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 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

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.

So, I bought a drift boat

I was trying to price pressure cookers on Craigslist so I could find how much I should sell the ones I had for. While looking, there was a post for a moving sale that listed pressure cookers and fishing gear. But one of the images was of an aluminum drift boat. I clicked on it, inspected the picture of the boat, and decided that I should write the owner. What shape it was in, price, etc. He wrote back with a price and few other details. After several back and forth messages (in which he answered roughly a third of my questions), I asked to come take a look that evening. He said sure.

Michelle and I drove up to Camas to check out the boat because the girls were at the pool watching a movie (hedonism!). It was old, but in relatively good shape, and the owner was a nice enough guy. We agreed to buy it, but had to settle on payment arrangements first.

the front of an old aluminum drift boat

Well, two weeks later, payment was made, and we picked up the boat on a Friday evening. There was a hornet’s nest in the tongue of the trailer, but he didn’t seem too concerned. He was wearing pants though. We towed it home, chatted with the neighbors who all thought it was cool, then started to prioritize the weekend.

Saturday I picked up a second seat for the front and a not-so universal swivel mount. It took a while to install it, but we got the boat ready and took it out to Henry Hagg Lake for a pleasure cruise (and to confirm that it would float.) The lake was way down, and the trailer was squirrelly to back down the ramp. Immediately as we launched, MG got stung on the ear by a bee or something. The wind and wake made for chaos, along with an amped up dog and MG wailing in pain.

We rowed across the lake and beached on a mud slope so we could run the dog and swim. The girls immediately dove in, and I discovered that there was a second hornet’s nest under the anchor mount. I smashed it out and covered it in mud and we kept playing. We then rowed up the lake arm to the shallower part where there were fewer people (and less wind) and anchored and played for a bit. We ran the dog, swam in the lake, and took turns in the float tube until it was time to head back to town.

family eating snacks on the boat

MG swimming in the lake next to the boat with Andy and Kona in the boat
We rowed back to the launch, slowly, because of the wind and wake, and hooked up to the dock while I ran up to get the car and trailer. When I got there, I found a third wasp nest in the spare tire. No time, I left it and rolled down pass the tournament bass boats to pick up our new (old) boat. We got the boat on the trailer despite some chaos and pulled up to pick up the mess so we could drive. I think we all agree that we need to work on launch and landing protocol so that we’re not all yelling at each other, but no one (except MG with the sting) got hurt.

The day after, Chris, Michelle and I took it down the Kalama River in Washington to try out my rowing skills. The water was low, the fishing bad, and we had to portage a few times. But we made it, and there was only one harrowing part. Well, except for the launch.

We launched at Slab Hole and there was a large sand bar at the bottom of the ramp that prevented us from backing the boat in to the water. Instead, we tied a rope to the bow (and trailer) and had to push it off the trailer, where it dropped down in to the water. My ring got caught on the bow, and as the boat fell, I was pulled with it. Fortunately, my ring popped off before I went over, though it hurt quite a bit. A week later and my entire hand is still sore.
Shiny boat sitting on the bank of the Kalama river near Beginner hole
The one harrowing part was the approach to the tree hole and bend below Mahaffrey’s. The river is so low that the current puts you in a chute right up against the steep rock bank. The chute was a little wider than the boat, and it was difficult to row since the oars were on the bank. I was able to turn sideways to pull away, but right as a mid-current rock arrived. I asked the passengers to leave left to help slide over the rock, and they both leaned right, making sure we got a solid chine-to-rock collision. Nice work team.

We survived though, and subsequently survived the experience of having to do a 23 point turn because some jackass parked in the boat turn around.

All in all, it was a great first weekend with the boat. We have a better understanding of the needs, the boat (which rides quite high, I’m happy to report). We did a few portages, but it was great and I’m excited to row again.