Sunday, October 28, 2012

Catch-up Part Two - Germany with the Fam

 In mid-October we took a trip to Germany. Geoffrey has been to Germany several times. The rest of us - not so much. This month found Geoffrey again traveling to Germany for his Occupational Medicine boards and then again a week later for a water survival refresher training course. So he took the week in between off and planned for us to come and join him.
     To do so, the kids and I had to travel Space A ( the 'A' stand for available for you civilians) by ourselves. Something I've never done before. But after getting the right paperwork and advice from more experienced Space A'ers, we made the attempt. And got on the flight the first try with no problems. We even had seats together! Whew!
      Geoffrey was there to meet us with a rented 8 passenger van and our good friend/relative Frank Kleiner.  Frank and Crystal are pictured above. That shot was actually the last night we were in Germany but it's the only picture I have with both of them.  They are family although not by blood or marriage either at this point. But family all the same. My older brother married Sonya Kleiner, a lovely girl from Germany. Frank and Crystal are her parents. And although my brother is no longer married to Sonya, she is still very close to our family. Every time Geoffrey has been through Germany they have taken good care of him and been very kind. They were especially so this time and the trip wouldn't have been nearly as wonderful as it was without them.
      In my last trip I made a few comments about being an American. Here's another thing about the good ole' US of A - there is a stunning lack of castles! Not so with Deutschland. On the way from Ramstein to Idar-Oberstein Frank took us to our first castle. They kids were all enthralled. We were barely out of the van before they all decided that our next assignment should be in Germany. Here are a few fun shots of that castle.
         We got to Idar-Oberstein just in time to have Crystal's fabulous soup and bread in their tiny little apartment. She is the cutest lady and the best cook ever! The whole visit Frank kept encouraging her to speak to us in English but she doesn't like to. So although she understands most of what we say, we had to guess a lot when she spoke. Rory thought she was a grandma and gave her lots of grandma hugs, which she loved as most of her grandkids are far away in Utah.
        Sunday we went to church in their branch. It was all in German of course but afterward we did find two different families from Chile, both of whom wanted to speak to me in Spanish and talk about my parents' mission time in Chile. My Spanish is not great but its better than my German so we managed. They were having a testimony bearing meeting that day and Carson got up to speak, which surprised us all. Frank got up next to him to translate, which surprised Carson. So between the two of them, Carson bore a simple but sweet testimony of his faith. I was impressed that he would have that much courage. He said to me afterward, "I just kept thinking that I would never get a chance like this again."
        After church we visited the gem cutting museum. Idar-Oberstein is known for gem-cutting through-out the world so a lot of the tourist sites center around its gem cutting history. The museum had some amazing pieces. Huge Geodes along with quartz replicas of all the famous diamonds in the world.  We began to get a feel for how gem cutting had shaped this area. Later, we would visit the mines and a gem-cutter.
Here is the before shot of the stone he cut for us.
This is all of us watching him cut the stone.

Here is the after shot. Its super shiny and beautiful and guess who got to keep it?  ME!!!!

This is his masterpiece. It took 5 years to cut and has hundreds of facets on it.

This thing is gorgeous!

Frank took us to visit Crystal's cousin - Ralph Ditmar. Crystal family is from that area and are gem cutters from way back. Her cousin still cuts gems for a living out of his home. So we got to watch him take a clear quartz from a rough hewn cut with a basic shape to a super shiny, gorgeous three-sided pyramid - called a mirror cut. He gave it to me when he was done. I'm going to have it set into a necklace.
      I'm getting out of order here but that's okay. Monday we went to another castle! Burg Eltz, which is still a residence for Count Eltz and his very lucky family.  Part of the castle is open to tours and houses all the old furniture and treasures from the middle ages. We took the tour while Frank waited for us outside on a bench. One funny thing about Frank - he was always disappearing and then just as we would say, "Where's Frank?" he would turn up. So the kids started calling him Ninja Frank. He protested that he didn't have a svelte enough figure to be a ninja but they insisted. So Ninja Frank it was - the rest of the visit.
Here's the castle. We had a lovely hike down to the castle and back up. The kids didn't think the back up part was so lovely.

How would you like to live there?
    We also went to Trier, twice actually as the first time we got there to late to tour the cathedrals. Near Trier we drove through the Mosul River Valley, the same valley of which a certain J. Caesar said, "Veni, Vedi, Vici."  HOW COOL IS THAT?????
I know I'm not looking too happy in the shot. I think I was trying to get Rory to stand still.
            This is us in front of the Black Gate, which sounds like something out of Lord of the Rings but was actually made by  - THE ROMANS. Again, very high coolness factor.  Trier was great. The churches were a little more adult interesting than kid interesting but our crew made the best of it. Several times they sat in the pews and played quiet games of 'I Spy' while waiting for the grown-ups to be finished.
             On the way home we stopped in a lovely little town called Bernkastel-Kues and dropped in on the Kempers - some friends of Frank's that had put Geoffrey up for the night while he was in Frankfurt taking his boards. They were in town visiting their grandma in her 100 year old house and happily invited us in for juice and cake and then took us on a walking tour of this charming town.

       Doesn't that just make you want to eat a strudel or something?  Speaking of which, we did eat strudel and schnitzel (Crystal made it for us - YUM) and spiessbraten - the local speciality.  I had eaten Sonya's version of the grilled meat before and it was good. But the real thing was so much better. The meat was so flavorful that I didn't care that it was blood red inside and if you know me at all, you know that is saying something.  Geoffrey and I went out once by ourselves and got some and then on our last night we took the whole family out to partake.
Marinated in onions, salt and pepper - cooked over an open fire on a rotating grill = magic in your mouth.
       Well, those are the highlights of our trip. We left Geoffrey there to do his water survival training and go on to Ohio for the next week.  The kids and I waited for and made it on the rotator home. I won't lie- there were times that I questioned my sanity bringing five children with me (much like the man sharing an airline seat row on our way home). But all in all, we had a fantastic time. Frank was so patient with my kiddos and so wonderful in his tour guiding. And Crystal was so sweet to cook for our big bunch. And Germany is just so indescribably beautiful. I'm glad we went.

Blog Catch-up - Izmir Trip

       Sorry for the long absence. A deadly combination of internet access problems, two trips, and the delivery of our household goods shipment with ensuing chaos has kept me from posting. So . . some catching up is in order.
       In September Geoffrey and I flew to Izmir, a popular tourist city on the eastern Mediteranean coast. We had a date to meet up with the Tangs - our Aussie friends from San Antonio - who would be passing through on a cruise. We would have one day to spend with them and two days to spend just the two of us.
This was my favorite painting. Its St. Augustine watching a child play at the beach. The story had something to do with understanding the Trinity. I just liked the paining.
       Our hotel was in downtown Izmir and we spent our first day walking around the city and along a pretty boardwalk. We found the small military installation there and took a tour. We also found the old cathedral that the Air Force has rented from the Catholic Diocese for more than 50 years. The church is hidden behind a steel fence topped with barbed wire and you have to be buzzed in and show a military ID to a guard to get in. But its a beautiful church with huge fresco paintings on the high vaulted walls.
      We also rented a car that first evening so we would have it for our adventures the following day with the Tangs. Having been told where to purchase a toll card and gas, we set out during rush hour to procure both. And got lost. Very very lost. We had maps and my husband's fantastic sense of direction and my mediocre navigating skills.  But the Turkish signage never tells you what street you are on or what streets the exits are leading to. Instead, the signs tell you only what area of town that exit leads to. The maps, however, label only the streets.  So it took us almost two hours to accomplish what should have taken 25 minutes.
      The next day we managed to get out of town and drive the hour and a half to the port town of Kusadasi where the cruise ships dock. We were only able to find a small rental car, a sedan that had room for 4 comfortably. Our plan was to find another car to rent in Kusadasi to accommodate the Tangs and their friends the Woolleys. But no rental cars were to be had, so we all piled in, circus clown style and drove to Ephesus.
      Ephesus reminded me of Machu Picchu. You can see pictures of it and think you have a grasp on what its like. But a visit there gives you a totally different experience.  Ephesus was amazing! To walk on stones and touch pillars that were there when Christ walked the earth. To see the amphitheatre where Paul preached. To see the buildings and sculptures this culture created without the use of modern machinery or building techniques. It's astounding. I highly recommend it.
       I always feel so distinctly American when I visit places like this. We have so many positive wonderful aspects in the US. We are so unique. Despite our imperfections, we are the most benevolent super-power history has ever seen. But in the greater scope of history we are SO dang young. And so as an American I feel a bit like a kindergartner being allowed to walk across a college campus. I think I'm pretty great because I've managed to learn my letters and colors and I hardly ever eat the glue sticks or run with scissors. But who knows how I will do in the next five or ten centuries?
Chantelle is the middle and her lovely friend Norelle is on the left.
We shelled out the extra Euro to go into the terraced houses exhibit. Fascinating stuff and cool to see the excavators at work. Once we were finished touring the ruins we visited the museum which housed many of the statues and artifacts found in the ruins. We also found a little place to have some lunch. Honestly the food was not great and I wished we could've found a better representation of Turkish food for our friends.
All you Texans - notice the Buckee's shirt that Mark is sporting?
     Once we got back to Kusadasi, we walked out a long jetty of sorts to a random ancient building turned park at the end where a nice kid who worked on the cruise boats shot a couple of pictures for us. Then we had to say goodbye. It was so great to see friends from home and make some new ones as well. We tried unsuccessfully to convince them to sneak us into their suitcases and then drove back to Izmir.
      And almost died. Repeatedly.  That little street map problem I mentioned earlier? Well, we missed our exit and it reared its hideous head again. Honestly, I have never been so terrified in a car. Ever. At one point we were caught between two semis both merging into our lane. I actually covered my ears. When the crisis was over and we were miraculously not dead, Geoffrey asked me why I covered my ears. (He knows I do this during scary movies so I won't hear the scary music.) I told him it was so I wouldn't have to hear myself screaming while we got squooshed and died.   Somehow we finally got back to the right section of town and were only a half hour late returning the rental car. We walked back to our hotel and I was never so happy to be walking in my whole life. I like the Turkish people. Until they get into a car.
     Our last day was a commercial tour we had booked through the base travel agency along with our plane tickets. We shared the tour with a charming retired military couple from Idaho and an interesting Russian Swiss man who had very distinct political views. He and the tour guide had several heated discussion on our drive out to Pergamon.  We saw some more ruins that day including the steepest amphitheatre in the world. They were not as impressive as Ephesus but our guide was knowledgeable and the day was beautiful. The highlight for Geoffrey was seeing the ruins of the Asclepium, hospital complex where patients could bathe in healing waters, take naps and then have their dreams interpreted, or listen to soothing musical concerts. Hmmm. . . sounds more like an expensive spa than a hospital. The famous physician Galen - whom Geoffrey knew all about - worked at this hospital for many years.
Here's Geoffrey with a statue of Galen. 
       After a long day of touring we were dropped off at the airport. We were the last ones to be dropped off and Geoffrey spent the last leg of the drive discussing language dialect and pronunciation with our guide. He had been taught English by both an American and a Brit and wanted to know which country's English he more resembled phonetically. We couldn't say but Geoffrey rounded out his education by teaching him some Southern redneck expressions and word corruptions. (Think ya'll and fixin tah ' and the like.) He caught on to these very well. God forgive us!
       So that was Izmir. A great trip that both Geoff and I needed. Stay tuned for an account of the family trek to Germany.