We made it!

16 Jun

Hello from the South Carolina Lowcountry! We made it! So sorry it’s taken me longer than I’d planned to post this little update, but the weekend got away from me between enjoying our family, enjoying our sweet pups, enjoying our house…

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Saturday in her own backyard…Someone’s not glad to be home or anything!

Oh, and dealing with the damn jet lag again! Luckily, like I said in one of my first posts from Germany, coming this direction is always easier on me, and it’s holding true- knock on wood! I’d much rather wake up early than not be able to fall asleep for hours. We can always force ourselves to stay awake later to help nudge that natural alarm clock. :) John’s and my body seem to be on identical schedules, too, as we’ve awakened within 10 minutes of each other every morning since we got home- 445a, then 530a, then 650a today! Woohoo! Neve hasn’t missed a single beat. Seriously, she went to bed at 9p the night we got home, got up at 730a the next morning, took her regular nap that afternoon…To be a kid again.

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Friday was a long day for sure. John’s flight left an hour before ours, which meant that we had to get to the airport way earlier than we would’ve normally (745a), which made for lots of sitting around before we even got on the plane. Then, we had a one hour delay on the runway that put us arriving in Newark just 40 min before our next flight. Not fun. At all. Remember in a previous post when I said how much I loathed Newark? Yeah, well, just consider that written in stone. Their whole Customs operation is absurd. You get off the plane, go through Customs with your passports (after standing in line for 20 minutes), then you have to go to regular Baggage Claim and get your bags once they pop up on the conveyor belt. Then you get back in another line at least 3 miles long to then go through Customs a second time, now with your passports AND bags. Recheck your bags, catch the train over to your next concourse and seriously hoof it to your gate. Seriously?! Neve was such a trooper- she helped push our carry on so I could manage the two HUMONGOUS suitcases until we could get them rechecked, then she ran her little heart out with me as we did our best to make it to our gate in time. By the time we got there, we looked like sweaty, huffing and puffing rats. And the door was closed. Poor gate check-in girl. She didn’t know what was coming when she told me that they’d already detached the walkway and that I’d need to consult customer service to book a new flight. Yeah….Riiiiight. Long story short: the walkway was reattached, the plane door was reopened and I waved like a freakin’ beauty queen as Neve and I made our way down the aisle to our seats. The air was thick with stuffy plane smell- and contempt. Needless to say, I made ZERO friends in Newark that day. Shoot.

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My sweaty rat, finally on our last leg HOME!

Sixteen hours after we started, we were finally back in Charleston. My parents were there to pick us up, so the taxi ride in off the runway was seriously one of the longest in history. John arrived an hour ahead of us, so he was waiting with them, too. Reunions are so grand. This one was no exception. Oh, how I missed them…How Neve missed them.

And just to prove what an awesome family we have…They threw us a little ‘Welcome Home’ family celebration in their backyard Saturday night. It was perfect and included just about everything we’d been missing in Germany- those we love the most, great conversation, sitting around a patio in the summertime, laughter, a blow up pool for the kids, yummy REAL desserts…and deep dish pizza, my request. :)

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Other than that, we’ve just been enjoying being home. We’ve had leisurely mornings, strolls in the park, trips to the grocery store (once at 930p! Gasp!)…

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Oh, and even a date night- our first in over two months. :) We purposely chose to sit facing away from the harbor, and toward our city bathed in sunset. OUR city. It’s a sight that will never, ever get old. HOME.

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And don’t worry- I haven’t forgotten about my ‘Which Place Did You Like the Best?’ post. Stay tuned!

Next Stop, Charleston!

11 Jun

Y’all. I can’t even wrap my brain around the fact that by this time tomorrow, we will be on an airplane over the Atlantic Ocean on our way HOME! My Dad and I have actually been counting down the hours since Sunday…He gets up in the mornings- so about lunch time for me- and sends me a text. 104…77…51… I love it.

We’ve had a really good week. John’s been really busy at work with all the project folks- from here, from Stuttgart, from Charleston- convening for the quarterly Design Review meeting all week. Yesterday was his day to lead the meeting and he said it went swimmingly (my word, not his- he probably said, ‘yep, it went great’ and then went to look for the gummi bears, but…), so that gives him today to tie up loose ends and say his temporary goodbyes. (Regardless of what we decide, John will still be working with the same peeps, either from here or during travel to here.)

Our new digs for this week. That's us on the second floor- all the windows you can see are in our apartment :)

Our new digs for this week. That’s us on the second floor- all the windows you can see are in our apartment :)

Neve and I are loving the location of our ‘new’ apartment- we just step outside and it’s like being on King Street in Charleston. Granted, it’s not ideal at 5a when all the restaurant vendors are pulling in to ridiculously-noisily unload their replenishments, nor when she’s trying to nap in the afternoons, but for getting out and about? Awesome. We’ve done some shopping, some playground hopping, some exploring and a whole lotta walking. Speaking of walking, once again, we three of us LOVE being able to walk to dinner!

A blessing or a curse. A McD's- Neve's unfortunate favorite- within site of our front door. She loves McFlurrys. Plain. Ummm?

A blessing or a curse. A McD’s- Neve’s unfortunate favorite- within site of our front door. She loves McFlurrys. Plain. Ummm?

Dinner on Italian Alley. Carbonara and Gorgonzola Gnocchi. Ahhh...

Dinner on Italian Alley. Carbonara and Gorgonzola Gnocchi. Ahhh…

After dinner at the Italian restaurant.

After dinner at the Italian restaurant.

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The highlight of the week was definitely Tuesday when we finally made it to the little riverside town of Rudesheim. Been trying to get there since Day 1, but for one reason or another…Rudesheim is a winemaking town in the Rhein Gorge, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s known for its beautiful vineyards (you’ve never seen so many in your life!), its romantic architecture and its gorgeous setting on the banks of the Rhein. Founded around 1000ad by the Franks, archeological finds of glass suggest that they were already making wine here at that time, in addition to timber rafting.

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It’s such a lovely little town and I’m so glad Neve and I decided to rent a car for the day and make the 45 minute trek to visit. Coincidentally, one of the friends we made at the playground during our first week here and have continued to see ever since, had told us about Rudesheim being the starting point for some neat Castle Tours, so that was a must during our visit. Boats run all day, every day up and down a stretch of the river that is particularly inundated with castles- some in ruins, some converted into museums, and one even renovated to be a hotel! There are five different lengths of cruise, depending on how long you want to be on the boat- the longest being a full day and seeing all the castles.

We opted for Rudesheim (at the bottom) up to

We opted for Rudesheim (at the bottom) up to Trechtings-Hausen (third X up on left) and back.

thumb_IMG_4369_1024Our cruise was about two hours and we saw six castles, several towns and lots of vineyards. So Much Fun. Neve loved being on the boat, floating down the river. We had a swan named Freddy who met us at each stop (there may or may not have been 5 different Freddys- that, or Freddy was one helluva swimmer :) ). She loved all the castles, especially one in particular that was clearly Rapunzel’s. Seriously, though, the castles- and the scenery in general- was fabulous. Once again, I was reminded of just how new the United States really is. Here we are, looking at a castle that was built around the time that Jesus was alive, and just imagining what life was like then- how incredibly intelligent and hardworking and inventive and advanced those people were to have built such wondrous buildings- and cities, for that matter. How many years have people been floating down this very river than we’re floating down today? I was in such awe.

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Windy day!

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Our favorite castle was the Rheinstein. For me, it’s exactly what I picture when I think of a castle- stately, commanding, regal, heavy and beautiful. It rises up from a rocky cliff right at the edge of the water- you have to really look to determine where the rock ends and the castle begins. This was also the one that Neve thought looked like Rapunzel’s because of its towers.

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It’s beautiful, right? The other one I really liked wasn’t actually for the castle itself- although it’s pretty snazzy itself (it’s the one that has been turned into a hotel)- but for the fabulous trailer park going on in front of it, right on the river bank! I can honestly say that it’s the first trailer park I’ve seen in Germany and that it just looked like a terrific place to live. Mostly large campers, each with a landscaped, fenced yard and windchimes dingling in the breeze. We even saw lots of the residents sitting in lawn chairs watching us pass by. Call me crazy, but the whole thing made me smile and was almost like a little slice of Americana! And this is the truth: I mentioned it to John as an idea for our housing if we decide to do this! Ha! (I know y’all aren’t even wondering his response.)

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We used the trip back down river for a little selfie sesh. I can’t describe how much I’ve enjoyed these last two months with Neve and how much I’m going to miss this when we get home. I know, it’s not like I won’t still see her every single day, but it’ll be different- so many more demands on our time other than each other. Yes, it’s real world, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still wish for just a little bit more of it!

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thumb_IMG_4409_1024John gave me the greatest compliment yesterday. He always says that I’m a good mom, but walking home from the store last night, he looked at me and said, ‘Your patience with Neve, and with just about everything, has grown so much since we got here. I never think you can get more beautiful. And then you do.’ I melted. There’s nothing nicer he could’ve possibly said to me at that moment. Being in this situation for the last two months has been a challenge in every sense of the word, but especially for me in the role of Neve’s mom. At home, we have our village- she goes to school, to swim lessons, to Goddess and Poppy’s, to Grandma’s, on playdates with her friends…Here, it’s just me M-F. Responsible for stimulating her, playing with her, growing with her, building her imagination, encouraging her creativity, teaching her, challenging her, loving her…I knew coming into this that it would stretch my comfort zone and be an eye-opening experience for both of us- and I can honestly say that I’ve done my absolute best to make our time count. I knew I could feel the growth Neve and I had made in our relationship- and that I’ve made as a mom- but to hear that it’s visible to the man whose opinion matters more to me than anyone’s…I have no words.

Alright, alright- enough with the sap! :) Last night, a big group of us went to the biergarten for dinner- great to finally meet some of the folks on John’s project that I hadn’t met before. It was also a nice midweek change of pace- haven’t been to dinner with a group in ages! Laughter and conversation and sausages and clinking glasses…Lovely. Today, Neve and I are working on getting things packed and the fridge cleaned out with a Smurfs marathon going on in the background, courtesy of Netflix and high speed internet (finally)! Ha! I’m sure we’ll head out in a bit to find some lunch and a good play spot…

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That’s it- our last Week in Review from German soil! For now. We’re definitely making some headway in the decision-making department, hallelujah, so hopefully we’ll have something to report in the coming weeks. :) I’ll definitely touch base this weekend to let you know that we made it home safely. The time change actually works in our favor this time- we leave just before lunch and get home in time for dinner! Ha!  Unfortunately, John’s still flying separately from us (we all leave and arrive within an hour of each other, though) and going that direction tacks on an extra hour (9 hrs the first flight, 2 hr layover, 2 hr final flight), but hopefully the adrenaline that comes with getting closer to home overshadows all that! Oh, and Dad…38.

Q&A

8 Jun

Hiya! I was so pleased with all the emails I got asking various questions about Wiesbaden, Germany, Europe, travel in general…Will certainly do my best to answer! In no particular order…

Q: How do you actually pronounce Wiesbaden? VEESE-bah-den. (All Ws in German are pronounced ‘V’)

Q: Has Neve gotten taller/thinner since you’ve been there? Several folks have asked about this and I can’t be sure, but I think so! We’ve had to get rid of a couple shirts because they’re too short…I’ve also noticed that a couple pairs of her leggings are looser fitting now than when we arrived. So maybe a combo of growth spurt and all the walking we do? We’ve also thrown away 3 pairs of shoes- and bought bigger ones!
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Q: How old was Neve on her first big trip? We went to Jamaica when she was 10 weeks old. Her passport photo was taken at one month old. :)

Q: What are the biggest ‘surprises’ you’ve noticed about Germans since you got there? Oh goodness…I suppose most aren’t really surprises since we lived here for a minute before, but there has definitely been some jogging of the memory! The ones that stick out the most for us: How difficult the language is. The number of Germans who still smoke and how common it is in all public areas. Everything being shut down on Sundays. There are no black people (we’ve honestly seen only two since we got here.) Cash is used SO much more than debit cards (we’ve probably used a debit card less than 10 times total).

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Oh, and they eat everything with a knife and fork- never with their hands. (We get stared at often with burgers, fries, sandwiches, pizza…it looks alot like this:

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Q: Do you have to show your passport every time you go into a new country? No. All European Union countries are considered as one, I suppose, so you only show it when leaving the EU. There are still abandoned border stations, though, from the days before the EU. Those are kinda creepy. We had to go through customs twice going to the UK (not in the EU), for example.

Q: How many countries have you guys ever visited? Oh my, this one took a pen and paper! John and I are both somewhere around 25-30ish. Neve is currently at 9.

Q: How’s the radio there? Surprisingly decent! Definitely better than it was in Stuttgart where 90% of all songs were in German. Here, I would say about 75% of the songs playing are American hits! There’s a DooWop/Oldies channel, two Rock/Hairband stations, several 80s and 90s pop stations and a few current US hits. That being said, there’s ALOT of repetition of songs and some definite favorite artists that seem to play ALL the time. These include: Kelly Clarkson, Echosmith, Tove Lo, Jason Derulo, Bon Jovi, Lady Gaga and Pink.

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Q: Is John liking his job there and what exactly does he do? 100% yes. John is so happy with his job here. He’s an electrical engineer with the Navy (civilian). For most of his career, he has done satellite communication, which makes it possible for soldiers in the desert to talk with command in the States, for example. His current project, however, is completely out of the box for him with new things to learn, new challenges, etc. He’s so stimulated and rejuvenated. They are designing and building a huge building on a base here in Wiesbaden that will consolidate several military groups under one roof. Over the last year, John has led the electrical team to layout, on paper, all of the power (for lighting, computers, televisions, security, etc.) the 155,000 sf building will have. A few months ago, the building broke ground, just steps away from where John is working at the moment- it now has a foundation and a first floor. So by being here, he gets to be very hands-on, as opposed to being behind a computer at a desk, which is a dream come true for John. Should we stay, he will be the on-site coordinator for the entire project- kind of like a liason between the Army (who will ultimately own the building) and SPAWAR. He will know more about the ins and outs of the building than just about anyone else on the team. Tough to pass up, right?

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Q: What’s your favorite German food? A soft pretzel, as cliche as it sounds. Paired with weisswursts for my perfect German dinner.

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Not gonna lie, though. Really pumped for some good 'ol American cuisine!

Not gonna lie, though. Really pumped for some good ‘ol American cuisine!

Q: What’s your biggest peeve about restaurants there? I have three, actually. 1. That they don’t serve tap water- you have to pay for a huge bottle of water, which usually tacks on like €4 to your bill. And they don’t believe in ice. For any drink. 2. They charge for ketchup- or any sauce. Sometimes as much as €2. 3. The service. We’ve found a handful of restaurants where this isn’t the case, but overall, service tends to be slow and minimal. You seat yourself, it can take 15 minutes for someone to notice you, then another 10 to get your drinks. After your meal arrives 30 minutes later still, you will not see your server again until you flag her down to ask for the bill. No refills, no clearing of plates, nothing.

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Q: What are you going to miss most when you come home? I could never pick just one thing. I will miss the traveling on the weekends, the truly amazing one-on-one time I’ve had with Neve, having John to myself, the simplicity of living in less than 500sf, walking and biking to just about everywhere we need to go, and pretzels. John will also miss the cheap beer.

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Q: What’s going on with your dogs while you’re gone? We have the BEST pet sitter, Brittany, who moves into our house to handle everything house or pet when we travel. We love her, the dogs love her, Merlin the Cat loves her…Seriously, she’s just awesome- and yes, even sends me cute pictures every now and then without me asking :). We are very fortunate she was willing to do this for us for this extended trip! We have never been away from them for this long and I absolutely CAN NOT WAIT to see them!

Q: Have you learned any German since you got there? I wouldn’t say I’ve necessarily learned German, but I’ve gotten to where I’m pretty darn good at reading it for day-to-day purposes. We know what we’re ordering at restaurants, we can shop for the normal stuff at the grocery store, we can get the jists of advertisements…I can speak a handful of the most commonly used phrases (please, thank you, excuse me, Do you speak English?, I don’t speak German, I’m sorry, good morning, see you later, please bring the bill, still water no gas…) But I can’t understand a single word they’re saying 99% of the time…

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Q: What restaurants are in the Food Court on base? The big base has Burger King, Popeye’s, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, Charley’s Steakery and Starbucks. The base John works on has Subway, Pizza Hut, Doner Kebap, and a bakery.

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Q: How are prices on base compared to at home? A bit higher for most items. But there’s no tax.

Q: How are prices in Germany compared to at home? This totally varies. Overall, I think food is cheaper here. Cheese for example- the biggest brick of ‘specialty’ cheese will always be less than €5. Meats are the same way, even the grass-fed, organics. Restaurants range just like at home- there’s fast food (pretty similarly priced), regular weeknight type restaurants, then fancy ones, so costs are set accordingly and maybe even a little cheaper than at home, especially if you’re talking downtown Charleston hotspots. Clothes and shoes seem to be higher here, even for the cheap stuff. Toys are higher. Cars are cheaper. So yeah, it just depends on what products you’re looking for.

Q: What will you do with the bike when you leave? Sell it! Anytime we fly somewhere, we have to buy a carseat as soon as we land, so we’re old pros at selling things when it’s time to go! Luckily, just about every city has some version of Craigslist, so about a week before we leave, I list anything we need to sell and make arrangements with buyers for them to pick up the day before we head home. We’ve even had buyers meet us in the airport parking lot! Ha! This time, I’m selling our bike, Neve’s bike seat, the car seat, the bedding set (because we couldn’t stand the two separate comforters!), and the bedroom fans (can’t sleep without them!). Meeting a few people this afternoon and the rest tomorrow :)

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Q: Is there anywhere you’d hoped to travel on this trip, but didn’t make it? Yes, we really went back and forth alot on Portugal, but because it would’ve involved lengthy flights and we were restricted to long weekends at best, we opted to save it for later when we have more time to spend. Other places shelved for similar reasons: Copenhagen, Greece and Monaco.

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Q: Have you always been travelers? Actually, no! Both of us had great annual family vacations as kids, but they were all within the US. During my college years, I had horrible anxiety when it came to flying and therefore, didn’t travel too far even when I had the chance. John was at The Citadel, so his free time for travel was limited to say the least. It wasn’t until he started working at SPAWAR and traveling with his job that both of us started to get the itch. I’ll never forget his first big trip was to Hawaii right after we were married and I was too afraid to fly. I was so jealous of him that week- seeing his pictures, hearing about all that he was doing around his work schedule, just listening to the excitement in his voice…I made a vow then and there to get over my fears come Hell or high water. And just a few months later, he had to go back to Hawaii. And I was right there with him. And things have never been the same since! :)

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Q: How do you pronounce your daughter’s name? It rhymes with ‘Bev.’

Q: If you could live anywhere in the US, where would it be? Oahu. It’s our happy place that we will go back to as many times as we possibly can. Next would be NYC and San Diego.

Q: What was your favorite place you visited while you’ve been there? John and I have talked about that a few times and it’s really tough to decide! I think I’ll make it a separate post sometime soon :)

Q: If you decide to stay, will you get to take all your stuff? Yes. SPAWAR will pack and move any and everything from our house- furniture, clothing, kitchen, art, etc. , as well as one car. Because we would rent our Summerville home as furnished for short-term periods, we would likely only bring the most important stuff and leave the rest.

Q: How long would you get to find a house and what would you do in the meantime? We would get 90 days to shop for a house. During that time, we could either stay in a hotel or a short-term apartment like what we’re doing now.

Alright, I think I hit ’em all! Hope everyone learned a neat new factoid or two! Talk soon!

We saved the best for last!

8 Jun

Happy Monday, y’all! Before I get into our weekend, I just want to say thanks to everybody whose taken the time to send us emails and texts with feedback from Friday’s doozy post. It’s nice knowing that people can relate to what we’re going through, or can at least offer words of encouragement and a sounding board! We so appreciate all of you- your support, your friendship…Thank you! I believe we are moving closer to a decision every day.

OK, so we had the BEST weekend in what is still our reigning favorite, most beautiful country in the world, Switzerland. It’s just amazing. Everywhere you look, it’s as though an artist could’ve painted it with a brush. Grassy plains, rolling green hills, pastures of cows with their giant bells, picturesque Alpine villages, crystal blue lakes, snowcapped jagged peaks…We first visited the country in 2010 and were in such awe, but we’d wondered recently whether we’d feel the same way going back now, having seen so many more places since then. We do. Hands down, if you could visit any one place in the world, we would say it should be Switzerland. That being said, there are lots more places for us to explore and we’re always on the hunt for something to knock it out of first place! Ha!

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I’ll warn you, you’re in for another long post! But in a totally different- and fun!- kind of way! Unlike many of our trips, this one wasn’t about the history or the stories really…It was all fluff ;). No really, our main goal for this trip was simply to enjoy the beautiful canvas that God has painted and to share all of it with Neve. Mission accomplished. So this post will be mostly self-explanatory with lots and lots of pictures and just a little bit of commentary.

As I mentioned last week, the drive down through Germany’s Black Forest and into Switzerland- and back- is probably our favorite drive on the planet. The pictures certainly don’t do it an iota of justice, but wanted to give you an idea…The drive down took us through Basel and Lucerne.

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Switzerland is landlocked in the middle of Europe- Italy borders to the south, Austria to the east, Germany to the north and France to the west. Because of this, the country is actually divided into three distinct areas- German, French and Italian- each using the language and customs of each influence. It also has three distinct geographical areas- the Alps, the Jura and the Swiss Plateau. Even though the Alps physically occupy the most space, the majority of the Swiss population (8 million people) is concentrated on the Plateau, which is also where all the largest cities are found.

The drive to Switzerland...

The drive to Switzerland…

Switzerland has a long history of neutrality and hasn’t been part of an international war since 1815. It didn’t join the United Nations until 2002 and, to this day, is not a member of the European Union. That being said, it pursues an active foreign policy and is frequently involved in peace-building processes around the world. Just last month, Switzerland was found to be the ‘happiest’ country in the world. It has the highest nominal weather per adult- financial and non-financial assets- in the world and the 8th highest per capita gross domestic product. Zurich and Geneva have both been ranked among the top cities with the highest quality of life in the world.

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I will say that what you’ve heard about Switzerland being exorbitantly expensive are so true. Like, beyond true to the point that it’s hard to even wrap your brain about what you’re seeing on price tags. Some examples: Neve’s ‘child portion’ at lunch cost 19 francs ($24), our hot chocolates at the top of Mt. Titlis were 8fr ($13) EACH, and post cards were 3fr ($4.50) EACH. And we thought London was tough. Sheesh.

Just crossed into Switzerland!

Just crossed into Switzerland!

Our hotel at the base of Mt. Titlis...

Our hotel at the base of Mt. Titlis…

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Engelberg, where we stayed, is a small town (population just shy of 5000) in central Switzerland, known for its clean air and its challenging snow skiing, primarily on Mt. Titlis, one of the highest peaks in the Alps. However, it was originally known, and regarded throughout Europe, for the educational accomplishments of its Benedictine monastery. Although it has one of the largest ski seasons in the world (October 1-May 31), it’s also famous for its summer hiking, cycling and paragliding.

Downtown Engelberg

Downtown Engelberg

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She couldn't believe the rocks she saw in the stream were actually several feet down- it's that clear! And yes, nippy.

She couldn’t believe the rocks she saw in the stream were actually several feet down- it’s that clear! And yes, nippy.

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Cows, cows everywhere!

Cows, cows everywhere!

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One of the best meals we’ve EVER had was Fondue and Roesti the last time we were in Switzerland, so we were on the hunt once again. Found a great little spot on the side of the mountain with some awesome Fondue and locally brewed beer, so Night 1 was a culinary success.

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Fondue- Always one of our favorite meals! And it can't get any better than in Switzerland!

Fondue- Always one of our favorite meals! And it can’t get any better than in Switzerland!

Table with a view

Table with a view

Headed back to the hotel for the night. After 9p in this picture...

Headed back to the hotel for the night. After 9p in this picture…

Mt. Titlis is known for having some of the most challenging ski slopes in the world (it even advertises that only ‘advanced intermediate and advanced skiers should attempt any of its slopes, especially on the north face’), as well as the world’s first rotating cablecar. Because it sits above the snow line, it has cold temperatures and snow year round. Its northern side is covered by the Titlis Glacier, accessed by a separate chair lift, the Ice Flyer. We missed the end of the ski season by two weeks, but sure enjoyed exploring the mountain and the glacier- and the four different lifts it took to get to the top!

Heading to Mt. Titlis to start our journey to the top!

Heading to Mt. Titlis to start our journey to the top!

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Headed Up...Lift 1 of 4...

Headed Up…Lift 1 of 4…

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Lift 2 of 4...

Lift 2 of 4…

Lift 3 of 4...

Lift 3 of 4…

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The world's first rotating gondolas...The final trek to the top.

The world’s first rotating gondolas…The final trek to the top.

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We were fascinated by this 'pool' beneath us. Look at that color!

Looking straight down from the lift. We were fascinated by this ‘pool’ beneath us- it’s p. Look at that color!

On the gondola up Mt. Titlis...

On the gondola up Mt. Titlis…

The temperature in Engelberg was well over 70F that day, which meant that we had to be strategic with our clothing considering that the top of Titlis was holding steady at 38F! So we layered the best we could and took coats to put on when we got to the top. Other than not having the right shoes- tennis shoes in snow mean wet feet, of course!- we were good to go!

Looking back at Engelberg from the top

Looking back at Engelberg from the top

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The Ice Flyer lift from the peak to the glacier takes about 7 minutes and makes for some of the best views.

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From the Ice Flyer Chair Lift over the glacier.

From the Ice Flyer Chair Lift over the glacier.

What did we do on the glacier? Well, we built a snowman and sledded, of course! Neve talked all last week about building a snowman (and naming him Olaf!), so gloves or no gloves, it was a must! Ha! And the sledding was just so much fun. Being from northern Kentucky, John sledded alot as a child, but this Southern girl had never done more than being pulled on a sled behind her Dad’s lawn mower the winter after Hurricane Hugo (1989) when it snowed in Charleston! Needless to say, it was a first for both Neve and for her Mama and we had a blast!

Neve talked all week about building a snowman. Mission Accomplished!

First toboggan!

First toboggan!

My Big Kid. He sledded as a kid and was so excited to do it again! (This was my first time, too!)

My Big Kid.

Still a pro!

Still a pro!

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Mt. Titlis has the highest suspension bridge in the world, spanning a huge gorge and overlooking the entire south face of the mountain. The views are just awesome- and definitely worth the swaying with the wind (yep, it’s only attached at the two ends!) and the vertigo that comes with looking down through the see-through grate you’re walking on!

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On the World's Tallest Suspension Bridge

On the World’s Tallest Suspension Bridge

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Unfortunately, the best we could get. The wind was blowing and the sun in our eyes, so…

Top of the Alps

Top of the Alps

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OK, gotta share something with you that literally made us laugh out loud. I’m sure it’s the same for all of you- there’s always THAT tourist. The one trying too hard, trying to play it off, trying to look cool, trying to be sexy…But looking like a complete and total idiot instead. I swear we find them at every single destination, and always taking pictures of themselves to document their stupidity for posterity. This weekend, the Moron Award went to this Asian lady:

I tell you what. Some tourists are nothing short of  special. Shorts romper, wedge heeled sandals, 35F...Then karma came around, the wind blew, the bridge swayed and she toppled over.

I tell you what. Some tourists are nothing short of special. Shorts romper, wedge heeled sandals, 35F…Then karma came around, the wind blew, the bridge swayed and she toppled over.

Yeah, marinate on that for a minute. Gawd.

Our last stop before heading into the lodge for hot chocolate was the other highlight Neve had been waiting for all week- the Ice Cave! Or as Neve referred to it, Elsa’s Castle. :) She just loved it. All surfaces are ice- and yes, that means the floor is beyond slippery!- and lit with pretty purple and blue lights. There are even sculptures and benches and a couple ‘igloos’ throughout!

Neve's favorite part, 'Elsa's Castle.' SO SWEET.

Neve’s favorite part, ‘Elsa’s Castle.’ SO SWEET.

LOVING IT.

LOVING IT.

Heading back down to Engelberg

Heading back down to Engelberg

We had read online that it’s best to be in the first car of the morning up the mountain to ensure the clearest views (clouds and snow often move in by the afternoons) and to avoid some of the crowds. Definitely glad we heeded the advice- for much of the morning, we felt that we had the mountain to ourselves, so quiet and peaceful. But by the time we got back to the bottom around lunch time, you should’ve seen the lines waiting to head up- it would’ve been a totally different experience! Plus, we were down just in time to shed our layers and explore Engelberg a bit.

Something about all Swiss water makes it the most awesome shade of greyish blue.

Something about all Swiss water makes it the most awesome shade of greyish blue.

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Within the monastery, they are making cheese. Delicious cheese! And you can see it all for yourself.

Within the monastery, they are making cheese. Delicious cheese! And you can see it all for yourself.

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Yep, same monastery I mentioned earlier that was Engelberg’s original claim to fame! Still operational and now making cheese! We decided to grab lunch at their little outdoor cafe so we could try the cheese for ourselves- YUM. A bonus was the view as we ate- so many paragliders just ‘hanging’ in the air overhead…

You can't really tell, but there are about 30 paragliders gliding through the air over the monastery..

You can’t really tell, but there are about 30 paragliders gliding through the air over the monastery and the mountains in the distance…

We knew heading into the weekend that Engelberg was small and that our main purpose there was to visit Mt. Titlis, so we opted for only one night there and then to take a different route- through France- back to Germany that would allow for a night in picturesque Colmar. This also made for a more relaxing Sunday morning (gotta sleep in when you can and when you have a comfy bed!), not to mention a shorter drive home! OK, a few more of the drive…We were amazed (and still can’t figure it out!) at how they mow the sides of their mountains! Regardless, they are all impeccably kept and create a ‘patchwork’ look…

The drive home...

The drive home…

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Colmar, France, was founded in the 9th century and is known today for its well-preserved Old Town, complete with rainbow-colored buildings and wandering canals. It lies in the Alsace region of northwest France, not too far from the German border, which explains all the German influence you see and feel as soon as you arrive. Colmar is considered to be the ‘Capital of Alsatian Wine.’

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We arrived in the late afternoon and it proceeded to rain- heavily- for most of the remainder of the day. But that didn’t stop us from exploring! At least it was warm :)

Downtown Colmar, France...

Downtown Colmar, France…

'Little Venice'

‘Little Venice’

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You can’t really tell, but they are DRENCHED in this picture from all the rain. Neve’s pants had wicked up so much water that we had to roll them up to keep from making a mess anytime we went in a store!

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Finally got a Roesti! Love them and never get them! Potatoes with a meat, a veggie and cheese! (And a sausage on top if you're lucky!) This one had speck, onions and Emmantaler.

Finally got a Roesti! Love them and never get them! Potatoes with a meat, a veggie and cheese! (And a sausage on top if you’re lucky!) This one had speck, onions and Emmantaler.

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Over walking in the pouring rain! But look at those curls like her mama :)

Over walking in the pouring rain! But look at those curls like her mama :)

So what do you think? Two gorgeous places in one great weekend, right!? Still hard to believe that it was our last little adventure for the moment and that we’ll be on a plane headed HOME in just 5 days! I guess that means that now it’s time for the hard work- deciding where to go from here. :/ We should actually know more in the next few days as everybody who is somebody on John’s work project is in town this week for a huge design meeting, which means there will be lots of face time and one-on-one conversations with the powers that be about the game plan. We shall see. In the meantime, Neve and I are going to enjoy being smack dab in the middle of the downtown hustle and make the most of our last days as a duo for the time being!

Must be a sign- literally! East coast isn't that far away!

Must be a sign- literally! East coast isn’t that far away! See you Friday!

 

A Serious Chat…

5 Jun

Surprise, surprise. Today is a German holiday! Actually, yesterday was the holiday (Corpus Christi, 60 days after Easter to honor the Lord’s Supper) and today is a ‘Bridge Day’ which occurs anytime a holiday falls on a Thursday so folks can just segue right into the weekend. Ha! These folks have it all figured out.

Anyway, hard to believe that another week has come and gone. Even harder to believe is that we will be HOME a week from today! Can you believe it’s been nearly two months since we arrived here in Wiesbaden? It goes back to what I mentioned in one of my early posts- about days sometimes going by so slowly, but then you look back and wonder where the heck the time went because you just got here? That’s kinda where we are now. And I’ll go ahead and say that this post is going to be a bit different than most. I want to let you in on the more serious side of this adventure- to open up a bit about the true purpose of this trip since it can feel, for us, like an elephant in the room at times. Maybe try to think of this post as one big ‘Keeping It Real…’ With a few relevant GIFs thrown in just to make it worth your while :)

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We’re having a slew of emotions as the end of this adventure draws nearer. I swear we flip flop daily when we ask ourselves the big question, ‘Should we do this for 3 years?’ Some days we’re both on the same side; others we happily talk things over from our opposite sides of the fence. And some days we don’t talk about it at all- we avoid it at all costs because it’s easier to skip it :)

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Even Neve tends to be giving thought to things- some days she’ll talk alot about her bedroom at home, Mommy’s Jeep, her friends, spending the night with Goddess and Poppy as soon as we get home, Grandma’s rice, swim lessons and holding her breath underwater for 5 seconds (a feat that, apparently, can only be done in SC)…Other days, she’s more interested in where we’re going the next weekend, if she can have schnitzel for lunch, whether we’re going to ride our bike to the market to get dinner…On Monday, she even asked if ‘we could visit South Carolina, then come back to Germany.’

We knew that coming to Europe with a child would be different than any other time we’d been here. We also knew that making the decision whether to stay or go would center primarily around Neve. But it wasn’t until we got here and started seeing first hand what exactly it would all look like that we’ve really been hit with the magnitude of our responsibility at this moment as parents. Every parent wants what’s best for their child- which pediatrician is best, which school to send her to, whether to send her to school at all and at what age, do we trust someone else to keep her safe while we’re away…And yep, all of those are valid, necessary, significant decisions. But for us, this is the first time a decision feels monumental- almost a gut-wrenching task. Those that I just mentioned could all be changed and we knew that going into them. Don’t like the pediatrician we chose? Change to another, which we did. Don’t like the school we chose? Change (which we would never do because we hit the jackpot in that department!) But you get my drift. So many of life’s decisions can be changed if you find you made the wrong choice. Even if you’re certain you’re making the right one, it’s comforting knowing that there’s an out, right? So what happens when you have to make a decision that can’t be changed? One that you will live with for at least the next 3 years and could have an impact for so many years after that? To someone like me, who fears any situation- physically, emotionally, mentally- that ‘traps’ me, it’s terrifying. (Disclaimer: John is a civilian, so yes, he could technically change his mind, but it would have big repercussions and would realistically never happen.)

This is a decision that will alter the course of our life. Permanently. Whether we opt to move here for 3 years or to continue building our life in Summerville- or take a job elsewhere, for that matter!- any of those options will change where we’re headed and provide their own set of experiences, good and bad. So yeah, it feels big- mainly with regard to Neve. Her childhood will be 100% affected by whatever we choose. Do you know how heavy that feels? Of course you do- so many of you have children, young and old, and have likely been in such situations more than once. But John and I have only been members of this club for 3 years, so we’re still settling in. :)

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Over the last few weeks, several of you have asked about the pros and cons. We’re finding that there’s actually alot of grey area between the lists and several items that could actually be put on either or both lists, but here’s a jist, in no particular order:

Pros

  • Travel- it’s impossible (financially, proximally, logistically) to travel the same way in the States. Being able to show Neve so many different parts of the world, different cultures, different cuisines, different architecture…Hands down the biggest pro.
  • Financial- not only would John’s salary and cost of living increase, but our (very nice) German housing would be paid for and since we would rent (probably short term executive rentals) our Summerville house, that would mean living mortgage free for 3 years. A nice nest egg to come home to and a nice way to fund Pro #1.
  • Experience- just living in Europe would be such a gift in so many ways, one that many dream of. For us, for Neve…
  • Local Friends- we’re fortunate to have at least a few friends already living in Europe, so that definitely adds a sense of comfort. Not to mention that we’ve been getting to know several of the people- and their families- who John would work with. Germany isn’t known for as being an easy place to make friends, so this really helps.
  • Building Our Bond- a tough one to explain, but a definite front runner. Being a trio in a foreign country means that you rely solely on each other, which can’t help but increase your closeness. Facing challenges together, depending on each other, counting on each other for everything…It grows your sense of security and satisfaction with your partner. John and I are more of a team than ever. We are closer with Neve than ever. That’s certainly not to say that we don’t miss having multiple people to fulfill these needs- because we certainly do!- but since we don’t, we have no choice but to turn to each other, if that makes sense. Our family unit as ‘the three amigos,’ as Neve calls us, is strong.
  • Providing Experiences for our Families- This is one that may not make sense to everyone. Neither of our families have spent much, if any, time in Europe. My parents came over for a few weeks the last time we were here and we had the BEST time, both in Stuttgart where we were living and on the vacations we took with them. We both want more of those experiences with our families. We recognize that getting to and traveling through Europe is expensive and arduous and that us being over here would definitely help make it a reality.
  • Strengthening Relationships from Afar- This is another one that may not make much sense, but bear with me. One thing I’ve always said about our time with John’s family is that it’s always happy and meaningful. They live 10 hours away, so when we get to see them, it’s always festive and making up for lost time and planning things to do together and being together under one roof to eat breakfast and play board games at night in our jammies, etc. Things we only get with my family on Christmas Eve and our annual week in Myrtle Beach each spring. When you only have a limited time to enjoy each other’s company, you really make an effort to make the most of it. By having that distance, it will likely mean that there will be more of this when we’re together. No time taken for granted, no bickering, no putting things off until tomorrow…Just enjoying each other and being thankful to be together and making memories. Missing people can actually work in your favor- ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder,’ right? I will also add that in some ways, I’ve even noticed subtle improvements in my relationships with my parents just in the couple months we’ve been here. You see, it’s the same principal on the phone or FaceTime. You don’t get to talk often or for long (time zone differences and preschoolers can have that effect!), so when you do, you want to make the most of it. You focus on what matters and the little crap stuff that you might would’ve gotten bogged down in before just isn’t there anymore. And sure you ask about each other’s day and the weather, but you talk- and listen- with much more intention. Just like the last time we were here, I’ve had more ‘real’ one-on-one conversations with my Dad in these last weeks than I generally do at home. It’s really nice. (Disclaimer: Though it’s not a substitute for hugging his neck.)
  • Base Access- definitely a comfort knowing that we can go on base (there are 5 here) anytime we need a slice of home. American food court, grocery store, shopping center, fitness center, Neve’s school (if we went that route), planned activities…Even when we just find ourselves wanting to surround ourselves with English-speaking ‘friends!’ Something you notice the second you step on base is the sense of camaraderie going on, too- a heightened sense of ‘we’re all in the same boat.’ It’s a good feeling.
  • Neve’s School- this is one that straddles the line. On one hand, German school is very good and Neve is at a perfect age to learn the language quickly. We have heard many good things from other Americans who’ve chosen to put their kids in German school.
  • Culture Changes- another line straddler. One thing we have always loved as travelers is the culture shock that comes with spending any amount of time in any foreign country. When we are home for too long, we find ourselves craving ‘different.’ Different scenery, different people, different food, different experiences…

    Long one of my favorite travel quotes...

    Long one of my favorite travel quotes…

  • Excellent Public Spaces- we absolutely love all of the parks, playgrounds and public squares here. There is definitely encouragement to enjoy the outdoors.
  • Physical Activity- we love how much more emphasis there is in Europe for movement in daily life rather than total reliance on your car. Everyone walks, bikes, etc.
  • Family Encouragement- Germany is big on families and encourages quality time spent together. Ample holidays, festivals, etc. mean more time spent with loved ones. Never will you see anyone on their cell phones in a restaurant or cafe, even if they’re alone. The time is spent relaxing and enjoying. Restaurants and many pubs also don’t have televisions.
  • Satisfying the Restlessness- John and I are both restless souls. We get bored easily and are always ready for the next adventure. We’re seeing signs that Neve has inherited the bug, as well. Being here, and all that that entails, would most definitely quell those feelings.

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Cons

  • Family, Part 1- this is the single biggest reason we are so torn and is the one that permeates so many areas of the decision. It, together with Part 2, carries significantly more weight than all the others, too, which means that even if the con list ends up shorter, they’re not all created equally…This first area is solely from mine and John’s perspective. Selfishly, I’m an only child and my parents are completely central in my life. They are our best friends with whom we do so many things. The same is true for my grandmother- I have seen her at least weekly, much of the time daily for forever. This time that I spend with family is integral to my life and to my happiness. In other words, we are not a close family out of obligation or simply proximity, but because we choose to be and can’t see it any other way. The fact that we are such a small family only contributes to our closeness. Leaving this for three years…I can’t even fully process how that would be. And even though they aren’t John’s immediate family, he also struggles with the idea of being so far away for many of the same reasons- we’ve always been such big parts of each others’ day to day lives. (He has missed tinkering around the garage or the yard with my Dad so much since we’ve been gone!) We are close with John’s brother and sister-in-law who also live in Summerville. Can’t imagine not seeing them, and their sweet Norah, regularly. The rest of John’s family is in Kentucky, so it would mean even fewer visits with them. And the family we have chosen for ourselves- Andy, Sam and Chuck, Eleanor and Johnny…How could we be so far away from them?
  • My Mom- she’s my person and she won’t be here.
  • Family, Part 2- all of the above, but with Neve. Taking her away from all the people who love her most and who she considers the centers of her world. Giving up our support system and the ‘village’ we’ve always counted on to help raise her. The pain we know it would cause them by missing these formative years of her life, watching her grow. John and I both grew up surrounded by family and are the people we are today largely because of that- do we want to take that away from Neve, even for just 3 years?
  • Missing Out- this goes along with both of the above in terms of being a close family. My family celebrates birthdays, holidays, Tuesdays…We go to dinners, shows, pedicures…We stop at each others’ houses just to say hi…We all show up in full force at Neve’s school functions…Will I feel that I’m missing out on all of this going on at home without us? Will I feel that they’re missing out on all that will be going on here? Disclaimer: Of course we will make plenty of visits to the States. And yes, both families say they look forward to visiting, but no one- with the exception of my Grandma who could have her bags packed and be on a plane by this afternoon!- can really say how often they see themselves coming over or for how long. These unknowns are very difficult for me. We also recognize that the novelty will wear off for everyone, which brings about the logical concern that visits may get less frequent as time passes? Something else that is very scary for me.
  • Friends- We have a great group of neighbors- some of whom have grown to be great friends over this last year, a great group of parents and teachers at Neve’s schools- several of whom we consider true friends and true blessings in our lives, a great group of little friends for Neve, a great group of work friends through SPAWAR…Are we confident that these friendships would survive and continue to grow in our absence?
  • Neve’s School, Part 1- the other side here is the thought of her struggling to communicate, make friends, etc., especially initially. Then there’s the deciding whether to do German schools vs. American ones on base. The preschool on base isn’t terrific from what we hear and regular school (both German and on base) doesn’t start until first grade, so we’re left with what’s best in the meantime.
  • Neve’s School, Part 2- We are in wonderful preschool programs at home. We love the teachers, we love the parents, we love her classmates…Most importantly, we love that Neve loves her schools and that we can see all the benefits that she gets from them. Can we give this up?
  • Language Barrier- you take for granted all the challenges this presents as you don’t realize just how much you read and listen at home. Road signs, menus, grocery shopping, TV, radio, signs in a store window, weather bulletins…(I would sign up immediately for a German language course.)
  • Renting our House- We just built a brand new, amazing, perfect-for-us house and have only been enjoying it for a year. The thought of complete strangers living in it- and all the potential repercussions that come with that- is daunting and saddening, especially to me. (John sees this as more of a ‘we will just fix it exactly as we want when we get home.’) On the plus side, we would likely do high end, short term executive rentals which would give us much more control, as well as a place to stay when we’re in town rather than encroaching on family. Disclaimer: No, we would not have to rent our house- it could sit empty while we continue to pay the mortgage like normal, but that would completely negate Pro #2- the financial gain- a big reason we’re considering the move in the first place.
  • Culture Challenges- While exhilarating, these can also be frustrating, unnerving, isolating and tedious. Do we want the exhilaration enough to warrant the latter?

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Wow. Doozy of a post, right?! I knew within a paragraph or two of starting that this would be as much for me as it is for you- that getting my thoughts organized and on paper would be therapeutic. And I was right. I’m a list maker and an analyzer and an overthinker, so getting all of this out of my head and into a format that can be more easily processed is exactly what I needed. Wish I could say that I had some grand epiphany as I wrote- or at least a Magic 8 Ball a la 1989- but no. One can dream, right :) One thing we HAVE decided is that there’s no right or wrong answer here. That both places come with great rewards and significant losses, both to us and to our families. We realize that, no matter which we choose, there will always be moments of doubt- and maybe even regret- in our decision. It’s just a matter of deciding which we’d rather have the doubts about, I suppose…

We’ve spent our time gathering as much information as we can to make the most informed decision possible, just as you might suspect from two Type A nerds like us. John has talked to any and everyone at work who is or has been in this situation (the overwhelming majority love it here, have no regrets, and several are even back for the second time after going home for the obligatory two years). We’ve looked into the details like our base access and my working here and Neve’s school options. We’ve looked at current available properties to get ideas about what homes in our price point might look like.  We’ve spent time driving around the city figuring out which areas might be best for us. Basically, we’ve tried to utilize our time here efficiently so that we don’t get back to the States with unanswered questions that would’ve been best handled from this side of the pond.

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Thank y’all so much for sticking it through to the end and putting up with my rambling! We welcome any and all advice, words of wisdom, random thoughts…Seriously. Oh, and I almost forgot. I’m working on a little Q&A post for next week, answering many of the questions we’ve gotten from you guys during our time here. If you’ve got any questions- from how to pronounce this to what are your real thoughts on that- please ask away so I can include them. Feel free to email them if you’d prefer- EAKThomas@hotmail.com. I won’t include names in the post :)

Thanks again for making it through my grown-up post :)

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Week in Review

4 Jun

Another Thursday means it’s time for another quick peek into what we’ve been up to this week. And when I say quick, I truly mean it this time because it’s already 9p here and I’m about to drop after a long day of packing up this apartment, playground hopping, moving to the new apartment (try moving 7 weeks worth of crap into the Old Town pedestrian area of a crowded city- it ain’t graceful), and then packing to head to Switzerland tomorrow for the weekend. Phew. Just talking about it makes me more tired! Ha!

Neve and I were pretty well rained in for the early part of the week, so with the exception of a grocery run (they always take forever because you have to Google everything), we spent our time doing some art projects, playing some games, building some forts and watching Happy Feet, her newest fav, a few dozen times. All in our jammies. It wasn’t half bad.

 

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Yesterday, the sunshine finally made an appearance and brought with it some warmer air, so we made full use of our bike and our walking legs. After we did the Farmers Market and stopped by the crepe stand for lunch (and watched a peaceful protest of some kind), the highlight was our ride on the Thermine, Wiesbaden’s local ‘train’ that goes all around the city showing you the highlights and telling you about what you’re seeing- even the Prime Minister’s house and she happens to be in town right now! (We were the only English-speakers, but at least they had a printed copy for us to follow along :) ) It was good getting to see parts that we hadn’t found yet. Neve loved the ride- complete with occasional choo-choos and a conductor who smoked a pipe. She thought he was swell- even gave her a balloon.

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Today was another gorgeous day- I’m even tempted to use the word hot- so in between packing, we ran a few errands and ended up running into Daddy for lunch. Always a treat. And while we were on that base, we figured we’d check out the playground in their newest housing area. SO NICE.

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We had awesome luck this week on making a few friends here and there, too. Luckily, Neve isn’t shy whatsoever when it comes to other children. She has no problem walking up to a group- younger or older, small group or large- and just starting to play. I’ll admit, there have been times over these last two months where I’ve had to reign in my mama genes here. Knowing she can’t communicate with them, knowing that they don’t understand why, sometimes even watching as they play around her instead of with her…But she’s a trooper and she’s handled it all with such grace, never being deterred or intimidated. For the most part, we’ve had great experiences, both with German kids and Americans when we run into them. This week, we had three separate impromptu playdates!

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thumb_IMG_4167_1024 thumb_IMG_4176_1024 And since this was our last week of having a decently stocked kitchen (we’ve been trying to use things up, not buy more, not take more to the new apartment than necessary, etc.), I decided to test out a few more German recipes. And even had a Germany-meets-South Carolina night by using one of John’s favorite sausages in Perlou :) Yes, John is in culinary Heaven here. He’s in for a rude awakening in about 10 days…

Not to toot my own horn, but that German Potato Salad was beyond fantastic. And those are two types of sausages, believe it or not...

Not to toot my own horn, but that German Potato Salad was beyond fantastic. And those are two types of sausages, believe it or not…

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My first attempt at Flammkuchen (the light pizza with quark, speck and onions I wrote about last week) was pretty darn tasty!

My first attempt at Flammkuchen (the light pizza with quark, speck and onions I wrote about last week) was pretty darn tasty!

Well, that’s a wrap! John’s working a half day tomorrow, so we’re hoping to get out of town around lunch time, which should put us to Engelberg, Switzerland- smack dab in the middle of the Alps in the middle of the country, a bit south of Lucerne- sometime around 6ish. The drive down is one of our favorites- through Germany’s Black Forest, then through the mountainous, crystal-clear-lake-filled wonderland that is Switzerland. It is truly the most beautiful country you’ll ever see. Neve is beyond excited to see snow and ice caves, a la Frozen and now, Happy Feet. As cheesy as it sounds, the part that John and I are most looking forward to about the whole weekend is seeing Neve see it all. It’s kind of like Christmas morning, watching her come down the stairs…Should have lots of great pictures for you on Monday!

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Beautiful Belgium

1 Jun

Happy Monday, everybody! Well, it’s June 1 and our forecast here is 100% rain and in the 60s. Not cool. Although 60s is better than 50s, which is what we had- along with a good bit of rain with the exception of Saturday afternoon- this past weekend in Belgium. But you know what? Even with the less-than-ideal weather, we still had a terrific time during our first visit there and can’t say enough good things about it, especially Bruges. More about that in a sec…

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Keeping It Real: I knew days ago that this would be my KIR for today. Paying to use public restrooms. DRIVES ME CRAZY. Not even so much the actual paying part, but the, without fail, getting all the way to the bathroom (that in Europe, is inevitably down three flights of stairs in the basement and then a 1/4 mile walk) and having forgotten your .50-€1. And there’s no getting around it- there’s a turnstyle at the entrance AND a worker there monitoring (and cleaning the stalls in between uses- I’ll give them credit that their bathrooms are very clean). And then I never know the rules about little kids. Do they pay, too? So I need to pay €2 for Neve and I to use the bathroom? Crazy. I decided weeks ago, no, with my rationale being that we only use one stall. Apparently my logic was flawed as one of the toilet monitors pointed out to me this weekend when we both walked through with just my one payment. Alas, there was a language barrier and I played dumb to her yelling as we made our way into the stall. I also ignored her scowls and carrying on as we exited. Oh well.

Just hunt for the greens!

Just hunt for the greens!

And one little mini-KIR just because we found it such a fantastic invention. Take a look at the parking garage above. I know it’s kinda tough to see, but notice the lights above the cars. Most are red, but some are green. Get it? The greens show you where there’s a vacant spot! How genius is that?! No driving around hunting for spots- just follow the reds until you get to a green! We need this in the States! And as a side note- I swear that all parking garages in Europe have floors so shiny and clean you could eat off them. John and I can only come up with that most are underground and therefore not exposed to the elements?

5+ hours, two ways, just about every weekend...Makes for a pretty darn good road tripper!

5+ hours, two ways, just about every weekend…Makes for a pretty darn good road tripper!

So Belgium. Actually one of our closer road trips. We left first thing Friday morning and made it to Brussels by lunchtime. Spent the afternoon exploring, then drove the final hour to Bruges for a late dinner. Worked out perfectly. Really going to miss being able to make such awesome time on road trips because of this:

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Brussels, another huge city (started in the 10th century by Charlemagne’s descendants) with a population of over 1.2 million, is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union, as well as the headquarters for NATO. It’s bilingual as it sits right on the boundary between the country’s language communities (French in the south, Dutch in the north), although English is definitely utilized extensively as the lingua facta- we didn’t encounter one single person who didn’t speak English. Bazinga!

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Brussels has a very ‘working city’ type of feel going on. And it should! Heck, it’s a capital (not only of the country but of the whole EU), a financial center, an educational center, a political center…Skyscrapers, people in suits, the worst traffic we’ve seen in a European city (!)…It does have a charming Old Town at the heart of it all, which is just lovely. Now, I know some of you won’t agree with us on this, but Brussels just wasn’t our favorite city. Don’t get me wrong- we’re definitely glad we were finally able to see it as it’s been on our short list for some time now and we definitely enjoyed our afternoon there- but overall with regards to what we like most about destinations and how likely it is for us to return, it just didn’t make the mark for us.

The Grand Place, constructed in the 10th century, is the central square of Brussels and contains Town Hall, the Belgium Museum, the Breadhouse and lots of restaurants…Very regal with some breathtaking architecture. It’s an UNESCO World Heritage sight.

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Town Hall

Town Hall

Belgium Museum

Belgium Museum

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From here, we branched out onto all the little side streets with no plan in mind- just seeing what we saw. First stop- lunch. Since we knew our time was limited, we didn’t want to take too much of it by sitting down at a restaurant, so we opted for the two street foods we were seeing the most of- French fries (actually invented in Belgium and a national food there) and waffles (also invented in Belgium- more on this later…).

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Lunch of Champions!

Lunch of Champions!

Belgium is considered to be a birthplace of comics and they have a distinct subgroup in comic history. They are integral to Belgian culture, from the early 1900s through today. Neat tidbit: there are more comic artists per square mile in Brussels than anywhere else in the world combined. How cool!! Two notable comics out of Belgium are Rin Tin Tin (an unoffical city symbol) and The Smurfs. One of our favorite parts of downtown Brussels was all the comic art/graffiti snuck in everywhere you turn- like a little element of surprise.

Wonderful 'graffiti' all over the city...

Wonderful ‘graffiti’ all over the city…

Rin Tin Tin originated in Brussels. Much of the graffiti has him added in somewhere. It's like a 'Where's Waldo...'

Rin Tin Tin originated in Brussels. Much of the graffiti has him added in somewhere. It’s like a ‘Where’s Waldo…’

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The week before we came, I happened to stumble across an article, ‘Top 10 Chocolatiers in the World.’ Three of them happen to be in Brussels! No big surprise, I suppose, as the country is known for this sweet, but still! Yes, we stopped in all of them. And yes, our resident ChocoDiva was in (expensive) Heaven! Pralines, truffles, bars…

One of the Top 5 Chocolatiers in the world...We also hit 2 others on the list. All within a mile of each other in Brussels.

One of the Top 5 Chocolatiers in the world…We also hit 2 others on the list. All within a mile of each other in Brussels.

Other notables from our walk: Mannequin Pis (aka Little Man Pee, the tiny landmark bonze statue of Brussels peeing into a basin), The Cycliste (the most expensive sculpture ordered by a city in modern times at €100,000!) and Delirium Cafe (the place with the world’s largest beer selection).

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Delirium Cafe. 2400+ beers to choose from...

Delirium Cafe. 2400+ beers to choose from…See the Top 100 list on the door?

thumb_IMG_3982_1024It poured on us the entire drive to Bruges, so by the time we got there, we looked like cold, wet rats. And hungry rats. God was definitely looking out for us as the first restaurant we passed as we set out on foot was exactly what we didn’t even know we were looking for. FONDUE. Warm, delicious comfort food at its finest. A quick check of online reviews (because we are nerds who don’t waste time eating at places with crummy reviews) and we were seated at the last available table. Definitely a cozy, quirky restaurant we will remember- love those kinds…

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Did you know that the sun doesn’t set over here until nearly 11p? Yeah, the longer we’re in Europe, the later it’s getting each night. Can’t decide if we like it or not- regardless, it definitely messes with your head! By the time we finished dinner, it was after 9p and we knew we were tired from our full day of walking, but it seemed so much earlier so we just carried on…Retiring for the night when it’s bright outside is just strange! Ha! Here’s our view walking back to the hotel from dinner…Yep, just past 9p!

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Our hotel...

Our hotel…

Back in our room, watching the sunset from our window about 10p...

Back in our room, watching the sunset from our window about 10p…

We woke up Saturday morning to dark clouds and the smell of rain, but what are you gonna do? You’ve got a day to see this awesome city and you’re not gonna let two little things like rain and cold keep you from it! So out we went!

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Gorgeous, right?! Alright, let’s talk about Bruges (pronounced Brooj, rhyming with the sport ‘luge’) for a minute. Bruges, situated in northwest Belgium on the sea, is considered to be the most well-preserved Medieval city in the world. It’s also called a ‘Venice of the North’ because of its canals (no, not as many as Amsterdam and no houseboats). The current walls and canals were built in 1128AD.

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The first Roman (they were everywhere back then, weren’t they?!) fortifications in Bruges were built in the first century BC as protection against pirates. The Franks took over the region in the 4th century AD and when the Vikings began assaults in the 9th century, the original fortifications were reinforced, bringing about successful trade with England and Scotland. From the 12th to the 15th centuries, Bruges had what is considered to be its Golden Era. Its port thrived and the city became a main player in the fabric trade, primarily lace and wool. (Lace shops are still all over the city today, btw.) Because of this, weavers, spinners and artists from all over the region were attracted to Bruges, making it among the wealthiest, most influential cities of the time. In fact, it was considered the “chief commercial city” of the world.

WOW. Someone handmade this map out of lace.

WOW. Someone handmade this map out of lace.

After 1500, gradual silting of the main inlet had caused Bruges to lose direct access to the sea and thus its status as the economic flagship of the area- a status that would now belong to Antwerp, a larger city just northward. Despite attempts over the years to reclaim its prosperity, Bruges became impoverished and gradually faded in importance, it’s population dwindling from 200,000 to less than 50,000. By the late 1800s, however, its star began to rise again as wealthy French and British tourists took notice of its beauty and charm. Over the next century, the influx of visitors- and thus, money- brought Bruges back to life. Today, the population is about 125,000 (300,000 if you count the whole metro area) and attracts more than 2 million visitors each year. And once again, its port has become one of the most important in Europe.  Its Old Town is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage sight. “Rise, fall and resurrection make up the life story of Bruges, a city that glittered in Northern Europe with as much panache as Venice did in the Mediterranean World.”

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I'll admit I'm a bit skeptical (John is not, bless his heart)...A vial of Jesus' blood lay inside...It's inside a larger silver display piece, so can't be seen...

I’ll admit I’m a bit skeptical (John is not, bless his heart)…A vial of Jesus’ blood lay inside this church…It’s inside a larger silver display piece, so can’t be seen…

We spent the latter part of the morning touring De Halve Maan Brewery. Bruges is a city where beer is taken very seriously. Bars stock up to 300 Belgian varieties and many visitors aim to sample as many of them as possible. (We certainly didn’t attempt this, but yes, the beer scene was one that John was excited to experience.) But it is the beer made at the only working brewery within the city walls that is considered the finest.

Translates to 'Half Moon'

Translates to ‘Half Moon’

Halve Maan was started in 1856 by Henry Maes and it still family-owned and operating on the same small site within the Old Town. Our guide took us up steep steps into the attic and onto the roof, back down to the main level to see the new kettle room (installed just a couple years ago), and then down into the basement. We’ve done lots of brewery tours over the years, but this one was especially neat because, rather than being a massively huge operation with lots of bells and whistles (like Heineken, for example) it looked at the history- at how things were done ‘in the olden days’ and how many of those practices are still being used today.

Those are hops hanging from the rafters...

Those are hops hanging from the rafters…

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From the top of the Brewery...Looking across Bruges toward the sea...

From the top of the Brewery…Looking across Bruges toward the sea…

For every pint produced, about 300 pints of water are used to make it and, with restrictions on local water usage, De Halve Maan imports truckloads from a nearby well. In the early days, draymen were given seven bottles a day as part of their wages and often got a free drink in each bar they delivered to. The horses became so fed up with waiting for their drunken drivers that they often made their own way back to the brewery. When the horses were requisitioned during the First World War, Belgian shepherd dogs were used to deliver smaller barrels. Now barrels are in short supply because of a shortage of coopers – apprenticeships are no longer available. At De Halve Maan, it takes two elderly coopers two days to repair a single barrel. Replacements now come from French vineyards and Scottish distilleries.

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Bottling happens offsite at a warehouse 3 miles away in the industrial zone. Currently, trucks transport the beer to the warehouse from the brewery, but that’s only until the underground pipe system, currently under construction, is completed next year. At that point, the beer will flow directly to the warehouse. Cool, huh?

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There is an impressive collection of glasses on display at De Halve Maan – each of the 1,300 Belgian beers has its own design. When a new beer is invented, the right shaped glass must be found so that drinkers can appreciate fully its flavour and aroma.

Who knew that ridged glasses were designed to keep the warmth of your hands away from the beer?

Who knew that ridged glasses were designed to keep the warmth of your hands away from the beer?

The tour ended with glasses of their blonde brew- Bruges Zot. They also brew a Dubbel, a Tripel, a Quadruple and an alternating seasonal. Yes we tried all of them at some point during the weekend. I really like the Zot and the Dubbel. The Quadruple was one step away from liquor to my tastebuds, but John adored it, as well as their current seasonal, Wild.

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So the verdict for Belgian vs. German beer? Much tougher decision than last weekend’s when comparing British brews. This is a close race. By law, Germany can not include herbs or fruits in their beer, which means that you get way less variety than in Belgium, where the sky’s the limit (coriander is the most-used herb in brewing). So I guess Belgium may win this one. But John will tell you, German beer is amazing and among the best you will ever taste. Plus, beer in Germany is just about always less than €1 for a pint, but it’s back to being expensive in Belgium, so that’s definitely a downer.

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Next stop, lunch on Market Square. The main square of any town is always the most overpriced and it’s rarely the best food, but darn if they don’t always make for the best people watching and that feeling that you’re part of the hustle and bustle! We opted for fries. Again. Don’t judge. Side note: Did you know that you have to pay extra for ketchup (or any sauce) in Europe? Sheesh.

My lunchtime view :)

My lunchtime view :)

We had a lunch of fries and more fries at the place to the far right. Had the first table to the left as you walk through the little fence...

We had a lunch of fries and more fries at the place to the far right. Had the first table to the left as you walk through the little fence…

Once refueled, we made our way to the nearest canal to catch a boat. What better way to see Bruges than from the water? It turned out to be a great idea (thanks, John!) as we got to see several parts of the city that would’ve been too far to walk to, we got some interesting commentary along the way and Neve loved it!

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Dulcie and Meg would LOVE to watch all the boats passing by in the canals below!

Dulcie and Meg would LOVE to watch all the boats passing by in the canals below!

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Tight squeeze! Lowest bridge in the city!

Tight squeeze! Lowest bridge in the city!

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As pretty as the pictures are, they really don’t do it justice. Bruges is just so pretty- just begging to be on postcards! Ha! John put it a good way by comparing it to Rothenburg, the little German medieval city we fell in love with our first weekend here. They’re both so picturesque and so inviting, but Bruges goes that extra mile by maintaining the ‘real’ feel. Not that Rothenburg isn’t real, but Bruges is more than just its visitors. It’s a working, living, large-ish city. No replicas, no re-enactments…Just as you see it. And with canals. Everything is awesome when you add canals :)

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We found ourselves back at Market Square by mid-afternoon, so what better time and place to rest our weary feet?

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Lambic Beer- a Belgian fruit beer (tasted alot like wine to me...)

Lambic Beer- a Belgian fruit beer (tasted alot like wine to me…)

Since we didn’t have authentic Belgian food Friday night, we knew we had to find it now and that we only had one chance to get it right. And once again, we lucked up! We found a restaurant online that got 5 stars out of 100+ reviews. Darn it, we thought- should’ve made reservations last week. We called just to make sure. Low and behold, they’d just had a cancellation and we could have a table in an hour if we wanted it! Heck yes! The two national dishes- mussels with fries and Flemish Stew- were our goals. Mission accomplished! Both were very good. The mussels are different than what we get at home. No broth really- just some seasoning and the mussels standing for themselves (which says alot- usually stuff drowning in sauce is covering up something lackluster!). The stew, also served with fries (told you!) and salad, is very similar to beef stew, but done with dark beer (instead of red wine) and is pretty sweet. I wouldn’t order it again, but it made for a very good dinner. Not gonna lie, both of our favorite part was the cheese croquette appetizer. Belgian cheese is delish!

Belgian comfort food. We always love croquettes.

Belgian comfort food. We always love croquettes.

National dish- Mussels and Fries...

National dish- Mussels and Fries…

National Dish- Similar to beef stew, but made with dark beer...

National Dish- Similar to beef stew, but made with dark beer…

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One of our favorite things about Europe, and I’ve said this before, is the walking. We especially love walking after dinner- something about it just makes you feel good and helps with digestion. This is true at home in Charleston, too- our favorite date nights are always dinner downtown, then walking around until we find ourselves at Kaminsky’s for cake. :) Anyhoo…Great after dinner walk. The sun continued to peak through the off-and-on rain clouds. The boats had been covered for the night, so the canals were glassy and quiet. The Square was alive with music- bands had been playing on a center stage all day long.

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A concert on our way home from dinner

A concert on our way home from dinner

My goodness, I love my girl...She's the perfect personality for me.

My goodness, I love my girl…She’s the perfect personality for me.

OK, I’ve been saving the best for last. You know it’s gotta be food-related. What can I say, we’re foodies through and through! Let’s talk about waffles. I’m a waffle lover from way back- I consider them among the best foods ever invented. We will never, ever, EVER look at waffles the same way now that we’ve had Belgium’s Liege waffles. I now know for a fact that they ARE the best food invented. Actually, because we’ve been doling out that title alot lately, we’ve started subcategorizing. Last weekend’s sticky toffee pudding gets ‘Best Dessert Ever Invented.’ Liege Waffles get ‘Best Street Food Ever Invented.’ Like what we did there? ;) In Belgium, waffles are eaten any time of day (they must’ve gotten the memo from neighboring Netherlands and their pancakes)- breakfast, quick snack, dessert…God, it’s a perfect situation.

If you look closely, you can see the sugar pearls within the dough. Just plop a dough ball onto the iron...

If you look closely, you can see the white sugar pearls within the dough. Just plop a dough ball onto the iron…

Did you know that there are actually two kinds of waffles that originated in Belgium and the one that we call a ‘Belgian Waffle’ (the big square with crunchy outside and airy inside) is actually a ‘Brussels Waffle?’ An true Belgian Waffle is actually a ‘Liege Waffle’ and deserving of a Nobel prize. And an Olympic medal. Lord. Liege waffles are made with brioche dough (hi, Dad!) filled with sugar pearls that caramelize within as they cook. So what you end up with is this buttery, rich, denser than what you’re used to waffle with tiny moist sugar bits throughout. They’re served hot off the iron (yes, there’s a special 45 lb. liege grill that’s necessary to get the exact temperature needed to straddle the fine line between perfect caramelization and burnt), plain or topped with fruit, chocolate or cream. Disclaimer: Not all liege waffles are created equally. Fortunately, we found the BEST shop in time to stop by more than once. What? You’ve never had 3 waffles in one day?

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Neve preferred her waffles plain. I liked caramel with a bit of cream. John liked bananas and chocolate. We all also liked the speculoos (Trader Joe fans, you know what I’m talking about- the cookie butter!) Who knew Biscoff was invented in Belgium! And on top of a waffle? Ahhhh…

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Last quick breakfast in Bruges before hitting the road back to Germany...

Last quick breakfast in Bruges before hitting the road back to Germany…

I know, I know…Another ridiculously long post, but these countries we visit just don’t give me any choice! They’re so unique and so gorgeous and with so much history. And from what I can tell when I’ve heard from you guys is that you like to hear the ‘stories’ of a place as much as I do. Afterall, what’s the point of a picture if you don’t know what you’re really looking at? Thanks for sticking with me. :)

It’s another rainy Monday here in Wiesbaden, which means that Neve and I are boycotting getting dressed, instead opting for Mary Poppins and Horton Hears a Who cuddled on the couch under a blanket. :) If the forecast is right, though, we have some sunshine and warmer temperatures (maybe in the 80s!) coming our way, so hopefully we’ll get into some good stuff over the next few days. We did learn that our current apartment is unavailable for next week (the one we had to extend), so Thursday we will actually be moving to a new apartment. Kinda bittersweet as we’ve grown to feel pretty at home here. Definitely not ideal having to pack up twice (once to move less than a mile away and again next week to come home), but there are perks- like an even better location over a department store in the heart of Old Town and lightning speed internet (hallelujah!). It’ll also probably make next week’s final pack go smoother as much of the ‘purging’ will happen before this week’s move. See, always looking for the bright side! Heehee. The brightest side will actually be our final adventure coming up this weekend- the Alps of Switzerland. Probably our favorite destination ever and now we will get to share it with Neve…Stay tuned :)

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Let’s hear it for short work weeks!

29 May

We love us some short work weeks. Especially the ones where Monday was a holiday and Friday is a vacation day! Heehee. We actually didn’t realize when we planned this weekend’s trip that Monday was Memorial Day, but hey, we’ll take it!

Not a whole lot spectacular going on this week for us, which has actually been a nice thing. For the last three days, we’ve been back on routine, by the book for the most part. We all need a little of that every now and then, right? The rain has held off, so we’ve been able to ride our bike a good bit, to spend some afternoons at the playground, to hit up the Wednesday Farmers Market (always one of our favorite days), an awesome trip up the Nerotal Hill (it got a post all by itself yesterday, in case you missed it)…

Needless to say, I figured I’d use this post as a bit of a hodge podge of miscellaneous goodies. A little of this, a little of that. Some Neve pictures, some interesting factoids and tidbits that we’ve discovered along the way…Here we go.

For Memorial Day on Monday, we did manage to get out of our jammies long enough for dinner at our favorite biergarten. This was mainly because we didn’t have any real food in the house, but still…It was raining, so we had to sit inside, but the food was on point like usual. These are probably our favorite dishes in Germany, actually. Neve’s favorite has definitely been Schnitzel and French Fries- she prefers it to just about everything else and just about every restaurant offers some version of it in a kinder (child) or half portion. And soft pretzels- we all adore the pretzels here. Flammkuchen is like a lighter version of pizza made on thin flatbread, but with quark (similar to thick sour cream) instead of tomato sauce. We always opt for the ‘traditional’ with speck (similar to bacon) and onions. Most restaurants that offer flammkuchen have about three options- the traditional, a meaty cheesy one and a veggie one. And you’ll recognize the other dish as our old standby that we always order if we find it on a menu, Weisswurst with Pretzels. It’s a Bavarian dish (Southern Germany), so it’s a treat to find it in restaurants up where we’re living. In fact, the Bavarian restaurants are usually our favorites- they’re the same principle as a ‘southern cooking’ restaurant at home, if that makes sense? Like how we have Applebee’s, Outback, etc. Then specialty still-American-style restaurants like Cracker Barrel…

When you're just a trio in a foreign country on Memorial Day...

When you’re just a trio in a foreign country on Memorial Day…

We’ve also cooked our own Weisswurst dinner a time or two since we got here and they always turn out delicious. We don’t have the fancy pot (we poach them on the stove in a saucepan) and we can’t finish cooking the sausages without popping the casings to save our lives (you have to peel the casings off before you can eat them anyway, so it just gets it started for us ;) ), but still delish :)

Homemade Weisswurst and Pretzel with German Fried Potatoes

Homemade Weisswurst and Pretzel with German Fried Potatoes

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And while I’m talking about Memorial Day, I want to point out an AWESOME German/European contraption. Why the holiday reminded me of it is because we all got to sleep in (it’s only happened a handful of time since we got here since we’re always on the go!) and it was made possible by this awesome invention: The Roll Shudder. Most residences- all buildings dating before WWII- have these shudders on the outside of their windows, especially bedroom windows. Instead of shades or curtains, you just lower these metal slats (the cord is inside) when you want total darkness. Genius, right?! When they’re raised, you can’t see them at all, to the point where you can’t always tell which windows have them and which don’t, so it’s a win-win. We actually leave ours about 3/4 down most nights so we get some of the natural light helping us wake up in the mornings. (We tried it pitch dark, which we love for sleeping, but it makes alarm clock time a beast. Unless it’s a sleep in day. Like Memorial Day this past Monday. :) ) We’ve also started leaving them partially up because there’s no air conditioner here (nowhere- not in homes, in restaurants, in stores…), so we leave the windows cracked behind them and need the ventilation. They have been a Godsend for Neve’s naps, to the point where I may or may not have been researching their availability in the States…Here is a pretty crappy picture of the one outside of our bedroom, over the floor to ceiling window. We just raise it each morning and it fits neatly behind that silver piece at the top! So awesome.

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I did a quick bit of research- because I’m a dweeb and that’s what I do- and found that roll shudders were invented about 80 years ago as one of the first energy efficiency efforts. As WWII progressed in Europe, roll shutters became a necessity for blackouts during the Allied bombing raids. When air raid sirens alerted shop and home owners that bombing was imminent, they lowered the roll shutters over their windows and doors. Thus, glass was protected from flying debris and lights could remain on inside their homes. Neat, huh?

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So let’s talk a second about another neat invention over here. The next generation of ice trays! Very few freezers here have ice makers, which means you’re either making your own or buying it at the store (not as easy to find as in the States- definitely not at every gas station!) and storing it. I don’t know about y’all, but I hate ice trays. They spray water all over creation when you try to fill them with the water on to fast, they’re a train wreck trying to get from the sink to the freezer, then stacked, etc…Well folks, now there are bags!

Pull out the bag and fill from one end so all cube sections are full of water...

Pull out the bag and fill from one end so all cube sections are full of water…

They come in a box like Ziplocs for like one Euro. You can kinda see from the diagram on the side of the box how it works. You pull out a bag, then put the open end under the spigot and fill with water until all cube sections are full. Like magic, it’s a one way hole because no water leaks out when you then lay it flat in the freezer. Once all the cubes are frozen- maybe 4 hours- you give the bag a tug from both sides, then from both ends. This pops all the lines between the cubes, creating one big sack. Just run your hand down the bag from the top, releasing all the cubes, which are then stored in the same bag in the freezer to use whenever you’re ready. Ahhhhhh-maaaaa-zing, right?!

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Something else I think is neat/perplexing here is the check out line at the grocery store. And for multiple reasons. For starters, all cashiers at all stores sit down while they ring up your stuff. And then there are no bags. You either bring your own reusable ones or buy them for .25 each. (Or just load up your arms and hope you make it to the car. I may or may not have done this once just out of principle when I forgot my bag. Don’t judge.) And regardless, the cashier IN NO WAY helps with the bagging process- in fact, she will keep piling and piling your stuff until it’s rolling off into the floor because you can’t get it bagged quickly enough. Jeez.

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They’re also big on the little partition sticks that divide your goodies from the next person’s goodies on the conveyer belt. Doesn’t matter if you have just one item and they just have one item 6 feet behind you- the cashier will wait for it to roll up to her and keep right on ringing up. Then you have to make hand signals letting her know that wasn’t yours and to please void. Lord. I’ve been yelled at twice now over the partition sticks- complete with waving one in my face as the lady screamed what I can only assume wasn’t compliments for my well-behaved child. Whatever. Sometimes you just have to shake that ish off.

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And finally, something we always find pretty interesting- mixed in with the gums and candies are cigarettes and liquor…Hmmm…They do not, however, have an assortment of tabloids informing you of the latest cellulite thigh in Hollywood or that Kanye West has gifted the world with a clone of himself…So I appreciate that.

Cigarettes are in the dispenser at the right- just hit the button and they drop down. Liquor bottles are along the middle of the top shelf on this checkout lane...

Cigarettes are in the dispenser at the right- just hit the button and they drop down. Liquor bottles are along the middle of the top shelf on this checkout lane…

Speaking of grocery shopping, another fantastic thing here in Germany are ‘Getrankemarkts’ attached to most supermarkets. Drink Markets. They often have separate entrances and sell nothing but drinks. ALL drinks. Every beer you can think of, wines, juices, sodas, waters (with and without gas, of course), iced teas (this is what they call them- most of us would wish we could expose them to the real awesomeness)…It’s just awesome having a one stop shop right where you’re going to be anyway!

Decisions, decisions...

Decisions, decisions…

So Neve and I spent Wednesday enjoying the Farmers Market and a little playground time. She absolutely loves going from tent to tent deciding what we’ll buy for dinner that night- it’s always some assortment of meats, cheeses and then something like olives or mushrooms. We’ll also pick up some fruits and veggies to have for the next few days. Neve’s absolute favorite part of the Market, however, is the stop at the Pommes Frites (french fry) truck on our way out. I swear no one loves french fries like Neve. No one. And it’s a good thing I know this considering it’s nothing to wait 20+ minutes in line for them!

Fry Line

Fry Line

One of the first tips I received when we got here was to always look for the tents/trucks with the longest lines, as that’s a dead giveaway of who has the best. It’s so true. And I will say that Germany is all about potatoes (there are so many varieties!) and they’re so good- so smooth and velvety. When someone is hand cutting and flash frying them, they really are better than most you’ve had at home…Anyhoo, we pick them up and go sit on the Town Hall steps to enjoy them. With a fork. (From what we can tell, German folks don’t eat anything with their hands and stare at us constantly when we do. Which we do. I mean, who wants to eat pizza or fries with a fork?!)

thumb_IMG_3892_1024 thumb_IMG_3893_1024All the kids here seem to wear some form of boots- probably because it’s still pretty nippy (yes, I’m so jealous of all the beach and pool pics being posted from back home!) here and probably because there’s so much walking every day. Needless to say, it didn’t take Neve long to notice and need her a pair of her own. She’s in love. And now she looks so European :)

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We love the merry-go-rounds here- how they're built into the ground. We love them even more when we can play on them with friends :)

We love the merry-go-rounds here- how they’re built into the ground. We love them even more when we can play on them with friends :)

All the kids here bring their sand toys to the playgrounds. So we got some of our own!

All the kids here bring their sand toys to the playgrounds. So we got some of our own!

thumb_IMG_3901_1024So there’s our jumble of a week. Hope you enjoyed learning a few of the little cultural tidbits we’ve been learning along the way. In all honesty, that’s part of what we love the most about our travels- seeing how things are done in other places. If everyone had the same practices and systems as we do in the States, there’d be no adventure :) Speaking of which, we are headed to Belgium this weekend for the first time and really pumped as we’ve now heard from several people that it’s among their favorite destinations. We’ll be spending time in both Brussels and Bruges over a span of less than three days, so I think it’s pretty safe to say that Monday will be another recoup day, at least for Neve and me! Oh. And two weeks from today, we will be making the trek HOME! Can’t wait to start our summer. And to hug alot of necks!

One last pic. Last night, from another room, I heard John and Neve debating ‘flamingo pink’ vs. ‘super sparkly purple.’ This is what I found a few minutes later. Yes ladies, he’s taken. We are two very lucky girls.

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Funicular Fun!

28 May

Neve and I just had the best morning and I couldn’t wait to share! Since it was such a neat little spot right here in our city, I decided it deserved its own post and I’ll save the rest of the week for tomorrow.

I’ve been reading and seeing alot about this particular area of the city called Neroberg. It’s up in the northwest corner and is basically a giant hill full of houses, businesses, etc. At the very top of the hill is Nerotal Park and to get to it, there’s a two car funicular train called the Neroburgbahn.

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A funicular is a cable railway situated on a cliff that has a cable connecting two tram cars and moves them up and down a steep slope on a rail. The cars counterbalance each other like a pulley system. There’s one track except for at the point where the trams cross paths, where it splits into two.

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The Nerobergbahn is  the oldest water ballast-driven cog-and-rack railway in Germany. Since the service opened in 1888, the two original wagons– bearing Wiesbaden’s brightly colored blue and yellow livery- have been rumbling up and down the Neroberg, Wiesbaden’s landmark mountain. The train moves at about 5 mph and takes about 5 minutes one way. Every time the downhill carriage reaches the top, it’s filled with 7000L of water, which then pulls itself back to the bottom and the other carriage up to the top. At the bottom, the water is released (collected and pumped back to the top) as the other carriage is now being filled. A driver at the front of each car controls the speed. No electricity at all.

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At the top, you can spend as much time as you like. The views are amazing. You can see all of Wiesbaden, as well as neighboring Mainz- all beyond the Hessen State Vineyards that occupy much of the hillside.

Looking over to Mainz...

Looking over to Mainz…

Wiesbaden. Just to the right of center, you can see the cluster of spires sticking up. That's the red brick church at the center of Old Town that's in so many of our pictures. It's where the Farmers Market is held.

Wiesbaden. Just to the right of center, you can see the cluster of spires sticking up. That’s the red brick church at the center of Old Town that’s in so many of our pictures. It’s where the Farmers Market is held.

What better place for a selfie sesh?

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One of the highlights of Nerotal is the St. Elizabeth’s Russian Orthodox Church and its cemetery (the largest outside of Russia) about half a mile down an awesome wooded path.  The church was built in 1847 by Duke Adolf as a memorial to his wife, Russian Princess Elizabeth Mikhaelinova. Adolf and the princess married in 1844, but the following year, she died in childbirth, as did their newborn daughter. He grieved so profoundly that he decided to build a church around her grave. He obtained the money for this church, with the blessing of Tsar Nicholas, from her dowry. The domes were re-guilded in the late 1980s for Vladimir Putin’s visit to Wiesbaden. A really, really pretty church…

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Neve’s reward for hiking back up the hill without my carrying her was a quick pit stop at the playground. Of course, there’s a playground!

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The history that I found most interesting about the area was the old Neroberg Hotel that once sat at the peak. All that remains is its tower, that is now a cafe and biergarten. The hotel was opened in 1881 and was only accessible by the funicular still in use today. Through the 1930s, the Neroberg remained one of the most opulent, sought-after destinations in the area. It was THE place to stay and to socialize in its restaurant, bar, gardens…In the 1920s, the hotel’s pool, Opelbad, was opened and just added to the elegance- a spa experience with panoramic views and mountainside relaxation. The Opelbad, including its restaurant, is still in operation today and is still considered the premier swimming destination in Wiesbaden. The hotel survived both World Wars unscathed, but was in desperate need of remodeling by the 1940s. In 1945, the US Army seized the property and for the next 11 years, used it for officer housing. By the mid-1960s when it was returned to the city, it was in shambles and would’ve taken a fortune to bring it back to what it once was. Despite several attempts to redevelop it over the years (Wiesbaden residents could never agree on proposed designs), the Neroberg burned down in 1989- all except for its tower. On the connecting grounds, where the main hotel once stood, a small ampitheater for performances and cabaret has been constructed.

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And before heading back down the hill, we decided to grab a late lunch at the biergarten- the one attached to the tower. It was such a beautiful day. And I even found my first big, beautiful salad with grilled chicken! Finally!

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Headed back down the hill with the other tram coming up...

Headed back down the hill with the other tram coming up…

From the base of the funicular, looking up at the track...

From the base of the funicular, looking up at the track…

Almost back to the car!

Almost back to the car!

So yep, it was a fun morning for us ladies exploring a new corner of our city. Neve was so excited to tell John all about it when he got home from work- and that we shared our ride down with a family from Canada who spoke English :)

London, we miss you already!

26 May

Happy (belated) Memorial Day! I hope you each had a wonderful holiday spent with family and friends, giving thanks for our freedom and those who’ve made it possible. We were really wishing we could be with our family for the day, grilling on the patio, enjoying some good conversation, indulging in Lemon Blueberry Cake that was supposed to be Lemon Blueberry Bars…Alas, our families are thousands of miles away- and we don’t even have a grill here! Ha! So we spent the (rainy) day in our jammies, watching Horton Hears a Who, baking Brown Butter Banana Bars (yes, they’re as sinful as they sound…), recouping from our little weekend holiday to the UK :) Coincidentally, it was also a German holiday (imagine that), so the city was shut down regardless.

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Checking our bag at Frankfurt and ready to get on the plane!

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Made it! We took the train from the airport into the city (50 minutes), then walked to our hotel.

Y’all. London is fab. And it was such a welcomed change of- well, a ton of things- that we were all three definitely needing! For starters, the most obvious. Not gonna lie, the English language has never sounded so good! LOVED being able to talk to people, read the menus, read the billboards, understand the store clerks…Oh yeah. And being able to watch some TV at night in our hotel room. Neve even found a new favorite Sunday morning cartoon, RastaMouse! (No, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried!) Speaking of the hotel, I think John and I are currently loving them about as much as Neve always does. King size fluffy beds with one big soft comforter (instead of the two that are the norm in Germany), regular showers (we don’t have one at our apartment), fast internet (we are paying out the nose in Germany for less than mediocre web access), full size soft towels (the ones we have at the apartment are closer to hand towel size and always crunchy from air drying since we don’t have a dryer), and maid service (don’t judge, but you never realize just how much you love your housekeeper until you’re without her!)…

Told ya! RastaMouse is from Jamaica so he has a terrific accent and knows all the Bob Marley tunes :)

Told ya! RastaMouse is from Jamaica so he has a terrific accent and knows all the Bob Marley tunes :)

Speaking of billboards, our personal favorite from the weekend...So glad we could read it for the full effect.

Speaking of billboards, our personal favorite from the weekend…So glad we could read it for the full effect.

Another welcomed change? The food. Don’t get me wrong, there are German dishes that we have really grown to love and will definitely miss when we come home (in fact, that’s how we celebrated Memorial Day!), but look, you can only eat so much sausage and cheese and bread before you’re ready for something more ‘normal.’ At first, we’d been a bit skeptical about British food as it’s not really known for its cuisine, but all in all, we really enjoyed it! We made it a point to only order ‘national dishes’- in other words, no pizzas or hotdogs!- and I can honestly say that we didn’t come across one thing that we truly didn’t like! Our favorites were Bangers and Mash (me) and the Fish and Chips (John).

Bangers and Mash- British sausages over mashed potatoes with brown onion gravy. DELISH.

Bangers and Mash- British sausages over mashed potatoes with brown onion gravy. DELISH.

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The Scotch Egg is a typical appetizer at pubs. It's a soft boiled egg, encased in sausage, battered and fried. Served with relish mustard. We liked it fine, but it wasn't a fav.

The Scotch Egg is a typical appetizer at pubs. It’s a soft boiled egg, encased in sausage, battered and fried. Served with relish mustard. We liked it fine, but it wasn’t a fav.

The absolute best culinary wonder we put in our mouths however, was…Sticky Toffee Pudding. OH. MY. GAWD. Y’all. We both agree that it’s probably the best dessert we’ve ever had. Like ever. And I’m a dessert Queen. There just are no words. So, British people refer to desserts as puddings. Some are actual puddings like we think of, but most are not. Sticky Toffee being one of them. It’s the most popular, well-known dessert in the country and it served on more pub menus than not. It’s a dark sponge cake sweetened with dates (I know, I know, but you 100% can not tell they’re in there!) that tastes kinda like a spice/gingerbread/molasses cake, drenched in hot, melted toffee (like a stronger tasting caramel), and topped with either clotted cream or ice cream. Our favorite was topped with honeycomb ice cream. And we had it two nights in a row…at the same restaurant…because it was that amazing. Don’t judge.

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The stuff Heaven is made of right here in this ramekin.

The stuff Heaven is made of right here in this ramekin.

Heaven help me when I learn to make this.

Heaven help me when I learn to make this.

The closest I can find to my reaction when eating Sticky Toffee Pudding. Disclaimer: John looked identical, but it's creepier when a man does it ;)

The closest I can find to my reaction when eating Sticky Toffee Pudding. Disclaimer: John looked identical, but it’s creepier when a man does it ;)

Our other favorite ‘meal’ in London- and a definite highlight of our trip- was our Gentleman’s Tea with our dear soon-to-be-married friends, Sandy and Simon. Sandy is practically my cousin as our families are best friends and we’re together for all holidays, celebrations, etc. She works for Blackbaud and took a job in London several years ago. That’s where she met Simon, the sweetest Brit we’ve ever met!, and they’re now engaged and living in downtown London- just beyond the Tower Bridge in my picture below. Lucky dogs. When they heard we were coming to London, they were kind enough to arrange for us to sample a true British tradition, the afternoon tea. We loved it. I told John that if we lived there, I would totally make it a regular weekend thing. He agreed. And teas aren’t just for ladies anymore- now there are ‘gentleman’s teas’ that incorporate real food (instead of just cakes and scones), coffee and beer. It was so perfect sitting there around this big round table, in this gorgeous dining room, having tea and catching up with old friends. Remember that change of pace thing I was talking about? SO GREAT. And such a nice dose of ‘normal.’

Sandy and Simon

Sandy and Simon

Sandy and I had the Chelsea Tea...Finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jellies, pastries and Earl Grey tea.

Sandy and I had the Chelsea Tea…Finger sandwiches, scones with clotted cream and jellies, pastries and Earl Grey tea.

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John and Simon each had a Gentleman's Tea that included some meat, some cheese, french fries, some sweets...

John and Simon each had a Gentleman’s Tea that included some meat, some cheese, sandwiches, fish and chips, some sweets…

Alright, let’s get a bit serious for a minute and actually learn something while we’re here…London is the capital and most populous city of England and the United Kingdom. Standing on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its founding by the Romans, who named it Londinium. London’s ancient core, the City of London, largely retains its 1.12-square-mile medieval boundaries. Since at least the 19th century, the term London has also referred to the metropolis developed around this core. It’s one of the leading global and financial centers of the world, having the 5th largest GDP. It has the world’s largest airport system, which is a good thing considering it’s the most visited city in the world! The population is estimated at 8.4 (yikes!), making it the second most populous urban area in Europe, behind Paris. A neat tidbit is that approximately 300 languages are spoken within the city limits! I believe it.

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Something we particularly liked- and noticed throughout the entire city- was the mix of old with new. I know that’s the case in just about every historic city, but there was something particularly neat about it here. Maybe it was just more visible for some reason? Or they’ve taken greater measures to preserve it? Like in the picture above- see that old church dating from 1300 surrounded by those marvelous glass skyscrapers? Yep, just walking down any random London road…

We started our ‘Tour of London’ at the Tower of London (like what I did there? Ha!), which happens to be right next to one of city’s iconic symbols, the Tower Bridge, which happened to be my personal favorite sight of the weekend. Not sure why. It’s just really pretty and unique. Maybe it’s the towers…Or the blue cables…Or the two walkways across the Thames River…Whatever it is, it works for me! Opened in 1894, the towers are each 213 ft. tall and the bridge spans 800 ft. across. The bottom section rises in the middle to let river traffic pass. Many people confuse it with the infamous London Bridge, which is actually the next bridge down and very nondescript. You’ll be able to see it a picture below…

Tower Bridge over the Thames

Tower Bridge over the Thames

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That’s the infamous London Bridge as seen from the Tower Bridge…Anticlimactic, no? The tall glass building on the left is called The Shard and is the tallest building in the European Union. Sandy and Simon, our tea mates, got engaged at the tippy top :)

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The Tower of London is a historic castle on the north banks of the Thames River in central London. Founded in 1066, it’s a complex of several buildings set within two concentric defensive walls and a moat. At the center is the White Tower, which gives the entire castle its name.  The Tower of London has played a prominent role in English history. It was besieged several times and controlling it has been important to controlling the country. The Tower has served variously as a royal residence, a prison, an armory, a treasury, a menagerie, the home of the Royal Mint, a public records office, and the home of the Crown Jewels of England (housed here since 1303). Speaking of the Crown Jewels, that was by far the neatest part about visiting the Tower. You’ve never seen so much glitz and extravagance under one roof. It’s incredible. Room after room after room of gold, diamonds, rubies, emeralds, sapphires, velvet…Crowns, swords, robes, globes, jewelry, scepters…WOW. Some pieces date back to 1200. Interestingly, the Royal Family still uses pieces as needed today…The only bad thing? No pictures allowed. So sorry.

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Entrance to the Crown Jewels. So beautiful. But no pictures were allowed inside :(

Entrance to the Crown Jewels. So beautiful. But no pictures were allowed inside :(

The White Tower at the center of the castle. Currently houses the world's largest collection of armor.

The White Tower at the center of the castle. Currently houses the world’s largest collection of armor.

View of the Tower Bridge from inside the castle.

View of the Tower Bridge from inside the castle.

So after all that history, we spent the afternoon walking and just taking it all in. We found markets (there are so many and they each have their own specialties- antiques, clothes, food, etc.-), we found pubs (even more of these, so at least we’d done our research and knew which ones we wanted to find!), we got to be pros at the Underground…And in case anyone is curious, after extensive experimentation, John votes Germany over England on the beer front :)

Leadenhall Market

Leadenhall Market

One of the oldest pubs in London...

One of the oldest pubs in London…

Quick snack inside Spitalfields Market

Quick snack inside Spitalfields Market

London's first brewery, operating since 1300. Originally a monastery. Really neat, neat place.

London’s first brewery, operating since 1200. Originally a monastery. Really neat, neat place.

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In his happy place :)

In his happy place :)

Always a favorite!

Always a favorite!

London’s subway system, known as the Underground or the Tube, is the oldest underground railway network in the world, as well as the 12th busiest transit system (1.23 billion passengers carried last year!).  The first tunnels were dug just below the surface using the cut and cover method to accommodate normal size trains. Later, smaller circular tunnels were dug below, giving rise to the nicknames, the Tube (because of their shape), and the Underground (because of how deep they were.) Today, there are 250 miles of track and 270 stations. Now, I’ll be the first to say that metro systems can be beyond intimidating at first. It’s really tempting to just hail a cab and let them do the work for you, but one of the most important things we’ve learned after years of traveling is that biting the bullet and learning a city’s public transportation system is not only the most efficient and flexible way to see a city (there are stations everywhere and they connect to everywhere, fast), but it’s also the most wallet-friendly, by light years. Seriously, it only takes a good half a day and you’ve got it figured out. You buy your day ticket in the morning and you’re good til the next morning. Here’s the map we used the entire weekend to get us ALL over the place!

Our best friend for the weekend...

Our best friend for the weekend…

thumb_IMG_3734_1024Neve absolutely LOVED the Underground. Definitely her preferred mode of transportation while we were there, even over the one morning we decided to use the double decker buses, mainly because we thought she’d like them! By the end of the first day, she could tell us which direction for which line (ie. Red Line, Blue Line, etc.), could wait patiently behind the yellow line (minding the gap!) for our train to arrive and could swipe our cards to enter and exit. We rarely got seats (it’s that packed!), but she had no problem holding onto the bars and standing for our whole ride. And since we’ve been in Europe, she and I had been working on escalators, but now it’s safe to say that she’s got those down pat. Up or down, on or off, no more hand holding needed for this girl! *sigh*

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You’ve probably noticed her boo boos in some of our other pictures…That happened last week at the zoo playground when she got a little overzealous on a swingy fence. :( It’s almost completely gone now, thank Heavens!

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St Paul’s Cathedral, designed by Sir Christopher Wren in the English Baroque style in the 17th century, is an Anglican cathedral, the seat of the Bishop of London and the mother church of the Diocese of London. One of the most recognizable sights in London, it sits atop Ludgate Hill, the highest point in the city. Its dome is one of the highest in the world. St. Paul’s is still an active, working church.

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View approaching St. Paul's...

View approaching St. Paul’s…

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We started Day 2 bright and early at Buckingham Palace. It’s the residence and principal workplace for the British Monarchy- it’s the center of state occasions and royal hospitality. Except for late August and September, when the Queen goes on summer holiday, you can’t go in the palace, but only visit from the outside and watch the changing of the guards twice a day. And because you guys count on me to keep it real, that’s what I’m gonna do here. John and I both had the same reaction- ‘Is that…it??’ Yes, it’s huge and it’s surrounded by fancy gold-plated wrought iron fences, but we just didn’t find it very…regal? More like a government building or something. And very stark surrounded by concrete…thumb_IMG_3778_1024

You can see the guards in red, one on either side of the house. We weren't able to stick around long enough for the changing.

You can see the guards in red, one on either side of the house. We weren’t able to stick around long enough for the changing.

Approaching the palace. You can see it in the background...

Approaching the palace. You can see it in the background…

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The latter part of the morning was one of my favorite parts of the trip. We met up with my childhood best friend, Sabrina, her husband and two children. It was SO nice. I just love getting to reconnect with friends all over the world! Sabrina is actually from Germany. In early middle school, her family moved to South Carolina for her father’s work and she became my classmate at Pinewood as well as my gymnastic teammate. We were instant friends and remained pretty much inseparable until she moved back to Germany several years later. *Stay tuned below for a little flashback!* We stayed in touch via letters and emails over the years and have reconnected when we could- she visited the States in 2001, we met in Barcelona, Spain for a vacation in 2006 (me as a newlywed, her with a friend), and now in London. She actually went to school in England and has lived there for most of the last decade, working as an architect. Her husband, Don, is from South Africa, but has also lived in England for years. They have two little ones, Callie (4) and Bashy (1). Needless to say, Neve and Callie were instant friends and watching them together for those couple hours was dejavu in so many ways…We met at Hyde Park (London’s Central Park) and spent our time walking the dirt paths, stopping for carousel rides, and finishing up at the nationally recognized Princess Diana Memorial Playground, which I’ve got to say is another of the biggest, nicest children’s areas I’ve seen. So yes, an awesome way to spend our morning. Not sure who had more fun, Neve or her Mama!

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Circa 1993ish. We were 11 or 12...

Circa 1993ish. Boating in Charleston with my family. We were 11 or 12…

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Neve (3 1/2) and Callie (short for Calista, 4 1/2)

Neve (3 1/2) and Callie (short for Calista, 4 1/2)

Set at the edge of Hyde Park, maybe a mile from Buckingham Palace, is Kensington Palace, the official London residence of Prince Charles and Kate Middleton. It was also the first home of his parents, Charles and Diana, when they were first married, as well as Diana following her divorce until her death in 1997. Btw, I love me some Kate Middleton. Like in a nerdy way love her. I think she’s so pretty and so classy and I just want to touch her hair. I don’t even care that she wears panty hose. But alas, no sign of her.

thumb_IMG_3802_1024For this day, we thought it’d be fun to do the famous Red Double Decker buses instead of the Tube just for a change of pace. Meh. They made for a few good views and seeing a couple different parts of the city that we probably wouldn’t have had we been underground, but all in all? Not worth it. Too much time spent finding the bus stops, waiting on the buses (trains are every 1-2 minutes, buses are every 10-20…), sitting in traffic…So we used them three times- enough to justify the money spent for the tickets- then reverted back to the Underground. :)

View from the top deck of the Red Double Decker...

View from the top deck of the Red Double Decker…

Neve loved the buses, too!

Neve loved the buses, too!

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Y'know...Just walking down the street...

Y’know…Just walking down the street…The Justice Department.

As hard as we tried, we didn’t make it to Westminster Abbey before visiting hours were over. So bummed. But that’s something else we’ve learned over the years: there are only so many hours in a day, so do and see what you can, then move along. So we enjoyed it from the outside and kept on trucking. It’s so beautiful and ornate.

thumb_IMG_3827_1024Westminster Abbey, a Gothic-style church built in the 13th century, is actually no longer a cathedral or an abbey, but rather a ‘Royal Peculiar,’ a church only responsible directly to the Sovereign. Since 1100, all coronations and many royal weddings (the most recent being Prince Charles and Kate) have taken place here. It’s also one of London’s four World Heritage Sights.

That's Parliament in the distance on the right...More on that in a sec...

That’s Parliament in the distance on the right…More on that in a sec…

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Just behind Westminster Abbey on the river are the Houses of Parliament, where the House of Commons and the House of Lords come together. This area is a center of political life for the entire UK. Built into the corner of one of the buildings is Big Ben, the iconic four-sided clock and bell tower. We found this area, also known as Westminster Palace, to be the prettiest of all the buildings we saw. We loved the architecture, the stateliness, the prestige…We did, however, think Big Ben would be taller. Ha!

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View from Westminster Abbey

View from Westminster Abbey

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You can see the London Eye (now actually known as the Coca Cola Eye…)- the UK’s tallest ferris wheel built in 1999 as a celebration piece-  in the distance, but we opted not to ride it just because we’d had lots of great views already and our time didn’t really allow for it. Like Big Ben, it was smaller than we’d anticipated, although still impressive to know that it takes 800 passengers for a spin every 30 minutes!

London Eye

By that point, the sun was setting, so we made our way back to the hotel. On foot. That put us at about 8 miles walked for the day! For the second day in a row. Sheesh. So proud of our girl, though! She has truly become a traveler just like her parents! No, it’s not always roses, but for the most part, she’s so awesome. And you KNOW it was a successful day if this happens (disclaimer: she’s only fallen asleep in a car like 5 times in her life!)!

Yes, she's asleep on his shoulders...

Yes, she’s asleep on his shoulders…

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Our final morning was spent playing ‘we have to get to these last few places before our flight!’ The day before, we’d ridden through Piccadilly Circus- named for its circular shape- on the double decker and knew we had to come back. It, by far, had the most energy of any part of London. Kind of like a smaller Times Square, complete with LED billboards, souvenir shops, top restaurants, throngs of people…

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In front of the famous Eros at the center of Piccadilly...

In front of the famous Eros at the center of Piccadilly…

 

Trafalgar Square is the most well-known public space and event venue in the city. At its center is Nelson’s Monument (built in 1867), guarded by four lions on each of the corners. It reminded us of the plazas you find in Italy…in most of Europe when I really think about it. These squares are greatly underutilized in the US, in my opinion. They’re used for festivals, lectures, demonstrations, concerts, public meetings…

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Our last stop before catching the train back to Heathrow was the world-famous Harrod’s, the largest department store in Europe, for lunch and gawking. In case you live under a rock and haven’t heard of Harrod’s, it’s a five story upscale department store with 330 departments and over one million square feet of selling space. Yowza. It was started in 1834- the current location opened in 1883, debuting the first ‘moving stairway. Nervous customers were offered brandy as they exited to ‘help revive them after the ordeal.’ Ha! During peak season, an average of 300,000 customers shop daily. How they afford it, I’m not exactly sure- I saw several pairs of women’s pants for more than $1000 and handbags seemed to average $2000 a pop…More than 5000 staff from over 50 countries work at Harrod’s. Y’all. You’ve never seen so much stuff for sale in your life. Departments are broken down into ‘rooms,’ so you wander from room to room looking at the wares. And each room is exquisite- uniquely decorated, colorful, opulent, twinkling…This place definitely qualifies as ‘eye candy!’ Anything you can think of is sold there- clothes, fragrances, appliances, furniture, sporting goods, jewelry, accessories, groceries…Which brings me to the food. The majority of the ground floor are the ‘Food Halls’ with any and every food item you can imagine…Counter after counter of breads, cheeses, pastries, veggies, chocolates, meats…They’re definitely the most popular attraction and jam packed with people eager for their delicacies. Luckily, we knew exactly what we were searching for and made a beeline when we got in the door: the famous Harrod’s Dough-ssant. Yep, that’s a cross between a donut and a croissant. It was good, but not amazing. Glad we didn’t get 37 of them like most people who were shoveling them into bags…There are also 32 restaurants within the store- we ate a French Fry shop, per Neve’s request.

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A food hall...

A food hall…

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Kinda like a glazed, fried croissant…

 

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Paris' famous Laduree (best macaroons of your life) even has their satellite shop here...

Paris’ famous Laduree (best macaroons of your life) even has their satellite shop here…

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Sorry for the extra long post, but it was just a terrific weekend filled with so many good things! It was also filled with lots of walking, some running, a zillion steps…So we were oh-so-thankful to have yesterday to sleep in, rest our legs and, as Neve says, to ‘be veggies. ;)I will say that the rumors are true- London is more expensive than you can even imagine, especially the food. We didn’t have one dinner- and I’m not talking fancy or 5 star, of course, because we chose pretty kid-friendly spots) less than $100 (converted from pounds) and one was closer to $200. Yep, 3 days is a good limit for us! Ha! The forecast for this week isn’t looking so hot (literally) here in Wiesbaden- pretty chilly, actually, and overly overcast- so not sure yet what the next few days will look like for us…Friday, we’re headed to Belgium- another first for us!- so maybe we’ll just take a few quieter days. Oh, and I almost forgot! Neve’s last day of school would have been this past Friday. One of these years, we WILL be in town for all the end-of-year festivities! Couldn’t let the day pass without commemorating, though, just like we did last year in Hawaii. I know I say it often, but Time, please slow down! Look how much my baby has grown in one measly year!

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First and Last Days of school this year...

First and Last Days of school this year…

 

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