Friday, August 31, 2012


Packing Up My Suitcase Heart
     Well, dear, dear, readers, we have officially come full circle.

     One year ago today, I arrived in Germany, scared out of my mind for the year that was to come, and having no idea what to expect.

     And exactly 366 days later ( it was a leap year), here I am, sitting on my parents' couch in Yucaipa.

    I've been back for about four days at this point. I know I should be saying how amazing it is to be home, how much I've missed the spirit of America and the beauty of our country and the freedom we have like nowhere else in the world...but in all honesty, after four days, I've had enough of America to keep me going for at least another year. When's my flight back to Germany again?

    I'm not trying to be depressing, just to be honest. There are things here that I have missed. I did my laundry yesterday in ONE HOUR. WASHING AND DRYING. It was incredible. And I went to a restaurant last night, and not only did I get free refills on my coke, there was unlimited ice water! Without having to ask for it! Ah, the beauty. I do get carded at restaurants again, though, which is kind of annoying. It's wonderful to see my parents and sister (and dog!!), and I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of my family this weekend and getting together with some friends I've missed. Tomorrow is move-in day at a condo in Long Beach, and then life shall begin in earnest. Life here, I mean.

    In the interest of full disclosure, this blog title is a lie. I have not unpacked. At all. Other than like four underwears and my camera cord.

    Moving on, I'll save you some time and answer some of the more obvious questions you may have:
  • Yes, I'm glad to be home...but only about 30% glad.
  • No, it is not the most amazing thing ever to get to drive again. I mean, really? Cars aren't that exciting. And as to the comparison in commutes...

Typical drive in Germany (I mean, not THAT typical, but not that extraordinary either)
Typical drive in Southern California. Mmm, smell those auto fumes. It's kind of like coming home to a third-world
  • No, I did not miss American beer. (I don't really know who would be dumb enough to ask that, but just in case). 
  • Yes, I do love how cheap everything is here.
  • Yes, I did go to the Disneyland castle in Germany.
  • The food I missed the most was [good] Mexican. And Reese's. NOM.
For any inquiries you may apply to me personally.

    The weird thing about being back in the home that I grew up in is how familiar everything is. I'm starting to feel like I was never away at all. It was weird and new to be home and see my parents and sister for maybe...five minutes. And then it was like it always has been. Except my mom's redone the kitchen and I can't find ANYTHING. And I had a minor panic attack when I forgot to take off my shoes when I walked into the family room. And, you know, I tried to speak German to the Hispanic cleaning lady yesterday. Also, my parents got an electric couch. What? I don't know either. But other than that? I might as well have never left.

    It scares me to think of that happening. Of getting sucked back in to the person I always was, always have been in this place and this world. My niche is still waiting for me and it would be so easy to be that person again. But I don't want to be that person! I feel like I grew so much this year--I went through the toughest breakup of my life, and not only did I not let it break me, I thrived! It took me awhile, but I think towards the end I really jumped in both feet first (is that how that metaphor goes?). I spoke German with strangers, I went to bars alone and met random people, I swam in rivers and drank beer on public monuments, drove for extended periods of time in strangers' cars with large men who didn't speak anything but Hungarian, and managed to keep two children alive and healthy for a year.

   I am so, so grateful for the chance I had to live abroad for the year. That, somehow, the stars aligned for me to end up in the most amazing city I have ever been, with the best host family, the coolest choir, and the most wonderful friends. Considering I jumped into the whole au pair thing with about half an hour of consideration (and even less time deliberating about the family that had asked me to come), I got so, so, so incredibly lucky.

    Living away from home--and I mean far away, not college in the next town--taught me so much. It sounds trite, but it really is true.
  • You don't have to have a shared background, history, homeland, or even language to be friends with someone.
  • There are vastly more good, interesting, genuinely kind people walking this earth than we give it credit for.
  • For so many people, out of sight really is out of mind, and it's a sobering thing to come home to. 
  •  You can give someone everything you know how to give them and it still won't be enough.
  • SAD (seasonal affected disorder) is totally a real thing. Everyone but the Californians have long since accepted this. 
  • And where your home is has nothing to do with where you were born, where you grew up, or the people you know. Your home is where your heart wants it to be. 

     It feels trite and silly to say that Munich is my home. Obviously I've spent the better portion of my 23 years in Southern California. But being back here gives me nothing of the sense of contentment I found in Munich toward the end of my time there. And as silly as it sounds, I really did lose my heart there. Or found myself there. Or any cliche of the sort. And funny enough, I went through a year in a foreign country with only the teensiest bit of homesickness. But this week, back at home? Crazy homesick. For brez'n, spätzle, die U-Bahn, Nußschnecken, Weißbier...the list goes on.

     Right now, fresh off a plane, I know I see the imperfections and flaws much more than anything else. That's natural. If you showed me a gorgeous view of the LA skyline at sunset, I would be disgusted at the smog. And I hope know that will pass. But right now...I just want to go back home. I don't know if I hope California will become home for me again or not. But I've always wanted the option of living somewhere else, and it's gratifying to know that I am not so attached to Southern California that I couldn't live anywhere else.  I suppose to have this all work out perfectly, something awful would have happened my last day in Munich so I could have left angrily and been overjoyed to leave Germany behind and be in California again. But that didn't happen. And that's okay. I'd rather stay in love with Germany than end our beautiful time together with a fight. We'll just have to be long-distance lovers for a while.

     To my wonderful family and friends who have been so faithful about reading this blog, I appreciate it so much, and really, it means more to me than I can say. Every comment and "like" warmed my heart, and it made the hard parts of this year so much easier to have so much love and support coming at me from afar!

    As of the posting of this blog, I have 4,774 views (so please look 226 more times so I can break 5,000! And remember, if anyone goes to Antarctica, please take a look. For me?) And though you probably don't care, I find it fascinating--the country ranking! And please tell me who all my friends in Russia are.

    I've had some requests to continue this blog, so if that would be something you'd be interested in...let me know? Send encouraging telepathic thoughts? I've never kept a blog before, but this year really taught me how useful and fun they can be! There's no way I could have told even a fraction of my readers about the things I did without good old Packing Up My Suitcase Heart.

     For anyone who's curious, the name of this blog is taken from one of my favorite songs by The Weepies: 
"And all that time, I felt just fine
I held so many people in my suitcase heart
That I had to let the whole thing go
It was taken by the wind and snow
And I still didn't know that I was waiting
For a girl on a slow pony home"

    And to my friends back on the other side of the Atlantic, thank you, more than I can say, for playing your part in this incredible experience. I miss you all, and if any of you wins the Lotto, I expect your presence to come to this continent to see me as soon as possible.

Paolo, Sean, ME, Noe, Sarah, Flo, Louise

   And to you, Munich? Well...don't forget me, please. I'll be back.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Packing Up My Suitcase...literally


     Well, faithful friends and readers, the hour has come. My family left about 6 minutes ago for their Italian vacation, and I am (deep breath) no longer an au pair. I managed to pull myself together enough not to cry when they left, at least! (Never thought I'd be saying that six months ago when I thought I wanted those little rascals out of my hair for good, but things change!)

    Okay, if we're on a full-disclosure dealio here, I wrote that first paragraph indeed, six minutes after my family departed. Then I got distracted by a bird or something, and now it's 26 hours later. Sorry. Moving on:

   At this moment in time, I have a terrifying 48 hours and 38 minutes left in Munich. I should probably be out soaking up the last of the city, but it's raining, I have to be somewhere at 4:30, so I'm timing my Ausflug (field trip) quite specifically to allow me good walk-through-rainy-Munich-maybe-buy-some-final-souvenirs time. Which leaves me at least a little time to try and whip some blogging out. (Can one whip out blogging? You tell me.) Speaking of souvenirs, any suggestions? I thought I'd be broke by the time I left, but I closed my bank account yesterday (which took an impressive waste amount of time. Long story short, I'd at some point loaded money onto the Geld Chip of my card (a chip on your bank card that allows you to use that money as sort of a gift card, handy for paying on buses and at vending machines (aren't multiple parentheses within each other exciting??)), and due to the fact that there was still 0.30 on that part of the card, they had to try and transfer that thirty cents to my regular account so they could give it to me. Which, apparently, would take four days. I eventually told them they could have the thirty cents as a present because I have places to be, people! (Yes, all that story told parenthetically! Don't you feel smart for having read it successfully? (Assuming you did...(more parentheses within parentheses!)))) and have rather more money left over than I'd anticipated! Sorry. I'm done, I swear. Anyway, I shall spend my remaining hours in Munich feeling richer than I have all year. It's nice.

    The last x days since my previous blog have passed in some kind of whirlwind or another, though while living them it was about the slowest two-ish weeks ever. I (clearly) survived eight days with just me and the kiddies, but it sure draaaagged while it was happening. I was saved mostly by the weather, which has been practically California hot and inspired my host parents to pick up a cheap wading pool for the back yard, which they planted the slide of the jungle gym in, leading to at least two/three daily hours of water fun (during which Au Pair Laura has nothing to do but apply sunscreen and make sure no one's drowning. Pretty easy to do whilst reading a book. SWEET.) Cliona and I were definitely sick of each other by the end of last week, but this week was a lot better with both kiddies home. They really do play well together (MOST of the time, but what siblings don't have their issues now and then?) Last Monday we took off to the other side of Munich (like seriously, an hour-and-ten-minute-long public transportation endeavor) to go to the water playground in Hirschgarten, Munich's (and Europe's! and maybe even the world's!) largest beer garden. There's a huge park surrounding it (the old recreational hunting grounds of the rulers of Bavaria, if I remember correctly; Hirshgarten means deer garden) and south of the beer garden itself, among the normal playground and meadows, is a water playground. And it's genius. It's basically just several slides set on a little brick hill, which some random ladders placed around, and there are several sprinklers continuously shooting the whole thing with water. It was the perfect thing for a hot day. There were tons of kids there, and Kilian and Cliona dived in with enthusiasm (though Cliona came running back sobbing every time she hurt herself, which was once about every ten minutes). We ended up spending almost five hours there, and when it was time to go, Kilian didn't even believe me that we'd been there that long. It was excellent, and I got to spend the whole time in the shade reading. Perfect. Poor Cliona did step on a bee at one point, and I mustered all the first aid I remembered (which isn't very much), and scraped the stinger out with my student ID and covered the whole thing with mud. However well it worked, she forgot about it long enough to play on the playground for another hour, though the pain magically resurfaced when we had to walk back to the bus, and she cried until she got a ride on my shoulders. Kilian was a wonderful little gentleman and carried my purse for me.

Conversation with Cliona the other morning:

Cliona (walks up to me eating my breakfast and climbs up on my lap):
Du kannst noch nicht richtig Skifahren! (You don't know how to ski yet!)

(She's very fixated on the sadness of me not being able to ski. We talk about it at least once a day and she tells it to everyone she meets.)

Me: Well, you're right, but I can do lots of other things!

Cliona: Was denn? (Like what?)

Me: Think about it.

Cliona thinks.

Cliona: Du kannst...Äpfel schneiden! Und...Banane abschälen! Und....laufen! (You can...cut apples! And... peel bananas! And...walk!)

My life's importance reduced to its bare minimum by a three-year-old.

   The rest of the week was pretty much just hanging out at home, with a few occasional trips to the park and to friends' houses. We played a lot of Monopoly Jr. (which I always win and therefore Kilian always cries) and Uno (which Cliona, surprisingly, almost always wins), read a lot of books (including all of the chidren's versions of Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, and Gulliver's Travels, which take about 45 minutes each to read out loud (in German, I might add)), and did some baking (on Thursday we made a chocolate zucchini cake and it was DELICIOUS, though the kiddies were very mistrustful until they got to lick the bowl out). Kilian was very sweet all week and gave me lots of hugs and told me how much he was going to miss me, and I did my best not to be sad! A part of me can't help but hate the new au pair a little, which totally isn't fair. Don't get me wrong, I hope she's good, just...not as good as me!

    Monday night we had a lovely dinner out in the back garden, with mini-quiches, salad, and baked peaches for dessert. And Anne and I made cocktails. Coolest host mom ever. Then Thursday we ordered in Indian and had a bottle of wine for my official last night as an au pair. And now, my family's gone! I can hardly believe it. It's weird still being in the house but knowing I'm not going to see them again before I leave. I never thought I would really get so attached to my family, but it's so sad thinking about not seeing them!

   Anyway, there was some other fun in the last couple of weeks. Last weekend, the weather finally arranged itself nicely enough to have a brilliantly warm and sunny weekend, so we took full advantage! On Saturday, Leigh came back up to Munich from her family's vacation house down in southern Bayern, and we went to meet the guy she's subletting from so she could officially take possession of her new apartment! I confess to major twinges of jealousy: it's such a cute little place and in such a wonderful location! Oh oh oh, how I wish I were staying! As the temperature continued to climb, we headed out to our main goal of the day: one last good English Gardens visit. We stopped to pick up some beers and snacks on the way, then camped out next to the river to enjoy the remaining sunshine.
    Unfortunately for us, our favorite spot on the river happens to be on the naked people side of the river. This usually isn't that much of a problem: you see your fair share of genitalia and breasts, but none of it gets too up close and personal, usually. But this time was different. I was lying on my stomach on my towel, attempting to find a crevice in the rocks to stick my beer into to cool it off (natural refrigeration ftw!), when suddenly I looked up, and lo and behold, was confronted with a penis a mere ten inches from my face or so. Its bearer was a pleasant-looking fairly young guy who we'd already noticed earlier (memorable due to his hilarious posture when in the river: behind stuck as far out behind as possible and chest as far forward as possible), and he quite kindly found me a place to put me beer. He continued to stand there right in front of us, conversing with me in German and flopping his junk through the river all the while (quite obviously). It doesn't help that the river is at a perfect just-below-crotch height. Leigh, the traitor, pretended not to speak German and rolled over the other way so she could laugh in peace, but I was stuck. Thankfully, he left to head back to his towel far on the other side of the meadow, and we were safe.

   Or so I thought. About an hour later, the same fellow, still birthday-suited up, came out of nowhere and sat down next to me and started talking. It was all pretty typical stuff that would have been a perfectly nice conversation (HAD HE BEEN CLOTHED): where are you from, how do you like Munich, your German's so good, have you ever been naked in the river...Okay, that one wasn't as normal. He tried to convince us casually for quite some time how nice it was to be naked in the river and we should really try it. After another brief dunk in front of us (this time with his attention focused on cleaning out his rear end properly), he left again. We watched him in terror, fearing that if he were watching us, as soon as we got in the river he'd come flopping running over to join us. I attempted to sneakily get in by sliding in feet first while looking super casual with my front half (pretty sure that didn't work), and we stood in the river for awhile while Leigh kept an eye on our naked friend, who kept turning to look at us. Having warned me she'd dive into the river if she thought it was necessary, after about ten minutes she shrieked and dove, floating off down the river, and I quickly followed. We swam just around a tree on the bank and got out to peek at him. He'd headed right to where our towels and bags were and put his towel down just across from them, and sat there expectantly waiting for our return. Not knowing what to do, we kept hiding in the river until we saw him disappointedly get up and head out to leave (walking right past us, of course; I jumped back in and floated right next to the bank, holding on to some plants to keep from getting swept down to where he was walking by the current). Then we headed back to our stuff, finally. I felt a little bad; he wasn't a bad guy and had the conversation been in any other circumstance, I would probably be writing about the lovely conversation I had with a German man the other week. But there's something about nudity that just made it all a little...odd. But let me tell you, I don't think I'll ever be awkward in a flirting situation again. Clothes are wonderful.

    Moving on, we spent a few more hours in the Gardens, then packed our stuff up and headed back to Leigh's apartment. Enthralled by the excitement of having a TV, we vegged out for a little while on a German Who Wants to Be a Millionaire-type show, then headed out to grab some pizza at about 10 PM, which we ate comfortably lounged on her balcony, enjoying the warm night air.

   The next morning, we arose, breakfasted on our leftover pizza, and headed to the train station to meet my friend Louise, where we boarded the S-Bahn to head down to Starnberger See, a lake just outside of Munich, where I'd planned with multiple people and at multiple times to go but was always foiled by the weather. But Sunday was perfect. It was about 90 degrees and we found a beautiful little private "beach" (no sand, but you get the idea) with a restaurant and bathrooms and docks to get in. The water was warm, the day was roasting (there wasn't even any pleasure in sunbathing; you'd just start sweating buckets as soon as the lake water dried off), and the food and drink were delicious. We spent the whole day fooling around in the water (best part was the huge logs anchored to the lake bottom) and eating ice cream, currywurst, and french fries. It was a wonderful day.

     A couple Wednesdays ago, Bavaria graciously deigned to grant its denizens a mid-week day of in honor of Mary's ascension to heaven (Maria Himmelfahrt). I'm personally of the opinion that every Wednesday should be a holiday. It breaks up the week quite wonderfully. If the US is as godly as a country as it claims, it needs to step up on its holidays. C'mon, who would say no to a regular two weeks off every June for Pentecost? I think it sounds like a grand idea. Anyway, to escape from my family for the day (after two full days with Cliona I was ready to hide), I hopped on the BOB and went down to see Leigh at her family's vacation home near Schliersee. Unfortunately for me, I chose the one time in probably all of Germany the entire year that the train chose not to function, and we had to disembark a stop before the one I'd get off at and take the bus instead. Grr. But we met up successfully and continued on the bus to the foot of Wendelstein, a large peak of the Bavarian Alps. We took a harrowing cable car journey to the top, where we could view the whole valley and the Alps surrounding us. It was gorgeous. We, of course, made time for a plate of french fries (with mayonnaise, like real Germans) and a beer. Because of the train situation, we couldn't stay for long (I had to be home to babysit and was worried the trains wouldn't be running to get me home on time, so I insisted we leave like two hours early), but it was lovely nonetheless. Greeted by trains that were working, we headed back to Schliersee for an hour to have an ice cream and sit by the lake, then I went the rest of the way back to Munich.

  Another 20 hours or so have passed, and it's now Sunday morning. I should be packing, but I've given myself seven hours to do it and I feel like that's way more than enough (famous last words, right?), so I'm going to put it off for a little longer and maybe even finish this blog. We'll see how that goes.

   Yesterday, after the bit of blogging I did, I headed into town for my last official day in the center of the city. The annoying thing about leaving on a Monday morning is that, as you may recall, shops are all closed on Sunday, so any shopping/souvenir buying/present getting I wanted to do had to be done yesterday. I somehow managed most of it, and then headed off to my adventure of the day: a Segway tour of Munich. This was my family's farewell present to me, which was really sweet, but I was a little nervous to ride a Segway. I'd chosen to do the tour auf Deutsch, as it made it seem slightly more legitimate (and I hate to perpetuate the fat American tourists on Segways stereotype), but after meeting the group I was going with and watching a safety video, I was a little worried (the video was super complicated and showed images of a little stick man falling about every five seconds. Eek!)

   But once I learned how to ride it it was pretty easy. The tour was a two-and-a-half hour ride through Munich, going down past the Isar, through some of the beautiful plazas, over the Oktoberfest meadow, and back through the southern gate of the city. It was actually really fun and I saw quite a few things I hadn't seen before, as well as learned some new information. I didn't fall the entire time (until the very end when I failed to get the Segway up over the curb to put it back in the shed! So close!) and enjoyed the lady who had ridden one before and was super cocky about it falling like four times, at every curb or hill. It is definitely an efficient way to get around, but to be quite honest, I would waaaaaay rather ride a bike. It's a little terrifying to be speeding around at 12 mph (which is super fast when you're standing vertically), and frankly, I felt like a mall cop the whole time. Segways are pretty conspicuous, and the reactions of people you pass don't really help (either clapping, cheers, catcalls, or just people pointing and laughing. Not really my style). But it was a blast, and we made it through the whole tour with practically no rain!
Bavaria statue
Soon-to-be Oktoberfest
   A couple days ago (yes, this blog is horrendously out of chronological order. That's what happens when you write it over a period of several days. Shh.), I met up with some buddies from my choir to have a barbecue on the Isar! I'd been told this was one of the things I most needed to experience before heading home, so I was excited. The weather didn't look too great, but we forged ahead anyway. Five of us met at the river, after picking up a plethora of food at the store, and proceeded, over a period of five hours or so, to successfully grill enough meat to feed a cavalry, on two teensy little throwaway grills we'd purchased from Tengelmann. It had a few false starts and someone had to bike back to the store to get some fire-lighting aids, but we managed impressively and had feast worthy of kings! We'd also, as choir kids do, brought a plethora of sheet music with us and even managed to get some singing done before the rain started at about 8 PM. Not willing to let the rain finish us off, we packed up our stuff and hopped on the U-Bahn to head back to my house, where we carried on singing and drinking wine until the wee hours of the morning, including a rousing rendition of Griechischer Wein that would have made my college German professor proud! (Listen here:  ) It was really one of the most fun nights I'd had in Munich--so nice to be able to have people over and just hang out with friends! I used to think it would be hard to really be friends with someone who had a different mother tongue than you, but honestly it makes not a speck of difference. We all go back and forth between English and German, because even if not everyone speaks the other language perfectly, pretty much everyone understands it well enough, and it's a lot of fun. My personal theory is that it even enhances communication to have the vocabulary and expressions of two languages to call on! Certainly keeps it more interesting, at any rate.

Beers cooling in the river
Germans learn how to do everything one-handed so they can always have a beer present.
How many Germans does it take to start a grill?

    There were a couple of other food-related adventures (okay, beer-related, if you MUST know. This is Germany, after all!), but nothing of great import to relate, other than some lovely evenings at beer gardens (Seehaus, right on the lake! and Chinesischer Turm), and some yummy dinners (sushi and froyo with Sarah! I don't need to go back to California now. I have found all the food I need here.)

Sarah showing off her German food

Chinesischer Turm by night
Favorite girls
    Okay, I should go pack now. I just took the first terrifying step and pulled my suitcases out of the storage room. Cross your fingers that the clothes and shoes I got rid of weighed at least as much as the goodies I'm bringing back! Someday soon (tonight, later today, tomorrow in the airport?) I'll write a farewell blog, but I won't do it now because I'll be too sad. I'll get there though. Fear not! And until then, well...have a good weekend! And start sending me good vibes for my plane flight of death tomorrow!

How I feel about leaving Germany

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


     Well, the count is officially at LESS THAN TWO WEEKS until I'm back home. I'm half really excited and half totally dreading it. It'll be great to be home again to see people, eat the foods I've missed, go to the beach, et cetera (so sad that a remarkably large percentage of the things I've missed are foods!). But on the other hand, there are lots of things looming over my return that it's been nice to get to ignore for a year: finding a job, a place to live, paying for insurance among them. Not quite as fun.

   But the last two weeks are working out nicely (I say that with a just a hint of sarcasm) to make me nice and ready to come home. The kids' kindergarten is officially closed as of yesterday, which means for two weeks I have kids all day, every day. This week is just Cliona, as Kilian's at a Feriencamp (vacation camp) at his mom's work, then next week I have both of them until my family leaves for their summer holiday in Italy next Friday. I survived the whole day with just Cliona yesterday (more about that later), and as I type today, Cliona and her little friend Nahia (Nye-uh. Yeah, I don't really get it either.) are prancing around me in circles waiting for me to entertain them. Which I do by pressing the "Next Song" button on the iPad. This isn't a stinking vacation camp. They can figure out how to play. Oy. Stay-at-home moms out there, I salute you. Nine hours at a time is a looooooong time to have just you and your kids. These creatures are hard to entertain.

   Anyway, true to my word, August has, thus far, been a month of adventures! Thus the name Augustfest, for which all the credit goes to Leigh and another friend of ours, whose technology phobia forbids my naming him on the internet. Though this week doesn't show much promise as being terribly entertaining (my exciting night last night consisted of G-Chatting and applying for jobs), August began with a great spate of adventures.

   The first weekend in August (you see, this is why I haven't written a blog! Too busy adventuring!) I had all free, as I recall (or just babysitting on Friday; in any case the days were all free), and so did Leigh, so with two other friends, we set off for a long-planned adventure to Regensburg for the day! Regensburg is a fairly nearby town, with the buildings there dating back to the Medieval period and the first settlement on the site dating back to the Stone Age! The Romans built a fort there in 90 AD, well-positioned as it is at the northernmost bend in the Danube. Much of the old parts of the city are still intact (thanks to its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and it's a great place to spend a day looking around.

   We met at Hauptbahnhof to catch a train to Regensburg at around 11 (it's about a 1.5 hour train ride), and spent the ride playing a jolly and far too loud game of "Who am I?" wherein each person is given a historical/popular/known figure by the other players and has to ask questions to figure out who they are. It took us most of the train ride to get through a round and it was pretty hilarious. (Characters included Gandhi, Cleopatra, Donald Duck, and Lady Gaga, if you were curious.) Our train pulled into the station without mishap, and we dawdled in the train station just long enough to pick up a guide book to get us oriented, then headed into town to explore.

   We clearly picked a good day to be in Regensburg: there were Coke girls handing out free Cokes (which we took advantage of several times) and free smoothie samples as we walked through the old town. We made our way first to check out the cathedral in the center of town, a gorgeous building dating back to the 1200s that is today considered the purest example of German Gothic architecture. We cruised through, took some obligatory pictures, then headed back on our way down to the river where we hoped to find lunch. And as had been recommended, next to the beautiful Stone Bridge (oldest stone bridge in Europe, used by the crusaders to cross the Danube on their way to the Holy Land), was a lovely little sausage restaurant, which turned out to be Historische Wurstkuchl, purportedly the world's oldest sausage restaurant, built originally to feed the workers building the aforementioned bridge back in the 1100s. However old it was, it was delicious. The only thing on the menu is Wurst (sausage) and your only choice lies in whether you order six, eight, ten, or twelve, and what sort of beer you get with it. The sausages are served with sauerkraut and homemade sweet mustard. This was the first time I actually caved and ate genuine, 100% pork, was delicious. The sausages are incredible and the mustard is the best of any kind I've any tasted. And with a beer to wash it down at 1 in the afternoon...well, you can't go wrong with that.


Ready to explore

   Fed and watered, we set off to see a bit more before catching a train to our next destination. We wandered through the old town, walked across a cute little bridge covered with locks (as per what's becoming European tradition) and seedlings and flowers planted in milk cartons hanging along it, with watering cans spaced along the bridge. We saw Johannes Kepler's birthplace and house, a delicacy store selling A&W root beer (one of the things I miss most of all!! Sadly, they were closed.), and some delightfully narrow streets my father would have loved. We hightailed it back to the train station to catch our train to Laaber at around 4:45.

   Where's Laaber, now? I hear you asking. You're right to wonder. It's more than likely the smallest town I've been in in Germany, the kind of place with one main street and two restaurants and a lot of tiny houses. But scoped out beforehand, we were armed with the knowledge that this tiny town was home to a brewery/restaurant that was something like the five-time gold medal winner of the Beer World Cup (which takes place in San Diego, apparently, if you're planning a beer-related vacation). Check it: . So we thought it necessary to give that beer a try. Daniel had cleverly made a reservation, but it turned out to be pretty unnecessary in a town of this size, given that only one table in the outdoor beer garden was occupied upon our arrival! We immediately ordered our beers, and spent a pleasant two and a half hours or so ordering different ones to go along with our meals. It was wonderful. The award-winning brewer's mother was there and she even smiled at me. It was my celebrity moment of the trip, that's for sure.

   Full to the brim, but having another two hours to use up before the last train back to Munich, we bought a few bottles of beer from the restaurant, paid our bill, and headed up towards a large ruin we'd spotted on the hill overlooking the town, vaguely reminiscent of the Colosseum. We spent the next couple of hours seated on a ledge overlooking the town, drinking our beer, and watching the sun set. Probably the single most idyllic night of my life.

Welcome to Laaber


    The next day dawned rather chilly and rainy-looking, but regardless, my friend Sarah and I had plans to [finally] vanquish the tourist Everest that is Neuschwanstein castle in southern Bavaria. The castle is famous for being built by crazy King Ludwig II of Bavaria, but even more famous for being the inspiration for Cinderella's castle at Disneyland. Thus, it's one of the (if not THE) largest tourist destinations in Germany. I hadn't really had a great desire to go there; places that are famous for being full of tourists tend to be rather irritating, and the insides of castles all blend together after a while, but I figured this was something that needed to be done. (Mainly because I imagine most of my conversations once I come home running along the lines of, "How was Europe? Did you go to that one castle?" And if I hadn't, all my conversations would fall through pretty fast. At least the way I've imagined it. I'll get back to you on that one.) So Sarah kindly agreed to accompany me and we caught a train to the small town of Füssen at around 9:30 Sunday morning.

   Unfortunately for us, we were stuck on the tourist train, which meant we had to stand most of the way to Füssen (a good two hour trip), but we made it! A friend of Sarah's was even leading a tour there on the same day, so we lucked into a free bus ride straight up the the castles. There are actually two castles in the same area (the hills surrounding the Alpsee), Hohenschwangau and Neuschwanstein. If you so choose, you can stand in the line of death waiting to buy a ticket to get you into both castles...or you can choose, as we did, to see as much as you can for free then find something else to do for the rest of your time. So we avoided the long line and headed up the steep hill to Neuschwanstein, a good 30-minute walk up a fairly steep road. The weather, at this point, had warmed up to a simply gorgeous day, and we were plenty warm by the time we made it to the top of the hill! We wandered through the castle courtyard and had a look around. Sadly, the castle is under construction (as are most historical buildings almost all the time), and almost the entire northern and western sides of the castle are covered in scaffolding.

   We then headed up yet another steep path to the Marienbrücke, Mary's Bridge, to get another famous view of the castle from up above. Also a major tourist part of the trip, the bridge, which is about a meter wide, was as packed with people as it possibly could be. And let me tell you, it didn't strike one as being that sturdy of a bridge! It was packed about as full as it possibly could be with people, and you almost had to wait in line to get your photo opportunity. But we managed it!

   Tourist duties thoroughly taken care of, we decided to head back down and see if we could get in a swim at the lake, which we could see from all the views and looked beautiful. After some walking, we found a lovely private beach, so we paid our admission and headed in to take a swim off of the dock. The water was cold but super clear and beautiful. I love swimming in the ocean, but swimming in an Alpine lake with views of incredible historic castles surrounding you is quite something! After some swimming and lounging on the dock to dry off (I'd failed to bring a towel), we noticed the signs of an impending Gewitter (thunderstorm) over the mountains, so we packed up and headed back for the bus, a twenty-minute walk or so. When a Gewitter comes, it usually comes pretty quickly; German weather systems move MUCH faster than Californian ones, so the whole walk we were ready for the first drops to fall on us. But the weather gods were on our side: we made it to the bus stop, hopped on the bus (ending up being the last people let on!), and the moment the doors closed, the rain started. And then it POURED, cats and dogs style, for the entire bus ride. But by the time we made it back to the train station where we'd originally arrived, it was barely sprinkling. Talk about perfect timing!

   We took advantage of the weather clearing up and headed into Füssen to do a little exploring and find somewhere for late lunch/early dinner. Settling into a little Bavarian restaurant, we enjoyed good German food (except for the curious choice of whipped cream on my turkey schnitzel with mushroom sauce) and König Ludwig Weißbier. We then wandered around the town a bit, feasted upon some delicious ice cream (and tried a few more interesting flavors) then headed back down to catch our train back to Munich, this one fortunately much less crowded than the last. It was a greatly successful weekend.
Tiny fraction of the tourists
Sarah being cool 

View from Neuschwanstein; lake on the left is the one we swam in

Beautiful beach on the Alpsee!
Gewitter aproaching

Snowballs, a Rothenburger specialty
Violet and cotton candy ice creams

   The following week, Leigh and I worked hard to do cool things every day before she had to leave for southern Bavaria with her family. Tuesday we went swimming at the Volksbad, a cool public bath dating back from the earlier 1900s, then had a cheap and delicious Indian food lunch, followed by Mexican food dinner and cocktails that night with Sarah and Noe. Wednesday we went to the zoo, which was super cool and fun--it's more of a nature preserve than a zoo, and the animals have tons of room to roam around, and thus you really get to see them do things! Highlights were definitely the monkeys, of all sorts. And a particularly active sloth that totally defied his name.

Zoo navigator
Lederhosen to the zoo, no big deal. We were later treated to like a five-minute session of this couple groping each other and making out like high school kids when they thought no one was watching in the sloth house.

Me hoping the sloth doesn't lose his grip during photoshoot

  Wednesday night I went with my host mom and her friend to a nearby Zumba class. It was the most hilarious thing I've ever done. It was six days ago and I'm still sore.

   Thursday Leigh came over! We met at the mall near my house, then came back to my house and had lunch and picked up the kids together. They had fun. Kilian was super offended when she called him "Kilian Kaka" (he is sooooo sensitive. His parents are very worried that he's getting a reputation among his friends as a cry baby, which to be honest...could be true). The only excitement on the way home was when Cliona stopped on a street corner, announcing she had to do a kaka immediately. We were on a fairly busy corner with nary a bush in sight, so I was a little panicked. Pooing in bushes is, well, gross, but at least within the far reaches of being acceptable. But on the sidewalk? No way. I told her we had to make it to the park at least, about four streets away. She was a tragic (and laughable) little sight, pedaling down the sidewalk bawling and trying not to do a kaka in her pants. We made it to the park, where I tore her off her bike and ran to the bushes, where she attempted to go for about five seconds, then smiled at me and said, "I'll go later at home." Kids. Oy. 

Cliona the drama queen
     That night, Leigh and I met at the Hofbräukeller biergarten in Wiener Platz.We've had a running list of stuff to accomplish and that one's been on there for quite a while, so it was nice to finally get around to it. It's in a super cute location, and all planted over with beautiful castanian trees. In the interest of saving money, we brought Brotzeit with us (a typical German dinner, consisting of rolls, cheese, and meat of some sort; smoked salmon in this case). Add to that a couple of Maß (liters) of beer, and it was a delicious meal and the perfect night. 

Best dinner ever

   Friday night Sarah and I went over to the beach bar that I'd mentioned before for a couple beers and to enjoy the most amusing band I'd ever seen--a German rap group. Their songs all had the same beat and same tones and most of the texts were something like, "Ich hab' keine Zeit, ich hab' keine Zeit, ich hab' so viel' Ideen aber ich hab' keine Zeit!" (I have no time, I have no time, I have so many ideas but I have no time.) Quite original.
The amazing band

And then the rest of the weekend was quite calm. 

    It's four hours later than when I started this, just for reference's sake, and the girls are playing fairly well. Cliona dissolved into tears for about half an hour earlier when I refused to make her chocolate pancakes (umm, really?) but now they're pretty calm, though Cliona did just try to wheedle two band-aids out of me (for a scab on her knee she got about three days ago. She struggles with the concept of dried blood vs. fresh blood.) 

   I am amazed we survived yesterday. Nine hours is a lot of time with one kid. If she were a year younger I could probably just leave her alone and she'd play with one toy for hours or something (this is how it works in my head, at least), but with an almost four-year-old, there needs to be pretty much constant attention. We went to the park for a couple hours (where Cliona fell off the swing square onto her face and got sand EVERYWHERE) then to the mall where they had kids' activities set up, so we made Cliona a pharaoh costume and jewelry. But it was a long day regardless. Thankfully, tomorrow it a holiday! Happy Maria Himmelfahrt!

   A couple of Cliona highlights:

    Counting by Cliona: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 19, 20, 21, 24, 80, 81, 84, 90, 91, 94, 80, 81, 84, 80... And so on. She really likes 80.

    Cliona and I were reading a book this morning (from the Froggy series, if you know of them), and there are frequently exclamations of "FRROOGGYYYY!" written out in the book, in enormous fancy font. Cliona correctly guessed one of them as saying "FRROOGGYYYY!" and then looked at me in amazement, saying, "Kann ich schon lesen?" (Can I already read?)

   And that's about all, folks. I'll try my best to get in one more blog before I have to write my official farewell one,but we'll see how the time goes on that. And otherwise....see you in 13 days, America!