Friday, September 30, 2011

Germany and the Buzbees

We really enjoyed our time in Germany.  It has definitely been the place most like home so far.  Partly that was due to the fact that people look like us, partly that Germany is clean and orderly, but mostly because we stayed with very good friends with access to the American Army base.   The night previous to our arrival we had missed one of the big football games of the year at home, so it was great when upon arrival our friend, Andy Buzbee, took us straight to the Weisbaden vs. Heidelberg army base football game (Weisbaden won - go Warriors!)  The base is definitely like a little piece of the U.S. smack dab in the middle of Germany.  Everyone is American, wearing American clothes and eating American food.  You pay in dollars and have access to a large selection of the things you would at home.  Lucky for us Andy's wife Mariola is a very good cook, and so we had the pleasure of having all those American groceries turned into fabulous home cooked meals - the first of which was tacos, making us all (but especially Peyton) very happy.  Wilder and Mark were similarly thrilled to have milk for the first time since leaving home.

Peyton's New Shorts

Andy and Mariola have two kids, Marcos and Isabel, and so we were all happy to have someone new to socialize with.  The first day the kids went on a really cool ropes course strung high in the trees of the forrest (the pics are just of them on the training part - the actual course was way up high.)  They had a lot of fun, but Wilder came home with a chipped tooth.  The cosmetic dentistry needed to fix it will have to wait until we get home.

On day two Andy took time off work to drive us to Heidelberg.  I was so excited to see my old stomping grounds and drug everyone around until I had located the house I lived in (Moore Haus - still utilized by Pepperdine's program today) and, just as important, "our" pub where we spent many hours that summer of 1986.  The whole day I kept getting flashbacks and all of my fellow students (and the faculty family) were much on my mind.  To those of you who read this blog - nothing much has changed in Heidelberg (it is still picturesque and impossibly wonderful) and I still think back on that time as one of the most fun of my life.

Another day Andy took us to Rudesheim, a pretty little town on the Reine river.  We had Federweisser (very new wine) and sampled the local ice-cream as well as the local brandy (was good, we decided, together!)

On our last day we went on a long hour hike in the forrest that surrounds the Buzbee's home.  We really enjoyed the trees and our commune with nature as well as the up hill work out.  Wilder used the time to make a list of things he's afraid of in the forrest (topped by Dick Cheney and flying ticks - they only seemed to land on him).  Mark and I attempted to sing all the tunes from the Sound of Music - at one point he was dancing - see pic.  The kids also had races - Peyton hung in there pretty good but Wilder won.  After emerging on the other side and finding the miniature golf place that was our destination closed, we opted instead to eat lunch at an old hunting lodge turned Beirgarten/Restaurant.  The food was great and, after relocating Peyton's seat so that she didn't have a direct view of the stuffed (but previously alive) animals, even she managed to retain her appetite.

To be honest we mostly enjoyed Mariola's cooking while in Germany, but we did get a chance to sample some German specialities - Snitzel, bratwurst and cuchen (which is cake) and Apfelsaft - that's fresh squeezed apple juice (not beer) that the kids are drinking below.  The last night the grown ups left the kids at home and went out for a wonderful Indian meal.

Wilder's favorite part of our stay (other than when he located a Guitar World issue in English) was undoubtedly getting to play Andy's collection of guitars.  Bringing a guitar along with us on our trip really was not a practical option, but Wilder has been suffering without one.  He played every night, and sometimes we'd have to send him to use the headphones to give us listeners a break.  My favorite part though was when Andy and Wilder played together, the highlight of which was a rousing rendition of the song Andy used to play me in the old days - Wild Thing.

We really really enjoyed our time at the Buzbees.  They went out of their way to step and fetch for us and cart us around, not complaining once about how much we were interrupting their routine.  It was so nice to spend lots of time and conversation with good old friends.  Special thanks goes to Marcos who's room Mark, Wilder and I kicked him out of and Isa who let Peyton bunk down with her.  Auf Wiedersen Germany and the Buzbees!

I have been hard at work now making forward plans for the reminder of our time in Europe and they are, thus far, as follows.  First we will head to Prague for 3 days, then Budapest for 5, followed by a town in the mountains outside of Bucharest (close to Transylvania) for 7.  After that we will catch a plane to Santorini for 4 wonderful nights and will hopefully squeeze in another Greek island (still working on) before heading to Athens to meet my parents and catch our Meditteranian cruise on October 25th.  My choices have been based primarily on what offers I received on fabulous discounted accommodations (they continue to come in to my surprise and delight), and part of me wishes we could be in the area another month to get to all the wonderful places we are missing.  Alas we only have 9 months, and it is after all a very BIG world!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The City of Lights

Ah Paris!  We have just finished a budget busting week in this amazing city and I don't regret it one bit.  We have feasted both figuratively and litterally and are leaving heavier and happier and glad for our splurge.

Our plane trip from Lisbon went without incident, but it cost us a disconcerting 55 euro to get transport from the airport into the city.  Wilder wanted to know if that meant we couldn't eat that day.  As it turned out it was both late in the evening and raining when we arrived, and so we ducked into a very attractive  restaurant on the corner.  It was our first of many fabulous meals, quintessentially French, complete with gingham curtains, a chalkboard menu, and food we were excited to tuck into.  

The sun came out the next day however and we had fabulous weather for our entire stay.  Our apartment was a small but charming studio in the 9th district complete with a great little patio that we enjoyed while eating many of our fabulous take out meals.   Have I mentioned that we LOVED the food?  On our first day we began with croissants and pan au chocolate but then were thrilled to find really wonderful Chinese take out that we had for lunch.

Which meal was the best is a matter of hot debate among the four of us, but my vote goes to a recommendation we got from our dear friend Andrea.  It turned out to be a place with a line around the corner that only serves one meal - steak and frites (fries) drowning in some description defying amazing sauce - as much as you want.  We had to quit after two servings but we saw others manage more.  Another highlight was when we met a wonderful French woman that I knew from when she was an exchange student in Phoenix when we were both 15 years old.  She treated us to a wonderful French meal and then hosted us in her apartment for a night cap.  Thank you Beatrice!  Other meals in hot contention included wonderful french onion soup, beef bouginoine and our usual (but especially fabulous in Paris) pizzas and pasta.  The kids were very fond of the wonderful hot chocolate (not remotely like what we call that at home.)  The only thing we didn't find was Mexican food (Peyton sorely misses Mission Burrito).  I told her there is an outside chance we can locate some in Germany.

Well, you may be wondering if we did anything in Paris besides eat?  We did!  In addition to climbing the Eiffel Tower (43 stories) and the Arch de Triumph, visiting Sacre Coure, the Louvre and the D'Orsey museums,

we also spent what turned out to be a magical day at Versailles.  It was our last in Paris and the kids fought me because they thought it would be just yet another museum.  The incredable opulence of the palace won them over though, and I think they even enjoyed learning much of the history of the French monarchs and the times leading up to the revolution.  The best part of Versailles however is the amazing gardens and grounds that surround the palace, and it was a perfect day for enjoying them.  The highlight for me was being rowed around one of the bucolic lakes by my romantic husband and strapping son.

Yet another highlight of our trip was locating (after an hour and a half of walking and many wrong turns) a local Church of Christ that had an English service on Sunday night.  There were 18 souls present (including ourselves) and when the song leader was late and the preacher asked for a fill in, we volunteered Wilder.  It was only his second time to lead a full service and it was a lot of pressure with not too many folks to ensure he wasn't singing solos, but everyone sang out and he did a great job.  

As I write this we are sitting on the train to Frankfurt, looking forward to seeing our friends and having someone to talk to besides each other.  That turns out to be the biggest downside to our nice apartments in local neighborhoods, we are very isolated from any other travelers and so occasionally long for English conversations with anyone else.  I'm also looking forward to visiting Heidelberg where I studied for a summer while in college and first developed my travel wanderlust.