Sunday, May 30, 2010

We're on the way to Sylt...

I am writing this on the train from Cologne to Sylt, part of the North Frisian Islands in the North Sea. It is cloudy and rain is threatening. The temp was okay in Cologne, but I suspect it will be much cooler on Sylt. Not ideal, because I was hoping to spend some time on the beach. Hopefully the humidity willl be high enough to compensate for the cooler temps. We may have to wear jeans and jackets, but at least we can say we played on the beach!

Justus picked us up this morning around 8am. It is amazing how much luggage is needed for four people when the opportunity for doing laundry is unknown. Also, the girls' meds, nebulizer, wet wrap supplies, etc. takes up SO much room. I feel like I need to wear a sign that says “this is NOT all clothes!”.

We boarded our train about 9am, and won't arrive in Sylt until around 5pm. The dining car is only 2 cars away, so we'll be having lunch on board. After riding the bullet train, the girls seem rather unimpressed with this train, even though it is also fairly fast. I think, though, that we are all exhausted – Puddin did not sleep well last night, and that means that neither I nor My Hero slept well. Finally My Hero and Puddin switched beds, and I got Puddin to sleep – but by then it was around 4am, so that wasn't too much help, since my alarm was set for 6:45.

Punkin is playing her Nintendo, Puddin is looking like she's going to nap, and My Hero is napping – so I think I will too.

Guten Tag aus Deutschland.....

Our day in Bonn...

This morning we made it a point to set an alarm so the kitchen staff wouldn't have to wait for us. :)

The breakfasts (complimentary) here are wonderful. Eggs cooked to order; bacon; sausage; pan-fried potatoes with bacon pieces; fresh fruit; fresh rolls (which Sarah has come to love), all sorts of juices and cereals and toppings; yogurt; and best of all, fresh, piping hot coffee – all included with the room.

This morning we headed to the Bonn science museum to see the recently discovered Argentinian dinosaur, which they say is the largest ever discovered. Fascinating. We toured the rest of the dinosaur exhibit, which is on loan from the Argentinian museum. Looked at a couple of other exhibits of local animals/plants - but air conditioning is not the norm in Germany, the museum was fairly crowded yesterday, and we were all hot and ready to get outside and get some air.

After the museum, we walked down the street to the Rhine (the girls have been fascinated by the river while we've been here. There was a very nice overlook where we took some pics, and then walked downstairs to walk along the river. Punkin has really started being interested in rocks and wanted to collect some (I have no idea how I'm going to get everything packed to get home, since there are weight limits on our luggage!). She was disappointed that we couldn't actually get to the shore so she could get some “rocks from the Rhine”, but we found an old staircase down to the shore which ws chained off but didn't have a sign saying we couldn't use it. My Hero climbed down and got both the girls some rocks, and they were tickled pink.

We then headed to the Beethoven Geberstag Haus (where Beethoven was born). We intended to take the tour, but our time was short. After going in and looking at the brochure and the time, we decided that was better left to next time so we'd enjoy it more. But we did take pics by the plaque outside so we could prove we'd been there. :) We headed next door to the gift shop (I don't think it's possible with the girls to go anywhere without hitting the gift shop). Punkin picked a lovely scarf with musical notes and instruments, Puddin picked a small music box that plays Fur Elise. (Hmm, wonder if there's an umlaut in special characters...)

Girls were thirsty then, so I'd seen a McDonald's on our walk to the Beethoven Haus, so we stopped to get fries and drinks. My Hero was quite upset to see that the Germany McD's currently have the McRib, and “our” McD's doesn't. :) I think if we hadn't had dinner plans, we might've had McD's so he could have had a McRib or two. BTW, our french fries weren't nearly as tasty as the ones at home.

We headed back to the car and back to the hotel. We were meeting My Hero's brother (Justus) for afternoon cake in honor of Johannes' (our nephew) 18th birthday. His big birthday present was a used car, and when we drove up it had a big red ribbon on it. I had already coached the girls not to talk about the car, for fear of spoiling the surprise, so was glad I didn't have to worry about that! There was apple (apfel) cake, strawberry (erdbeeren) cake and chocolate (schokolade) cake. (I chose strawberry, because it is delicious.)

My sister-in-law was so sweet and caring about Punkin's allergies. When the girls started sniffling (there are dogs, Otto and Paul, that are sometimes indoors).we moved the “party” outdoors. The girls were thrilled to meet their cousins, especially cousin Emma (who is six and adorable). Barbara (my sister-in-law) said she had been worried about how Emma and the girls would get along since they can't communicate (Emma speaks no English, the girls speak very little German) – but the worries were for nothing, because they got along famously. Occasionally they'd need something translated, but for the most part they were fine.

We brought gifts for all three cousins (Johannes, Alexander and Emma). The boys were given two Texas t-shirts (one with “Don't Mess With Texas” and the other with a Texas longhorn), and when they opened them they immediately went inside and put one on. For Emma, we brought a cute little denim purse with pink beaded accents, a math game, and a teddy bear – all of which she loved. We also gave Johannes 200 Euro for his birthday, and he was, of course, thrilled.

Alexander (almost 17) is doing a student exchange program this fall, and will be staying with a host family in Canada for 5 months, with the possibility of extending it to 10 months. When I asked him if he would have a chance to visit us in Texas while he's there, his eyes list up. I really hope he gets to come for at least a couple of weeks – the girls loved him. He was playing with them just like he was their age – I think it would be quite fun to have him around for a while.

We visited at Justus and Barbara's house for several hours, then headed to dinner. Once again, we didn't get back to the hotel until around 10:30 or so. I got the girls to bed, then started packing because tomorrow morning at 8am Justus picks us up to take us to the Hauptbahnoff (train station) for our trip to Sylt. I hope I got enough done so that I don't have to rush so much tomorrow morning!

I am worried, though. The family apartment that we were to stay in in Sylt was the best one for us because of Punkin's allergies, and the part of the family that had the key left town. So now we have to stay in Justus'/Barbara's apartment, and the dogs have been there – so I have no idea how the girls' (and my) allergies will tolerate it. I guess we'll have to see...

Gute Nacht aus Deutschland!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Chocolate in Cologne

After our wonderful breakfast, we were off to Cologne. First stop was the Cologne Dom – an amazing Catholic church in downtown Cologne. I had forgotten that chalk artists come to the Dom every day to draw chalk paintings on the concrete surrounding the Dom – and they're incredible! Today there were also several people in costume when we went inside the Dom (angel, Egyptian, Charlie Chaplin, etc.). By the time we came out, only a Charlie Chaplin likeness was still there, and Puddin got her picture taken with him. Punkin decided she'd rather pick out postcards than have a pic with Charlie.

The Dom has been under construction, for one thing or another, for the last 600 years – now it's mostly maintenance. It has wonderful old gargoyles (although a tad scary) on the exterior, and the interior has the most wonderful stained-glass windows I've ever seen. The girls lit a candle in memory of Mama – a special memory of our own. The girls were amazed that the Bishops are actually entombed in the Dom.

When we came out, only the costumed Charlie Chaplin was still there, and Puddin wanted her picture taken with him. Punkin decided she'd rather pick out postcards than get a pic with Charlie. After the pic, Puddin joined in the postcard hunt, and I headed for the bathroom. Luckily I had a one euro coin in my pocket, because it cost half of that to go to the bathroom! Very odd, in that the man taking the money actually went into the bathroom to see if there were any available, and then when a woman came out, he went into the stall to check it.

After the Dom it was time to walk along the Rhine. We walked to the bridge, and found a fence loaded with padlocks – but not for security reasons. It seems that couples add a padlock with their names written/engraved. We need to find out why, but keep forgetting to ask!

The girls were enthralled with the Rhine – we studied it this year in our Classical Conversations co-op, so it was neat to see them make that connection. We then headed down from the bridge to the walkway along the Rhine. We saw a river cruise ship undock, and then... was on to the Chocolate Museum – yum! It was absolutely wonderful, and a bargain – 21 euro for a family pass. When we entered we were given a small piece of Linz chocolate – yum again. Started with a discussion of cocoa trees and where they grow, how the rain forest is disappearing (Hannah “play fainted” when she read that they predict that 3 species go extinct every hour). After that it was into simulated rainforest to feel the temp and humidity – it included a cocoa tree and mango tree, which was pretty neat.

Then it was on to the manufacture of chocolate – each machine was numbered with an explanation of what it did. The machines we saw were making the very same small chocolate bars that we were given when we went in! A worker was giving out wafer cookies dipped in warm chocolate – oh my, was it good. (Diet? What diet?) Then it was upstairs to see them making chocolate hearts and chocolate bunnies (and, to Puddin's delight, chocolate cats). We saw chocolate truffles being made and moving down the conveyor belt, and saw chocolate on a stick, shaped like the Cologne Dom. Luckily for the girls the workers were giving away the flawed Dom stick chocolates, so they had another chocolate treat.

The chocolate museum also included a museum with old wrappers, advertising, and a part that contained the history of eating chocolates. Did you know there used to be chocolate bars (not the Hershey's kind) where you could go and drink chocolate?

The upper floor, which we almost didn't visit, had antique chocolate candy dispensers and had really fun interactive games that the girls loved (see pics). What fun!

After the museum, it was on to the store. I don't think I've ever smelled something so wonderful as that store filled with chocolate. We loaded up our basket – the girls' ballet teacher is going to be very happy!

On the way out we saw a bride and groom coming for their wedding reception – what better place than a chocolate museum!

Then with very tired feet/legs, we had to make the trek back to the Dom where we were parked. We decided at that point it was a very good thing that we had not walked up the 300+ steps to the top of the Dom.

We headed back to our hotel and rested for a few minutes, then My Hero's brother arrived and we headed to an Italian restaurant for dinner. Now we're back at the hotel – the girls and I are in our room, My Hero and his brother are in the restaurant talking and catching up.

Tomorrow is another busy day – Gute Nacht aus Deutschland!

Friday, May 28, 2010

Amazed by hotel staff...

Last night after I posted we were up for about an hour longer. Didn't set an alarm this morning, so when we woke up it was already 9am. My Hero got in the shower so we could get going - figured we'd missed breakfast but could pick up something on the way. In a few minutes, the phone rang - when I answered, it was the hotel owner asking if we wanted breakfast, and saying that the kitchen staff was *waiting* for us. Hello? Really? Amazing! We quickly got dressed and headed to the dining room, where we were cheerfully greeted and led to a table already set and waiting for us. They had a lovely buffet, plus cooked eggs/bacon to order.

This is a lovely little privately owned hotel - the Design Hotel Eifel, which is in Euskirchen (southwest, I believe, of Cologne) - we highly recommend it. ( We have the family room, which consists of two twin beds in the outer room, one queen-size bed in another room, and a small sitting room with lots of windows with a desk/chair and a comfy chair for reading. You can open the window in the sitting room and reach out and touch the trees. The girls were excited to see a bird nest right by the window!

May I just say that I think the best part was having a pot of hot coffee already on the table? First coffee I've had all week!

And now that I've had breakfast, it's time for a shower and time to start our exploration of Cologne!

Gute Morgen aus Deutschland!

On to Koln/Cologne!

This morning started out early, because I had a lot to do to get us ready to leave for Cologne.

Barsinghausen is such a charming little town. Oma lives above a bank and has the entire second floor of the building. Her windows look out on one of the main streets of Barsinghausen, so I awoke to the sounds of people walking and talking and starting their day. After we were all up and dressed, we sent Punkin to get bread for breakfast. There is a bakery right next door, so Oma gets fresh bread every day. Punkin had instructions on how to get there but, bless her heart, she was disoriented and walked right past it - she walked all the way down to the park (with the see-saw) and realized she'd better turn around. Came back home, and we pointed her in the right direction. She went in and ordered ("funf brodchen, bitte") all by herself, and was quite proud of herself - and is excited that she has such a funny story to tell about buying bread.

We left for the train station, and boarded a regional train to Hannover. From Hannover, we boarded the ICE (inter-city express) bullet train - think 140 mph! The girls really loved it, since they'd never been on a train before.

My Hero's brother picked us up at the hauptbahnhof (train station), and brought us to our hotel. It is a lovely little place called the Eifel Hotel. Our room is great, and very colorful. Cologne seems to be in one of the more "permissive" areas of Germany - one of the girls' first comments upon walking into the hotel was "there sure are a lot of naked people in the decorations" - and they're right!

And our bathroom has a glass door, with "Think Big" on it. I'll try to post a pic tomorrow. I ask you - what exactly is the point of having a clear bathroom door?

My Hero's brother took us to dinner at a Greek restaurant. I never knew this, but Greek restaurants usually have lots of grilled options, which is great because of Punkin's egg allergy (no breading with egg for her). We had a great dinner and great conversation.

Now we're back in our hotel room and about to pass out from exhaustion!

Gute Nacht aus Deutschland!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Our first full day in Deutschland...

Today was an easy day, and we planned it that way. Just spending time with Oma, and resting from our travels. We did walk around Barsinghausen - a charming little town where Oma lives. There is a park with a huge see-saw that the girls love - so I'm sure we'll be spending lots of time there. Did a bit of shopping, got prepaid phone cards so we have working phones here, and basically just took it easy. Tomorrow we take the train to Koln/Cologne where My Hero's brother lives. So today I unpacked - tomorrow I re-pack. But very glad to be here. Nothing much exciting happening, so will post more later.

Gute Nacht aus Deutschland!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

We have arrived!

After a long (very long!) trip from Texas to Frankfurt, with a bit of a fiasco of a flight from Frankfurt to Hannover, we finally arrived safely at Oma's house. We are all suffering from "jet lack" (as the girls put it). I hardly slept on the plane - not much leg room and the guy in front of me kept his seat reclined the entire time. Add to that a crying baby, and I think I might have slept the grand total of an hour.

What was the fiasco, you ask? Well, first our flight from Frankfurt to Hannover was delayed, because someone on the prior flight was injured (and needed an ambulance). We boarded a bus to the plane late, then made the rounds at the airport. We were wondering where in the world the driver was going, and then we realized we were right back where we started - same gate and everything - and the driver was on the airport phone looking rather irritated. After waiting around for about 10 minutes, we were off again - only to drive around the airport some more, and then back to the gates - this time a different gate. Off the bus, back up the stairs, and into the gate area, and we learn that the plane has a flat. (That's actually a good thing - better that they discover it before loading and takeoff, rather than while we're hurtling down the runway for takeoff!) Finally we go back downstairs, back on the bus, and this time we actually make it to the plane. After taxiing for what seems like forever (especially since we're all dozing off), we take off and less than an hour later we were on the ground and on our way to Oma's.

After settling in (read: get all of our voluminous luggage upstairs!), we've had a small dinner, talked for a bit, and now we're off to bed.

Gute Nacht aus Deutschland!