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, and...it 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: http://www.worldbeercup.org/winners . 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! 

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