Thursday, November 16, 2017

We’re moving again…

There may not be any new blog posts until the new year, because we will soon be packing up all our belongings. We knew when we arrived in 2015 that we would need to move in early 2018 and/or 2020. We are thrilled to be able to stay in Germany, but in a new city.
We have loved life near Ramstein Air Base/Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, and will miss many aspects of peaceful times in the countryside.  Our home internet has been pretty reliable, which cannot be said for every town here (really, I thought of that first?). Our landlord and landlady are the nicest people- they gave us the decorative pillows on the couch as a Christmas present, and always included cat treats, even in the Easter basket when we moved in! As you can see, Pork Chop, aka “the 4th cat”, has been spending time in the house with us. He still prefers the out of doors as the weather is not too cold yet.
The meadow behind the house (first photo) lent an air of calm to the neighborhood, which was already calm to begin with. We will miss the wonderful people we have gotten to know, but will thankfully still be able to meet up in person, since we won’t be too far away…well, until it's their turn to move away! It has already been sad to say farewell to a few friends here who are back in the States now, but we have more “homes away from home” with them in several places!
I will miss the choir I sing with very much, but plan to look for a new choir right away. It will take time and energy to get to know the new grocery stores, hair salon, dry cleaner, etc. but we are thankful to be able to extend our time in Europe. There are also opportunities for more travel, as we will be closer to Austria. We might have a small garden in the new place, and hopefully a garage, since there will be more snow.
Here’s to good friends and wonderful experiences in our corner of Germany that will always be home. And here’s to the new place/neighborhood/peeps we will soon be getting to know. The cats are pleased to be driving to their new home, rather than flying in an airplane. We will share updates as soon as the many urgent “to-dos” are gradually checked off, photos uploaded, and a good nights’ sleep had.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

An ordinary week in our corner of Germany

When there is a gap between blog posts, I’m usually busy with everyday life, and don’t think it’s so exciting to share. But then the posts I do write are skewed to travel adventures, and life seems glamorous. In some ways it may be, but please rest assured, I do laundry every week and go to the grocery store, too!
Work: I used to get up at 6am for my first job here, which was better than 5:30am in Massachusetts, but still not great. I’m fortunate to not have to get up quite that early for my current job. Here is a photo of the sunrise at my office parking lot in 2015. My office day typically wraps up at 4:30pm, unless I have a meeting with the US team on the east coast (morning there, evening here). They don’t mind when my cats hog the camera during our video conference meetings, which I participate in from home.
After work: I try to go to the gym at least once per week, preferably twice (not because I like to, but because I like chocolate!). The military gyms are fine, but I miss the women’s fitness centers in the US, especially the air conditioning. I benefit in many ways from attending a yoga class once per week all year. My teacher lives in the village next to ours, and during the summer, we have class in her back yard. I lead a Bible study once per week, where we have learned so much together. I sing in a choir, and look forward to rehearsal one evening per week.
Saturdays: around here, you gotta get things done on Saturday because everything is closed on Sundays. I like the German grocery stores, and usually go to one on Saturdays. The fresh bread is great, and they carry lactose-free yogurt and ice cream. I also found frozen pretzels, which were popular at a party we went to after I baked them. The florist, pharmacy, and shops all close relatively early on Saturday afternoons, so if you want flowers or clothes, get your act together sooner than later. Restaurants are open Saturday evenings, although there are no vegetarian places around here. We have a favorite pool (therme) just under an hour away, and a regular outdoor neighborhood pool in the next village. We sometimes go to the movies, either on base or off base, where they are shown in the original language (English for us). On base, the national anthem is played before the previews, and everyone stands and removes their hats.
Sundays: we have several choices of church services in English, both on base and off base. Times range from 9:30am to starting at 11am. Sometimes I go to the grocery store on base after church, which is open on Sundays. I don’t need a lot of American food items, but it is nice to get regular peanut butter, blue corn nacho chips, and familiar cat food (although they do eat German cat food, too). The neighborhood is quiet, as all shops are closed, except restaurants. I do laundry on Sundays, because our German washer takes over an hour for a load. The cats go out in the yard on their leashes, and we go for walks in the woods a few blocks behind our house. At my previous job, we had a staff meeting every Monday morning, and the boss always asked what we did over the weekend. I felt relieved to find out I was not alone in doing several hours of cooking and food prep on Sundays. In addition to fixing Sunday dinner, I often start Monday’s dinner as well, along with salads for lunch, homemade granola, etc.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Konstanz, Germany (not at all off the beaten path)

Why is Lake Constance also called the “Bodensee”? I don’t know, but highly recommend this region south of Stuttgart for as long as you can stay. We had a three day weekend, and stayed for two nights, which is not enough…but if that’s all you have, go!
 
250 varieties of Dahlia in bloom, early October
From Kaiserslautern, it is a 5 hour drive, realistically. Online maps will say 4, but that is most likely not going to happen. The hotel tax in Konstanz gives each tourist a free bus pass, which we used to travel from old town to the island of Mainau (15 minutes). I was pleasantly surprised that we walked around Mainau for 4 hours, and could have stayed longer. The flowers and trees are beautiful, and the butterfly greenhouse was fun. Of course there are snacks to be had everywhere, from a nice café in the palm tree greenhouse next to the palace, to a modern restaurant near the harbor. 
My new favorite: the glass winged butterfly!
We departed Mainau from the harbor, taking a boat across the lake to Meersburg, then back to Konstanz. We’d like to return and take day trips by boat to towns around the lake. Most shops in Germany are closed on Sunday, but we lucked out with a special shopping Sunday in Konstanz. We snagged some superb Swiss chocolate, and perused unique clothing and book stores. There were also temporary tents with hand crafted items around the harbor area in Konstanz.
The food was very good, if pricey. We ended up at only one vegetarian restaurant, Sol, which was terrific, but were pleased with the vegetarian choices at regular places (including Mainau). The border to Switzerland is at the end of the harbor area of Konstanz. You can walk through to the other side and save the 50 Euro sticker for your car. We didn’t spend much time on the Swiss side this trip, but would like to return and stay much longer all around the lake.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Metz, France (again)

This post is really just an excuse to share more photos, and hopefully contribute a few tips. Someone at my office suggested that the parking garage next to the Metz train station would have larger spots than the downtown underground one, and that was definitely the case! The spots were luxuriously large by European standards! There is a museum of contemporary art across from the garage, and the train station architecture is beautiful. It’s a pleasant walk into Metz, just don’t go on July 14th, because every store will be closed in honor of Bastille Day.
Good thing cafes and restaurants were open, as we enjoyed yummy quiche and salad. Later on, we stumbled across “Paul”, where I had previously had a spectacular pastry (individual blueberry pie), and another stupendous pastry was consumed this time (“Millefeulle”, custard pastry with raspberries).
With perfect timing, we approached the cathedral in time to see a parade of antique cars! The weather outside was sunnier this time, which brightened the inside of the cathedral. Truly stunning!
FYI, the Cora grocery store between Metz and Kaiserslautern is closed on July 14th, too. But it was worth the trip despite holiday closures, and I’d recommend Metz again.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Prague, Czech Republic (again)

New photos in this post, due to 2 day trips outside of Prague, though at least one view of old town is a repeat from last time. Please note that Prague is really hot in the summer, and no place except the hotel room had air conditioning. We are talking 97 degrees (F) and high humidity. The food was delicious, but fairly heavy, with limited healthy options, so I’d recommend a spring or fall visit if you can (in hopes that the heavy food doesn’t impact you as much during cooler weather). After two substantial Czech meals of dumplings, cabbage, duck, and beef, I had a wonderful salad at a Mexican restaurant, and we also enjoyed 2 vegetarian restaurants.
The first day trip was to Karlstejn Castle. It was worth the hour commute from Prague. If you go, wear shoes that will support the 20 minute uphill walk on uneven cobblestones and rocks. The views were terrific, and it was interesting to learn of the history and culture of the area.
The second day trip was to Kutna Hora. I would recommend that a train trip might be the best way to go, as the 6 hour tour from Prague was too short (over 1 hour drive time each way). The Cathedral of Saint Barbara (Barbora) was lovely, and the town has a silver mining museum that we did not have time to see. I did not go into the church that is decorated with human bones and skulls, but it was part of the tour.
Back in Prague, we used the efficient metro and tram system each day, after purchasing and validating a 3 day pass. The Basilica of St. Peter and St. Paul was very nice, and Petrin Hill (mini Eiffel Tower) was fun but hotter than hot. Please note there is no air conditioning on the trams or the Funiculaire up the hill. Or in shops, including large department stores. Fruit shakes are made without ice. I don’t mean to sound like I am whining, this is just a head’s up if you plan to go during the summer. However, the ice cream place at the bottom of Petrin Hill is outstanding.
The Apple Museum was interesting (you know you are old - no offense-  when you say, “oh, I had that ancient mac computer in college”…or, “wow, I forgot how clunky my first laptop was during grad school- about the size of Webster’s Dictionary”). I am unsure of the connection between Apple computers and Prague, but it is worth the stop.
We flew from Frankfurt to Prague, as we've done enough long road trips to last a lifetime (Switzerland, Austria, Poland, East Germany). That is, until the next road trip!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Way off the beaten path in Spain: Santiago de Compostela

Tucked “over” Portugal in the north-western corner of Spain is the historic town known for its Cathedral, which is the end of the “Camino” (a pilgrimage walk across Spain). We did not walk to Santiago, but did take an extra day off work before the Labor Day weekend to fly to Spain and check out the region. Apparently, plenty of people do walk to Spain from Germany and France, or even further away!
The old town area is a maze of narrow streets, complete with interesting architecture and souvenir vendors. Our walking tour included a number of churches, historical buildings, and interesting anecdotes. The market has live fish and freshly plucked chickens (with heads and feet), along with outstanding cheeses and of course fruits, vegetables, and flowers.
We noticed that in this area of Spain, restaurants understand “vegetarian” to exclude only red meat, not fish. One restaurant provided the vegetable sandwich listed on the menu with tuna mixed between the lettuce and tomato, and another place answered the question “what can we order without meat” to list all the fish dishes. This is not a vegetarian-friendly place, unless you like salad for every meal. Two vegetarian restaurants were closed entirely, another two started serving lunch at 1pm, and the last one we went to twice! That said, the salads with fish on them were outstanding!
The superb shoe stores were a joy. Beach destinations are available by train, to the south, north, and probably in other locations as well. 20 minutes south of town includes a beach made up of naturally crushed seashells, so not very comfortable to walk on barefoot (for city dwellers). It was nice to hear the small wavelets lapping at the shore and discover a plethora of tiny sea shells. A dolphin swam in the cove, along with some hearty locals.
We’d recommend Santiago de Compostela for a few nights, or at the end of your camino pilgrimage.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Off the beaten path in northern Finland!

I didn’t write a post about our day in Helsinki during the cruise in 2015 because it rained so much that I didn’t take a lot of photos in that port. We enjoyed the day 2 years ago despite the rain, and this year, we decided to venture beyond Helsinki. We are so glad we did, because we weren’t as crazy about Helsinki this time, due in part to less positive food experiences, although we had terrific meals elsewhere in Finland.
That said, we wouldn’t discourage anyone from going to Helsinki, but we would strongly urge that you add other destinations in Finland, if possible. We continued our tradition from Sweden and Norway by taking a day trip by train, in this case, to Turku. A fantastic vegetarian restaurant (one of several there), filled us well in Turku, and the museum of modern art included an amazing basement excavation of the ancient town. It is worth the price of admission just for the lower level! Excellent tea and cake in their café.
We stepped into the simple cathedral in Turku, and were thrilled to have entered moments before a rehearsal for an upcoming organ concert. What could improve a visit to a church but thundering Bach, well played? Nothing! The ice cream in Finland is tasty, and we strolled along the riverbank in Turku in the sunshine. Dinner before the train ride back to Helsinki was also great (Italian).
We were ready to fly north the following day, to Oulu! We didn’t quite make it into the arctic circle, but we really liked Oulu. We rode bikes around the interconnected islands, learned a few things at the interactive science museum on a rainy day, and breathed the fragrant air in the nearby forest. You can shop if you want to, and you can relax in the park along the river with many other picnickers. The farmers market yielded giant raspberries and superb strawberries, along with other fruits, veggies, fish, cheese, etc.