World Cup and Mathias’ Arrival – July 2014

Mathias arrived just in time for all the World Cup craziness here in Europe.  Besides watching a whole lot of soccer (for the first few rounds we were following the US, the Netherlands, and Germany) we spent the two weeks leading up to our “Big Driving Trip” (as I’ve been calling it):

  • Showing Mathias around town – including a little shopping
  • Taking a guided tour of Osna  (see below)
  • Visiting the Felix Nussbaum Museum and the Kulturgeschichtliches Museum (see below)
  • Visiting neighboring towns (Bad Iburg and Ankum in Germany, Enschede in the Netherlands)
  • Checking out farmers markets
  • Bike riding
  • Going to my German lessons
  • Grilling out (even in the rain!)
  • Dominik’s 30th birthday party
  • … and lots of trip planning!

I was so glad we finally did an official tour of Osna; I can’t believe we’d lived here a year and a half and hadn’t done one yet! This one was an English tour during the day and is called “My Osnabrück”.. so each time you do the English tour it would be different depending on which guide you get because they pick the itinerary based on what they like best or are interested in about Osnabrück.  On the tour we got to go in the Town Hall for the first time to see the room where the Peace of Westphalia was negotiated and agreed to (it was signed in Muenster but they shook hands on it here, which is what counted back in the day). Upstairs there is a large model which shows Osnabruck in 1633, when there was a large wall surrounding the entire city. As we walked around town, we learned a lot about half-timbered houses and vault houses from the middle ages in addition to other historical facts about our German home town.

One day while Morgan was at work, Mathias and I checked out the Felix Nussbaum Haus. The museum was designed by New York architect Daniel Libeskind who was the master plan architect for One World Trade Center.  Felix Nussbaum was a German-Jewish painter who was born in Osnabrück in 1904 and developed his talents in Hamburg, Berlin, and Rome at the Berlin Academy of Arts until the Nazis took control of Germany. He lived in Belgium in exile with his wife until he was arrested in 1940. While being transported back to Germany he was able to escape and meet back up with his wife. They lived in hiding for 4 years until German armed forces found them living in an attic. They arrived at Auschwitz on August 2nd and a week later he was murdered at the age of 39.  You could really see the difference between the pictures from the time period up until he had to leave Rome, the work he did while in exile in Belgium, and his final works he did while hiding out.  Surrealism isn’t my cup of tea to begin with and then on top of it his dark, foreboding style and topics (reflective of the times) are not something I could look at every day (ie. The Storm or The Damned). Here is a link where you can see many of his works:

One ticket gets you into the Kulturgeschichtliches Museum in addition to the Felix Nussbaum Haus so we walked through there as well. They focus on art and cultural history related to Osnabrück/Germany. They have an extensive Albrecht Dürer collection, a collection of Roman and Greek coins, several painting collections from Osnabrück natives, etc.

I think the rest of our activities are best explained through pictures!

May/June Trip Home

We had a great time being back home in late May/early June!  We went to a Charlotte Knights baseball game with the Dawsons, attended Mathias’ high school graduation, celebrated at Maks’ 4th birthday party, went to the lake (several times), checked out Kelly and Austin’s new apartment, and I went to Charleston with my mom and Kelly to see her wedding dress and do a little shopping. Living so far away really makes us appreciate our time at home with our friends and family! 🙂

Papenburg – Landesgartenschau and Meyer Werft – May 17th

We went with Stabe’s (Jodi and Ben) to Papenburg for the 2014 Niedersachsen Landesgartenschau and to tour the Meyer Werft. The Landesgartenschau is a big gardening exposition that occurs every 4 years, each time in a different city in the state. They have all kinds of new products related to gardening, playground equipment, interesting ideas for how to plant stuff and new materials to use… pretty much anything you can think of related to your yard they have it. Someday when we have a house I think Morgan is going to require a badebottich. A badebottich is a Scandinavian version of a hot tub- it is headed by a wood fired stove. Though it seems lo-tech they are pretty pricy; one with a diameter of 180 cm (enough space for 6 people) costs about €2,300.

Separate from the main garden exhibition area there was a second area where the THW (Technisches Hilfswerk –or Federal Agency for Technical Relief) was set up to do demonstrations and answer questions.  The THW is a civil protection organization controlled by the government. Interestingly, 99% of its approx. 84K members are volunteers. Our friend Ben is a volunteer, so he was excited to show us around. They help with all kinds of disasters such as traffic accidents, industrial disasters, floods, fires, etc. and things like putting up the Christmas trees and other decorations for the holidays.

Next we walked around town a little before meeting the shuttle to go to the Meyer Werft. Who knew that the majority of the world’s largest cruise ships come from a small town in northern Germany that is not even near the coast? Meyer Werft has been located on the Ems since 1795- this canal connects Papenburg to the North Sea. They build everything from cruise ships and river cruise liners to research vessels and container ships. We couldn’t get over how big the Quantum of the Seas was (that is the ship they are building currently).  Because of the bends of the canal the ships are now the longest they can make them and they are pretty much as wide as they can get as well, since ships have to pass through several draw-bridges. Currently there only a few feet of clearance on either side of the ship when it passes through them!

After the tour we headed back to Jodi and Ben’s house in Ankum for dinner – yummy salmon on the grill. Rather than driving back to Osna late at night, we stayed at their place and went with them to a town festival on Sunday morning celebrating the 500th anniversary of St. Nikolaus (the Catholic church in Ankum).

Mai Woche 2014

Every year Morgan’s department at work picks a night to go to the Osnabrueck Maiwoche celebration together. Unfortunately this year’s day was a soggy mess, but we still had a great time! What is in that delicious red drink with strawberries (erdbeer) you see us drinking (well the girls at least)?  It is called a Maibowle (this one is the strawberry version) and here is how you can make one:

Erdbeer Maibowle (serves 6 – with plenty for seconds..)

  • ½ cup dried woodruff (known as Waldmeister over here)
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 1 cup cognac (though I think you can do without this if you want)
  • 4 quarts mosel wine or rhine wine (so typically a riesling, but I think any semi-sweet to sweet white would work)
  • Crushed ice
  • 2 quarts chilled champagne or 2 quarts club soda
  • 1 cup fresh strawberries, washed and hulled


  1. Place dried herbs in a small bowl; add boiling water. Let stand for 1 hour, strain. Place 3 tablespoons in punch bowl. Stir in sugar, cognac, and wine; add ice.
  2. Just before serving, pour in champagne or soda and float strawberries in the bowl (or add put a few on a stick!).
  3. Ours were red because they added strawberry syrup for good measure, but either way it is delicious!

Mosel River & Burg Eltz – May 4th

It’s now mid-November and I’m just now working on the last day of our trip back in May.. so here we go.

We left our hotel in Trier in the morning to head back towards Osnabrueck through the Rhine valley. On the way to Bernkastel-Kues, we saw Schloss Lieser that looked pretty amazing and seemed to be under renovation.  From what I can tell on their website ( they have a winery and they are turning the castle into a spa/hotel type set up.  Hopefully next time it will be completed and we can stay there, Morgan?

We parked right by the river and walked around the Bernkastel half (Kues is on the other side of the river) before heading up to Landshut castle. Well, it would be more accurate to say the ruins of the Landshut castle. It was built in 1277 but was destroyed by a fire in 1692 so there isn’t much to do other than see the courtyard and have a glass of wine – but the views from up there of the Mosel, vineyards, and town are pretty great. From town they have several paths that go right through the vineyards to the castle (which is what we did) but you can also take a shuttle if you don’t feel up for a hike up the mountain.

The city center looks so German – nearly all the buildings are the old half timbers and have been very well maintained. The town square looks just like a post card so we ate our breakfast on a bench there to enjoy the view. We loved all the tiny, crooked buildings including the Spitzhäuschen which was built in 1476. Because it is so picturesque (and right on the river) – it gets lots of tourists even though it is so small.  As you can see in some of the pictures by the time we walked back down in to town it was getting pretty crowded, so we headed north to Burg Eltz.

Burg Eltz was built in the 15th century and is still owned by the same family that has been living there since the 12th century. It is one of the only castles in Germany that has never been destroyed or damaged and re-built.  This is not because the castle is remote or hidden away, but because the Eltz family maintained wide-reaching political and social networks so that no matter which army was in the region, the Eltzes managed to use their influence to protect themselves. Because of this, the interior is still full of original furniture, tapestries, and other decorations. The bathroom situation here seems to be much better than in other castles we visited – they had 20 in all and the toilets were flushed by rainwater collected from the roof, through a sewage duct, and out to the valley below. Sounds a lot better than a chamber pot, don’t you think? What doesn’t sound good is the fact that they used hay and cabbage leaves as toilet paper. Sadly no pictures inside, so you’ll have to visit for yourself if you want to see it. 🙂

While waiting in line for lunch the ladies in front of us said that the interior here is better (as far as how many rooms you can see and how much of the original furnishings are left) than at Neuschwanstein castle; hopefully one day I can find out for myself!

Luxembourg City – May 3rd

Luxembourg City is a short drive from Trier (about 45 min), so I figured if we were that close we should go check it out. The Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has three official languages (Luxembourgish, French and German) so I thought we’d be able to get by knowing German.. but turns out most things were in French (menus, signs, etc). The city is quite hilly, with part of the city up on the hills/cliffs and part down in the Alzette and Pétrusse valleys- so we definitely go a workout walking up and down the steep streets for the day. The geography did make for some beautiful views though! We started out walking out on the Pont Adolphe (Adolphe Bridge) and then by the Place de la Constitution and the Gelle Fra (Monument of Remembrance).  I was pretty surprised by some of the street names – ie. Avenue John F. Kennedy and Boulevard Franklin Delano Roosevelt- which were mixed in with all the French names.

After a short (and expensive – purchase required to use bathroom and a bottle of water was $3!) detour to use a bathroom in town, we walked through Place Guillaume II (one of the main squares in town) where they had a farmers market on the way to the Cathédrale Notre-Dame. The organ gallery and stained glass windows were really beautiful here (are you sensing a theme here?.. I’m a sucker for stained glass windows!). When we left we walked along Le Chemin de la Corniche (also called “the most beautiful balcony in Europe”), a path that borders the old ramparts along the edge of the Alzette which overlooks the Grund in the valley down below. From here we were able to enter the Casemates – a huge network of under-ground defensive galleries (from the 17th century) that were part of the fortifications around the old castle. The Casemates not only provided shelter for thousands of soldiers, but also housed workshops, kitchens, bakeries, etc. I’m usually not claustrophobic, but I’ll admit some of the pathways and staircases were pretty narrow and dark.. I can’t imagine having to live in there for long periods of time if the town was being attacked! During the two world wars the Bock Casemates served as a shelter with the capacity to hold 35,000 people in the event of a bombardment .

We wandered around town a little bit before stopping by the Palais Grand Ducal, the official royal residence. It is right in town with a fairly narrow pedestrian street in front of it so it was just about impossible to get a picture of the entire thing at once. There was no big fence around it.. the only way you’d know it is something special are the armed guards out front! By this point we were getting pretty hungry so we had a panini and a salad at a café nearby. It was so nice to sit down and have some coffee while people watching from the second floor. This time when we headed out of town we headed down to the Grund (the part of town down in the Alzette valley). After walking along the river and taking in the views of the casements from below we sat outside and had a glass of a local beer. When we were leaving we cheated and took the elevator up instead of walking up the steep streets.. my legs were so tired by this point.

For dinner we settled on a tex-mex place called Chi-Chi’s that was right on the Place d’Armes – a very pretty (and Parisian) looking square in town. It might sound crazy to have Mexican for dinner while in Luxembourg but given that 1. The town is expensive in general – restaurant food included (especially the nicer, Luxembourgish and French restaurants) and 2. Mexican is just about impossible to find in Europe.. so we decided to go for it. It was so delicious and affordable- a great end to the day. There were so many stately and beautiful buildings in Luxembourg City. It reminded me of Paris, but cleaner and less crowded!

Trier – May 2nd

Trier is one of Germany’s oldest towns – it was founded in 16 BC as Augusta Treverorum, supposedly by the Emperor Augustus himself. So the “old” and “historical” sights in this town are on a whole other playing field than the historical buildings I’ve drug Morgan around to in other cities in Germany. Heidelberg to Trier isn’t too bad of a drive (less than 2 hours) and when we were on the road Morgan saw signs for Hockenheim (the other big race track in Germany) so we made a slight detour to try to go by the track. It actually ended up being a race weekend (not F1 though, Porsche Super Cup and DTM) so all the roads leading up to it were guarded so we couldn’t get close. Luckily the road the GPS put us on to get going the correct way to Trier took us pretty close to the grand stands so Morgan at least got to see that.

We started out the day walking through the Porta Nigra (the black gate), which is Germany’s oldest defensive structure (it was built in the 2nd century). We walked around Hauptmarkt to check out the market going on plus the interesting buildings and fountain. The 15th century Steipe (the white one with the very steep gabled roof) was used by the town councilors as a guesthouse and banqueting hall. The red one next to it in the picture below is the Baroque Rotes Haus which was built in 1683. The oldest pharmacy in Germany – Löwenapotheke- (dating from the 13th century) is also on the square, but was have some renovations done the weekend we were there so it was closed. At this point it started raining, again, so we ate lunch at Subway to kill some time.

When the rain stopped we went to the Dom St. Peter which is the oldest cathedral in Germany. The entire complex is pretty massive, in addition to the Cathedral there is a cloister and both are attached to the Liebfrauenkirche (the Church of our Lady – the Papal Basilica). The most precious relic of the Trier Cathedral is the Holy Robe (also called the Tunic of Christ). We got really lucky and our trip happened to coincide with a Heilig-Rock-Tage (Holy Robe Day) so we were actually able to go into the Holy Robe Chapel and see the glass shrine where the robe is kept, on normal days you can’t go up to this room. After a quick walk around the Cloister we walked next door to the Liebfrauenkirche. The shape of the basilica was pretty interesting it has an atypical cruciform floor plan as a round church. This along with the stained glass windows and high vaulted ceiling made it one of the more memorable churches we’ve visited so far.

Next we saw the Aula Palatine (the Palatinate hall – these days it is home to a Protestant church), which was built in 310 AD. It served as the throne hall of the Roman emperor or his representative. Granted it has been reduced to rubble a few times (when Germanic tribes sacked the city way back when and during WWII) and the inside has been remodeled/ changed, but the size of the building (it is one gigantic room inside!) and the look of the outside are true to the original. We walked around the side of the building to see the Kurfürstliches Palais. We didn’t get to see the inside (it is used as an administrative building so visits are only by appointment), but it is considered to be one of the most beautiful Rococo palaces in the world… so maybe next time! We walked along the Palasgarten out to the Kaiserthermen, which are the remains of the vast imperial baths that were once here. When they were built in the 4th century they were the third largest bathing complex in the Roman world.

From here we walked back towards the city center and stopped to have some coffee and waffles with cherry sauce and whipped cream (a popular German afternoon snack that is pretty amazing). After that, believe it or not, Morgan did some shopping. He bought a new dress shirt and tie from a men’s store he likes over here (H.E.) and two new pairs of dress shoes to wear with his suits that are more “European”. When we finished up our shopping we had a glass of wine at the little tent that was set up in the middle of the Hauptmarkt – by this point it was about 4:30 (on a Friday afternoon) so the stand was starting to fill up. Though we had seen a good may people drinking glasses of wine when we first got into town… at 11 in the morning (haha). Since it was still a bit early for dinner we sat down at an outdoor table for a restaurant right on the Hauptmarkt and tried a weinproben (a wine sampler) and had some bread. I loved getting to try so many yummy Rieslings and other sweet wines – since that is the main type of wine produced in this part of the country they are cheap and easy to come by. While we were sitting outside the sun actually started to come out which was a nice change from the rain and dreariness of previous day and a half.

After looking in a couple more shops we ate dinner at yummy German restaurant called Kartoffel Restaurant Kiste. I went with the bratwurst with mashed potatoes plate since it was supposedly a smaller portion while Morgan ordered off the spargle menu. Spargle season is a huge deal here so most restaurants have a special menu that features their beloved white asparagus with ever offering. Morgan went with schnitzel with boiled potatoes and spargle with hollandaise. It was probably the best spargle we’ve ever had! It was delicious.

When we finished up dinner we headed to our little hotel that was a little ways out in the country. There was a little mix up, (aka. they gave away our room since we got there at 8:30 pm, even though the booking confirmation said check in lasted until 10 pm. Per the desk lady, in Germany you are “just supposed to know” that if you are checking in after 6 you need to call earlier in the day to say you still want your room… “was auch immer” is what I say!) so the first night we were put in another gästehaus down the road – which we ended up like more than the original one we booked. We had a great time sitting down in the bar of the hotel and talking with one of the locals (Peter) who has his own little vineyard and his cute little dog who was with him.

Heidelberg – May Day

On May Day we headed south for the long weekend. We started out in Heidelberg, which was almost a 4 hour drive from Osna. Most of our (German) friends here thought we were crazy for driving so “far” on a four day weekend, but when you come from the States (rather than one of these relatively small European countries) I guess your perception of distance is a little different.  We started out our rainy day in Heidelberg in the Kornmakt where we got our first look at the Heidelberg Castle. We walked down Hauptstrasse, one of the main roads in the altstat, passing Marktplatz where they had a small festival going on for the holiday. We saw the outside of Haus zum Ritter (built in 1592), which is the oldest houses in Heidelberg since it was one of the only to survive the Wars of Succession – thanks to its stone façade. Next we checked out the Heiliggeistkirche – built in 1400 – making it the oldest church in town.

When we left the church the rain had stopped so we headed towards the Neckar River to see the Heidelberg Monkey and the Brückentor (Bridge Gate). As we were walking across the Alte Brücke, looking back we had a beautiful view of the altstat and the castle up on the hill. We kept on walking across to the other side and then took the Schlangenweg (a very steep path with a ton of steps to get up to where the walk starts) up to the Philosophenweg; the walkway on the northern side of the Neckar up on the Heiligenberg (Saints’ Mountain). The beautiful views of the city from up here are said to have inspired the famous German poets Joseph von Eichendorff and Friedrich Hölderlin in their writings. Though we weren’t inspired to write any poetry, the view was pretty impressive despite the rainy weather!

By the time got back down the mountain and across the river we had worked up an appetite so we stopped in at Brauhaus Vetter for a Maibock (a special beer brewed in the spring- it was delicious!), a brezel, and a bread and cheese plate. We headed to the Jesuitenkirche, which turned out to be even more beautiful than the Heiliggeistkirche. I loved the all-white inside with the colorful alter and hints of gold and silver all around.. plus all the beautiful chandeliers! The between the Jesuitenkirche and the Alte Universität was full of colorful buildings with cute shutters – a nice change from up where we live.

We saw the Studentenkarzer; which was the University jail up until the 1914. While Karzer arrest originally would have been a severe punishment, the respect for this punishment diminished with time, particularly in the 19th century, as it became a matter of honor to have been incarcerated at least once during one’s time at university. Students could be “locked up” for 3 days to 4 weeks for Town vs. Gown offenses, such as disturbing the peace, womanizing, unruly drunkenness, and setting the townspeople’s pigs free. – Though you didn’t get out of going to class, there was a passage from the jail to the University! After a quick walk by the oldest of the University buildings and the Universitätsbibliothek we ducked in a coffee shop since at this point it was raining pretty hard. When the downpour slowed down a little we walked around town some more looking in shops and a few smaller churches to get out of the rain. When it stopped we walked back down to the river and walked along it all the way down to the lock bridge, across the river and along the far bank, admiring the pretty houses.

When we crossed back over the Alte Brücke we headed to Zum Güldenen Schaf for a glass of Riesling – the type of wine this area of Germany is famous for, which also happens to be my favorite! Morgan was craving Asian food, so we ended up at a sushi place near the Brückentor. By the time we finished dinner it was starting to get dark so we walked back out on the bridge to see the castle lit up at night. It was nice to enjoy the bridge and the view without the crowds that were there earlier, even though the weather had been pretty bad all day the amount of tourists in town was crazy. This was probably the most tourist filled city we’ve been to in Germany so far!

Ireland – Killarney – April 20th

After a slow start (the night before was the latest I’ve been up in years) we had another big Irish breakfast before getting on the road back towards Cork. This drive was more inland and we didn’t make a pit stop until we got to Killarney. It was a lot more commercialized than the other towns we had been to – it is pretty much for tourists, but even so we enjoyed it. We had some coffee sitting outside and then had some ice cream while we walked around town. There was perfect weather that day, it made it so hard to leave! After a couple of hours enjoying Killarney we were back on the road and headed for the airport. We had such a fantastic time with Deborah and Shaun! The places we were able to see and the things we were able to do never would have happened without their hospitality. Who knew a chance encounter in Stockholm would lead to two new friends and a long weekend exploring the Irish countryside! Please come visit us soon Deborah and Shaun!

Ireland – Ring of Kerry – April 19th

Saturday we had an Irish breakfast (complete with Black Pudding – aka. Blood pudding)- at Foley’s before walking around Kenmare a bit. Kenmare has lots of colorful buildings and fun shops to look in. Morgan bought a really nice wool tweed flat cap; though we were told he shouldn’t wear it while in Ireland because he would just look like a tourist.  From Kenmare we hopped on the N70- the Ring of Kerry. We drove through Sneem and Waterville before getting off the N70 to stay closer to the water and go a little further out the peninsula on the Skellig Ring.  We stopped at the Ballinskelligs Priory which is a monastery built in the 15th century. The buildings are in ruins but from the dates on the graves they still bury people here even today. The information sign was in Irish and English and Deborah read the Irish section to me – I wish I would have thought to video it!  Many of the letters are the same as our alphabet, but the pronunciation was very different – ie. B pronounced like V.

We continued along the Skellig Ring and stopped at the Kerry Cliffs – from here we could see Little Skellig and Skellig Michael. Skellig Michael (the larger of the two islands) had a Christian monastery on it from the 6th century until the late 12th century (when they moved to the Ballinskellig Priory that we visited earlier in the day).  I can’t imagine living 12 km out in the ocean on a small (only 54 acres), very rocky, steep sided (highest elevation is 220 m) island. Talk about living in isolation! The 12 monks and 1 abbot lived in 6 clochans (beehive huts made of flat stones laying on top of one another.. no mortar!) on the island. We were able to see replicas of the clochans on the island at the viewing point we stopped at. The Kerry Cliffs were beautiful and probably the most impressive we saw on our trip. Hopefully we’ll get to compare them to the Cliffs of Moher someday.

We kept driving on the Skellig Ring, going out to Valentina Island where we took the ferry from Knights Town back to the mainland. Once back on the Ring of Kerry we stopped in Cathersiveen for lunch at QC’s Seafood Restaurant. Morgan had seafood chowder and I got the crab sandwich – both were yummy! When we left Cathersiveen we followed the Ring on around until Killorglin where we broke off to go up to the Dingle Peninsula. We drove down the R561 which runs right next to the water and has beautiful views – including Inch Beach (which isn’t the most accurate name considering how huge it is! – so big you can drive your cars out on it).  Our next stop was Dingle; which was where we stayed for the night.

Dingle is a really colorful fishing village that also has a fairly big university so there are lots of pubs and restaurants. After walking around the shops and harbor I showed off my terrible pool skills at Paddy Bawn Brosnan’s and we watched some Gaelic Football on TV. Fun fact – Pierce Brosnan visited at some point – his picture was on the wall with the bar’s owner! Next we went to Foxy John’s which is half hardware store (on the right) and half bar (on the left). Here we tried Crean’s for the first time (the local Dingle brewed beer) and I think it is my favorite Irish beer. Then we headed across the street to J. Curran which is also part bar and part shop. Here we talked with a few locals and hung out with Ted- a super sweet golden doodle. We had dinner from a local take out/ fast food place that had the best fish and chips we’d ever had. No frozen fish at Kanon’s Korner- they had just brought the cod in on a boat and battered and fried it for us.. it was delicious! We were so glad our “quick and cheap” dinner turned out so good.

After dinner we met up with some of Shaun’s friends at McCarthy’s, where we added to their collection of foreign money with a $1 (one of a few Beth has given me for safe travels since we moved to Germany!) with “Go Tigers!”, a tiger paw, and “Morgan and Katie” written on it. If anyone stops by McCarthy’s be sure to look for our dollar bill!  Then it was on to the Dingle Pub (a regular pub on the inside with live music – the band sang Wagon Wheel!) and finally the Hillgrove which was a club with a DJ and waaayyyy too many people crammed inside! This was actually my first “club” experience in Europe – can you believe I haven’t been to Arlando (the huge club in Osnabruck) yet?  Hopefully we’ll get around to it this summer – maybe with Mathias (if we can sneak him in!)?

Ireland – Co. Cork – April 18th

Friday we left the city of Cork to drive around the western part of Co. Cork. During our drive around west Cork, Shaun and Deborah played us some good Irish tunes (ie. The Saw Doctors “N17” & “I Useta Lover” and The Pogues “Rainy Night in Soho”). We drove on the N71 passing through Bandon, Clonakilty, and Skibbereen. When we got close to Ballydehob we went out on the Mizen Peninsula through Schull and Goleen to the Mizen Head – the most south westerly point of Ireland. We didn’t go out on the Mizen Head – they have it all blocked off and make you pay to go out there, but we checked out the cliffs right on the other side of the fence. Here we had Tayto’s (“The Origional Irish Crisp”) for the first time. We had the cheese and onion flavor which was really good!

I can’t remember when exactly, but sometime before we got to the Mizen head Morgan and I got a shout out on the radio! Deborah had texted in to the station so they said something along the lines of.. “Doborah and Shaun are driving their American friends Katie and Morgan around west Cork today and Kerry tomorrow – we hope they enjoy the most beautiful parts of our country!”. We were completely shocked when we heard it – even Shaun didn’t know she had texted in. It was really thoughtful!  Then after this sweet moment, the boys complained about how the girls names were mentioned before the boys.. typical! (haha)

Next we headed inland and north, stopping in Bantry to walk around the farmers market and stretch our legs. Then we headed on the Beara Peninsula on the R572 passing through Adrigole and going all the way to the end at Coomasaharn where we could see the cable car that takes animals and people out to Dursey Island. On the way out to Coomasaharn Shaun had asked a local sheep farmer if we were on the right track (he was doing this part of the drive from memory) and after sheep farmer scared us by telling us we were 50km off track, he laughed and said we just needed to go 5km farther on the road we were on. On the way back from the point we passed the same man who was now hearding his sheep down the road a ways to a different pasture with the help of his sheep dog. We had mentioned to Deborah and Shaun that I wanted to hold a lamb (I really wanted to but doubted we’d get the opportunity) so when we saw him again Shaun asked if I could get a picture with one.. and he let us! After Shaun and Morgan failed to be quick enough to grab one of the lambs (they are really quick and seemed to bounce like rabbits), the nice man grabbed one and passed him over to us. He was really fluffy and cute, but he didn’t smell the best!  After we got all got a picture with him we put him down and he ran like the wind to catch back up with the rest of the herd.. bleating all the way! I think we scared him half to deaf… poor little guy! On the way to Kenmare (where we were staying this night) we drove through Eyeries, a cute and colorful little village before passing over into Co. Kerry.

We spent the night in Kenmare at Foley’s and had a delicious sea food dinner – Morgan had sea food pie (pieces of white fish and salmon, mussels, crab meat) and I had the salmon and shrimp. Since this was Good Friday most restaurants closed early and no bars were open, so we went to bed early to rest up for driving around the Ring of Kerry on Saturday.

Ireland – Blarney Castle and Cork, Ireland – April 17th

Thursday was a regular work day for Deborah and Shaun, so we were on our own for the day. Deborah dropped us at the bus station first thing that morning and we went to Blarney to see the castle and grounds and kiss the Blarney stone. When we arrived, I made Morgan do the castle/kiss the stone first because I know busloads of people go there every day and thankfully we beat the crowd!  This is probably the oldest castle we’ve been to – it was built in 1446. We toured the rooms and walked up the narrow spiral staircase up to the top level where the Blarney stone is built into the battlement. We each leaned back to kiss the stone, which supposedly gives you “the gift of the gab”- aka great eloquence or skill at flattery.  So I’m sure everyone will be very impressed with our new skills the next time we are home or a visit!  In addition to the castle, we walked around the property seeing the Blarney House, the Rock Close, the Witches Stone, the Wishing Steps, the caves, and the Poison Garden. This turned out to be a great time of year to visit since there were flowers blooming everywhere – though we were pretty lucky we didn’t have the typical April showers!  We were really lucky and had nice weather (even some blue sky!) the entire trip.

When we finished up on the Blarney Castle grounds we walked around the town a little and stopped by Blarney Woollen Mill. It is a huge store that carries everything Irish (wool clothing, Waterford crystal, Celtic jewelry, etc). We would have loved another piece of Waterford crystal, but didn’t want to carry it around all day and have to worry about getting it home in once piece.. so I went for a tartan wool scarf. Now I just have to wait for the fall when it gets cold enough to wear it! We took the bus back to Cork and had lunch at the English Market. After that we walked around the city seeing: the Huguenot Quarter, St. Peter and Paul’s Church, City Hall, St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, St. Anne’s Shandon Church (where we got to ring the bells!), and finally the Cork City Gaol (the city jail). Between St. Anne’s and the Cork City Gaol we had a long (uphill) walk up Blarney street – the longest street in Ireland. Deborah’s apartment is at the top of the hill, so we definitely got our exercise for the day.

After our day of sightseeing we went back to Deborah’s place where Shaun fixed us all an Irish dinner – bacon and cabbage, turnips, and potatoes. It was delicious!  After dinner Shaun took us on a drive to Kinsale while Deborah went to choir practice. We stopped at two different points near the Old Head of Kinsale – one near a beach and one up on the cliffs, right near the entrance to the golf course. We also stopped by the old Charles Fort, an old star fort that used to defend Kinsale harbor.  After that we had our first Guinness of the trip at the Spaniard in town. Next we headed back into Cork to meet up with Deborah at Callanan’s – another pub that is popular with locals. Everything closed at midnight this night since the bars couldn’t sell alcohol on Good Friday so we headed back home after Callanan’s. Thankfully we took a cab so we didn’t have to walk up the hill to Deborah’s again!


Ireland – April 16th

After our trip to Stockholm we kept in touch with Deborah and Shaun – emailing back in forth with pictures from the trip, etc. They reiterated their offer to show us around if we ever ended up in their part of Ireland, so we decided to try to make it happen. We knew we wanted to utilize a long weekend (ideally during the summer for a better chance of nice weather) so Morgan wouldn’t have to take any days off of work and by the time we took out weekends when we’re back in the states or that they had things going on.. we were left with just one weekend – Easter weekend- and that was only a month away. But, thankfully we were able to get plane tickets and we were all set for our trip to southern Ireland!  They both live in Cork (though Shaun would be quick to point out he is from Kerry!), so we spent the first two nights in Cork before doing a driving trip around the coastline of County Cork, the Ring of Kerry, Dingle and Killarney. Rental cars in Ireland are really expensive, plus they drive on the wrong side of the road, plus the roads we were on were super narrow and winding- so this trip literally wouldn’t have happened without Deborah and Shaun’s generosity. We were able to see so many more cities and viewpoints with them than if we had been on a big tour bus- it was an amazing trip!  Hopefully we’ve talked them into a visit to Germany in the near future!

We had a late flight from Amsterdam to Cork, so when we got there it was already 9:30. We kicked off the weekend with a quick drink at Sin é (meaning “That’s it” in Irish – referencing the funeral home next door). Deborah and I had a shandy (a beer mixed with a soft drink/juice/etc) – in this case we had a Kilkenney and raspberry and Morgan had a regular Kilkenny. The Sin é had a really nice atmosphere and had live music so it was pretty packed. It was a great start to our long weekend in Ireland!

Enschede, Netherlands

Friday we headed to Enschede in the Netherlands for the day. The main purpose was for Morgan to apply for his passport renewal, but then we stayed the rest of the day walking around town, doing a little shopping, getting my hair cute, seeing an old wind mill, and ending the day with dinner and a movie (in English!). Enschede has a well known flea market on Saturday mornings  (a lot of Germans go there just for shopping on Saturdays), so we’re planning on going back before too long. Thankfully Morgan didn’t run into any trouble applying for his passport – other than the agent giving Morgan a hard time about not speaking Dutch.  Everywhere we went we were offered coffee – at the city office while Morgan was applying for his passport, in a nice men’s shop where Morgan bought a new dress shirt, and even in the hair salon while I was getting my hair cut. I think the Dutch like their coffee just as much (if not more than) the Germans!

Hagen Cherry Blossom Trail

A town near us called Hagen am Teutoburger Wald (Hagen for short) is known for its cherry treas –  in 1900, Hagen was one of the major cherry growing regions in Germany. They have three walking paths laid out of varying lengths – 4 km, 4.5 km, and 10 km. We did the 4.5 km walk since they were calling for rain later in the afternoon. You start and end in town, but most of the walk is in the countryside. We didn’t see as many cherry trees as I thought we would (maybe my expectations were too high), but next time I think I’d try to do the 10 km trail.. maybe that one would have a few more cherry trees. Our trail did take us passed a farm with sheep – including a few lambs – which were pretty cute! On the way home we drove through some rapeseed fields; which are an amazing bright yellow this time of year. Rapeseed is used for bio fuel.


Sunday countryside drive

Sunday we went for a drive in the countryside around Osnabrück since the weather was so nice and all the flowers and trees were blooming. We drove through lots of little towns, stopped for a bit at a small air field where glider planes were taking off, and ended up in Bramsche where we had some ice cream (along with the rest of the town). Overall it was a nice relaxing Sunday.

Post Cards from Hanover

I took the post cards and painting we bought in Hanover to my German lesson this week because Antje was curious to see them and I had hoped she would be able to translate them for us.  She was able to give us an idea of the topic of each one, but a word for word translation turned out to be quite difficult. I was surprised to learn that the alphabet used for all three of these is not the modern day German alphabet, but Sütterlin. Sütterlin was the last widely used form of Kurrent, the historical form of German handwriting. Antje mentioned that her Grandmother and mom (to a lesser extent) learned Sütterlin, but by the time she was in school it wasn’t taught. How strange that Antje’s mom and grandmother learned a totally different alphabet, so different that Antje has a hard time even understanding many of the words! She printed out a copy of the Sütterlin alphabet for me – the e’s look like n’s, the s’s look like l’s, v, x, and y are totally unrecognizable!

The oldest postcard is from 1896 and was a new year’s greeting to friends.

The second oldest is from 1918 and is from a girl to her mom. On top of being in Sütterlin, it is smugged since it was written in pencil and is very hard to read.

The third is from 1936 and is a postcard to a friend talking about how it has been many years since they have spoken and wanting to catch up.

Anyway, I thought these were interesting so I thought I would share. You can read more about Sütterlin here:

Another interesting thing I learned during my German lesson today – it is popular in Germany to do a farm vacation. You rent a cottage or apartment from a farmer for a week or two and help around the farm, let the kids play with the animals and ride on the tractor, etc. I guess if you live in Berlin of Munich and your kid doesn’t get out in the city much I could see this as being a good experience. But, overall I think it is hilarious and wouldn’t be how I’d want to spend a vacation. Getting up at the crack of dawn to milk cows or shovel poop? No thank you!  But from what Antje said this is very popular. Who knew? Either way, I don’t see a Bauernhof vacation in our future any time soon!

Hanover for the day

Last weekend we met our friends Tiffany and Brenden in Hanover for the day. Brenden is an American in the management training program at ZF – he worked on a project at Dielingen (where Morgan works) for about 3 months at the end of last year but has since moved on to a new project in southern Germany. His girlfriend is German and lives in Goslar. Since we hadn’t seen them in a couple of months, we decided to meet up in Hanover for the day to catch up and do some sight-seeing. We took the train here and back; since it is within the same state (Niedersachsen) it is fairly cheap to get there – only €24 for two people round trip.

We started out walking by the old town hall and looking inside the Marktkirche. From here we walked through the old cobblestone roads of old town through the Marstall Gate to the flohmarkt (flea market) that is on the Leine River on Saturday mornings. We had a lot of fun looking around– their flea market is much better than the one in Osanabrück. I spotted a small painting that has a German looking house with mountains behind it that we picked up for €10 and after sorting through a huge stack of postcards that featured Osnabrück we found 3 to buy. They are all quite old (late 1800’s to early 1900’s) and were actually mailed, so I’m hoping Antje can translate them for us. We saw several other things that we would have lived (furniture, larger paintings, etc) but since we only had a book bag and had come by train we couldn’t get anything larger home. Hopefully next time we’ll take the car and spot some good deals!

On our way to Reimmans Eck for lunch we passed the Nikolaikapelle ruins and the Alter St.-Nikolai-Friedhof. The Nikolai chapel, which was built in the middle ages, is the oldest preserved building in Hanover. Today the graveyard is a park and the church ruins are a monument. Morgan had the Fifty Fifty- which is half kohlroulade and half rinderroulade and I had the Königsberger Klopse. My meal was a special Prussian meatball in a white sauce with capers and potatoes – which turned out to be really good! After lunch we took the U-Bahn to the Herrenhausen Gardens. We were a little early in the season, only a few of the flowers were blooming, but it was still impressive. The grotto, which was designed by Niki de Saint Phalle, was .. hmm, I’ll go with memorable. Her work isn’t my taste but it was still interesting to see.

We headed back into the city center to do a little shopping and then walked over to the New Town Hall to go up in the tower. You pay a few euros to ride the glass elevator up to the top of the tower. The elevator is actually pretty unique since the track it is on is curved and follows the arch of the dome. From the top there were pretty views of the old town, the park and lake behind the town hall, the Leine River, etc. By this time we were ready for dinner so we found a sushi place near the train station and then grabbed a drink at Jack the Ripper. In the bar we heard a ton of English (I think there must be a fairly large English/American population in Hanover) which was nice for a change!

Kohlgang 2014 & Sunday Brunch

For the second annual ZF Kohlgang we started in Sutthausen- one of the boroughs of Osnabrück that has a good bit of farm land- and then walked the 6km back into the Innenstadt for dinner at Marktschänke (a really old German restaurant in town that had great food). You’ll remember from last year on a kohlgang you walk through the countryside and end up in a pub to eat grünkohl along with boiled potatoes, kassler, and a couple types of wurst. And usually along the way you play cross-country games that involve drinking (since kohlgangs take place in the winter, the alcohol helps keep you warm!). Last year we played bosseln, but this year we mainly just walked and then stopped to play to games.

With the first game we all tied a small sausage to a string that was tied around our waists and you had to try to swing it up into your mouth without using your hands. Philip has a video of everyone trying to do it.. I bet it is pretty hilarious!  For the other game we were divided into 3 teams and one person was nominated to gurgle a song and the rest of the team would try to guess what it was. Morgan actually did the gurgling for his team and did a really good job! We got into town just as it was getting dark and had our hue dinner at Marktschänke.  The grünkohl dinners we’ve had both years are probably some of the best meals we’ve had over here. And, guess who was awarded Kohlkönig (cabbage king) – Mr. Schreiner! Not sure how they picked who got it – I’m guessing it was because of his awesome gurgling and bringing chips as a snack for the group. This means he (and our friend Svenja who got Kohlkönigin) gets to plan the kohlgang next year!

The day after the Kohlgang we had our friends Jan and Katrin (plus their little son Jasper) over for brunch. We had a breakfast casserole (which they had never heard) and fruit salad, plus bröchen, cheese and meat (in case they didn’t like the casserole). Luckily they did! Since it was such a nice day we walked to the playground at the elementary school down the road from us. Jasper, Jan and Morgan had fun on the playground!

Stockholm – March 1st & 2nd

Saturday we headed to the Stadshuset (city hall) first since it was a short walk from our apartment. It is also the venue of the Nobel Peace Prize banquet. We ended up just looking around the outside because there wasn’t an English tour any time soon.  Plus we wanted make it to the Palace for the changing of the guard. The guards literally walk around the entire palace perimeter before going into the courtyard- but we didn’t know that. So we ended up walking around the entire thing to (almost running) to keep up with them. For next time we’ll know to just go straight to the courtyard!

Once the guards were changed out, we toured the Royal Palace. The Royal Palace is the official residence of the Swedish Monarchs, though the King and Queen live at Drottningholm Palace and only use the Royal Palace for official events. The current palace was completed in 1754, after the palace that was here previously (the Tre Kroner) burned down in 1697. The Palace is HUGE – 1430 rooms to be exact. It was really beautiful inside and we were disappointed they don’t let you take pictures, but you can find them on the internet. We toured the State Apartments, the Treasury, and the Tre Kroner Museum. The Tre Kroner Museum is in the basement of the palace, where you can see the foundation of the old castle and some artifacts from it. If you happen to read the Wikipedia page about the Tre Kroner and you read the paragraph about the sentences that were handed down to the fire marshal on duty that night and his two assistants (who all were slacking off from their duties)- you’ll see they had to “run the gauntlet”.  I’ve heard the saying, but never knew it came from a form of punishment from back in the day!  Running the gauntlet or gantlet is a form of physical punishment where a captive is to run between two rows – a gauntlet – of soldiers who repeatedly strike them.

By the time we finished up at the Palace we were starving so we walked over to Grillska Huset – a cafeteria run by the Stockholm Stadsmission, a charitable organization for the poor. It is in a great location (right on the old square) and has really affordable prices by Stockholm standards. Plus, here we got to try semla (or fastlagsbulle) is a traditional sweet roll that is only made during Lent. The dough itself is sweet and then the top is cut off and a sweet whipped cream, a little lemon curd, and powdered sugar on top.  It was really delicious! After lunch we continued to walk around Gamla Stan (the old town) following Rick Steves’ guide (thanks to Bern and Andrew for letting us borrow it!). We had already walked around the Palace, seen the Obelisk, and Stortorget (the old town square) so we continued on to see: the Cathedral (Storkyrkan), the Nobel Museum, the Rune Stone on Prästgatan Lane, the German Church, and ended at the locks.  The Cathedral is the oldest church in Stockholm – it was built in the 13th century. A rune stone is a memorial left to a deceased man; a tradition of the Vikings.  This one says (in Nordic) “Torsten and Thorgun erected this tone in memory of their son”.  I loved this old area with its narrow streets, big gas lamps, crooked houses and curvy lanes.

After checking out the locks, we kept heading across the bridge to Södermalm, another one of the islands that makes up Stockholm. We took the Katarina Lift (the passenger elevator which connects the slussen (lock area) with Södermalm (which is at a much higher elevation). Well, we didn’t actually take the Katarina Lift (since it is now closed due to construction concerns – the current one is from the 1930’s), we took the elevator in the building now attached to the old lift. Anyway, the view from up there of Gamla Stan (and the city in general) was pretty great!

Next we walked back towards our apartment, walking along the water front of Gamla Stan. When we got back to our part of town (Normalm) we stopped at a pub just over the bridge to have a drink and rest our feet. After we had ordered, we saw a couple come in that we had talked to a bit earlier at the observation tower. We ended up getting a table with them and having a few rounds of beers and eventually dinner. Shaun and Deborah are from Ireland and we had the best time talking with them. After dinner we all headed to the Ice Bar for a drink. First you are fitted with huge tunics (that went over our coats) and gloves; then you go in and enjoy a drink in an ice glass, on an ice bar, in an ice room with ice windows!  It was an expensive but unique and memorable experience!

Sunday morning we walked around the Sergels Torg area (near our apartment) to do some window shopping and eat breakfast before catching our bus to the airport. They had lots of stores I’d never seen before so we had fun just looking around. After three days of non-stop walking around and staying out late we were glad to get back home and relax.