Sunday, July 28, 2013

Food of the Gods - Chocolate and Cheese - Switzerland Day Two

Did you know that the Swiss eat more chocolate per person than any other nationality? Yep, it's true. And our mission on day two of our visit was to find out why. With the help of a friendly train station attendant we purchased tickets to get us to the Cailler Chocolate Factory and for the tour inside. Since we had checked out of temple housing that morning, our travel was encumbered by our large backpacks but we managed. In about an hour and three trains later we arrived here:
Well, not really. But this is a pictoral representation of the factory's strategic location in the mountains of Switzerland. The tour was impressive and unexpected. I anticipated following a tour guide who droned on about the secret processes of chocolate making. What I got was more like the Pirates of the Caribbean Ride at Disneyland minus the moving boat. We walked through lavishly constructed rooms through which the history of the cocoa bean played out in audio and visual. The Aztecs used it as a pre-war energy drink, the royalty and aristocracy of Europe used it as an aphrodisiac, and finally a few geniuses combined it with cocoa butter and cream from Swiss cows and made the confections we love today.
 Once we were through the smoke and mirrors portion of the tour we did get to see the more mundane nuts and bolts of the thing. Big sacks of cocoa beans and a whole room of running machines churning out small chocolate bars were explained by placards along the walls and windows.
But this - this was the cherry on top.  The tasting room. I'm not sure what heaven will be like, but I do know they need one of these. 
 That lovely man in the middle just kept refilling the glass trays.  The only rule was that you couldn't take any chocolate out of the room. But you could taste all the varieties as much as you liked.
 They were all so divine. And brilliant as a marketing strategy because we exited this room into the retail store where we all immediately purchased our favorite morsels from the tasting room. Yes, this was definitely a highlight of the trip. If I lived here I think I could do my part in keeping up the nation's chocolate consumption figures.
    After purchasing enough chocolate to gorge ourselves on and still have enough to share with kids and friends when we got back to Turkey, we got back on the train and headed to our next destination - Gruyere.

 Getting there was a long story involving a missed train stop and a "one minute walk" that turned out to be forty uphill minutes all while carrying our big backpacks. But we did make it. First to the chateau and quaint village on the high hill and then to the cheese factory itself.
 Look at all that cheese! Once again we did the tour, which this time was a less flashy audio guide walk through. Geoffrey purchased a wedge of two different kinds and some bread which we snacked on while we waited for trains to take us to Lake Lucerne.  That forty minute hike was probably fortuitous considering all the delicious calories we consumed in this one perfectly glorious day!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Bern - the city of the bear

So I'm finally getting to blog about our trip to Switzerland.  I'm a bit late as we've been back over a week now but you know how life gets super busy. The morning after Geoff finished (and passed, yay!) his ATLS course, we got up early and took a taxi to the train station in Landstuhl.

Our train riding experience is limited aside from the Frontrunner in Salt Lake so it was a bit of a learning curve. Example: the very first train we got on was the wrong one.  It was going to the right city but would making more stops along the way. So had we stayed on that train we would have arrived at Manheim too late to catch our high speed inter city train to Bern.

Luckily, Geoffrey figured out our mistake fairly quickly and we were able to change trains at the first stop. Our second train ride took us into Switzerland in about four hours and with one more small change at the Bern train station we arrived in Zollikofen, the suburb of Bern where the LDS temple is. Our Google maps walking directions from the station to the temple turned out to be WRONG but we didn't get too far off course before Geoffrey saw the angel Moroni on the spire of the temple.
 We checked in to the temple housing - which turned out to be very affordable but very basic accomodations. The clerk asked me if we needed a two bedroom. I responded that one bedroom would be fine. Then I realized what he said was a two. bed. room.  And that pretty much summed up the furniture of our very narrow room.

We had just enough time to change and make it to the 3pm session, the last session of the day.  This session happened to be in Italian, so we got to wear headphones for English translation.  Mine were stubborn and only spoke to me in French no matter how much I turned the language dial so a kind French speaking sister traded with me.  It felt so nice to be back in the temple. We feel blessed to have a little branch to worship with each Sunday there in Incirlik but we've missed being able to attend the temple. Sitting in the (very small) beautiful celestial room was so peaceful and I felt some of the worries and anxieties that I've been carrying around this summer finally lift off my shoulders.

After the session, we still had plenty of daylight so we took the train back to Bern and walked around the old town. We visited the high rose garden park with its amazing flower beds, then walked down the steep valley side to the river which winds through the city.

The name Bern means bear and the city keeps real brown bears on display. Until a few years ago they were kept in a small pit that I'm sure angered the PETA people to no end. But the bears now exist happily in a large riverbank habitat which even connects to the old bear pit in case they ever get nostalgic for the old pit.
We ate a hearty but expensive dinner at the bear pit restaurant and then walked around the charming old town.
Every building had window boxes filled with red geraniums. Every window. Every building.  At first we thought maybe they were fake. I mean, what kind of city maintains mass floral compliance? This city, apparently. We started seeing the red petals on the ground under the windows and realized all the flowers were real.
The old town had several fountains depicting various people and scenes. The above fountain is my favorite. I wish you could see it better. Its called the Ogre fountain and its a giant. Eating children. Around the bottom tier march a row of Bern bears, guarding the ogre and his pediatric feast.
We wandered until it got dark and on our way back to the train station we saw this. In a city of famous (and infamous) fountains, this water works topped them all.  The metal structure spanned the whole street. Every ten seconds or so droplets of water would fall from the cross beam.  They were lit from above and released in such a way that they spelled out words as they fell. Words from all languages. It was beyond cool.

With a bit more familiarity, we managed the train back to Zollifen just fine. We did get a scolding from the temple housing night guard for being an hour past curfew (we plead ingnorance) but all in all it was a fantastic day.

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Big Bear Hug!!

 My poor long-suffering middle child finally has a quilt to call his own. This quilt has been in the works since before Christmas but has been put off for baby quilts and a teacher quilt. And if I'm honest, because I just didn't enjoy working on it. Carson picked some wildlife panels that were so not my style and that I had no idea what to do with. And it didn't help that several of them were printed off square. So it was slow going.
 I finally decided to cut some of the panels apart and made some stars with fussy cut centers. These are my two favorite. The other two were a rock and a tree. Not as exciting.

 This is the center panel.  Now that it's done I'm not loving the grid quilting. Like his older brother, Carson requested minimal quilting but I felt like I couldn't leave that big space entirely unquilted. Oh well. It's fine.

The only sort of pattern I used for this whole quilt was Scout by Cluck Cluck Sew for the borders.  And even that I changed to make the feather portions thicker.  I did some bricks around the center panel. And because I am not a quilting math genius none of the corners pieces, neither the stars nor the wolf/elk panels, match up exactly with their respective borders. You can see that pretty well in the above picture. It frustrated me to no end while I was working on it but now that it's done it doesn't bother me as much.
The back was a lovely soft flannel plaid that Carson had picked. This is the first time I have backed a quilt with flannel. I had a few small problems with puckering but I love how soft and cuddly it is. I wish it had turned out a bit longer. Its plenty wide enough for his bed but he is a tall boy and going to get taller so it should have been longer.  Eventually I'll make him another one. But this time I think I will avoid panels and follow a pattern!

I named it Bear Hug. Carson is the middle child but he is the biggest. He outweighed all his siblings by 2 pounds at birth. And he has passed everyone but his dad in height at age 13.  He has a great smile and sense of humor and reminds me of a big teddy bear. And he does give pretty great hugs.

I finished this quilt while he was away at scout camp. And Geoff and I left for our Switzerland trip the day before he got home. So I laid it out on his bed for him to find. He was pretty excited.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Germany Rhine River Cruise

We didn't have much free time in Germany. Our purpose for being there was so that Geoffrey could take an ATLS (Advanced Trauma Life Support) re-cert course.  He has to do this every 5 years and its a pretty intense class. BTW - don't browse through the ATLS manual unless you are prepared to see photos of steak knives protruding from chests and guts spilling out of stomachs. Bottom line is that Geoffrey spent a lot of the first two days studying for the class and the second two days at the class.

But we did take Saturday afternoon for some sight seeing. We rented a car at Ramstein and drove up to Bingen where we caught a river cruise boat.
The weather was gorgeous. Warm in the sunshine with a cool breeze. We sat on the top deck and watched the castles go by on either side. Lots of them.

Ready for a pictorial run down?

 Okay technically this one (above) isn't a castle. Its the ruins of a church. But its gorgeous!

Did you keep count? Me neither. And that didn't even include all the other cool churches and hotels and such along the river.  Having toured and climbed around a fair number of castles both here in Germany and Turkey, I have to say that I really enjoyed just sitting in a deck chair and watching them glide by.  Seeing so many in such a short time was awesome.

Apparently in the Middle Ages (Do you always have to capitalize that? And am I the only one who visualizes Monty Python Knights with coconut halves in their hands?) the owner of each of these castles would stretch a large chain across the river and collect tolls from anyone who wanted to pass by. So while its a great stretch of river for the tourists of today, it was a rather pricey stretch of river for anyone in the Middle Ages.

We ended our cruise at a town called St. Goar.  As we disembarked we walked past huge crowds of the retiree set, all waiting to take evening cruises. Rhine in Flame was that night and there would be fireworks from river barges and from the castles.  We walked along the lovely water front for a while and even got our toes wet a bit. See?
It was chilly refreshing. After a bit we took the train back to Bingen and drove back to the base so Geoffrey could get some more study time in.  We kept the car overnight and in the morning drove to Idar-Oberstein to attend church with Frank and Crystal, our dear friends. Once again we surprised them with our visit and they were still kind enough to have us over for Sunday dinner. Geoffrey studied, Krystal cooked and Frank and I walked around their beautiful hill top neighborhood. The whole weekend was slow and relaxing which was just what I needed.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

View from the Cockpit

This is what Venice looks like from the cockpit of a C-130.
This is what I look like in the cockpit of a C-130.
"Uh, roger that."

So what exactly is going on here? Well, last week (ish) Geoff and I flew space A up to Germany. We took a C-130 that had some open seats. Geoff was hoping to fly as crew and get the flight hours (he is a flight surgeon and has mandatory crew flight hours each month). But due to a paperwork issue that didn't work out.  But he was able to get us up in the cockpit where we could hang out with the pilots and get a view that most people never see.

C-130s are loud. You have to wear earplugs the whole time except when you are wearing headphones. The interior can be hot while on the ground and cold at altitude. And the bathroom - well, there is one. Enough said.

On the other hand, you can get up and walk around without having to crawl over anyone.  You can lay down on the seats or on the floor if you bring your own sleeping pad.  You don't have to worry about your luggage getting lost as it is strapped down to the floor right in front of you.  And boarding and de-boarding takes about 2 minutes. All in all, its a pretty great ride.

One last photo -
This is a flag being flown on the dash of a C-130.  (Kind of a cool shot, dontcha think?)  Did you know that flags are flown in planes as well as on flagpoles? This flag was for one of the pilot's families. My kids each have a flag that was flown in a F-16 over Iraq and the paperwork to prove it.