Saturday, December 20, 2003

Koeln Weihnactmarkt

Today we went to Cologne for the Christmas market. T'was a veritable feast of sights, smells, and sounds. Cologne has several markets scattered throughout the city, and we visited two. The first was at the Dom. That one was mostly food, with a few craft booths scattered around. All the food smelled so delicious. Lance and I both got crepes for lunch...his was just cheese, mine was "Hawaii" (ham, pineapple, and cheese). They were sooooo good. While Lance was still in line getting his food, I was standing with Kim and Brian and some weird guy comes up to me, bends over my crepe and goes, "Mmmmmmm...cheese." We were laughing so hard. I don't know if he was drunk or what. I finished off my lunch with a hot belgian waffle drizzled with hot chocolate sauce. Heaven.

We saw that little dog again...the Polizei dog...I have a picture of him from last summer. Just a little a Shitzu or a Maltese. Dressed up in a Polizei uniform. Yep...there he was again. Apparently, he's a local celebrity.

Anyway, we walked around Cologne for a little the shopping district, which was a giant wall of humanity. Lance and I ducked into the jewelry store where we plan to buy our wedding bands eventually. But the guy didn't speak English and even though we drew a picture of the rings we wanted, he still didn't know what we were talking about, so I guess we'll have to just print out the picture from the website next time.

Eventually we hopped on a little train that took us to another Christmas market...the oldest one in Cologne. It was mostly a handicrafts market...the opposite of the first one. Less food. But there was a pretty carousel in the middle and nice music playing. The booths were very neat to look at. So many cool things. But I didn't spend any money. Shocking. But there was nothing there that I couldn't live without...Lance and I were looking for a replica of the Cologne Dom that was small enough to put on the tree, but we couldn't find one.

We left just as it started getting dark. It had just started to rain and even though it had been windy all day, the wind was picking up even more. But we saw quite a bit in one day, and overall the weather was pretty decent. It was about 50 degrees.Some pictures from today...and a picture of our Christmas tree:

Saturday, July 12, 2003

Castles, castles...and oh, look! More castles!

Today Lance and I left our house around 8 am and drove about an hour and a half to a town along the Rhine called Boppard...a very picturesque place. And that is where our adventures began. On that stretch of the Rhine, there are castles EVERYWHERE. can't look anywhere without seeing one. And it's a very hilly/mountainous region, so the castles are all very high up in the mountains...we had trouble seeing most of them on the side of the Rhine that we were on at any given time, but we could see the ones on the other side very well.

The drive is indescribably beautiful...seriously one of the most amazing places I have ever seen on this earth...not that I've traveled much yet, but I was in total awe. Every village along the Rhine is gorgeous, and just when you think it couldn't get more gorgeous, you come around the bend and there is another village there with something even more beautiful.

Our first stop was Burg Rheinfels in St. Goar (built in the late 13th century). The castle is in ruins, because as with most of the castles in the area, it was destroyed by the French in 1689. However, this one, unlike most of the other castles, was never restored, although a hotel and restaurant have been built onto it. It was really interesting walking through the ruins...I still don't think we got through everything. It's a massive place. There are tunnels and staircases in between the walls (pitch black and creepy) and all kinds of interesting things to see. As a sidenote...there are 2 castles right across the Rhine from Rhinefels...Castle "Katz" (named for Duke Katzenelnbogen) and Castle "Maus"...nicknamed by the tenants of Castle Katz because it was smaller.

Back at Rhinefels though...I noticed a tiny brown lizard on the ground where there was a lot of foot traffic. I was worried about it getting trampled (it was so cute), so I got a stick to try and move it to someplace safer. Well, the lizard hopped up on my shoe and started climbing up my leg (I was wearing jeans, thank God)...I wasn't scared, but I was frantically trying to shake it off, because I didn't know where it planned to go. Several people walked by and witnessed the scene and had a good laugh over it...Lance was laughing too, but trying to get out his video camera to get it on tape. But I shook it off before he could tape it. He was kind of mad about that. But I wonder what he would've done if the lizard was crawling up his leg. Anyway, we got the critter to safety eventually and moved on.

After our visit at Rheinfels, we decided we liked the town of St. Goar. It looked to have some interesting places, and it was lunch time anyway. So we parked the truck and found a nice little Italian sidewalk cafe that was within perfect view of Rheinfels. We ordered pizzas and just sat and watched the world go by...there were a lot of tourists there and we heard a lot of english being spoken (moreso than German, actually)...there were many many Americans there.

After our lunch, we stopped at the Cuckoo Clock Center, which is exactly what it claims to be. There was a giant cuckoo clock outside the building...Lance got a picture of me standing under it. They sold other souvenirs too, so I managed to pick up a few gifts. There was a beer stein shop down the road, so I picked up a couple more gifts there. Then we hopped in the truck and were on our way.

Of course we saw many many other castles on our way to the next castle tour. We stopped at Reichenstein Castle, but I think we came in the wrong way. All we could see from where we were was a restaurant...the castle was further back but we couldn't see it. So we left (which is unfortunate, because once we got to the other side of the Rhine and we passed it again, we saw the castle and it was fantastic)...and we went down the road just a bit to Rhinestein Castle.

Rhinestein Castle was very's restored and currently owned by an opera singer. It also has a restaurant (most of them do). There was a wedding taking place while we were there, so I don't think we had access to everything that was usually open to the public. But we got to see the chapel, the royal crypt (and the coffins of 2 princes of Prussia and one princess), the fountain garden, the squires' hall, the knights' hall, the dining hall, a couple of salons, and a bedchamber. The decorations in the squires' hall were kind of creepy (lots of animal skulls and weapons...but some suits of armor too). All in all, a very cool castle. It's also the oldest place I've ever been to besides the Roman baths in Bath, started at Rhinestein in 900.

That was actually the last castle we were able to tour for the day. We drove through many more beautiful towns, most of them with castles, and many of them with the medieval city walls still intact (including some watch towers). We got to a city called Bingen (its claim to fame being Hildegard of Bingen, a very illustrious nun from the medieval period), and it was there that we took a ferry across the Rhine (one that carries vehicles also) to the town of Rudesheim. We spent a few hours there. This is the big wine producing center of Germany, and Rudesheim is surrounded by vineyards (vineyards covered most of the entire area that we saw today). Lance and I took a skylift ride up over the vineyards and it dropped us off at the top of a mountain overlooking the Rhine...we could see for miles and was spectacular. Anyway, there was a huge statue up there (which reminded us of the statue of liberty) that was erected to commemorate some war that took place in that region in the 19th century. There were some other things to see up there too, but it was quite a hike. So we decided against it and took the skylift back down. On the way back down, there was a falcon perched on the wire that runs between the 2 sides of the we got to see it very close up. That was cool. And it was funny, some drunk guy was in a skylift on the other side and he waved frantically at us and gave us a big "Hiiiiiiiiiii" as he went past. We were cracking up. But I don't think they should let drunk people on those things because it would be too easy to fall out.

After the skylift, we went to an "Eis Cafe" (ice cream parlor)...I got spaghetti ice, which sounds disgusting, but really isn't. The vanilla ice cream is made to look like spaghetti. It has strawberry sauce on top for the spaghetti sauce, and white chocolate shavings as the parmesan cheese (and a good dollop of whip cream underneath it all for good measure). Yummy. While we were there, a very loud transvestite in a very hideous bright pink poofy dress came bounding up to get some ice cream. There were some snickers among the crowd sitting in the cafe, but after he went to a nearby bench to eat his ice cream, people were asking to pose for pictures with him. He was eating it up. He was singing goofy songs and really enjoying the attention. Lance and I walked past him and he tried to get us to stop and take our picture with him. We turned around and walked the other way, but I sort of wish we would've been funny. And that dress had to be seen to be believed. It was the most godawful ugliest thing I've ever laid eyes upon.

We left Rudesheim and decided that our next destination would be Marksburg Castle (which in German would be Burg in English it's Marks Castle Castle...whatever)...anyway, it's one of the most well-preserved castles on the Rhine, and one of the most beautiful (although I think the one directly across the river from it was absolutely gorgeous)...unfortunately, the castle was closed when we got there. I really wanted to see it too...the rooms were supposedly preserved to look as they did in the medieval period and they had torture devices and things like chastity belts on display.

So we decided at that point to head for home...of course we saw more castles as we headed into Koblenz and when we got right into Koblenz, there was a GIGANTIC fortress that spread out in front of us. Just awesome. Words cannot describe. I tried to get a picture of it from the truck, but I'm sure it won't begin to do justice to it (if it even comes out...taking pictures through a windshield probably doesn't guarantee a great photo).

Anyway, so we're back...and we're tired. But this has been the most amazing day. We are anxious to go back and see more. We didn't even see a quarter of the castles that are along Castle Road. And of the ones we did see, we only toured 2...of course, a lot of them are privately owned, but we're already making a list of ones we want to see that we missed today. And we plan to take at least 2 days the next time...and even then, we won't come close to seeing everything. But there are a lot of campgrounds right along the Rhine, so we want to make a camping trip out of it. Although there are countless hotels in the area too, all of them oozing charm from every nook and cranny.

By the way, since I don't have pictures, here are links if you want to catch a glimpse of some of these places:
The gigantic fortress with equally gigantic name:

(and of course, this barely begins to scratch the surface).

Saturday, June 28, 2003


Today Lance and I went to Cologne. We got up at an ungodly hour of the morning because I thought it would be cool to leave at 8:01...the earliest train there. Bad BAD idea! We were soooo tired... But the train ride was great...we had a layover in Rheydt (which was thankfully brief) and then with the 2nd train, we were on our way to Cologne.

We got off the train, and the first thing we saw was the Dom...the GIGANTIC cathedral that is the heart of Cologne: It's literally right next to the train station, and I couldn't even see the entire thing when I got off the train, but my breath was just taken away by the immense size of this building. Lance and I stopped there first...we went inside and walked around. They allowed us fairly close access to the crypts, so we got to see some really interesting effigies. I didn't take pictures of them though, out of respect for those who are buried there. I did get a few pictures of the inside, including the absolutely huge organ pipes. I just hope they turn out.

After we toured the inside, we paid the 2 euro admission for the privilege of climbing to the top of the south tower. That is 509 stairs to the top...very narrow SPIRAL stairs...and there are people climbing down as you are climbing up, so it's a tight squeeze. I thought I was going to pass out before we got to the top, but we were richly rewarded with a stunning view of Cologne, especially the Rhine river. On the way down, we stopped to look at the bells, although I was afraid they would start ringing as we were standing there. It probably would've shattered our eardrums, seeing as how those bells can be heard all over Cologne.

After we got to the bottom, we had to go and sit for awhile, since my legs were very shaky and I had trouble walking straight (try climbing 500 steps and going back down, and see how YOU feel!)...but we went outside to take pictures of the outside of the Dom. It seems to be THE place for everyone to gather. So we were checking out what was going on...street performers, sidewalk chalk artists...and this little poodle-like dog walked past us with a German polizei uniform on, including a little cap, and SUNGLASSES. Everyone was cracking up as this little pooch walked by...I managed to get a picture of him. He was adorable. I just didn't get to where I could get his face in the picture, so you don't see his sunglasses.

Anyway, after that, we were ready for lunch, so we went to the Hard Rock Cafe. It wasn't my first choice because the place is always loud and their food is fine, but I would rather eat at a restaurant that is unique to Cologne. But Lance wanted to go there and I was paying since his birthday is tomorrow, so we went. But we got there about half an hour before it opened, so we took a walk on a bridge over the Rhine to get some good photos. We went back at noon to get lunch.

After lunch, we decided to head over to the chocolate museum. They promised to have free samples for all visitors, and considering that they gave us mini chocolate bars at the ticket counter, I knew that it was a good place to visit. They had exhibits on where cocao beans are produced, how they are made into chocolate (that was the fun part...they have a chocolate factory there, so you can actually see the machines at work making the chocolate and forming it into bars and sending it to the wrapping machine), a rainforest of cocao trees, and exhibits that showed the history of the Stollwerck chocolate company in Cologne. In the museum, they have a chocolate fountain, which is literally like a water fountain, except chocolate pours out. And someone stands there with sugar wafers, dips them in chocolate, and hands them to you as you walk past. Needless to say, that was pretty cool. :) We hit the gift shop afterwards (yes mother, I bought you some!).

After that, we decided to take a Rhine cruise. As we were walking to the pier to get to our boat, we went through a marketplace...they sold mostly books, but there were some other things too...nothing that I had to have, but it was interesting to see what wares were being sold.

We took our Rhine cruise, which was a much needed rest for both of us. It was pretty packed by the time we got on, so we couldn't find a place on the open deck at first and had to sit down in the enclosed part. But we got to a city called Rodengirchen, which is also along the Rhine (just outside Cologne) and some people got off, so we were able to find a place to sit on the open deck. Rodenkirchen was a nice place...just reeked charm all over the place, what we saw of it anyway. But the boat turned around (after picking up some passengers) and we headed back to Cologne.

After that, we were pretty tired...we walked around for a little bit because we wanted to get pictures of the old town hall and they had a wedding there earlier in the day, which made it difficult to get pictures. So we went back to get some pictures, hit the souvenir shop so I could buy a bottle of Eau de Cologne for Grandma (because that's where it was invented...duh!...and yes, women can wear this stuff)...and I bought some postcards. Then Lance and I went to the train station to come home...although we stopped first to get the obligatory German pretzel and some Coca-Cola Light (which is NOT Diet Coke...they don't have Diet Coke here).

As we were waiting on our train, we saw a bunch of drunk guys come off a train with a bunch of open beer bottles in their hands...they were being obnoxious and dancing and singing and hitting on all the women that they saw (except me, because Lance was with me). I guess public intoxication is not a problem in Germany. :) thing I thought was cute...we passed by this street performer who played the accordian...he had a bunch of tiny marionettes in traditional German dress and they were dancing along to the music he was playing...TOO CUTE! I tried to get Lance to take video of it, but he thought it was cheesy.

On the way back, we had a layover at Aachen, which will likely be the next place we visit. It looks to be an interesting city as well, although all the things worth seeing are further away from the train station.

In other news, we finally got our bicycles yesterday...German made and they come with all the bells (literally) and whistles. I can't wait to start riding!!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

German Traditions

There are some German traditions that I really really like.

When a baby is born, the family and friends hang out a clothesline in front of the parents' house and pin baby clothes to it, and perhaps a banner with the baby's name and birthdate. And they put a big wooden stork on the front lawn.

When a couple gets married, the family and friends drape what looks like a carpet of flowers around their doorway and hang 2 large intertwined wedding bands from the doorway. They also put a heart-shaped wreath in the front yard, again with the intertwined wedding bands attached to it, and a banner across indicating the date.

It's so cute. I love that. I want to look up some other wedding traditions. Lance and I plan to have a reception here at our house after we get back from the wedding, so it would be cool to learn some of the German wedding traditions.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Belgium, Bitburg, and other adventures...

Yesterday we had to drive a friend to Liege, Belgium to pick up an antique desk that he purchased. It was a pretty drive...the autobahn took us past Maastricht, Netherlands, which looks to be an interesting city. And the next biggest city was Liege, which I thought was really cool. We got to our destination (after several wrong exits off the autobahn) and the woman spoke only German and French, so between our friend, who speaks okay German, and me with my very rusty French, we were able to communicate with the woman and get the sought after desk.

We got back kind of late, but starving, so Lance and I met our friends Scott & Sheila at Il Genio's in Birgden...a charming little Italian place that (unlike everything else here) actually stays open late. There was a pretty large group of Germans sitting in the restaurant...they were the only ones there besides us. As they left, they walked past our table and said a friendly "Tschuss!"...if I spelled that right...(Which is like saying "Cheers!" when you are in England)...that's the typical way you say goodbye to someone here, something that I often forget to say.

Today we got up early, picked up Scott & Sheila, and headed to Bitburg, which is about a 2 hour drive, partially through Belgium. This was a gorgeous drive through a mountainous area...little villages nestled in the valleys. I really wish I could've taken pictures, but it's illegal to stop along the autobahn unless your car breaks down or something. (I've only taken 2 pictures since I've been here...all the cool stuff I've seen by car). We got to Bitburg, and our exit took us past the Bitburger Brewery (probably the most popular beer in Germany...there are Bitburger signs EVERYWHERE and lots of people have their logo "Bitte ein bit" on their cars). But our destination was the Bitburg Air Base. We got a lot of desperately needed items there that we couldn't get at the bases around here (and there are 3 bases within a half an hour of each other here) and since their commissary is larger, we did a huge amount of grocery shopping and now have our cupboards, fridge and freezer filled (and yes, we brought a cooler so stuff wouldn't spoil on the way home).

We took a different way back...didn't go through Belgium at all, just stayed in Germany the whole way. It was a longer drive, but also very pretty. And our route took us past a really cool looking castle (which again, I couldn't take a picture of, since we were whizzing past at about 75 mph).

As we dropped Scott and Sheila off, an ice cream truck came down their street. I don't know why I thought it was funny that they should have them here in Germany, but for some reason, I found it highly amusing. But they actually sell ice cream cones, rather than stuff like ice cream sandwiches and fudge bars.

There's a "Pop-Rock Oldie" festival tonight in Birgden, which we plan to go to. They started setting up last night and they have bumper cars! We are interested in seeing if they are going to be singing the songs in English or in German...the main feature is a band called "Good Old Lovers," so we're guessing English. They do love their English language music here, after all. Most German and Dutch stations play American music...and the deejay between songs sounds like "Blah blah blah blah BRITNEY SPEARS!...blah blah blah"'s just funny. And I also like the polka techno...pretty funny stuff. And we found a Dutch karoake show on tv that is pretty funny...they sing most of the songs in English, but they do Dutch versions of some of the American songs, which is pretty hilarious. I also like when we find the Muppet Show in French...but the Dutch stations tend to show American tv with Dutch subtitles, which is good. And MTV has German we can at least watch some television besides CNN Europe (although Fresh Prince of Bel Air is pretty funny dubbed over in German, even if we can't understand it).

Well, I think that's it for now. Tomorrow is a day of relaxation, since we've been so busy. Next weekend...COLOGNE!!!! I can't wait! We're taking the train...Lance is anxious to show me the big cathedral and we want to visit some museums and I think he wants to eat at the Hard Rock Cafe again. I'm pretty sure we're going on Saturday, since Sunday is his birthday and I think he wanted to spend it here at home.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Inaugural Post!

Guten Tag! Tomorrow I fly to Germany for the first time ever. I can't even begin to express the various emotions that I'm feeling right now. I'm excited, yes, but I also realize that I'm about to gaze for the first time upon what is to be my home for the next 3-5 years.But I'm as ready as I'll ever be. My suitcase and garment bag and carry-on are nearly packed. I bought a Berlitz book of German phrases (including a dictionary) so I can say such things as,"Ich habe eine Scheidenentzundung." This is something I hope I never have to say, but should it become a problem, at least I can tell a doctor about it.(Just for the record, that means, "I have a vaginal infection.") Heh.

But yes, there are phrases in here that I actually will use, particularly when ordering food in a restaurant or going shopping. It's fascinating really, and much more helpful than just your run of the mill German-English dictionary, because at least I don't have to try to piece together a sentence by looking up individual words. I just wish I could find a book that translates menus in different languages, so that if we go to Italy, say, I know what I'm ordering. Or even in Germany...because according to Lance, every restaurant he's been to so far has had all the menus in German. You'd think in a NATO community where several nationalities are represented and several languages spoken, they would have menus available in all of these languages, or at least in English, since it seems that most people in NATO can speak it.So Lance has had to do a "trial by fire" method of ordering food, just point to something on the menu and pray it is edible. But I hope I find one of these books at some point, so we don't have to do that.

Anyway, I'm just rambling now...I wasn't planning on writing my first entry until after my arrival in Germany, but this poor journal just looked so empty. I will update again after I soon as we get the computer up. I don't think we'll have internet access for the first few days after we move in. But at least when we do get it, it will be DSL.