Monday, November 24, 2014

Thanksgiving in Germany

This Thursday is the American holiday, Thanksgiving. And boy do we have a lot to be thankful for. Marky doesn't really understand this holiday as 1) he's four... and 2) he's lived most of his life in Germany so no day off of school and work, no morning of Christmas parades either in person or on TV, no big family celebrations. BUT, his brother has introduced him to the Peanuts Thanksgiving dvd. We are participating in our 3rd Thanksgiving potluck dinner this Thursday night at Peter's school (International School of Stuttgart) with other Americans and those of any other nationality who wish to join. Marky is insistent that he will eat buttered toast there - the highlight - like Snoopy prepared (along with popcorn and jelly beans) for the Peanuts feast! So I guess this mama will be bringing a few slices of buttered toast for Marky's plate.  I will post photos of our international Thanksgiving Day celebration!

Monday, November 10, 2014

Crickets chirping...

I think we can all agree - if there are actually any "we" and not just "me" left at this point - that I am the world's worst blogger ever, in terms of actually writing my blog.  I can't believe it's been almost *seven months* since I last wrote!  I have composed about a thousand blogs in my head to you all only they never made to the computer.  Anyways, I have decided to stop being such a lazy-ass and try to start my blog up again.  If anything, as a sort of record of some of the many things we are doing and experiencing over here in Germany and other parts of Europe.  I am going to begin a Year in Review, starting with the most recent experiences and going back to the beginning of 2014.  By the time I write about most of the things I have stuck in my head, it will probably be close to Christmas and I will have come full circle.  And then, maybe... just maybe... I will be able to start 2015 keeping a real blog up to date.  Don't hold your breath.  I wouldn't.  ;)

Monday, April 14, 2014

Birthday Suits in Munich

Pure awesomeness.  Or not.  Depends on your view.  Literally.  Ha!

We have seen people spread out on the grass in the buff sunbathing as we're driving along the roads here.  And being nude or almost-nude is no big deal at the pools.  The less, the better and no one is judging (highly un-American on both counts)!  Sometimes I feel as if I'm wearing a wool blanket at the pool in my one-piece and the boys' American-styled swim shorts look more like pants compared to their counterparts in the water.  It is not uncommon to see nudity in some context over here whether in ads, magazines, in person, etc.  Many portrait studios show large images in their windows of loving couples... in the buff.  Zoinks!

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Ooh La La... Paris!

At the end of January, Mike told me he had *another* business trip.  This coming right after trips to India and other parts of Germany in December and just returning from China in mid-January.  I was *not* happy.  But then... Mike said his meetings were on a Friday and how about we all go for a long weekend?  HEL-LO!  YES!  YES!  YES!

We left for the Hauptbahnhof (main train station, downtown Stuttgart) after picking up Peter from school on Thursday afternoon.  From there we hopped a TGV train (French high-speed train) to Paris which is about a 3-1/2 hour ride.  "Dinner" consisted of chocolate-chip scones (schokoladenwuppi) from a bakery in the train station accompanied with the grapes and carrots I thankfully brought to munch on... the only healthy aspect of our "meal" that night!  I thought we'd have time for a better meal but, hey... junk food on a train is not the worst thing that can happen and it's all part of the last-minute adventure!

Now, our family has been to Paris before.  We took a week-long vaca last summer and rented a cute apartment in the heart of Paris - the Marais district.  Sounds extravagant and on lots of levels, it is.  But after traveling around a bit I have learned that renting an apt can be much more economical than staying at a hotel and, with small children, we're not stuck with early bedtimes for all in a hotel room.  (And no, we are not slaves to a strict bedtime schedule - especially on vacation - but things do go much smoother if we maintain some type of normal routine with the boys.)  But I digress.  Our week vacation last summer was wonderful but my camera pooped out and currently I have no photos of that trip which is why you all never saw a blog about it.  While I really enjoyed the trip, it was hot (no A/C in most of Europe, especially in an apt ancient apt building) and we felt the need to go, go, go, see, see, see... which of course makes things less relaxing.  So I was really excited to go back for a weekend with absolutely no agenda expect to just *be* in Paris.  Not a bad deal.  ;)

Side note: if you ever get the chance to visit Paris and want to look at apartments, I *highly* recommend this place.  An American couple fell in love with Paris and now own a company that rents out places they have bought and rehabbed for visitors.  They are very well-done, fabulous locations and trustworthy.  We have used them twice now and I would use them again (and again!).

Friday, Mike left for his meetings and the boys and I lounged around our apartment.  This was a different apt than we rented on our last trip but even closer to the Seine.  The Centre Pompidou was literally a few steps away at the end of our street.  I know our friends back home don't want to hear this but we basically have had no real winter weather here and it was in the low 40's on our trip and partly sunny.  Merveilleux!  (Wonderful!)  The boys love the Pompidou because it looks cool.  It's a modern art museum that has an "inside-out" look.  It is covered with brightly colored tubes and ductwork and - the main attraction for the boys - an immense escalator system on one side.  Since our street dead-ended at "The Pomp" as the kids and I call it (Peter has my bad habit of shortening names) the boys were dying to go inside and take a ride on the escalator.  I thought, why not?  Our only agenda was to relax and enjoy and take in the sights.  And while I am not a huge fan of modern art I thought since we were there we might as well take in some exhibits.  The boys might enjoy it and I like to keep an open mind and expose the kids to new and interesting things.  So we took our escalator ride and went into an exhibit at the top with the intent to work our way down.  HO-LY COW.  The first exhibit featured "Surrealism and the Object".  Translation: lots of really weird mannequin-ish parts - and by parts I mean the Nether Region - put together in strange and very graphic ways alongside paintings and drawings of said "parts".  I was like... WTF?!  I could not find an exit fast enough - especially after hearing moaning sounds coming from the direction of some film (I can only guess what was onscreen) being projected on a wall around the corner.  Amazingly, neither boy (especially Peter, thank God!) seemed to really notice what was around them or maybe didn't know what to say.  So off we went to the next level which seemed harmless enough.  Until I realized that the boys wanted to get really up and close to the artwork and we were greeted by glares of stone-faced staff, seated all around the rooms to make sure no one is getting "up and close", as I'm frantically whisper-yelling, "Not so CLOSE!  Stand BEHIND the line!", envisioning Warhols and Kandiskys falling off the wall to the ground.  Sooo... then we just continued down, down, down the escalator for another fun ride (at this point I was like, "Screw opening the kids minds with art!") where we checked out a child-friendly Frida Kahlo exhibit and bummed around the museum shop.

From there we walked around the plaza outside the Hotel de Ville (actually the city hall and *not* a hotel), Notre Dame cathedral and then boarded a sightseeing boat that lets you hop on and off at various tourist destinations.  The boat ride is an adventure in and of itself.  It cruises down the Seine very slow and allows one to just relax and take in the beauty that is Paris.  We got off at the Eiffel Tower and revisited an aquarium nearby.  I am not going to give you a play-by-play of our trip and detailed descriptions of the sights as I did above (I thought it was a funny morning so had to share) but will let you just enjoy (I hope!) a few photos of our mini-vaca in Paris.

One note: I have heard people complain that Paris is crowded, dirty, smelly and that the people are extremely rude.  Yes, it can be crowded.  It is the number one visited place in entire world!  Dirty and smelly?  Well, some parts.  The subways are efficient but extremely crowded, dirty and smelly for the most part.  But think of how old this system is and the number of people who use it daily!  As for the city itself, there were trash bins seemingly every few feet which were tended to very well.  Rude French people?  Hmm... sometimes, I'm sure.  In general though I have found many Europeans (Italians excluded!) to be a lot more formal and reserved than we Americans are.  A good tip I can offer is no matter where you go, learn a few words of the local language.  It takes minutes and can easily be done from ones phone with Google Translate.  Small niceties like, "Hello, goodbye, please, thank you, excuse me, sorry, have a nice day", etc. can go a long way.  It doesn't matter that you can't speak the language proficiently.  Make an effort and you will find an effort will usually be made for you in return.

My final word on Paris?  Ooh la la!  I love, love, LOVE Paris!  In my eyes, everything is just beyond beautiful and I could walk endlessly around its streets just taking in everything about it.  And of course, the baked goods and chocolate... thank God I like to walk because I definitely like to indulge in the French goodies!

(You can view below with my captions then click on a pict to see larger slideshow.)

Google Map of our location.  As you can see, Pompidou is at the end of our
street and we are a short walk to Notre Dame and very close to the Louvre.

Our cute little apartment with one bedroom and sleeper sofa in the main room.
A few of the picts are from the Cobblestone website.

Centre Pompidou

Modern art.  I don't get it.  Peter said it was a haunted bicycle.  Works for me!

The "Batobus" boat tour.  We used this to get around as well as to just relax and take it all in.

Marky enjoying the return boat trip.

Hotel De Ville and square.  There was an ice skating rink erected for the winter.
Last summer there was a sand volleyball court there.  One of my faves.

Time for gelato.

The Notre Dame Cathedral.  When I finally recover my summer photos, I will post even better picts from other angles.  As you can imagine, everything is even more amazing in the summer.

Even the bridges are gorgeous.  Several bridges with wire fencing have thousands of padlocks attached by tourists proclaiming their everlasting love to each other.  I have seen this in other cities now too.  Apparently, the French don't like this and have even tried to remove them at one point.
Mike suggested we put a ball and chain on one.  Ever the romantic.

Musee D'Orsay.  It was a train station renovated and opened in 1986
as a museum for Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art.
I have not been inside any of the museums in Paris.  The outside of the museums are
just amazing and maybe one day I'll get to venture in... preferably without kids.

The Eiffel Tour (La Tour Eiffel).
I have never had any burning desire to see the Eiffel Tower but once you see it in person, you can see why it's such a big deal.  I think everyone must get a small thrill upon seeing it for the first time.  Or maybe even every time. We had advanced tickets to go up the tower last summer but Peter woke up
sick that day, throwing up, so we didn't go.  Which was actually fine with me as I hate heights.
We bummed around the "Eif" twice which accounts for the cloudy and sunny picts.

As we were sailing away, the lights came on and then the sparkly light show!

One of my absolute favorite views.  Part of the Louvre as seen from the Seine.  I have tons
of (outside) Louvre shots from the summer that I hope to recover.  It is pretty amazing.

Random shots.  The Holiday Inn across from the train station the day
of our departure.  Even the freaking Holiday Inn is beautiful!
One picture that didn't go into the twilight zone from last summer.
We were at the Luxembourg Gardens is... get ready for it... amazing.
We rented large boats for the boys which they push with sticks and run around the fountain to
follow it and give it another push.  This place is definitely a trip highlight, especially with kids.
(And yes, I am posing in a way to make myself appear as thin as possible!  Ha!)

Until next time!  Au revoir!