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;)”

and

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?”

and

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 🙂

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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 (http://www.rewe.de/). 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.

Tschuss!

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?

“MISS BRALISH! MISS BRALISH!”

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
naps
laundry detergent
and soap (to wash the stink away)
Italy
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.

– THE END

Austria – Germany – Prague

Hello! It has been an eventful past two weeks! I apologize for the delay in writing but I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in the boonies with no access to a computer. It’s been kind of nice except now I have a lot of catching up to do!

First things first…Maurice and I are engaged! Maurice proposed to me on the steps of a little church in Italy, in a town called Bolzano Vicentino. It was very romantic and sweet, and we are looking forward to making plans for the wedding and getting on with our future together! We both want to share the news with the people we care about, so consider this a “hello” from Maurice as well 🙂

Italy was wonderful! We spent a really nice day in Venice, window-shopping and walking along the canals. Some of the buildings are built about 2 feet apart with little cobblestone pathways between them. There were a lot of stores selling Murano glass, which is made on an island near Venice. The rest of our time in Italy was spent with Maurice’s family and taking little day-trips to nearby towns. One town of particular interest was called Marostica. They have a gigantic chess-board in the main square built into the pavement, and every two years they have “human” chess games! It is an old medieval town with lots of charm, and great pizza.

After Italy we drove north to Germany, stopping in Austria for breakfast. We drove past Innsbruck

Innsbruck Austria

Innsbruck Austria II

Innsbruck Austria III

and then into a little town off the autobahn, and had some fresh brotchen (rolls) and jam. It was the cleanest establishment I’ve ever been into – meticulous! The drive was about 8 hours total. From Austria we continued north and into Germany, driving past Munchen (Munich) and into the heart of Bavaria.

Maurice grew up in a TINY town called Birnfeld (sound familiar?!?!?) which is about 20 minutes away from Schweinfurt. Birnfeld is an adorable little hamlet of traditional German houses, an old “Schloss” (think miniature castle or really large estate) where monks now live, a bakery, and a lot of ducks. There are ducks waddling around everywhere, everyone seems to have a cute little dog or cat, and the fields are the greenest green I’ve ever seen! The hills just rolled on and on, speckled with little homes and shops. Oma told me that the stars are wonderful because there aren’t any big lights to ruin the view. Unfortunately it was cloudy the entire time we were there, but I can imagine how it must look. Most of Maurice’s entire extended family lives there and we had a great time. I even learned how to make a traditional dish called “Lende” which is like schnitzel. We ate Marta’s famous yogurt cake

and of course, we drank a lot of gluhwein.

From Germany Maurice and I caught a train to Prague. It was a 7 hour ride from Schweinfurt to Prague, through some nice hills, but mostly through old communist villages that would look right at home in Houston (no offense, but it’s true). After arriving in Prague we were able to find my apartment rather easily, with the exception that I brought WAY too much luggage, and as a result sent Maurice home with half of the things I brought, hehehe. Anyway, we did some exploring of the city together, I tried my first glass of white Moravian wine (not bad) and have spent the rest of my time settling into classes and trying to get my sense of direction. Now I am fully engaged in my classes and trying to adjust.

Well, that’s about it for now! I apologize for the lack of pictures. Neither Maurice nor I have been especially good about taking them, and the ones we do have are on his camera, so…hopefully he can post them online soon 🙂 I love you all and have you all in my thoughts and prayers! I hope you are all well, and look forward to hearing from you soon.

With Love,
Nikki