Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Germany: far fewer jean jackets than expected

 I've aggregated the days for my time in Germany in to one glorious and incredibly long post mainly because I had a lot of catch up to do with the family we stayed with and didn't get a chance to upload the posts at night (too tired). We stayed with my good friend Amanda, who lives in Zweibrücken Germany, which is near the Germany-France border. Her husband Brian is in the US Air Force, and the three of us go back to the Big 5 in Lompoc. Amanda and I moved up to Sacramento the same year after community collage (her to Sac State and me to UC Davis) and I pseudo-lived with her for awhile, so the debauchery continued until Brian got transferred from Vandenberg AFB to Travis AFB and set us all straight :) So that's the background. They have two kids now - Gavin (2 in August) and Chase (3, almost 4), so it's a little surreal to see your old collage pals doing the parental thing - but they're great parents so a good time was had by all once again. 
Anyway, that's the background as to what the hell we were doing in Germany. 

The quick and dirty summary of Germany for those who don't have 2 hours to read this post: we stayed in a rural countryside location, visited castles and really old towns, and the scenery was absolutly stunning - very serene and beautiful. Here are some shots from the car ride. 

Marksburg Castle

Asserting my dominance over Gavin since I don't have to sit in a stupid car seat. Joke's on me - I was smashed in the back between two of the suckers the entire time! Also, Gavin sometimes looks like he's dead in these pictures - he's really just sleeping. Promise.
We arrived in Germany early Monday morning. The high speed train was, again, very impressible (I'm voting yes for every high-speed California rail here on out), but a little stressful because Amanda and I were pretty lazy about it. (Background insight: when we were in Sacto Amanda was supposed to drop me off at the airport once and we BOTH overslept, subsequently missing my flight entirely) So the train tickets were taking us to the wrong location and we had to decipher the sooner drop off (apparently we are staying two hours west of Rammstein, not in Rammstein) by listening carefully to German instructions at each station (we speak zero German, btw).

Today was the first day I really missed having a cell phone. Amanda and I had coordinated 0% on where she'd pick us up at the station. We called her cell using a pay phone, which took us several minutes to figure out how to use. I solved the foreign language payphone problem by randomly shoving in coins and aggressively pushing buttons until we got a dial tone. For some reason Doug and I decided to wait for her in an unpopular and sparse location, so after a half hour we phoned again (all random buttons, don't worry - I learned zero lessons the first time around) and decided to meet at the Burger King. On,y took us an hour to find each other - see how efficient nonplanning can be? :-) 

Amanda and her family have done a good job embracing Germany. Amanda is taking German courses and participates in several family-friendly German activities (music lessons and gymnastics for the kiddos) and Chase is in an all-German pre-school.Instead of living in the AFB housing, they chose a live in a somewhat rural suburb in Germany, about a half hour from the air force base (where Brian works). It is beautiful. Here is a shot from her backyard, where we saw several deer.

Amanda's backyard and the field behind it.
 Being in such a rural location after two huge busy cities was a nice way to cap off the trip. It was lush and gorgeous on all the highways, very sparsely populated villages several miles away from each other on the autobahn  (which was bitchin, even in Amanda's little Honda). I never pictured Germany to be like this - it was pleasantly surprising. I had expected a lot of bad haircuts and jean jackets for some reason - I don't know why, I think I have an image from TV about the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989 and maybe figured nobody bought new clothes? 

This 1989 pictures is not representative of the Germany fashion in 2012. Shocking!
A historic and emotionally powerful event. Horrible outfit choice.
We had the kids with us the whole trip (Brian was at work) so we stuck to kid-friendly activities. Day 1 we went to a little castle near their home (which ended up being closed) and took a little nature walk.The castle was really cool and the view was absolutly stunning. We got some good shots with our regular camera but unfortunatly Doug forgot the camera phone, so we have no shareable pictures from this day  (yet). So, here's a picture of a rest stop in Germany we stopped at. Everything in Germany is really, really clean by the way - the opposite of London and Paris.

Instead of a picture of the awesome castle we visited, here's a shot of a rest stop in Germany and Doug's thumb.

Day 2 we went to Marksburg Castle, straight from medieval times. Apparently it's the only castle near the Rhine River that was never destroyed, and (allegedly) people still live in it! Obviously these occupants have yet to  hear of all the amenities modern day can provide - i.e. toilets, showers, telephones, etc. To each  his own. They had 1 tour provided in English so that was really neat - we got to hear about all the little facts about each of the rooms on the tour. 

Me, Amanda, the kids, and a really angry woman waiting for the English-language tour to start.

It was a little overcast (no rain), but a dark castle + dark clouds = sort of dim pictures. 

View of Rhine River from Castle
Cannon. [did this picture really need a caption?]

Wine cellar. Apparantly nobody drank water back in the day - just wine and hard liquor, it was safer. Maybe the medieval times weren't so bad after all! [Shout-out to Koes and Gena :) ]
This was for salt.
Fridge. They put ice in the top and it melted all over the food. Sounded terrible.
Chase (age 3), demonstrating how small the doors were.
They kept the bathrooms right next to the dinner table so that you didn't miss out on any of the gossip. Nothing like taking a shit while other people enjoy their mead and mutton!

They also had a room showing how the armor had progressed for the knights over the years. Which was interesting, but hard to focus on because the models they had for the armor were absolutely ridiculous.

I think this knight had a face for radio. Too bad it didn't exist! 
Of course, the thing the kids were most excited about was the coin they got to create from a 5 cent piece. This activity was done at the end of the tour, but it was pretty much the only thing they talked about it during ;)

 Day 3 was spent going to the city of Trier Germany, which is the oldest known city in Germany. This is the "Porta Nigra", which was a Roman wall built around 200 AD.

View from entrance.

View from inside the wall.

View from inside the city gate.
It seems giant walls blocking your city were pretty popular back in the day (see: Great Wall of China, etc.), and I think every one has failed pretty miserable in keeping people out [US Border Patrol: take note. That stupid fence isn't fooling anybody].

Here's a shot from Wikipedia at what this gate and it's attached wall looked like with the rest of the city: 

The rest of the town was really cute. If it had just been me/Doug/Amanda, I think we could have checked out the wall, the cathedral, and the rest of the downtown area in about an hour. With the kids, it took us 5. 

Downtown Trier

Inside the cathedral.

Downtown Trier

Tag teaming to pick up the pace

All kidding aside, Gavin and Chase are really well-behaved kids - even on those long car rides there was minimal crying and complaining (which influenced me to keep it to a minimum, too). Gavin is especially entertaining, because at the age of 2 he has the vocabulary of a 12 year old, which is a little eerie because it's said in the voice of a baby. He informed me multiple times that I was bad and that he was going to put me in a time out, to which I responded, no, YOU'RE bad and I'm going to put YOU in a time out! Our interactions escalated until Amanda put us both in time out. 

My evil arch-nemesis, likely plotting my demise.
That night we went out for some "real" German food, and it was bomb. The meal started with us eating lard. Yes, that's right, lard. We asked the server what it was and she didn't know how to explain it to us (this is melted back fat from a pig is hard to translate from German to English). Brian made us try it before he told us what it was. It was OK, but pretty salty/intense. So yes, to top off this gorge of a vacation, our last meal included lard. I think it was appropriate.

 The rest of the meal was less offensive, but equally delicious. They had horseradish soup, which nobody ordered so I asked the waitress for a small taste - it was actually pretty good. These photos make the food look really disgusting, but it was actually really good and looked good too. Not sure what happened here.

Pork tenderloin and spaetzle.

Pork schnitzel with mushroom sauce.

More pork schnitzel and more spaetzle.

Germany was beautiful, the food was really good, it was great seeing old friends again, and it was nice to end our 3-week European vacation on a more mellow note. Or so I thought... as the worst commute in [the] history [of Becky] was just a few hours away...

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