Wednesday, March 31, 2004

I've been lamenting off and on for several weeks that I don't have a vase that's a really good size for holding some of the amazing cut flowers I see in the flower shops. Last weekend the kids convinced us to make a trip to the mall so they could do a little comparison price research on the Playmobil sets they are currently lusting after. While we were there, I stopped in at a little boutique that sells all manner of home knick-knacks and found the PERFECT vase for only 7 euro. On our way out of the mall, I stopped in at my favorite Dutch flower shop and bought 2 bunches of hyacinths. Today I added 3 more hyacinths from my front yard to the bouquet (they were too topheavy to stand up unassisted):

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Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Finally, a few moments of peace and quiet to work on uploading our pictures from Berlin!

We left Mannheim the morning of Saturday, March 13, and pointed the minivan northeast. It doesn't take very long before you're driving through what used to be East Germany. The vast amounts of money that were poured into unifying the east with the west are most apparent when you look at their highways. Having grown up hearing in school hearing about these amazing German superhighways, I must admit that I have never been overly impressed by the German Autobahns. Sure, you can go fast, but they're generally in no better repair than our own overworked interstate system. Well, the Autobahns in the former east are simply amazing--brand new, lots of places where there are 3 lanes in each direction, and only a fraction of the traffic that we have on our Autobahns closer to home.

We opted to stay in Potsdam, which is about a half hour outside of Berlin, in order to stretch our hotel money. That turned out to be a good choice. Our hotel was brand-spankin'-new and laughably cheap. We had a 2-bedroom apartment with complete kitchen for us and a 2-room suite for Don and Mary. Here's a picture from our room:

After we dropped off our luggage, we did a little touring around Potsdam. Potsdam has enough to see that we could have easily spent the whole weekend there and never even ventured into Berlin. Instead, we had to quickly enjoy what we could in the remaining hours of daylight on Saturday and our final hours in town Monday morning.

First we drove out to the Cecilienhof. The Cecilienhof was the scene of the 1945 Potsdam Conference, in which Churchill, Truman, and Stalin met to settle details associated with the end of the war.

Here's a Russian house that is just one part of a whole small Russian village:

The village was built in 1826 to house members of a choir made up of Russian POWs who had fought with Napoleon.

I'm not sure what this next building is, but we drove past it every time we went anywhere in Potsdam, and I really liked the paintjob:

We capped off our first night in Potsdam with a really disappointing seafood dinner. Don and Mary and I all splurged on the garlic shrimp, with visions of shrimp scampi dancing in our heads. Imagine our chagrin when the plates arrived and we were each greeted by 4 of the largest water cockroaches I have ever seen, staring up at us from a bed of salad greens. The only way to approach these suckers was to stab them in the underbelly with a fork and twist violently to release the thumb-size piece of meat within. The only neat part was that they weren't just food--the heads made entertaining finger puppets.

We had arrived in town too late on Saturday to shop for groceries, so Sunday morning we headed for Berlin in search of breakfast. We stopped at the Kaiser-Wilhem-Gedächtniskirche, which was destroyed by bombs in 1943:

Here's our little group standing in front of the church:

We had breakfast at an Italian restaurant across the street from the church and then set off to explore the city. There were bus companies lined up all along the main street, offering sightseeing tours . . . for a price. We opted instead to get day passes on the local transportation system, which gave us full access to the bus and the subway network. We set off from the Zoo Bahnhof by bus.

Our first stop was the Siegessäule, a triumphal column in the middle of a huge traffic circle:

As we were standing on the sidewalk trying to get our bearings, a group of young women approached us and started speaking in German. The only part I caught was, "We come from Britain," so we quickly moved the conversation in English. They were on some sort of a scavenger hunt and needed to find somebody to give a huge inflatable globe to. We were the lucky somebodies, so we got to have our picture taken with the globe, some of the girls, and a stuffed critter whose species escapes me. Best of all, we had to keep the globe, though they did say we could deflate it. First though we had a little fun taking pictures with it:

From there, we continued on by bus to the Reichstag:

And from there, it was just a pleasent stroll over to the Brandenburg gate. Here is a man with 3 monkeys just inside the gate:

After stopping for sodas and postcards at the souvenir stands, we headed underground to make our way over to Checkpoint Charlie:

We had lunch around the corner from Checkpoint Charlie and then hopped back on the subway and went out to the airport to see the Luftbrücke, which commmemorates the Berlin Airlift. The other half of the arch is at the Frankfurt airport, and I am told (by Fred--every time we drive past the western half) that the two arches set a trajectory that meets in the middle, thus forming one complete arch.

We took the bus from the airport to Postdamer Platz, where we saw this remnant of the Berlin wall:

By this point, our feet were killing us, so we made our way out of the city and back into Potsdam for dinner. In spite of the debacle with the talking shrimp the previous night, Don dubbed me the Kraut Scout, and I acted as the advance party for the selection of all restaurants. I redeemed myself that night by stumbling on a wonderfully cozy traditional German restaurant down the street from our hotel. Go, Kraut Scout!!

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Sunday, March 28, 2004

Happy Daylights Savings Time! We here in Germany sprang forward last night. So here it is, almost 8:00 p.m., and it's still light out.

We had a wonderful time for the past 2 weeks with Don and Mary! They left early yesterday morning, and now we are gearing up for Frank and Teresa coming with the boys later this week.

Fred left this morning for a few days in Kuwait to visit a client. What a lucky guy, eh? I was amazed that his flight was scheduled to last 5 hours. I mean, I knew Kuwait wasn't just around the corner, but I never thought of it as THAT far away.

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Thursday, March 25, 2004

Hard to believe that this time last week the kids were dancing around in shorts and t-shirts. It has gotten chilly again, but in spite of that, spring is springing all around us. The crocuses I planted in my lawn in the fall (for a meadow-type look) have come up and are thriving. Now days I'm a grumpy old lady who raps on the glass and yells at kids who dare to walk through my grass.

Here are some photos I took the other day of my yard. I got the little chair with daffodils and primroses at Walmart:

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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

Oh, I WISH that I could simply blog from my brain. If I could merely think my posts as I'm going about my daily life and have them magically appear on the blog, I would never be so woefully behind.

We just got back on Monday evening from a weekend trip to Switzerland with Don and Mary. Fred was indeed our Minivan Warrior Driving Man! He logged 950 miles in 3 days--not an easy feat in a country as small as Switzerland.

We headed south on Saturday morning and arrived at our hotel, the Gasthaus Krone in Attinghausen, late that afternoon. Attinghausen is a teeny-tiny little town at the southern tip of Lake Luzern. My parents, sister, and I discovered it back in 1987, and we've revisited it several times over the years.

After we dropped our luggage off in our rooms, we drove over to Altdorf, home of William Tell:

From there we drove up to Luzern and did a quickie driving tour of the city. We stopped long enough to walk across the famous covered bridge and through a little bit of the walking district. Here's our little tour group in front of the bridge:

We were all amazed at how crystal clear the lake water was. The kids enjoyed peering over the side of the bridge to watch the ducks swimming around underwater:

Here's a shot of Fred with his mom and the kids as we walked across yet another bridge:

The paintings on the buildings in Switzerland were amazing. I especially liked this one and think maybe I'll do the front of our house like this while Fred is in Iraq. Don't you think that would go over well with the housing office?

We went back to the hotel for supper that night and then tumbled exhausted into our beds. After a nice 2-hour nap, we were all rudely awakened by some of our noisy neighbors returning in from a night on the (very small) town. Turns out they were an Italian underwater rugby team. Who even knew there was such a sport?

We saw them at breakfast on Sunday morning and then later in the parking lot where one of them was taking a group picture of the rest. I offered (in the universal language of pantomime) to take the picture for him so that he could be in it, and he gladly accepted. So I took photos with his camera and then with about 8 other cameras that they had lying there. Afterwards I got some of the team members to pose with me for this shot (I'm the one in the hot pink shirt in the front row):

We set off on a drive that my father had recommended, from Altdorf through the Klaussen Pass, and over to a little town called Elm, the home of Switzerland's favorite soft drink--Elmer Citro. There was a sign at the beginning of the road out of Altdorf indicating that the Klaussen Pass was closed, geschlossen, fermé, and chiuso. What the heck, we thought--maybe it's open! And off we went.

We drove for a while up, up, up through some amazingly beautiful scenery. But eventually we came to a place where a blanket of snow covered the road and prevented entry into the tunnel. We got out of the car to enjoy the peaceful scenery:

I shot the pictures to make this 360-degree panorama. It may take a while to load, but it's some really pretty footage. Please note that you have to click into the picture and drag left or right to pan through the whole scene.

Thwarted on our mission to Elm, we decided to drive over to Interlaken via the southern route and visit Grindelwald. Unfortunately, that road too was closed, geschlossen, fermé, and chiuso. So we went with Plan C and headed south to Lugano, just north of the border from Switzerland.

Lugano turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. I've never been there when the sun wasn't shining, but Sunday afternoon was pretty dreary in Lugano. So we had a quick lunch downtown and headed north again.

When we got back to Altdorf, we decided to explore the eastern side of the lake for a change. So we drove up that side and made a circular tour of the mountain northeast of Schwyz. It was a real E ticket of a ride, and there were lots of places where Fred had to back up the van to let oncoming traffic get around us.

On Monday morning we checked out of the hotel and headed off for Interlaken via the northern road out of Luzern. From there we drove down to Grindelwald and enjoyed the scenery of the Eiger and the Jungfrau. Here are Mike and Annabelle in front of the Eiger:

From there we drove back up to Interlaken and over to Kandersteg, which is where Mike had gone to Klondike with the Boy Scouts in January. He enjoyed showing us around the town, we had lunch at a little hotel on the main street, and Mike bought a Swiss Army knife that he's just dying to try out on something (he was disgruntled last night to find that his corkscrew wasn't needed to open our champagne bottle).

On our drive home, we were greeted by this scene just inside Germany:

It was a beautiful end to a beautiful vacation!

So there--I blogged Switzerland! I still have Berlin to go, but Switzerland is officially blogged.

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Thursday, March 18, 2004

If you liked Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, you might be interested in this. Hoffman has re-created the famous final scene in which he races to the church and snatches the bride from the altar. This time, however, he's daddy to the rescue and his car is in better condition. The dialogue:

BRIDE: Danke, Dad. (Thanks, Dad.)

HOFFMAN: Du bist wie deine Mutter. (You're just like your mother.)

You can watch the commercial by clicking here and then clicking on the "Play Video" Button. You can't watch the video by catching it on TV, unless your TV happens to be in Europe.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Well, I'm still not ready to blog Berlin, but I do have some items of interest from today. Annabelle made a cake this afternoon for Papa Taylor's birthday:

While she was putting the finishing touches on the cake, Mike came home from the Mitchells' house sporting a new hat:

We let Papa Taylor wear the hat while we sang "Happy Birthday" to him:

After the birthday celebration, Fred and I took the kids to Bellamar, an enormous Hallenbad in Schwetzingen. Fred and Mike were working with Mike's Boy Scout troop on some swimming requirements, so Annabelle went along just to play, and I went along to keep an eye on her. While she was busy swimming and sliding on the water slides, I worked on completing my latest knitting project, which she happily modelled for me once we got home:

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Tuesday, March 16, 2004

I now owe blog entries on our 3-day trip to Berlin over the weekend as well as the 1-day trip the kids and I made to Cologne with Don and Mary today. I'm going to start with the smaller job and hope that I have the energy to face the bigger one tomorrow.

We set out this morning on the 9:30 train to Cologne so that Don and Mary could attend a hardware show up there. The kids and I were merely along for the ride. We arrived in Cologne at 11:00 and took Don and Mary across the bridge on a local train to the Messe where the show was being held. The kids and I then walked back across the bridge and set out on our own adventures. Here's some art we saw hanging off the side of the bridge:

I was excited to be back where I had spent a wonderful month as a student back in 1987. I wanted to show Mike and Annabelle where I lived then, but unfortunately the name of EVERY street and EVERY subway stop sounded a little bit familiar and we didn't have the time to chase down a bunch of leads. So we left that for another trip and took off on the subway for the far end of the main shopping district.

When we came up out of the subway station, the first thing we saw was this:

Then we stopped by a toy store where the kids were thrilled to find Dogz. Basically this is a set of 24 little rubber dogs, each packaged in a small brown wrapper. You buy the wrapper for 99 cents and then open it to discover which dog you have received. Collect them all! We have looked in every toy store from here to Darmstadt to Heidelberg and never seen the first one. But today we walked into a toy store in Cologne and there they were! Here are Mike and Annabelle showing off their new dogs in front of the cathedral:

Kind of hard to see, eh? Here's a closeup:

After lunch at a Chinese buffet, we strolled through the shopping district back to the train station. From there we got on the subway again and headed off for the zoo.

I took a ton of pictures of the different animals, but this one is my favorite:

And here are Mike and Annabelle hanging out on a lion sculpture:

We met up with Don and Mary back at the train station at 5:00, had a slice of pizza, and then headed up to the platform to wait for our train:

There were no benches, so we improvised by perching on a low rail. For those of us with larger rear ends, this was no big deal, but Annabelle had some technical difficulties thanks to her tiny hiney:

We had an uneventful trip home and walked through the door almost exactly 12 hours after we had walked out this morning.

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Friday, March 12, 2004

Fred's parents arrived safe and sound yesterday morning. Mike and Annabelle are very excited to have their Mimmy and Papa Taylor to show around Germany. We're off to Berlin in the morning for 3 days, followed by a one-day trip to Cologne on Tuesday. I hope to be posting lots of new pictures on Wednesday!

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Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Wanna see something pretty? Here's a panorama of the scene from my bedroom balcony this morning:

Wanna see something that is NOT pretty? Check out the scene in my downstairs bathroom:

This bathroom is really nothing more than a place to keep Eddie's litterbox, but it's right off our front hallway, and I would like it if it looked a little nicer. Obviously, things like "knock out a couple walls and add a garden tub" are not viable options, but I think the room should at least have a little color to it.

So I've been thinking about adding a gathered fabric skirt around the sink and maybe a valance above the window as well. Since it's really the cat's bathroom, I want to do it in a cat motif. I even have a couple of cat prints I purchased in Paris that I'm planning on hanging up in there. The cat in this one reminds me of Eddie:

I also really like this rug but am willing to pass it up if it clashes with my chosen fabric. Speaking of which, here are the fabrics currently under consideration. We have (in alphabetical order):

Aloha Kitty This is the one I originally was thinking about. I already own 2 yards of it on a blue background that I plan on one day making into a dress for Annabelle.
Black Maneki Neko This is rather cool, as I happen to have a small collection of these Japanese lucky cats.
Cream Maneki Neko Same thing, only on cream.
Le Meowsee du Chat Very cool from a European, museum-going, artsy-fartsy perspective.
Meowsterpiece Artsy-fartsy again, plus I really like the cat heads on the Mona Lisa and the Scream.
Sushi Cats And last but not least, this one because of how much we love sushi.

But how to decide? That is where you, my loyal readers, come into play. Click here to vote for the fabric you like the best!

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Saturday, March 06, 2004

Are you ready for Red Nose Day 2004? I am, and just yesterday I didn't even know such a thing existed.

March 26 is the second annual Red Nose Day here in Germany. It's a charity event originally sponsored by Comic Relief in the United Kingdom that is dedicated to raising money for children in need.

Let me know if you want your own red nose, but hurry if you're hoping to get it in time for March 26th. The post can be dreadfully slow.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2004

When we were in the Odenwald with the Mitchells last weekend, Phil shot a little video of my feeble attempts at snowboarding. I maintain that nobody out there really wants to watch me flounder in the snow, but Rebecca insists that this is exactly the sort of thing that my readers hunger for. I must say though in my own defense that I am much better now than I was Sunday morning; I am, for example, now able to rise to a standing position on at least 75% of my tries. And in defense of Phil's camera, the raw footage was of much higher quality than the smaller file that I have posted here:

Bonnie snowboards.wmv

Still, it does give a very graphic image to go with the phrase "stink on ice" (or, in this case, on snow).

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Monday, March 01, 2004

I just remembered something I meant to include in my weekend blog report!

When we were in the restaurant at Sand on Saturday, Annabelle and I made a trip to the restroom together. There was a sign hanging over the toilet that said (in German) something like this:

Dear Guests--In the interest of the environment, our toilets are filled with unfiltered mountain water. Naturally, the water in the sinks is of drinking quality. We thank you for your understanding.

Is it just me, or is that a little odd? I don't think I've ever before been officially cautioned against drinking from the toilet.

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