Europe

The Greener Grass

I often find myself longing to be part of a different culture when I travel. As Americans we can become very ignorant to other cultures, often stereotyping them. Our education comes from the television and we often think little of anywhere beyond our borders. But I wonder what would life really be like if I lived somewhere else? I’m tired of the American way of life…work, work, work. For what? So we can afford the ever-increasing healthcare costs? So we can afford the high blood pressure, high cholesterol…medications that are purely necessary because of our lifestyle? No thank you!

There are things that I would love about living in Europe (I’m purely focusing on Europe here because I was just there, but I may talk about the positives of Ecuador later while I try to convince myself we should stay).

1. Excellent mass transportation. Buses, trains, boats, airplanes. It is quite easy and fairly inexpensive to get from one place to another without needing a car. It’s much better for the environment too.
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2. Europe is full of amazing history. I’m sure many people that live there are not as enthusiastic about this as I and many other tourists are, but as an American it blows my mind to see buildings that were erected in 1100 BC, hundreds of years before the founding of our nation! Also, since spending most of our time in Germany on this trip, I am heartbroken that so many wonderful sites have been destroyed. Yet another thing to thank Hitler and the stinking Nazis for! Thankfully, many sites have been rebuilt according to the original plans, sometimes even leaving some damaged areas as a reminder of the tragedy of war.
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3. Europeans are, for the most part, much healthier people. They walk or ride their bikes most places. They flock to parks on warm summer days. Fast food restaurants, while ever-present are less numerous and way too expensive to eat at every day. But fresh fruit and vegetables are easily accessible and open air markets are weekly, if not daily occurrences. Organic, low-pesticide-laden foods, non-GMO foods, and unadulterated meats are the norm. All-you-can-eat buffets are rarely seen. And yet these are not purely fruit and nut eaters! No, the foods here are delicious! Plenty of hearty breads, sweet pastries, Meusli, and the Germans and Swiss know how to do pork (and beer)! Bratwurst, salami, ham, Emmantaler, Gouda, Edam, etc. But the portions are small and filling and the calories taken in are appropriately balanced with an active lifestyle.
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*The one caveat I’ve noticed is that smoking is VERY common here. The young and old all partake in this awful habit. Perhaps it’s just more noticeable as anti-smoking laws are not as strict here, but I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find smoking rates were higher among adult Europeans.
Check out the smoking rates in other countries here. These stats are 10 years old but mind boggling. From my experience, I don’t think they’ve decreased much.
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4. Europeans are miles ahead of us in earth conservation efforts. If they must drive, they drive smaller, more fuel-efficient cars. Many times they walk, ride a bike or make use of the excellent public transportation.
Recycling is so common and easy to do. In fact, Germans and The Swiss recycle half of their recyclable waste while Americans only recycle a third. There are separate cans for recyclables and trash in public places and in Germany you got €0.25 back for each plastic bottle with a special label that you took to a special recycle place, typically a grocery store. At the current exchange rate it’s like receiving a dollar back for recycling 5 soda or water bottles. Not too bad, in my opinion. In Lucern we also saw several men in a horse and cart going around collecting compost materials. No wonder the plants grow so well here!
Another mind-blowing fact is that the water in most lakes and rivers is safe to drink. In Munich and Lucern there are fountains throughout the city pumping cold, refreshing, potable water. They were perfect to cool us off and keep us hydrated in the hot summer weather.
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There are solar panels EVERYWHERE! Even farmhouses in the middle of the countryside have them. They use what they need and sell the rest to power plants.
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5. Perhaps one of the most important things to me is that they tend to live a much simpler life here. They do not feel the need, nor is there the room, to collect all the clutter we do. They work to live, not live to work. And paid maternity leave can be up to 12-18 months in some European countries. In the US there is no mandatory paid vacation time or maternity leave. No wonder breastfeeding rates in the US are so poor!

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These are just a few of the things I love about life in Europe. Of course my views are mostly coming from being a vacationer and not a member of the society, but my mother works in the UK and I have spoken with others who live or have lived in European countries. I am in no way anti-American but I have grown weary of the fast-pace of life in the states and I long for a simpler, healthier, easier way for myself and my family. I hope that these travels and this move to Ecuador can help us find a place we feel at home, where we can enjoy the culture and time with our family, whether it’s South America, Europe, the United States, or another country/continent.

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I Hate Goodbyes

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We’ve been taking it easy since returning to England, recovering tourists, if you will. So we’ve stayed close to my mom’s place, enjoying being at home on the rainy days, and then we took a trip to the beach and up to Devil’s Dyke Once the weather cleared. We are heading back to the States tomorrow. I’m so sad to leave my mom and England, but excited that we will be going to Ecuador soon (September 10th). I love that the world is so full of fabulous places to visit, I just wish they were easier to get to!

Devil’s Dyke is a stunning valley that is 100 m deep and a mile long situated in the South Downs just north of Brighton. The bus ride up to the top on a narrow road was a little scary at times as the driver crept around cars heading towards us, but the paragliding and hanggliding enjoyed from the dyke are even more terrifying to me. I wish I didn’t have such a fear of heights as it looks like it would be rather peaceful.

My poor girl, E, got stung by a bee while we enjoyed a lovely lunch outside. Ice cream seemed to help it feel better though.

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Typical British Weather

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Today was mostly a day of rest, recovery and laundry. But, we’re still on vacation and we’re used to walking and sightseeing. So I decided, despite the misty, windy day we would go on a walk up to Lancing College that is visible from my mother’s balcony on a hill of the South Downs across the River Adur. Lancing College is an independent predatory coeducation boarding school that was started in 1848. The cost per pupil per year is £30,000 (abt. $45,000). Yikes! Maybe we shouldn’t have quit our jobs?!?!

My mother took E too the circus and Cory, P and I headed out on our 3 mile trek to the college.
Our journey took us alongside the Shoreham airport where we’ve been hearing them practice for the upcoming Battle of Britain Airshow. We even watched two biplanes take off. Walking up the road to the college we passed a beautiful field with a small stream, Ladywell Stream, and grazing horses. The campus is dominated by the Gothic revival chapel, the largest school chapel in the world. Unfortunately, we arrived after opening hours. I may just walk back to check out the interior!

On our walk back we went by St. Nicolas Church, Shoreham’s oldest church. It was founded in 900 AD and retains some of the original building but has been altered some over the years. It was getting a bit more rainy and P was a unhappy by then so I got a few photos before we hurried back for a cuppa at my mom’s flat to warm up. We met my mum and E as they were returning from the circus. Her favorite part was the ‘elephant’ and ‘bear’ (no live animals in this circus, just people dressed as animals).

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Tschüss

We said goodbye or as many Germans say familiarly, tschüss, to Germany today. There was a bit of an issue getting Evangeline’s carseat on board the plane, but we managed with persistence (It is much safer for children to fly in their car seats on aircraft). The flight was fairly uneventful, probably because the girls slept through most of it. P started getting fussy in the passport line so we were shuttled to the front of the line. I’ll make a mental note to pinch her in long lines from now on (wink, wink).

Mum met us at the Shoreham train station and we walked back to her flat. The weather was lovely so we took a stroll over to the beach and checked out the houseboats along the way. It was a nice lazy afternoon.20130815-220004.jpg

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One Final Cologne Visit

We caught a train to Frankfurt’s Central Station after checking out of our hotel. We were early for the train I was aiming for but saw an earlier train heading to Köln and hopped on it. Unfortunately we didn’t realize it wasn’t Cologne’s main station and ended up in Dusseldörf. Not a big deal as we were able to catch another train heading back into Cologne.

The familiar spires of the Dom welcomed us back to where we started our German-Swiss journey. It almost felt as if we were home.

Since we now had E with us I had booked us into an apartment instead of a hotel for the extra room. What I’d failed to realize was the check-in was just outside the main train station but the apartment was a mile down the river near the chocolate museum. So off we headed, Cory with 35 pound E in the Boba Carrier, his backpack and a suitcase and car seat and me with P in my Ergo carrier, a backpack, and a car seat. Let me just stop and say I am amazed our luggage/car seat covers survived all the wheeling over cobblestone streets! Both girls slept on our long walk. We arrived just as they were finishing preparing the place for our one night stay.

We settled in for a bit then headed across the street to the Lindt’s Chocolate Museum. It was not nearly as enjoyable as I had planned. E did not sleep well or long enough so she was in meltdown/hyperactive mode. We quickly chased her from room to room. Cory stopped to take photos of some of the informational plaques. I was especially interested in the information on Ecuador’s cocoa production since we’ll soon be living there. The museum, situated on the Rhine River with beautiful panoramic views, was interesting, especially the area where you could witness the actual chocolate production process. They also had tastings. Delicious! You could even special order chocolate bars with your choice of additions, like candies, dried fruits, and nuts.

They had a cafe that served some decadent desserts. We ordered a slice of a chocolate cake that was layers of chocolate mouse and chocolate sponge cake atop a thin cookie crust. WOW! I also got a few things in the gift store for gifts and personal enjoyment.

That evening I decided we would venture outside the tourist district in search of Schnitzel the size of your head! From the advice of Trip Advisor we headed to Bei Oma Kleinmann. I was aware that it was difficult to get a table without a reservation so I was hoping that showing up early would help us get a seat. We took two trains down towards the University district. When we walked into the small pub we saw all the tables had reserved signs. I asked if they had room for us. The waitress looked as if she’d say “no” but said we could take one of the reserved tables as it was not needed for 30 more minutes. I had studied the menu and decided I wanted the Schnitzel Westfäliches (topped with 2 fried eggs) and Cory ordered the Jäger Schnitzel (with a mushroom gravy). About 10 minutes later out came Schnitzel that hung off the edges of our dinner plates nestled atop fried potatoes! They were delicious, but Cory preferred the gravy he had in Frankfurt. I give it top ratings though, very worth the train rides!

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E at the Schokolade Museum
Making a personalized candy bar order at the Schokolade Museum
The schnitzel at Bei Oma Kleinmann’s
Spaetzle for E
Green Beans for P
E’s favorite method of travel

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Frankfurt and Revisiting the Rhine

Frankfurt is the nearest large city to where Cory lived when his father worked in Germany. That is why I added it to the travel itinerary. The plan was to visit the area he had grown up in, but time did not allow this. Instead, on our first day we decided to take in some sites in the Römer area of Frankfurt. We headed out after a nap. I hadn’t realized it had cooled down quite a bit and therefore hadn’t dressed myself or the girls appropriately, so first stop was buying cheap tops for me and E. The area was ok but certainly not the most beautiful scenery seen on our trip. We got a few photos in the plaza and on one of the bridges (the locks are placed on the bridges here by couples) over the Main River before it started to rain. And rain it did. Cory had to put E in the carrier and I had P in mine. We ducked under building awnings as we ran back to the train station. We stopped to eat and wait out the rain. Of course, the rain let up while we ate and started back before we finished.

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The next day we decided we would try the Rhine cruise again since the lost wallet made our initial cruise rather unenjoyable and short. We got up and had breakfast. I left the camera battery and E’s entertainment (an iPod) plugged in to charge. At the end of breakfast I realized we had to rush to catch the train. I ran upstairs to get our stuff while Cory stayed downstairs with the girls. We got to the nearby station in time to get on board and rode to the central station. As we found the correct platform Cory asked me if I remembered her iPod. Uh Oh! I forgot that AND the camera battery! Cory decided to try and make it in the remaining 15 minutes back to the hotel to retrieve the forgotten things. As fast as he ran, he missed the train by a few minutes so we decided to take a later cruise and caught the next train. The day was intermittently cloudy causing the boat ride to be cool on occasion, but mostly it was beautiful with lovely scenery quaint little towns, vineyards and remodeled and ruined castles. The cruise is available going up or downstream of the Middle Rhine (the middle portion of the river, extending about 120 km). There are over 40 castle ruins visible, some which have been rebuilt as well as a ton of vineyards growing white grapes, mostly to make my favorite wine, Riesling. We ended the cruise in Sankt (St.) Goar, a charming little town, and had some schnitzel. The train ride back to Frankfurt even took us through Ingelheim, the town of the lost and now funt (found) wallet.

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Twilight Zone

Well, we made it to our destination without our rental car. We would’ve loved having it but we made due without it. When researching this part of our journey I had neared the end of my rope. My eyes were crossed looking for destinations and hotels. I knew our objective was to explore Schwarzwald, Germany’s Black Forest, and I thought a car would get us to the exciting places a bit easier than the train. I also felt we needed to rent a car to justify lugging two car seats around with us!

Well, no car so I would have to research some more. We took the train to a small station in Ringsheim. There was a bus waiting to take us to Rust, our ultimate destination. Plastered on the side of the accordion bus were advertisements for Europa Park. I vaguely remembered seeing something about that place in my research. I looked in my German travel book but saw nothing. Our first stop was Europa Park Resort. It looked like some place E would want to stay, featuring a monorail to the park and a splash pad/swimming area. Then we passed the park, not quite Disneyworld in size, but nevertheless a monstrous world of roller coasters, rides, and shows, complete with a mouse mascot. The bus dropped us off in front of the park and after studying the map (with the incorrectly marked ‘you are here’ dot) we walked toward what we hoped was our hotel, Gasthaus am Sonnenplatz. The walk was a bit…well, odd. The houses were in the old German Fashion, but it was hard to tell if Rust was an old town or just made to look that way because of the park. We were pointed in the correct direction and arrived at our destination a few minutes later. The owner met us and showed us to our apartment. It was a nice, large apartment, complete with a kitchen, bathroom with separate shower and tub, and television. E was excited after 4 days in Lucern without TV. The cartoons may be in German but she’s quite happy to have them.

After napping, we decided to take a stroll. We were hungry for dinner, needed to find an ATM, and were nearly in desperate need of diapers. We happened upon a Greek restaurant and decided to eat before heading up the street to see if we could find a supermarket. When we got to the market it had already closed. Cory checked out the times and it appeared that Sunday was not on the hours. We stopped back at the restaurant and asked the waitress and she said, “Well, yeah, nothing is open on Sundays.” Ackkkkk! We need diapers before Monday! Well, we’ll just have to get them in another town tomorrow.

I researched what we would do the next day and found an open air museum accessible via train I thought E would like as it is very interactive for children. While Europa Park sounded intriguing, it was too expensive (€80 for all of us) and not likely very enjoyable for English-speaking tourists and a nearly 3 year old that can’t ride most of the rides. We asked the hotel owner about diapers and she said our stop, Offenburg, might have them. Well, they didn’t. So we had to backtrack and then go beyond back to Freiburg. We bought some things and decided to call it a day without any sight seeing. I did, however, get a slice of Black Forest Cake at the Freiburg train station. It was quite delicious!

We left for Frankfurt in the morning. The hotel owner was even kind enough to drive us ten minutes to the train station instead of us catching the bus! The traffic flocking into the park was insane! Apparently Europa Park is the second most visited theme park in Europe, following Disneyland Paris. in 2011 there were 4.5 million visitors! And not even a mention in my guidebook! Maybe we’ll have to come back when the kids are older and stay at Gasthaus am Sonnenplatz and visit the Park.

Here are some photos of our time in Rust and Cory took some photos of the apartment I included to show it was a nice little apartment even if our time there wasn’t very exciting, if not a little strange.

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Farewell Switzerland

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Here’s a post from before my rental car mess up. We could only access Internet on Cory’s iPod so I was unable to post it.

Today was our last full day in Switzerland. The weather has been rainy and cool the last couple of days and so it hasn’t been the most exciting time but it’s been relaxing and a relief to cool off a bit. We got to explore Lucerne some. We walked along the city wall and climbed the old clock tower and made it to the top at noon. Well, one minute before noon but the old clock chimes one minute earlier than all the other clocks in Lucerne. It was not nearly as loud as I’d expected. It was nice to hear the other bells in the city ring in response as we were perched atop the city.

Unfortunately, we did not get to travel to the top of Mt. Pilatus as we had hoped. The weather was just not cooperative. But we took a spontaneous hour scenic train ride to the skiing village of Engleberg. I finally got to see the Switzerland of my dreams…mountains, crystal clear lakes, Swiss chalets, cows, and cheese! We walked to an old monastery and watched cheese making while eating some delicious fondue and checking off Swiss experience number 2 on my list. We picked up our Swiss Christmas ornament, a small cowbell.

Tomorrow we head to Scwarzwald (The Black Forest Region) in Germany. Cory will hopefully get his Autobahn experience as we’ve rented a car. I hope to see cuckoo clocks, Grimm fairy tale-esque scenery, and to try some yummy Black Forest Cake. I’m not sure how the Internet situation will be there but I’ll update ASAP.

*Photos of Engleberg will be posted later. We used my mom’s smaller camera and I cannot upload them onto my iPad. Because of the rain we did not take a bunch of photos while here. I’ll just have to buy a few postcards instead.

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Lucerne

We arrived in Lucerne after a short train ride from Zurich yesterday afternoon. We rented a small apartment about a 10 minute walk from the train station. JC, the person we rented the place from met us at the train station so she could show us to the apartment and the around the neighborhood. The apartment is sparse but has all that we need for our stay, beds a kitchen and a bathroom. There is no air conditioning and it’s a bit uncomfortable in mid day but is lovely at night when the windows are open and there is a nice breeze throughout.

Mom and E arrived a few hours later for Geneva. I walked down to the train station to meet them and show them back to our place. We all relaxed a bit before heading out to the tourist information center, a cafe for wi-fi and grocery store for a little food. We found that there is a daily walking tour from the information center every morning and decided we would check it out. Once again, I love the city tours so you can learn the way around, get some history, and discover where you want to further explore. We had a small meal and some beer for mom and Cory at a little French cafe, but did not find wi-Fi. It was so nice to sit outside as the day cooled down. We then popped into the grocery store that had all we needed at quite a price. A small cup of instant macaroni and cheese is about $6!!!!! Yikes! I wish my kid was not so picky.

As we were checking out at the store it started to rain, not a sprinkle but a full on deluge with complimenting thunder and hail even! We waited for awhile but then decided to make a run for it. We ran from awning to awning trying to keep as dry as possible but we were mostly unsuccessful.

This morning we woke up and went back to the tourist information office to join the tour. Our guide was a very knowledgable woman and she took us for a leisurely walk through the town. We saw the new concert hall, the Kappelbrücke, a beautiful wooden bridge, several churches, fresco-adorned houses, old cobblestone roads, fountains, and lovely views of the lake, city, and surrounding mountains. We stopped for a small lunch of a pretzel sandwich and sausage a sauerkraut. Mom and Cory had a beer that was brewed on site. Since my initial disappointment with the sauerkraut in Germany I’ve been hesitant to try it again. I was pleased with today’s sauerkraut, the perfect blend of sour and crisp. It was probably canned!

The addition of a toddler to our group has been stressful. She loves running away from us, heading straight for something dangerous, like a busy street, the water, a train track! I must say, I love my daughter but vacationing with a toddler is NOT a vacation. Thank you, Oma Sue, for keeping her for the week. We are eternally grateful!

For those of you traveling, especially with family, inside or outside the USA, I highly recommend looking into renting a house or apartment. If you’re a solo traveler, you can even rent a single room. It’s often times less expensive than staying in a hotel and is a much more comfortable home-like experience. We’ve done it before in San Francisco and it was a perfect way for us to stay in an expensive city. We were able to make meals in the large kitchen and we had our own rooms to retreat to. We were close to the buses and trains and about 15 minutes from the wharf and even closer to the Golden Gate park. The hosts were easily reached by phone if we had problems or questions and they even left there sweet, shy kitty with us.

Check out Air BNB, Home Away and . They have places to fit all budgets and tastes. Some of the homes belong on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous or MTV Cribs for those too young to remember Robin Leach.

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Auf Wiedersehen München!

Today we leave on a 4 hour train ride for Switzerland. Our time at the castles Saturday gave us a taste of the Alps and the desire for more. But I will miss Munich. Funny, when we got here I was thinking I’d made a terrible mistake booking us here for 4 nights. Our hotel is old and not the loveliest of hotels but it has a friendly staff (except the bartender that refused to fill 2 cups with ice for Cory tonight) and is just steps from the hauptbanhoff (central train station). It is also a few steps from a seedy strip club, but we won’t talk about that.

In the afternoon after our tour of Dachau we went to another beer garden. Cory got another currywurst and a pretzel and orbatz (“German pimento cheese) and I had a knodel, a delicious baseball-sized dumpling covered in a brown gravy. No photos yet again but in my defense I was afraid it would rain on us so I hurriedly ate.

Last night we headed down to the Marianplatz, an old section of Munich with shopping, restaurants, cathedrals, fountains, intricately carved buildings and many street musicians. The more I saw, the longer I wanted to stay to learn more about the history of the city and the symbolism of the statues and carvings.

In the morning before our train we head back through Marianplatz to the Viktualienmarkt, a daily market where you can buy fruits and veggies, lots of meats, flowers, breads and pastries, souvenirs, etc. I had Meusli mixed with milk and yogurt for breakfast. I would’ve liked it tons more if it had been made with something other than plain yogurt. And was that buttermilk? Very lip-puckering!

We headed to Zurich and took a street car out to the lake and had dinner in a beer garden. Tomorrow we’re off to Lucerne to meet my mom and to see E again. Oh how I’ve missed that sweet little troublemaker, but if she’d been with us I think I’d be ready to pack my bags and go home by now! Oh toddlerhood, how crazy you make me! 🙂20130805-223844.jpg20130805-223947.jpg20130805-224018.jpg20130805-224216.jpg20130805-224254.jpg20130805-224303.jpg20130805-224317.jpg

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1. Fountain at entrance of Karlstor (Karl’s gate)
2. Fountain
3. Close up of fountain
4. Towers of Theatinekirche behind Michaelskirche
5. München monk
6. München monk
7. München monk
8. Altes Rathaus (Old Townhall) – Now a toy museum
9. Neus Rathaus (New Townhall)
10. Glockenspiel of the Neus Rathaus
11. Gargoyle inside courtyard of Neus Rathaus
12. Dragon adornment on a building
13. Small cobblestones side street
14. Viktualienmarkt
15. Flowers at the Viktualienmarkt
16. Seafood market
17. Seafood market
18. Hauling the empty beer bottles at a Munich Beer garden

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