Sunday, July 29, 2012

Family tree Germany trip: Part 3 of 4

Today marks the end of the third part of our Germany trip, during which we stayed in Cologne. Tomorrow we'll drive to our final destination of Düsseldorf, where I'll stay until I leave on Wednesday. The sister and grandma will fly back to the states early Thursday morning.

Friday July 27

Today we packed up and left Baden-Baden, making a stop at the parents' house of grandma's pen pal. She met the German girl 19 years ago when the girl was 15 years old. After chatting with the woman's father for a bit we drove to Dahn, the town where my grandma's brother served in the early 60's. Then it was many more hours of driving (plus stops) until we reached Cologne.

Highs: Not puking when I got carsick on the way to Dahn, Grandma eating the paper on her health hazelnut candy bar because she thinks it's edible (I'm still not convinced...), dinner for three costing 8.70 euros in a tiny German town along the highway, the sister accepting a full-time teaching position for the upcoming school year.
Lows: Missing the views during what grandma called "the prettiest drive all trip" (to Dahn) due to closing my eyes in attempt not to puke, a closed highway adding over an hour and a half to our travel time on curvy back roads and Charlene (our GPS woman) being of little help.

The father of grandma's long lost penpal who kindly let us in when we just showed up at his door

Saturday July 28

We drove from Cologne to Bonn, the capital of West Germany from 1949 to 1990.

Highs: Seeing the viola Beethoven played and some of his hand-written compositions in Beethovenhaus (where he was born), eating crepes, our day's visit overlapping with an anime convention (aka anime fans providing our eyes with elaborate costumes to look at).
Lows: The sister slipping on and falling in fresh puke on the stairs in a parking garage.

Bonn, Germany

AniMagic Conference in Bonn, Germany

Sunday July 29

We spent the day exploring Cologne, since it's our last full day here.

Highs: Seeing Germany's most-visited landmark: The Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom), the sister keeping the rain away by finally buying a new umbrella today (after leaving hers on the bus in Königsbrunn last week), having the whole upstairs to ourselves at lunch, finding and purchasing some neat rubber stamps at the flea market alongside the Rhine River, seeing a group of amazing street performers.
Lows: Seeing a photo of the destruction to Cologne during WWII and being unable to imagine what it's like for your home to become war ground, waiting over half an hour for our bill at lunch (during which grandma asked two different people for it).

Cologne, Germany

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Beethoven, Bonn, and barf

We spent the day in Bonn, mainly visiting so the sister could see Beethovenhaus.

It had been a normal day but quickly became unforgettable when an unfortunate event happened to the sister that evening on the way home.

She had been looking for the machine to pay for parking in a parking garage. She went up four flights of stairs and ended up in a mall with no parking-pay machine in sight.

She headed right back down the stairs, but on the way noticed something wet and vomit-looking covering one flight of stairs. It hadn't been there on the way up because she surely would have noticed it. Just as she thought to herself, "Don't slip on that," she had a hard fall. Into the puke.

She still hadn't found the machine to pay for parking, so a little scraped up and vomit-covered she kept walking around until she found one. When she returned to the car and handed me the parking ticket, I noticed it was wet in places. Then the car reeked of vomit.

The story gets even better if you trace it backwards and ask some questions. Why didn't you just pay the parking ticket on your way back down to the parking garage?

Well, we never actually left this parking garage. I drove into it by accident and there was no way to turn around or leave without going underground and through the garage.

How did you accidentally drive into a parking garage?

The parking lot near the Chinese restaurant was full, so I continued down the road and planned to take two right turns to go back. The first right turn (that looked like a normal street) soon became a curved descent underground into this parking garage. We had to take a ticket in order to enter, and pay the ticket in order to leave.

Hold on, why were you going to a Chinese restaurant in Germany?

Heh well, er, we weren't hungry enough (nor in the mood) for a nice sit-down restaurant. After the rain that day, taking Chinese back to our hotel that evening sounded quite appetizing.

So there you have it. Our day as summarized by grandma: "Beethoven, Bonn, and barf".

Friday, July 27, 2012

Family tree Germany trip: Part 2 of 4

During the second part of our Germany trip we stayed in Baden-Baden, a spa town in the Black Forest. We had perfect weather during our stay: sunny days with cool nights (read: no rain).

Monday July 23

After breakfast with Michael and Anja we hit the road and I drove to Baden-Baden. On the way we stopped at Dürnau (Where ancestor Christina Meyer was born in 1839) then later Stuttgart where we visited the city's zoo (as per the sister's request).

Highs: Finding a bathroom in the evangelical church when we stopped in the tiny town of Dürnau and I really had to go, buying the second to last available seat on a flight back to Madrid from Dusseldorf at the end of our trip, hearing grandma's pronunciation of "Jagermeister" at the hotel bar.
Lows: Arriving to Dürnau's townhall at 12.40 to find that on Mondays it closes at 12.30.

Dürnau, Germany

Stuttgart, Germany

Tuesday July 24

We called today our "spa day" and stayed within Baden-Baden, exploring the town.

Highs: Getting a free third hour at the spa thanks to a summer deal, sweating in the aroma-sauna room at the spa, buying a vegan gluten-free lactose-free rice milk chocolate bar at a health foods shop, the sister getting two job offers in one day, the nice lady at the hotel letting us print that night after the other hotel lady said no that morning.
Lows: A fly flying around in our sugar bowl at breakfast, the sister and grandma having to pay 6 euros each to use a towel at the spa when they could have brought one from the hotel (I brought my travel towel along), getting charged 7.50 euros for a 1L bottle of water at lunch.

Spa in Baden-Baden, Germany

Wednesday July 25

On Wednesday the sister drove us to the small town Domfessel, France because we have an ancestor whose passport was issued there in 1785. After visiting the two cemeteries and meeting a woman from town we drove to the next closest town that actually had a restaurant.

Highs: Listening to French radio, finding a Wurtz gravestone in Domfessel, meeting a French woman who made phone calls around town to help us with our hunt, desserts from France, durum being the same price as doner kebab, grandma asking the sister if she'll keep our last name when she gets married and the sister's initial response being "Well, it has a nice ring to it". (I guess you'll only understand that pun if you know my last name, but we laughed hard)
Lows: The shower curtain falling while grandma was showering in the morning, my wristbands making grandma's wrists smell like pee because they'd gotten wet in Madrid and have been in a hot airtight case ever since, only finding two kebab places to choose between for lunch in France, the sister driving past multiple barricades and getting halfway through a tunnel under construction before being stopped by construction workers and told in German that cars couldn't be here.

Domfessel, France

Thursday July 26

Today I drove two hours to Tauberbischofsheim where we saw the town center before heading to the cemetery. Afterwards I drove another hour to Heidelberg to visit the castle ruins. We had our first post-breakfast meal at 19.30 on the way back to Baden-Baden.

Highs: Remembering to put diesel in our diesel-only rental car, driving fast on Germany's highways with no speed limit, getting to the Heidelberg castle an hour and a half before it closed, bringing back wine from Tauberbischofsheim to our hotel room.
Lows: Waking up super early, lady working in the Tauberbischofsheim tourist office telling us, "Do you need me to do something or can I get back to my work?", driving in Heidelberg, the GPS leading us down a pedestrian/bike only street where I had to stop and turn around in a tight spot with many obstacles (fountain, parked motorcycle, bicyclists, benches, restaurant terraces, etc.) in front of an audience composed of four restaurant terraces in another small town- Walldorf, eating at an Italian restaurant for the third time during the trip, buying a wine opener for the two smaller bottles we got today then finding out tonight that they're twist-offs.

Tauberbischofsheim, Germany

Heidelberg, Germany

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Family tree Germany trip: Part 1 of 4

For those of you unaware, last Friday I left for Munich with my sister and grandma for two weeks in Germany. The main purpose of our Germany trip is to visit little towns where we have ancestors, since after years of family tree research my sister has traced us back to the 1700's here.

The first quarter of our Germany trip has already come and gone. A brief summary follows, updated with pictures.

Friday July 20

We flew to Munich, picked up our rental car, ate at Hofbrauhaus, then drove to Königsbrunn where we'd be staying in a hotel for the next 3 nights while visiting friends of my grandma.

Highs: Saved over 100 euros when the rental car lady waived the fee to add me (an under 25 driver) to the list of drivers, getting a nice Opal as our rental, arriving just on time to see the glockenspiel go off for 10 minutes at 17.00.
Lows: Leaving our umbrellas in the car while we walked around Munich only to discover it was raining by the time we finished lunch, being cold and wet.

Lunch in Munich at Hofbrauhaus

Saturday July 21

We met Anja and her sons Manuel and Julian (6 and 8), then took a bus to Augsburg with them. That night back in Königsbrunn we had dinner with Michael and family at an Italian restaurant.

Highs: Hotel breakfast, the Polish guy we met at breakfast telling us our accent was very clear and understandable (yay Wisconsin), seeing Mozart's father's house (says the sister), snacking on a pretzel with butter and chives, learning basic German words from an 8-year-old at the Roman museum, the sister planking on a Roman bath in the rain, 6-year-old Manuel saying to Anja about us (in German), "Mom, when they talk all I hear is 'bla bla bla!'".
Lows: The sister leaving her umbrella on the bus, accidentally keeping Michael up late at the Italian restaurant due to an ESL miscommunication (we thought he was waiting for his card or change back after paying the bill but he actually had been ready to go for quite some time).

Spending the day in Augsburg with some cute German kids

Sunday July 22

We went to a children's mass for Manuel's class in the morning, then took a taxi to Augsburg for the sister and grandma to attend a violin recital that was part of Mozart Fest.

Highs: Eating yummy baked goods at a bake sale after mass (those kinds of desserts don't really exist in Spain), Manuel and Julian making us each a drawing, the sister and grandma getting better seats at the concert than people who had bought tickets in advance, drinking apple juice that was 55% fruit.
Lows: Not knowing where to buy tickets for the concert, not speaking German, being ignored by the security woman on the concert grounds, being terrible at frisbee on the Wii at Michael and Anja's house.

Day 2 in Augsburg, Concert grounds at Mozart Fest (right)

Monday July 23

We had breakfast with Michael and Anja at 9 o'clock before leaving Königsbrunn and beginning the next leg of our trip.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The sister and grandma's last day in Spain

Our last day in Madrid (Thursday) began with a very lazy morning. We did some packing, some blogging, some sleeping. We left the apartment for a lunch of paella -- pictures to come later; I didn't bring my computer with me on this trip.

After lunch we went to a neat museum, the O.N.C.E Museum for the blind. Over half of the museum were things you could touch, as its main purpose is to teach the blind about art. Another part of the museum had artwork made by blind or visually impaired people.

Then we took the metro to the Reina Sofia museum of modern art. We arrived just before 19.00, which happened to be the hour when free admission begins every day. Perfect timing. We didn't stay too late, as I still had to pack everything for our 2 weeks in Germany.

No one got much sleep that night, and we were up a little after 5 the next morning to get ready and head to the airport.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Full Wednesday in Madrid with Jacki and Grandma

You can do a lot in a day.

On Wednesday, we took our time getting ready in the morning.  I walked to McD's with grandma for a coffee, then picked up some pastries for breakfast from a nearby pastelería.

At 11 something we were ready to leave the apartment so we headed downstairs.  In the entryway, grandma was having fun looking into the two large mirrors that are opposite each other:

El Escorial

El Escorial lies 45 km northwest of Madrid and used to be where the King of Spain resided.  It has since functioned as a monastery, school, museum, and royal palace.  Grandma said she thinks it's the biggest building she's ever seen.

In 1559 Philip II appointed an architect to design El Escorial, and it was finished in 1584.

You're not allowed to take pictures inside, but I have similar pictures outside from the two times I've visited:

Jacki at El Escorial, 2012

Me at El Escorial in 2010

Valle de los Caídos (Valley of the Fallen)

After leaving El Escorial we went to the nearby Valle de los Caídos, which I've never visited before.  Here's some good information about the site. Briefly, it is a Catholic basilica where many who died during the Spanish Civil War are buried. There's lots of controversy surrounding the memorial because it was dictator Francisco Franco's idea to build it, using prisoners of war to do so. Franco is also buried in the basilica, making it a place that not many Spaniards want to visit.

Just before we got out of the car, grandma was commenting that she couldn't believe there are people who don't take off their baseball hats when visiting a church. And then this is what we did in front of the basilica:

Heh... Just having fun with each other's company--and the camera!

We stopped for lunch, then drove to our next destination: La Granja.

La Granja

We paid to visit the inside of the Royal Palace of La Granja de San Ildefonso. This was where the Kings of Spain lived during the summers, since King Philip V. Grandma liked seeing the 50-year-old tapestries inside, while I preferred the gardens.

^^^Right after this picture was taken a guard blew her whistle at Jacki to tell her to get off the statue


Since we were so close, we drove to Segovia that night so Jacki and grandma could see the Roman aqueduct and the palace.

After about a two hour drive, we all went straight to bed when we got home that night.

Off to Alemania

We're leaving for the airport now, headed to Munich.  Updates may be delayed.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Jacki's first day in Madrid

Guest Blogger: Jacki (the sister)

Hi from Madrid!  Here's a list of new things that I saw on our first day in Madrid:

Door knobs in the middle of doors

The Metro

Penguins outside of Retiro Park

"Cat garden" in Retiro Park

Birds--different types of ducks and some black swans (also in Retiro Park)

Trees--I should have written down what type it was because neither of us remember

Tapas; for supper we had lots of seafood plus beer with lemon.  The next day I asked Gregorio what we had eaten, and this is the list he came up with: sole, whiting, dogfish, tuna, salmon, anchovies, herring, shark, prawn, squid.  Some of the fish were served to look like they were eating their tails.

Still light at 10 pm

Shades that really block out the sun

Roundabouts with some 5 or 6 lanes of traffic but no lines on the road--a big free-for-all

Bars and restaurants where there aren't really places to sit; you just stand around tables to eat and drink

Public bathrooms where each stall has its own timed light

Sand in large areas where I would expect grass

And that's all from Day 1.

I got to use my Spanish on the plane.  I asked for agua, vino blanco, pollo, and té.  Rebecca was impressed with the amount of Spanish I remembered from high school.  I was able to talk with Gregorio and understand some of what he and Rebecca were talking about.  Grandma and I were super tired all day.  We walked around downtown Madrid and had tapas and sangria.  That was supposed to just be a snack before lunch, but we were both falling asleep so it turned out to be our lunch and we returned to Rebecca's apartment and napped for a while.  Grandma was still sleeping when Rebecca and I got up so she and I went out to Retiro Park, which Grandma had seen with Mom when they were in Madrid over New Year's.  Gregorio and Grandma picked us up from Retiro Park and then we went out for a late supper (well, I guess normal for was 10 I think when we got there).  We slept well that night.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Gregorio cumple 46 años

Monday was Gregorio's 46th birthday.  He was gone working his usual night shift on Sunday night, so I made and left out a chocolate cake that he would see when he got home Monday morning.

When I woke up on Monday, he called out from the living room, "What's all this about?  What kind of bad joke is this?" I didn't know what he was talking about, so I went to the living room to see:

Har har har.  What a jokester.

That night -- the night before my sister and grandma arrived in Madrid -- Alex, Gregorio, and I went to dinner at the Japanese restaurant we always go to near his apartment.  This time we sat around the table where they cook in front of you, which Gregorio's wanted to do all year.

They put bibs on us before they started cooking

It was fun to watch; he'd even toss and spin the pepper shaker any time he used it.  Everything was a performance.  And everything was delicious.

When we were done eating I tried to pay for Gregorio's third of the bill, forgetting about the Spanish tradition I don't think I'll ever get used to: On your birthday, you pay.  If you invite your friends out to dinner with you, you'll be taking care of the bill.  Heading to a bar?  You'll be buying some rounds.  But as an American, it's so engrained in me that on your birthday others should treat you.  

So yes, Gregorio paid the bill for all three of us on his birthday.  And although that's very normal for Spain, I think birthday celebrations of my Spanish friends will always feel a bit weird to me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The sister and grandma have arrived!

Not sure when I'll be able to update again, but my sister and grandma have just arrived in Madrid!

Jake from Norway: Day 2

On Saturday morning, Jake and I began the day by visiting the Plaza de Toros in Ventas.  From there we headed to Plaza de España, then went inside the ancient Egyptian Templo de Debod.

Wall inside the Egyptian Templo de Debod

From Arguelles we took the metro to the Bernabéu Stadium, and then did the same walk up calle Castellana that I did the other week, ending at Puerta de Europa.

Jake at Puerta de Europa

I took advantage of Jake's presence (and camera) and had him take some fun pictures of me holding up the towers.

Puerta de Europa

You can tell I've been doing my push-ups, right?

Puerta de Europa

After the photo shoot we walked around the business district until we found a place for lunch.

Jake's second course

After lunch we walked to Cuatro Caminos where we then took the C2 (circular bus) to Príncipe Pío.  I think taking either of the circulars (C1, C2) with visitors is great because they can rest their feet while seeing the city.

We got off at Príncipe Pío to walk along Madrid Río.  The only time I've spent near the river this year has been in one patch of grass with Hannah, close to where she lived all year.  I'd been meaning to walk some of the river for quite some time, so it was nice to finally do so.  Being near some body of water was a welcome sight as well. 

Along the river we found some hammocks, where we sat and talked for a while.

Hammocks along Madrid Río

View of Palacio Real and La Almudena from Madrid Río

I stopped on a bridge to watch a family of ducks in the river approaching a dam, curious to see what would happen when they reached the drop.

One poor little duckling got sucked down the waterfall, and thus separated from his mother and siblings.  I wonder if he ever reunited with them.

Jake at Río Manzanares in Madrid

It was nearing 9 o'clock, so we walked to the Puerta de Toledo metro and headed back to the apartment.  Jake had kebap for dinner that night -- a must-have for a true Madrid experience.  Although the food isn't of Spanish origin, during the past five years it's become huge in Madrid.

Since Jake's flight was at 6am Sunday morning, Gregorio offered to take Jake to the airport if we went out with him Saturday night.  Gregorio was going to go out anyway, until 7 or 8am as Spaniards do.  We finished dinner sometime after midnight and got to Fuse a little after 1am.  Fuse is on the 13th floor of a hotel and has a great view of Madrid.

Around 2am, Gregorio suggested we take a nighttime drive through Madrid, which was quite pleasant.  Jake got to see Sol full of people out on a weekend night.  The drive ended at another club Gregorio often goes to.  We stayed there until 4am, then headed to the airport.  When Gregorio and I got back to the apartment a little after 5am, he dropped me off and went back out to rejoin his friends at a club!

I'm so glad Jake was able to come and visit while he's teaching in Norway this summer.  During the weekend we talked about lots of things USA/Madison-related that I hadn't even thought about in almost a year.  It gave me some more things to look forward to back home (read: bagels and Trader Joe's).

I had all day Sunday to catch up on some sleep and get the apartment ready for my next two visitors (the sister and my grandma) who are arriving in about six hours.  I'd better get some sleep!