Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Firsts

So many new Christmas experiences for us this year.  For starters we were not at home with our families, but thank God for technology as we were able to Skype with almost everyone or talk to them on the phone which certainly makes the 4,000 plus miles between us seem less.

Then the most exciting of all, Hannah's first Christmas!  She loved the wrapping almost more than the gifts, which was to be expected, but she really enjoys the few little toys that Santa brought her.

After singing about her every year - I finally got to be the "mama" kissing Santa Klaus underneath the Christmas tree.  We had a great time celebrating this holiday with our new family and are looking forward to creating new traditions and many great memories.

Grandma & Grandpa arrive on Saturday, which will be the greatest present of all.  Makes missing them over the holidays bearable.  We will be celebrating New Years Eve here in Frankfurt, which I am really anxious about because everyone lights off fireworks - so it should be very entertaining.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Snow & Tannenbaum!!!

Two weeks ago we were graced with the magical fluffy white stuff here in Frankfurt.  More snow than all last year it seemed fell in one weekend.  I was in heaven, yes, the first snows make me as excited as a school kid on a snow day.  Love it!  Since it is usually just grey and dreary here it made the climatic event very magical.  I even found a snowman in the park....

It was hard to tell if Hannah liked the snow - she was definitely intrigued as she is with so many things.  She watched the flakes falling, well when she wasn't sleeping!  Looking forward to when she can play in the snow.

Our first Tannenbaum - Christmas Tree - in Frankfurt.  OK, so it is hard to see because Travis was walking so fast carrying the tree home over his shoulder - oh the city life differences.  But that is him way in the foreground carrying home our not quite Charlie Brown tree.  We are getting really excited for Hannah's first Christmas and have broken our original plan to buy her only a gift or two, but of course, we are finding things she "really" needs :)

So the tree is up, the snow is gone and Christmas is days away.  The grocery stores are closed like normal on Sunday, only open till 12 noon or 2pm on Monday and closed on Christmas Day (as they should be) so the stock piling of food has begun.  With our refrigerator only a little bigger than a hotel mini fridge, I am hoping that it stays cold enough to use the balcony - Michigan style.  A little snow would be nice too, but not too much to affect Grandma & Grandpa's flight here.

Wishing everyone peace, health and happiness over the holidays and throughout the New Year!

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thanksgiving In London was almost a month ago, but better late than never.  On Thanksgiving we flew to London to meet up with our dear friend, Kate from back home who was visiting her sister.  We even managed to find a restaurant that served up a delicious American Thanksgiving dinner.  Being in London with a good friend was the best medicine for the holiday homesickness that accompanies the season.  

On Friday we saw as much as possible........

Buckingham Palace for the Changing of the Guard.  It fills up fast and we were there almost one hour early.  The ceremony really isn't that exciting, but knowing that you are seeing this ritual is what makes it so awesome.

Extravagance everywhere.  Everything from street lamps, to statues and fence posts were decorated with gold paint.   The money is literally visible.

Waiting patiently - in good company - for the changing of the guard.

It seemed like every fifteen minutes we were being warned about pick pockets and told to keep our belongings close.    "There are thieves among you!"  Seriously, those words were spoken, oh the English accent.

And the guards.

Feeding the squirrels of St. James Park.  If only her facial expression was more visible.    These little squirrels seriously walk up to anyone offering food and reach up to their hands and grab snacks.    Fun fact:  Rabies does not exist in the United Kingdom.  

Doing the tourist thing.  Good Times!

Hilarious to watch this little boy imitating the guard outside the Tower of London's Waterloo Tower that houses the crown jewels.

Tower Bridge - so beautiful in this light.  

Tower Bridge from inside one of the buildings of the Tower of London.  So much history, it was interesting and it makes me want to learn more.  

Tower Bridge reminds me of something from a Disney movie.

White Tower.  A great exhibit inside covering royal power and all the kings .  

Big Ben.

The London Eye bathed in blue lights.   Definitely buy tickets in advance online to save a few bucks and ensure you get a place.  Great views - London is so HUGE!

I know this picture is blurry, but I love how it shows motion and the complimentary colors are my favorite.

Big Ben and the houses of Parliament.  I wish we would of had more time to walk around this area.  
Yes, all of these pictures are from one day.  We were there on Saturday - saying good bye to Kate.  Then off to the British Museum, which is free - can you believe it.  We saw the Rosetta Stone there too - it didn't help me learn any more German though.  I thought it was interesting to see all of this ancient history in an amazing museum for free compared to paying 20£ to get into the Tower of London and then being hit up for donations at every turn including right after seeing the crown jewels...intriguing.  Either way I highly recommend both the British Museum and the Tower of London.

Also, definitely recommend getting an Oyster Card if you are going to use the underground or buses.  London is a huge city and it is so nice to be able to read everything - albeit a little overwhelming at times too.  I definitely want to go back some time as there was so much we didn't see.  Food poisoning plagued Travis and I was blessed with a sore throat, so from Saturday afternoon on we pretty much saw the inside of our hotel room.  Bummer!

I did however venture out with Hannah in the evening because, well, I was in London for gosh sakes!!!  Everyone had told me about Harrod's so I thought I'd at least go check it out.  Bad idea!!!  I don't know if it's a big shopping weekend or what, but the maze of a store was packed to the point of almost not being able to move so I high tailed it out of there once I figured out how to get out.

As I made my way to the subway the sidewalks became a sea of human bodies and then surprise, they stopped letting people into the station because the tubes were so over crowded.  Unbelievable, the collective energy was not feeling so great at that point and I didn't want to be trampled so I walked to the next stop.  Yes, I eaves dropped and followed some other folks.  Once to the next stop it didn't take long to realize the same thing was going on.  Craziness.  So I decided my only choice was to figure out the buses, which was easy enough, but regardless it took forever with traffic.  Finally I made it back to the hotel!

Sunday at the airport, flight delayed, wandering around I found a Boots Pharmacy and decided to pick up some drugs...why....because I don't have to translate them : )

A great time and it was so awesome to be with my friend Kate - love her, great memories and hopefully we can do it again!      

Sunday, December 9, 2012

St. Nicholas Visits!!!

Filled with joyous surprise and childish excitement......that was me when I opened our door Thursday morning (December 6 - St. Nicholas day here in Germany) to find a little red Christmas gift bag on our stoop.  As there were no boots left outside the door, it appeared that St. Nic improvised and left us chocolate Santas, clementines and nuts.

I'm guessing that our secret St. Nicholas was my sweet neighbor or her boyfriend.  It seems that jolly old St. Nic visited her as well and propped some pine bows against her door so the mystery continues.  Honestly, I like not knowing - feels magical that way.  I love surprises!  However, I must know and will certainly be asking my neighbor today.

Such a sweet and thoughtful gesture and the timing could not be more perfect as the holidays season is here and I am feeling that homesick ache for family, friends, familiarity, tradition and good old camaraderie.  It is moments like this that have a settling effect that dull the angst and struggles of living abroad and make life more comfortable.  The basic human need for connection is fulfilled and life continues on in anticipation for the next visitors...Mom & Dad!!!  There are not words for my barely contained excitement for their visit which will be a perfect night cap to this holiday season.

Finally, my next moment of pure joy (as it happens every year) SNOW!!!  Yes, I still find my self jumping up and down a bit with a permanent grin as the fluffy white stuff floats down from the heavens.  This year looks promising for Frankfurt getting snow quite contrary to the depressing doldrums inducing chilly grey days of last year.  If it is going to be cold at least let there be some beautiful snow!

Thank you St. Nicholas!

Have you had any St. Nicholas experiences???  I'd love to hear them.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Learning Curve

Look closely...yes there are SIX packages of salt there!  We've accumulated quite the collection in a little over a year.  Our searches  for the desired or called for crystal size have resulted in quite the collection and they are mostly sea salt - still looking for actual Kosher salt.  I found myself giggling when I realized how much we had the other day and I had to take a picture.

So if you are out looking for salt.....

Körniges Küchensalz = Table Salt
Meersalz = Sea Salt
Kräutersalz = Salt with dried herbs

mit Jod = with iodine

And then there are the mountain salts, some of which is harvested in the Alps and widely available.  One of the common brands is Bad Reichenhall from near Salzberg - if you translate it literally it means Salt Mountain.

We've also experimented with several types of flour as there is no standard "All Purpose" type flour.  The spice drawer is also full of interesting options and duplicates that vary in granule size or were bought because I thought it was something completely different.  One of the many joyous challenges of living the expat life.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Heidelberg with Nana

What can I say there is always a castle!  Heidelberg is a beautiful city with a huge well preserved castle, plus it is only an hour from Frankfurt on the ICE train and since I don't have a car this made a great day trip for us girls during Nana's visit.
Nana & Hannah on the train
Our day started out by missing that speedy train to Heidelberg, but we simply went to the DB desk in the main train station and switched to the next train which was painless compared to what I anticipated.  After all that running trying to catch the train and the stress and worry of missing it - watching it pull away - we opted to pass our time waiting for the next train enjoying chocolate croissants.  

Once to Heidelberg, we grabbed a map at the tourist center just outside the train station, got our barrings and headed off to the old city center (Altstadt).  We decided to go straight away to the castle as it was the one thing we definitely planned on doing and didn't know how long it would take.  Making the trek up the hill was damp, but between the sweat and the drizzle my chocolate croissant was washed away.  There is a train up to the top - fare included in your entrance ticket to the castle - but my lack of planning (noticing a theme yet) or free spirit neglected to find out where the train stopped.  We did take it down!

The castle is great, bigger than I imagined and full of history.  We splurged on the audio tour, which was insightful and interesting.  During our castle exploring we stopped for lunch in the cafe for little sandwiches.   Hannah was a trooper in the pack for the most part.  In all the tour took a couple hours, rushing through the rainy mist, stopping for lunch and checking out the Apotheke (apothecary) museum exhibit.

All I really have our castle pictures of this adventure.  Enjoy!  I should mention that I've been playing with the Lightroom photo editing software so my lack luster photos from Heidelberg have been edited and it was fun!

Castle Terrace 

View from terrace overlooking the city

Overlooking the Neckar River

Castle gardens

Castle Powder  (ammunition) Tower