Sunday, October 31, 2010

BMW Welt

Today we toured the BMW Welt (Bavarian Motor Works World) in Munich.  It is a welcome center (they call it a portal) for the BMW brand.  There is a museum, the Welt facility where they introduce current models and provide customers a place pick up their new car (they don't even make one large enough for us), and the factory all located in one place.  We did the junior campus activities, took a Welt tour, and visited the museum.  Other than the junior campus it was more teen/adult oriented and definitely all about the BMW brand.  We ate at Pizza Hut across the street for lunch as we couldn't afford the BMW International Restaurant's special of 32 euros each (kids 16).  Somehow a $200 lunch just doesn't fit our budget.  I guess if you are coming to pick up your new BMW the price of lunch is somewhat irrelevant.  Pizza Hut is remarkably better here although roughly double the expense of the US.  Today they served me a diet coke with ICE!!  After drinking room temp soda for two months it was a big treat.   BMW was high on Tim's to do list so we are glad we were able to spend the day here.  He and his students will tour the BMW production plant here in Regensburg in a couple of weeks.   Here are some pics:

Life in Regensburg

Out for a walk on the old stone bridge, Dom in the background
We have made a point this week to enjoy the town we live in.  It is a beautiful place.  I continually marvel at how nice it is just to go out and walk around. It is a city that draws in lots of visitors, but is not at all touristy.  They were spared bombing in WWII and have become a weekend getaway for the well to do in Bavaria.  We saw a real estate ad for a 2 room apartment, roughly 750 sq feet.  It was listed for more than our 3700 sq foot house. We haven't used our video camera.  I have a love-hate (actually its mostly a hate) relationship with it and so I have no video of the trip but I am thinking about just walking around the streets of Regensburg with it.  I want to remember what it was like to live in a postcard sort of place.  We hear other faculty and students comment that maybe its both a curse and a blessing that Regensburg is so nice.  It makes it a great place to be, but it sort of makes other places somewhat disappointing when you go to visit and they aren't nearly as nice.  Other cities just don't have the atmosphere of this place.

This week we've tried to visit the parks we hadn't been to before.  Green space is well utilized here and appreciated as space is a premium.  There are beautiful paths along the Danube, and lots of parks.  The game of the week was catching falling leaves.

On Saturday, Tim, Laurel, and Matthew took advantage of a booth set up in nearby Neupfarrplatz and built a circuit board jack-o-lantern.  They got to use a soldering gun for the first time- super cool. Every weekend there are things like this going on, literally around the corner from our apartment.  It is really neat to be able to do fun things by just walking down the street.  This is something we will miss.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Reflecting on the first half

If I'd only known then what I know now....That is our feeling about most everything as we look forward to the last half of our adventure.  There was a steep learning curve and that adjustment took time.  So much has become easier now and we are really ready to go and do some things.  Unfortunately this weekend begins the off season and we are short-timers so our options are limited.  However, I really don't know if there is any way to do it differently.  So much of what we have learned is just a part of the experience.  Crying in the grocery store because I couldn't read the labels is funny to me now as I can shop without too much trouble, but it was really hard those first few trips to the store.  We've learned what the stores are and where to get things so today when a special flood light bulb went out we didn't look at each other and wonder where in the world we could get a replacement.  We know how to take trains and when to take them.  We can read a bus schedule and figure out how to get from point A to B even though every city is different (usually!!). I still get anxious, can't get used to eating a ham sandwich for breakfast, REALLY wish I knew more German, and routinely have folks thinking I am a crazy American.  Yet, I am comfortable in my position and I doubt I could feel as I do without having gone through those first few weeks.  A cruise down the Rhine river, explore the largest ice cave in the world, and take a ferry to Norway.  These are all things we've learned we COULD have done had known more and hit the ground running when we arrived in September, but we simply weren't ready or able to do that then.  We did get around a lot despite our need to learn.  So far we've been to Playmobil in Nurnburg, Rostock/Warnemunde, Munich, Berlin, Garmish, Hohenschwangau, and are feeling at home in the amazing city of Regensburg.  We'll capitalize on what is available to us during November and try to make more fun memories.  We have some more trips planned over the next two weeks, part of which is our fall break.  We plan to throughly enjoy the Christmas Markets and come home feeling like we learned a lot.  If we could come back I'd do better.  I would know how to prepare and pack and what to do when I got here, but I doubt I'd appreciate those skills as much as I do having earned them the hard way.  Its been a lot of fun so far and we still believe it is a wonderful way to spend 89 days. Sprechen sie Deutsch?  Ein bisschen.  But we understand more than we used to and if its written we can figure it out!!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The gear that failed us

We are halfway through our journey.  Its time for a reflection post, but we are still reflecting so we'll have to get to the big "what we've learned so far" post in a few days.  One thing we have learned that is worthy of its own post is that gear is key.  The correct gear. The daily gear we are using on this adventure is shoes.  We bought everyone a new pair of shoes before we came.  We made sure they fit properly and that they had plenty of support for lots of walking.  We had them wear them a few times to make sure they wouldn't have any problems, but all the of the shoes were "new" when we left.  Tim and I have done fine.  My new tennis shoes and Tim's hiking boots have held up well.   Here are the results 6 weeks later of the kids shoes:

Matthew's shoes have held up well.  They are Timberland's and still have plenty of tread.  He has to tie them constantly despite triple knotting them and that is frustrating for him, but common for the round hiker laces that these shoes came equipped with.  We wish we would have bought them all hikers like these.

Carter:  Champion shoes we bought at payless.  The only shoes he could find that would fit to his satisfaction.  He had a pair before and was thrilled to get these for the trip.  The tread is gone (see the edges of the sole showing).  They are completely slick on the bottom and are coming apart at the seams.

Laurel:  Sketcher's with rubber tread on the bottom of the shoe falling off.  If we had super glue or something along those lines we could probably do a repair job, but we don't.  The first portion had to be cut off while touring Berlin as it was flapping around and causing her to trip.  Luckily we were in town when the second piece of tread came loose and she just dealt with it until we got back to the apartment.

Katey: Keds' that are more supportive than the cheapest model.  They have the thicker soles and have served her well until they started to fall apart last week. The back of the shoe is unsewn and falling apart.  As a result it won't stay on her foot so we continually find her either missing a shoe or walking around on the back of the shoe like slip-on.  The lace on one shoe is broken. 

So, why is this a big deal?  Shoes are expensive in Germany and vital for us!  I likely would have brought them a spare pair if I'd have known it was literally at least double the price to shod a kid here.  We replaced Laurel's last week.  We shopped online to no avail.  We spent half a day looking for shoes for a reasonable amount of money.  Most stores shocked me, even the "discount" store we found.  Off brand shoes were 40 euros and really didn't have the structure to support the amount of walking and name brand, good shoes, were 60 euros and up (add the exchange rate and it gets even more expensive).  We gave up trying to match prices we'd pay in the US (we'd spent half a day and taken three buses). We went to a large shoe store and paid 30 euros ($45) for a pair of adidas walking shoes on sale and they were literally the only shoes in the store that fit her that would cost us less than $100.  I realize some folks shell out lots of money for shoes for their kids on a regular basis, but we don't.  Normally I try to buy them good shoes, but get them on sale.  In the next few days I have to do it again for Katey.  I have found a few more stores to try before giving up and heading back to the big shoe store.  I am hoping Carter's shoes will make it through, but I doubt it, and I'm wishing I'd packed hiking shoes instead of rubber boots.  Its been our biggest mistake on the trip.  Maybe we can count the new ones as our souvenirs?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Garmish-Partenkirchen and Schoss Neuschwanstein

We headed off for a weekend adventure to the southern region of Germany.  It was a great time.  I am posting pics in a separate post as I can't seem to get blogger to cooperate tonight to embed the pics in the post.

We stayed in Garmish-Partenkirchen at the youth hostel there.  It was a nice place, more of a hotel with token hostel aspects.  The staff was friendly and helpful and that was great since our weekend of outdoor adventures turned into a weekend in the cold rain.  We planned to take the train and cable car up to zugspitze (the highest peak in Germany) on the afternoon we arrived in town.  We decided to pass on that as paying $100 to look at the fog seemed foolish.  Instead we enjoyed some extra time at the hostel and walked around town to get oriented on the first day of our visit. 

The second day we braved the weather and forged ahead in the wet weather and headed outdoors.  We rode the cable car (the Eckbaurbahn) to the top of Eckbaur mountain and hiked down through the woods and then through Parnachklamm gorge.  It was a beautiful winter and fall hike.  As we rode up the mountain the rain turned to snow so the first bit of the hike was cold and snowy (not good for our light-weight pants, crazy Americans hiking ill prepared).  As we moved down the mountains the trees provided some shelter from the rain and we could enjoy all the beautiful colors and the kids warmed up a bit.  Then we entered the gorge.  It was amazing.  Our rule of thumb here is to never do anything twice, but we are seriously thinking about going back to Garmish to go through the gorge again when the weather is cooler and all the icicles form.  The fall colors and waterfalls were beautiful in my opinion, but people rave about seeing it in winter.  Our kids were troopers.  They hiked for 5 hours in the rain and snow.  We rewarded them with pizza and playtime in the party room at the hostel.

Today we left Garmish and visited Neuschwanstein castle on the way home.  Its one of the castles of Ludwig II and is famous for being nicknamed the "fairytale castle".  We had a beautiful bus ride through the countryside of southern Germany and traveled along the Romantic Road for part of our journey on our way from Garmish to the castle.  We hoped to tour both castles in hohenschwangau but after calculating the time we had until our train we found we only had time for Neuschwanstein.  We took a bus as the hour long hike to the castle seemed a lot to ask of our tired kids.  It was 8 euro well spent.  The castle was interesting.  The snacks in the cafe were amazingly expensive, but we enjoyed an awesome view from the tables in the cafe.  We narrowly made our train to Munich and arrived home late tonight.

We had a lot of fun, fed the kids way too much fast food (we never could seem to get a healthy restaurant meal into our agenda), and made the most of a bad weather weekend.  Things were still fairly crowded, I can't imagine what it would be like on a beautiful day.

Pics from Garmish, Partnachklamm, and Neuschwanstein

Here is a pic from the internet showing what we planned to see on our trip to the mountains
Just not the weekend for seeing mountain views, we promise it was there.

Laurel and I were a little uneasy in the cable car, but the sights were beautiful

View of the ski stadium's highest jump from our cable car

Its starting to snow!!!!
At the top- foggy, cold, and snow flurries

Descending into fall
Another family hiking down the mountain snapped a family pic for us
At the end of the moutain hike preparing to enter the gorge (see cave in far right corner)
Really hard to capture the size and beauty with a point and shoot camera

Beautiful waterfalls

Our crew at the bridge overlooking Neuschwanstein

The castle and the fall colors

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cruise on the Danube and the Historische Wurtsküche

Last Friday we took a river cruise on the Danube.  It was a beautiful fall day and the last week the boats are running so we took advantage of it.  Yes, we climbed all the way to the top. Here are some pics:

Wahalla- our cruise destination

view from the top

From the boat as we docked

Back in Regensburg

The boat-the Johannes Kepler

Pretty fall colors

Katey is giving lots of kisses these days
Before our cruise we took time to eat at the oldest restaurant in Regensburg.  This sausage kitchen (Historische Wurtsküche) dates back to the 12th century.  More pics:

Sausage, sauerkraut, and potato soup (Carter ate a roll)

Pic of the Historische Wurtsküche from the Regensburg Tourism site

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Regensburg Wins!

The Regensburg team clinched the German Baseball Championship today.  We went to the game along with a lot of other people.  It was standing room, sitting room, wherever you can find a spot only.  Luckily Tim thought ahead and we got there 45 minutes early and were able to buy seats.  It was a fun day, they were down by 4 and came back to win 10-4.   Nice weather, good seats, behaved children, what more could you ask for.   Tickets 10 euros + food 13 euros+ 5 euros for snacks from the grocery = 28 euros.  Even with the exchange rate you have to love seeing a championship game for a price like that.  Our camera battery died so I am posting a pic of the team from :

German Champion 2010

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Berlin-part 2

We enjoyed our time in the city.  We went on a city tour and learned about the major sites on Friday.  The Dom, the Holocaust memorial, the Brandenburg Gate, the Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, and others.  It was a 4 1/2 hour tour.  The kids did well and were rewarded with a trip to Legoland Discovery Center.  After playmobil it was a bit of a letdown, but they had a good time.

On Saturday we visited museum island.  We toured the Neues, Pergamon, and the Altes museums.  At the Neues we saw Nefertiti, a large exhibit on the stone age, and some excellent Egyptian pieces.  The Pergamon has the Pergamon Altar, the Market Gate of Miletus, and the Ishtar Gate and Processional Way from Babylon.  We also toured an exhibit on Islamic Art there as Muhammad and Islam are a part of our curriculum this year.  We finished our day at the Altes museum viewing Etruscan and Roman art.  Audio tours made the day for the kids.  We simply saw the highlights of most of the museums.  Tim did great at curbing his usual need for working through the museum slowly and the kids did well.  If anyone had told me we'd see three museums in one day over 6 hours I'd have predicted a major fall out, but they made it through and we were proud of them.  Bribery was involved of course.  After dinner we made a stop by the Lego store and built our own mini-figures.

Luther's Church in Wittenberg
Brandenburg Gate

Berlin Wall

Legoland Discovery Center

Pergamon Gate
Late Saturday night we read on the internet news regarding terrorist threats and a travel advisory being issued on Sunday regarding major European cities.  In the interest of safety we left a little earlier than planned on Sunday.   Its the anniversary of the reunification and a big celebration is planned in the city.  We pray all goes well and these threats don't come to fruition, but most agreed it was best for our group to exercise caution.

I spent several hours on the way home feeling sick, so apparently I am still not over my motion sickness problems.  More research on that one and I am hoping I can track down a wristband here as several of the students tell me they work.