Sunday, June 1, 2008

December 28

I was supposed to pick my boyfriend Sam up this morning at the airport, but he had connection issues, which delayed him for a day. After having not seen him in over three months, I was sad, but at least he was safe and able to come the next morning.
My family and I started our day off with a boat tour on the Seine. It was a neat experience that allowed us to have a quick glimpse of a number of the main attractions. Megan and I tried to brave the cold by sitting on the open deck, but had to go into the glass enclosed area every once in a while to warm back up. After the boat we walked through the Latin Quarter and had lunch at a nice little Italian restaurant. After lunch, we wandered on to, passing the Shakespeare and Co. Bookstore on our way to the Ile de la cité to tour the Notre Dame Cathedral where Papa's mind continued to be "boggled."
We spent our evening visiting the Louvre. I learned that Swiss army knives are not acceptable to bring into the museum. I totally forgot I was carrying it in my bag. Luckily they were kind enough to hold it for me to pick up upon exiting. Megan and I got into the museum free. We hadn't planned that, but we showed up on the evening when it was free for students. We didn't stay at the museum terribly long, we were all pretty tired, but we got to see a few of the most famous pieces. Most notably, the Mona Lisa. I was unimpressed. What makes her so famous anyway? Now, it's mostly her fame itself that makes her so popular. But where did that start? The mystery, the artist, the curious smile? Who can tell?

December 27

Sadly, today was rainy, foggy, and cold. We started the day riding the funicular up to Sacre Coeur. My grandfather was whole time we were touring the basilica. He kept saying, "This is mind-boggling, my mind is just boggled!" After, Sacre Coeur, we hopped on a metro to go visit the Eiffel Tower. It was still foggy when we got there, so we didn't go up to the top right away. We wandered around some more, then Megan, Papa, and Mom got in line to go to the top. The line was really LONG. Grandma is not a fan of heights, so she and I went in search of a cafe. We finally found a little Chinese cafe, but found out we'd have to get food if we wanted to be able to stay. We ended up with a small assortment of desserts and rice. We weren't really hungry, we just wanted a warm place to sit for a while.

Saturday, May 31, 2008

December 26

We left bright and early this morning for Paris. We took the TGV, which was an interesting experience. Once arriving in Paris, I let my troops down as a tour guide. I knew where the hotel was and where the train station was, but I failed to realize the importance of knowing how one finds their way between the two. It was an interesting journey to say the least. Upon first arrival in a new city, one is at their most vulnerable state. I am always a bit disoriented and a little stressed at first and it is very obvious that one is a tourist when they are dragging along a suitcase. I always feel like easy prey for thieves or con artists. This was very stressful for me when I felt responsible for the safety, comfort, enjoyment, and general well being of four of my loved ones. Eventually, with the assistance of an old French lady, we made our way through a slightly seedy neighborhood. The woman ushered us through the gate at the metro stop and told us it was free and to get off at the next stop to find our hotel. In retrospect, I realized that by “free” the woman meant that we were entering through the exit and riding the metro without tickets. This is slightly illegal, but I was a bit oblivious at that point. Words cannot express the shear relief I felt when we finally managed to make it to the hotel.

Our hotel was located in Montmartre right at the foot of Sacre Cœur. It was a fun location to be. We spent the afternoon and evening getting a feel for the area and resting up and making our plans for the rest of our visit. After dark, my mom, sister and I walked down the street to see the Moulin Rouge, the cafe from the movie Amelie, and the red light district after dark. It was really neat, but I'm glad my grandparents stayed at the hotel. I think it may have been a little too shocking for them.

Monday, March 17, 2008

December 25

Merry Christmas! This was a very unusual Christmas for me, just because there was nothing traditional about it at all. I got up at a decent hour and met my family at the apartment. When I got there, they were all still sleeping! As they got themselves ready for the day, I prepared a breakfast of crepes.
After breakfast we exchanged gifts. I had knit a hat for my mother and a hat and scarf for my sister. We also gave a hat that we had purchased in the Christmas Market to Papa. Since Grandma didn’t get a hat for Christmas, she made do with her new doily.

I took my family on a tour of my campus, and then down to Ouchy to see the lake. Sadly it was cold and very foggy, so we couldn’t even see the mountains across the lake. I was disappointed about that, because they are very majestic this time of year with their snowy peaks.
For dinner I prepared raclette, a melted cheese and potato dish. Megan was unsure about it at first, because she tried the cheese unmelted. The flavor changes completely when it’s melted though, so later she decided that she liked it very much. I really like raclette as well, more than I like fondue.

December 24

I took my family on a tour around downtown Lausanne today. I showed them all of the main sites, which are now quite commonplace to me. We visited the Christmas Market and tasted roasted chestnuts and churros. The Lausanne Christmas Market is much less grand that the Montreux market that I had visited earlier in the month.
It was of fun for me to be able to speak French around my family, just because they’ve never really witnessed me do it. Maybe that’s vain of me.
In the evening we relaxed in the apartment and I prepared rosti, a dish similar to hash browns served with meat and a gravy sauce. After dinner, we attended a Christmas Eve church service at St. Francois, an old church downtown. It was a really neat experience for me, but since it was in French, it was rather boring for my family. I told Papa ahead of time that it was ok if he dozed off, just so long as he didn’t snore and he tipped his head forward instead of back so that it would look like he was praying. He heeded my advice.

December 23

Today was mostly a travel day. We made our way back to Frankfurt to return the car and catch our train. The train ended up being 45 minutes late, so we had to wait around the station for a while. I was shocked. This is quite rare for German trains. We ended up missing our connecting train in Basel, Switzerland, so we had to wait there a while too. It was already evening by the time we got to Lausanne. A friend of mine had gone back to the US to spend the holidays with her family, and had offered her apartment for us. It was very generous of her. It was perfect for us, because there was enough sleeping space for my four family members (I just slept at my place,) and then we also had a kitchen at our disposal. I was excited to have the chance to make some traditional Swiss fare for my family.

December 22

The objective of the day was to find a castle for Papa. It was a frosty and sunny morning, which made for a beautiful drive. I continued to offer up my map reading skills, and we soon found ourselves in Koblenz where the Moselle and Rhine rivers meet. From a bridge we watched an amazing feat of both engineering and steering as a riverboat full of cargo made its way through the locks. For lunch we tried some delicious German food at an Imbiss. Then in the afternoon we sought out a castle. We saw many castles on the cliffs surrounding the city, but sadly it was the wrong time of year to be able to enter any. We did get out and walk around one though. It was a neat experience to realize that hundreds of years ago these strongholds were actually more than just neat-looking, moss-covered, stone structures.
On our way back to our hotel that evening, we realized that we were on the wrong side of the river and the red lines crossing the river on the map were ferries, not bridges. We would have had to backtrack back to our starting place to get to a bridge, so we ended up taking a ferry. I’d never been on a ferryboat before. It was strange for my perceptions. I was sitting in a car, moving backwards, but the cars beside me weren’t moving. Sort of like the feeling you get when the car next to you in the parking lot starts to back out.

We stopped for gas on the other side of the river. Unfortunately we didn’t realize until after the tank was full that the car required diesel. Luckily we didn’t start it. The gas station was tiny, and the clerk was not all that excited about helping us out. They had no telephone, only his cell phone. Also, it was a Saturday evening, and we couldn’t get a hold of any mechanics in the area. We finally got through to the rental company, and they sent a van and a tow truck for us. I got to ride in a German tow truck! It was quite exciting for me, even with all the other stress.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

December 21

We rented a car today at the Frankfurt train station. It was t VW Touran. I liked the vehicle. It fit all five of us as well as our luggage comfortably, but was still smaller than a mini-van. After getting the car, we set off into the wilds of Germany with my mother driving, myself navigating from the passenger seat, my sister and grandmother suffering the effects of jet-lag in the back, and my grandfather being amazed by everything that passed his window. Our destination was the area surrounding Hahn, where my father was stationed during his time in the Air Force, and the area where my sister and I were born. We left Germany before I was even 2 years old and Megan sister was not yet three. The base in Hahn is no longer in use, but the runways have been converted into the Frankfurt-Hahn airport.
We arrived too early to check into our hotel, so we took a driving tour around the towns in the area. She told us stories about her time there and the places she frequented; places I had been to as well, but was too young to remember.
When my parents lived in Germany, they rented a basement apartment in the little village of Laufersweiler. They became good friends with their landlords Gunter and Monica who lived right above them. We had tried getting in contact with Gunter and Monica before coming, but our letters never received a response.
My sister’s suitcase key fell into a compartment on the floor of the car, so we needed a screwdriver to get it out. My mom suggested that we go into a hardware store where Monica had worked when we lived there almost 20 years ago. She was also curious as to whether or not Monica still worked there. Sure enough, when we walked in the door, Monica was behind the counter helping a customer. I could tell my mother was nervous; Megan and I were nervous as well. This is a woman whose name is very familiar to us, but we have absolutely no memory of. After the customer was gone, my mother shyly walked up to the counter. All she said was “Monica?” It took a few seconds, but I could literally see the recognition come across Monica’s face. She was so excited that she forgot any English that she knew. Luckily her colleague helped her out, and she invited us to their house that evening. It turns out that our letters had never arrived because the zip code has changed, so Monica had no idea we were going to be coming. Imagine her surprise. It was a day like any other, working at the same place that she has been for almost 30 years, when out of the blue your American friends whom you haven’t seen for almost 20 years show up in front of you. No wonder she was speechless!

It was such a wonderful experience to meet Gunter, Monica, and their family, and to see the apartment where my family lived when I was an infant. I feel as though these people are part of my story. They knew me before any of my family outside of my sister and parents had ever even met me. As a child I would often boast that I was born in Germany. It made me unique among and slightly exotic among my Nebraska playmates. Germany was an idealized world to me, with fictional characters, my forgotten past. I had no memory of anything there, but I always treasured the stories my parents would tell me, no matter how many times I'd heard them before. Going back to Hahn and meeting Gunter and Monica for what felt like the first time, was like discovering that your favorite storybook was a reality; my own reality.

December 20

I left on the train this morning to meet my family in Frankfurt, Germany. This is the first time I’ve left Switzerland since coming here. It’s always very different crossing the language borders, even within Switzerland. I’m pretty confident when I stay around the francophone area, but I feel very ignorant once everyone around me is speaking German or Swiss-German. The train ride was beautiful. The fields were frosty and sparkled under the rising sun. There were also some very impressive icicles hanging from the cliff faces.

I met my mother, sister, and grandparents (maternal) at the Frankfurt Airport. I waited in anticipation with all of the arriving travelers. When they finally came through the doors, it was a very happy reunion indeed. This was my grandfather’s first plane trip and my grandmother’s first time being outside the US. I presented the weary and jetlagged travelers with Swiss chocolate, and then we made our way into the city. We stayed the night in a hostel in Frankfurt. We were not a very exciting bunch, as we turned in around 7:00 pm.

Forgive me!!!

Wow, it's been quite a while since I last posted! I got busy and got behind, and instead of being a fun form of communication, blogging suddenly became a chore on my list of things to do. It's surprising how much less enjoyable it seemed once I was two months behind with so many things to write about. For the sake of chronology, I'm going to start about where I left off, with my Christmas break travels. I'm dedicated the rest of today to blogging, so I will hopefully be caught up to the present soon. Happy reading!