Biking memories a la Maurice

“Angelique and I would go out here to this little pond on a hill to run the R/C Boat – of which the one in the garage is the exact same one;)”


Here is my old path to school! [in Sindelfingen] I thought it was like 5 miles one way (maybe because I was only 9) but its more like 2 miles one way :/  silly me. Cool huh?”


Here is where I went to ride my bike, into the woods in that area :)”

Now we need to go back to Germany and re-ride those routes so Maurice can share even more memories 🙂


Germany – Jan 31, 2011

A few things, before I forget:

  • They do not believe in napkins in Germany. Somebody please explain this to me.
  • When you learn another language, you often learn new things about your own. For example, in English when the letters ‘k’ and ‘n’ are together, such as in the word “know” – the “k” is not pronounced. In German, however, the same combination of letters produces a different sound; for example, the word “Knoblauch” (garlic) is literally pronounced k-no-blau-k with a sharp ‘k’. (I’ll need to learn more words in German before I can understand whether or not this normal.)
  • I have realized that I am living like a local. This realization was hidden under a very thin layer of boredom. Not even boredom really, more like anticipation. Not only anticipation though, more like an eagerness to see more of Germany.

In this anticipation and eagerness I realized I was not fully present. So I had a little talk with myself and decided to work on being more present, especially while I am in this beautiful village (Birnfeld) again these beautiful hills (huegeln) with these welcoming people and this comforting house (haus). Bavaria!!! I am in Bavaria.

Along with this present-work comes more joy. Enjoying breakfast (fruchstig, although I wouldn’t know how to spell it) without wondering what is next; enjoying the fresh hornchen mit butter und Nutella und honig. Hot tea and the smell of kaffee. Kondensmilk, which is not sweet… constant the little surprises.

On walks, the destination isn’t so very important. Just enjoy the walk – step on the crunchy snow (schnee), look across the cold, plowed fields, joke about the yellow snow from the many dogs (hunden)…enjoy the view. And when we get to wherever it is we’re going, enjoy it while we’re there. Take lots of pictures, too.

We go to the grocery store (usually Rewe in Stadtlauringen), we take walks, we scratch Daisy’s sweet belly, we watch TV, we cook, we clean, we wear house-shoes.

Germany – Jan 30, 2011

We slept in (yay!) today and had breakfast around 9:30. I had a piece of toast with butter and hagebutten jelly, a cup of fenchel tea, and eine Braeburn apfel. At noon we had lunch – noodles with meat and brown sauce, and cabbage salad. Saundra made delicious chocolate mousse, but I couldn’t hardly eat half, as I could not even finish my lunch. I was still so full from the prior day!!!

After lunch we took a 45-minute nap. At 2:00 we walked to Wetzhausen, which is the village next to Birnfeld and also where Saundra is from (Saundra vom Wetzhausen hehehe). We toured the kirche im Wetzhausen, which was built in the 1400’s and has had only 29 pastors in its entire history!

view of the church from 2nd story

very old glass windows, still in almost perfect condition

a beautiful crown made of hay

see how worn the middle of each step is? that's 600 years of feet going up and down!

the altar, decorated for Christmas

beautifully carved stone reliefs

the original way of writing Wetzhausen, carved into a wall in the church

old, worn pews and old, worn stone reliefs

Then we snuck into a fachwerkbaum house that needed a lot of renovation to be brought back to life

our new haus (haha) in Wetzhausen

the barn at our new haus in Wetzhausen

Afterwards we met Saundra’s mother and then walked back to Birnfeld.

There is an old gas station for sale in Wetzhausen that would make the perfect café. Unfortunately I failed to take any pictures of it!!! And I have been dreaming of it all day. Our family could live upstairs (if it is an apartment) and  the café could be downstairs. It has 3 large wooden garage doors, a very large area for a patio, a large field that we could use as a seating area for people to watch movies projected onto the café wall… we could serve cereal, fresh juice, pastries, as well as hamburgers and tacos for the people driving/biking/walking through.

This evening Ivonne, Stefan, and little Lukas came over. We looked at old family pictures, enjoyed coffee (and tea) and Oma’s marmorkuchen and chatted for a long while. Dinner was cold cuts with dark bread and pickles, delicious 🙂 Now we are upstairs in Volker’s apartment, about to watch “Despicable Me.”

I also saw the biggest squirrel of my life today. It was red with a huge fluffy tail, eating some nuts out of the backyard. Super cute in Japanese!!!

Bis dann!

Germany – Jan 29, 2011

Today we walked to Schloss Craheim with Sandra und Volker.

Sandra und Volker on the way to Schloss Craheim

We're coming! 🙂

The garden room at Schloss Craheim

Beautiful stained glass in the Schloss

Stained glass inside the Schloss

My favorite stained glass windows in the Schloss

the Schloss

We also went to the beverage and grocery stores ( At the beverage store you can buy crates of water, soda, beer, etc., and then when you finish your drinks you take the whole crate full of empty bottles (plastic & glass) and return them to the store for a rebate. They recycle all of the bottles which is a terrific way of keeping unnecessary trash out of landfills.

In the evening we enjoyed feuerzangenbowle

this stuff will knock you on your butt!

and ate cold cuts, dark bread, and pizza with bacon (schenken) on it.

Oh, and by the way…our car is so small that even the Europeans make fun of it. (We ♥ you, Henri)

Germany – Jan 27-28, 2011

Lufthansa flight 5007 out of Houston at 4:20pm. We flew on a Boeing 747-400 and the flight itself was great – hardly any turbulence whatsoever, departed and arrived on-time, pretty simple & straightforward flight. 4 nuns on-board too – cool!

The configuration on the plane, however, was terrible.

Sitting straight up in my seat with my elbow tucked into my side, I could stick my arm out and touch the seat in front of me. Fulling extending my arm was completely out of the question. Moving around in my seat? Not gonna happen. Having ANY room once the schmoo in front of me reclined his seat? Not an inch. No seatback televisions to speak of either so it was a very loooong 10 hour flight across the pond. The seats did recline a good deal, especially in comparison to most airlines’ seats, but that is where the creature comforts ended.

German efficiency gone too far, ja? Anyhow I can’t really complain. We landed safely and now, WE’RE IN GERMANY!!!

We proceeded to find our rental car which totally cracked us up once we found it. It’s a teeny tiny Chevrolet Matiz. Matiz as in Matisse, ergo I’ve affectionately named him Henri! He’s a bright red teeny tiny fellow, undoubtedly the product of one passionate night between two Legos. Our luggage justbarely fits into the car, and as long as we don’t pack in anything else we should be just fine. We could probably propel the car quite a bit faster with a kleine toot!!!


Autobahn!!! I flipping love the Autobahn. A3 to Wurzburg? Yes please! Ferrari growling along at mach something? Love it! Polite drivers? I’ve missed you! Henri allowed us to pep him up to 140kmh without the wheels flying off so that’s pretty cool. Who’s the most bomb-diggity navigator in Deutschland? Oh yeah, ME.

(Ausfahrt ausfahrt ausfahrt! Ausfahrt is everywhere…. a million and one ways to ausfahrt.)

By the time we reached Wurzburg we’d both been up for just shy of 24 hours with no rest and hardly any food. Maurice finally gave into my pleas to stop so I could tinkle (,70€ for a clean bathroom, I’ll take it) and knock back a cappuccino. Zwei cappuccino and two little amaretti cookies later and we were back on the road to Oma’s house.

We drove through Schweinfurt where Maurice was born, up to Stadtlauringen, and finally to Birnfeld.

Along the way Maurice sweetly pointed out the bee house (where they keep honey bees), the tennis courts, the school where his cousin Ivonne went and where he sometimes visited, where the old Audi dealership was, the steeple of a factory, and many other sweet memories.

(I should stop myself right there for a moment and mention my favorite part of this adventure so far: Maurice’s smile. Seeing my husband so happy to be home, surrounded by places and sights and smells and people that he loves and that bring him joy makes me so incredibly happy!!! His smile and laughter, relaxed shoulders, and easy conversation are the best!)

Birnfeld unveiled itself to us around 1pm on the 28th.

We drove past Schloss Craheim, past the church, the baker, the carpenter’s house, and the family cellar, and turned left onto Sonnenleite Strasse.


So far we’ve had 3 meals in 5 hours: sausages & sauerkraut with brotchen; cake with tea and coffee after a light nap; and cold cuts with brotchen for an evening snack. I’ve had several cups of tea, aqua frizzante, and a shot of homemade aperitif so far. I hope my hosen can handle it all.

Oh, and I understand more German than I can speak – one small step for Nicole, one huge leap for… somebody else.



June 19th – 25th, 2010 for work with Oceaneering. Awesome!!  










Flying isn’t always bad

I read an article today about the real odds of dying in a plane crash.  It did nothing to eliminate my fears but it reminded me of something awesome. Anybody who really knows me knows that I am a total spazz when it comes to flying. I usually start freaking out a good day prior to the actual flight. Actually that’s not true – as soon as I book the flight I look up the type of aircraft I’ll be flying on and gather as much info as I can about it.

737? That’s the workhorse of the Boeing fleet. Pilots know these planes.
767? Spacious, enough room to freak out in peace. I’d take this to Frankfurt any day.
Airbus A320? Eh not the best but it’ll get me there in one piece…?!
Bombardier CRJ? TOO SMALL way too small, definitely not good.

The day of the flight as I wait at the gate, I like to scope out the pilots. Only one stripe on his sleeve?! I’m screwed. Four stripes? What if he has a heart attack and croaks mid-flight. I like my pilots to have 2-3 stripes; that’s long enough to experience a lot but not so long that they’re become lazy in the cockpit.

As for the crew, I’m pretty impartial. They could be old, young, male, female, gay, straight, I don’t really care. So long as they keep bringing me the vodka I like them. One time on a very very very bad flight from Denver to Houston I had to ask a flight attendant to help me because I was going into full on breathe-into-a-paper-bag panic attack. The flight attendant gave me free movie access and held my hand on take-off, I kid you not. The skies were black with storms, lightning was all around, turbulence was horrid and even one of her flight attendant friends said way too audibly, “whoa, this flight is kinda freaking me out”. I think the look my flight attendant – the NICE one – gave her said everything it needed to say because I didn’t see that evil attendant for the rest of the trip home.

Another time on a flight from Paris to Austin it was pretty bumpy over the Atlantic, and I overheard one of the attendants say “it’s not usually like this, I wonder what’s wrong”.

Then there are all my fears about birds. Darn birds, I have never liked them much aside from their sweet tweeting outside my window, and I like them even less since learning that should they fly into a jet engine it could bring the plane crashing to the earth, a la flight 1549, only this time Captain Sully won’t be my pilot because really, those kind of miracles don’t happen twice.

Here’s another thing: I like the window shades OPEN people!!! I like it open because then I can monitor the engines and wings and alert the pilot if the shit hits the fan. I like to see what I’m flying over, too. Not so much for the awe-factor but more for the “don’t want to die there” factor. Places I don’t want to die include the mid-Atlantic, over Bogota Colombia, or in Louisiana swamp. If the plane has to go down I would like it to go down over the mountains, please.

(Wow this post has just taken a dismal turn.)

The article also brought up DVT, or deep vein thrombosis. This isn’t something I used to worry about until a year or so ago; now I spend the lucid moments (read: when the Tylenol PM and vodka cocktail stops working) making tiny circles with my ankles and getting in and out of my seat.

One of my other favorite in-flight tricks is to dope myself up with enough Immodium that I don’t poop for a week, but I’ll be darned if it doesn’t save me and the poor sap next to me a few ups and downs throughout the flight. Remember? I like the window. You won’t see me sitting in a convenient-but-terrifying aisle seat.

So you’re probably all like, wow, she must be the best traveling partner ever but really, I try to be polite about it all. Before take-off, if the person doesn’t seem to be a meanie, I’ll alert them that I’m afraid to fly. If they look like or are acting like a total rude-y then I let them figure it out all on their own.

Back in 1999 I’d just moved with my family from Seattle to Austin. I was really, really homesick that year and decided to fly back to Seattle and spend Christmas with my friends. I remember sitting in the front row on the left side of the plane; there were 3 seats on each side of the plane. To my dismay I was seated in the aisle seat, nobody was in the middle, and there was a guy sitting next to the window. I told the guy “hi, I’m afraid to fly”… this guy took it upon himself to chat with me the entire 4-hr flight. He told me about how he’d just returned from the war in Bosnia and how he was flying to Seattle to see his sister and meet his newborn niece. He told me about being in the Army and that he was stationed at Fort Hood. “The odds of crashing this plane are next to zero” he said, and then explained how every system has multiple back-up systems, and that it was so very unlikely they would all fail. I remember he liked to snowboard so we talked about skiing and the mountains and how I’d love to see all the mountain ranges of the world. This guy talked to me about everything under the sun until we had landed safely in Seattle. We exchanged numbers and met up with our friends & family. What I remember most about that flight is how sweet he was, constantly trying his best to make me feel comfortable and allay my fears.

8 years later I married that guy. He still does his absolute best to calm me down when we fly together. Sometimes it works, most the time it doesn’t, but God bless him for always trying.

I may be the worst flying buddy ever, but it’s not always bad…

Boil the hell out of it

The STRONGEST coffee I’ve ever had, hence the thimble-sized cup.  According to the manager who made it, you “boil the hell out of it and then run it through a ton of sugar” – it’s freakin delicious! 

Once more for perspective:

Oh my gosh this stuff… I couldn’t even drink 1/4 of it! It gave me the shakes almost instantly. LOL! No mas Brazilian coffee for this Americano.

Why trains suck, and how I managed to make it to Italy.

I caught the train from Prague at 5:15pm, headed for Munich. It’s called “Munchen” in German. When you say you want to go to Munich people look at you like you’re stupid; when you say Munchen, they suddenly go ahh, yes. Munchen. Needless to say, just buying the ticket was a pain in the butt. Saying goodbye to my new friends at the train station didn’t help either. (I miss you Veronica! I miss you all!)

Then I got on the train and as it got further and further away from Prague (or Praha, Prag, or Praga…it goes by all three depending on which language you speak…apparently I speak the wrong one…) more people were getting off the train, until it was just me and about 6 other people. Of course it was dark by then so I was starting to feel a bit like “ew” and creepy. But we made it across the border into German and the German “polizei” boarded the train and asked me for my passport. They stamped it and the train continued, but not on time. Oh no, my train was taking its sweet time to Munchen.

“Zees train ees not timed!” was the only reply I received from the conductor when asking “do you think we’ll get there on time?” I knew I only had 14 measly minutes to switch trains in Munich to make the 2nd leg to Italy. So I was well into freak-out mode by this point. I called Maurice to ask for help on what to say to let the conductor know that because we were late I may not make my connection, and was there anything he could do. Of course my phone died in the middle of the conversation so I started crying like a little baby and cursing the German language, the European train system, and cell phones. I think the woman polizei took pity on me because she goes “ok ok I call zee train” and that she did.

So my train ride continued to Munchen, arriving 15 minutes late. When the train stopped, I threw my luggage off (there was no time for delicate handling) and ran as fast as I could, pulling one suitcase behind me, with my backpack bouncing up and down on my back. Lo and behold, what do I hear?


Alas, there was an escort there on a golf cart who swooped me up, put my luggage on the cart, and drove me to my awaiting Italian train! Everyone in the train station was staring at us as we drove madly through the station, with my train-escort-person shouting stern things in German to get them to move. I made it onto the train and two manly-men hoisted my luggage onto the train. I stumbled into the correct railcar which was important because in Austria, the train was to split in two…had I not made it onto the proper railcar I would have ended up in Bratislava, or somewhere equally non-Italy, no doubt.

I found my seat (#55, car 288) and plopped down with a huge sigh of relief, all sweaty and stinky. But alas, I was aboard the Italian-bound train, safe in my little seat, with my passport in hand and no dignity left. The gentleman sitting across from me was to be the only gentleman I encountered on my journey. He was a fellow of about 60 years of age who was quiet and spoke no English, which was just fine by me. At least I knew he’d be quiet and let me wallow in my English-speaking sorrow for the next 7 hours.

My journey continued rather uneventfully for the next 3 hours until we reached “Brennero” in Austria, which is in the Alps. It got really freaking cold. Like, boogers are frozen to the inside of your nose cold. I was inside the train trying to keep warm, curled up on one seat like a pathetic hobo on the street corner. The Italian man laughed and said “Brennero” and just shook his head. As the train descended into a more hospitable elevation I warmed up again, which meant that the stink I had been wafting about earlier came back to fill the cabin with that oh-so-familiar-and-unpleasant “I smell like a Czech person” aroma. Mr. Gentleman got off the train in Verona and told me it was only “due proxima a Vicenza” which I actually understood! Two more stops to Vicenza. The (hopeful) end of my voyage was near.

After Mr. Gentleman got off, two more creepy guys got on the train and sat in my cabin, and laughed and stared at me for the remainder of the trip. I made a point to run over one of the fellas’ feet with my suitcase as I yanked it out of the cabin and jumped off the train. When I got off, Angelique was waiting for me! Hallelujah! I put my luggage in the back of the car and we drove away just as the sun was coming up. We went out for cappuccinos and a croissant, and then I collapsed when we got home for a few hours. I napped like nobody’s business, and when I woke up we went for a walk through town and got some gelato.

Things Nikki is thankful for:

getting on the right train
not murdering anyone on the train
managing to pee INTO the toilet on the train (and therefore avoiding peeing on my pants, shoes, etc.)
Angelique & my new family
laundry detergent
and soap (to wash the stink away)
and my Maurice 🙂

It turns out when my phone cut out during the “I’m on a German train bound for who knows where and nobody will help me” phone call to my sweetpea, he called the Munich train station and arranged for the golf-cart-escort-man to pick me up and take me to my train! Maurice is my hero, my German-speaking knight in shining armor. I love you! I love you! 🙂
…and they lived happily ever after.