5 Months

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We have now lived in Basel, Switzerland for 5 whole months. It’s hard for me to believe it. It doesn’t seem like it’s been 5 months now. It feels more like 2. Or maybe 3.

We have been all over Basel.  We’ve been to Bern, Lucerne, Geneva, Augusta Rurica, Neuchatel, and Wengen.  Not to mention the little towns in France we’ve visited and our Germany adventure with Shaun.

This weekend we’re off to Sedrun for a curling tournament and the week after that we’re going to Zurich, so we’ll be adding those pins very soon!  And we haven’t even really gotten into our list of places we still need to see!

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We celebrated a birthday and several holidays.  We’ve had a few visitors and we look forward to having a few more.

While things still feel new, but I’m experiencing a feel of comfortable routine during the week.  Getting the kids breakfasted and off to school, picking the kids up from school, going to the market a few days a week, walking to see something new in the city, and getting odds and ends that we need here in the shops (I blew up our coffee grinder on Sunday.  That’s 5 appliances gone for those of you keeping score at home.)

The kids are at different stages of settling in.  The 5 year old has stated that he doesn’t want to move back to the States.  He’s made his friends here and he doesn’t want to have to go through all that again.  The 9 year old is in the middle of the settling process. He misses his good friends in Maryland.  He is making friends here, but not as deeply bonded with any as he would like.  We’ve tried to explain that it took him 9 years to make all those friends in Maryland and it’s just going to take longer than 5 months.  He’s going away to southern Switzerland for a week of skiing with his class in two weeks.  The teachers have assured us that this time with his class will help immensely.

More Noticings:

**  I don’t know how people with nut allergies make it here.  There are ground almonds and hazelnuts in everything.

** They love their festivals and they love their confetti.  Faschtnacht is a carnival that happens at the end of February right at the start of Lent and they are already selling bags of confetti in the shops around town.

** There are little bakeries (and big bakeries) all over where people buy their bread and confections.  I’ve found “the best” little bakery and that is where I buy my bread now.

** The typical Swiss dinner isn’t so much fondue as it is a nice cured meat and cheese tray with a mixed bread basket.  I serve salami, a wonderful thinly sliced cured beef called “Bundefleish,” pate,  and 2 or 3 kinds of cheese on a platter with some sliced fruit and tomatoes.  I have at least 2 kinds of breads in a bread basket sliced up.  The kids love it and it’s usually all gone by the end of the night.

** We are living in a different way here. We have more family time – in the evenings and on the weekends.  Mostly, I believe, because the businesses here rank personal happiness and family over making a profit.  If Mark works later than 6pm for many days in a row his boss will check in with him and get him assistance for his project if it’s necessary.  I really wish the US would mature as a country and come around to this way of thinking.

** The tram lines and trains make traveling around the city and the continent a breeze.  You barely need a car and that is what car rentals and car share programs are for.  Seriously, US, get it together.

** The Swiss public school leave time for handicrafts for the students.  The boys downstairs get instruction on crocheting, knitting, woodworking (one of them made a jigsaw puzzle for his brother!), and origami as part of their lessons.  I’ve only heard of this in Montessori in the States, but this is right in public school here!

** Music is everywhere.

** People smoke like chimneys.  And while we’re on the subject of vices, it is not uncommon to see people drinking a tallboy of beer at a tram stop.

** The price of shoes is an indicator of how close we are to Italy.

** The sheer number of perfume shops is an indicator of how close we are to France.

Only 13 months left. It’s hard to believe that we’re just over a year out from returning to the States.  I find myself pondering how I will feel in a year.  Will I be ready to leave?  Will I be begging to stay?  But I remind myself I will waste my remaining time here by pondering on that too much. The only thing I can really ponder is how can we pack in as much adventure as we possibly can while we are here.

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Thelma and Louise take on Germany … with kids!

The kids had last week and part of this week off of school. So, what does one do when one has Shaun and the kids?? Go on vacation!!

We left on Wednesday and then got home on Saturday evening. I rented a car and actually drove in two foreign countries – up and down some very, very narrow and winding mountain roads and through crazy German Autobahn traffic. And we all survived and are still speaking to each other.

Let me lay out the itinerary.

  • Day 1 – Drive to Triberg.
The restaurant we ate at on our way to Triberg. It turns out it was Michelin rated!
The restaurant we ate at on our way to Triberg. It turns out it was Michelin rated!

Specifically we drove to Triberg im Schwarzwald. It’s about 3 hours from Basel in the middle of The Black Forest – home of Black Forest Cake, lederhosen and dirndls, and cuckoo clocks.  There is an amazing logging and wood craft industry there. I bought a really cool carved Advent Calendar tree with little tiny ornaments to put on for each day of Advent.  E wanted a sword.  There were many to choose from, but since I hadn’t taken complete leave of my senses he did not get one.  He did, however, get a huge bowl of ice cream.  We all got ice creams.  Shaun and I had intended to get Black Forest Cake. I say “intended” because there are some very important German words I do not know.  One of which translated to “sundae cake” and it meant an ice cream sundae that tasted like Black Forest cake.  It tasted exactly like Black Forest cake. Exactly. However, it was NOT a Black Forest cake.  Not even close.

There are lots of waterfalls and pretty streams in the Black Forest. This one goes right through Triberg.
There are lots of waterfalls and pretty streams in the Black Forest. This one goes right through Triberg.

I did not try on a dirndl.  So there are no pictures of me in a dirndl.  None.

I almost bought a cuckoo clock. We went to The House of 1000 Clocks! And there were at least 1000 clocks.  Available at all prices.  Some cute with quaint carvings and little Bavarian men drinking beer to the chime of the hour. Some with life-like carvings of birds and deer topping the roof line.  There were so many choices!  I had to stop and think about what I wanted. I think Mark and I will make a trip back and find one we really like in a few months.

The House! Of 1000! Clocks!
The House! Of 1000! Clocks!

The hotel that Shaun found for us was a little hidden gem.  Owned by a tiny old woman who was about 90 and her son.  Set away from the main town and up on the side of one of the higher foothills. The main building had a small restaurant in it and was a classic chalet style. There was a low building in the back with guest rooms. We got one that had a smaller room inside with two twin beds for the boys.   Dinner at the hotel was classic German fair and pizza. I had kassespatzel (fresh cheese spatzel) and the boys had pizza.

As an aside – salads in Germany are very much like the salads I grew up with in Iowa. Lettuce, shredded carrots, cucumbers and/or radishes lightly pickled in vinegar, and a warm potato salad.  I’m waiting for Jell-O with carrots or fruit cocktail to show up.

  • Day 2 – Drive to Fussen.

Fussen was about a hour and a half away in the car. Smack in the middle of Bavaria and just north of the Austrian border.  It is famous mostly for Castle Neuschwanstein built by “Mad” King Ludwig II.  Hohenschwangau Castle is there as well.  It was built by Ludwig’s father, Maximilian II. The two are practically spitting distance across the valley from each other.  Hohenschwangau is an actual home of a castle.  They lived there. They (or the nanny) raised their children there.  It is … well….  for a castle it’s cozy. King Luitpold lived there, to0.  He actually had a wheelchair elevator installed in his dotage.

Daddy's Castle
Hohenschwangau Castle

As for Neuschwasanstein, well, it is something else.

The front of Neuschawnstein.  It means New Swan Place.
The front of Neuschawnstein. It means New Swan Place.  For the record, the absolutely gorgeous clouds have not been retouched.

Neuschwanstein is the castle every prince and princess dreams about. No wonder that it was used by Walt Disney as inspiration for Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in Disneyland.  (The Nazi’s also used it to store a whole bunch of art they stole in WWII – watch Monument Men for that story.)  King Ludwig was a HUGE fan of Richard Wagner and his operas.  Wagner stayed in Hohenschwangau several times and actually had his own room there.   Ludwig was a lover of art and poetry as well as opera. He was a romantic and being such he designed the castle in the Romantic style. The interior is full of murals depicting the operas Tristan and Isolde, Lohengrin, Parsifal, Das Rheingold, and part of the Ring Cycle operas.  Wagner died before the castle was completed so he never got to see his biggest fan’s homage to his operas. Ludwig himself only stayed their 172 days before his mysterious death.  The castle was open for tours 6 weeks later.

The boys outside H
The boys messing around outside Hohenschwangau Castle

 

Shaun by one of many fountains outside Ho
Shaun by one of many fountains outside Hohenschwangau

Let me digress for a moment to talk about King Ludwig II.  It was reported he was insane.  He was examined by a certain Doctor Bernhard von Gudden who was a leading psychiatrist of the day and declare incompetent and too volatile to rule.  Ludwig, unmarried and childless, was dethroned and just three days later both he and Doctor Gudden were found drowned in Lake Starnberg which is just south of Munich.  However!  Historical documents and letters from Ludwig or from others talking about Ludwig indicate that instead of being insane, he was gay. He was as out as a gay man could be at that point.  He wasn’t about to be married to a queen who could help bring his country out of the debt he had created by building his beautiful castles and he was surely not going to supply an heir to the throne.  He just wanted to rule his country and bring art and beauty into the world. That is an inconvenient goal for a monarch in the 1880s.

Neuschawnstein is a thing of beauty and Ludwig should be proud.

We took a horse-drawn carriage up to the castles.
We took a horse-drawn carriage up to the castles.

Our hotel that night was NOT a thing of beauty.  We thought we were staying in a Gasthaus – a little, independent hotel. It was actually a youth hostel.  We had to call the owner and ask him to come to the house to check us in. By the time he got to the house there were 6 other people waiting to check in.  We told him these accommodations were represented differently to us online and given that we had 2 little kids we could not stay there. “No, no!” he says, “I have another place!”  15 minutes later we were introduced to Gunther the 20 year old pothead in charge of this 3 floor guest house in a part of Fussen I can only describe as “gritty” and “real.”  The room was surprisingly clean and comfortable. Once we had assured ourselves we would not catch anything from the beds we paid our little friend waaaay too much money (i.e. *any* money) and settled in.  After a little dinner at an Italian place called “Chili’s” where Shaun ordered a pasta dish that contained no less than 3 habanero peppers, had a passable night’s sleep; taking turns listening for potential thieves and murderers.

  • Day 3 – Drive to Ulm and LEGOLAND!!!

For weeks I’ve been fielding my children’s questions about Legoland.

“When are we going to Legoland?”

“Is Auntie Shaun here yet for Legoland?”

“Why isn’t Auntie Shaun here yet?”

“Is she coming to visit soon?”

“How soon after she gets here are we going to Legoland?”

“Is today Legoland day?”

And so on…

For weeks.

And so on this day, at the crack of dawn, the children’s eyes popped open and their first words were, “Legoland!”

Our first words were “Coffee.”

After a wild goose chase through Neuschawnstein we managed to find coffee, croissants, and other child-approved pastries on our way to Legoland. The car ride conversation when something like this….

“LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND!

LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND!

LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND! LEGOLAND!”

And, lo, we arrived at Legoland.

The Land of Legos.
The Land of Legos.

And much fun was had.

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A scale model of Venice built entirely out of Legos.
A scale model of Neuschawnstein!
A scale model of Neuschawnstein!

Mark arrived on Day 2 of Legoland, because one cannot possibly see all of Legoland in just one day. Especially when there are huge play grounds all over the park along with rides and Lego worlds.

The Millennium Falcon as Mos Eisley.
The Millennium Falcon as Mos Eisley.

But it was gloriously fun and Mark was like a little kid again.

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Fine, we were all little kids again.

Don't judge. Lightsabers will always be cool.
Don’t judge. Lightsabers will always be cool.

Another great Adventure with Shaun. And my family!