uses a March cutoff date and that puts Alex in 7th grade, not 6th. Zoltan will be in 5th grade. My first instinct is "hell no, we're going to fight this." My second instinct is "with a March cutoff, they are not the youngest - they are in fact in the very middle of the pack. And they have pretty much always been bored. Let's see how this goes."

The one concerning feature is that with the moving up, rather than both children attending the same elementary school that is a 5 minute walk from our house, now Alex goes to a junior high that is about 1.5 miles away and there is no yellow bus service - she has to take a regular city bus. She has my (lack of) sense of direction. Did I mention this is one week before classes start?

So we move cell phones around so each kid now has one. We had an emergency talk/text plan for each phone and at the last minute we decided Alex would need data to be able to track the bus routes or get walking directions. I am so grateful we made that decision and horrified about what we would have done had we not done that (more on that later).

The elementary school actually combines grades, so 5th and 6th are in class together although they apparently separate for math and some special classes. Zoltan is settling in, managing very well with being the last one out of the house in the morning and the first one back in the afternoon.

Because Alex registered for school so late, she was not able to get her top choice special classes but she did get art and band. She's also settling in. things are very different - seventh graders can leave the school grounds at lunch if they want, they switch classrooms for every class, and as mentioned before she takes the city bus to and from school. On her first day of school I rode the bus with her to school, she rode home alone and there were no issues. On the second day she missed her stop, rode apparently several stops too far and had to find her way back to school. Has she not had data on her phone she would not have been able to get walking directions to school and would probably still be wandering lost around Calgary. So, yay for smartphones.

Note, she is now a pro at finding her way on the bus system and for figuring out how to fix it if she does make a mistake (wrong bus, miss a stop, etc). We couldn't be prouder.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Our First Canadian Rockies Hike

With the weather and everyone's health in line, we rushed out the door last weekend to check out a reportedly easy hike a bit over an hour away.

Our kids have seen far too many amazing things in their short lives and are subsequently painfully jaded. For Alex I could blame it on tween-ness but Zoltan has no excuse. They did not care about the spectacular mountains. Or beautiful view. Or the waterfall. Or the fresh, crisp air. Speaking of which, it is August and it took nearly half the hike for me to shed my jacket and my long sleeved T-shirt. Needless to say Terry is in absolute hog heaven.

In all fairness, they did did eventually stop whining about wanting to go home.

The guide book calls Canmore "Alberta's Aspen" but about a million times smaller.We headed into town after the hike to grab lunch and to wander around. The kids did an amazing job not whining in the candy store, and were happy to use their allowance to get some treats to snack on during the ride home.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Bullet train sushi

Not too far from our apartment is a Japanese restaurant that delivers the dishes via bullet train, in a very modified version of conveyor-belt sushi places in Japan. Point Sushi also has a number of cooked dishes to ensure the kids ate something too.

The way it works: Each table has a tablet with the menu for ordering. Order in groups of four - the trains have spots for four dishes - but order as much as you like. When the order is ready, a little "bullet train" (looks more like a lengthy car) zips down the runway along the booths and stops at your table. Remove the dishes and the car zips back to the kitchen.

It's tapas-like, with very small plates. We ate about 16-20 dishes for everyone to have enough food. To be completely honest, the cooked food was quite a bit better than the sushi. And the novelty ... we'll try to get back once more while we're still within walking distance.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Days of Yore

We really do spend most of our time at work (Terry) or looking for housing (Lynne) but sometimes there's nothing scheduled and it's the weekend so we have been trying to get out and experience Calgary. Or stuff near Calgary. About an hour away is an annual event called the Days of Yore. Basically, there are different groups of historical reenactors - Vikings, Medieval, WWI, WWII and such, and they gather together for a full day of displays, mock warfare, and of course tents of things to buy.

Alex was particularly interested in the older stuff - people using swords rather than guns. The re-enactors were pretty serious and skilled, we had the chance to feel the armor and weaponry before the event and it was all pretty genuine. There was a bit of comic relief when a Medieval knight decided to join in with the Viking duels. Zoltan was thrilled by the military tactics, vehicles and of course guns. But there were other things as well.

One tent held a series of pelts, all the kids of animals found in the Canadian wilderness and the kinds of things the old trappers would sell. Foxes are a lot longer than they seem when they don't have any bones or guts. One particularly interesting exhibit was an amazingly well preserved top hat in its original case, from probably 100 or more years ago. Apparently the wealthiest men in London prized beaver pelts for these hats because they were warm and very waterproof. The hat he showed us was beautiful.

We also tried the very "traditional" taco-in-a-bag for the first time. Is this a common thing in the world and we have been overly sheltered?

After a few hours in the blazing sun we were absolutely beat and decided to curtail the planned second stop (more on that when we do finally get there). One thing we have had a hard time really digesting is that the temperature always feels 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than it really is. Too many 60-something days I have made the kids put on pants rather than shorts and later apologized. I have heard a similar phenomenon occurs in the winter, where -20 might feel more like -10. I'm ready for that!

Friday, August 16, 2019

Taste of Calgary

We haven't ever attended a Taste of ... event, although many cities we have lived in or passed through held them. Calgary just happened to hold the annual event at a location about 5 minutes from our temporary housing, so it was a no brainer dinner plan. Even the rain didn't damped our spirits, or that of the crowds of people also enjoying the event.

The highlight is of course that we could try dishes from so many Calgary restaurants - we figured it would be a great way to rule in or out places without having to have whole dinners at each place. When I went through the program back at home I surprised myself with how many dishes I checked off from so many different vendors. The other surprise was how tasty everything was. We've eaten out a bit and not every meal has been delicious, but we ended up ruling "in" every place we tried. One place we did not try: the Wafflepops food truck, because the line went down the entire street.

We started at Pure Modern Asian, where I got "fire chicken" in a seasame seed donut. I don't even like the taste of Sriracha and I adored this meal. Terry brought the kids to Holysmoke BBQ where they delighted in their pulled pork on a cornbread bun. Terry was excited to see perogies at Heritage Bakery and Deli, and got the combo with the cabbage roll and sausage. Alex's beef stick from Viet 2 Go was so good, I think she somehow didn't notice that it has spices and seasonings on it (she's usually a plain meat, maybe salt and pepper girl). We tried Bannock for the first time, getting one cheese and one mixed berry at Kokom's Bannock Kitchen. Good Fillin' Empanada was right next door and I had been hankering for one so I got the chicken ... should have gotten more. Even the kids liked it, although not the little drizzle of sauce on it (see plain eating preferences, above) Zoltan whined for the Wickens Burger from Burger 320, both because it took us so long to circle back for it and because it was so popular we had to wait a long time for it. Terry and I doubt its claim as the best burger in Canada but Zoltan was sold.

The tiny apple tarts at Pie Stories were good enough to go back for, although I think my crust is better. The Saskatoon Thumbprint cookie from Yakima Social Kitchen + Bar was OK, but those who prefer fruity desserts were more impressed that I was so I still call it a winner. We were disappointed that the maple donuts were sold out at Fantasy Donuts & Pretzels but we consoled ourselves with the cinnamon sugar.

The kicker is that so many of the stands we didn't visit looked so good, we could easily construct an entirely new list of foods tasted. If the weather gets better this weekend, we may go back for more.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Day We Pretended to be Mounties

August 5 is Alberta's Heritage Day, where the locals celebrate their province's heritage. Fort Calgary is a major part of that heritage and they just happened to be hosting a day of events. We met up with another Consulate family and headed over there.

A number of Canadian forts were apparently constructed to crack down on illegal whisky trade (which apparently was caused by those neighbors to the south). I hadn't realized that was even a thing the British government cared about. Learn something new every day. There were RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) uniforms to try on, including several different styles of hats, and try them ALL on we did. There was also a horse statue we were not allowed to climb on but could pose near.

In the craft display the kids had the opportunity to learn finger knitting and make bookmarks. There was a series of "old town" type displays, with a replica main street and the kinds of establishments that may have existed along them a hundred plus years ago.

Wanting to spend some of the beautiful day outside, we headed to the giant checkers board where the kids played while parents chatted. Bored with checkers, the kids eventually borrowed some of the corn hole beanbags, made up their own way of tracking which piece was which, and played chess.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Some of our early adventures

Our fabulous sponsors invited us to accompany them to Shakespeare on the Bow, which is Calgary's version of Shakespeare in the Park. The performers do one play each year, and this year was Midsummer Night's Dream, which is a perfect pick for us because Alex's class did some Shakespeare a couple of years ago and this was one of the plays. It was a beautiful evening, we were congratulating ourselves on throwing the picnic blanket in the car for our road trip so we had it to use, and the performance was amazingly good - especially for being free/donation requested. We are so excited for next year's season!

The only downside came when Zoltan, playing with the other kids after the performance, fell off the stage and injured his foot. He said he couldn't walk on it so I piggybacked him home - thankfully the performance was only a couple of blocks from our temporary housing. We stayed home the next day and on the day after that, when he still refused to put any weight on his foot, we went to the emergency room.

So far I have exactly one complaint about Canada. Who the heck makes emergency room parking paid?? And you have to pay in advance, so you have to guess how long you'll be there. The nice triage nurse guessed we'd only be there an hour and I should not have trusted that, given that I went back twice to add additional hours to the meter. Otherwise, the whole process went very smoothly, x-rays were taken and reviewed, no breaks were confirmed, and crutches were provided when he still refused to put weight on his foot.

Another Calgary delight our fabulous sponsors let us know about is the Southland Leisure Centre, which (most relevantly) has water slides and a wave pool, as well as ice skating, a gym, and other resources we didn't check out because we were there for the pool.

A final adventure of our first two weeks is the spectacular Calgary Public Library. We got our library cards last week, the kids signed up for the reading challenge, then decided it was their job to finish it with all due haste. I told them if they came back one week later with 40 hours of book reading accomplished the library might not believe them.  The library has a whole indoor play space for the really little kids, a giant chess set, it's huge, roomy, airy, with super available, helpful and friendly librarians. The book checkout stations are throughout the library, not only in one corner at the entrance. There's a cafe inside and a huge variety of seating for reading your finds, from cushions on the floor to a standard reading room with long tables and signs to remember to be quiet.

Between Zoltan's "still injured" foot and house hunting and the weather we still haven't made it to the mountains for hiking. I'm hopeful we get there before too long.

This week will be the last one before the kids start camp and I go to work. Most of our time has been spent either trekking from house to house in hopes of finding our home, or kids reading/playing games while I scour the rental web sites for new houses to see, or going to the grocery store because when you are starting from scratch there are a million things you need to buy.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

We went to the State Fair ...

We were definitely surprised when the most expensive hotel room of our road trip was Great Falls, Montana. Until we discovered that the Montana State Fair opened the day before we got to town. And was located 0.2 miles from the hotel.

Terry had mentioned earlier in the day that while we were in Montana we should definitely eat some steaks. We managed to accomplish it on a smaller scale at lunchtime but had planned a steak dinner. Instead, we ended up with fair food. Cheese curds for dinner? Heck, yeah!

The kids were a little whiny as we went from the goats to the bunnies and pigeons and chickens and mules and alpaca. The 4-H club woodworking displays (chairs, benches, etc) were pretty cool. Then we let them loose at the carnival part, where good parents (us) stood in long lines until our feet hurt.

After the carnival came the meal. Cheese curds for the adults, fast food for the kids, funnel cake and fried dough (called elephant ears in Montana) for dessert. Then the hypnotist, then the art exhibit. Then some overtired tantrums and finally bed.

The next day it was up and out the door for the very last stage in this trip - the Crossover Into Canada!!

We got to the border just before noon and decided to get to the other side before stopping for lunch. Major Fail. We spent three hours being processed at the border, something we hope never to repeat as we should have our diplomatic IDs with us for any future border crossings. I was happy for the snacks I always have in my bag, and there was a water fountain by the bathrooms, and the kids had brought their books inside with them, so the whole thing could have been a million times worse. It was, however, seriously uncomfortable. I even eventually went out to the car for more snacks but there is truly nothing like a meal in the middle of the day. And, tip for anyone who might find themselves near the Montana-Alberta main crossing - on the U.S. side there is a little town right along the border. Seriously, we gassed up one last time about 5 minutes from the checkpoint. On the Canada side - nothing for an hour.

The rest of the ride was relatively uneventful. Our fabulous sponsors met us at the apartment and helped us haul in all the luggage. They also left a pile of games for us to play (they seem to be at least as into board games as we are), which has been an enormous help in our downtimes.

The apartment is fine (I keep telling myself). The bedrooms have enough room for the beds and side tables and nothing else. The kids share a room. There is much squabbling from being too close for too long with little else to distract them (how much worse it would have been without the games!)

Friday, August 9, 2019

The best rest stop accidental tourism ever

We had a somewhat longer driving day to get to the North Dakota hotel we had chosen along the route ... chosen because of the water slides in the hotel pool. They did not disappoint. We chose fast food for dinner because of it being, well, fast, and the kids got an hour to play before bed. The next day they dutifully chowed through their breakfast in order to get into the pool for a short while again in the morning before checkout.

Jamestown is a big buffalo place, meaning it is home of the world's largest buffalo!  It's set just on the far end of the Frontier Village, which is a fun depiction of a main street back in frontier days. The kids enjoyed hanging out in the jail and seeing what the post office used to look like.

So far as we knew, there were no tourist sights, things to see, reasons to stop along the road to the next hotel. We drive for a few hours. Then, we see signs for Theodore Roosevelt National Park in two miles. What?? Right then, Terry says he needs to stop and stretch his legs.

We pull off into the Painted Canyon Visitor's Center.  Oh. My. Goodness. The vastness, rugged terrain, and difficulty of adequately capturing it on film reminded me of the Grand Canyon. We decide to take the (described as) half hour hike into the canyon. The kids whine they are hot and tired. Then they see a couple that had passed us on the trail not ten minutes before were near the top of one of the peaks in the canyon and they are energized. It was a fun hike up, much more challenging getting down the thing because some of the soil was a bit pebbly so we weren't as sure of our footing. Heading back out of the canyon was a bit more challenging than what we are used to, because we are all in horrible shape and moving probably faster than we really needed to.

We've all heard of Yellowstone, Yosemite and Glacier. How had we never heard of TR National Park? He is practically the reason we have any national parks at all!

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Vikings and Paririe Chickens

We drove through Minnesota and ended up in North Dakota.  We had planned a few more "World's Largest" stops along the road but the first time we actually stopped was the World's Largest Booming Prairie Chicken. Apparently, during mating season the males fluff out a bunch of feathers and also puff out these sacs under their necks that are bright orange. Here's a sample video, because it is too awesome not to spread the word about this phenomenon.

We looked into somewhere to eat nearby and 0.3 miles down the road was a barbecue place that only opened a few months ago. The smoked meats were absolutely delicious, the barbecue sauces didn't have as much heat as we would have preferred, although the kids were thrilled with the honey-sweetened option.

Back on the road to just-before Fargo. We planned to stop at the Heritage Hjemkomst Interpretive Center from the moment Atlas Obscura let us know of the replica Viking ship located there that actually sailed from the USA to Norway back in the 1980s. The story of the man who built this ship practically in his shed and the crew that sailed it from Duluth through the lakes and rivers of the USA til it reached New York and ocean is pretty spectacular.

We didn't think we cared until we got to the Center, but there is also a replica of a Norwegian stave church on the grounds. It was built by a local scientist who was also a woodcarver, apparently as a project to keep him busy in retirement. Apparently the Scandanavians were not so quick to adopt Christianity and some elements of the indigenous culture were incorporated into the designs of, for example, churches. The dragon heads that adorn the corners are a first clue. Our tour guide explained that even the pattern of the shingles on the roof was meant to evoke dragon scales.

The kids were thoroughly unimpressed with the church. This was partly because they were aching to get back to the main part of the Center, where a table held all kinds of Viking armament and armor with a strict sign not to actually hit people with it. They mostly complied.

Then we drove three minutes across a bridge and were in North Dakota!

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Wizards and a boardwalk

From Illinois we drove forever through Wisconsin - it took most of the day. States are really starting to get bigger. The highlight of the day was our stop in the Wisconsin Dells, where we went on a Wizard Quest. Alex had been moaning and complaining before we went in - she wanted to do her own quest alone. We said no, we will stay together as a family. She sulked. Until we got the Kindle with our quest and started moving. There were slides, tunnels, secret doors, stairs to climb and run down, and a ball maze the kids got to dive down into twice (there is a secret tunnel at the bottom of the thing, so they really disappear).

We didn't quite finish within the hour that would have gotten us a big prize, but we had a ton of fun and have some wonderful working-together time. The Dells is like a boardwalk, with lots of tchotchkes, fried food, fudge and such. We asked the employees at Wizard Quest what they recommended for lunch and they mentioned a few places. In the end we got ourselves a true Midwestern tater-tot casserole and were perfectly delighted!

One more border crossing before bed, and we were in Minnesota.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Ohio to Illinois

In the morning we indulged the kids - and ourselves - and took half an hour on the beach along Lake Erie before hitting the road. Zoltan got his sneakers soaked so he got to ride barefoot.

From Ohio we went through Indiana where we stopped in Elkhart for the day's activity: RV/MH Museum and Hall of Fame. Yep, we toured a whole bunch of recreational vehicles and checked out a manufactured home (lots of folks do, as we initially did, get the MH wrong). There was one donated by a Scranton family who had been using it through the generations over 40 years. There were several from the earliest days, hitched up to Model T Fords. Alex has gotten it into her head to design a 12 foot trailer for a family of 5 that has to include both kitchen and bathroom, so she got lots of good ideas and a sense of how much space things actually take. The family highlight: the Eagles mobile. I'm pretty sure this is the exact vehicle referenced in a recent podcast we listened to... In fact I think Terry heard it only the day before.

We ended the day in Schaumburg (outside Chicago). There, Terry proved what an amazing father he is by acquiescing to Chicago deep dish pizza for dinner (kids and I had the pizza, he got a pasta dish. He can agree to the restaurant but he certainly won't stray from New York thin crust except under duress).

Monday, August 5, 2019

Epic cross-most-of-the-country road trip

We have one last epic road trip in us for this year. When we move to Calgary, we have to drive our car. We're also required to travel an average of 360 miles per day, which adds up to 7 days from Rockville to Calgary.

Our first day on the road took us into Ohio. On the way we stopped at Penn's Cave in PA for a boat tour through the cave, where the guide pointed out the fascinating and beautiful stalactite and stalagmite structures. We also managed to catch sight of a beaver who had come in for a brief visit.

We also took a bit of a detour to visit Terry's Alma mater, Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. I'd never made the trek, much less the kids. Terry just kept saying "that wasn't here when I was in school" as though he wasn't nearly 20 years out!

We got our first looks of Lake Erie heading into Ohio, where we crashed after a long, long day in the car.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Last Epic German Road Trip Day 11: Rothenburg some more

We knew we wanted to walk the walls of Rothenburg as we hadn't had a chance to do that on our previous trip. It was absolutely fantastic. At one point in the wall there is an enormous random room that takes you to another room full of cannons. There were no other souls around that part of the wall when we were there, and it felt like a secret. We also had fun reading the blocks engraved with information about people who had donated to rebuilding the wall, including one family from Dallas, PA!

We then popped into a candy store where the proprietor had just begun a demonstration of how he made the candy, narrating what he was doing as he did it. He clearly spoke a few languages and when we walked in and he heard us talking he switched to English. It was a little funny because the one other group there spoke Russian, so one of the people in that group was translating between English and Russian for the rest of them. 

The store had opened pretty recently and they make hard candy and lollypops. There are a number of packages that are mixed with several flavors of hard candy, the Opa's (grandfather) Mix has rhubarb, apple and coffee. After showing how he colored and stretched the candy, and how he made lollypops, he let each of the children come up and make their own pop. That was a definite highlight.

After the candy store it was time for all the fun to come to an end. We did have to introduce our friends to the Rothenburg delicacy Shneeballs, but we got them to go and brought them back with us. Packed up and headed back to Frankfurt. Our friends left the next day, Terry left the day after that.

Our last epic German road trip, and the most epic one at that.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Last Epic German Road Trip Day 10: Weltenburg Abbey and Rothenburg ob der Tauber

The oldest monastic brewery in the world is essentially right between Garmisch and Rothenburg, so it was a perfect lunch stop. The location of the Abbey is beautiful, right on a small stream (the Danube) with woods and overlooks. We lamented not having enough time to try out the hiking paths identified in the brochure we got at the visitor's information center. Terry taught the kids to skip stones and they whiled away a chunk of time improving their performance. We could have spent half the day just on the banks.
The Abbey's web site is very confusing - pretty par for the course in Germany - so we had understood that there were no brewery tours although one could book a tour of the Abbey itself. Oh, how wrong we were. When we went into the visitor information center/museum to buy our tickets for the exhibit, the lady asked if we wanted to go on the tour. What, what?  Absolutely!

The fee for the museum is included in the fee for the tour, so she went through a process of refunding our money then charging the new rate. The tour guide did speak English and would summarize what he was saying every so often. He used pretty basic language and spoke clearly so I was able to add some of the color he'd included in the German but had left out of the summaries (like how women were the brewers for most of history, and some of the unusual ingredients that had been used in beer over the years in Germany before the Purity Laws were introduced).

A highlight of the tour was a tasting directly from the cellaring cask. When it was over, time for lunch!

Sated, we hit the road toward our last stop in the epic road trip - Rothenburg. We enjoyed our short time there during December break the kids insisted we add it to this road trip, and Terry and I were only delighted to agree. We arrived in town early enough to get settled in the guesthouse, wander the streets a bit, grab a quick dinner and make our way to the town square for the Night Watchman tour. The crowd was larger than I would have expected for a somewhat random night but - happily - significantly smaller than it had been during December. I don't know if he mixes up his material or if we hadn't caught or hadn't remembered much of the previous tour, because I would say I remembered about half of what he told us on this tour. It was, again, wonderful. We even decided to buy his DVD at the end.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Last Epic German Road Trip Days 8 and 9: Munich, Neuschwanstein and Garmisch

Day 8 was mostly the long, long, drive from Freiburg to Munich. When we got to Munich it was chilly and a little bit raining, so we took no pictures. We wandered around the food vendors and got some treats (pickled things!) and managed to catch the Glockenspeil. We hadn't remembered it from our trip to Munich 17 or so years ago (imagine that). Our attention spans have definitely shortened, especially in the rain, but we did catch the "surprise" ending.

The next day we journeyed to the night's final destination - mountains - via Neuschwanstein castle.  I am very glad that we made the stop, and very glad we didn't bother with the tour of the inside of the castle. To be honest, we took more photos of the view of the mountains than the castle itself. It was a warm day and a nice hike from the parking lot to the castle itself. 

Then back in the car and down to the Eibsee. It was cloudy but we still decided to head up to the Zugspitze. When we got up, we went outside to see just how bad the visibility was. We took a joke family photo that looked like we were standing in front of a white sheet, although I will swear on my honor there are mountains behind us. The cable car back was full of skiers heading down for the day (we were on the second-to-last run).

Our hotel had an indoor pool, so the kids were thrilled to burn off some energy that way before we headed into town for dinner. We ended up at a restaurant that was apparently very busy, because the grouchy proprietor told me so while yelling at us because when he asked a question about an order everyone talked to me rather than him (because I'm the only German speaker, I'd have to first interpret what he said, then the reply). None of that was too bothersome, however, because ... mountains. So beautiful. We just couldn't stop staring. Frankfurt is very, very flat.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Last Epic German Road Trip Day 7: Triberg Falls and Freiberg

We went to the Black Forest to eat Black Forest cake and Black Forest ham. We really had no idea what we were doing during this part of the epic road trip, and it showed. We realized we would need to stop for lunch, and our friends found a town that was supposed to be particularly charming. The amazing reach of Google helped me find a place for lunch within that town ... but with my lack of a sense of direction (I call it my "sense of misdirection") it turns out the restaurant was at the edge of the town borders and nowhere near the charming town center. But it was, in fact, a farm and at least some of the meats and cheeses were produced on-site. So there was that. We were able to indulge our interests in Black Forest everything, which was good because we never ended up seeing them again.
After we fed, we headed to the Triberg Waterfalls. We would stop for photos, then walk farther up or down and realize there were even prettier views. After getting our energy out, it was time to head the last little bit up our destination for the evening, Freiberg. Where we ended up deciding we needed a break from German food and got Italian. Hence, no more Black Forest cake.

Monday, June 3, 2019


Felsenmeer means in German "Sea of Rocks."  Oh, yes. About an hour south of Frankfurt is an amazing boulder field, apparently formed by a volcanic experience a very long time ago. You can wander up a path alongside the boulder field, or venture through the field itself. Someone on Trip Advisor mentioned that if you go fast you can get up the field in half an hour. I can't even imagine the person who could do that. It took us closer to 1.5 hours with several important rest stops along the way. My physical fitness is not what it once was.
 You can see how big the boulders are compared to the people on them. This bridge is about halfway up.

Alex reads anywhere

At the top there was a restaurant where we provisioned, then at a little kiosk on the way back down we fortified (with cake). Tip: bienenstrich is a honey cake with a layer of cream in the middle and now I need to eat a whole lot of it in the little time we have left before leaving Germany.

I had figured on a couple of hours of climbing, but we ended up being out most of the day. We bouldered up, but ended up wandering through the woods on the path down. A few times I was convinced we had gotten horribly lost but somehow we did make it to the parking lot. As it turns out we were very lucky in getting there so early (didn't feel early but it was before lunch) because it was a complete zoo by the time we left around 3:30pm.

Saturday, June 1, 2019

Last Epic German Road Trip Day 6: Trier and Idar-Oberstein

Trier was a surprise hit on the epic road trip, and the ampitheater was a surprise hit in Trier. I'm not sure what I was expecting, but it was not this - the entire space is incredibly well preserved. To the point where it takes almost no imagination at all to recall where the citizens would enter and sit, where the gladiators, animals or slaves would be held while they awaited their turns. The kids had a blast in the center of the arena pretending to fight to the death, or pretending to be the emperor calling for the fight to begin, or sparing a life.

After the ampitheater we headed to the Roman Museum. It boasts the largest collection of gold Roman coins in ... not sure. Germany? Europe? the world? It also has a local mummified child, numerous artifacts from when Trier was an enormous, important Roman outpost. It was cool, but we kept being yelled at by museum security/docent folks for leaning on glass cases. Or touching them.

Our last stop on our way back to Frankfurt for the night was Idar-Oberstein. Our friend is a jeweler and had learned about the gem mines in Idar-Oberstein while studying for her degree. This was another sight we would never have thought to put on our list but was an enormous hit.

Amazingly, we arrived at the site with 10 minutes to spare before the next tour was departing. We got helmeted and our audio guides and headed down into the coolness. We learned about the gems that were mined there, how they were mined, and saw lots of examples of unmined gems peeking out of the more boring rock.  After the mine, just a bit down the road, is the mill where the gems were cut and polished. There was an interesting interaction when the tour started, as a woman sounded very angry when she told us there wasn't an interpreter (we never asked for one, or made any comment at all about the German capabilities of our group). Then the same woman rallied a volunteer (who seemed to have been the woman's granddaughter, or niece, or someone who was related but not her own child) to to an ad hoc interpretation. As the terminology relating to century old gem processing practices is relatively uncommon, she was often searching for words that the entire group participated in helping her find.  I decided in hindsight that the original woman wasn't angry at all, that was just how she spoke.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Last Epic German Road Trip Day 5: Geierlay Bridge, Trier

From Burg Eltz we headed, wearily, for our stop for the night, Cochem. We had great plans for Cochem, but in the end visited neither the castle, nor the mustard museum, nor did we take the chair lift that probably afforded very lovely views. After checking into our hotel we wandered around the town, finding life sized chess and checker boards by the waterfront. This of course was exactly what thrilled the kids so we let them have some downtime while we watched the sunset.
The next morning we set off for Geierlay Bridge. A friend had mentioned German's longest suspension bridge, not too far off the road from Cochem, and it was just obscure enough to catch our attention. It's a suspension bridge over a valley. Google and online information direct people to one side as the "starting point" and that is where we went. All the reports online warn of hostile villagers and that people should only park in designated lots or else... so in some respect i do wonder what is on the other end and if parking there would have been friendlier.
There was a couple doing a photo shoot on the bridge, complete with props and costume changes. It was interesting to watch for a minute and a half, but as they had gotten between us and the kids we eventually bullied our way through to catch up.   

After getting some fresh air and exercise, it was time to settle in for the drive. Our friends put Trier on the list - it just wasn't on our radar - and it ended up being such a highlight! We got to town early enough to get the museum/sight tickets and wander around Porto Nigra - an original gate from when the town was a major Roman city.

We also wandered around the town and ended up checking out St. Ganglof Church (because it sounds so much like Gandolf! and because it's a market church, right in the middle of everything) as well as the Liebfrauen Kirche because I love the ladies' churches. They are never as outrageous and gilded as the mens'. I tell myself this is because nobody would spend all that money on silly females. We were a bit church'd out so we have no photos. It's hard to go church-sighting when the first one was Cologne's Cathedral. Few other things compare.

The other highlight of Trier was introducing our friends to doner. It is not obvious to everyone that Turkish food is quintessentially German (i.e., because of the huge ethnic Turkish population) but it was delicious and I wished we had done this sooner in the trip.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Last Epic German Road Trip Day 4: Schloss Drachenberg and Burz Eltz

From Cologne we planned some time in the Mosel River area, ostensibly for some more wine tasting although in the end we decided to keep wine to mealtimes and do other exploring. Terry and I made a secret pledge to visit no more than two churches, or two castles, or two museums (get the picture) on any one day. So we maxed ourselves out on our way to Cochem, which was originally chosen as a nice midpoint on the Mosel on the way to Trier.

Up first, Schloss Drachenburg. The climb to the top of the tower reminded the adults of how out of shape we are, but had a lovely view of the entire valley. The rooms are exceptionally arranged with all the furnishings they would have had when the building was occupied. There was also a somewhat random exhibit of the local flora and fauna housed in a separate room that had two different entrances from outside/a stairwell but no apparent entry into the rest of the building.
Schloss translates roughly to "palace" and burg is "castle" - the difference between a building built for royal enjoyment and one meant to protect and defend. From Schloss Drachenburg we headed to Burg Eltz - one of the few stops on this trip where I had previously been. To me Burg Eltz is a total fairy tale castle. Although the group outvoted me - we did not take the walking path to the Burg but rather the shuttle bus one way and we walked on the road the other way. They thought it was a shortcut, I am pretty sure it wasn't.

We got there at the height of the day, so the line was LONG. I sent the family to check out the treasure room - a smallish museum that one can free enter and exit housing armaments, jewelry and such - while I manned our places in line. Admission into the Burg is only with a guided tour and no photos are allowed inside. It's still totally worth the visit. They were so busy they only had German language tours (although the web site says they can also do English or Dutch), but we were given pamphlets in English that did a surprisingly good job of summarizing what the tour guide said. Burg Eltz is still in the hands of the family that has owned it since the twelfth century and many if not all of the artifacts inside are family heirlooms.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Last Epic German Road Trip Day 3: Cologne

We reached Cologne on Easter Sunday, which was fitting for the city whose most iconic sight to see is a cathedral. We wandered around the city a bit, got to the Cathedral a little bit before Mass ended so had to wait to enter. The incense was overpowering so Terry and the kids beat a hasty retreat back to the fresh air. I followed a little while later.  We tried to take another look at the mosaic floor from the Roman-German Museum but it was covered. It was the introduction to the Roman theme of the trip - I constantly forget how much the Romans were around Europe. 

We also wandered into another church, obviously less imposing but simultaneously more accessible. We also saw a Ferris wheel across the river, so we wandered over the bridge and discovered a fair. It was only in town a few weeks, which would be why I didn't remember it from previous trips. The kids enjoyed the ride, then we introduced our friends to the deliciousness that is candied nuts - ubiquitous in Europe but not so common in the USA. 

We also introduced our friends to kolsch, which I enjoy more than Terry, but when in Cologne ...

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Last Epic German Road Trip Day 2: Kloster Eberbach and Schloss Johannisberg

For our second day trip, we hit the wineries. The weather was absolutely stunning, which was a wonderful reason to wander among the vines at a couple of local-ish wineries and taste some of the fruits of the vine. Pretty much everyone who drinks wine and is part of the Consulate community recommends Kloster Eberbach and I see why. It's a very well established and smooth running establishment. We tried a few wines at the tasting counter and in the end did make a purchase.

Next up was another winery just up the road. Schloss Johannisberg is a schloss, but one is not allowed into the actual palace looking part. The shop, wine tasting, cafe and vineyard are all open for wandering though and had some spectacular views.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Last Epic German Road Trip Day 1: Rudesheim and boat cruise

We brought in reinforcements for our last epic road trip - good friends who came to visit. It meant the kids never had to sit with each other in the car (yay!) but also meant we did a tiny bit of revisiting.
On their first full day in town, we hit Rudesheim for a day trip. Once again we rode the cable car and chair lift, although our hiking route in between was a bit more direct. You can see a LOT of vineyards from the chair lift.

Then, instead of taking the river cruise back to Rudesheim, we went farther up the river. This was unchartered territory for everyone. We saw Bacharach, St. Goar, the Loreley Gorge, and about a million castles along the river. I had read many of the places were especially nice to view from the river, so we disembarked after, rather than in, one of the allegedly more interesting towns. Big mistake. There was absolutely nothing there, just an extra half hour wait for the train back to town. 

We ended on a high note, however, when we revisited the restaurant we'd eaten in during our first trip and Terry got to order the pork in brandy sauce, made with the special local brandy. Then we went home and everyone collapsed.

This castle is actually built to look like a boat! You can see the prow and the general boat shape

Monday, April 1, 2019

Bingen forest

About an hour from Frankfurt is a forest. I mean, there's forests a whole lot closer too. But one small stretch of this forest contains trees that have faces carved into them - according to Atlas Obscura, 66 to be exact. 

Atlas Obscura refers to Stockschleifern, but other references are to Steckeschlääferklamm. I don't understand why they do not have the same name and I definitely blame my inability to find the parking lot on my first try on the confusion of names. When Google Maps told me I had reached my destination, while I was clearly on a one-lane road without shoulders and about to enter "no actual road" zone, I knew that I had perhaps lay my trust inappropriately. Lucky for me, there was a van packed on the side of the road and a few people wrestling with equipment, and when I asked where Steckeschlääferklamm was, they pointed a short distance back the way I had come and said I could park there and the entrance was across the street from that.

A while into our hike I saw the group again, working on a new sculpture in a length of tree trunk. Cool!