Saturday, November 24, 2012

Trip to Germany: Black Forest, Cologne Cathedral... and France

I'm a terrible finisher.  But maybe I should actually wrap up this series, huh?  You know, before baby #2 arrives (due in 3 weeks!) and Christmas is upon us, and we have family visitors, etc.

On our last full day in Germany, we set out south for the famed Black Forest.  Then we, um, went into an entirely different country (France) and hung out there for awhile.  That part doesn't exactly fit into the Germany narrative so well.

We stopped for lunch in Baden-Baden.  Darling.  Yummy street food.  Pedestrian streets everywhere, which were popular with a certain toddler.
She strolled around like she owned the place.

These days the bump doubles as a shelf for Caroline to sit.

While Caroline took her afternoon nap in the car, we took a drive through the Black Forest.  Immense and amazingly beautiful, with rolling hills for miles in all directions.  Here's our best quick-take-a-picture-from-the-side-of-the-road-and-hope-the-toddler-stays-asleep shot.

That was when we headed for the French border, to check out a little town called Strasbourg just on the other side.

Cobblestones and street performers and an interesting mix of French and German architecture. 
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And of course, another cathedral!

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And a carousel.  She thought she was pretty big stuff and did NOT need her mother to hold onto her.
That night we went back to Erden and watched Michigan beat Michigan State.  Yes, it was a successful day for the Browns!

On our final day in Germany we had a few hours to kill before our evening flights.  So we drove up to Cologne to check out their cathedral.  Because we haven't seen enough of them in our two months living in Europe, obviously!  Actually, we both enjoy the experience so much, and the cathedral in Cologne is widely regarded as one of the most fabulous must-see buildings in Christendom.
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Despite the grime and the scaffolding, it really is pretty impressive. Especially inside. Caroline thought that the little benches for kneeling were just perfect for a spot to sit.
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So that concludes our trip to Germany - finally!  Despite a sinus infection and exhaustion-inducing pregnancy and not-quite-two-year-old in tow, it will go down as one of our more favorite vacations as a family of three.

In case you're curious, here are the previous installments to our adventures in Germany:

Part 1: Mainz and the Rhine
Part 2: Erden and our rental house
Part 3: The Mosel River and Burg Eltz

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Caroline at 2

Caroline Hannah
2 Years Old

Favorite Toys: stacking train, baby dolls, toy kitchen, anything with small parts that can be distributed in a variety of locations around the apartment
Favorite Songs: anything off of Wee Sing Bible Songs (requested often), Twinkle Twinkle, Let's Go Fly a Kite
Favorite Foods: ice cream cones, grapes, nachos, toast with banana slices and peanut butter
Favorite Activities with Dad: going on adventures around town, sharing an ice lolly (popsicle) after dinner
Favorite Activities with Mom: singing songs, art projects, ballet class
Developing Abilities: talking, ballet moves (equal parts hysterical and endearing), playing with other kids
Favorite YouTube videos: Peppa Pig, Mary Poppins songs, Elmo's World
Favorite Books: Gina, My First Hymnal, Paddington Bear, Gossie, Richard Scarry's Best Word Book Ever

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Memories We Cherish: "doors closing, where are you?," holding hands walking down the street, books chucked at our heads, peeking into her room late at night and finding her in all kinds of strange sleeping positions, "yeah baby" (just like Austin Powers!), "all done hat on," consistent requests to have baby dolls, Elmo, and her stuffed dog swaddled like newborns, "all done sleeps"

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Happy Birthday, sweet girl.  You're such a joy to raise. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Trip to Germany: Mosel River and Burg Eltz

Suffice it to say we were totally charmed by Germany.  You've got the rivers.  The hills on either side.  The trees turning all gold and red and orange.  And then the vineyards.  They were cut right into the hillsides.  I guess that region is known for Riesling, and the reflection off of the water helps the grapes grow just right.  Who knew?

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(That's Caroline practicing ballet, by the way.)

And the vineyards were starting to turn colors too.

And then every once in awhile, what did we spot on the hilltops?  Oh, you know, castles.

We stared in wonder, driving up the river mile after mile, marveling over it all.
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One of our planned pit stops was to stop and explore a famous castle, Burg Eltz, which was located close to the Mosel.  1019_8371

We followed signs to "park and walk" and had lunch at a little inn where we parked the car.

Little did we know that "park and walk" meant a full-out hiking trail through the woods.  We had an ill-equipped umbrella stroller, while the other tourists had those hiking sticks!  And, as luck would have it, we experienced Diaper Explosion 2012 on that muddy hiking path.

Notice who isn't wearing tights in the castle pics.  She isn't wearing an undershirt either, as we THREW IT AWAY.  Gratefully it was a balmy 70 degrees, so neither was necessary.
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And when we got to the castle, we found ourselves on a guided tour in 100% German.
Let's just say we'll never forget that day!

And the castle itself?  Very storybook-ish. Steep pitched roof tops and turrets abounding.
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On our way back to Erden that evening, we stopped at Trier, which is an old Roman town Josh wanted to explore.  So he did - while Caroline and I napped in the car! 1019_6844

Looks like a very charming place!  Maybe I'll get out of the car next time we're in the area.1019_6841

In case you missed it, here's Germany, Part 1, and Germany, Part 2.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Trip to Germany: Erden and our rental house

Back in Edinburgh we found ourselves in a apartment-style hotel that included two bedrooms.  It was a totally lovely setup for our family, and we hoped to find something similar in the Frankfurt area in Germany.

However, we struck out when it came to apartment-meets-hotel-rooms. 

Enter VRBO, a website we've used to great success a number of times in the past.  If you haven't tried it for a vacation, you really should.  As the name stands for "Vacation Rentals By Owner" it's clear how it works.  You search for where you want to go, check out a variety of properties, and then work out the specifics with the property owners.  I quickly found a few in the Mosel River valley, made some inquiries, and booked us a place within two days.  While the per-night room charge was slightly more than our hoped-for hotel room rate, we were able to rent a two bedroom house with a kitchen for the same general price range.  Not to mention we didn't have to pay those annoying extras like parking and Internet. 

And do you know what?  Staying at the rental house was one of the highlights of our trip.  We're totally using this method again.

Hotel rooms are kind of sterile - that's what you're generally hoping for, anyway.  But this house had personality plus!  It was built in 1661(!) and included all kinds of stairs and low areas and funky little turns.  We appreciated that it felt very authentic - because it was!   
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Check out the ceiling beam that was next to the kitchen.  We both had some head bangs on that puppy!
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Living room:

Erden, where the house was located, is home to all of 400 people, so we felt like we were really getting a unique and not-so-touristy experience.

The woman that oversaw the property also owned the restaurant just down the street.  Fantastic German food, and totally reasonable.  We enjoyed the fare more than once!

Not only that, she would take our bakery breakfast order each night, and the local bakery would deliver fresh rolls/butter/etc every morning!  LOVE.
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Here are some shots of the town, which is located right on the Mosel river.
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The whole region is well known for wine, and Erden was no exception.  Vineyards everywhere!  The property owner even left us a bottle of the local vintage in the fridge.  I was more than a little disappointed not to be able to partake.

More to come soon!  In case you're curious, here's Germany, Part 1 (Mainz and the Rhine).