Tag Elf

Today we woke up and had our usual coffee and headed downtown to climb Der Dom. We stashed our luggage at the train station in a machine that takes your bags and stores them somewhere below ground. It was a confusing ordeal considering how savvy we consider ourselves.

Fancy baggage storage

The climb up Der Dom was fun. Sweaty, even early in the day, but so very rewarding. I’m not sure Michelle, who dislikes heights, enjoyed it nearly as much, but she made the climb anyway. The view was excellent, and some of the graffiti on the walls was superb. It’s hard to capture the view through the security fencing, but still, the view of the Rhine and the city were great.

A view of the Rhine from atop der Dom

After Der Dom, we toured more of downtown looking for souvenirs. We managed to buy a coconut from a street vendor (yum, despite the work) and eventually made it to the Köln FC team store. We picked up a few gems before realizing it was time to go. The goat mascot is adorable. And while Hilary lived very close to the training grounds, we were there during the off season.

Eventually, we had to go. We had a train to Paris. So we made our way back to the train station to get our suitcases out of the ground. And we waited for our train.

Köln train station Leaving Köln

The train ride was fun. Cozy, quick, and quiet. We watched the landscapes of Germany, Belgium, and France glide by. There were observable differences, but that’s more than I want to get to since I’m a year behind.

We arrived in Paris and transferred from Rail to Metro. It was confusing at first. There’s that rush at each transfer where you worry about the mistakes you may be making direction-wise. We got to see a lot of Paris from the metro. It’s a view in to a multi-cultural city, even if there are still major rifts in to the racial-socio-economic splits. 

We arrived in our adopted neighborhood and took in the offerings. There were lots of businesses around. We found our apartment nestled behind an unassuming door.

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It was cluttered and fairly dirty; something we’d not experienced from other AirBnBs. It was clearly lived-in with family memorabilia everywhere even though the info said that they lived elsewhere. The feeling ranged from charming to gross depending on what you were trying to do. But overall, it was a base camp with a decent living room, kitchen, and sleeping quarters. The kids loved it because there were toys to play with.

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We fetched groceries for breakfast at the market down the street then headed out for dinner at an cafe at the end of the block. It was cute as all get-out and the server was charming. WE had warm goat cheese salad, baked ravioli, charcuterie, caesar salad, and most notably – table water!

Tag Zehn

The apartment got surprisingly hot at night, partly due to the plastic mattress pad, but also partly due to the stormy weather, that prevented us from opening windows. Regardless, sitting on the balcony with a cup of coffee (we brought Hilary’s Nespresso machine with us) was just marvelous. Too bad we had to leave.
Hitting 200km/h

We hit the road early enough and headed for Heidelberg where we were going to meet Michelle’s cousin Angie. We hit 200km/h on the drive, and for the first time, the Autobahn felt legit. We met Angie in the center of Heidelberg for lunch at an Italian restaurant in the plaza. The ladies caught up while we waited for food and it was fun to watch cousins catch up and talk in a way they couldn’t at home.

Lunch in Heidelberg

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MG in the plaza in Heidelberg

Heidelberg was that classic mix of dirty/aged but also pretty. Maybe the gray weather accentuated the look, but it very much felt like the city that all the pictures from my Langenscheid books from highschool were taken. We spent a good 3 hours in Heidelberg before having to say goodbye. But we had a short jog to the Miramar bath and waterslides. The girls were bonkers once they saw the slides as we approached. And they continued to have a blast as on the various slides and pools for the next 2 hours. However, I was a little overzealous and did a swinging leap into a slide and the speed caused me to slam into the walls during an s-curve and I felt like a broke my hip. Michelle managed to get herself stuck in a tub slide ride that spins in to a giant whirlpool. The kids loved it, but we had to continue our drive to Köln.

Miramar slides

Once back in Köln, we headed to dinner at Kölsch Kultur. Parking is a challenge in Köln, but we squeezed in to a spot and walked to the restaurant. The restaurant, the beer, and the meal was easily the best in Germany. I was forbidden from getting the saurbraten made with Pferd (horse), but the cordon bleu, the savory crepes, the kartofeln, the schnitzel, and the beer were just fantastic. Ella ate the bacon out of the crepes once she was done with the crepe itself.
Mural outside Kölsche Kultur

I probably don’t need to explain how Kölsch is served, but the local beer is served in small glasses, and the server comes buy and replaces them frequently and marks a coaster with the total number of refills. This Kölsch was delicious and we enjoyed quite a few. The server was gregarious, helpful, and teased the girls in a playful way. It was the perfect meal for the last day in Germany.

When we returned to the car, several other cars had pulled around ours and had parked on the sidewalks, against bike racks, and up against the buildings. It was amazing and made me nervous for the future of our neighborhood. Still, I found that I loved Köln and wish we could have spent more time there.

Tag Neun

We were exhausted and slept in a bit today (except Hilary, who got up early to take photos). The apartment was great except that the bathroom ceiling sloped down to such an awkward angle that I had to shave on my knees to see the mirror. Also, there were some idiosyncrasies in the bathroom wiring. What better place for unusual wiring?

Rental balcony in Halblech

Unusual side note: Both Ludwig II and Van Gogh were institutionalized before their eventual deaths in 1886 and 1890 respectively. And they were about the same age.

We had originally skipped getting insurance for traveling in to other countries, but tried to get a hold of the rental agency before venturing south in to Austria. No luck. We’ll just have to avoid crashes. Insurance be damned! We crossed in to Austria after crossing the Lech River. We refueled and continued on past Reutte (more traffic) to our first stop, the Highline 179, a 1/4 mile long, 364 foot high suspension bridge. Michelle, not a fan of heights, rushed across the bridge thinking that our goal was somewhere across the bridge. She was not impressed when she learned that the bridge itself was the destination. But she conquered (or temporarily ignored) her fears.
Highline 179

Crossing the bridge

The bridge was really cool. I didn’t sway much considering the length and height, and we were able to see the autobahn traffic below and get great views of valley. Some of us really enjoyed the crossing. Some didn’t. After crossing, we climbed up to the castle ruins above. The view was spectacular, and there’s still enough freedom in these places that kids (and adults) can climb around a bit without having to fill out disclaimers. But I digress. We explored the ruins for a bit, caught our breath, then worked our way back towards the car to find some lunch. We found lunch in Lermoos on a patio with a great view of the Zugspitze. The girls found some nettles on the playground, cried a bit, then recovered.

Lunch in Lermoos

After lunch, we took the tram to the top of Zugspitze. Michelle had done enough with heights for the day and stayed in town to explore. She visited a church, walked the villa, and read a book in an outside plaza. Hilary, the girls and I took the tram to the top of the Zugspitze, then walked out to the actual summit. The ride up was super fast and my ears popped 8 times! From the top of the tram, you have to scramble another 100yds (and maybe 30yds vertical climb) to reach the the summit. We had to wait our turn for a picture with the standard gold cross atop the summit (a strange adornment on most German peaks). Strangest of all was a woman who clung to the ground but insisted on taking no fewer than 50 selfies while the rest of the climbers grew annoyed or mocked her. Some of the climbers had actually hike/climbed the whole way.
Just a little bit more to go

Summit of Zugspitze

My girls are sure-footed

My girls got their picture with the summit mark. That, with the scrambling they did to get there (and their comfort) made my heart swell with pride. I’m pretty sure I teared up at work telling coworkers about it. They were so confident, comfortable, and adventurous. After we summited, we grabbed hot cocoa and beers to enjoy on the summit. Though as we sipped, the clouds and rough weather came in. So we headed for the tram to get back down to the valley. The wind and weather reared up, and we had to stop on our descent several times as the wind rocked the the tram car side to side. We managed not to collide with the towers, but it was an adventure.

Cheers from Zugspitze

When we hit the ground, we drove around to find Michelle. We’d forgotten to get a sticker from Austria so we drove around trying to find a place open that had stickers. No luck. So we headed back to Füssen for Dinner. We went to a medieval themed restaurant for dinner in the old town. We were made to wear bibs, drink from crockwear, and I was finally able to order a 1 liter stein of wonderful Bavarian lager. For dinner, I had the schweinbraten and Michelle had these horrible sauerkraut cakes that everyone agreed were horrible.

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After dinner we wandered the town some more, took in a band playing in the city center, then headed back to the apartment to start packing for the drive back in the AM. Plus, everyone agreed that some alone time would be welcomed. Hilary and I walked around the villa of Halblech and stuck our noses in some farms and just took in the local flavor. I even found a decoy traffic sign that was made from random parts to trick people in to slowing down. We explored until the impending thunderstorm arrived and we retired to the apartment and went to bed early.

Swallows roosting on a cross in a dairy barn

Chapel in Bavaria

Tag Acht

We woke around 7am in our Bavarian lodge and made breakfast of eggs, toast, coffee, and a few of the Emmental Pringles that we picked up from the store. Our mission was to tour Neuschwanstein Castle before the masses. We already had tickets, so it was a matter of driving over, getting the printed tickets, and hiking up. We had to stop several times to take pictures because the view was amazing as the light climbed over the alps and lit the castles. While waiting for tickets, I was able to snag some places from Ukraine, Andora, and Lichtenstein. (yes, dork alert)
Sunrise at Neuschwanstein
Untitled

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We completed the tour through the castle, which is incredibly ornate. The girls seemed to be impressed as well. I think the king’s cave retreat was best, but so much of the castle just displays a level of craftsmanship and opulence that you can only find in castles or the homes of megalomaniacs. But it sure is fun to enjoy it as an onlooker. At least when it’s done well. Oh, no photos in the castle. Because they want to sell books and postcards and stuff. So I took some from outside.
Pano of Neuschwanstein entrance

Horse knocker
Alpsee from Neuschwanstein

(more from Alpsee later)

Family at Neuschwanstein

After the tour, we walked up to Marienbrücke (Mary’s bridge) for an even better view of the castle. It was packed compared to our visit 21 years ago. In fact, tour busses were letting off throngs of tourists with the expectation that they walk down towards the castle. But something was lost in translation because as I crossed the bridge an started climbing the somewhat challenging trail up the steep ridge, I ran in to a big group of Chinese tourists, aged 40-80, none of whom were wearing appropriate shoes. Also, they were standing on a cliff edge while taking pictures with full-sized tablets. I eventually ran in to someone who spoke English. They were asking if this was the trail to the castle (which it should have been obvious that it wasn’t). After that, a whole platoon of tourists turned around and headed back in the right (safe) direction. The view is stellar, and worth the hike. Though you may have to fight for a spot to take pictures.
Location, location, location

Afterwards, we headed back to Füssen and had lunch at a small cafe named Via. Salad, antipasta, burger, and sweet, sweet Bavarian beer. Then we wandered around town shopping and exploring the lovely village. I was tempted to get some used lederhosen, but chickened out. Hilary did find a dirndle for her trip to München in September. And while wandering the streets, I heard singing and we followed it to a church where we were able to take in a concert.

Streets of Füssen

Douchy lederhosen
Tuba for tips

We headed back to our rental and discussed our plans. We wanted to swim somewhere and Fritz suggested we go to Alpsee instead of Obensee (we were able to reuse our parking pass from earlier). While it was threatening rain, we shed our clothes and dove in. The water felt great, and we ended up swimming near swans. MG made friends with a girl who had previously lived in the US (and spoke english) but now lived in München. We enjoyed ourselves for some time until it started to pour rain. We changed clothes in the parking lot before heading to Schloßbrauhaus for dinner. The rain persisted, but we were able to sit under an awning with a great view of the castles and have dinner. The women ordered Wienerschnitzel with Allgau sauce, and Andy misread the menu/specials and ended up with liver and onions. The kids got kartoflen and weißwurst (which Andy stole bites of).
Swans in Alpsee

MG in the skylight

Afterwards we headed home and crashed. Hard. after watching a lovely, cloudy sunset.

Tag Sieben

Woke today to a loud bird outside Hilary’s apartment. We did a simpler breakfast of cereal and MG lost her phone privileges because she failed to put her socks away for the umpteenth time (and insubordination). We loaded up the rental and moved the loaner Golf in to the garage then struck out for Rothenburg ob der Tauber. Michelle put on her headphones as the rest of us finished the Masterminds audio book. Traffic easily added another hour of travel just to our first destination. We adjusted routes and ended up on the Romantischer Road, which was pretty, small, and windy.

When we got to Rothenburg (ob der Tauber), we were all hungry. We parked outside the city walls and walked through a gate. It’s a medieval walled city that is incredibly charming. I think Hilary described it as “looking like Germany threw up all over the place.” It had all the “German” charm you could hope for and not have it be Christmas. We ended up having lunch in the street outside an Italian restaurant. It was a mix of pastas and pizza, which thanks to our hunger, really hit the spot.
Drive thru

Rothenburg

After lunch, the girls and I went to climb the tower at city hall while Hilary and Michelle went to visit the Museum of Crime & Punishment (a.k.a. the torture museum). We climbed some very rustic stairs and ladders to eventually peak out of the top of the tower from a small walkway. The view of the town was excellent and I think the girls have a knack for climbing and being up high. By the time we got down, Hilary and Michelle still hadn’t gone to the museum because they had been enchanted by the streets of the town itself. So we split up again. The girls and I walked along the wall, looking out through the archer holes, and stopping to visit shops. We did our best to look with our eyes, not our hands.
Ascending the tower

Rothenburg

Rothenburg skyline

Arrow holes

Once the ladies had finished the Crime & Punishment museum, we got some Eis (gelato) and stopped at some ATMs to get some more walking around money (geld). Then we exited the charming walled town and got back in the car (next to a Russian Federation license plate) and continued on towards Füssen. There was more traffic, and I learned that Waze really doesn’t work very well in Germany. Plus, it had totally eaten up a bunch of my data plan trying to load things because it doesn’t let you pre-download street data for places you know you’ll be.

Anyway, several hours later, we watched as the flat lands turned in to rolling hills and then we could see the Alps jutting up on the horizon. We continued past rich green pastures with forested hills and eventually saw signs directing us to either Füssen or to Reutte, Austria. We had arrived.

We stopped in town at a grocer to pick up food (and Bier!) for our stay. I have no idea what the food shopping was like because I was overwhelmed at the options for beer. We were in Bavaria now and there were so many delicious looking options. I had to pick things we couldn’t get elsewhere, but also wanted a wide swath of options to see what was best. We checked out, bagged our food (having to purchase an extra bag for all the heavy, heavy beer), and drove towards Halblech. We passed Hoenschwangau and Neuschwanstein castles in the setting sun and the girls were appropriately impressed at the beauty and whimsey of the situation. The light was excellent as we approached Gasthaus Fritz, our AirBnB.

Fake!

We were given a tour by Herr Fritz to the apartment above their home. It was a spacious loft with 3 bedrooms, 1 bathroom, a kitchenette (well equipped), and a living room with a small deck overlooking the alps. Fritz showed us all the idiosyncrasies of the home (don’t turn the key left, the stove stays hot, this part of the fridge freezes, here’s the heater because sometimes it snows in July) then wandered a few blocks down by large dairy cows to a restaurant that served local faire. I had the suckling pig (excellent), Michelle the local schnitzel (which she didn’t care for, sauce-wise) and we all had spatzel.

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On the walk back home (or piggyback rides for the girls), we wandered past and spoke with the dairy cows as an amazing thunderstorm rolled in to town. The thunder lasted all night, but the rain was relatively minimal.
A better chapel shot

Xmas 2017

What a year!

While the kids continue to grow, we’ve managed to squeeze in some excellent adventures this past year. Two highlights have been our trip to Germany in July. We spent 2 weeks with Hilary exploring Amsterdam, Cologne, Fussen (Bavaria), and Paris. It was a fantastic trip where we probably drove a little too much, but we ate a lot of pork and drank well, climbed to the top of Zugspitze, and saw the Eiffel Tower lit up with fireworks.

Freeds on the terrace

The other highlight was probably our camping trip to Central Oregon to see the total solar eclipse. We camped for several days at Tumalo State Park, played in the water, fished, ran the dogs, and celebrated Ella’s birthday. For the eclipse, we got up early and drove some backroads to get in to the path of totality. We found a nice spot up a dirt road and made breakfast while we waited for the eclipse with about 60 other people. The eclipse itself was fantastic. Waiting as it grew darker and cooler, listening to the birds get quiet, and then the minute of total eclipse was mesmerizing. Hard to fully explain, but well worth the trek.
Solar Eclipse Panorama

In other news, the girls have both transferred from Trillium back in to the public school system and I think everyone is happy for it. Both girls are adjusting, making new friends, and doing very well academically. At a recent parent-teacher conference, both of their teachers expressed what a joy it was to have such kind, helpful, and engaged kids in their respective classes. We’re proud.

Ella turned 11 on the day of the eclipse and also got a real cell phone. It’s a new world, but somehow it hasn’t ended yet. So we’re taking that as a positive sign. She had decided to give up soccer after spring season (to dad’s disappointment). However, when starting the new school, she reunited with several of her former teammates and they needed more people on their team. So we (dad here) got to play this fall. Ella did very well as a defender. She also continues to be more mature, thoughtful, and helpful beyond her age. She helps out around the house, decorates her room, and has really started to enjoy cooking with mom.

Girls on Zugspitze
Madeline is 8 and got her braces off this year. She’s bolted in height and we often forget that she’s only a 3rd grader. She’s also a powerhouse of energy and emotion, and is at times the opposite of her sister. She’s a voracious reader, a talented cartwheeler, and is easily the best singer in the household. She’s made some new friends this year but is also struggling with the age difference between her, Ella, and their bestie Ava, who is entering her teens.

Michelle is in her 6th year of practice and it continues to grow. They added a 2nd associate this year and are already bumping in to the walls of their relatively new office space. This year her annual office holiday party was not cursed with an ice storm, so the turn out and the food was great. She continues to run but has been dogged by a hip injury and is jumping through the hoops of healthcare to treat it. Last year she ran about 6 10ks, and she’s hopeful this year will be the same. She’s participating in a number of boards and committees related to her work which sometimes prevents her from bringing Kona with her.

Kona just turned 3 and is finally maturing to the point where she can go to the park without a leash (so long as the promise of BALL is there). If you follow Michelle on the Facebook, you’ve probably seen many photos of Kona on the bow of a boat, or swimming. She’s a sweet, needy, and clingy dog that brings joy to the family.

I’m a year older, still at the same job, still have the same few gray hairs, and still savoring the time I have playing outdoors and with family. Oh, and I bought a janky old aluminum drift boat this August. It has been a joy to row down rivers, fish, and just savor the sounds of water, the birds, and conversations with friends and family. So far, we’ve taken the boat down the Bogachiel, Clackamas, Cowlitz, Deschutes, Kalama, and Lewis rivers and had it on a couple lakes. I think I’ve found my happy place on the Deschutes, which is just a desert wonderland that also has trout and steelhead. I’m still trying to catch a steelhead on a fly rod and came close this past week on the Hoh river up on the Olympic Peninsula.
Shiny boat sitting on the bank of the Kalama river near Beginner hole

We’re looking forward to the coming year to see what other adventures we can have, what learning we can do, what service we can provide, and what enjoyment we can take from each other’s company. While we live in a country and society slowly tipping away from compassion, we will continue to work to make the world a better, more just place.

Peace to you and yours in the new year,
Love the Freeds

Tag Sechs

This morning we made French toast and poached eggs. Hilary’s kitchen is delightful, especially with the balcony open. And we’ve fallen in love with her Nespresso machine. I feel a little guilty, but she can recycle the capsules right in her normal recycling. In fact, I’m rather impressed by the recycling setup that seems to be everywhere. (mind you, people still litter. It’s not like they’re saints) One of the joys of traveling (or even weekends at home or camping) is the quality of breakfast. Michelle puts far more love in to breakfast than I do, but I love the results. During breakfast, we hammered out the plans for the day. Bonn (for Haribo gummies), Berg Elz, and back to Köln by dinner.

Next Hilary and I took the loaner car that her mechanic had given her (a POS Golf with a litany of electrical and mechanical problems) to rent a Passat. The exchange at the rental agency was ever so delicate. They all spoke excellent English, but add to that the intricate dance of trying to sell you on an SUV, or add trip insurance, or a GPS, or whatever. We left thinking we’d gotten out OK, but you never really know. The car was a drastic improvement over the loaner, but even an upgrade in size over Hilary’s Audi wagon. I drove the POS Golf home and relished the opportunity to drive a stick/diesel again. We got back, loaded up the Passat, and made off for Bonn to visit the Haribo store.

Bonn, a name largely forgotten but somewhat familiar to Americans, used to be the capitol of West Germany. By comparison to Köln, it’s a somewhat lame city. It did have a nice enough downtown, and we enjoyed picking from the walls of different types of gummy candy. Then we walked across the street to Lindt to get chocolates as well. As we walked back to the car, we realized we’d just bought a bunch of melty things that we were going to have to store in a black car for the rest of the day. We crammed all the chocolate in to the glove compartment where there’s an A/C vent, hoping the chocolate wouldn’t be ruined. Then we drove towards Berg Elz, winding around and feeling like maybe we were lost. There was some tension in the parking lot about the direction the trail to the castle went and the way the service road went. We wanted to take the bus/shuttle, but it appeared to not run that day. So we followed the trail further and further downhill. We were all a little concerned about the direction, but I had memories of arriving at the castle sweaty from our visit some 21 years ago. God, I’m that old already?

With the Haribo bear
Wall of Gummy
A woman's lot
#dofunshit
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More schnitzel
Hilary approaching Berg Elz

The Berg Elz (Castle Elz), is a picturesque castle nestled in a valley on a stone mound. By the time we arrived, we were starving, so we got lunch at the cafeteria. It was just fine. Schnitzel, salad, and spaghetti. Oh, and pomme frites, because they come with everything. But then we went upstairs to join a tour through the castle, which had a tremendous family history. It was a little odd looking at the place and knowing that the president our nation somehow elected really does live his life as if he were one of these royal families. It kind of put a sour taste on the tour for me, but I kept it to myself. The castle is just amazing and really looks like a place you could enjoy yourself. And I’m not just talking like a crazy 8 year old boy.

Inside Berg Elz
Freeds at Berg Elz
Berg Elz
Berg Eltz Bedrock

After the tour, we got some snacks then headed down the Mosel River valley towards Koblenz and the Rhine. We followed the Rhine north to Linz, where we felt we could find a reasonable dinner. You park out on the highway then walk in to the town. The cobble streets are small and the town is charming as all hell. And it was empty. The rain and I guess the Thursday evening meant the streets were quiet. We wandered for a while until we found a place that appealed to the adults. And it was Pfifferlinge season (chanterelle mushrooms) and Hilary is a huge fan. So all the specials included pfifferlinge. I got pork medallions with pfifferlinge sauce and pasta and it was excellent. We were thirsty enough that we sprung for 2 6 Euro bottles of still water. That’s still hard to justify coming from Bull Run water country. After dinner we wandered the charming streets and made our way back to the car for the remaining drive back to Köln.

Heavy Metal!
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in Linz

That evening, we packed for our trip to Bavaria, watched some more Brooklyn 99, and tended to Maddie’s dry skin. The girls slept outside again and slept right through a thunderstorm. The covered portion of the deck meant that they were well covered, but I pulled their mattress a little closer to the door. The air was wonderful.

Tag Fünf

Hilary’s apartment is on Beethoven Park and is some fancy, award winning architectural/community darling. It really was a substantial development with massive underground parking and storage, lovely courtyards with ponds, carp (er, Koi), and turtles. Her apartment itself is quite roomy with a fantastic deck/patio that looks out towards the park. It was so nice and the weather was warm enough that the girls spent the night outside. In the morning, we scrambled some eggs, bacon, and sautéed some kale from Hilary’s balcony. Breakfast included excitement about what the first day would hold, but also required some calculation about how we’d work a trip in the the mechanic. During the drive from Amsterdam to Köln, the front right wheel wobbled during acceleration. Just a few days prior, Hilary had the vehicle in to get the tires changed and the mechanic had noticed some leakage from the from CV joint. Rather than repairing it, they just put the wheel on. So she had them look at the boot but apparently they didn’t find any issues.

Am Beethoven Park

Well, we were going to drive across Germany in 2 days, so we were a little less comfortable with the shape of the front wheel. So Hilary took the car back to the mechanic (who didn’t speak English, but the daughter who worked in the accounting dept did, so they texted back and forth). It was and continued to be a frustrating experience. We learned but didn’t use the phrase “am der Name eherumführen), which roughly translates to being jerked around (by the nose). So with no confidence in the mechanic, we decided to rent a car for our trip.

During all this, Michelle, the girls and I went to Beethoven Park and played at a playground. The girls had a good time but had some difficulty communicating with the children, some of whom were naked. The girls had a blast though as they tend to do when there’s a playground around. Afterwards, we headed to the neighborhood Rewe to get some picnic items (and beer) and we took the train to Media Park, a large city playground with nearly abandoned equipment. The kids had a blast on the gigantic slide and unique and complex swing set. We thoroughly enjoyed our lunch and watched a group of adult (men) who seemed to be walking back from lunch stop to watch one of their coworkers take the giant slide. We assumed there was beer at their lunch.

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Hilary sliding
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Dom through a bridge head

We wandered a little further along the parkway to a massive swing set that had two pivots and two swings, but both were connected by cable. So to swing, you had to cooperate with the other swinger. It was challenging and somewhat frustrating, and if you jumped from the swing, the whole motion collapsed on the other swinger. But by this time, we were all hot, and the girls needed to use a bathroom. Which there are so very few of in Europe. So we meandered in to a nearby Saturn electronics superstore. We took turns pretending to shop while the kids used the bathroom. The store was fun in that “it’s familiar but different” way, and Maddie really enjoyed pretending like we were shopping. She even went so far as to make up statements like “I was looking for one of these!” Ham.

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Hamburger Straß
Futurama mural in Köln

Next we wandered through town towards der Dom. We went through the old part of the town with castle walls and gates, stopped in a comic book store, looked at fanciful dress shops (for Carnival), and found an Asian market that Hilary was thrilled about because they had tons of ingredients she hadn’t been able to find anywhere else. We continued our walk, and Hilary had gone through considerable effort to try and get us there without seeing der Dom until we were right there. And it was worth it. We turned around the corner and were caught off guard by the presence of the gothic cathedral. It is massive. We wandered around it, trying to take in the scale of the building. There was scaffolding on the north tower which made everyone sick thinking about how scary it would be to work on the suspended platform that high off the ground.

Der Dom with the Freeds
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Girls and aunt Hilary
Locks
Der Dom

Around the cathedral was bustling with tourists. Everyone trying to find a break in the crowds for the perfect picture. We went inside and MG lit a candle for Barley. We were too late to climb the tower so we wandered over to the bridge to see the locks and a view of the Rhine river. This city is quite gorgeous and I already regret having dedicated so little time there. But the kids were starting to crash from being tired and hungry so we made double time over to Peter’s, a beerhall that served their own Kölsch. By the time our drinks arrived, the girls were spiraling and finally crashed. We had to force them to eat some food, and after some gnashing of teeth, they both perked up. I got the pork knuckle, which was massive. And it was delicious. We shared a variety of pork dishes, including schnitzel, pork medallions, wieners, and we were able to find some vegetables (doused in cream) as well. The food was great, the server prompt, and the Kölsch was delicious. This was also the girls’ first experience in Germany of having a bathroom attendant. They were confused but eventually managed to use the bathroom and leave a tip.

der Dom and clouds
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Counting Kölsch at Peters
Dinner at Peters

After dinner, we (I) waddled out on to the old town square to enjoy the active energy of the evening. The girls had rebounded and were doing piggy-back rides through the square. The grounds were being prepared for the Cologne Gay Pride festival that was happening in 2 days. The girls got some gelato and we continued to wander through the charming square until we could catch a train back to Hilary’s apartment. Once we arrived at home, the girls were nearly ready for bed and insisted that they sleep outside again. We gladly allowed them to, and Hilary introduced us to Brooklyn 99, which streamed in English with German titles on Netflix there.

Tag Vier

On the fourth day, we woke with a hunger for some delicious breakfast. Fortunately, there was a renouned waffle place nearby. We walked north towards it and were interrupted by a route closure due to construction. As we tried to bypass it, a construction worker started yelling at us in Dutch. We apologized and when he realized we were Americans, he turned totally nice and in nearly perfect English, gave us an alternate route to get to where we were heading. The route took us through this massive housing project called Funenpark that was a mix of park/open space. It looked like project housing done well.
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We had breakfast at Brunchroom, which had an amazing “build your own waffle” option which the kids loved only slightly more than Hilary. Some of the combos selected.

  • Bacon, Bananas and maple syrup
  • Honey, fig, pumpkin seed and goat cheese
  • Strawberry, blueberry, and whipped cream
  • Nutella, Banana and coconut smoothie (not a waffle)

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After breakfast, we headed to an electric boat rental shop (boaty) do do a self-guided canal tour. We all wanted to do a canal tour of some sort, but the idea of being packed in with chumps didn’t thrill anyone. So we hopped tram and got off at the connector to buy groceries for a picnic lunch. The lunch options were pretty stellar, but I was suddenly sad when I found the plastic packaged hot dogs (in buns) had American flags on the labels. Forgone conclusions.

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Anyway, the electric boat rental was awesome. We motored down a canal to the Amstel River, then back through some canals to get a feel for the city. The views were amazing, and the pace was perfect. It’s hard not to get some relaxation out of a float. But the amazing cruise got even better as we pulled over to one of the very view empty spots along the canal to eat lunch. Cheese, bread, cured meats, fruit, and awesome beer. It was the height of existence.

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We motored back to the mooring spot after watching a young swan tear around. We then took transit back to Hilary’s parked car on the outskirts of town and somehow managed to cram all our luggage in. It took some time to get out of Amsterdam proper because of traffic, but by the time we did, I’m pretty sure 3/5 of the car were asleep. And that was despite my encouragement for everyone to take in what they saw and notice the subtle differences between here and home.
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We drove on and my sister and I debated how bad the rattling of her front CV joint was as we traversed two countries to finally reach Germany. After some long chats and long naps, we arrived in Köln (Cologne) and immediately stopped for food at Planet Hürth. It was a very traditional German spot with excellent curry wurst and frits. Oh, and they had Kölsch. Hilary explained the May pole tradition whereby young suitors attach small trees to the homes of their secret loves. If the source of the love accepts, he (though mostly she) takes the tree down. Otherwise, the tree stays up, decaying as an embarrassing sign of misplaced love.

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We polished off our meals then stopped at a grocery store to grab some food for the coming days and finally arrived at Hilary’s apartment on Beethoven Park. It is an awesome complex. Obviously built to last 70 to 140 years, unlike the crap we built here. We got a quick tour then utterly crashed for the night. Windows and doors open to let the fresh air caress us to sleep.

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Tag Drei

Day three was our first full day in Amsterdam. We started the morning by hopping a train in to town to get near the Van Gogh Museum for breakfast. The morning was cool, and we almost got on the wrong train because we assumed that the direction of the tracks represented the direction the train was going. The train was nice though, like our street cars in Portland, but with more riders and more service.

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We stopped at a bakery near the museum and our eyes nearly fell out of our heads. So many options. Pastries, sandwiches, mini-pizzas. We all picked up something (I got a ham & cheese croissant) and coffee and walked over to the park next to the museum to eat. It was delicious, but messy as all flakes fell off the wonderful sandwiches. Since we still had time until our museum ticket reservation, we wandered around the park and then wound up at the iamsterdam sign by the Ruks museum. The kids climbed, we took pictures, and made our way through some sort of festival. On the way back to the Van Gogh, we saw some installations of Banksy & Dali work. Cool bonus.

Ruks Museum garden
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The Van Gogh Museum was packed. The format was designed to handle the population, but the kids didn’t exactly get hooked right away. Maddie learned that Van Gogh died at 35, which she was very curious about and kept asking questions about. There were a few notable missing works, but the collection was fascinating. I admit I really liked some of his contemporaries work, which was also on exhibit to show examples of what others were doing. None of us had seen the almond blossoms work yet and were all enamored with the colors. I really liked the haymaker/landscape work as well.
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After the museum, we walked to Vondelpark. We’d heard so much about the playground, and it took a while for us to find because the park is so big. Fortunately, there was an info booth with some old Dutch women who spoke really great English. In fact, there was no shortage of friendly, English-speaking residents. Hilary told us to enjoy it while we were in Amsterdam because it would be absent when we arrived in Germany. We played at the park at the west end for a while. I was impressed with the quality and imaginative design, but Ella was tired and couldn’t keep up with Maddie. After a while, we walked north to Foodhallen, a giant indoor “food cart” pod. The selection of food was excellent and we each got something that caught our attention. I had an amazing Iberian ham sandwich after the vendor lured me in with a small sample. Hilary got dim sum (and ended up sharing), and Michelle got a salad roll (which was the most boring). The girls, despite all the options, chose fruit & yogurt cups. Then they stole bites from us.
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After eating, we wandered towards the center city to explore. The kids got hungry again, so we grabbed some snacks right on the square and watched the crowds and picked apart the performers and their techniques. Then we wandered around making a big loop towards the Ann Frank house, which we couldn’t get in to. We had hoped to pick up some of the late day releases, but the lines were amazingly huge. So sadly, we couldn’t see the house. We did pick up some stickers, and Michelle checked out the palace after being moved by curiosity. After more souvenir shopping, we walked through the red light district to Brewery De Prael for dinner. Upon seeing nearly naked women standing in windows on the street, Maddie asked what they were doing. Hilary told her to ask her parents. We explained at dinner what prostitution was and the girls were a little surprised and confused, but didn’t really follow up with many more questions.

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The girls and I had dessert (I had a Nes IPA, which was delicious) while Hilary and Michelle wandered the Red Light District. I managed to have a conversation with a couple from Germany whose English was a good as my German (at least that’s how I perceived it after 3 beers) then Hilary took the kids back to the hostel so Michelle and I could explore. We toured the district, taking in the whole scene along with thousands of elderly tourists. The district is charming in it’s own way, and it is certainly helped by the canals, but the crowds of tourists makes the whole thing seem kind of commonplace. But comments from some of the tour guides (that we eavesdropped on) suggested that there was a concerted effort from the city to try and gentrify the district.

Michelle and I grabbed some beers while waiting for the sun to set and Michelle locked herself in a bathroom. She did manage to escape. Eventually, we grew bored and took a bus back to the hostel. While we were out, Hilary and the girls played hide & seek at the hostel.