Friday, October 28, 2011

Last Stop - die Schweiz

I was very excited about our last destination before finally heading back to Germany. And not just because of Switzerland's magical landscape, breathtaking mountains, delicious chocolate, and abundance of cheese. We were going to visit the Bühlmann's, the family I stayed with for 3 months when I finished high school.

And I was not disappointed. Our drive in was beautiful. From Luzerne (where we had lunch) to Berne we took back roads through small villages, with the late afternoon sun reflecting off the luscious green hills, wet from a quick afternoon rain. And when we arrived at Willadingweg (great name!!) I was greeted by Swiss parents, and it all seemed so suddenly familiar. In true Swiss fashion, we feasted on fondue that night, gorging on bread and hot bubbly cheese. 
Eating fondue with Ueli and Trix.

The next day Martin, Simon and I headed out to explore. I wasn't sure how much I would remember about the city. Things were familiar, but in no way did I know my way around. Back in 1998, 3 months seemed like SO LONG, and now when I think about it, it was not long at all. Regardless, we enjoyed walking along Aare River, with it's clear blue waters inviting us to come back in warmer weather. We walked all the way to the city, enjoyed some hot chocolate, and gawked at the extremely high costs of everything in Switezerland. WOW!

Then we headed home to meet Ueli and head out for a drive in the hills. We drove to their beautiful summer lake house, through small villages, over covered bridges (well, under the cover), and had some amazing views of the Matterhorn and Jungfrau mountains. A light layer of clouds rested at their base, making it look like these majestical mountains were floating on air. (Managed not to take any pics.)

For dinner that night - raclette! More cheese - this time with potatoes. A great meal to go out on.

We headed out the next morning - destination Düsseldorf. Always sad when vacation ends, but it was different this time. Now, vacation doesn't just mean getting to check out cool places (like Italy!), but spending time together as a family. It's hard to fit it all in with busy work schedules and no family nearby to watch Simon for an hour here and there. Being on vacation felt good because we were a family - all day, every day. Can't wait for our next vacation!

All vacation pics here.


I won't lie. It was sad to say goodbye to Tuscany, but we left knowing we'd be back someday. And it was cloudy - that always helps. Onward to Milano! By Milan, I mean the Sheraton at the airport. Literally next to Terminal 1. Sounds unexciting, but Uncle Magnus was there - so REALLY exciting!

It was a work day, so we were only able to see Magnus and his girlfriend Olof for a few hours over dinner. But the stop was so worth it. Simon loves spending time with family whenever possible, which isn't all that often. So he took a nap before dinner so he was on his best behavior and ready for a late night (10:30!!).

I think they look happy to see each other. :)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Ciao Toscana!

The drive from Verona to Tuscany was beautiful. The hills between Bologna and Florence were a lush green, and my anticipation for arriving in Tuscany was growing. We were headed for Al Gelso Bianco, in the town of Barberino right between Florence and Siena. As we passed Florence and got closer to our destination, the hills rolled more gently, lined with olive trees and vineyards.

We finally arrived, got settled into our apartment, and checked out our new place for the next 5 days. It is a functioning vineyard that produces Chianti wine, in addition to grappa, and their own olive oil. The olive trees were gorgeous (now I understand the color olive green - duh!) and there were even olives on the tree. I had never seen that before. In just a few weeks they will start olive oil production, with wine season just ending a few weeks ago.

At dinner that night I ordered the full menu, 5 courses of traditional Tuscan food. Delicious! Including papardelle noodles with wild boar sauce and some kind of veal. Simon liked it too!

We spent the next days exploring new places - Siena, San Gimigiano, Montereggioni, Florence, Greve, Montefioralle, Panzano. Each place was unique and beautiful. And the food was outstanding. I loved the pici - a really fat spaghetti type noodle that is common in that region. I also loved the ribollita, a Tuscan bread and bean soup that is the perfect comfort food. For sweets - of course the gelato is fabulous. In San Gimigiano we even got to try some from the 2-time gelato World Champs - it warranted seconds. My other favorite sweets was the bakery - everything in it. They were so beautiful and full of beautiful and delicious snacks. I can't remember what my favorite one was called. Guess I'll have to go back and jog my memory.

As always, traveling with Simon presented its challenges. While we traveled quite a bit this summer, months had passed and it's always a new game with kids at this age. From the very beginning we let go of any semblance of a routine and tried our best to feel out how he was doing and what he needed. We went out to dinner the first 6 nights of the trip - which meant eating late and staying up late - and he took it like a champ. He slept in the car, slept in the stroller, slept in the backpack - just slept when he could. And when he wasn't sleeping he was loving Italy. The food is perfect for a toddler - and the people love little bambinos. There was lots of cheek pinching, playing peekaboo, and just general goodwill towards Simon. He played on many restaurant floors (he loved the big baskets of corks that every restaurant seemed to have) and no one ever seemed to think he was in the way. This made meals with him a lot more enjoyable for Martin and I, as well. Overall he did great, but that doesn't mean that it was easy.

We were so sad to be leaving Tuscany. We actually stayed a day longer than initially planned, continuously shifting our itinerary around. As we left Tuscany, however, we really had something to look forward to - dinner with Farbror (Uncle) Magnus. He was working on an assignment in Milan - which was right on the way to Berne, Swizterland, where we needed to be by Thursday. Perfect timing!

Pics from the whole trip here.

Is this really Italy?

Next on our itinerary was Castelrotto, Italy in the Dolomites mountain range. This was my first time in Italy - so exciting! But not nearly as exciting as I had hoped.

Not long before our trip, I learned that this region of Italy is a German-speaking, formerly part of the Tirol region of Austria. Culinary inclinations follow the Germanic heritage as well. What?!? We were in Italy, still speaking German and looking menus with the same food as back home? Martin kept saying, "When we get to Italy..." and I had to remind him that we were already in Italy. It definitely didn't feel like it.

But the beautiful mountains made up for it. We got in 2 days of hiking. Day 1 we took the gondola up to hike on the Alpe di Siusi, Europe's largest high alpine meadow which offered gorgeous views and the hiking was reasonable for hiking with a kiddo strapped to your back. Day 2 we hiked at lower elevation, but still had great views and fabulous lunch at a Hütte just at the base of the mountains. We don't even know what one of the dishes we ate was called - we just pointed at someone else's plate. I just know that it was covered in powdered sugar and it was delicious!

Simon enjoying a snack.
After our days hiking in the Dolomites we headed toward Lago di Garda (real Italy), the region where Martin's grandfather was from. We visited the beautiful village of Sirmione at the southern tip of the lake. It was a great place to visit, but very touristy so we decided to move on rather than spend the night there. We were so happy we did! We spent the night in Verona and really enjoyed our evening and morning there. It was a beautiful city in which to simply walk the streets, we ate some delicious pizza, and after hitting a few of the sites (Juliet's balcony!) we were on the road headed to Tuscany!

Pics from the whole trip here

Neuschwanstein Castle

Our first destination for our trip was Füssen, Germany, home to the Neuschwanstein Castle. This castle is famous because Disney it was the inspiration for the castle in Sleeping Beauty, and later the Disney Castle itself.

We arrived on a beautiful Sunday afternoon and explored a bit, taking a walk down by the lake and taking in the magnificent mountain views. We could see the castle on the hill just outside town, and were excited to see it the next day.

Unfortunately, Monday morning we woke up to rain and clouds. No magical views, and not a great day for traipsing around, but we didn't really plan on coming back to Füssen any time soon. So we headed off.

Even if you take the bus to visit the castle, there's no way around lots of walking. So with Simon on Martin's back, we got out our umbrellas and braved the rain. We took a short tour of the castle, and checked out the view from the bridge behind the castle. Simon stayed dry and happy - reading his Goodnight Minnesota book that never left his side during the trip.

It was a really neat place to visit - and I am sure even more so when the weather is nice. It was not an easy place to visit - a great example of German inefficiency...but I won't bore you with all that.

Pics from the whole trip here.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Das Krankenhaus

If you ever wake up in the middle of the night with stabbing pain in your chest and trouble breathing, go to the hospital. I learned this valuable bit of wisdom this past week after finally going to the ER after 24 hours of pain and discomfort. It started early Sunday morning, and on Monday morning, I knew I couldn't wait another day to visit my regular doctor - so off to the Krankenhaus.

We got to the ER where it was quiet and orderly, and we were seen right away. After multiple tests and xrays and poking and prodding, the doctor announced that I had pneumonia and I must be hospitalized. I really thought that hospitalization seemed drastic, as I was moving about ok, and pain had significantly subsised. But they finally convinced me that's where I needed to be - mostly because I wanted to recover quickly so we could head out on our vacation at the end of the week.

Simon visiting his mama in the hospital.
The first day I really felt bad, so I was ok being at the hospital and having some peace and quiet. But day 2 I felt pretty good, so it was just really annoying. But Martin came to visit, a friend brought me magazines and suduko, so I managed alright. When I talked to the doctor on Tuesday morning (day 2), he thought I would get out on Thursday. But that afternoon I asked to nurses to please ask if I could be released the following day. And after a heart ultrasound (so cool to see your own heart!) I was released on Wednesday.

With me being sick and Martin missing work, we decided to delay our trip until Sunday (supposed to leave Friday). We spent Saturday afternoon with some friends at a children's play cafe, and Simon fell on his chin, with one of his top teeth knocking a bottom tooth out of place. There was some crying and bleeding, but it looked ok. However, we didn't want to start out our vacation worrying about this loose tooth. So Sunday morning, we packed the car up for our vacation, and stopped by the ER (yup - 2 times in one week!) where they took a look at Simon's tooth. No big deal! They said it looked fine and we had nothing to worry about. we come!