Burg Eltz

The first thought that crossed my mind upon learning we were headed to Germany was all the traveling we would be able to do, the sights we would see, the history we would experience. Our trip to Burg Eltz was everything and more.

I had been to a few castles in England back in 2006, but I quickly realized that each country does theirs a bit different. Where something like Bodium Castle makes you think of motes and attacks on the castle wall, Burg Eltz was like a fairy tale. Towered spiraling toward the sky, cobblestone paths, and the Mosel River flowing past made the setting quite picturesque.

We drove from our northwest area of Germany south, down through vineyards and little villages in the hillside. It was about a 3 hour trip to Münstermaifeld, the small village nearest the castle. There we parked our big American Charger and took a shuttle over the winding road and to the castle. At first there is nothing but forest, then suddenly the road drops down and perched on the hillside is Burg Eltz. It is breathtaking.

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We walked through the massive entry doors and on to the path leading to the castle and all service buildings. You could hear language after language as July is the height of tourist season. We got tickets to the next English your and wandered in awe waiting for it to begin.

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The oldest portions of the castle dates back to 1472, and just oozes history. The current family owners have had the castle back to the 12th century, over 33 generations ago. On display inside are some original tapestries, stoves, beds, chapels, and furniture. The views alone from the upper floors are spectacular.

After the tour we made our way down a beaten path to the Mosel River where the boys got their feet wet and skipped rocks. Looking up you could see even more ruins perched amongst the trees, and you could fully take in the massiveness of Burg Eltz as it towered above.

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Before hitting the road we stopped at the little café near the souvenir shop, dining al fresco of course, and thoroughly enjoyed the most mouthwatering bratwurst yet. Even the ice-less Pepsi seemed to taste better than ever.

The trip was amazing and a perfect “first German castle experience.” Followed by a perfect American experience….we just had to stop at Spangdahlem AB, and enjoy some good old Taco Bell on the way home. Gotta get it where you can right?

As we got back into the car, bellies full, we were blessed with perfect timing. The sun was getting lower, the sky turning a beautiful yellow and peach. We took a slightly different road north, one that took us through eastern portions of Belgium and back into Germany. It was the perfect ending to the day, and made me think once again how lucky we are to be able to experience Europe.

The Elephant in the Room

I’m going to start this off with a quick disclaimer. I am very fortunate to be able to have an experience such as living in a foreign country. Dreams are made of this. I am stoked to travel, to try new things, and meet new people. Really, I am. BUT…..

I am beyond homesick. I think I was a bit naive when it came to thinking I’d just fit right on in and get the hang of things. I certainly haven’t had a bad experience, and for the most part people have been very friendly. But I constantly feel out of place, that every outing is a battle. Do I have USD or euro on me? Does this place take an EC card? Will my food take 3 hours to get to the table? Will my kids keep it together to go out to eat?

I have met a few people and have become friends but it isn’t that well established friendship feel. (I know you have to start somewhere but in uncertain times you crave not having to explain yourself.) I miss my friends back home terribly, miss our kids’ play dates full of giggles and rambunctiousness. I miss knowing that even if there were no plans to get together that day that they were always there for me. I miss feeling comfortable and just relaxing. I miss my routine, as mundane as it seemed some days. I miss the Oklahoma spring, full of loud thunderstorms and the warm sun shining on your face. I miss spray parks and BBQ, listening to country and driving down the interstate. I miss the zoo, Sonic cherry limeade, and baseball games on a warm summer evening. I miss the ranch and I miss knowing we had friends or family relatively near by to watch the kids if we needed a night out. I miss my family and the mountains, taking a weekend off and staying at Glacier Park. I miss being able to be around for big occasions like graduations and birthdays. I miss being able to run in to a store and get out relatively quickly without incident. I sorely miss carrying on a conversation with the general population, or even just understanding what someone just said.

I mainly just miss feeling normal. The house is pretty much done, and slowly feeling like home. But the days are long, the rain seemingly endless, the internet and phone still not connected…leaving me to feel very alone.

I know this is temporary. I know things will settle and things will be great and they may have to drag me kicking and screaming to go back someday….but right now I just miss home.

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Pannenkoeken in Thorn

Pancakes, they have always been a favorite of mine. And having been eating them for 30 years I was surprised today that until now I had no idea how versatile these babies were.

Today we went to breakfast in Thorn, NL, about a half hour drive from our village in Germany. There we met some friends at what boils down to a pancake house. It was small and cozy and on the most picturesque cobblestone city street I have come across. Only it was raining and Sunday making the place almost deserted.

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Regardless, we were seated not on the quaint main floor but down down downstairs in the dungeon. Now stop all your negative thoughts now….this was no regular dungeon. Rather a room where kids could be cut free, parents could eat, and luckily no one else was around. It was fantastic. I ate a meal in peace. What a Mother’s Day treat!

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The dungeon/fungeon was complete with giant Legos and a climbing gym. It kept the kids entertained as we feasted on our pannenkoeken, which is Dutch for pancakes. The menu was pages and pages of what types of pancakes or toppings you could have. It all sounded wonderful and the aroma was even better.

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We decided to get 2 types and then to share, so he got savory with bacon and apple pannenkoeken and I went sweet with cherry and cinnamon pannenkoeken. They both were delicious, but I think the cherry topped out as my favorite.

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So with that, we mark two months in Germany thus far. In some ways it seems like we have come a long way….now with driving being no big thing, our house is set, even traveled a bit. On the other hand, it seems like it has been ages since I have felt like I have fit in anywhere, or had BBQ, or heard country music….. But I think that may be some homesickness creeping in. But that’s another post entirely

Happy May Day!

Spring has finally arrived here in Germany! Not only has the bitter cold given way to warm(ish) hazy days but there is also a day to welcome the delightful time of year when bright tulips bloom…May Day!

So I don’t know about you but the extent of my knowledge of this day basically boils down to glittery flowery crafts done in wee elementary school years and it involved fake paper baskets of fake paper flowers to bring home to our parents.

The whole maypole thing also puzzles me. And to be honest the only reason I knew you dance around it is from an episode of Mad Men. You know…where Don falls for Susie’s teacher? I wish I looked so graceful, a halo around my hair as small children and I danced around the pole…. I digress.

Maypole dance a la Mad Men

Anyways, May Day and may baskets and maypoles are all legit here in Germany. Each village usually has its own pole in the village square. The colorful streamers blow gently in the breeze. As to an actual maypole dance I hear it is true but I can’t confirm nor deny this as I was blissfully snoozing that particular sunny morning. Not really. I have two small children, which seems to be a better excuse as to why I can’t get anywhere on time.

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Now I also learned that there is a sinister side to May Day. On the night of April 30th, or Hexennacht, it is quite common for children (or drunk teenagers might be more appropriate) to pull pranks. Usually they are harmless and usually involve stringing colorful crepe paper into a tree. Oh so you have no tree so you must be off the hook? Think again. I hear that some poor saps have found a tree strung up to their house just for the occasion. This may be an extreme case though. Word on the street is that some pranksters don’t even bother with supplies and hop on to a tractor and blast techno (complete with light display) and slowly cruise the streets at 3am. GUTEN TAG! Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss Uhn Tiss.

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NOTE that this tree is not growing in the sidewalk. It is strung up to the side of the house. Ha!

What’s the point of these shenanigans you may ask? Well I asked and apparently it is to chase away the winter demons. So thank you to all that got punked, your sacrifices have allowed me to basque in the warm sunlight and gaze upon fields of gold.

Springtime in Germany is certainly a special time of year.

Home!

Well on Monday we officially moved into our new home. We hurried off early in the morning to meet the movers. Well, I did. D had to work and so it was all me and the boys to meet the team of Dutch movers. They were amazingly efficient and unloaded our unaccompanied baggage and household goods at the same time. By the time they left, we were all exhausted and surrounded by boxes. But I adore the house, we had minimal drama upon moving in, and I can’t wait for us to be settled.

So four things come to mind upon my initial impression….

1. Floor heat, where have you been all my life? No really! It may be 65 degrees and Spring but nothing beats getting out of the shower, putting your feet on a warm toasty floor and grabbing a towel off the heated rack. And it’s not just the bathroom. The whole house is just as kind to your feet. The thermostat throws me as it’s all in German and I’m still trying to figure it all out, but It can only get better!

2) How do I live without closets!? Clothing is one thing. But what do I do with my towels and bed linens? Another shrunk perhaps but I doubt one will fit downstairs but I may ask for them to try. Otherwise it is Rubbermaid for me!

3) We live on a cul de sac. Imagine a square with 4 houses. It is atrocious for parking BUT both neighbors on either side have kids just Little D’s age!! And since our cozy square is on the edge of town and literally no one comes around into our maze unless they live here, impromptu playgroups complete with riding bikes and scooters and cozy coupes all over in front is perfectly acceptable. Little D even asks to go play! And it is also equally acceptable for all the adults to chill out with lots of beers until it is entirely too late and you realize your child should have been to bed hours ago.

And finally…

4) Both neighbors are very nice, one couple is beyond. How so? They are swingers. Serious swingers. They are very friendly, very open, and have no issue whatsoever to hit on me (not little hints or innuendos, this is straight up) in front of my husband and his wife. She acted as if he had said “have a good day.” D downed his beer in attempt to not get off on the wrong foot. ….chirp chirp….

But aside from that hilarity, they are all very welcoming. (Ha! understatement!) Looks like we found a cozy, laid back, and always interesting cul de sac to live on.

Off to Aachen!

Last weekend we decided to get our exploring on. I had heard so much about Aachen, and luckily it is very close by. Easily done by car, easier yet by train. Plus trains are fun….for the kids I mean. Totally all for the kids.

When I had first planned the trip it was forecasted to be 50 and sunny. I have learned in my month here that 50 is nice and should not be complained about. Sounded perfect for strolling along the ancient city. Alas, it didn’t turn out that way. In fact by Friday night it was forecasted to be 37 and rainy. I almost scrapped the trip altogether but the host at our guest house said that in Germany you just have to roll with it. It would never be perfect weather. So we pressed on.

We met some friends at the Geilenkirchen Banhoff (train station) and it was freezing. Literally…about 32. Our train was delayed 15 minutes (what happened to these efficient Germans??) and we stood out on the platform trying not to be miserable. Finally the train arrived and we eagerly clambered on.

“We are going SO fast!” Dawson blurted, his nose still very rosy.

We got to Aachen and then strapped Grayson in his Ergo carrier…then off we went.

The streets were beautiful, full of gorgeous architecture and ancient ruins just thrown in with modern society. There were little shops full of delicious smells and bright sights. We walked through cobblestone streets full of people bustling around with bags full of expensive things.

Then we were met with a beautiful beautiful sight. The Aachen Dom, built in 796 AD by Charlamange, the first Holy Roman Emperor. It also happens to be where he is entombed. It was old and grand and breathtaking. Not only was this awe inspiring visually, but to think about all the history that had happened where my feet met the cobblestone. For a few minutes I forgot how cold I was.

I took some pictures with my phone so they definitely are not great and do not do this place justice. But it was just so cold and with a 25 lb sack of Grayson strapped to me I just didn’t want to haul out the good camera. But on a nice day…..I promise. Good things will come.

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The inside, I hear, is even more fabulous with mosaics everywhere. But last weekend time and petite tempers were limited. Since it is just a 15 minute train ride away we shall definitely be back many many times.

And then for the second time that day, my breath was taken away as my eyes saw that green and white sign I desperately missed….STARBUCKS. And English speaking as well! It was a tasty stop to warm up if anything.

We continued on our adventure, buying odds and ends at fabulous stores and trying to make mental notes where things were located.

Before we departed we found a Thai restaurant that we had heard was delicious. We piled in the small little restaurant and were seated in the most inconvenient of places….a booth placed in the corner towering above the other tables. It apparently is used for special occasions but today it was the only place that would fit us all. Not only did we tower above everyone, we also had to remove our shoes as was tradition. Now, if this was date night this would be fabulously romantic. However, with two small children, now barefoot, and kneeling at a little table next to a steep staircase (although few stairs)….my leisurely lunch was kapoot. Instead while our kidless friends reminisced and playfully ate appetizers, I tried to stop my oldest from pushing the youngest down the stairs. Or stopping the oldest from playing with the expensive looking window setting. Or stopping the youngest from spilling every drink on the table. And every time someone let out a cry and we had to excuse ourself, we first had to stop and put our shoes back on and climb down the stairs. It was exhausting. I was rewarded, however, with seriously good Thai food. And I hope to be that quiet couple in the corner having a romantic eventing out someday. But that day, I wanted out.

We hit up a few more stores, including a toy store where we found the much sought-after golf clubs. Please let me explain…

Dawson had a cheap plastic set of golf clubs from Walmart. They were left outside, they were dirty, half the pieces were either broken or missing. I threw them away, and not a damn was given. Until one day Dawson happened to come across a similar set of clubs at a friend’s house. From then on…”I want golf clubs! Are we getting my clubs?” Over and over. In fact, while walking from the train station earlier in the day Dawson had asked Denny “are we going to get golf clubs?” We said maybe but what we really thought was we weren’t gonna find any damn plastic golf clubs in a gorgeous place like this….

Standing in the toy store…I stand corrected. Even when he fell asleep coming home from the train station he never let them go….

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So as we headed back to the train station, plastic golf clubs in tow, we were again cold but eager to come back and explore. I feel amazingly lucky to be around such history, and to be so close to some of the most scenic places on this earth.

What do crucifixes and cigarettes have in common?

They both can be found on the side of the road here in Germany! And it’s hard to determine which one surprises me most….

First off, remember those cigarette machines from way back when? I particularly remember them in smoky diners (for the Great Falls crowd this means Cattins). But as the people fought for their right to breathe clean air they seem to have disappeared except for the occasional ghetto bowling alley. In Germany this is a much different story. They are everywhere….Attached to random apartment buildings, free standing in the middle of a residential or business district. Pick a flavor and it’s yours. At first the public health portion of my brain gasped in horror. But I’ve soon come to realize that it isn’t demonized like in the States. It’s bad for you. Deal with it. Don’t like it quit. But very much still apart of their culture. I must say props to them. We public health people are very bossy, and while I know the importance the position has I think we take away personal responsibility. The Germans accept it rather than blaming society for making them do it. So….I guess….good for them!!

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Also apparently it’s not “put money in, get cigarette out” deal. You need a special card to use it so I assume the process of getting said card does screen out the wannabe badass 7 year olds or what have you…

The other side-of-the-road oddity is the crucifixes and small Catholic shrines. Now, I’m technically Catholic myself but maybe just that in the US blatant in your face religious symbols seem to be less acceptable but it seems strange to see a giant crucifix next to your stop sign…or an enclosed shrine complete with lit candles and a statue of the Virgin Mary on the corner of a busy street (or out in the middle of nowhere for that matter!)

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Regardless, it certainly makes things more interesting as you make your way through villages and such.

Guten tag!

Have we REALLY been here almost three weeks now? Shame on me for not updating.(I’ll get better I promise!!) Well first things first, our trip began with probably the hardest part….goodbyes to Denny’s grandparents who helped us at the airport and saw us off. Over the last four years we have been blessed to be so close to them. They have been there through holidays, birthdays, and perhaps more importantly long deployment days where I needed a helping hand and someone to tell me it’s okay. We have gotten close, and it wasn’t easy to gather up our boys and board the plane. Perhaps the biggest push I had at the moment was the promise of sitting down.

Our legs ached as for whatever reason we didn’t think to drop off our luggage and THEN park. No. We parked then decided to haul 7 suitcases, 4 carry-on items, a diaper bag, and two car seats plus two small children through the parking garage, down the long long LONG underground walkway to the terminal, and finally to the elevator where we fought off a heart attack. Thankfully the lady at the ticket counter was exceptionally nice and got us situated so we could concentrate on the two giggling boys behind us that seemed to not notice the people trying to push past them as they played in the middle of the terminal.

Once on the plane I grew excited. We stopped in Chicago and made the long treck through O’Hare. We flew Lufthansa Airlines, which may I add is amazing. Their food was delicious, they were immensely helpful with the boys, and the attendants looked like sophisticated European models. I will say though that it really sunk in when we boarded and the captain made his entire announcement in German first. It was a glaring reminder that we had A LOT to learn.

We landed in Dusseldorf and our sponsor was there to greet us. It was also in the midst of a major winter storm. The locals went on about how this was rare so late in the season. Each day I grow wary of the truth to this though as it STILL snows some cold evenings..

Anyway, our cab that our sponsor had arranged for was nowhere to be found. We waited,and waited,watching cabs come and go. The snow falling to our tired feet. Our kids even too tired to whine. WHERE THE HELL WAS THIS GUY?? He finally pulled up in a larger cab/van (hence the reason we waited…we require a call-ahead vehicle to fit our huge American stuff) We strapped the car seats in and began the drive to our village. Our cabbie did not speak English, it was quiet to say the least.

We finally arrived at Altes Brauhaus. It is beautiful, and the owners are beyond fabulous. They are always helping us and pointing us in the right direction, and always up for a friendly chat over a beer.

So what have we done the last three weeks? Well, remember we stood out in the snow? Both the boys came down with awful colds. Denny and I have also shared a stomach bug. A fine welcome, no?

But we have also found a house that we are set to move in to April 15. I am beyond excited to have our stuff back and get back to some sort of normalcy. The house is the typical German two stories and a basement, 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath. A playroom downstairs, as well as a great storage room. We have a backyard looking out over an old time windmill and our village is complete with a few bakeries and a butcher, and of course a church with a bell tower that rings out at noon everyday.

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I also have found a car, a silver BMW 320i. While it isn’t new (that comes before we leave) it is perfect for running back and forth around here in style. It is smaller than what I’m used to, and I’m having to remember the way of a manual transmission. But I have named her Heidi and I can’t wait to pull up to our new German home in it.

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Denny also received his car from port last week. Luckily it passed the German inspection with ease, despite the glances from the locals as they see the beast that is a Dodge Charger in Europe. Even Denny is a bit uneasy at driving in some of the smaller villages and tight streets.

And speaking of driving, we both have tested and achieved our German driver’s license. It is quite intimidating in the beginning, especially when you realize personal space is unheard of and it is the norm to have about five cars in your tailpipe as you try to decipher street signs (or lack there of) whilst in a roundabout and trying to switch gears.

But each day we get more confident… driving to new places, stumbling through conversations with the locals (Did you know “chicken nuggets” transcends all languages?), and slowly getting used to “NATO time” which is basically whenever-no hurry. More than anything I long for our stuff, and we are counting down to when the packers are at our new door.

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They came, they packed, we were on the floor. It’s always strange to see your belongings boxed up and hauled away by total strangers. Crated up and knowing your possessions will merely be riding the waves of a ship across the Atlantic….very strange. Nonetheless that’s exactly what happened.

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And after a night or two on the floor, despite generous friends offering up their blankets and air mattress, we all voted to check-in to temporary lodging on base. Good grief. I had such fond memories of it and I can’t think of why for the life of me now. The “cozy” living space seems merely cramped when you add 2 small children and their toys to the mix. And naturally it has been cold outside which rendered the park across the street useless for much of the time.

But we made use of what we did still have and wore the kids out by having a blast with friends and family before the big farewell. Denny’s dad made the trip down and we had a blast feasting on our local favorites and shopping. We finished the weekend with a delicious family meal down at the ranch with the whole family. It was bittersweet watching as the boys played with their cousins, having the time of their life and knowing we would be taking them so far away from a family that loved their every move. It seems so strange to think that upon our return from Germany Dawson will be 9 and Grayson 5.

We also had a bon voyage dinner with our close friends. Again, it was hard to watch as Dawson played with two friends he has had literally almost his whole life. The ultimate trio was breaking up, all thanks to my itch to travel.

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Too late to take it all back now. Bags are packed. We are ready to go, or at least as ready as we are going to get.

But I bid you farewell…. Tomorrow we have a plane to catch.

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Yes, this blog still exists

I am an awful blogger. I admit it. I’m sure for anyone to take you remotely serious you have to have actual entries, not just one in two months time. But frankly I’m not very interesting….yet. But it is getting closer to our big departure and if I could just sweet talk you in to sticking around until we get there I promise you I will be more fascinating. Pinky swear.

In the mean time small bits of excitement have happened. Such as what you ask? Well we received our travel itinerary. A quick stop at O’hare and off we go far far away to a place that has names (and general words alike) that make me giggle. Ahem….. I will have to get over that. But you say Dusseldorf and not giggle! But in all serious I’ve googled the place and it looks fantastic. We are really REALLY excited. But it also inspired a hushed moment of anticipation, excitement, and fear…..”So do we go through Chicago on the return fl….oh. right. There isn’t one.”

Dusseldorf!

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We also have our lodging accommodations set. We will be staying at the Altes Brauhaus….that’s “the brewery” for those that may not speak the native tongue. Basically it is very old, very beautiful, and I simply cannot wait. There is a gorgeous church nearby, and a wall perimeter around the village that was built in circa the 14th century. So, you know….amazingly cool. We will call it our home for the first month while we scour North Rhine-Westphalia in search of our own German home.

Altes Brauhaus

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And excitement here at the home front as well. Sold our house in 2.5 weeks, not too shabby. Got a good deal there and thankful to not have to worry about two house payments. Just the thought makes me want to run screaming. We also have shipped HEMIna, aka the Charger. She shall arrive around the beginning of April to begin her new life on the Autobahn. (Slow ass boat, no?)

So February marks the last month in the States….and while every day I get more and more excited, I’m also already starting to miss what has been my home for just over four years now..the amazing friends I have made, the awesome storms…..Gah! I was hoping for one more season…

I’ll miss you OKC. but all roads point back to Tinker. Like it or not.