Sunday, November 14, 2010

Fall Frenzy!

We began our fall with a lot of illness. Ben and I took turns being sick through the end of August and into September and just as we were getting better, Rascal got very sick. Our poor little Katze. He had a bad urinary tract infection that required a 10 day Veterinary stay and a major surgery. But the long and the short of it is that he survived, got ring worm from his exposure at the Vet (healed much faster with apple cider vinegar than expensive drugs, by the way) and is now finally recovered and regrowing his fur on his ear, legs (where they shaved for shots & IVs) and his backside. Ben and I are also recovered from the shock, distress and fear of possibly loosing our little buddy. There is nothing like having a sweet German Vet tell you she has to do surgery on your cat to "amputate his penis and make him like a girl". Yikes, I don't think I'll ever forget that day! And we've learned that the Germans have a way of proving their point...you may be aware that in the German language everything is given a male or female article, Die (female) or Der (male) instead of the English use of "the". Well, in German, the dog is "Der Hunde" and the cat is "Die Katze". We thought that was funny a year ago because we had brought over a boy cat and a girl dog...but now, we will be taking home our girl dog and "Die Katze"...I still can't decide if it's funny or just sad. Either way, Rascal doesn't seem to mind.

A couple of days after Rascal returned home from the Vet, my sister, Kate and 3 of her friends arrived in Germany for a 10 day visit. I picked them up from Munich airport on a lovely Friday and we went right into Munich to walk around and have lunch at the Hofbrauhaus.



Kate calls this picture "Beer Sister and Soda Sister Reunited!"



Storm loves having guests in the house and quickly made our new friends feel like family.



Saturday morning Kate, Andy, Francheska, Rachelle, Ben and myself hopped a train to Salzburg, Austria to spend the night and sight see. Salzburg is a lovely city and we had a lot of fun enjoying the festival they had, eating a delicious dinner, visiting the Augustiner Brauerei, and hiking up to the Fortress for some beautiful nighttime views.



This shadow picture is sadly the only picture we have of all 6 of us, but it is a great picture. We are standing on an open terrace of the Fortress. There is a huge spotlight from the town below highighting this area and casting fabulous shadows on the giant walls. That night was so much fun, running around a medieval fortress and looking at the modern city below, encased by majestic mountains. I felt at any moment that Kevin Costner might come barreling over a wall and land in a haystack in an attempt to save Maid Marian.



This picture is actually out of order-this is the group having dinner at Renzo's Italian Restaurant in Garmisch later in the week. But it is a great shot of Kate, Francheska, Andy, Rachelle and Ben Prosting at the end of a meal.



Kate and I thought this statue reminded us of a Dementor (prison guards from the Harry Potter series) so we decided to pose for a picture for our brothers, pretending to be having our souls sucked out of us...but Kate's face was so funny that all I could do was laugh, which didn't get quite the effect we were going for. haha



I love this one of Kate on our climb up to the Fortress, looking out over Old City Salzburg just before sunset.

We stayed the night in a nice hostel before deciding to take the train to Burtesgarten, Germany to visit the site of Hitler's Eagle's Nest. It was a long train ride (best to go by car, we learned) and we were a bit disappointed in the Nest itself. I'm sure if it had been a clear day we would have had a lovely view but as it was, it was a couldy day, you couldn't see anything from the top, and we didn't have time to visit the museum or bunker (which would have been far more interesting) because we needed to catch the last bus to the train station so we wouldn't be stuck there. Oh well, at least we can say we were there. :)

Monday I drove our visitors to Neuschwanstein Castle and it was again a cloudy day, but it stayed dry and we were grateful not to be in the rain.

Being the last week of September, Ben could not take any time off as he was finishing up what needed to be done before the end of the fiscal year. So Tuesday, I drove the crew through Austria and Switzerland (my first experience in Switzerland) into Lake Como, Italy.

The drive was beautiful. Switzerland is truly picturesque. We were very excited to find a free bathroom since there were not many McDonald's or other easy access rest stops along the way. And I was particularly glad we found it because as soon as we got back into the car we began our descent into Italy on the craziest switchback road I've ever seen! The picture below gives you a small idea of what driving on it was like. You can barely see the sharp curve below us-but this was a gentle curve compared to most of them.



We stayed in another hostel in Menaggio, Lake Como which was a very cheap way to stay in a very expensive place. We shopped, walked (a lot!), ate, took a ferry ride to Belaggio (another town on the lake) and generally enjoyed ourselves in the warm air and sunshine!



Drinks at the hostel. Apparently they made very good sangria. :) I enjoyed the water.



Oh, did I mention the gelato? YUM! Kate had some called "LOVERS" and hearing the sweet Italian lady say that just made her day!



Most of the town is winding cobblestone paths through colorful buildings up and down the mountainside.



Our view on the ferry ride...I beleive the snow capped peak is Switzerland.



Searching in vain for a glimpse of George Clooney!

On our drive home on Thursday we decided to make a pit stop in Milan and visited Il Duomo. Francheska, Andy and I went to the roof for the view of the city and to enjoy the architecture from a different vantage point. It was a lot of fun!



We had lunch in Milan and then drove home.

The next day was Friday October 1st and we took the train to Munich for OKTOBERFEST!



We didn't quite know what to expect so we went into the first tent we found and had no trouble getting a seat at 11:30am on a Friday.



Kate's giant preztel and maas of beer (1 liter).



The group enjoying their Oktoberfest brew! I brought my own water.



Rachelle and I enjoying the music and general fun. I debuted my dirndl that day!

The rest of Kate & crew's visit included a visit to Ettal and Linderhof on Saturday, and a day in Garmisch on Sunday before taking them back to the airport on Monday. What a treat to have my sister visit me at my home in Europe. She had visited Europe on at least 3 different occasions before we moved here and it was so much fun to finally share the experience with her! Ben and I were sad to send them all home and hope they'll visit again...perhaps the Christmasmarkets next year????

The upside of their departure was that on Wednesday we would return to the airport to pick up Ben's Mom & Dad for their 7 day visit. :)

We started the trip off with a visit to Dachau Concentration Camp and spent several hours in the museum and roaming the grounds of this solemn place.

The message on the gate is "Arbeit Macht Frei" which translates to "work will make you free". This was likely meant as a cruel insult to the workers who had little or no hope of freedom. I learned that Dachau was a work camp not an extermination camp, but of course many died from the horrible conditions and many were killed there though not in mass execution as at other camps. You can view the gas chamber and ovens that are still standing at Dachau. It is believed that they were never used as they were intended, but it is a grim reality nonetheless.



We visited Neuschwanstein and Linderhof with Mom & Dad and took Storm with us. After all, what dog doesn't enjoy doing it's business on royal palace grounds? ;)



A day spent in Munich, also with Storm, included a walking tour so that we now know much more about the history of our closest German city. It is fascinating and we recommend you take the "Free Walking Tour" with New Europe in any city you visit that offers it. The tours are tips based, so you only pay what you think the tour deserves. We were very impressed!

We also visited Salzburg for a day and I finally got to see the city in the sun. It was a lovely cloudless day.



Here Ben and Debbie had their picture taken through the fountain featured in The Sound Of Music.



We enjoyed a coffee break at the Sacher Hotel. The hot drinks and desserts were lovely.



I love this shot of John & Debbie on the palace grounds in the old city of Dachau where we had lunch after our morning at the camp.



Here Debbie is enjoying the ambiance after a lovely meal at Zirbel Stube.



Ben and John from Marienbrucke overlooking Neuschwanstein Castle.

It was a true delight to have John & Debbie in town for a week and show them around the local area, eating delicious meals, seeing old and new sights and enjoying another miraculous week of no rain! Of course nothing compares to the quality time spent together with our beloved family!

After Ben's parents flew home to PA on Wednesday, we prepared to receive our last group of guests on Saturday. Jenny P, who we call JP, is a close friend of mine from my Geneva College days. She visited us in Utah in 2008, so we were thrilled to have her visit us in Germany 2 years later. She traveled over with her friend Barry and the four of us planned some trips together and others they took alone.

Our big trip together was to Prague, Czech Republic for two nights and then Berlin, Germany for one night. This was a memorable for many reasons including who we traveled with, it being our first time to Prague (although Ben was there 10 years ago-it was quite different then), our hotel reservation fell through and we had to go to plan B (which was not what we had hoped for)...and we arrived in Prague on October 22, 2010-the 5th anniversary of our wedding day!

Here are Ben and JP showing off their Czech money-4 euro was equal to 100 Czech koruna, so the bills were in 1,ooos instead of hundreds. :)



Prauge is a stunning medieval city with so much history. We again did the New Europe Free Walking Tour and very much enjoyed it. We also visited Charles Bridge and The Prague Castle grounds. Ben & I had dinner at a great Mexican restaurant that we look forward to visiting again. There is much to do in this city and we hope to return to visit the Communism Musem and the Holocaust Memorial which includes art done by children in concentration camps.



A night view of the city from the old clock tower.

The drive to Berlin was a bit longer than we anticipated since a chunk of the highway was being reconstructed and meant that we took a long detour through some Czeck villages. It was fun, but put us in Berlin later than we had hoped. We did make it for the last New Europe tour of that day and were introduced to Berlin's rich and tumultuous history by our tour guide who then also helped us find a lovely Italian restaurant for dinner. We were joined by our new Australian friends, Rob & Lauren who were very fun company for the rest of the evening. You might wonder why they chose to join us...they are on an 18 month tour of Europe, the US and possibly other places and said they have enjoyed making friends in many places and having company other then themselves when they can find it. haha We were very glad to be a part of their journey!

The night we were in Berlin was a festival of lights, so much of the city and it's monuments were lit up by different lights so we returned to the start of our tour (which we visited when it was still light out and there were no special lights) after dinner and saw the Brandenburg Gate lit up in many different colors.



Here are Barry, Ben, myself, JP, Lauren and Rob in front of the Brandenburg Gate around midnight. We were grateful for Rob's camera to capture a group shot in such a stunning setting. Another adventure we won't soon forget.