Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Weeks 22 - 23: Last Hurrah & Homecoming

So it all came down to a last, crazy week-- Aside from the packing and cleaning, we made great use of our last days to spend time with friends here who made our time in Munich so special, to stuff our selves with German fare, and to soak up all things DE. So between our last days in Munich and 4 days in Austria, we hit the major must-dos, things we just couldn't do back home, to just live it up:

1. Beer gardens and good schnitzel- we filled our last days and tacked on a few souvenir pounds at beer gardens. Several of them. We had a great time with Treehouse friends at the Hirschgarden (our favorite one, with the deer), went to a cool one with a great playground in Bogenhausen, and visited with friends and ate at the Chinese Tower again. Man oh man how we wish there was such a thing in Seattle-- so great for families and community. I guess our backyard beer garden will have to do!

2. Big bike rides all over Munich- the last couple days before dimantling the bike, I brought the kids on a few great rides-- all through the English Gardens, to feed the cute geese, see the surfers, check out naked people by the river, watch a drum marching band rehearsal, and tightrope in between trees. We'll seriously miss the park and fantastic bike paths!!!!!

3. Hiking with cows- Ahhhh.... love it or hate it, there's something uniquely Alps about hiking up through "wilderness," getting to the top, and seeing a bier hutte and cows with bells around their necks. Very cute, very Austria. We went on a couple great hikes last week- the first was classic- straight up for 500 meters (Austrian / DE efficiency must be anti-switchback), then to a gorgeous postcard like green lake with a herd of free-grazing cows. And a donkey. And a couple goats. Our other hike was similar, and right when we were saying it looked like a scene out of Heidi, saw a sign saying the 1980's version of Heidi was filmed right there! How bout that! It is surreal and beautiful here. But I have to say, 400+ years of tromping around and farming in the mountains really has depleted any sense of "wild." Our hiking guide said there are 13 or 14 bear in all of Austria. We have the corner on wild, for sure.

4. Dangerously precarious trams- I must have been subcontiously putting off this little adventure, but we finally did one of the infamous Austrian Alps trams-- and rode basically in a stuffed-crowded bus hanging from a cable up Dachstein, to 10,000 feet. WHA??? Slight vertigo has been a recent issue for me, but this was just crazy. I was happy to be a bit stuck in the middle of the tram, with a clueless dog sitting at my feet that I could pet. The view? Totally amazing. One highlight was watching 2 people climb up the cliff below the glass-overhang, lift themselves up over the guard rail to a waiting mom with Schnapps- turns out it was a dad and his 14 year old daughter! Vivian was in awe.... :) I'm not quite sure how as a mom you could pull off a 5 hour wait coolly, unless she downed the remaining Schnapps during her wait. ugh. AND after a few days of more tooth torture, Vivian pulled out Tooth #5 on the tram! Very fun- here's the video-

5. Adventure Park- So I think Outward Bound used to have these, but surely a lawsuit has banned them by now. We went to a great one with varying heights of obstacle courses through the trees and I had fun watching Vivian breeze through these crazy physical courses 15 - 20 feet up and watch Eric get stuck a few times in suspended tubes and on little tightropes. :) Vivi learned to caribeener herself off and on the safety cables, and put on her own zip line pulley. Very exciting for a little monkey!

It was a huge relief that our trip back with the kids went PERFECTLY SMOOTH (as opposed to our trip out to DE) -- no one puked, no medical emergencies, we got a little upgrade, everyone got some sleep, and we even arrived an hour earlier than scheduled! Amazing!

Our homecoming has been fantastic- our neighborhood "Porkfest" was Sunday around the corner (as if we really needed more pork... but hey, it was BBQ! A different twist!), we got to celebrate Roger and Emily's wedding and see some old friends, and each day we've reunited with another Seattle friend that we've missed a ton. I've really enjoyed taking long baths in a tub the kids and I can all get into, going to the beach, and have a new appreciation for the Ballard Market. Now I'm just trying to figure out how to incorporate some of the lifestyle that I really grew to love- hope to keep up with the bike (although the hills are killing me), spend more time hanging out at parks, get rid of a bunch more needless stuff in the house and definitely live more simply. Can't wait to get to the cabin tomorrow for the weekend- to see some real wilderness and smell that pine needle Mazama smell.

We miss you, Munich and friends, and will be back to visit! You're definitely a second home to us now. Vielen dank! Please come visit us in Seattle so we can show off this beautiful corner of the world! :)

Favorite pictures of our last days:


Thursday, July 23, 2009

Week 20 - 21: Hardcore Bavarian Weekend

We're winding up our time here (sniff) and were told there were a couple things we HAD to do before we leave. 1) go to Berchtesgaden and 2) go to a medieval festival. And so, here we go again!

#1 Berchtesgaden, I have to say, is one of the most beautiful places ever. You could tell that despite the blistering rain and 7 degree weather. 7 DEGREES. That's colder than it was in March when there was still snow on the ground. Quite unseasonable, most here say.

Anyway, our first destination didn't need good weather-- we went underground to the Salzbergwerks Salt Mine. (where we were warned it would be "cold" but it was a balmy 12 degrees. MUCH nicer underground, really) This is a fantastic and fun tour- slides, a boat ride, a couple train rides into deep dark tunnels way underground. And to make it even more fun, we got to wear these really cool "worker man outfits" (Miles). All I kept thinking was "Intergalactic planetary, planetary intergalactic...." The outfits made you feel like jumping around and doing a West-coast sign... Anyway, this was way too much fun. We did learn about Salt Mining too- which was fascinating! When they find salt (through boring), they then pump water down to it, let it dissolve creating a bigger and bigger cavity full of brine for about a year. Then they pump the brine up, and process it, and ta-da- SALT! The boat ride was actually across a brine cavity, in the pitch black, where they then did a light show on the ceiling that reflected in the water. Very cool. We all loved it, and Miles got to leave with his own Salzbergwerk's coverall. Too good to resist.

Coming up from the mine was unpleasant, to say the least, because we had to give our coveralls back and were then stuck in our short sleeves in the frigid rain again. We hoped to see Konigsee- another "don't miss" in Berchtesgaden, but it was way too unpleasant and we were severely underdressed. Eric even caved and bought a raincoat- after 5 months through rainy Munich without one.

The next day thankfully the clouds parted and then we could see the new snow on the mountains, and it was time to hit the other main destination in the area, the Kehlsteinhaus or Eagle's Nest. After a 20 minute somewhat harrowing drive in a bus up cliffs and then a 400 foot high elevator through the mountain, you arrive at this place which sits on the tippy top of a mountain at 1834 meters. It's completely stunning, the view is endless in one direction, but behind you are up against glaciated cliffs that go even higher.

Then you have to realize that the Kehlsteinhaus was built for Hitler's 50th birthday by the party. Apparently he hosted some dignitaries here to impress upon them the beauty and sense of calm that the party could bring to the people. He also apparently dreamt up some of his plans for his final solution gazing over this view-- which is beyond comprehension, really. The pathways and tippy-topness of it all is as precarious as it looks. There was no way we were letting Miles out of the backpack here.

Overall, a fantastic couple days there-- and we'll be back to the area next week to try to get to the lakes again.

#2 Medieval Festival. So we found one- a popular one apparently- called the Kaltenberg Ritterturnier. Weird? Definitely. A little creepy? Uh-huh. Fun? Yes. This was a stand out memory for sure. Guys like sword fights and knights and stuff, but this was way over the top. Hundreds of people - totally in character- create a complete festival including medieval food (legs of meat on sticks), medieval "rides" (hand-cranked ferris wheel), medieval sentencing (we saw a tar and feathering of some poor guy who paid 5 Euro for the honor of being yelled at by a "judge" then coated with melted marshmellow and feathers). These people take this stuff VERY seriously. The crowd was a mix of medieval junkies (in costume) and hardcore goths. There was even a medieval-goth-punk-bagpipe band. They'd be very popular at Bumbershoot!

But the best part of all this, was actually the tournament- 2 hours of medieval-style WWF in front of about 10,000 screaming / cheering Germans who LOVE this stuff (as does Eric...who was giddy the whole time). We watched the whole story- from the crusaders being dragged away by bad knights, to jousting between good and bad nights, some sword fighting, then finally a good knight wins and is crowned. All this over 2 hours of whooping and hollering and even 5 minute round of "the wave" through the crowd.

I have to digress here a little for everyone at home who like me, doesn't let my kids have swords, or hit, or anything like that. Every little kid in this stadium had a little sword and there were LOTS of sideline little sword fights between kids. Kids here grow up with this stuff- actively. And although I think the boys here are a little tough and not as disciplined as at home, there is virtually NO crime in Bavaria. I mean NONE. It's similar to how kids can play buck naked in parks here (and some adults for that matter too), and there are no creepy weirdos to be found. What's up with that, or with us? I don't know... but I think it's just that there's a bit of innocense here and an understanding that all this is in good fun. Back to the tournament, it was impossible not to be swept up in it all. In the end, the kids loved it- they both keep talking about it days later. Miles of course really wanted a wooden sword, and I have to admit, it was hard not to get him one. But if he set foot with one in preschool at home, he'd likely be expelled. :) We ended up getting him a shield- which he now sleeps with. :)

So check out the video- the whole thing was such extreme, experiential theater- it was a blast. Yet another thing though that would NEVER EVER happen at home, for better or worse.

OK- one more week to go. We are packing, saying goodbye to our preschool friends tomorrow, and need to vacate by next Friday. Our flight leaves 4 days later, so we're doing a few more in Austria, then home. Can't wait to see friends, sleep in my bed, grab Rufus' slobbery jowls and smell the salt in the air.

Here are the best pictures of these two great places- best viewed with a big leg of lamb in one hand and an edelweiss in the other.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Weeks 18 + 19: Fast cars and runaway girls

This is an exciting update... it's been a fun couple weeks!
Nurburgring: So there were two parts to the Big 4-0 present, the 2nd part being Formula 1 tickets to the Grand Prix finals at Nurburgring. I didn't really "get" it, but apparently most guys would love to see this! We've been to a monster truck rally in Tacoma- this was on a whole different level :)
Mom was here in Munich (Dad went home a week earlier), so we kissed the kids and took a 4 hour car ride north to stay overnight near Koblenz, about 40 km from Nurburgring. Had a great dinner (with NO interruptions), partook in the sauna scene, and slept like a baby. We were on our way by 10:30 a.m.... remember I said it was 40 km away.
CRAZY scene started about 10 km away, traffic virtually stopped so we had LOTS of time to check out all the international license plates and fancy cars enroute. All of this is good fun, until it's 12:00 p.m. and we are completely out of gas, and the nearest exit is backed up 2 km to exit to the races. Crikey. We have a quick debate about what to do, and end up coasting as much as possible about 5 km past our exit to a gas station just off the highway. WHEW.

Garmin leads us to a nice detour from there, and we cruise along a back way right almost right to the site! Cool. Now it's 12:30 p.m. (2 hours so far) Now we sit in traffic crawling past all the parking lots, with Polizei telling us to move a long cause they are full. WHA? 1:00 p.m. (race starts at 2 p.m.) and we've been routed past all main parking lots, away from the race into a valley. HUH???

Eric's starting to break a sweat at this point- and he doesn't even know how much I paid for these tickets.... All along this road to nowhere, there are cars squeezed in to the ditches, paralleling the street, even up into the trees a little. We see a hole across the street and make a run for it with the car AND don't quite fit parallel, have the back end in traffic and the front end in dirt and grass. Cops come, tell us we'll be towed if we don't move, yadda yadda. Eric's dripping sweat, gets out, starts rocking the car while I'm in reverse. We do this for a while, tires spinning a bit and getting more stuck then Ah HA! Parking break is on. :) Pop it out, back up, off we go, to nowhere again, but at least not to a tow lot. This does end happily--- Eric drops me on the side of the road, goes driving off down into the valley, and shows up about 20 minutes later, half-jogging, sopping wet. We run-walk for another 15 minutes back up the hill and TADA at 2 minutes to 2:00pm start, we find our seats!

The race itself was very cool- I picked seats in the loudest section, so we were at the hairpin turn on the south end of the track. You do get a little rush when you hear those cars whine past REALLY loud. I hate to admit that we never quite figured out who was in the lead....but regardless, we know an Aussie Red Bull won in the end, and we're happy for him.

Here's a little video of the start:

Girls run away to Paris

My favorite part of the last two weeks happened when I realized we've been here almost 6 months, and I haven't gotten to Paris. DAMMIT. So with a bit of coordinating, Vivian and I got on a 6:20 a.m. speed train Tuesday and were in Paris by 12:30 for our 36 hour trip to Paris! Tres bien! In a nutshell, we:
Ate and strolled through the Tuilleries, watched the little sailboats in the ponds and found the statue we got her picture with at 19 months

Took a fantastic bike tour on a tandem through the neighborhoods of Paris ( and saw some very off-the-beaten-track things. My favorite sites I think were these little images made of tile stuck on the sides of buildings by an anonymous artist called Space Invader. This guy must have connections--- no one has seen him, and he got several of them into the Louvre. Vivian had a lot of fun looking for little invaders on all the buildings.

Ate the best and worst things I've ever had in my life. BEST? Trois fromage torte from a cafe in the Latin district. WORST? Wow- this was the most Fear Factor thing I've ever tasted-- major faux pas with my accidental order. I got so excited about "Andouillette" on a menu cause I thought it was like "Andouille"- NOT. Among other indescribeable bits and pieces, I did see spices in the sausage. So I figured, it should at least taste good, right? Our waiter was really nice and very handsome, so I tried my best, but seriously- I have never, ever eaten anything like it. And I didn't. Except for 2 bites.

Walked up the first two levels of the Eiffel Tower, walked quickly back down because of thunderstorms (NOT the place I want to be in lightning). Ate an ice cream at the bottom in the rain, watched the storm pass, saw a rainbow, then bought another ticket to quickly get us to the top in between storms.

Went on a very girly little shopping trip- Vivian got swooped up and dressed by a very enthusiastic store owner, who ended up selling us a women's shirt as a dress for Vivian. Then she sent us to her sister's shop, to finish the job with us I guess. :) While I was trying on clothes, Vivian got douced in perfume by the lady- I think her hair still smells like strong lillies. Eh, if it's gonna happen, Paris is a great place to be!
Ambushed Mom, Aunt Marilyn and Mary in their hotel at 10:30- TOTAL surprise to everyone, even Vivian! I had the receptionist tell them there was a problem with their bill. Mom came down all business, with a binder and pencil to straighten out the situation. Walked right past Vivian. Aunt Marilyn saw me, then saw Vivian, then sort of screamed. Great surprise, and great to see one of my very favorite aunties. :)

Ended this round with a very fun night to the Hirschgarten with Bob and Nancy Runge. Very fun time and great to talk to people from our hood who know and love Munich too. Aside from Bob sending us fantastic tips while we've been here, their fearlesss travel with kids and sense of adventure has really inspired us.

OK more soon, probably our last Big Blog update to come.... :)

Weeks 16 + 17- Visitors, cows, and castles

This post best enjoyed with yodeling in the background...

Back from Italy, we reunited with Mom and Dad, who had been travelling in Germany and Prague during our Italia trip. Unfortunately Mom came limping into our world after a fall and bad sprain in Prague on the castle stairs-- but Munich is relatively flat, and there aren't as many old crooked stairs as in the rest of Europe. :)

Despite the foot issue, we wanted to get them out of town and into the mountains, so it was off to Werfen, Austria, outside of Salzburg, where we stayed at another gorgeous little farm pension called Rettenbachgut. Wolfgang and Susanna and their 2 bernese mountain dogs, 30 or so cows, 3 horses, mini tractors and little kitten were our gracious hosts there. The highlight for the kids was definitely working in the barn and letting their new baby cow, Regentag (named by Vivian) suck on our fingers and chew on our pants. Big fun, although a little slobbery. :)

Werfen is gorgeous, and the old castle there, Hohenwerfen, was definitely one of our favorite castles anywhere. You really got that Old Castle feel and got to hike (or limp carefully with crutches- Mom) up and down rickety staircases, into the bell tower and around the grounds. The falconry show was so great we went twice to watch these great big trained birds (falcons, eagles and owls) fly around and come back to their medieval-dressed trainers. Quite a show! And a really nice way to spend our 17th anniversary. :)

We also had another great visit with Johanne, who came down to Munich this time while Mom and Dad were travelling. Lots of good fun touring around and seeing some of our local favorites one more time- Neuschwanstein, Garmisch and the lederhosen slapping kids, and Hamam- my personal favorite Turkish bath getaway. Tons of fun! :)

And then, we finally got our weekend in Prague in! Prague is really beautiful, and old, and interesting. I think that if we had done it earlier, it would have made a bigger impression. But after all the little, old, beautiful cities and mountain areas, really touristy Prague was a little overdone for me, honestly. We did go on a great- nearly private- tour with Eva, who walked us through all the major sites. Music is still a big draw there too, and we really liked all the street performers and dragged the kids to a string ensemble concert in a beautiful church- an experience that MOSTLY went over well. :) Our favorite thing there was definitely the Lobkowitz Palace-- just an incredible, beautiful smaller palace full of the most amazing things that the kids also loved- armory, interesting portraits and paintings, and even the original scores of Beethoven's 5th, a few Mozart scores and old string instruments. Amazing! The audio guide is incredible- told by the grandson of the last King Lobkowitz. The whole family was entirely driven out of CZ during the war and now the grandson (who lived in the US with his family) returned in 1989 to reclaim all their properties and artifacts after being taken from them first by the Nazis, then by the Communists. He moved his family with 3 kids back to CZ and is now lovingly restoring everything and sharing it with tourists. He had lots of great stories, told to him by his grandfather, about growing up in the palaces-- and getting into trouble there as a boy.

We also had to say goodbye to some dear friends here in Munich-- Becky, Sloane, Elizabeth and Katherine-- who went back home to S. Carolina. Elizabeth and Katherine went to Treehouse with Vivian and Miles, and the girls became quick friends. We miss them already!

Here are the pictures!

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Weeks 14 & 15: AHHHHH Italia

Ahhhhhhhh...... Italy. Initially we wanted to take the train but there were so many little spots we wanted to see (and so much stuff to carry) we decided to drive. So off we went, in the car.

Our southernmost destination was Rome and it's hard to fathom that you can get there in about 6 hours, as much time as it takes to cross WA state. Here's the day by day in a nutshell, because it was a whirlwind!

May 30- Florence. We only had one night there, but the highlight was walking around in the pouring rain, with the streets all shiny and the umbrellas brighly colored, taking pictures of everything notable. The lowlight- walking around in the pouring rain with the streets all slippery, broken umbrella and raindrops on the lens. It was a good day overall, and much inspired by one of the hundreds of Davids, Vivian drew her first (graphic) nude. Yikes. :)

May 31 - June 2- Orvieto and the Umbria area. The rain followed us south another hour+ to the Umbria area which is known for its beauty, old walled hill towns and vineyards. We stayed at a great "agritourism" farm called La Locanda Dell'Olmo just outside the walled city but surrounded by fields and rolling hills and... puddles. Did I mention the rain? We bought some cheap plasticbag coats and prowled through Assisi and Orvieto- two gorgeous, old hill towns with so much history. Emiliano, our host at La Locanda, was very cool and has always wanted to go to Seattle to see his favorite band (Pearl Jam). It was fun to brag about our home town and eat some home cooked chicken cacciatore (made by Lorella, his aunt).

June 2 - 6- Rome. OK, still in the top 3 favorite places ever (among Istanbul and of course Seattle). I still swoon over Rome. Eric loves it, but doesn't need to go back for a long time. The first night there Miles puked and had a high fever, so that put a hiccup in our plans, but led to 2 days where Eric and Vivian had a day and V and I had a day. Vivian of course lucked out and got to see some things twice, but we each had a really special time with her. We crammed in all the major sites, but our favorites are still the Forum, Pantheon and Trastevere in general. It was surreal to be back in that neighborhood 4 years later with a grown up girl and 2nd kid.... wish we could have shown her and Miles off to Gino and Giamma- the coffee shop owners from before who we loved, but the new owners didn't know where they had gone. We got to do the Coliseum this time, which was new and fun. The kids both loved thinking about lions, wolves, tigers and ostriches running through the tunnels to be lifted to the stage for their fights with each other, or gladiators.

June 7 - 8- Siena. Sweet, old, sleepy, lovely. The Il Campo plaza is so vast it was impossible to capture without a panoramic lens. We fed as many Sienan pigeons as possible, continued our daily dose of gelato, and witnessed a random little parade. And standing smack in the middle of the Il Campo, Vivian's 3rd loose tooth just jumped right out of her mouth! How fun! There is an Italian tooth fairy, in case you're wondering.
June 9 - 10- Pisa, in route to San Terenzo. Pisa ended up being enroute to San Terenzo, so what to do but stop?! It's not such a great overnight place, but for a couple hours to see the Tower, it was well worth it! Vivian did her best to help push up the poor tower, but no such luck. And we never knew the Tower was just part of a stunning complex called Piazza del Duomo with a gorgeous cathedral and lawn all around. I have no idea why I envisioned it standing solo in a Forum-type dusty lot, but it isn't! We continued on--
San Terenzo is along the Italian Riveria... We totally lucked out in NOT getting stuck in the dump of a hotel in Lerici, so we pulled a Rick Steves moment and asked at a cafe if anyone knew of a room nearby. What luck! We landed in the downstairs apartment of a gorgeous B&B home of Malcom, his wife, and 2 year old, curly haired son, Milo. :) San Terenzo was a dreamy little quiet town and we had a couple great beach days there while Eric worked from our room. In the mornings we hung out with Malcom and Milo and played in their backyard. Vivian even joined them (er, invited herself) upstairs for breakfast one morning.
Here's Vivian chatting a bit about Pisa:
June 10- 14- Corniglia, Cinque Terre- Gorgeous, dramatic, bright blue, bright green, bright buildings. The 4 days there were really special, and a great way to end the trip. Corniglia is the highest of the Cinque Terre cities, so not nearly as pillaged by tourists and trinket shops (fewer people want to hike the 380+ stairs to town from the train station). It's TINY as far as a town goes, but we had probably our best dinner there at a little wine shop and our apartment had a rooftop terrace with views out over the vineyards and ocean. Admittedly, this was tough terrain to have a 2 1/2 year old crazy boychild, so he spent a lot of time in the pack while we hiked between the towns- which are all connected via rustic pathways / trails that cling to the cliffsides by their fingernails. We managed to take in Monterosso (the beachy town), Vernazza, Corniglia (ours) and Manrola (most beautiful playground site ever). We missed Riomaggiore, so there's a reason to go back! On the way home, we stopped at Garda Lake with a picnic. The water was beautiful and it was hot out- so we stripped down the kids and I got to jump in with my clothes on to go for a quick swim (darn that mis-matched granny underwear I had on....) Great way to top off the trip! For a fun view of our drive to Corniglia, check out this doubletime video- if you get carsick, you might not want to. :)
Overall, a fantastic albeit exhausting time, Eric got his work done despite some connection goofs, and we ate gelato and drank fantastic red wine daily. Much love for Italy. We'll be back.
Favorite things said lately:
Miles: "Chicken Serena" We don't know what this is- it's a name "There's Chicken Serena." A verb "I'm going to chicken Serena you. BAM BAM." AND a food (every food). "Mmmmm. Chicken Serena."
Vivian: "I can't get a job- so I'll pull out more teeth!" (in response to "you can buy that, when you get a job...")
Here is the slideshow! Lot of great ones in here:

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Week 12: The Ultimate Deutschland Experience

This was a great weekend, full of hardcore DE experiences. And another entry where video need to help me out to really get some of this across.

Since Thursday was a holiday, we had 3+ days to play with and couldn't go out of town cause 1/2 of Eric's birthday present kept us here for Saturday. More about that, when I get to Saturday. :)

Thursday was a fantastic and unexpected pretty day, so off we drove, southbound to the DE. Here's a cool map you can see of where we went! First stop was Kochelsee, a lovely lake surrounded by mountains. We had some cheese, crackers, juice, bier, and chocolate, dunked the kids, went for "brief" alpine swims, and saw an old german lady sunbathing topless. Classic DE.

Back in the car, and southward where we got a little "lost" and ended up on a very bad, winding, SKINNY road. After passing the a couple huts and t-bars, realized we were driving on the cat-track of a ski area! hmm. A nice lady hiking pointed us to the less steep "cat track" and we ended up at this drop-dead gorgeous, Heidi-like place with a bierhut, little lake, and gang of dirt bikers. Perfect! We stayed there for a while (while Eric had a conference call... ) and picked flowers, rolled in grass, and took pictures. Made me want to break out in Sound of Music leaps and singing.

Back in the car, found a lonely goat/sheepherd high on a hill, yodelodo yodelodo yo hey hoo, and wandered towards Garmisch- which we've been within 10 miles of now 3 times, but have never gone in! Stopped at a restaurant to get dinner and WOW- yodeling accordian player, dancing lederhosen boys-- again, this was a good day.

Friday was somewhat normal because Eric had to work, but then comes Saturday. I'll turn it over to Eric to describe his day:

For my birthday, Laurie gave me a day of driving at the BMW Fahrer Training. They basically handed us a 270 HP 330 and we got to run through the courses. Braking- fun. Braking with an obsticle- very
fun. Understeer training on a tight circle- awesome. Oversteer training on a tight loop with sprinklers- very awesome. Overall, a fun day and good training on how to drive a car under extreme circumstances. The good part is that I learned how to drive a high performance BMW, not sure if this will help with driving a lumbering van to Mazama. We posted a short version of the video here.
For the longer 10 minute version, click here to see it on YouTube. The instructor's directions are particularly humorous.

Meanwhile, the kids and I rode the bike up the Isar about 15 KM and found a nice spot to sit and play with rocks. Miles found two sticks that became his bass guitar, and they had a little impromptu show on the beach. That night, we took the tram to Hirschgarten, a beer garden we've been meaning to go to. I think it's moved to near the top of the list- every food you could imagine (DE food, that is), ping pong tables everywhere, boules, basketball, a carousel, and several playgrounds. Oh, and did I mention the deer you can feed? Yeah. Great place. :)

AND TODAY, Sunday, I am happy to say, I am caught up on the blog. :) This might end up being my favorite DE slideshow- classic.

Week 11: Hittin the Path(s) Less Travelled

Now that our germs are in check, and we've realized we're over the 1/2 way point, we're cranking up the travel a notch. It's very hard to be here and not try to go everywhere.... So we went two directions we haven't gone yet this week!

Can you believe we're in the CZ in 2 1/2 hours from Munich? We can't. It takes us longer to get to the cabin in Mazama. Twice as long, in winter. The locals think we're a little crazy with this tolerance for driving "that long," but really, when you're on the autobahn, driving nearly as fast as you can stand it through fields of dandelions, um.... it's not that hard to do. :) And Cesky Krumlov is in Bohemia, so for a weekend, we were truly Bohemian. Cool!
We were surprised at how interesting this 36 hour jaunt was.
The contrast of bleak and beautiful, old and new, eastern / western stood out in so many ways, like how we past several typically "Eastern Block" looking factories that have been converted into solar power plants. And then we were driving through gorgeous countryside and suddenly see some exposed ladies looking for business along the highway, and a farm with a big neon "Amor" sign on the side. All this surrounded by soft, unmanicured fields of grass and wildflowers. So surreal! I actually made Eric turn around so I could take a quick picture (he sped up a bit so no one would get excited and think we were bidness...)

So back to more G-rated discussion- Cesky Krumlov is a very old, beautiful town, with many of the buildings dating to the 1300's. The most striking thing was how totally 2-dimensional the buildings are on the surface, but then they have bricks and gargoyles and facades painted on them. So different! The detail was incredible and really contrasted against how smooth and flat really the surfaces were- afterall, the buildings were "canvases." The castle was amazing- covered in painted on brick and figures and surrounded by archway corridors, old stone walkways and even had a moat- with bears in it! Real live bears. Apparently this started in the 1600's and has continued to this day (although they're really an attraction now-- not trained to eat castle-stormers, but I'm sure they could)

Cesky Krumlov also had an amazing playground- along the river Vltava- where the kids played on a climbing wall built into the old city wall while we sat for a few hours enjoying original "Budweiser" beers and soaking it all in.

So we rested up and did our weekday thing, then it was off again, this time Northbound to Oslo, Norway. I've been waiting for this trip since I was 15, and got really into Edvard Munch. :) (The Munch Museum is in Oslo).

This was a fantastic time to go really- to visit our friend Johanne, get to the Munch Museum (finally) AND over the REAL Syttende Mai - how perfect! (For people who don't live in Ballard, Seattle's proud Norwegian roots run deep in Ballard, and to celebrate the NO independence day, there is a fine 17th of May celebration right through our hood in Ballard.)

We got in Friday, hung out and and dinner with Johanne and Arne, and geared up for a big weekend. Saturday was my Munch day- we hit the museum when it opened and I got my fill of all of his angst by going through twice (once with kids, once without). We haven't done a museum yet on this trip with the kids, and it was pretty fun watching their reactions and listening to them talk about the paintings. Miles had a "big spill with his juice" in "Death of Marat." Vivian thought the "melting people" were sort of funny. We also walked through the botanical gardens and then had a really nice dinner out with Johanne and Arne again.

Oslo is, as everyone says, a lot like Seattle! Lots of green, cherry trees in bloom everywhere, set by the waterfront, a strip of cool places to eat along the water. However- it is light about 21 hours a day now! We had some trauma getting the kids to understand that even though it looked like 5pm, it was 11pm! ACK! Vivian ended up in the windowless bathroom on the floor and we managed to stack blankets up against the skylight in Miles' room. WHY a skylight in Norway? No clue. :) This (along with the insane cost of everything and strict regulations on alcohol sales) makes people wiggy, and/or tired, and/or grumpy, and very bingy with their drinks. Judging by the noise and crazy people in the street at 4AM, it must all be disorienting, even if you live there.

Side story- I might add that I had a strange "Scruples" experience. Mom should probably not read this part. Early Sat morning while walking to get coffee, saw some paper fluttering around, stepped on it, and realized I had 3000 KR in my hand (worth abt 450 dollars...). A man was walking by and I asked if he lost it- "no- it's your lucky day!" he says, and walked away. I walked up and down the block, but there was no one in sight, and everything was closed. I went into the one store that was opening up. No one there lost it. --- um what would you do? Arne thought it could be drug money because no one carries that much cash, I was near a park and it was all folded up. Eric had an easier time accepting this "gift" and I figured as long as I spent it all and paid it back to Oslo, it would be ok.... ? Thankfully, this helped a lot with what was a VERY expensive city. A beer was 8 euro, and our dinner for 4 adults and 2 kids was $300, so that pretty much blew our jackpot wad.

Sunday was the parade! The Oslo parade includes all the schools and their bands, so I think every kid in town was in the parade in their traditional dress. SO cute.... We said hi to King Harald and Queen Sonja - they waved to us and several thousand people from their palace balcony. Vivian was pretty excited to see the fluttering of a real prince and princess. Then we enjoyed our best meal--- Arne's a fantastic head chef and with sous-chef J, they put together a stuffed trout, locks, potato and green salads, and gelato. yum. A fantastic, lazy and filling afternoon with friends. :)