Lichterserenade

Currently we’re drowning in packing boxes, much like when we moved overseas a year ago. However, we are trying to take breaks from all the madness whenever possible to enjoy our last days in Bavaria.

Last night we were able to attend the Lichterserenade (Serenade of Lights) on the Danube. After learning that the event happens at nightfall, we assumed our kids would never make it. But it was too hot to sleep in our sweltering apartment, so we decided to give it a go and joined the masses of people collecting along the riverbanks.

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It was exciting to see the lit riverboats begin to approach.

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Each of these traditional Ulm vessels was loaded with people traveling upstream. Unfortunately, after that it was a looooong wait for darkness to come. Sam and I found a seat atop a wall near the river path. But, despite Lucy’s late nap that day, she was unable to sit still and demanded that Joe walk her up and down the trail to look at all of the activity. At about 10:30, we finally were rewarded for our patience with some fireworks.

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The fireworks show lasted a couple of minutes, before the barge traveled further down the river and performed again downstream. So we were able to see the show twice as it happened on either side of where we sat.

At the same time, small red and orange lanterns began floating towards us. They were very pretty, but hard to photograph due to their dimness.

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That was the best I could manage. We didn’t last much longer before the kids were too hungry and tired to stay out anymore. But we were grateful to have been able to witness this beautiful ceremony before we travel back home next week.

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Spring Break in Paris, part 2

Here’s the rest of our Paris adventure over spring break:

Day 3: Paris sightseeing

We bought a Paris breakfast at the corner boulangerie — pain aux rasins and croissants au beurre. Then we boarded the metro near our apartment. I had forgotten how it feels to commute in a large city, with bus and subway rides lasting for at least a half hour. It wouldn’t have been a problem for Joe and me, but these long rides were very difficult for my kids to endure.

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When you exit from the Trocadero metro station, you are treated to this splendid sight. Sam and Lucy both recognized the Eiffel Tower from an app they’ve been playing which teaches about Paris, although Lucy pronounces it “Pookal Tower”. From there, it’s an nice downhill walk through the Palais de Chaillot and a bridge across the Seine to the base of the tower.

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The hardest part was figuring out which line we should queue in. Even though we arrived just before opening, the lines of tourists snaked in spirals underneath the tower without any recognizable order or system. It took us about an hour of waiting in line before we made it inside and took the elevator to the 2nd floor.

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Pretty great views from up there!

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After we descended back to the ground, it was lunchtime. We bought some baguette sandwiches and frites and had a picnic on the Champ de Mars park beneath the Eiffel Tower.

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The kids loved climbing the old trees and we enjoyed some great people-watching while we ate. We walked to the south end of the park and caught a city bus to take us to the Île de la Cité. I researched in advance and picked a bus that would let us off at the Right Bank of the Pont des Arts bridge, so we could add a “love lock” to the railing.

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Can you spot our lock? It’s in there!

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Unfortunately, we had a mini disaster. Sam had a lock in his hand that he’d drawn pictures on in advance. He dropped it on the bridge and it fell between the cracks into the river below! Poor kid lost his mind and threw the biggest tantrum of his life. We placated him by buying a new lock from a vendor nearby, but his mood never fully recovered after that.

We walked along the left bank and browsed the used books, comics, and art sold by the Bouquinistes before arriving at Notre Dame cathedral.

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It was nice to see Notre Dame from the outside, but the line to enter was too long. Sam was cranky, Lucy had fallen asleep in her stroller, and the grown-ups were hot and tired. So we opted instead to let Sam play in the playground near the cathedral grounds and we found an ice cream shop for a sweet treat.

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All in all, we were happy to accomplished so much in one day!

Day 4: Break Time

Lucy had been sick for most of the evening prior.  Waking up from her nap to a stuffy city bus ride wasn’t good for her sensitive stomach. So we decided to cancel our plans to visit the Jardin du Luxembourg in the morning and Montmartre in the afternoon.

Instead, Grandma came to visit! The kids were very happy to see her and spend the day with Grandma at our rented apartment while Joe and I went for a walk.

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We walked past the Place de la Bastille and browsed through a farmer’s market there, before making our way to the Place des Vosges. After admiring the regal architecture and symmetry of the grounds and seeing where Victor Hugo used to live, we found our way to a lovely Renaissance garden courtyard at the Hôtel de Sully.

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We had a relaxing café lunch of a croque monsieur and café noisette. On the walk home, we visited charming shops in Le Marais and bought some macarons at a pastry shop.

Grandma said goodbye and we took the kids to a park and playground near our apartment, Square de la Roquette, to burn off some of their extra energy.

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Then we bought some groceries at a produce market to cook dinner at home yet again. Eating dinner with the kids at a restaurant wasn’t really possible in Paris. Most of the restaurants don’t open until 7pm which is far too close to bedtime for Lucy and Sam. There are brasseries and cafés that are open all day, but my kids were often too cranky from sightseeing to have been patient enough to wait for food service. We were lucky to have booked an apartment so we could cook meals in our own kitchen. I’d recommend it highly to any other families travelling with young kids.

Day 5: Rainy Departure

On our final morning in Paris, we were dissuaded from our plans to see the Arc du Triomphe and the Champs-Élysées by a heavy rain storm outside our windows. So we instead let the kids watch some French cartoons on TV while we packed the suitcases and cleaned the apartment. We took one final trip down the rickety elevator and made our way to the train station and home again on the high-speed TGV trains.

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Above is a shot of us waiting in the train station, trying to avoid being accosted by the aggressive pigeons inside the terminal. At least our first-class meal included mini bottles of wine (in plastic bottles!).

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Above is a view of the scenic French countryside from the train windows.

It was good to be home, and have the kids in their own beds. We’re glad to have made it to Paris and seen as much as we did, but it’s not ever easy traveling with little ones. Funny to think that they’re so young and will likely not remember this vacation at all when they get older. I’m glad to have this blog as an outlet to help record our experiences during this year abroad.

Fasching

Fasching is the southern German version of Mardi Gras, or Carnival week. So, yeah, this post is four months overdue. Late February was around the time that this blog fell off the rails for a bit.  I was also discouraged in writing this post by the fact that I didn’t manage to capture as many good photographs as I’d hoped. But I want to write about our experience so that Sam and Lucy can someday read about it before all of our memories become hazy.

Halloween was barely recognized in our part of Germany. I spotted a small section of costumes and decorations in the larger grocery stores, but we never witnessed any decorations in our neighborhood and we certainly didn’t see any trick-or-treaters on Halloween night. In Bavaria, they save all the costumes for Fasching.

Fasching lasts all week, starting with the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. Stores start selling all sorts of costumes in the months leading up to the Carnival season. In America, for Halloween most children dress up as a character from a book, movie, or TV show that they love. Adults run into two camps, either risqué costumes for women that are not work appropriate, or comical costumes like giant bananas. Regardless of age, you will be asked “what are you?”. In Germany, lots of kids were superheroes, pirates, witches, or princesses. But for older tweens and teens, many choose to just wear a sort of crazy get-up, like a sparkly shirt with a colored wig. Grown-ups seemed to prefer to be cowboys or hippies. There are also a lot of plush animal costumes for all ages (probably to keep revelers warm when attending parades on cold February days!).

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Sam had wanted to be Spiderman all year. On the right, you can see one of the plush costumes I was describing.

The other main difference between Fasching and Halloween is the lack of a focus on candy. Actually, that’s true of most of the holidays here. Valentine’s Day is more about giving notes of love to those you care about, not having to hand out lollipops to everyone in your class. Easter is about hiding real dyed eggs, not plastic eggs filled with candy. Yes, they had a lot of chocolate Easter bunnies, but in America we usually had the chocolate bunny, the jelly beans, the malted robin’s eggs…the list goes on and on. And Halloween was always the ultimate candy extravaganza.

The irony is that American parents are often much more concerned about their kids’ sugar intake than German parents. Here, sweets are a daily experience, with apple strudels and chocolate croissants at every turn. In addition, from our very first week here we marveled at how our kids were handed candy by shop clerks at every errand we ran. My two kids now expect to be able to rummage in the candy drawer at the bakery and get lollipops handed to them by the waitresses as we leave a restaurant. McDonald’s Happy Meals come with gummies. Even the pharmacist gives your medicine in a plastic bag filled with candy! It’s bizarre. But perhaps it’s not as much of a dietary problem for the simple fact that it isn’t restricted so they learn to self-regulate at a younger age.

We actually managed to miss all of the Fasching parades in town. From the pictures we saw others post to Facebook, perhaps this was for the best, since the masked adults resembled ogres and monsters, and probably would have given our kids nightmares. I remember being scared by the vikings at Poulsbo’s Viking Fest parade myself as a youngster!

We did have a day as Joe and Sam’s school where everyone had the option to wear a costume. Here’s a picture of Sam’s class all dressed up:

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Joe and another teacher coordinated to both go as “Where’s Waldo?” (here in Germany, he’s known as Wally).

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The school also hosted an evening Fasching dance party, which we attended before we had to leave to put the kids to bed. Lucy and I found matching Little Red Riding Hood costumes at the last minute.

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Lucy and Sam loved dancing to the music. And the best part is, we can recycle our costumes because Halloween’s only half a year away and they won’t have outgrown them yet!

Foreign Food Friday – FIFA World Cup Edition

Hello to anyone still checking this stagnant blog! Apologies for the long blog hibernation. No excuses, I just fell off the technology wagon for various reasons and now I’m attempting to claw my way back into my old social media habits once again.

I’ve never lived in a foreign country during World Cup season before. I knew that the rest of the world was passionate about the tournament in a way that we in America just never seemed to understand. I saw some coverage of the last World Cup, but mostly remember only the vuvuzela horns in South Africa more than which nations’ teams were in the top rankings.

Well, all that’s changed. Here in Germany, there is supreme national pride visible everywhere, from the flags and streamers on the cars driving by to the lowliest products on supermarket shelves. I’ve never seen so much branding, not even for the Superbowl or the Olympics. Here’s a sampling of what I saw today while shopping for my family’s groceries.

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Yogurt with flavors for the top teams (Spanish orange, Italian panna cotta, German rhubarb, and Brazilian lime).

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Potato salad sporting a patriotic image.

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Pringles have jumped on the “themed flavors for different nationalities” bandwagon.

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The frozen food aisle offers Brazilian-themed quick meals to serve at your World Cup party.

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German flag toothbrushes!

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Brazilian-scented shower soap (whatever that means).

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Tiny soccer ball gummies in tropical flavors (for Brazil) and sour gummy German flags.

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Tissue boxes must come in a Brazilian-print, obviously.

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And one’s candy dish must only sport M&Ms in patriotic colors.

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And last of all, a life-size soccer ball made out of chocolate. Because your kids ate the chocolate Easter bunny you gave them last month and now they need MORE sweets.

It’s fun to discover what the marketing teams can come up with. And I’m very glad to have experienced the FIFA World Cup hoopla at least once in my life.

Compound words

Well… I planned to take a two-week break from the blog over the holidays. Then two weeks turned into five. So, I apologize for the extended absence, and I pledge my best efforts to get back into the technology swing of things. (If anyone’s on Ravelry, you can witness for yourself the knitting frenzy I was up to in the meantime.)

We’ve mostly abandoned hopes of learning German while we are here. We are still practicing occasionally on the Duolingo app, and picking up random words from the German students at school. Yet we still frequently experience embarrassment and confusion when at restaurants, public transport, or shops. The German workers grimace at our lack of comprehension and we just shrug our shoulders and say “Es tut mir leid” [sorry].

But one aspect of the language still makes us chuckle: the loooooooong German compound words. Here’s my favorite example so far:

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It’s difficult to see, but this business sign reads GESCHENKARTIKELVERTRIEBSGESELLSCHAFT. That’s 36 letters long! Google tells me that translates to “Gifts distributor”. Nutty.

Mark Twain once wrote that “Some German words are so long that they have a perspective. … These things are not words, they are alphabetical processions.” I wholeheartedly agree.

Martinstag – St. Martin’s Day

November 11th is celebrated as St. Martin’s Day in Germany (yeah, I’m more than a month behind on my blog posts, but I’m working on it!).

The holiday is mostly honored by young children, who learn stories about the charitable former Roman soldier and 4th century French monk. St. Martin famously cut his cloak in half to save a beggar in a snowstorm. St. Martin is also used to teach humility, since the legend has it that he hid in a goose pen to avoid being ordained as a bishop.

Much of Europe still celebrates this holiday in varying forms. Some nations honor Armistice Day concurrently as well.

At the International school the students all met at dusk and watched a skit performed by Joe’s 2nd grade class about the life of St. Martin.

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Joe used his Ukulele to accompany the crowd to a traditional song about the lanterns that the students had learned in advance.

Then the students walked in a twilight procession with their lanterns through the town and along the Danube. They had decorated the lanterns at school with tissue paper and glitter. They are then balanced on store-bought battery-powered wands that have a powerful halogen bulb hanging from them.

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The dim lighting was too challenging for my lack of camera skills.

After the walk, the students gathered at the school for warm drinks (a mix of fruit juice and tea) and a traditional sweet bun shaped like a goose. I couldn’t get a photo of those in the dark, but they resembled the photos below:

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We were excited to partake in this European holiday celebration. So many of the German holidays are very similar to American ones, due to the heavy German immigrant population. But St. Martin’s day was new to us, and it was a delightful (albeit chilly!) experience.