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!