Montag, 3. März 2008

Lately . . .

I realize I haven’t written much lately, so here is what has been going on over the past couple of months. The holidays were great here in Germany. I for one think that Europeans do an amazing job of celebrating the holidays – lots of time off, lots of good food and drinks, and Christmas markets. I won’t go into too much detail about the Christmas markets, since I already described my slight obsession in the Austria entry, but we enjoyed them, and the abundant Glühwein, very much. Laura was here for the holidays after a successful first semester as a “Camel” at Connecticut College. We got to show her around Kaiserswerth and Düsseldorf and get all of our last-minute shopping done together. We found it slightly difficult to do our Christmas shopping on the far side of the Atlantic. When it came to books and movies we wanted things in English, but to ship those things costs an INSANE amount of money and you even get charged a customs fee, so it’s not worth it. Luckily, we managed to find something for everyone downtown.

We had a nice, quiet Christmas morning in Kaiserswerth. It was the first Christmas that we had with only our immediate family. It was a bit strange and lonely, but hopefully we’ll be seeing people in the years to come! We sat by the HUGE Christmas tree and enjoyed the view of the backyard, although it was without snow, while we opened presents. One of Tim’s Christmas gifts to the family was a trip to Paris. I would have enjoyed the trip, but had already made plans to go to Budapest, so Laura’s friend Chris (from Minnesota) got to take my place when he flew over to visit. I flew to Budapest early on January 2nd and the rest of the family and Chris drove to Paris. I heard good reports from the trip when we all got back to Kaiserswerth! On Chris’ final day in Europe we tried to do a whirlwind tour of the nearby areas – we went to Köln to see the cathedral and Altstadt, into Zons, and around Düsseldorf – the Hafen and Altstadt for a dinner of currywurst and bratwurst. The stops were a bit rushed, but hopefully he got a feel for what this part of Germany is like.

Not long after Chris left, Uncle Jon came to town! He had been on a business trip in London and decided to pop over for a visit. On his first night here we went to Im Schiffchen, the extremely fancy restaurant on the square in Kaiserswerth. Apparently it is one of the top ten restaurants in Germany and it is in our little village – pretty cool. The food was good, but was so fancy and obscure that it was somewhat lost on me. The wine was definitely the highlight. For the rest of Jon’s stay we planned day trips. On Saturday we drove to Amsterdam, walked around, saw the Anne Frank Huis, and went out for dinner. I still love that city. Then on Sunday we went into Luxembourg City. It was nice to return there in clear weather. The views from the “city on the cliff” are beautiful, but the weather was so horrible the first time I was there that you couldn’t see a thing. There were also many more people out in the city this time, which made for a much more upbeat atmosphere. We walked along the edge of the city walls, stood atop the casemates (the old tunnels and armaments on and inside the walls), looked down into the valleys, and stole glances into many of the fancy bakeries around the city. On our way back to the car Jenny and I found one of the coolest playgrounds we have ever seen, complete with a teepee and pirate ship.

The end of Uncle Jon’s visit marked the end of our holiday travels and visitors – meaning back to real life. Since then Jenny has started school again, had lots of soccer and basketball games, and Tim is traveling as much as ever. Mom and I made time to visit the Renoir exhibit in the nearby town of Wuppertal. And Shadow gets lots of walks.

At the beginning of February we had more festivities to look forward to at Karneval!! Karneval is basically the European equivalent of Mardi Gras and it is HUGEly popular in cities along the Rhein River. Düsseldorf and Köln are among the top cities for Karneval. For the official start of the festivities I joined my mom and members of the American Women’s Club to “storm the Rathaus.” At 11:11am, once the Altstadt is filled with people, the mayor steps out on the balcony of the Rathaus (city hall) and tells all the women to go home and take care of the kids, cook, and clean (all part of the tradition, of course). Then the women refuse, break through the doors of the Rathaus, and take control of the city for the night. We got there extra early to make sure we were in the group of 50 women that actually get let into the Rathaus at 11:11am. Once we were inside there was free beer and drinks and we got to watch as all of the women cut the ties off of the city officials (also part of the tradition – you should bring scissors with you on that day if you’re a girl and not wear your favorite tie if you’re a guy). Here's mom with a pirate in the Rathaus. One of the other American Women’s Club members brought her daughter Catherine with her. It was nice to have someone my age around! Our whole group was interviewed and we even made the paper - pretty cool! After enjoying the Rathaus we went back into the streets to find something for lunch. The streets were crazy! You could barely walk around because there were so many people. All of the costumes were great. They were much better than most of the Halloween costumes I see in the States.

The main Karneval festivities went on for 5 days, with the trains and streets always filled with people. On Saturday I went back into the city with Catherine for an English-speaking young person’s meet-up. It was a good night, filled with drinks and rugby-watching. And I’ve been able to keep in touch with people since then, which has been fun. On Monday my mom and I went into Düsseldorf, despite the rain, to watch part of the parade – one of the final Karneval events. We met up with Jörg and Elise on the train and met some of their friends in the city. Overall, Karneval weekend was a great time – too bad it’s only once a year!

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