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!

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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…

 

UK, here we come!

21 May

That’s right, we’re headed to London for this long weekend! We’re so freakin’ excited! I guess you could say this is our ‘splurge trip’ this go around in that we’re flying instead of driving and that we’re staying 3 nights instead of 2. We’ve wanted to visit England- London, in particular- for forever, but for whatever reason, it just hasn’t worked out…Until now! We got a great deal on some quick flights, so we’ll be there this afternoon in time for dinner. Staying in the heart of the city and with plans to meet up with not one, but two, friends while we’re there! Can. Not. Wait! Tune in Monday for all the deets!

OK, so I realized that I forgot to ‘Keep It Real’ in my last TWO posts, so that means you’re in for a triple treat this morning! Ha! It actually works out well for me as I’ve got plenty this week to fit the bill!

Keeping It Real 1: Back to the bike thing. Remember how I kept it real in this department a few weeks ago? How, for some absolutely bizarre and ridiculous reason, people here will not step out of the way if you’re approaching on a bicycle? Yeah, well, it’s still holding true and it still pisses me off more every single day. Unfortunately, the same is true for cars. If their light is green or your crosswalk signal has even thought about changing to red, they’re going. End of story. The only saving grace is that I’m getting more and more practice on the bike and my skill level is now approaching off-the-chart territory. Or at least a little better than an elementary schooler. Whatevs.

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Me on the bike vs. just about any German

Me on the bike vs. just about any German

Keeping It Real 2: This is one I can’t quite figure out. So, there are lots of food rules here. Like no preservatives, no GMOs, no additives, no artificial colorings, etc. Lots of these ‘we’re super health-conscious’ things. (And yes, I still love all the food rules here just as I mentioned a few weeks back.) But here’s the conundrum. You’re all about being healthy, yet you still smoke more as a population than I’ve ever seen! Short of maybe the Italians- those folks like their tobacco, too. Seriously, Germans smoke while they’re walking down the street, while they’re riding their bicycles (refer back to KIR #1- how do they do it?!), while they’re eating (blech- yep, you’re eating your potato dumpling as you’re simultaneously inhaling 4 clouds of that mess)…It’s just mind-blowing. I just want to ask them if they realize that by not spraying the foods they eat with pesticides but ingesting it directly may not have been completely thought through…

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Keeping It Real 3: And a good one! I actually meant to post this one on Monday after we’d been to two festivals in one weekend and have read about several more coming up. Germans LOVE their festivals and we LOVE them for it! The best part is that they don’t need to wait for a fancy reason to celebrate. Nope, any reason is a good reason!

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Hehehe. That last one cracks me up every time. Anyhoo…We’ve been having another good week here in Wiesbaden- the weather continues to be just the slightest bit chilly of perfect. No complaints from us as long as it’s sunny and not frigid!

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Dinner on Italian Row...

Dinner on Italian Row…

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Turns out that Bavarian Meatloaf is comparable to a huge slab of fried bologna. Good, yes. Meatloaf, no.

Turns out that Bavarian Meatloaf is comparable to a huge slab of fried bologna. Good, yes. Meatloaf, no.

This kind of cream cheese is considered a regional delicacy, so we'd been wanting to try it. Meh. Not our thing.

This kind of cream cheese is considered a regional delicacy, so we’d been wanting to try it. Meh. Not our thing.

We really, really, really like biergartens...

We really, really, really like biergartens…Especially when they have playgrounds!

The highlight of the week was probably our trip to the Opel Zoo on Tuesday. Founded in 1955, Opel is the second largest zoo in the state (the Frankfurt Zoo that we went to a few weeks ago being the largest) and is home to about 1400 animals. It operated as a research reserve for many years and that’s still very apparent. In fact, this is one of the neatest zoos I’ve ever been to. I would almost describe it as a cross between a zoo, a safari reserve and a petting zoo. It’s nestled on a beautiful wooded hillside (wish I’d known this before we went as I totally didn’t plan my shoes accordingly…) with many of the animals roaming free. There are stations throughout the park to purchase feed and fresh produce to feed them as you go. There are several areas where you’re free to go in with the animals, which is always a treat. And as a bonus, Opel had one of the nicest, largest playgrounds I’ve ever seen. Like anywhere. It was awesome and definitely a highlight of my girl’s day ;)

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A huge indoor ball pit with slides, jump platforms...

A huge indoor ball pit with slides, jump platforms…

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Can you spot the castle overlooking the zoo? Complete with the German flag flying high...Neat!

Can you spot the castle overlooking the zoo? Complete with the German flag flying high…Neat!

And yes, the new-to-us Belle princess dress is still the hit of the week. (Thanks again, Heather!) It’s all we can do to get it off for bathing and public outings. Heck, why even fight it unless you have to? Ha!

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Before I go, today marks two years since I last hugged my sweet Max. I just have to acknowledge that. Those of you who know me well know that Max and his sister, Betsy, were my whole world…My first soulmates…My first children…Two of the greatest loves of my life. Their passings were the two most difficult, darkest times I’ve ever known- I was forever changed in those two instances. Not a day goes by that I’m not reminded of my dear Max- of all that he brought to my life, of how incredibly blessed I was to have known such a great love…And while I may not be able to see him anymore or kiss his sweet face or nudge him when he’s snoring so loudly the windows rattle, I know he’s here. He is always here with me. I can’t wait to see him again one day.

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And with that, I’ll part with you for now…No, I’m not trying to end things on a sad note- just gotta keep things real! Neve is super excited to go on the ‘tiny plane’ to London this afternoon. (She was having a hard time distinguishing between the ‘big jets to take us home to South Carolina’ and one that will just take us a couple hours away, so we came up with ‘tiny planes’ and now everything makes perfect sense :) ) Have a great holiday weekend!

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And so another week begins…

18 May

Hello, all! Did that weekend fly by or what? I don’t know about y’all, but we had a really good one! Like, a really good one. Didn’t go anywhere snazzy, didn’t do anything particularly noteworthy…Aren’t those usually some of the best though? Especially when you’ve been on the go for what feels like weeks on end? Yep, I think we all needed a few days ‘at home,’ together…

She saw this yellow flower and picked it for Goddess because 'Goddess loves yellow flowers!'

She saw this yellow flower and picked it for Goddess because ‘Goddess loves yellow flowers!’

The biggest yellow roses we've ever seen!

The biggest yellow roses we’ve ever seen!

We started Saturday morning- after sleeping in a tiny bit- with a walk down to the Farmers Market. Neve and I have been once or twice on Wednesdays, but never on the weekend and John had never been at all, so it was fun. Same market as during the week, but bigger. John loved having his pick of sausages and cheeses- there are tent after tent, truck after truck of these. You can take you pick of just about anything you’re craving. There are also olive trucks, seafood trucks, bakery trucks…There are a few garden and fresh flower tents…And most of all, there are produce stands. Lots and lots of them- selling the freshest, brightest assortment of fresh fruits, veggies and herbs…All grown within 100km from here and without any pesticides, GMOs, etc. Really loving Germany’s regulations with food!

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Smoked Fish- John insisted I get a picture for Dad :)

The Farmers Market also has a couple fresh food vendors selling street foods like sausages, fries, etc. Apparently ‘currywurst’ is one of their most popular fast foods, so when I saw it on the menu, I had to try it…It’s sliced bratwurst covered in a BBQ-y ketchup and curry sauce, served alongside bread. Verdict? Glad I tried it, definitely edible, ate about 5 bites, not my thing. John loved his red sausage, for the record. Blech.

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We spent the afternoon with my childhood friend, Alexia, her husband, Tobi, and their 1-year-old, Johanna. So, Alexia and I went to elementary school- 1st-4th grades- together at Pinewood many moons ago. We were swell friends. Some of my favorite memories with Alexia are of us trick-or-treating in her neighborhood. I lived in town, so we didn’t have many good places to traipse around in costumes, so Alexia was always so sweet to invite me to tag along with her…Over the years, we’ve kept in touch sporadically through mutual friends, bumping into each other, Facebook. She went to Clemson, which is actually where she met her future-husband, Tobias, who was studying electrical engineering (yep, just like my JT!) from Germany! They now live about 2 hours away from here, near Bamburg. What a small world, right?! It was so great to reconnect, to meet her husband, to introduce our daughters…Nearly 25 years later! A terrific afternoon, despite the surprise crummy weather!

Neve and Johanna

Neve and Johanna

Almost 25 years later :)

Almost 25 years later :)

Yesterday, Sunday, was a perfect day all around and here’s why. We woke up after 8a (BAZINGA!) to the sun shining and the birds chirping. Yep, call me cliche, I don’t care. We ate breakfast in our PJs. We baked a cake- a Tres Leches, my ALL TIME favorite cake- to take with us later to Mexican Night (more on that in a sec). I took a bath solo with the door closed (WHAT WHAT?!).

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Then we headed to a Food Truck Competition we’d heard about from a new friend I made last week by chance sitting at a cafe. Go figure. So glad she told me about it, though, because it was AWESOME. Even John said it was the best food we’ve had since we got here! Ha! Just over the river toward Mainz…Apparently, food trucks are just starting to catch on here and are still only mostly found in Berlin and Cologne, so it was quite the big deal that they were doing a festival for them here. We didn’t know what to expect, but it definitely exceeded out expectations. Half actual trucks, half tents…Lots of vegetarian, vegan, organic…No fair food, no greasy spoons, no fried butter or deep dish funnel cakes. Think medium rare aged steaks, gourmet burgers, tacos, pho, hand made marshmallows…And the weather…Ah, the weather.

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Best item we tried. Organic Ramen 'Burger' with Vegan Kimchi...

Best item we tried. Organic Ramen ‘Burger’ with Vegan Kimchi…

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We got home just in time for Miss Thang to take a quick snooze, then headed over to some new friends’ house for dinner. John had met Shane last year when he started coming over here regularly for work, but has really grown to consider him a friend since we’ve been here this last month. His wife, Heather, is in the military and happens to be working in the same office, so we’ve gotten to know both of them and have been so thankful for their help and support since we arrived. They have a great story of ‘yours, mine and ours’ in that he has a daughter who lives here, she has two children who live with them, and together they have a precious, cuteness overload baby, Jack. Oh, if only their time here wasn’t coming to an end next month! Having them here as friends would’ve been such a plus for us when deciding whether or not to make this a more longterm thing! They’re headed back to the States to start their next chapter, though, so we’re really excited for them. :)

Anyhoo, we spent the evening in their home dining on tacos, nachos and guac…Enjoying grown-up conversation while the kids played. Neve was in HEAVEN having their 5-year-old, Aubrey, to entertain her. Not to mention all of her new-to-Neve toys! She even came home with a new Belle dress that Aubrey was nice enough to pass down. She hasn’t taken it off yet <3

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And I can’t sign off without sending a whole lotta birthday love to one special Goddess back in South Carolina. We love you tons, miss you terribly and hope that you have the most fabulous day filled with cake, balloons, smiles, hugs and more CAKE! XOXOXOXO MUAH!

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It’s the Weekend!

15 May

Well hello there! WOOHOO! The weekend is here! Weekends are always our favorites- it either means we’re going on a new adventure or John’s home and we get to do weekend-y things like exploring, farmers marketing, festival going…This weekend is the latter- we’re staying in Wiesbaden and have a pretty good one lined up! Coincidentally, this weekend should’ve marked our halfway point, but John’s work has been extended by a week. No biggie- more time for us to hang out in Europe :)

The week went by super quick. I think it’s the awesome weather we’ve had- the first few days were in the 80s and it’s been in the 70s ever since. Lots of sunshine, only one evening of rain…Which makes for perfect days on our bike, playgrounding, shopping, duck feeding…

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Neve was so excited to wear her tiedyed tshirt she’d made with her class right before we left. Definitely an instant favorite!

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One of our favorite parts about staying here in downtown Wiesbaden is the scenery. Walking to dinner, passing sights like these…

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Neve loves it, too…

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Thursday was a German holiday- Ascension Day, the 40th day after Easter when Jesus rose to Heaven. The city was closed- yes, that marks two full out holidays in three weeks- which meant for a laid back day of bicycling and exploring. And a pit stop at the Golden Arches because sometimes you just get pretzeled and schnitzeled out ;)

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IMG_3570Neve even helped me cook dinner that night, fresh from the market the day before. Love all the fresh produce here! And their quinoa is different, but oh so good!

Blackened Chicken over Cilantro Lime Quinoa with Zucchini Squash Medley

Blackened Chicken over Cilantro Lime Quinoa with Zucchini Squash Medley

On the day it was supposed to rain, we took John to work in the morning so we could use the car for the day. He happened to call, ready to come home, just as Neve was getting up from her nap and refusing to put her clothes on…So off we went to collect Daddy…just like this. She’s a trip.

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Which brings us today, Finally Friday! I’ll be honest, Fridays can feel a bit weird here- we have a standing Friday night dinner with my parents at home and we miss them- but we make do. This weekend is Kranzplatz Fest. If you’ve ever been to a German festival, you know what I’m talking about. They’re so awesome. These folks can celebrate any and everything- and always seem to have a reason for a big party! Lots of vendors, lots of artists, lots of live music…Lots more of food, beer and wine! So much fun- a great family atmosphere until dark, and then a giant party well into the night. Neve had a blast at her first fest, where we went for dinner tonight :)

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Flammkuchen, Crepe, Pork Burger, fries (and nuggets), and beer :)

Flammkuchen, Crepe, Pork Burger, fries (and nuggets), and beer :)

So there’s our week in a nutshell. How was yours? On the agenda for the weekend, we will definitely hit up the Farmers Market in the morning- the same one I posted about a few weeks back, just super sized. Then we’re meeting up with my childhood friend, Alexia, and her family for the afternoon. Long story there that I’ll fill you in on Monday, but Alexia and I went to elementary school together and have kept in touch over the years. She married a German man and they now live just a couple hours from Wiesbaden with their 1-year-old. Needless to say, Neve is beyond excited to meet their sweet girl! Sunday is still up for grabs, but we heard about a food truck competition over in Mainz (the town across the river where we painted pottery last week), so will probably head that way for a few hours. For dinner, we’ve been invited over to some new friends’ house for Mexican Night! YUM! So yep, not too shabby for a weekend ‘at home!’ Hope everyone has just as much fun!

We <3 Amsterdam!

12 May

Here’s Part 2 of our weekend getaway. If you missed Part 1 from yesterday, be sure to check it out- a wonderful Mother’s Day surrounded by millions of the world’s most beautiful flowers!

Keeping It Real: OK, today’s KIR is more like a rant, especially since I’ve had 3 examples to back it up within the last 24 hours. I may even do an entire post on this before we come home, but for now…We’ve all heard the general consensus that German people aren’t the friendliest. And y’all, they’re not. As a whole, they are not friendly people. Now before you start getting bent out of shape that I’m lumping everyone into a pretty big category, I’m most certainly aware that there are nice Germans, friendly Germans, polite and courteous Germans- I have personally encountered several of them and thoroughly enjoyed meeting them- but pound for pound, just not so much. Two of the examples are ones I’ve experienced since the day we got here and that continue to baffle me- both deal with simple common courtesy. First, storekeepers do not acknowledge you when you’re in their store looking to make a purchase. And not clothing stores, but day to day stores. The bakery, the meat counter, the cheese guy…You can literally stand there looking in the cases and they will never even bother to make eye contact. Second, bikes are big here- a main mode of transportation. You can be approaching a pedestrian head on, looking them straight in the eye, and they can have 5 feet of sidewalk on their right. THEY WON’T BUDGE. I swear they would let you crash right into them before they would step a few inches to the side! WTH? Doesn’t matter that you’re on a cumbersome bike, that you have a kid riding on the back, that there are a gazillion cars to your right- they still expect you to be the maneuverer…because it’s the law. Jeez. My final example is more of a doozy and the real reason I decided to make this my KIR for today. Remember my post a couple weeks ago about the giant Cuckoo Clock and how the store looked neat and we would definitely return to check it out when it was open? Well that day was yesterday. It’s a Cuckoo/Christmas shop with every surface covered in one or the other. We had been in the store about 3 minutes when the shop keeper lady came up to me said that ‘it would probably be best if my kid would wait outside on the curb while I finished making my selections and purchases.’ WHAT?! And let me just say that Neve was on her best behavior- hadn’t touched anything, wasn’t being loud, had stayed right by my side…I’m pretty sure my mouth dropped open as I wrapped my brain around the fact that she was serious, before proclaiming, ‘She’s 3!’ Then I started laughing out loud, took Neve’s hand and hightailed it out of the store. I may or may not have said my peace somewhere in there. Lord.

OK, end of rant. I’ll just say that the bottom line is that life would certainly be happier- or at least more pleasant- with a little bit of courtesy. The occasional smile, the lending of a hand here and there. Even a brief eye contact when someone is looking to spend their money in your store. I get that Germans think Americans’ politeness is fake- that we are friendly even if we have no intention of ever being friends with someone- but folks, there’s something to be said for making life a little more pleasant. Afterall, we’ve all gotta live here together- might as well get along! Ha!

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Amsterdam. As you’ll remember from last week’s post, John and I went to Amsterdam a few years back to celebrate his birthday and we fell in love instantly. We knew it was somewhere we’d return to one day and once we got the word that we’d be over here during the spring, we knew that we’d be back sooner than later as visiting the famous tulips has long been on our bucket list! There’s just so much to love about this city. For starters, it’s absolutely gorgeous. The old architecture, the hundreds of islands, the oodles of canals…It’s got that big city feel, while maintaining a bit of a smaller town feel if that makes sense. Everywhere you turn, there are tiny alleyways, quirky shops and local watering holes. Simultaneously, there are naked women dancing in windows (Red Light District), trains galore and a bajillion bikes speeding by as locals go about their lives. It’s just the neatest combo. A great energy.

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Amsterdam is the capital and most populous city of the Netherlands, as well as a top financial center in Europe. It started as a fishing village in the 12th century and grew to be one of the most important ports in the world by the 17th century, the Dutch Golden Age. In the 1700s, it was considered to be the wealthiest city in the world. During this time, the three main canals- forming concentric horseshoes around the city- were dug outside of the ‘original canal’ that was actually the city’s moat. Contrary to popular belief, the construction didn’t happen from center outward, but rather from left to right, as a windshield wiper. As the city grew, so did the number of canals and bridges connecting them. Some canals were created for residential use, others for transportation, trade and water management. Today, there are nearly 100 miles of canals and 90 islands. The city and its canal system are considered one of the best examples of successful city planning of all time.

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Let’s start with our hotel. Once again, we hit the jackpot. LOVED the Hotel Pulitzer. It’s made up of 25 canal houses along the Prinsengracht Canal built in the mid 1600s, connected and combined into one 230-room hotel. In 2010, it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our room was just lovely. Original beams crossing the ceiling, heated marble floors in the bathroom, original tilework…Oh, and one (two twins pushed together) of the best hotel beds we’ve ever had! WOOHOO!

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Neve loves her travel cot. It's already been alot of places with us and shows no signs of leaving the journey! We just make it up with hotel blankets and a pillow and she's good to go!

Neve loves her travel cot- yes, it’s under there and sits about a foot off the floor. It’s already been alot of places with us and shows no signs of leaving the journey! We just make it up with hotel blankets and a pillow and she’s good to go!

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Hotel Pulitzer connecting down the canal…

Not surprisingly, Neve loved every single thing about this city. We’ve never seen her so in love with a place so immediately, but she was all smiles from the moment we handed the car over to valet. The boats, the trees, the bicycles, the trains…She absolutely loved it all. We had wondered how it would be, being back in the city with a preschooler, especially a city known as much for its ‘grown up stuff’ as for the rest. The Red Light District with its brothels, strip clubs and window displays. The ‘coffee shops’ lining most alleyways with clouds of smoke just pilfering out of the doors. But she hardly noticed. Occasionally she would let us know that she smelled ‘fire,’ but other than that…Ah, to see the world as a child again!

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Parking lots for bicycles, not cars!

Parking lots for bicycles, not cars!

We were excited to go back a few of our favorite haunts from last time, one of which was Cafe Bern. It’s a hole-in-the-wall bar/cafe on the main plaza, the Dam, that happens to have the BEST fondue outside of Switzerland and escalope, so it was a must. There wasn’t going to be a table for over an hour, so we ended up at the bar and it worked out just fine. Yes, we asked first- would’ve stunk to have had to tie Neve to the lamp pole outside to wait ;)

When there's an hour wait for a table, you take a seat at the bar. 3 year olds and all!

When there’s an hour wait for a table, you take a seat at the bar. 3 year olds and all!

Swiss Fondue and Pesto Escalope

Swiss Fondue and Pesto Escalope

The pesto platter begins to sizzle over an open flame, then you add your pieces of raw meat a few at a time until they're cooked just perfectly. OMG.

The pesto platter begins to sizzle over an open flame, then you add your pieces of raw meat a few at a time until they’re cooked just perfectly. OMG.

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Another view of The Dam

Another view of The Dam

Another all time favorite is Cafe Winkel. John adores apple pie. Which is really weird because he’s very anti-fruit filling of any kind. Can’t stand Pop Tarts, jelly, jam, filled donuts, other pies, trifles…You get the picture. It’s a texture thing, I think. Anyway, he’s always loved apple pie (how very American of him), so for his birthday weekend a few years ago, I was thrilled to find what many called ‘the best apple pie in Europe’ right here in the Venice of the North. Dutch apple pie has a shortbread crust- top and bottom- and lots and lots of apple slices (and usually raisins, unfortunately) in the middle, very little ‘goo.’ You would think this was a bad thing (I’m a huge fan of goo in just about any pie- less fruit, more goo is my motto), but not here. DELICIOUS apple pie! So much so that John recreated the recipe as soon as we got back to the States and it’s been a regular on our special dessert rotation (labor intensive is an understatement- between the dough from scratch and the peeling and slicing and pre cooking of apples) ever since. I’ll let you in on a little secret, too- John’s is better. It’s perfection.

IMG_3379 IMG_3380Another funny tidbit about John’s dessert preferences. He loathes whip cream- Redi Whip, Cool Whip…But he loves homemade, fresh hand-whipped cream. And here in Europe, it’s just faintly sweet. Perfect for adding just that extra pinch of richness. :)

Love how all the cafes provide blankets on every chair so you don't get chilly.

Love how all the cafes provide blankets on every chair so you don’t get chilly.

While we’re on the topics of sweets, let’s go right into another of Amsterdam’s best culinary inventions. The Stroopwafel. Oh. My. God. Y’all. There are just no words. Back in 2010 when I was going to open an international bakery in Charleston, it was one of the first things added to the menu- right behind malasadas- and one of the first things I got to work perfecting. A stroopwafel is a thin, firm waffle cut in half (mad skill there) and filled with a caramel-like syrup. The best ones are fresh and warm from the street vendors at the markets, but you can also find them pre-made and packaged in some of the specialty shops. We actually found something similar at World Market at home- they’re called ‘Caramel Wafers’ and about the size of a silver dollar packaged in bags of like 20. Definitely not the same, but a nice little substitute when you’re jonesing. Lucky for us, we found a guy making them at the local Farmers Market.

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Amazing, right?! Words and pictures really can’t do these gifts from Heaven justice. And remember the goo thing I was talking about earlier? Oh yeah. Right here.

Lots of these neat architectural wonders. So your house is leaning? Fill that crack with some concrete! Ha!

Lots of these neat architectural wonders. So your house is leaning? Fill that crack with some concrete! Ha!

And another leaner...

And another leaner…

Let’s talk for a second about the houseboats lining the canals. In olden days, the metal ships were used to transport goods around the city. The owner and his family would live in the quarters below deck. After retirement, he would moor the ship along a canal and continue living on it. Living on a boat was a sign of low status- definitely not desirable. After WWII, during the housing shortage, living on these motorized transport vessels became the most logical answer. They weren’t particularly comfortable- low ceilings, incredibly humid, cramped quarters- but they were cheap and could be parked where you wanted. Today, these older ships- some more than 100 years old!- can still be found on canals throughout the city, especially in the inner, historic canals. The other type of ship in the canals is not motorized and is built on a floating pontoon made of concrete, called an Ark. Introduced in the 1960s and 70s, these don’t have the charm of the old vessels, but they’re much larger and thus, more comfortable for permanent living.

Who says you can't have a yard on your house boat? This one has the coolest bottle trees!

Who says you can’t have a yard on your house boat? This one has the coolest bottle trees!

Modern Arks, as you start moving away from city center...

Modern Arks, as you start moving away from city center…

Today, all boats moored in the canals are connected to city power, cable and sewage. The biggest problem comes with permits. You can’t just park your boat wherever you like. No, you have to get a permit and they are in great demand, as you might imagine. In fact, there are only 2400 permits in the entire city, with no plans for more. Therefore, a houseboat with a legal permit is very expensive. Even wrecks with a permit will sell, while a luxury boat without one will not. Times have certainly changed as nowadays, only the wealthiest residents live on the boats as they’re the only ones who can afford the permits. However, once you have the permit, there are very few guidelines as to what you can do with your space on the canal shore- you are free to build, or park, your castle of choice. In addition to traditional living, there are Botels (haha), apartments, markets, and even museums, all on the houseboats!

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Lunching along one of the main houseboat canals and choosing our next house :)

Lunching along one of the main houseboat canals and choosing our next house :)

Moving along…So, there are 8 original windmills still in operation today. The most famous, the DeGooyer, happens to be in the city and right next to one of its most famous breweries. Those two facts, coupled with the fact that we got to take a short train ride to them (absolutely perfect in Neve’s world!)- made it a win-win.

This totally sums up Neve's thoughts on train riding...

This totally sums up Neve’s thoughts on train riding…

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IMG_3417De Gooyer is the tallest wooden windmill in the Netherlands and is a registered national monument. Built in the early 1600s and used as a corn mill for over 300 years, it’s built with a brick base and a wooden octagonal top. The blades still turn, but are no longer operating any grinding mechanism. The brewery next door, the Brouwerij ‘t IJ, is housed in the old Municipal Bathhouse and has been a brewery since 1911.

Never have we seen so many people waiting for a bar to open! 2p is the magic time. How about some selfies while we wait? ;)

Never have we seen so many people waiting for a bar to open! 2p is the magic time. How about some selfies while we wait? ;)

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So after our pitstop at the bar, we spent the afternoon ambling around the city, making our way back to our hotel. Truly, just walking around has got to be the single best part of Amsterdam for us. There is just so much to see and to take in. And there are markets GALORE. Seriously. Farmers Markets (we went through 4), Flea Markets (we found 2), Flower Markets (we did the big dog)…We. Freakin. Love. It. The more markets the better in my opinion. :) And the quirky little shops. I’ve never seen a city with more shops right up my alley- and I’ve been to alot of cities. Art, clothes, jewelry, other people’s garbage…Take your pick, there’s someone selling it in the coolest of nooks along some alley here. Now if I can just get rich…

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The Bloemenmarkt is the only floating flower market in the world and is the largest market Netherlands. Started in 1862, it’s now home to 15 florists and countless garden shops. It is the main supplier of flowers to all of central Amsterdam.

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Some of the best graffiti around...Although Germany's is still better, gots to say...

Some of the best graffiti around…Although Germany’s is still better, gots to say…

And that brings us to dinner. At one of our favorite restaurants ever. Like, ever ever. If you missed last week’s post, definitely go back and check it out if you’re interested in our backstory with this little place or my sentimental babblings of coming full circle, but just to recap…Moeders is Dutch for ‘Mothers’ and it’s consistently rated as the top restaurant for authentic Dutch cuisine. It’s a tiny, kitschy place where you’re packed in like sardines- reservations can be 4+ months out- and every single surface is covered in pictures of mothers. From the moment you walk in, you literally feel like you’re in someone’s home. And being surrounded by all those happy pictures just makes you feel happy. It’s awesome. And it was the perfect place to have our Mother’s Day dinner.

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Meant so much adding our picture to the wall...Somewhere are the ones we brought years ago of my mom and grandmother, and John's mom...

Meant so much adding our picture to the wall…Somewhere are the ones we brought years ago of my mom and grandmother, and John’s mom…

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So what exactly is authentic Dutch cuisine, you ask? Well, in many ways, it’s similar to German food. Potatoes, bread, meats, heavy sauces…Apparently the carb-heavy diet dates back to olden days when laborers needed the energy that carbs provide. Fish is big due to the seaside location. In fact, one of the most popular street food is raw herring with onions. Blech. Veggies also have their place, of course, as farming is prominent. Well, our favorite of the ‘national dishes’ is the Stamppot (aka the Hodge Podge). It’s made by mixing mashed potatoes with a leafy veggie (sauerkraut, kale, endive, spinach…), topping it with an au jous and serving along side a big sausage and another kind of meat, often a meatball. I know it sounds odd- and it’s going to look even moreso- but trust me on this, it’s fabulously delicious and oh-so-satisfying in a comfort food kind of way.

Stamppot. Tonight's was mixed with spinach (endive and onion is my favorite), served with a HEMA sausage, bacon and a meatball. YUMMO.

Stamppot. Tonight’s was mixed with spinach (endive and onion is my favorite), served with a HEMA sausage, bacon and a meatball. YUMMO.

No, Neve opted against the Stamppot...And against the salad...And the mayo for her fries. Nuggets, fries and applesauce, however, were gone by the end of the meal.

No, Neve opted against the Stamppot…And against the salad…And the mayo for her fries. Nuggets, fries and applesauce, however, were gone by the end of the meal.

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Now this next, and final, section shows just how much my husband knows and loves me. I absolutely love dessert. Especially on celebratory occasions. Yes, I’m one of those who equates celebration and happiness with food and togetherness. Sue me. The battle rages on. And at some point, I’m going to dedicate an entire post to sweets as that’s one huge area where things are seriously lacking over here. Germans have no clue how to do desserts, in my opinion, and it’s been a bone of contention for me since the plane landed a few weeks ago. The struggle is real. Sorry, I digress. So John knows how much I love dessert and how no Mother’s Day celebration would be complete without it. He also knows that my absolute favorite food group- no lie- is breakfast. God I love breakfast food. Mostly breakfast carbs if we’re getting specific, but whatever. Neve takes after her mama, btw. So he combined the two! EEEEEEK!

Pancakes are big business in the Netherlands- who knew?- and there are shops on just about every block in the city. But there’s one place in particular that is known as an institution throughout the COUNTRY- as THE place to go for pancakes. The Pancake Bakery (I know, someone was feeling creative when they came up with that.) It’s another hole in the wall- actually a hole underground as it’s in a basement- where you’re packed in as tightly as they can get you. We found it last time and waited nearly 2 hours for breakfast one morning. Worth. Every. Minute. Lawd have mercy.

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Dutch pancakes are closer to a crepe in that they’re the size of your head. But they’re thicker- not as thick as an American pancake, but thick enough to chew. The Dutch consider them fair game for just about any meal, too- breakfast, savory ones for lunch or dinner (think meats, veggies and cheeses), and sweet ones for dessert. You want a pancake, you got a pancake. Don’t be ashamed if it’s 3 in the afternoon or 10 at night. My kinda people.

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We had talked about going back here Mother’s Day morning, but then decided that it would just make for too long of a day with the Keukenhof and the drive home. Bummer. But my guy had something up his sleeve. Walking home from our perfect dinner at Moeders, he detours and says that nothing will do unless he can have a pancake for dessert. And that no, he won’t share- we each need our own! *Swoon, Huge Cheesy Smile* Y’all, the night couldn’t have ended better if I’d met Pauly Shore. Well, I take that back, we got to FaceTime with my parents when we got back to the room, so that was pretty good, too. All in all, a terrific night.

Dutch pancake mixed with stroopwafel pieces (yep, same cookies from earlier- don't judge), topped with cinnamon ice cream and fresh cream. Dessert Heaven.

Dutch pancake mixed with stroopwafel pieces (yep, same cookies from earlier- don’t judge), topped with cinnamon ice cream and fresh cream. Dessert Heaven.

What’d I tell you? A great weekend, right?! Mondays after fantastic weekends are always tough, but what can you do…The weather here is in the 80s and sunny, so Neve and I have spent much of the last two days on the bike, so it’s really not so bad. :) Hope everyone is having a good week themselves! Talk soon!

Flowers for Mother’s Day!

11 May

Happy Mother’s Day, y’all! I hope everyone had a great day yesterday, whether you were the mom, the one celebrating your mom or just celebrating to celebrate! We had a terrific day- John can really outdo himself sometimes. I think he knew I’d have a bit of a tough time being away from my mom, so he wanted to be sure we were somewhere memorable and beautiful and surrounded by lots of people. And that he did- it was a perfect weekend. So perfect, in fact, that I’m going to split it into two blog posts so we’re not here all day into tomorrow! Ha!

Keeping It Real: Before we get started, as I sit here doing our laundry from the weekend, I thought this a good time to post. As crazy as it sounds, I’m kinda liking hanging our laundry up to dry rather than just tossing it into a dryer! Call me weird, but there’s just something about this menial task that makes me feel so retro or European or Holly Homemaker or something?? Our apartment has a washer, but the dryer is in the basement of the building and cost a euro for like a 2 minute cycle, so unless it’s necessary, we’re just air drying :)

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OK, so I’m going to start with the flowers for Part 1 of the weekend posts- because who doesn’t like to start their week with flowers?! All Things Amsterdam will come tomorrow.

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So, Keukenhof translates into ‘Kitchen Garden’ and that’s because it sits on what was once the garden and hunting grounds for the nearby Teylingen Castle, about 45 minutes southwest of Amsterdam in a small town called Lisse, Holland. In 1857, two landscape architects were hired to redesign the gardens into an English style, which still forms the base of the Keukenhof today. In 1949, a group of 20 flower bulb exporters came up with a plan to use the estate for a permanent exhibition of spring-flowering bulbs, signaling the birth of the spring park.The idea was to present a place where growers from all over Europe could show off their hybrids – and to help the Dutch export industry as the Netherlands is the world’s largest exporter of flowers. It opened its gates to the public in 1950 and has grown to over 7 million flower bulbs covering nearly 80 acres.

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There are lots of different gardens within the Keukenhof. There’s the original English-style with its pristine rows, paths and meticulous organization. There’s the historical gardens surrounded by walls showcasing the oldest and rarest of the flowers. There are nature gardens that combine shrubs and perennials with the bulbs and water features. There are Japanese gardens that mix in elements of texture and zen. And then there are buildings scattered throughout that house competitions and special exhibits.

Walking the English Gardens...

Walking the English Gardens…

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Something we found so interesting is that the Keukenhof is only open for 8 weeks a year- from mid-March through mid-May- during the blooming season. What a momentous amount of work- and surely, money- that goes into something that can only be appreciated for such a short period of time! There are 100 carefully selected bulb suppliers who use this bloom season to showcase their most prized beauties each year. The lead Garden Designer consults with each exhibitor to create a special display for his contributions, based on the colors, heights and flowering times of the bulbs they will be submitting. Then the exhibitors make sure that their bulbs are delivered to the park by autumn for planting. That’s right, every single year over 7 million individual bulbs are planted into the designs we see. WOW.

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A little slice of home :)

A little slice of home :)

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I don’t know about y’all, but when I think of the tulips in Holland, I picture field-after-field of flowers. Rows and rows and rows of flowers. And yep, that’s pretty accurate! Apparently, they’re all over Holland, but there’s a huge concentration of them right around the Keukenhof- lots of privately owned tulip farms for as far as the eye can see. Because these farmers grow for the bulbs- rather than the cut flowers- they cut all the blooms within days of peak blooming as that ensures the healthiest bulb to then harvest. Needless to say, peak blooming usually happens sometime in the third week of April and this year was no exception. In other words, we got to see lots and lots of fields…just not many tulips growing in them!

In this picture, you can see one of the 8 remaining operational windmills in the country, as well as an already-harvested field in the distance…

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A tulip field still hanging in there!

A tulip field still hanging in there!

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We can always count on a playground! Definite plus of Europe!

We can always count on a playground! Definite plus of Europe!

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This girl loves a petting zoo!

This girl loves a petting zoo!

Ever wonder how a tulip got its name? Well, wonder no more! Check out that snazzy turban!

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Water Art- These fountains danced a la Bellagio!

Water Art- These fountains danced a la Bellagio!

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Cala Lilies, made me think of my cousin, Megan...

Cala Lilies, made me think of my cousin, Megan…

One of the competitions...We got to vote for our top 3 Calas and our top 3 carnations.

One of the competitions…We got to vote for our top 3 Calas and our top 3 carnations.

This year's Keukenhof theme is Van Gough. Neve just loved his bedroom- ie. would've loved jumping on his bed!

This year’s Keukenhof theme is Van Gough. Neve just loved his bedroom- ie. would’ve loved jumping on his bed!

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The black tulip is among the rarest in the world. It’s not found in nature, so growers have worked diligently for hundreds of years trying to attain the perfect shade- absolute black. This happens by combining a dark shade with a yellow. Most end up a very deep purple- only a handful achieve perfection. And yes, they’re as beautiful and as unique as they look. BTW, in the picture just after the tulip fields above, you can see some black tulips peppered in with the colors…

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My favorite tulips at Keukenhof.

My favorite tulips at Keukenhof.

In Van Gough's living room. The vases are traditional tulip vases.

In Van Gough’s living room. The vases are traditional tulip vases.

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Saw these and wished I could buy them for my Mom. :( The picture doesn't do them justice.

Saw these and wished I could buy them for my Mom. :( The picture doesn’t do them justice.

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The jagged-edged tulips were our overall favorites :)

The jagged-edged tulips were our overall favorites :)

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IMG_3543Y’all, I’ve got over 200 pictures just from our day at the Keukenhof, so I’ve got to draw the line somewhere or we’ll be here forever and y’all will want to kick me! Ha! Hopefully these do a pretty good job of giving you a peak into the awesome, gorgeous, amazing 80 acres that is the world’s largest planned flower garden. It was the loveliest of days filled with the brightest of colors, the biggest of smiles and the most ‘oohs and aahs,’ as I’m sure you can see why. My heart runneth over with how blessed I am to be her Mom and his wife. If only my family could’ve joined us, it really would’ve been the most perfect Mother’s Day. Stay tuned tomorrow for Part 2 of our awesome weekend in Amsterdam, our most favorite city in all of Europe!

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Venturing Out…

7 May

Can y’all believe it’s almost time for another weekend? I don’t know about you, but this week has really flown by for us- definitely much quicker than last week!  I was just talking to my Mom about this, which got me thinking about why exactly and I think there are lots of reasons actually…But before we get into that…

Keeping It Real: I just love a stick shift car! Neve and I rented one this week- stick shift by chance rather than choice as the trains are apparently on strike, which means that everyone is renting cars and choosing automatics- and we’ve had the best time! It’s probably been years since I’ve driven a stick and was quite nervous about the prospect, especially considering the immense traffic in this area, but I must say: It’s been the perfect example of how you come away with such a renewed burst of confidence when you successfully conquer a fear! It turns out that it’s just like riding a bike! I won’t lie and say that I haven’t had any tense moments- like when we got stuck in stop-and-go construction traffic in downtown Frankfurt!- but nothing terrible. No stalling, no jumping, no grating noises…And alot of fun! No, I wouldn’t want one permanently, but for a week or so? Yes, please! ;)

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OK, back to the quicker week…

For starters, jet lag is a b!%ch! John never has much issue with this beast- give him 2 nights of waking up a bit before his alarm goes off (oh, the horror), then he’s right back on schedule. Neve falls somewhere in the middle. It takes her most of a week of no napping, going to bed late and sleeping in- then we just start shifting all of the above gradually throughout the week until we’re back to normal. Then there’s me. Jet lag gets me Every. Single. Time. Laying wide awake all night long, not wanting to get up in the mornings, being hungry at the total wrong times…And all of this leads to the other stuff like the foggy head, the crankiness, the lack of patience, the emotional overthinking…For some reason, it’s always worst for me going east. I read that most have the opposite problem- that going westward is tougher- but nope, I struggle the most going this direction. Don’t get me wrong, I still fight it when we go to Hawaii (mainly in the form of waking up too early), but nothing like when we get back home from Hawaii- after we come back east. My only possible explanation is that it’s easier for me to make myself stay awake until bedtime (when you go west) rather than make myself fall asleep (when you go east).

So, by this week, we’re all pretty much back on schedule. Adequate sleep and a reasonably normal schedule help immensely! John’s work schedule is better this week. Rather than leaving by 630a- before I even laid eyes on him- and working until 6p every night, he’s more like 730a-5p now, so that helps. Neve and I have gotten the lay of the land- ie. Wiesbaden- a bit better, and continue to every single day. Just having a sense of where you are and how to get (roughly) to where you’d like to go gives you some added peace of mind. We’ve remedied our crummy Internet situation as best we can. This is a Keeping It Real topic for another post, but in a nutshell, our apartment’s Internet is virtually non-existent, which meant very little of anything on the computer, very little email or FB, very challenging attempts to write blog posts…And absolutely no videos, movies, streaming of American TV (as we’d planned to do) of any kind…Have you ever been stuck in an apartment with a preschooler on a rainy day with no TV, no movies, no Internet distractions and very few of your ‘things’ because you were only allowed to bring so many suitcases? Um, yeah…Thank God we thought to load my computer with 20 of Neve’s movies and 6 of her TV series- we just connect that to the TV, so at least she feels like she’s watching the real thing! John and me? Good Lord, I will be fine if I never see a cartoon again!

So without getting all techie (because I couldn’t explain it if I tried), we have bought an ‘Internet stick’ that you take to the Best Buy equivalent and prepay with how much Internet you think you might need. When you start getting low, you go put more money on it, like a prepaid cell phone, I suppose. This is not a particularly efficient way to do it (still no video/TV, but playing on the computer is OK), nor is it cheap ($35 every two days), but it’s a necessary means to this end! Ha!

Of course, there are some things about being on an extended trip like this that never particularly settle in or feel like home…The kitchen, for example. You take for granted the beauty of a stocked kitchen! Starting with clean slate means that you have to buy absolutely everything just to be able to cook your normal dishes. The biggest challenge for me is with spices. You don’t realize just how many different spices all your different recipes call for! And you don’t want to buy them to just make said recipe 2-3 times while you’re here! You also don’t want to just eat chicken breasts with salt, pepper and garlic done in the skillet (oh, did you buy the spray Pam?) for 7 weeks…

This week's culinary creation highlight. Since there's no spaghetti squash here and we don't eat much pasta, we used spaetzle! Who knew that potatoes and turkey meatballs went so well together?

This week’s culinary creation highlight. Since there’s no spaghetti squash here and we don’t eat much pasta, we used spaetzle! Who knew that potatoes and turkey meatballs went so well together?

But then there are times that John is not particularly feeling my healthy cooking attempts and comes home craving German food and a relaxing biergarten. And that’s how we end up with these delicacies:

Pork Knuckles are HUGE meaty meals available at just about all the Bavarian restaurants. They usually come with sauerkraut and a potato dumpling. And no, this is not my bag.

Pork Knuckles are HUGE meaty meals available at just about all the Bavarian restaurants. They usually come with sauerkraut and a potato dumpling. And no, this is not my bag.

Spaetzle is the German equivalent of Italian pasta, except it's made from potatoes instead of semolina. It comes with gravy, or cheese, or butter and garlic, or...Neve is a fan. We all are, actually!

Spaetzle is the German equivalent of Italian pasta, except it’s made from potatoes instead of semolina. It comes with gravy, or cheese, or butter and garlic, or…Neve is a fan. We all are, actually!

The biergarten and restaurant we like just a short walk from the apartment.

The biergarten and restaurant we like just a short walk from the apartment.

And let me just say that there is alot to be said for biergartens. For anyone who has never had the privilege of dining out at a nice establishment with a preschooler, when something is going to provide you with freedom of movement and noise, it’s money. Way less hassle for us and way more fun for Neve! Win win!

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Quite possibly my favorite picture of my husband. Good Lawd.

Quite possibly my favorite picture of my husband. Good Lawd.

Another hurdle for me is my workout routine. At home, I have a bit of a home gym with weights, a bench, a Bosu, etc. I’m used to working out- or going for a run- first thing in the mornings before the world wakes up. Here, not only do I have to modify my workouts to use only resistance bands (always the perfect travel equipment!) and body weight exercises, but we also have such limited space that there’s no doing much until everyone is up and at ’em! On the flip side, I’m enjoying the change of scenery- and terrain (hello, big hills!)- for my runs and with John’s later schedule this week, I’ve had time to get in a few before he leaves in the morning! I don’t know about y’all, but workouts and runs are ‘me time’ and going without them- like last week- can really throw a kink in the ‘ol psyche!

You can't really tell, but this is a massive hill leading up to our street. What a lovely view for a run, though!

You can’t really tell, but this is a massive hill leading up to our street. What a lovely view for a run, though!

So yep, it really seems that we’re settling in and finding our groove as we finish our second week here in Germany. Something else that I think has helped with said groove is what I mentioned earlier- that we’ve had a car the last few days and it’s been fantastic. No, you don’t need a car for downtown Wiesbaden, but you do if you want to see any of the surrounding communities, including the metropolis of Frankfurt. Plus, there’s something about just having a car and knowing that it’s parked out there along the street that makes you- or me at least- feel a little more connected. A little more like home and like normal. Sure, Neve and I could walk 20 minutes to the market (with our coats and umbrellas if it’s raining) OR we could hop in our car, drive there to pick up what we need and be back all before the 20 minutes is up. Something about just knowing this makes me feel good and more inclined to choose the former- because then it’s a choice and not a requirement, I guess.

Neve and I had two field trips this week. The first was to the Frankfurt Zoo in the heart of downtown Frankfurt, about 45 minutes from us. I’ll save the history lesson for later, but the jist is that Frankfurt is the 5th largest city in Germany with a population of about 750,000 people. If you include its whole metropolitan area, the population is closer to 2.5 milion, so yeah, it’s a huge place. Two interesting tidbits: 1. Frankfurt is about 40 miles from the physical center of Europe, so that’s why it has the largest airport hub here. 2. It’s the largest financial center in continental Europe, so that explains all the skyscraper banks we saw.

The zoo was lovely- it’s huge and sprawling and set smack dab in the center of the city. I found that part so neat- that something so full of trees and grass and animals could be nestled down in the middle of such a concrete jungle. The weather was perfect and there weren’t too many people there, so it really was a good day, even with the stop and go construction traffic on the way back home!

Making silly faces to send to her classmates back home :)

Making silly faces to send to her classmates back home :)

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Our other field trip of the week was across the Rhein River into Mainz (pronounced ‘M-eye-nz’), the capital of the next state over. So yes, there are two state capitals just across the river from each other. We have yet to spend much time there, but I look for us to go back to explore as it looks like a great little city. Two neat tidbits: Mainz was founded as military post by the Romans in the 1st century BC (wow!) and 2. something I find particularly fascinating as a writer myself, Mainz was the birthplace of the moveable-type printing press and first books published using this type of press in 1450.

Anyhoo, the reason for our trip across the river this week was to get our creative on. Paint your own pottery style. Painting pottery is something that John and I started doing together the first year we were married. We were in Myrtle Beach for some reason and it was raining and we happened to pass a studio, never having heard or seen of one before. (I guess that’s about when those types of places really started taking off- 2004ish?) So we stopped, got the quick ‘how to’ from the owner and painted our first plate. Then we started seeing studios in many of the places we traveled, so it kinda became our thing. Neither of us has an artistic (in the traditional paint/draw/sketch sense) bone in our bodies, but something about painting these ceramic pieces and watching them come to life after baking in the kiln for a few days just really floats our boat- and makes us feel artsy! Our first four pieces were plates depicting scenes that were significant at that particular time (for example, we have one of the grand opening of the Ravenel Bridge in Charleston) and always with us somewhere in the picture (in the aforementioned, we’re in a hot air balloon over the fireworks ;) ) and a black and white striped border. They’re hung as a set in our kitchen at home. Wish I had a picture to share. Then we switched to switch plates for light switches. You never know what a studio will have- a single, a double, a weird 4 opening with a plug hole…Our house now has lots of unique, hand painted, covers in just about every room. Some are abstract, some are bright, some are somber, a few have actual scenes…I know, we’re so nerdy. I love it.

So, long story (somewhat) short, Neve joined our pottery painting hobby before she could walk- lending her feet prints, her hand prints, her thumb prints for many-a-gift. ;) Now, we seek out studios any time we travel, as something for us to do together while Daddy is working. We’ve painted in Virginia Beach, in Seattle, in Honolulu, and now in Germany. Awesome little shop in Mainz owned by a German woman who went to college in Philadelphia- so friendly, really helpful, super into kids, perfect English…Ahhh, if only there were more mornings here with folks like her! We painted a lovely Father’s Day gift that John is sure to love…and in fact, I know he will because she already told him all about it the second he got home. Gee thanks, Neve.

Mal Werk (means Paint Shop) in Mainz. Fabulously crafty morning with my girl!

Mal Werk (means Paint Shop) in Mainz. Fabulously crafty morning with my girl!

And there you have it- the good, the bad, and the ever-evolving state of our adventure. Tomorrow, we will head to one of our absolute favorite cities- AMSTERDAM! Seeing the famous tulip fields has long been on John’s Bucket List (my sweet, sentimental man) and it just so happened that our timing is perfect to see them! That and the fact that when John asked me where I’d like to go for Mother’s Day, I couldn’t think of a better place! We will even get to celebrate at our all-time favorite restaurant, Moeder’s, which means ‘Mothers’. How crazy is that?! Quick back story and then I’ll go. The last time we were living over here (you can search ‘Amsterdam’ on the blog and read all about our last time) just so happened to be over a milestone birthday for John. As a surprise, I planned us a weekend in Amsterdam to ring in his big 3-0. It was the BEST weekend. Well, in researching, I had read alot about Moeder’s and how it was an absolute must for the best authentic Dutch food, so I made reservations months in advance to ensure our table. I had also read that we should bring pictures of our moms to add to the walls. Wasn’t sure what that meant, but OK, we printed out two pictures- one with my grandmother, my mom and me, and another with John and his mom. When we got there, we totally got it. Every single surface other than the floor and the chairs was covered in pictures of people’s mothers. Some were framed, some were torn from old photo albums, some were printed from a computer like ours, some were even sketched…It was just beautiful and comforting and welcoming. And kitschy- the whole place is awesome kitschy, which just added to our love. So we sat there, eating the most delicious, satisfying Dutch cuisine, looking at pictures of moms, including our own that we thumbtacked just above the chair rail at the table where we were seated.

So to bring this full circle, how crazy is it that we’re going to celebrate another milestone at this amazing restaurant? That it happens to be named Mothers and we will be there for Mother’s Day? That we fell in love with this place celebrating a milestone in a completely different time in our lives and now we get to celebrate this milestone? That I get to put a picture up of my sweet Neve and me? The Universe…love when I get to see how things play out. Can’t wait to update you guys on Monday with lots of pictures of lots of tulips and lots of canals!

I’ll leave you with two parting shots of Neve, sending her love- and funny face- back to her classmates. She asked me to help her make a sign this morning- she listed out each and every friend, including Ms. Debbie and Ms. Sue, and told me just where to write their names.

Made especially for her friends at Bethany...

Made especially for her friends at Bethany…

Made especially for her friends at Bethany...

Made especially for her friends at Bethany…

Medieval Rothenburg

4 May

And so another week begins! But before I get into our awesome weekend mini-vacation, a couple things…

Update: Remember last week when I mentioned the gorgeous fields of yellow flowers that were presumably wild weeds? Well, it turns out that they’re Canola! That’s right- they’re not weeds at all! They’re planted like any crop and then harvested to make Canola Oil! What would I do without my German friends to keep me up to speed?! :)

Fields of Canola Flowers ;)

Fields of Canola Flowers ;)

Keeping It Real: The sleeping situation. For some reason, there are no double beds in Germany. No queen size. No king size. Only twins, pushed together if you like. Well, that leaves a crevice down the middle of the bed. Have you ever slept on a crevice? Well it just gets bigger until it’s an abyss and you’re down in it. Beyond annoying. But it doesn’t stop there. The same size issue is true for bed linens, as well. That’s right- only twin size blankets, sheets, comforters…So yes, each person has their own. This creates two main problems: it significantly impedes snuggling as you not only have to get out from under your comforter, but then find the edge of his comforter and wiggle your way under there, and 2. it creates a big wad of blanket/comforter material down the center of the bed, above said crevice, which is just plain hot if you happen to wake up underneath it! Seriously, what is the reasoning behind all of this madness?

Keeping It Real 2 (because I forgot it on Friday :) ): The rest area situation. After going on our first little road trip this go around, I was quickly reminded of how on point the rest areas are here. While there are some that just have our normal bathrooms and vending machines- and yes, some that are only pull offs for sleeping and peeing in the woods- lots of them are one-stop-shops! They have a bathroom building, a full service gas station with convenience store, a fast food restaurant, and a sit down restaurant! How clever is that? There’s no stopping to pee, then stopping for gas an hour later, then hunting for food…Nope, just one stop and you’re good to go. Genius!

OK, on to Rosenburg. Y’all, this city is one of the neatest, most unique places we’ve been to in ages! As cliche as it sounds, it’s everything us Americans think of when we think of ‘Germany!’ Cobblestone streets, timber houses, bakeries with bountiful window displays, huge stone churches, bells chiming the hours that you can hear throughout the city, streets lined with cafes and people sipping their teas at the tables around the plaza…Are y’all with me on this?

So Rothenburg is a walled medieval city in Bavaria in southern Germany. It was built around 1000 AD and remained an Imperial Free City, pretty full of wealth and prestige, for nearly 800 years. But during the 30 Years’ War in the 19th century, much of the city was destroyed as it was overtaken. It was destroyed and overtaken again at the end of WWII. But since then, Rothenburg has come back better and stronger than ever, rebuilding itself as a ‘forgotten city’ that people just have to see. So glad we got the memo! ;)

Now that you’ve had your little Monday morning history lesson, I’ll stop gabbing and let the pictures do talking. Enjoy!

Our hotel, The Eisenhut, is the Tudor to the left.

Our hotel, The Eisenhut, is the Tudor to the left.

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They didn't even bother to push these twin beds together! And they even wheeled in an extra third bed- just like this- for our Neve. The Three Amigos in three twin beds, just like roommates in the hotel room! Ha!

They didn’t even bother to push these twin beds together! And they even wheeled in an extra third bed- just like this- for our Neve. The Three Amigos in three twin beds, just like roommates in the hotel room! Ha!

Schneeballen are the pastry of Rothenburg. They are fried balls of cookie dough, filled or not filled, then coated in a variety of toppings.

Schneeballen are the pastry of Rothenburg. They are fried balls of cookie dough, filled or not filled, then coated in a variety of toppings.

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This one was filled with strawberry jam and marzipan.

 

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Inside St. John's Church. The cross hanging is carved from one piece of wood, ca. 1350 AD.

Inside St. John’s Church. The cross hanging is carved from one piece of wood, ca. 1350 AD.

Christmas is big business in Rothenburg! This is inside one room of the Christmas Museum. Neve was in HEAVEN!

Christmas is big business in Rothenburg! This is inside one room of the Christmas Museum. Neve was in HEAVEN!

St. Jacob's Church

The nave of St. Jacob's Church.

The nave of St. Jacob’s Church.

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I just absolutely love this picture.

I just absolutely love this picture.

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Watching the art of Schneeballen...See the form he's using?

Watching the art of Schneeballen…See the form he’s using?

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The double bridge. Just beautiful.

The double bridge. Just beautiful.

The last Craftsman house.

The last Craftsman house.

Typical German restaurant...

Typical German restaurant…

One of my Top 5 German foods! Like pizza, only on thinner bread dough and with creme fraiche (like sour cream) instead of tomato sauce :)

One of my Top 5 German foods! Like pizza, only on thinner bread dough and with creme fraiche (like sour cream) instead of tomato sauce :)

Kasespaetzle, the German equivalent to mac-n-cheese. Spaetzle are potato noodles. And they use the good stringy cheese :)

Kasespaetzle, the German equivalent to mac-n-cheese. Spaetzle are potato noodles. And they use the good stringy cheese :)

Neve's reaction every time we find a restaurant that has French Fries. <3 Chicken nuggets are just a bonus.

Neve’s reaction every time we find a restaurant that has French Fries. <3 Chicken nuggets are just a bonus.

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The Night Watchman Tour took us around the city at sunset.

The Night Watchman Tour took us around the city at sunset. Watchmen used to walk the city streets at night, must like policemen. They were on the look out for thieves, drunks, etc. Because of superstitions about spirits at night, they were considered the third lowest position to have, behind the Hangmen and the Gravediggers.

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The perfect afternoon tea :)

The perfect afternoon tea :)

Walking the wall around the city.

Walking the wall around the city.

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I told you, right?! Great first trip of this adventure! Can’t say enough good things about Rothenburg and would recommend it to anyone looking for a step back in time- and for just plain German fun!

Neve and I are thinking about renting a car for a few days this week so we can do some exploring in the neighboring areas…Wish us luck- they only have a stick shift available at the moment and I haven’t driven one in years! We’ll call it an adventure within an adventure :)

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