Thursday, May 29, 2014

Luxembourg Part 3: May 15 - 17

Read part 1 and part 2 of our Luxembourg adventure. Here we head into our last few days...

Thursday 5/15 - This was the day that we planned to head to Germany. Rich had the day off so he drove Jesse, Riley and myself to Baumholder and then Trier, Germany. We didn't originally plan to go to Baumholder, but when I discovered that my dad was stationed here during the Korean war in 1951 and 1952 I decided to check out how close it was to Luxembourg. With it only being an hour and a half it seemed like a reasonable excursion. I thought about emailing the base before going to Luxembourg, but we weren't sure that we would actually make it there, or when we would go.

The drive through Germany was beautiful - tons of trees and mountains. We later discovered that 50 - 60% of this region is covered in mountains. I wish I took some pictures of it because it was beautiful - lush, and green, and so picturesque. Above you will see vineyards planted on some of the hillsides, but this doesn't remotely capture the tree covered mountains with random valleys filled with houses that we saw.

As I mentioned, my dad was stationed at Baumholder in 1951 and 1952 after going through basic training in Texas. He helped rebuild bridges that the Germans had destroyed, he dug up land mines, and he practiced digging foxholes in case that was ever needed. He talked about how he disliked Texas because of the heat and the bugs, but how Baumholder was like living at a hotel. He shared that the barracks were really nice with most people having their own rooms, and that when you went to eat you were actually served food.

As we drove into Baumholder, we noted that we probably couldn't take pictures of the base. We talked about asking at the gate, but decided to try and find a city sign first that we would take a picture of. We must of missed the city sign because the first thing I noticed was the base on our left. My dad had a number of pictures from this time that I wish I would have brought with just to see how things have changed... or not changed.

As we came into town Rich noticed the main base sign and suggested we take a picture in front of it. We were at the main gates, but it seemed a little difficult to drive up to them without going through some obstacles so we decided to skip asking for permission. We took a number of pictures and as we started to walk back to our car we noticed security walking towards us. Oops, guess we weren't supposed to take those pictures after all.  As we met up with security they confirmed that we couldn't take pictures so I started deleting the pictures, but they told me to hold up as they had already called the military police. As we waited, we chatted. Both of the security guards were German. One had a daughter a little younger than Riley and the other made a suggestion as to where to get some sauerkraut. We talked about the weather (it was colder there than in Lux and we were feeling it) and about my dad being stationed there while we waited for the MP to show up.

Kind of feel like I shouldn't even post this picture...

When the MP showed up he looked at the pictures and kind of laughed about this 'incident' being called in. After talking with someone about it on the phone for sometime he said he had to follow up with paperwork and that we had to follow him on base. So we hopped in our car and followed him to a building where we walked down a hallway filled with old pictures of Baumholder. Another (very serious) guy looked at our pictures and determined they were ok to keep (curses that I deleted some good ones). While the MP ran off to get the paperwork he needed to fill out, Rich asked the serious guy "I know this may be a stupid question, but could we take pictures of the old pictures on the wall for her dad?". Lol - the guy just looked at Rich like he was an idiot, but then asked us to follow him to speak to another guy. Apparently, he was just trying to think who he could connect us to.

Serious guy introduced us to the public relations guy who gave us a 20 minute history lesson back in front of the old pictures. He seemed especially proud of when President Clinton visited in 1995 and shared that he is working to update a book on the history of Baumholder. When he found out my dad was still alive and had pictures of Baumholder he got really excited since he shared that not much was left from that time. Now I have his email and have been working on scanning in my dad's pictures to send to him. While Jesse and I were getting his email, Rich was connecting with the MP who is from AZ - where Rich went to college. Apparently, they both loved the same restaurant near the college. The MP kept apologizing that they put us through this and we kept apologizing back.

So kids, apparently the moral of the story is to do something you aren't supposed to and get an experience better than you could have hoped for. And let me add that everyone was so nice to us. It certainly wasn't what I thought would happen in Baumholder.

Here are just a few of the many pictures my dad had of that time:

My dad in front of the barracks

There were a fair amount of these 'posed' pictures that I'm sure he sent home to family.

Digging foxholes

I think this one is actually at Inks Lake, Texas during his 4 months of basic training.

A wider shot of the barracks in the back. My dad is on the right.

After they would build the bridge a 90 ton truck would drive over it to 'test' it out.

After leaving the base we headed over to Hotel Stern as recommended by the security guard. It seemed a little quiet when we entered, but we noticed a soldier sitting by himself and asked him if the place was open. He confirmed it was and then proceeded to talk about how wonderful their turkey special of the day was. We sat down and were reviewing the menu when he came back over to clarify that he meant it was a chicken special and to talk up another dish that he loved there. He went on and on about how great the place was so we were feeling pretty confident about the food. We finally asked him how long he had been stationed here when he shared that he'd been there an entire week. Lol. Even so he totally talked me into the chicken special. Unfortunately, they did not have sauerkraut that day for Jesse so we would have to look for it elsewhere.

I sort of wanted to check out more of the town, but was also cold, tired, and wanted to get to Trier before too much of the day passed by. I was too frightened to take anymore pictures anyway so I was ready to go (except for the phone shot above that was more of a way for me to remember the name of the place we ate).

Trier was actually recommended to me by a woman that works at my company and when I mentioned it to Rich and Susse they were all about bringing us there. Trier may be the oldest town in Germany and is part of the Mosel wine region.

How cool is this ramp with lights that let you know if there is an open spot or not.

This was another time that I was reminded how nice it was to be visiting people who knew the area. Rich had visited Trier multiple times before so he was able to walk us around and show us some of the hot spots. 

We got to see (and pose in front of) the Porta Nigra, a Roman city gate that was built between 186 and 200 AD. How is it possible that this is still here! Seriously, amazes me.

We walked around and checked out the stores where Jesse purchased some wine.

And we checked out the Cathedral of St Peter which is the oldest cathedral in the country. If you visit you will notice a lot of different styles going on as the church was added on to over the years.

After visiting the cathedral we walked around a bit and tried to find Jesse some sauerkraut, but apparently Germany no longer believes in sauerkraut. Seriously Germany - what's up with that? Ok, so it was really only one place in Baumholder and the one place in Trier we asked just didn't serve it that day. Go figure.

Riley rough housing with her uncle.

We then headed back to Luxembourg and as we got close I decided to snap a picture of some cows. There were many farms like this where there were 10 or less cows (or sheep) that just wandered around. Some were more out in the country, but others were nestled amongst populated neighborhoods. Susee referred to them as happy cows and I would like to think she's right. 

That night we had another great dinner. I'm pretty sure this is the night we had salmon which was cooked perfectly, and where I learned the awesomeness of celery salt. Why did I not know how great it is? Susee shared that she does not cook, but she made us multiple wonderful meals.

After dinner we decided to play dominoes. Jesse's mom is always trying to get us to play so it seemed a little unfair that she wasn't there too. However, we did have a couple questions about rules so we called her while she was on her lunch break to clarify.

Apparently, Rich bought some jambon to share with Jesse and here they are tasting it out. Jesse is pretending to hate it (I think - I was putting Riley to bed at this time), while Rich is demonstrating how much he loves it. There may have been a fair amount of wine consumed this night.

Friday 5/16 - This was our last full day and the first day where the weather was warm (60's) and sunny all day. The plan was to go to a winery this day, but I don't think either of us were up to drinking during the day especially since we weren't feeling well (still).  I was still up for going, but Jesse decided against it. This was one of the items on his 'to do' list so I was surprised that he opted out. I had suggested that we find a park to take Riley to as we spent the last couple days hauling her to other countries and it was about time she had some fun.

Rich and Susee took us to another castle park. This was yet another awesome park - the only thing that I didn't like as much was that the entrances to the towers were really made for little people and our little person likes us to play with her. It made it a little more difficult for us to move around, but it was still fun.

Perfect park for playing hide and seek

After the park we headed to a mall where we could get lunch and then pick up some food items at the grocery store to bring home with us.

We stopped at a little place for lunch and while the sandwich Jesse and I split wasn't that great, the salad was fantastic. We weren't sure what to expect for the Salade Gourmand, but it pretty much had everything on it. Glad we took that risk. While waiting for our food, Riley drew a picture of me. I love how she put my ring on the table since I was going to bed, but then drew a necklace with 4 large bells around my neck - because that's the sort of thing you sleep in. 

As I mentioned before, I loved the grocery stores - mostly because there were so many options that we don't have at home. I loved the number of cheese options and french bread and wine and items we just don't have at home...and Riley loved the little carts that she could push on her own. She was a little bummed out when we got home and she realized that our grocery store does not have these little carts.

That afternoon Susee agreed to bring me back into the city to find some touristy items like t-shirts. I hadn't bought myself anything yet so Jesse encouraged me to do so and I wanted to get a t-shirt for my dad. Susee and I picked up Mason from school on the way and I was able to get Riley, myself, and my dad t-shirts (I also brought home a bottle of wine). 

While we were in the city I was able to snap another couple pictures of the art under the city (the parking ramps lead into these areas and then you walk up a flight to be above ground).

After we got back, I made sure to take a few more pictures...

Riley was totally digging her auntie Susee.

One of the smartest things I did in preparing for this trip was to add the Frozen soundtrack to my phone and a couple of Riley's read along books. She loved this and it helped when she got a little bored in the car (and having a headset for her - best purchase ever).

Cade and Riley

Riley and Mason

And we can't forget Mason's turtle (one of three).

That night we went out to dinner as a family. We narrowed it down to Bosso, a German/Alsace restaurant in the Grund. Perhaps Jesse would finally get that sauerkraut.

Walking down into the Grund area

Additions to the pathway to help cyclists

Plots that are rented out for gardening.

One of the obstacles of eating out in a foreign country is when you can't read the local language. Bosso made sure to have the items written in a few languages including English. And while they didn't have a plain side of sauerkraut, Jesse did have sauerkraut mixed with potatoes and ham and said it was wonderful.

I had gnocchi with smoked salmon, broccoli and a cream sauce - it was fantastic. Plus, I was introduced to Elbling wine. I'm pretty sure it's going to be hard to find at home since it is a Luxembourg/German wine, but it was quite tasty.

After dinner I forced the family into doing group photos at one of my favorite spots in the city, which happened to be right outside of Bosso.

Ha - brothers.

Haha. I only had one glass of wine, I swear.

We always try to do a picture of our feet on our travels. This was our second one - the first one was in a spot Jesse really wanted near the bus stop, but when we went to take the picture it was in high sun and everything was blown out. Luckily Rich and Susee brought an umbrella with them and were able to block out most of the light, but I still didn't like the placement of our feet (below)

Picture 1: better camera, but bad foot placement

With dinner done we headed back home with Jesse getting to drive the Alfa Romeo. With cars being smaller and built differently in Europe, I'm sure it was fun for him to drive. I was just glad I didn't have to drive in an area where the road rules were confusing to me.

Saturday 5/17 - So sad as this is the day we depart. Often when I have vacations this long I feel ready to get home by this time, but I honestly could have stayed longer. Luxembourg and the surrounding countries were so beautiful and I had so much yet to see. But most of all, seeing our family made this the wonderful vacation it was. I'm not always a fan of staying with other people on vacations because I want my private time and don't want to feel like I am imposing on someone else, but I felt so at home here. I am so grateful for their hospitality and am bummed that we don't live a lot closer to each other. We would have the best family BBQ's - maybe one day.

Packed to go

Tiny Luxembourg airport

On the flight from Luxembourg to Amsterdam. I love seeing the patchwork quilt look of the land.

Nummy cookie (and water) served on the way to Amsterdam.

We worried that and hour and 20 minutes would not be enough between our flights since the Amsterdam airport is so huge, but our gates were really close. Plus, when we had to go through customs (right at the gate) they ushered us ahead since we had a kid. Even after we said we'd be ok, they insisted on helping us. Super nice. Oh, and this was a little more like the security check that I was expecting on the way over to Europe.

Bye Amsterdam. I'd like to come back and spend some time in your city.

Unfortunately, our seats were not next to each other on our flight home. For the Luxembourg to Amsterdam flight all three seats were apart, but we got someone to switch so Riley and Jesse could sit near each other while I was rows ahead of them. On the long flight home (almost 9 hours) we had two seats together and then one window seat right in front so it wasn't as bad. Jesse sat with Riley most of the way (I did that on the way to Luxembourg), but we switched at some point. Since it wasn't an overnight flight I knew that we might get a nap out of Riley (which we did), but that she would want to watch TV for most of the flight... and we let her. It was just easier that way and helped her get through the flight. Still so amazed at how well she did. Now when she sees an airplane overhead she will tell us if it is a small plan like the Amsterdam to Luxembourg flight or a large plane like the Minneapolis to Amsterdam flight.

My in laws were nice enough to come pick us up and bring us back home. Once home we did our best to stay up as long as we could, but I finally crashed just after 8 pm (which was just after 4 am Luxembourg time). Unfortunately, Riley decided to wake up at 3:30 - 4:00 am for the next three days. I know we were spoiled with her often sleeping until 8 am in Luxembourg, but this was ridiculous. Even with a nap on Sunday and with me going to be at 6:00 pm on Monday (um, I was still sick too) I just couldn't pull it together. I had to drive a couple places Tuesday morning and realized I just shouldn't be on the road. I had to work at 11:00 that day, but didn't make it two hours before realizing I needed to take the rest of the day off. I slept that afternoon and felt more reset the next day (also Riley slept in until 6:00 am so that helped). Now I just need to get rid of my cough (yup, I still have it).

So that was our trip. Regardless of being sick, it was a wonderful vacation and I can't wait until I have the opportunity to return (which will probably be awhile). I couldn't ask for better family and they were such welcoming hosts. I feel like these posts have been a little disjointed because I was in a minor fog much of the time there (being sick and jet lagged... and probably just because that's me). There were so many things in the moment that I wanted to remember so here are a few general categories (that might be more for me, but maybe someone else is interested too).

Food: I mentioned  food on multiple occasions so maybe not much to add here. My favorite eat out meals were at Caves Gourmandes and at Bosso, but I loved eating in since Rich and Susee made some mighty fine meals (mettwurst and salmon probably top the list). I've been to Europe before so this shouldn't didn't really surprise me, but was more of a reminder - restaurant service can be slow, you have to pay for water (bottled - gas or still and it doesn't come with ice - just the way I like it), you have to ask for your check, and you don't tip. At the grocery store you have to make sure to weigh your produce and get it tagged before you go to check out. This blogger does a good job of explaining some of the differences including shopping.

Driving: It was interesting trying to figure out the road signs and the rules of the road. Rich and Susee said they had to bring in their American driver's licenses and then were given a Luxembourg license - no test, no handbook - nothing. Eventually they figured out things like you don't turn on a red light, or you often yield to someone on the right turning out into traffic. The national speed limit is 130 KMH (which is just about 81 MPH), except where posted. My Honda would never make it in this country, but that's why they build cars that are able to handle these speeds. The left lane truly is a passing lane and it works really well (although, we weren't out in rush hour so I'm not sure what that looks like). The most confusing thing for me was that they didn't use yellow lines except for construction zones. You could be in an area with multiple lanes and you would really just have to know what you were doing or you might end up in oncoming traffic lanes. Oh, and intersection lights (red, yellow, green) had weird placement so visibility wasn't always the best. Also, roundabouts everywhere. I saw maybe two stop signs the entire time there. Want to read more about the weird signs and driving rules? Read this.

Car sickness: Jesse gets car sickness which is why he tends to drive or at least sits up front. We've been lucky that Riley hasn't inherited this trait, but we discovered that she did still get it. Luckily, it wasn't anything bad, but she complained of her tummy hurting. When I started to feel it I knew what she was complaining about. Perhaps it was sitting in a low car (we have a higher car) or the faster car speeds (130 KMH), but I think it happened most often on the slower streets where the roads were curvy.

Health: Well, the obvious under this category is that we were sick with some virus and that sucked to be sick for your entire vacation (and then some), but we managed. I feel like even though some to do items were skipped we did something fun everyday. Also related to the cold... it's not as easy to get cold medicine in Luxembourg so the last time Rich was in the United States he stocked up on some. I felt bad digging into their stash, but between their cold meds, my pain meds, and Riley's cold medicine that we brought along I was able to function pretty well. It was more meds than I usually take, but I didn't want to suffer too much on my vacation. One thing I'm glad we brought was dis-solvable Tylenol tablets for Riley. Since liquids are an issue to bring on the plane we decided to try this and it really helped for her.

The other health issue relates to my chronic pain, migraines, dry eyes, etc... I was worried about this going in, but tried to have a plan. My Physical Therapist set me up with a Tens Machine (which I got the day before we left). Basically, this machine sends electrical current into spots that you attach patches to on your body. I knew I needed to keep up on my stretches, but with such long flights I wanted as much help as I could get. I also worried that security wouldn't want me bringing something that put out electrical current on the plane, but no one even looked twice at it (it was in my purse). I didn't use it on the way there (mostly because I couldn't reach it once Riley fell asleep on me), but on the way back it really helped. Since I wasn't feeling up to par that week I also didn't stretch as much as I might have, but the beauty of having a cold is that my body usually goes into super relaxed mode so my muscles aren't usually as stressed. I had that one nasty migraine in the beginning, but was able to function and made sure to stay on track with food and sleep after that one day. In the end it went way better than I was anticipating.  

Language: As mentioned before French was the most commonly spoken language in the area we stayed, but expect to hear some German and Luxembourgish (although I wouldn't be able to tell you if I heard this or not). Know some basic French and perhaps German if you visit, but know that many people speak English.

Cleanliness: We saw a far amount of graffiti, but overall everything seemed so clean and most of the yards well groomed. All I could think about is that if I lived there I would probably be that one person with the not so pristine yard.

Climate: Luxembourg is similar in ways to Minnesota, but doesn't tend to have the extremes that we have. While we had a brutal winter this past year they had one snow... of a couple inches (which wasn't really the norm for them). Find out a good summary of the weather here.

Luxembourg might not be every one's first choice for a trip to Europe, but I highly recommend it. Where else can you spend some time in Luxembourg, Germany, Belgium, and France in one day and it not be that big of a deal?