Monday, June 29, 2009


Back at the bro-in-law's place with an oh-so-wonderful American keyboard, so I thought I'd write a bit more about Paris. As I alluded to in the previous post, the drive to Paris from Barr took forever! One would think that I've learned from previous travels that car trips in foreign countries always seem to take longer than I would plan for in the states, but apparently I forgot.

The main detour involved a gas stop. Eric's brother (since he's stationed here for the military) has this nifty card that gets him gas at American prices at Esso (a chain gas station here) stations in Germany. Since we were close to the German border we thought, "Not a big deal to cross back over to Germany to get get cheap gas on the way to Paris, right?" Wrong. An hour and a half later, we finally had gas. That, coupled with some bad traffic and road construction, turned a four-ish hour drive into a seven hour one.

Our first evening in Paris was quite entertaining. We stayed in a suburb-type neighborhood and walked down to an Italian place to eat. Next to us on the outdoor patio was a French family who, in the course of the meal, decided we were American. When we were finishing up, they started a conversation with us. "We love Americans!" (which they really did, so that was cool). These people (a couple in their 40's with their daughter and a couple who were their friends) loved to talk. They've traveled a lot in the states and couldn't believe that we'd never been to New York City and some of the other places they talked about. I think they forget that us going to New York is the same distance and them visitng Russia :) Anyway, high entertainment value, to say the least. We ended up talking with them for at least another hour or so. They even bought us drinks...cognac is quite stout :)

Scott and I spent our day in Paris partly by ourselves. We began (after a bus and subway ride) at the Arc de Triumph. I would not want to drive my car in that roundabout. Twelve roads leading into a roundabout that's at lest 6 lanes wide, I'd guess...insanity!

We then strolled down the Champs-Elysees, "Paris' grand boulevard" (according to my trusty guidebook). High end shopping, resteraunts, excellent people watching. I resisted the urge to enter any stores :) Hard to imagine that the Nazis' once marched down that street in victory and hung a Nazi flag on the Arc de Triumph at the end of it. Puts history in perspective, you know? Makes me understand a bit more why the French don't like the Germans sometimes. Not that I'm saying they should hold a grudge and not that their reactions to Germany after WWI didn't contribute, but you know...

On to the Sainte-Chapelle, the chapel built for Louis IX. (Don't think I'm too cool with all this history stuff...have my guide book sitting open next to you know my secret :) Small-ish church with AMAZING stained glass. Over 1,100 bible scenes depicted in the 15 windows. Wow!

After grabbing a light lunch at a small bakery (I'm going to miss the bakeries here so much...this bread-lover is in heaven), we headed to the Louve. The Louve is massive, to say the least. Scott was the one with the agenda there, so I just tried to keep up with his race inside. I also was responsible for finding the reading the room number signs because the place is a maze! It would not be hard to get lost in there. The Egyptian items were my favorite, I think, along with the Venus de Milo and the Victory statue (you know, the winged lady without a head...I can't think of it's official name right now). I did my duty and saw the Mona Lisa, but, to be honest, she's really not that impressive. Small painting behind a huge piece of plexi-plastic, behind a velvet rope, surrounded by a huge crowd. Makes me wonder this: just who decides what pieces of art will become famous? I'm just not cultured enough to appreciate good art, I guess :)

Norte Dame catherdral was up next. Although the bell tower was closed (bummer!), we did arrive during the Saturday evening mass and so were able to hear the pipe organ! They don't close the doors to tourists during church, so here you have hundreds of people wandering around the sides and back rows during church. Would that be weird if you actually went to church there or is it just part of the norm? Deep thoughts...hmmm...

We ended the day at the Effiel Tower. And I do mean ended. We didn't arrive until the sun was setting, and after waiting over an hour in line for the elevator, we arrived on the top floor (some 900 feet up) at 11 pm. The city at night is beautiful, but if I did it over, I'd go during the day so I could really appreciate how far up we were. Still, though, pretty stinkin' cool. It was after midnight by the time we made our way down, and another hour of riding and walking before making it back to the hotel just before 2 am. Scott and I lifted some snacks from the breakfast bar stuff that was already put out and fell into bed. I would love to know how many miles we walked.

Sunday afternoon we visited Versailles on the way back to Germany. It's about 30 minutes outside of Paris and was the home of the kings of France for about 100 years before the French Revolution. I can see why the people revolted! This place was enourmous, with paintings, gold, marble, etc, everywhere! Really, how could one actually live somewhere that big? No rooms that seemed cozy/homey. We didn't have time to explore the gardens (which stretched for acres behind) or the other palaces on the grounds, so this is definately going on the "visit on the next trip" list. Will there be a next time? I hope so...even if it is when I'm 80 and riding on one of those scooter things :)

Sunday, June 28, 2009


First, I must warn about typos and briefness.  I'm typing on a French keyboard at our hotel in Paris and just enough things are different to through off my groove...and they have a 20 minute time limit.  More when I'm back in Germany tomorrow.

It's been a whirlwind four days in France.  After a later than anticipated start on Wednesday (I will admit to losing my patience a bit) we arrived in Strasburg, France, just in time for dinner.  Very nice little city to walk around in the evening, especially near the canals.  Scott's brother tried pig stomach sausage for dinner...wouldn't want to waste anything you know...I tried one bite.  I do not recommend it.

Thursday it was over to Colmar (about a 30 minute drive).  Pleasant sidewalk cafe breakfast...made me feel so French!  Spent the evening driving around the hills in wine country.

Friday was the never-ending drive to Paris (more on that when the computer clock's not ticking), and Saturday was a "see Paris in one day" adventure.  Started at 9 am and ended on the Eiffel Tower at midnight...whew!

More to come...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

More Cow Bell!

Returned late last night from spending the week in southern Germany. Scott's brother has been in a language refresher class there for the last five weeks (he's an Army linguistic, speaks Arabic), so we rented a car and drove down and took days trips in southern Germany this week.

We stayed in a quaint town nestled in the Alps called Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Loved it! We rented a room (kind of like a bed and breakfast but very cheap) from Gerta. She spoke little English, and we speak even less German, but we managed just fine. I wish I could tell her how much we loved staying at her house. Each morning we had a typical German breakfast: meat and cheese, bread, jam, coffee, and (for the Americans) a soft-boiled egg served in an egg cup with this cute crochetted cover that looks like a chicken to keep the egg warm. So adorable!

Tuesday, on the drive down, we spent several hours in Rothenburg. This town dates back to the 1200's. We shopped a bit, walked the town wall, a church, and a beautiful park that is where the town's castle once stood.

Wednesday we visited Nerschwanstein (Mad King Ludwig's castles). This was our favorite day thus far, I think. Bascially, this king who was removed from power because he was deemed insane, had a dad who build him his dream castle in the 1800's. (This is the castle that the Disneyworld castle is modeled after). The inside is amazing with the paintings, woodcarvings, and other decorations, but the best part is the view from the castle of the Alps and valley below and the hiking available around the castle. Kind of like hiking in Rocky Mountain National Park, but greener.

After the castle and hiking, we drove the car to Ruette, Austria, just to be able to add another country to our trip. Beautiful scenery, especially the lakes nestled into the mountains with a curvy road running right beside. I think I could spend a week just there :)

Thursday we visited Dachau, the concentration camp near Munich. I don't known what to say about it besides that it really makes me think about the evil that exists in the world. As far as information goes, the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC is more extensive, but there's something about walking the camp road, passing through the gate that all new arrives had to go through with the iron sign "Work Will Set You Free" above it, and just being there that is humbling.

Thursday afternoon we went into Munich. We'd both admit that this was one of the more frustrating/stressful parts of the trip. First, after two failed attempts to find the BWM museum, we arrived to learn that it was closed for the afternoon...argh! Then, on our way to Mary's Plaza (the old downtown area) we had the hardest time trying to find a place to park. Would be helpful, I suppose, if we could read more German :)

We finally found parking success, though, and then enjoyed our time downtown. Scott enjoyed a beer at Hofbrauhaus (the most famous beer house in the world). It's really a shame that he couldn't spend time there with Todd, Anthony, and some of our other friends who really appreciate a good beer :)

On our way to the English Garden (the largest public park in Europe) we walked past a smaller part where lots of group of people were playing bocci ball, complete with a man playing accordian in the background. People in Munich are serious about their bocci! They have these elegant-looking silver bocci balls (instead of my primary colored ones back home), and they have a measuring string to officially determine close calls...slighly more accurate than us measuring with our shoes, eh? :)

At the English Garden, we watched an unexpected sporting activity: surfing on the river in the park! There was a part in the river that created just enough rapids/waves for young men and women to practice their surfing skills. How creative!

Friday was our day to explore Garmish. Unfortunately, after three crystal clear days, it was overcast...not quite ideal for taking a cable car to the top of a mountain, but we did anyway. We chose the Alpspitze peak, and enjoyed our time hiking up top, seeing the view between clouds, and eating lunch at the resteraunt at the top. Earlier in the day, we hiked around the paths in between the towns. These paths even run through cattle pastures, where we were serenaded by the cow bells...yes, their cows actually wear bells. I swear it makes them seem happier!

An overall highlight of the least for Scott :)....was driving on the Autoban. Our rental car was a KIA station wagon (not exactly what Scott was hoping for), but he found it had pretty good speed and torque and had not probably going 100 mph consistently....and he still got passed often! This is the land of Mercedes and BMW's, and we saw several other expensive, rare-ish cars (you'd hav to ask Scott for the details) that made Scott drool. Car lovers and speedy drivers paradise!

Thus ends week one in Germany!

Monday, June 15, 2009

Early Vacation Highlights

We've been away from Omaha for 12 days now. Can I tell you how much I love long vacations! [pause for groan for those not fortunate enough to get that long for vacation...I really do not mean to rub it in] I also love having family to stay with here. Something about having a house to relax in, people to show you around, a couch to lounge and watch movies with people you love...awesome!

Highlights thus far:
  • Chi-town with Ranae. So begins Scott's love affair with riding trains. Ranae, as always, was an excellent hostess. Baby wasn't exactly thrilled to have Scott there...hopefully she's forgotten us by now :)
  • The great American road trip. I would be lying if I didn't say that I was dreading driving across the country, but we actually had a really fun time. Seeing Falling Waters (Frank Lloyd Wright) and Amish horse buggies were some favorites.
  • "We have no plane tickets to Germany!" Long story short, our original plan of flying a military cargo plane to Frankfurt didn't work out, so after much thinking, Facebooking old friends, and searching online we found roundtrip tickets for a great price on AirIndia. Who'd have thought?
  • Flight to Frankfurt. I've never flown with so many kids, but the highlight of the 7 hour flight had to be the crazy lady sitting next to Scott. She had her hair up in a scarf, much like when my mom puts curlers in her hair, and rockstar sunglasses on for much of the flight. She told Scott about running away with an American man three days before her wedding to an Indian man, having kids who like to party, and the fact that her butt hurt. She managed to spill about half of her yogurt on Scott, and the small cup of creamer and sweetner packets. Yep, she was a gem :)
  • Washington D.C. So much walking! Travel tip: when planning a visit to DC, plan the order of viewing...I feel like we back-tracked a few too many times. Sobering and inspiring to take in the foundations of our history. Our favorites: the Holocaust Museum (we were there the day before the shooting...crazy...), the WWII memorial, Arlington Cemetary, and the Jefferson Memorial at night. Also can't forget the lack of electricity in our hotel one night :)
  • Schnitzel as big as your head! Our first night here, Shannon (Scott's brother's wife) took us to a schnitzel resteraunt about 15 minutes outside of Wiesbaten. I'm not kidding when I say that the 1/4 portion schnitzel that I ordered was as big as my large dinner plate--holy schnitzel, Batman! They also had 5 liter beers that you could order. Rick Steve's (our trusty guidebook author) says that Germans, on average, drink a liter of beer every 32 hours. Hearty folk, those Germans! :)
  • Castle sightings along the Rhine River. Beautiful!
  • The Cathedral in Cologne. I have never seen such an ornate building in all my life. Enough stained glass to cover two football fields. 533 steps (most on a very narrow, stone spiral staircase) to the observation deck on the spire...and we climbed every one of them! A 24 ton bell. Truly a place to makes one feel small in the grand scheme of things.
  • Bacharach. Quaint town along the Rhine River where we enjoyed dinner. For those of you who have seen how Scott reacts when he eats food that he really enjoys, this was that kind of meal. After dinner, ice cream and a walk to the watch tower. It was locked, but we had fun seeing the vineyards on the way. Unfortunately, we did not beat the rain storm heading our way and got soaked before making it to the train station. There's something romantic, though, about running with your love through the rain, so we didn't even mind :)
  • Burg Rheinstein. A castle we toured with Shannon and her kids (Aiden, 13, and Emma, 10) today in the rain. The inside had been restored during the 1800's as a hunting lodge, so interesting to see both parts of history. The views of the Rhine River valley were amazing, even with the rain. So fun to be reminded how much fun rain is when you're a kid.

So there you have it. Can't say that a bulleted list really does justice to almost two weeks of vacation, but it's the best I can do...hope you'll forgive me :)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

missing dad

We made a quick trip up to Norfolk/Pierce yesterday after school (the last day!) to leave Shoes (the cat) with my sister's family while we're on vacation. So at the breakfast table this morning with my mom, our upcoming vacation was the topic of conversation over mom's fantastic homemade pancakes.

One thing led to another, and we began to talk about my dad's time in Germany when he was stationed there for the Army. Mom dug out slides (yes, you read correctly) of photos dad took while he was there. As I held the slides up to the ceiling fan light (until mom found the special little lighted viewer box), I saw beautiful riverbanks and castles along the Rhine River that we will probably see. I was the Arc de Triumph and the Effiel Tower in Paris which we, too, will be taking photos of. I saw my dad dapperly dressed in a sport coat, collared shirt, and fancy striped socks, casually holding a cigarette in his right hand. I saw my dad with a full head of hair!

I wish that a month from now we could sit around the kitchen table (perhaps polishing off a plate full of mom's waffles...) showing pictures to dad, comparing stories of how things have changed in the 50 years since he was there. Love you, dad.