Sunday, October 30, 2011

A Visit from the Parental Units...

This week my parents came to visit in Düsseldorf and we did a mini-road trip of the Mosel Wine Region, our little homeland town, Langenfeld, and a short excursion to Amsterdam. It was a really fun week and with a little help from my parents, my apartment is starting to look less like somebody else's leftover junk and more like my own place! 

Marv and me in front of Jan Wellem in the Düsseldorf Marktplatz. It was COLD!

We then took off for the Mosel River Region in our rental car. I'm definitely getting the hang of the German Autobahn and think I got into the 90 mph region this time. Our car was a stick shift this trip (automatic last time) and I was nervous that I was going to be stalling my way through Germany. Turns out I only stalled twice and it was within 20 seconds of each other after I'd already been driving for a few days.

The Parents on the Mosel.
 But, not surprisingly, for how much we all like wine, our relatives emigrated from just down the of another major German wine region...the Mosel Valley. It was beautiful and sunny and full of delicious Halbtrocken Riesling (Half-Dry, that means...I'm fully a wine snob at this point...but would drink out of a box if necessary, so not too snobby!). I bought another 12ish bottles of wine and am getting quite desperate to buy a wine rack!
Another adorable view of another adorable wine region.
Berg Eltz. The only part without scaffolding. 
We also got to visit a few castles. But, this was further proof that I actually have a curse. The castle was like 1000 years old or something, but wouldn't you know it, it was covered in scaffolding. What? They couldn't wait a few more weeks until I am not there? It was been standing for 1000 years...surely it could have made it a few more weeks. This is the same thing that happened to me when I went to see the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, the Acropolis in Athens...cursed. Cursed I tell you.
A relative on my mom's side immigrated to Michigan from Langenfeld in the mid-1800s.
It is now a town full of giant vacation homes in the hills. I am pretty sure our illiterate farmer ancestors were not the owners of one of them! It was a twisty, switch-back filled drive to the top of the hill but I did not stall!

A few of Langenfeld. Really steep hills everywhere around the town. You can see why a bunch of farmers with huge families had to leave, there just wasn't much farmland to be had.

The Catholic Church in Langenfeld. It was not there when the immigration occurred but was quaint and pretty nonetheless. 
There was also a castle down the hill from Langenfeld. This is probably where our family would have worked as poor peasants and not as actual inhabitants of the castle! 

No scaffolding but also closed for the day randomly.
It is a curse. 

In conjunction with our visit to Langenfeld, we also visited the city of Koblenz. Apparently, Koblenz means "confluence" in Latin and wouldn't you know is the exact spot where the Rhein and the Mosel Rivers come together...a "confluence" if you will. We stayed over night here and spent the morning freezing and walking through the town.
This monument is at the "Corner of Germany" where the two rivers come together. 
With the heat blasting, we drove back to Düsseldorf. I had asked that we devote one day with the rental car to making large purchases that I cannot manage on the tram. I needed to buy a ton of stuff at IKEA. I've never actually set foot in an IKEA until now and I am sold. I can see why people were camping out at the one in Denver before it opened. They have EVERYTHING and it is seriously easy to spend a lot of money there. I got all new kitchen stuff so that I didn't feel like I was living in a college apartment anymore and also finally got some curtains which my mom then spent about 6 hours hemming so that they would fit my windows! (THANKS!!!)
My friend Chris was not nearly as excited about IKEA as I was.
I love how organized it much better than American Furniture Warehouse in Colorado because you don't have to see every item at the same time, making it way less overwhelming. Plus, they serve meatballs in the snack bar....take that Jake Jabs. (This will only make sense to Colorado people!)
We spent the day getting lost in downtown Düsseldorf, even with the GPS as I am not accustomed to driving around here. I'm much better on foot, buses, and trams. It was actually pretty stressful having to drive around downtown because I am forever scared of sharing the lane with trams. My house looks much better now though thanks to all of this scary downtown driving. And, when I have Thanksgiving at my house, people will be able to use matching silverware AND plates. Yahoo!

Our next adventure was a 2.5 hour train ride to Amsterdam...or Hamsterdam as a partially-illiterate, stoner 8th grader whom I used to teach, called it. He told us that school wasn't important because he was going to move to Hamsterdam and sell weed. Good luck, buddy. The law is changing and only Dutch citizens will be able to buy it. And here I thought that he'd might have actually made it there...NOT. (His dad also liked to remind me in some super tactful, but regularly sent emails that his tax dollars paid my salary. I wanted to remind him that my tax dollars paid for drug prevention programs that were obviously not working either.)

Yay for sun! This is the first trip here where I've seen blue sky!
You can totally understand why Van Gogh freaked out the first time he went to the South of France and saw the sun!

We had a great time in Amsterdam, stayed at a wonderful hotel, ate delicious sandwiches (twice from the same place they were so good) and went out for AMAZING Indonesian food with my friend Jonathan who lives there. I could totally live there. We did all the typical stuff...Anne Frank House Museum, Van Gogh museum, canal walks, and of course, a canal boat tour (where, as usual, I fell asleep just for a quick is just so warm and rocks you, I cannot help myself.).

And, most importantly...WE FOUND THE SHOE!!!!
It is so dorkily touristy but WHO CARES! It is so fun!
Amsterdam is such a great city. I've been three times in the last year and would go back tomorrow (but annoyingly, I have to go to work instead!).
Nice hat.

The Swansons also LOVE cheese.

Dutch Milkmaids are We! 
Our new shoes. They just don't pack well, though.

$10,000 Delft Tulip Vase. I bought three.

Dutch Mini-Van.

SUNFLOWERS! Van Gogh needed some meds...badly. Who knows if his painting would have been as good, but he might have lived a bit longer. Poor guy. 

Cheap Heineken at our fave sandwich shop. 
My dad and I have eaten Magnums across Europe. THEY ARE THE SHIT.
They are also probably a billion calories. We didn't eat any on this trip. Sad day. I'd have to run a few miles before and after. 
If you thought I was a wine snob now...I'm not. Plastic cups still do it for us!
We did bring our own bottle on the train, though! Always thinking.
Score again for Germany!
It was a great trip. We had a fun time and I'm looking forward to Christmas break when we go skiing in Vail. Oh, my life is rough!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Deutsche Weinstrasse...German Wine Road!

This weekend was a three-dayer thanks to it being German Reunification Day...meaning...the day East/West Germany came back together in 1990. Four of us girls from school, (Lauren, Rhonda, Kendra, and I) went on a road trip to the Deutsche Weinstrasse- the German Wine Road.

The Wine Road is a 50 km stretch of road in southwestern Germany where there are hundreds of wineries and vineyards as far as the eyes can see. We were incredibly lucky and had AMAZING weather. It was cloudless and 75 (don't ask for the Celsius, I don't know!) the whole weekend with low humidity. PERFECT.

We rented a car and so I got to drive on the Autobahn this weekend. It wasn't really that exciting to tell you the truth. Maybe if I had a really nice car that was really smooth at 100 mph then I would like it. But, our rental car was a Chevy Cruze, there were four of us and we had about 40 full wine bottles in the trunk...not exactly optimum conditions for driving without a speed limit. For me, it was more stressful than fun as the Germans I encountered were massive tail-gaters, non-turn signal users, and there was often traffic that would stop rather suddenly. I guess next time I will have to rent a really expensive, fancy car in order to take full advantage. Driving in Düsseldorf in the dark on Friday night was probably the most stressful part of the drive as there are construction projects, trams, bikes, and many pedestrians everywhere and I don't know where I am going even with a GPS! But, now that I've rented a car once, it won't be so bad in the future. It makes me feel like an independent, real person unlike last year in England where I was too chicken-shit to drive and also I didn't have easy access to renting a car anyway.

Being that it is 2011 and who doesn't like to be connected, we had plenty of technology with us!

Two i-pads, one kindle, 4 digital cameras, 3 smart phones, 3 ipods, a GPS, and a good 'ol-fashioned road atlas got us through Germany! Guide book....schmide book! 

There are bike paths and walking paths everywhere in the area. We could just walk right into the vineyards, and so, of course, we did!

Creeping through the grape vines!

There were still a few grapes left of the vines. Yummy!
There were some delicious food options too! The traditional food for this time of year while tasting wine is called a Zwiebeln Kuche....which is basically like a piece of bacon/onion quiche. It was delicious and very cheap everywhere! But, most excitingly, there was Black Forest Cake and lots of it.

Twenty seconds later...
All for only 1€!!!
Now, I have passed by the world's largest ball of twine in Kansas before but if you want to find the world's largest wine barrel, you will not find it in Napa! Instead, it is right along the Deutsche Weinstrasse!
I feel like our car's trunk was actually carrying this much wine!  At least that is what it felt like when I tried to "step on it" while on the Autobahn. The lack of pick up might have had to do with the cake we consumed too! 
The Weinstrasse's best wine (at least in our opinion) was a Halbtrocken (half-dry) Reisling. We visited a castle and sat in the sun on the castle's patio enjoying a glass of it. It was one of those moments that really made you feel lucky to live in such an interesting, new place (and made you wish you'd worn more sunblock!)!
Lauren with our new favorite wine.
Castle walls, delicious wine,  gorgeous weather, and amazing scenery.
Great weekend!
There was also another way to get around the Weinstrasse...a wine-o chairlift. Being a skier, I sure do love chairlifts! We didn't even get to ride it but I am obsessed with the sign for it. When you don't speak German (well, I know about 60 words now), you often just figure things out from the picture or you watch to see what everyone else is doing!
This picture was easy to guess! A wine-swilling chairlift!
The view from the castle was also quite beautiful! Hambacher Schloss- it was called.
We now know that "Schloss" is the German word for castle.

When my parents were visiting Germany in the 1970s, they were standing about a block from the Rhein River but couldn't see it. They were asking everyone around them "Wo ist der Rhein Flusse?" which means "Where is the Rhein River?" and people were really confused about what they were asking since the river was within spitting distance. So, we now like to ask where things are when we are literally standing right in front of them. "Wo ist der Schloss?" was our question while sitting on the patio of the schloss/castle. Maybe it was the delicious Reisling that made this so especially funny! :)

The little hike up to the castle. 
Remember that I could have been living in Kuwait this year!
I am betting that there are not any Kuwait Wine Roads where they serve bacon-filled snacks!
Score again for the land of pork and alcohol!
Though the Wine Road was only about 25 miles long, it took us two days to get down it. Part of that was because there were so many little places to stop and part of that was that we didn't plan ahead and get hotels. So, because of that, we had quite a drive to our hotel (and I say "hotel" loosely...we stayed in a boarding house which was like living in the dorms again!). Next time, we'll plan a bit ahead when traveling on one of the biggest travel weekends of the year. So, we spent a long time in the car. But, I always love a good road trip!
I like big bottles and I cannot lie. Baby got bottle! (Thanks, UT!)
Finally, we got to the end of the Wine Road where there is a Wine Gate. The Wine Gate was built in the late 1930s in order to celebrate German wine over French wine. I remember hearing SOMETHING about Germany being a bit overly-patriotic in the late 1930s but I can't seem to remember many details...oh, wait. The Wine Gate is only about 150 feet from the French border.
Rhonda "coming in for a landing" in front of the Wine Gate.
I know it is blurry but it looks like she fell from the sky and landed right in front of the gate!
So, because we were within feet of France..(Wo ist France?) we had to go there! And, you can't say you've gone somewhere (according to my cousin Terese in Denmark) unless you've had ice cream there. So, we hopped across the border and had a McFlurry! We were tempted to also order "Le Big Mac" but just being able to say "Le Big Mac" wasn't worth actually ordering one!
Standing on the Germany/France border.
"Ich bin in Deutschland" and "Je suis en France" on the other side!
In two countries at once!
That's a first for me (although I've been in 4 states at once!)!
Last night we stayed in Heidelberg because it was the closest hotel we could find. Heidelberg was about an hour from the end of the wine road and about 3 hours from Düsseldorf. Today we visited Heidelberg Schloss. It was very pretty and at the top of a giant staircase...that's okay, we needed to work off the cake, wine, and McFlurrys!
View from Heidelberg Schloss.
We, again, cracked ourselves up "looking for" the castle while standing directly in front of it.

The French blew up the castle in the 1600s and it hasn't been the same since!
This was such a fantastic weekend. When you get into the daily rut of school, workout, dinner, laundry, etc. (Notice that house cleaning is not on that list because I GOT A CLEANER!!!) I forget why I am living so far away from everyone I love when I'm just going through my routine. I like to remind myself why I'm living so far away by having the kind of weekend I just had.

If you're keeping score...and I am...

Score:      Last year-  0 This year- + 1 million.

Next up: Parentals visit in three weeks! I can't wait!!