Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Found while walking the dog

How cute is this?

Gnome home!

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Germany: Auf wiedersehen!

The first solo trip the kids and I made out into the community after moving to Mannheim back in 2003 was to visit the lovely Luisenpark. It was also one of our last "field trips" after Fred returned from Iraq in 2005, when I took this photo, possibly my favorite one ever:

It felt great to cap off our European adventure by going back to the park on this beautiful day.

Caroline enjoyed eating hot pretzels with Janna and Annika:

Exploring the Chinese pavilion:

Pat and Elke at the Chinese garden:

Pellet and Cheezer took this picture to convince the rest of the rodents that they visited China over spring break:

I had been looking forward to seeing German squirrels again, but this is the only one I found:

We stopped at each and every play area, but the castle ruin was an especially big hit with the kids:

I even got in on the fun at one playground:

It took at least 3 people to get me into and out of that thing! (The video cuts off the tale end of my comment, which was: "This is cheaper than champagne!")

After we left the park, we went to our favorite Mannheim restaurant for a farewell dinner. I almost couldn't find the website for Zur Kurpfalz, because we just always called it "the schnitzel house." It felt so good to be back that I couldn't resist taking pictures of some of the food. This is Elke's salad:

I can't remember what Pat's dish was called, but it smelled wonderful:

And my beloved Schnitzel Wilddieb:

We stopped by an ice cream parlor on our way home where Annabelle attacked her apple strudel with great gusto:

Michelle got the Spaghetti Eiss she has been waiting 20 years for:

I had Spaghetti Eiss myself, which was the perfect end to a perfect vacation!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Germany: Day 2

Somewhere between Paris and Heidelberg, the beautiful weather we had been blessed with for the first part of our trip turned dark, cold, and dreary, which is why there is no Germany: Day 1 post. We spent yesterday sleeping late and doing laundry, and nobody wants to see pictures of that.

We took the train to Heidelberg on Thursday to stay with Annabelle's friend Katherine and her family. Caroline fit in with Katherine's little sisters as if they had been friends forever, so they disappeared upstairs to play as soon as the girls got home from school yesterday, while Annabelle and Katherine retreated to the basement to catch up on 2 years worth of gossip and giggling.

This morning started off bleak weather-wise, which worried me a little. Our big plan for the day was to meet friends for lunch on the Hauptstrasse and then spend some time shopping. By the time we left the house though, the sun was peeping out, and by early afternoon the weather was back to gorgeous.

We had a lovely lunch at Cafe Schafheutle with my long-time friend Sibylle and my loyal blog reader, Facebook friend, and now real-life friend Heather:

After lunch, we walked up and down the Hauptstrasse, enjoying the lovely day:

I took this picture of Annabelle and Katherine in front of the castle:

They sure have grown up since Katherine moved away from Fort Knox in 2007:

Annabelle also got a chance to catch up with her friend Matthew:

Matthew played Sweeney Todd to Annabelle's Mrs. Lovett for Halloween of 2007:

I can't believe our trip is almost over!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Paris: Last tango

The tempo of the first half the trip caught up with us today. We slept in a bit and headed out on foot after breakfast.

Our first stop was the Notre Dame cathedral:

We did a quick walk-through to admire the stained glass:

and to light a candle for a friend:

We had planned on stopping at St. Chappelle, too, but the line was crazy-long, so we took a pass. Instead we mozied back to the left bank to look at the Institut de France, home of the Alliance Francaise:

From there, we crossed the river again, this time in the direction of the Louvre. We stopped along the bridge to take pictures of the "love locks" that people place on the fencing before throwing the key into the water below:

At the Louvre, I took a picture of this cute little girl:

Annabelle says she is probably saying, "Free the leash kids!"

We did my usual "Look, kids! Big Ben! Parliament!" tour of the Louvre.

Venus de Milo!

Winged Victory!

Mona Lisa!

Other notable sights in the Louvre included the HUGE painting that is featured on the cover of Annabelle's AP European History textbook:

Annabelle duking it out with a cherub:

And this rather odd painting featuring a monkey, a dog, and a cherub:

I was crushed to discover as we walked back to the hotel that the Samaritaine department store (on whose rooftop the kids wrote postcards to their friends in Texas back in 2003) has gone out of business:

I did get a couple of interesting pictures along the way though. I liked this guy sitting in the window for a smoke break:

And if the leash kids need freeing, the lawn gnomes need it even more:

We got back to the hotel after stopping for a crepe (at a different stand, but don't tell Casanova!) and hibernated for a couple of hours before heading out in search of supper. We wound up in a cozy little restaurant in the Latin Quarter where we enjoyed a pot of cheese fondue. Afterward we stopped at our usual place for one last crepe and a final flirtation with Annabelle's crepe stand boyfriend, whose name turned out to be Laramie.

Germany tomorrow!

Paris: How do you say "yum!" in French?

We just got back to our hotel from what was quite likely one of the most amazing dinners of my life. We knew Florence and Bruno from our first couple of years at Fort Knox, when Bruno was there as an exchange officer from the French army and Mike became friends with their elder son. Tonight we met them at 8 p.m. for dinner at Les Ronchons, a charming restaurant that overlooks the Seine. We sat for hours, laughing and talking about old times and enjoying a true Parisian dinner.

We started with kir royals for the ladies (except for Caroline, who had a cola manufactured in Corsica). Then it was on to white wine and starters. I had a creamy soup with scallops and mussels, and Annabelle and I both tried a bite of Florence's starter: baked bone marrow with a very coarse salt. For the main dish, Annabelle and I both had a wonderful fish and rice dish, and for dessert, an amazing chocolate-almond cake with ice cream:

After dinner the owner sent over dessert wine, which was a lovely way to end the meal.

The food was fantabulous, and it was so wonderful to see Florence (and Bruno) again!

After dinner we walked together along the Seine. At one point, a couple of people walked past with dogs: a small dog in a sweater and an elderly yellow lab. As they passed, the lab turned around and came back to us. She offered up her paw to us and lay down literally on my feet for scritchy-scratchers and tummy-rubs. Eventually the people and their dogs went their way, and we continued on together with Bruno and Florence until it was time for us to turn off toward our hotel.

We walked past the crepe stand, and Annabelle's admirer from last night was there, so we stopped to say hello.

Caroline continues to amaze me with her traveling stamina and enthusiasm. I am sure that parts of tonight's 4- hour dinner were less than enthralling to her, never mind the fact that she had marched miles across Paris. Yet she remained engaged and well-behaved and was so open and eager to trying new foods. Likewise, I'm so proud of the delightful young lady Annabelle has grown into. This trip makes me nostalgic for my time in Europe with Annabelle, Mike, and Fred, and I wish we could have the guys along to re-live those years.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Paris: The one that got away

I hate to start off a post by whining, but I'm still processing this and need to get it out. Three days ago, I had train tickets in my shopping cart on the Deutsche Bahn website that were going to get us from Paris to Heidelberg for 147 euro total. Unfortunately, the stupid website wouldn't accept either of my American credit cards (I never have a problem in person overseas, but for some reason websites and automats can be persnickety). Today we stopped by Gare d'Lyon to get the tickets for Thursday and coughed up 350 euro for the same tickets. I don't know if the increase is because we are closer to our travel date or because we were buying the tickets at the train station. Oh, well, at least we have the tickets in hand now. I figure that part of the cost is offset by the commercial bus tour we opted not to do today.

So what DID we do today?

We enjoyed a simple breakfast at the hotel (baguettes with butter, jam, Nutella, etc. and fruit salad, with orange juice and coffee, tea, or hot chocolate to drink).

We asked the hotel owner about the hop on/hop off bus tours, and he advised us that they were a waste of money. Instead, he said, take the 63 bus and get off at Trocadero. From there we could choose from several walking itineraries. So we set off for the bus, stopping along the way so that Annabelle could buy a book of 10 tickets (un carnet--10 tickets for 12 euro) for us.

The bus did indeed take us past some great downtown scenery. We exited at Trocadero and began making our way to the Eiffel Tower. A few steps from the bus stop, we passed a chalk art display that brought out the inner princess of girls of all ages:

We began our tower picture-taking at the Palais de Chaillot:

From there we crossed the Pont d'Iena bridge, passing by a couple of cool carousels and some fancy horse statues:

Once at the tower, we took a pass on going up inside because of the long line and instead walked across the Parc du Champ de Mars towards the Ecole Militaire, stopping long enough to take a group picture (that I can't put my finger on at the moment) and a couple of rodent pictures:

We stopped for lunch at a cafe and then continued on to Invalides:

After that we stopped by the Musée Rodin, where Annabelle recreated an oldie but goodie:

and where we saw some other great thinkers:

We hopped on the metro at Varenne and rode up to Charles de Gaulle—Étoile to take a quick look at the Arc de Triomphe:

We did some shopping along the Champs-Élysées. I'm getting my next pair of glasses here:

When we got tired of walking, we took the metro to the Gare d'Lyon to get the afore-mentioned tickets. We opted to come back to the hotel via taxi, which gave us a chance to see some new sights along the way. We've been spending the past couple of hours taking a much-needed rest, but we will be heading out soon to meet friends for dinner.