Tuesday, April 12, 2011

on the road again, Munich, Rome and in between

Ahh, Spring is in the air, the trees are greening the roads in full glory as we drive through the Dolomites from Austria to Padua.

We are on the road again, making the best use of the kids' two week Spring break.

Our first stop was Dachau, maybe not the most uplifting start to a family vacation, but an important place to honor lives lost, and remember a history that should ne
ver be repeated.
A quick somber visit was enough for the family, and off we went to drink in the vibe of Munich at the oldest brauhaus around.

Kids and parents appreciated the stop, including the bonus hotel pool before we struck off for t
he BMW museum the next day.

Fantasy abounds at the Disney for adults, but we held turning in our tired VW for a new BMW for the time being.

Through the alps we drove for the second time this year, sans ski traffic, to the fantasy castle of Neushwanstien that inspired Disney for his Cinderella castle.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fall changes

Touristing at Berg Eltz on the Mosel river

Celebrating Halloween in our own little way.

A tempting looking sandwich in shop window... an alternative to sausage

Fall has arrived to Bonn. The days are shorter, and mornings darker. Leaves adorn the wet streets. Winter tires have been installed, umbrellas are always at the ready, and we watch the river Rhine as it rises with the rains.

The seasons are such a strong indicator of the passage of time, and this Fall has brought us not only another year in Germany, but another year of change. As the kids started their new classes this year, I started a new job. I am thrilled to be working for Fairtrade, based in Bonn, and feel more complete here now that I have found my purpose.

Funny though, adding a job did not really take away the other responsibilities that abound. There is still picking up and dropping off of kids, meals to shop for and prepare, laundry and ... you know, the usual not very interesting life stuff. Of course we share lots of these duties in our family, but at my "only" 80% working hours, much of it falls to me.

The Fall also brought family visits. My big sister and my mom both came to visit us, albeit separately, during the months of September and October. I feel very blessed to have them come to us and share in our life here. Though I was a bit sorry that the working me had much less time to play with either of them.

With the Fall and start of school came new activities for the kids and as I write, I am listening to my 8 year old work out "Where is Thumpkin?" on the violin. And my 10 year old is loving being on both the long distance track team (he can almost outrun me!) and the robotics team (which is too cool, really, building lego robots in the Mac lab - what a life!).

Alas, we have done a bit less travelling now that life has gotten so busy. But I did manage a great weekend trip to Berlin with my sister, full of touristing a delicious cheese! Of course we also squeezed in a castle with my mom, and Olof has been up to Sweden and even had a weekend in Paris with his siblings and parents. Okay, so we still managed a bit.

Now the holiday season descends.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Winding down and starting up again

Here we are at the end of the summer, or at the beginning of the school year, depending on your world view, and nary a blog to show for it. It is amazing that we have marked our one year anniversary in Bonn, with not much fanfare, and are trekking the kids off to school again like locals.

So I guess it is time for a little recap of our summer to give our time line some perspective. In June we were blessed to have visitors from home come and spend a month in and out of our lives. It was definitely the highlight for all of us in so many ways.
The kids loved having friends here to share in their life and play and be silly with, as only familiar buddies can. As for me, I was refreshed by having my dearest friend and her family here to experience first hand the abundance of sausage, beer and narrow roadways, as well as appreciate the quaint markets and Germaness of it all. And Olof loved having someone to banter about ideas with, and then some.

Making a good thing even better, our families ventured to France and England together for a wonderful vacation.

Spending the summer in a quaint french village has always been a quiet little fantasy of mine, and I will happily qualify the week we spent on Ile-aux-Moines in Brittany as fantasy fulfillment.

Luck was truly on our side when we found this island, and the house was perfect for our two
families. With our rented bikes on this virtually car free island, we were free to discover lovely beaches and hidden paths on our own. It was a joy to go off to the little market, pick up fresh bread and veggies each day. With plenty of restaurants to choose from, we had quite the culinary experience as well (as much as one can with kids in tow) and reading Julia Child's "My Year in France" was extremely fitting.

After this idyllic week our families split up to make our separate ways to London. The Byström's did so via ferry to Portsmouth and a stop in the village of Tewksbury where we viewed the resting site of my ancestor Bishop Wakeman, the last abbot of Tewksbury, who made his stand again King Henry VIII.

Unfortunately we realized we traveled in the wrong direction for our taste buds. My advice is never go to England directly after visiting France without preparing yourself for a shock. I am no food snob, but for our first meal in England we happened upon a local pub serving "Sunday carvery". This was an interesting introduction to British cuisine consisting of yesterdays roast and broccoli cooked since sun-up....yuck. However, while making our way to London we stopped off at Stonehenge, which made up for the carvery experience.
Stonehenge really is as spectacular as we anticipated and the whole family were impressed by this set of very old rocks.

London was of course fabulous, though exhausting. There is so much to do and see there, we felt like we were going 100 miles an hour. We managed to squeeze in the Tower of London, double decker buses, platform 9 3/4, the London Bridge, the London Eye, a bit of Indian food, a few pints for the parents, a ton of walking, the changing of the guard, the Imperial war museum....and those are just the highlights!

The the only downside of such a great vacation with friends is that eventually one must go home. The end was sad, but this is certainly not our last adventure together.

The rest of our summer was pretty tame, with several laid back weeks in Bonn. Not too many people hang out here in the summer, so the kids were happy whenever a friend could come to play.

We managed one last trip before summer ended and drove to Sweden for the week. We made a detour to Legoland, which was sweet for the kids and then spent the week with Olof's brother and family eating crayfish, playing cards and fishing.

Swedes know how to party and our excuse to be there that specific weekend was our brother-in-law's 50th birthday, which was a blast. It is just too bad that the drive is so long, otherwise we would be up there a whole lot more often.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sand castles, medieval castles and football

The pressure if off for traveling away to new cities and countries, and the weekends have become more mundane, in a very good way.

With the end of the school year looming, the kids have numerous birthday parties and end of the year events to attend, summer concerts at school and even sports day. And I am busy running around getting teacher gifts and planning class parties like a well versed room parent thank you very much. This, combined with working part time (yeah!) and planning for a month long visit with friends from home (another cheer, even louder), makes for busy days. Of course husband has many a late night these days too, as work load has increased as the climate worsens (okay maybe climate change is not at fault, but new work organization has put the pressure on him for sure.)

But between all that, we managed a perfectly lovely weekend with a medieval fair at our local castle. By local I mean a 10 minute walk up a forested hill, where we emerged into another time of bards and bagpipes. The Burg of Bad Godesburg was celebrating its 900 year birthday in style.

Of course there were modern events in town too, like sand castle making, where we attempted our hand at replicating the Burg in sand. And bungy jumping too. You know it is a party in Germany when the shops are open on Sunday and folks are out drinking beer.

A lovely part of staying in town for the weekend is running into friends while out and about and inviting their kids over to play. And sitting in the garden in the sun reading a book, working on a rocket with Noah for his boy scout project, and jumping on the trampoline with the Louise. Ah summer is here, and I hope it stays.

Best of all, on this relaxing weekend in June was however, the football. I love the enthusiasm for soccer and the fever has been building in Germany, and around the world over the last month. I was even given a German flag to put on my car when I took it to the car wash. Flags are hanging out of windows and covering buildings. In the United Nations parking lot flags from just about every country are waving too. The bakery is making soccer ball buns and the candy store sells chocolate soccer balls and trophies. It really is fusball mania here. So we were pretty pleasesd that the USA hung in there against England 1-1, its just too bad we can't cheer for Sweden this year though.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


As the saying goes home is where the heart is and I surely felt that on our visit to Davis in April. It was so great to be in California for a whirlwind tour of my favorite places visiting my favorite people, thank you one and all. It was so comfortable to be home that I was not just a little nervous about returning to, uh, our home when the trip ended.

So where is home if I don't really live in California (right now)? Is it where my bed, my coffee maker, my furniture is? Is it where my kids and husband are? Can home be more than one place at a time? If I was going home, where was I coming from?

This has been confusing to the kids and it spilled over to me last month. While home in California I really felt like I picked up right where I had left off 9 months ago, and I wanted to keep going. Good thing I had a return ticket and a husband waiting for me.

Don't misunderstand, we are all pretty happy in Bonn. We have a life, a house and we are making friends. Work is good for Olof, school is great for the kids, and I, well, I am learning German. For those of you who I was able to spend time with on our trip home, my mantra has been, I am happy, but lack purpose. So is this what makes home - Purpose?

Purpose as a concept has been so important for me in the last months, mainly because I have made a physical move for reasons outside my own choosing. So I seek purpose mainly outside our daily life, i.e., in a job.

Ironically I was offered a job just before our trip in April and because I was going home, the offer was rescinded. This is a long and rather uninteresting story, but it made me realize that finding purpose was not really just about a job.

Instead I chose to nourish my children's and my own soul by going home for a few weeks, filling up our tanks so to speak, with love and good feelings from friends and family. And this to me was home. Could this be purpose?

We returned to Germany full of wonderful memories, 2 weeks of an action packed love-fest. My fears of tears and homesickness (the kids or mine, I am not sure which I anticipated more) were all for naught. The kids went right back to school, happy to see their friends. Their friends here. And I felt, oddly, like I was coming home. I felt my sense of place, maybe for the first time, and returned to my routine with purpose. My house, my garden, my car, my bike, my town and slowly my friends.

I even have a job, my own job, maybe not a high powered international career job, but I have a job that makes me happy and suits our life very well. I am working in the Media Center at the kids' school, and will make my place there too.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Skiing in the Alps

It still sounds sounds exotic to my ears to say that we went skiing in the Swiss Alps for the week. And it was, in a way, exotic. Although Switzerland and Germany are neighbors, there are enough differences to make it an adventure to cross the border.

To be honest I was more than a little hesitant to go on a ski vacation this year, with kids who are not huge fans of the sport. And although I do love to ski, I would prefer to spend family vacation time some place warm, especially after months and months of snow through the "coldest winter in 30 years" in Bonn. However, Olof made his case, pointing out that we are here for a limited time and what an amazing opportunity we have to go SKIING IN SWITZERLAND! Okay, okay.

There seem to be a gazillion ski areas and resorts within a 6 to 8 hour drive from Bonn, so choosing one was quite a task. After researching "the best family ski areas in Switzerland" we settled on the small alp village of Adelboden, located not too far from the capital Bern. http://www.adelboden.ch/en/page.cfm/Bergbahnen

Finding a place to stay was the next challenge, as it seems that most of Europe has the second and/or third week of February off in order to ski. Really, no joke. This is usually referred to as "sport break" for the kids. This was made very clear to us while we were driving to Adelboden - every other car was Dutch, French or German heading into Switzerland!

We arrived on a cloudy Saturday evening, too late to rent equipment, but in time to wander the cute village. As we wandered, everyone greeted us with a friendly "grüß gott" or 'grüßi" literally meaning "greet god" but generally just hello. We loved the warmth of the greetings and the cozy Swiss accent which was much harder for us to understand, but sounded great.

The deal we made with the kids was that they would try ski school for 2 days and if they loved it, they could continue and if they hated it, we would not push. I was totally impressed by both kids and their brave faces as we booked their ski school and told them they would be on the mountain from 9:30 to 1:45 when we picked them up. Gulp. After making these arrangements on Sunday for the next day, we had the afternoon to explore.

Besides skiing, sledding is big fun in the Alps, so we hopped on the nearest gondola and rented sleds. We opted for the tamer sled run first, which was 3 and a half kilometers of screaming fun for all of us. Well maybe not when the Louise went face first in the snow bank, but otherwise we were all grinning from ear to ear. Of course we had to go again, and again, and again. I have never sledded like this before and used muscles I did not even know I had in order to steer that funky Swiss sled with my rear end.

Of course a week in Switzerland must also include plenty of chocolate and fondue, and we did our best to cover these bases as well.
In the end, Noah loved skiing and opted for another day of ski school. Louise was not so thrilled with the sport, and preferred to go to the swimming pool with me. Olof and I were very satisfied since we both got to ski more than we have since life pre-children, and we got to do it in Switzerland. It was truly beautiful.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Capital cities

Having been inspired by several of Olof's siblings, we thought it would be fun to see how many European capital cities we could visit while on our European adventure. Thus we recently made the short trek to Brussels - the capital of all capital cities in a sense, the meeting of minds for the European Union.

Cities have a lot to offer for tourists. There is always some new food to discover, an alley way to wander down, a museum, pub or famous statue to be visited. In Brussels it is the Manikin piss and Cafe Delirium. And of course waffles. All of which we did in about 3 hours of our visit on a rainy Saturday afternoon.

The kids asked, "What is Brussels famous for, like Amsterdam has Anne Frank's house and canals. What can you buy?" Funny that that is their point of reference. I had to think. Waffles. Beer. Cheese. I could only come up with food, so we had to go find the waffles right away. And on every street corner, there was a lovely little waffle stand, offering delicious warm waffles. So worth the visit already.

Okay, next was the famous peeing statue. Really, literally it is a small, 2 foot statue of a boy peeing. He gets dressed in different outfits according to the season, but he is still just small boy peeing. Nothing to buy there.

And the famous beer. Not really so much for the kids, but we did need to stop for refreshments and happened on the VERY smoky Cafe Delirium which offers over 500 varieties of beer. I had read that Brussels had outlawed smoking in restaurants, but did not realize that cafes did not fall into the same category. I think every smoker in Brussels joined us at this cafe/pub to get in all the smoking they could, in the smallest space possible. Just another cultural experience for the kids. The beer was good.

And on we walked in the beautiful and strangely contradictory city with beautiful intricate buildings from the 1800s and new soviet bloc type administrative buildings side by side.

The drizzling rain did not stop our explorations, but nor was conducive to long explorations. We were happy to get back to the hotel after an early dinner and swim in the hotel pool, which was really the main attraction for the kids.

The next day we avoided the 23 Euro hotel breakfast (over 30 dollars, per person!) and wandered to the nearest bakery. A much nicer and more local experience for us. We took a long walk through the royal gardens and were happy to get back to the car for the next tourist attraction, the Atomium.

I had never heard of the Atomium before, but now I will always associate it with Brussels. This is an amazing structure that was built for the 1958 world fair. "At 102 meters high, with its nine interconnected spheres, it represents an elementary iron crystal enlarged 165 billion (thousand million) times." In other words it is awesome - and totally worth a visit. Both kids said it was something that they would never forget (until they do of course). It was a very memorable way to end our little trip to yet another capital city in Europe.