Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Just a couple pictures from the last few days.

In the boat for the Boat Ride down the Avon River - beautiful. 

Trafalager Square Elizabeth and Paul

June 20 - 28 (Our last week in London)

Monday the kids and my mom went to The Princess Diana Memorial Playground and Kensington Palace (in Hyde Park).  They did not like Kensington as much as some of the other palaces.  It was done up to attract more people but that made it a little creepy and weird, though they liked looking for secrets.  The playground they always like.  They have been several times.  At night we just hung around the house, ran to the store etc.
Tuesday the kids went to Legoland again, hey, when you have season passes, why not use them to get maximum value.  To get to Legoland you have to take a bus, train and then a bus.  The kids are getting very good at public transportation.  One day I wanted to meet them from work, and I asked them which bus to take, and they knew, they know all the bus schedules. 
Wednesday during the day, the kids and my mom went to the grocery and worked on home school stuff.  Really to be honest, they work on school stuff lots of mornings before heading out.  I am not putting it into the blog every day, I guess my work and the kids school is the mundane and doesn’t deserve a mention every time.  It is June now and they kids are still doing school, but don’t tell them their friends are all out.  Since they haven’t focused that hard, and since they seem to need lots of repetition we decided to keep up a level of school work for the rest of the summer.  This is really one of the last days they did school work, for the last few days in London, we packed the books and just did stuff around the city.  This day they had a slower day because we had a big night. 
I bought tickets for us all to see Wicked – the musical.  It was really good!  We went with a woman I work with.  So she and I left work early and came home, had chili from the crock pot and set out.  On this particular night, everything went smoothly.  We got downtown in plenty of time with no delays.  We were able to stop at Hotel Chocolat (yum free samples) and hang out a little before getting our seats.  I bought seats in the very last row (much cheaper), so I was a little worried about the view, but it was fine.  We loved the musical, the music, the story, the experience.  London Theater!  Life is good.  We took the train home and everyone was very tired.  We didn’t get home until after 11.   
It was a little hard to get up on Thursday for work, due to the late night.  Thursday everyone went back to the science museum.  My mom hadn’t been yet, and the kids wanted to go again.  The kids came home looking at contraptions on the internet.  They like science museums.  Of course Thursday was another late night from work for me, the shuttle was late again, and it was time for Boy Scouts at 7.  I ran home, shoved food in my mouth and we ran to boys scouts.  We were a tiny bit late, but not too bad.  The boys said the wrestled and played games.  I walked them to Boy Scouts, walked home, waiting till 9, walked back to Boy Scouts to pick them up and walked back home again.  I got a lot of exercise in this day.  They enjoyed another opportunity to go to Boy Scouts in the UK.
Friday the kids went to the Zoo.  The zoo wasn’t that great except for the Penguin pond which they really enjoyed.  From the reports I heard, they spent most of the time at the Penguin pond, which was very cool.  They came home wanted to adopt a penguin.  I said, our house isn’t cold enough.  J  After work I took a bus to a train and a train to Paddington station to meet them.  We then went souvenir shopping in London.  There were a few gifts I wanted to buy and I hadn’t gotten anything for myself.  I ended up not liking the Tshirt I bought myself (too tight), but Oh well, I can always give it to Libby.  We were going to eat at a restaurant, but Friday night the lines were long and the kids were tired, so we just bought stuff from a street vendor (fish and chips and pizza) and ate on the train ride home.  It was good to get fish and chips again.
Saturday we were not sure what to do.  Finally some people at work decided to drive a car to Stratford-upon-Avon and they had enough room for us, so we went along.  It was a beautiful sunny day.  We saw Shakespeare’s birthplace, and the place where he died.  We took a boat down the Avon river.  When we had seen about what we wanted to see, we were walking by a park and hear talking (a play).  We went in to check it out and sure enough, the Royal Shakespeare Company was doing (what I believe was) the second act of Henry V in the park. The kids sat and watched very closely - I was surprised how closely.  The sun was shining, it was a beautiful day, and I thought, how cool is this?  Watching Shakespeare in the park in Stratford-upon-Avon???  Life is good and I am very blessed.  I think I will have to find another Shakespeare play to take them too, they like it.  I have videos of Libby saying the Shakespeare she knows in front of his birthplace.  Like I said, we are very blessed.  When we went home we threw together a dinner of some leftovers, and from now on we started making dinners from whatever was left in the cupboards, we are in the downhill stretch.   
Sunday we were debating too about what to do.  We wanted to go to church, but since it doesn’t end till 12:30 or so (well - after I stand around and say goodbye to everyone), that doesn’t leave a lot of time to go places.  The day was sunny and warm again, and so finally after dinner we decided to just go back into London.  I wanted to go to a store called H&M and my mom was looking for a couple things, so we took the tube to Piccadilly Circus and walked to Oxford Circus (lots of shopping along there).  I found the England Soccer Jersey I wanted to buy for the boys.  Then we took a tube to Leicester Square and walked to Trafalgar Square.  It turned out to be a great thing.  I had seen some of these things from the tour bus at the first weekend we were in London, but I was really glad we decided to go back and see them on foot, one last look on the last day in London.  (ok the last day I could walk around, since I had to work the rest of the time).  It was a beautiful day and London was beautiful.  I got a couple good deals, but didn’t spend too much money. I bought some British Candy to bring to Candy School in a couple weeks, so that will be fun.  We got back on the tube at Charring Cross and took the tube back home.  We ate potatoes and ham and played legos until it was time for bed.  They kids watched a bit of TV, it was a game show of problem solving with a bunch of 10-13 year olds.  They liked it and wanted to figure out how to compete. 
We are all really ready to be home, and we are getting really excited.
Monday the kids went back to Legoland one last time.  Tell Matt we got our money’s worth from the passes.  After work we ate and packed and cleaned and stuff.  We had brought a crock pot so we took that over to donate to the Church.  We had to stop by the store because we had run out of breakfast stuff.  We bought porridge (oatmeal) and milk.  The kids have to eat PBJ for the last few days, but I think we will be able to pretty much eat all our food with no left overs and not having to buy anything since last Monday or Tuesday or whenever it was I went to the Tesco after work. 
We have been reading the new Andrew Peterson book “Monster in the Hallows” which we have really enjoyed.  We are getting close to the end, so it is getting pretty exciting.  Most nights we are reading for quite a while.  I hope we can finish tonight.  We have 20 or so pages I think.  I recommend this series highly.  Matt brought the new book that just came out when he came and we have been reading it since then.  We have read it on trains and in hotel rooms and now our little apartment.  Really, Monday night I think we read a little late since I really didn’t want to stop, I wanted to know what would happen.  Tonight, Tuesday, hopefully we will finish tonight.
Tuesday the kids went to the Tower of London.  It was Libby’s choice.  She really wanted to go back there one more time since there are some papers that you can do when you go (for kids to fill out) and there was still one that she hadn’t done that she wanted to do.  I worked, my last day in London.  I have to admit, I was a little less than focused.  Monday night at 9pm I got the last approval I was waiting for which was due before I could leave, so, I was pretty much done with everything I needed to do before the big June 30 deadline. 
I will write more, but probably not until I get back in the US, about Tuesday night and our trip home.  All I can tell you now, is I am very excited and I can’t wait to get home.  Even though I have had an amazing time on this trip and we have seen more than I ever thought I would in my life.  I am ready for good coffee, a hot shower without worrying about the fire alarm going off while people sleep, and my warm blanket (I mean Matt by this). 

June 14-19th

Tuesday, it was time to go to work again.  This week was a little quiet because our team was all separated.  Silvia and I are in London, Beata is in Hungry, and the consultants are all at home.  It gave me a little time to catch up on some things I had been ignoring.  My dad just has 4 days left in the UK, he goes home on Saturday, so they made a list of things he still wanted to do.  Looking at the weather, Tuesday was the best day to go back to Legoland (because of the weather).  So they all took off for that.  Since we bought season tickets, the more times they go, the better at this point. 

Wednesday the kids and my Mom and Dad went into London to the British Museum.  My Mom wisely found a scavenger hunt for kids on the internet, so the kids looked for stuff and my Dad looked at antiquities.  They all had a great time.  Then they went to a new park in London and played.  They said they made new friends.   Wednesday night, I rushed home, because of course, this night, the shuttles were late.  I ran home and then ran to catch up to my dad and Elizabeth who were walking to the church for a Girls Brigade meeting.  Elizabeth was able to go and interact with some girls there, which was pretty fun.  They played games and had a devotion and a craft.  It was a nice time.  I sat and watched though mothers usually leave.  It was too far to walk back home and walk back. 
Thursday the parents and kids went to the Imperial War Museum and Churchill War Rooms in London.  They all really liked it even the kids which I was impressed by.  It was a well-designed museum and gave the kids an idea of what it was like in London during WWII.  Thursday night my Dad took Paul and Jacob to the local Boy Scouts meeting.  They really seemed to enjoy that too.  It was similar to Boy Scouts in the US.  The troop near our house meets in an old barn about 1km from our apartment.  It is one of the strongest troops around.  The troop owns canoes and BMX bikes and it sounds like they have a lot of fun. The really enjoyed the evening.  The guys there said there is even a badge for seeing a foreign club, so we will have to check into that when we get home. 
Friday morning the kids and my parents went to Hampton Court Palace.  It was a home of Henry VIII.  They had some really nice interactive programs, where they kids got to dress up and (in their case) apply for a job at the Palace.  Elizabeth especially liked dressing up and was curtseying right away after putting on the frock.  They had someone dressed as Henry VIII and his 4th wife.  Their tour guide was the wife’s best friend who was interviewing new servants for the new household.  Everyone enjoyed their time at the palace.  I was a little jealous I couldn’t go with.
Friday night the local town, Harlington, had a “fayre” to raise money for the Harlington Hospice, a local aid organization.  It was at the Boy Scouts hall.  They kids all wanted to go, so after dinner I took them to the fayre.  My parents finished packing my Dad and went ahead and took his suitcases to the airport, so on Saturday we could go straight from our fun to the airport to save time.  It had been raining all day, and pretty cold, so we all dressed warmly and headed out.  They had a climbing wall, or rather, trees, that everyone wanted to do first.  Elizabeth, especially, was a little monkey and climbed all three routes and went back for more later.  So we were nice and wet right away (that was outside).  We played games and won prizes and spent money, and had fun.  Jacob bought some sweets, I bought some handmade gifts.  We bought punch.  We had a nice time, in spite of the rain.  When we got back my parents were just leaving to go to the airport.  They got home an hour or so later, and we had a nice week.  I would call it a week of doing things like locals. 
Saturday my dad didn’t have to leave until 6pm, so we thought if we got up and got going we could head to Oxford.  We did.  It was really interesting, we got to Oxford, it looked a little rainy.  It did sprinkle a little a bit, but it wasn’t too bad ever, and ended up clearing up nicely.  We made it to the information center, and hoped to take a tour, unfortunately, the tours for the morning were all full, and the afternoon ones would be too late to make it to make it to airport.  But we got a walking tour guide and set out on our own.  The colleges are different, they are separated from one another and they have a gate, so students live, eat, go to class within the gate.  They each have a fancy gate, and a nice courtyard.  It is a different system than we have in the US.  I thought the buildings are pretty.  The gardens and flowers were so beautiful.  We had a nice day, though it got a bit busy at the end when we were trying to make it to the Eagle and Child (where Lewis, Tolkien and their friends would meet to discuss books, philosophy, life etc. in the Rabbit Room.)  We were looking for a bathroom which when we found had a terrible line and we made in to the train station with 2 minutes to spare.  We had to go pretty fast there at the end, and we were all happy we made the train.  The train only came once an hour, if we would have made the next train, it still would have been ok, Dad would have made his flight, but this way, we rushed up front and had more than enough time at the end. 
We took Dad to the airport, had some ice cream with him and then it was time for him to leave.  We were all sad.  We went home and ate frozen pizza and watched a movie.  The apartment had a DVD player, but of course DVDs in the US have a different format than the ones in the UK, so the DVDs we brought from home don’t work.  Fortunately I was able to hook up my computer to the TV and we could watch DVDs that way.  It was a relaxing evening.
Sunday we got up and went to church.  We had figured out that we wanted to go to Cambridge on Sunday.  They had an afternoon service in the famous chapel so we wanted to make it there.  We figured out with the buses, tube, and train that we should probably leave church a little early to make it in time.  Well, this day was not the best for travel, so we had no end of  troubles, though they were all just minor and annoying.  So, we made it on the bus, tube, and to the train station.  We only had a few minutes before the train left, and the machine selling tickets wouldn’t take our credit card.  So finally we walked and got in line with a person, Mom tried different machines and finally got one to take our credit card.  We got tickets, rushed to the train and …. Missed it.  Grrr.  It turned out ok, because I wanted to go to the London 2012 Olympic shop that was at this train station (there are only 2 in London right now), so we shopped.  We made it back for the next train; we still had enough time to make it to the service.  Then we sat on the track not leaving the station for 20 minutes.  It was very frustrating the train was delayed. So when we got there, we had about 5 minutes to get to the concert.  We took a taxi.  When we got there we followed the arrows to the entrance, when we got there it said to go around the other side to enter, when we got back to the other side, it was too late and the door was closed.  Oh well.  We walked around with a walking tour and the Rick Steve’s guide and saw things.  We bought Elizabeth a t shirt with crests to all the schools in Cambridge.  So we would look on the gates and signs and try to figure out which school we were looking at and take a picture with E in her T shirt.  That made it fun.  I enjoyed Cambridge better than Oxford, even with the train problems.  It seems more relaxed and the schools seemed more individual than at Oxford.  I liked the town better.  It was smaller.  We took the train back to London and there were SO MANY people, we couldn’t sit down.  The kids just sat on the floor.  Mom and I tried to lean and crouch and at least the train ride was only 45 minutes.  We made it back home after a nice day.
Monday it was back to another week. 

Monday, 20 June 2011

June 6th thru 13th (Second week in Lubeck and Denmark over the weekend)

Monday was a sad day.  Matt got up early and it was time for him to leave.  He had to take a train to Hamburg, the S-baun to the airport, fly to Paris, fly to Detroit, and then fly to Bloomington.  He got up around 5 on Monday morning.  I got an email from him at 5 on Tuesday morning saying he made it home.  Poor thing (it took 24 hours to get home).  We were all sad because he had to leave.  It felt right to have him there, and when he was gone, it wasn’t right anymore.
Monday then, I had to go to work, and the kids had to get back in the habit of some school.  They are still working on multiplying and dividing fractions, and this week they finished the book they had been reading, Robin Hood.  Monday it was raining when I got home from work and so we waited for a while and when it slowed up we got up and walked around.  We walked down to the city center, show my parents the marzipan place and walked until we found somewhere to eat.  We found a place that served noodles.  It was fun because the waiter could not really speak any English.  It was a really good dinner. 
Tuesday I decided I wanted to do a little shopping, so my mom and I went out and ran around for a while.  I had been seeing sundresses all over Europe and I wanted to get one (since I keep hearing reports of sweltering heat from Decatur).  I wanted to get Elizabeth some leggings too since she wears them every day and the European ones are a little different.  I accomplished all my missions.
Wednesday after work we all went out walking, and went back towards the center of town.  We stopped at a store and found a great deal on a German Soccer Jersey for the boys.  It reminds us of Finn, who loves the team so much.  We went back to the “flintstones” restaurant.  It was cheap pizza night.  We all got different pizzas, except me, I got – currywurst. 
Thursday was our last night – already!  We made a plan with the people, I work with.  My parents and the kids took the train to Travelmunde earlier in the day.  Travelmunde is a city on the Baltic Sea.  They walked around, played at the beach and in the water.  They had a nice playground with a ship, so they played pirates and sailors.  I drove up with my friends and we met my parents at the beach.  We walked along the pier, and along the harbor there, and found a yummy seafood restaurant.  We ate outside which got a little chilly but it was nice to smell the ocean.  My work friends drove my parents’ home and the kids and I took the train and walked back to the hotel.  It was a nice day.
Friday, I had a big conference call in the morning.  We couldn’t go into the office since we didn’t have a car (it had been driven to the airport).  I got up and started packing all of us up.  We had been in the room for 2 weeks, so things were a little unorganized.  About 9, I went and paid our bill and got ready for my call.  The kids and my parents finished getting ready to leave and walked to buy more marzipan for matt.  I was on my call till noon, our train left at 12:30 and we had to check out of the hotel at 12.  I took a cab to the train station, and I couldn’t find anyone when I got there.  I was starting to think we would miss the train, we didn’t.  They were waiting up by the ticket counter.  We decided that we would spend this weekend going to Denmark.  We went to Billund to the Lego headquarters.  Really all that is, is an amusement park, Legoland, but it was fun.  We stayed at Legovillage which is a hostel.  So we had to rent linens, but it was nice, we saved some money. 

We had to ride to train to Vejle.  Our Europasses give us first class tickets.  When we got on the train, we went to first class and there were plenty of seats.  The woman who check us in, gave us some free vouchers for a drink and a candy bar.  Nice!  We got into Vejle at a decent time and then we had to take a bus.  Now in Denmark they are not on the Euro system, they use Kronners.  We went to the bus and the bus driver said he would indeed accept Kronners, and so we got on and went to the Lego stuff.  We arrived at the Village, got settled, got something to eat, played on the playground stuff they had around, the kids liked “space balls” a big ball pit.   Then we decided to walk over to this big Lantias place next door (the front desk clerk and said to check it out).  We were under the impression that we had free admittance to the water park so we all had our suits on.  (Turns out that it was free admission to some other water park which was not open on Friday).  We walked over and the kids had their eyes open so wide… Paul said “this is kid heaven”.  It has large trampolines, and miniature golf, the water park (which closed at 8 which was when we got there), I can’t even remember what else.  It was built indoors, but it had a ceiling with special lighting etc that looked like you were outside.  Blue sky, clouds, the different stands looked like different storefronts.  It was really neat.  We walked around and figured out everything cost money, so I told the kids they could pick one thing.  We were about to pick something when I discovered a huge indoor playground, so they picked that, since it would be the best value, and they could play till 10 for the same money as other activities.  While the kids played, my mom and I went to the grocery store and got food for the next day there. 
After an hour or so they were getting bored of all the climbing and sliding, so they started playing with the huge Legos.  They ended up making a house that went up to their chest.  That was neat.  We then walked home to bed.  When we were walking home (at 10) the sun was just setting.  We ate some ice cream and went to bed.  The kids liked the room.  Not only did it have a Lego table in it, but there were beds that folded down from the wall.  So Libby and Paul slept on those bed, that folded down, and Jacob and I slept in other beds where were already set up.  Our room key had a Lego on it.  A funny thing happened when we were looking for our room after we checked in.  She said it was on the first floor in the yellow building.  We looked all over and couldn’t find it, and finally found it up the stairs.  We should have known better, but we forgot.  In Europe the ground floor is called 0, so the first floor, is the first floor up.  Kind of funny.
Saturday we got up and prepared for the day of Legoland fun.  We had breakfast for free at the Village.  I told the kids to eat a lot because we wouldn’t eat again for a long time.  The park opened at 10am.  We were there ahead of that which allowed us to be early in line.  I had to buy a ticket, which I bought at the hotel, and the kids and my parents had season passes to the Legoland Windsor which gave them free admission to this park too.  We decided to head straight for all the roller coasters first and do the looking at Lego stuff when the crowds were bigger at the end of the day.  We pretty much went from ride to ride with no major lines until 12:30.  At that time we had done all that we wanted to do.  My dad lost his glasses on rollercoaster #3, I think, and so he and my mom had spent a lot of time trying to retrieve them (to no avail).  Around 12:30 it was starting to look like rain.  We needed to leave at 3:30 in order to get to the bus, to get to the train.  We walked around some of the Lego, what do you call them?, sculptures, until it started raining.  Basically they have all this stuff made out of Legos.  They had a Lego Star Wars exhibit which had a scene from every movie.  Then they had Lego sculptures of farms, and towns, and an airport, all kinds of stuff.  They had boats and working locks, and things that moved.  It was really amazing and if you had been to any of these places, it was really impressive, because they looked like the real thing, but they were made from Legos.  They had a Neuschanstein Castle that I really liked (remember we saw that in person).  They had Los Angeles where you could move a movie camera and “flim” the movie that was happening with Legos in front of you.  They taught about different types of power, you got to see different kinds of architecture in northern Europe and all made out of Legos.  As my father said, “they took a children’s toy and turned it into an art form”.  It was neat to see.  We took a boat ride around some other sculptures.  In between looking at all these Lego sculptures it would rain, and we would run inside and look in the shops.  They kids each got to pick out a little Lego kit, and a Lego person as a souvenir.  It is a fine deal, because it is all they play with, they only toy the boys brought. 
We had a little more time, and so we walked around to check out different rides.  None of us wanted to spend much time in line, so we picked shorter line things.  Then it was time to go.  Libby and my mom walked to the bathroom and then to the bus stop.  The boys, Dad and I walked back to the village to get our stuff, and to the bus stop.  We had had a bit of snack in the park, but at the bus stop we had our sandwiches.  We got on the bus, and… yes, the bus driver did not accept Euros and we didn’t have Kronners.  Actually what happened is that my dad got on to pay while I loaded all 6 suitcases on the bus.  My dad got off and said to unload, and so I did, but my mom, unwilling to give up, “negotiated” with the bus driver to let us on with Euros.  Finally he did, at a great profit to himself I might add.  We didn’t care; we had to make the bus to make the train to make the next train which was an overnight train that we had reservations for.  We ended up with extra Euros anyway, so it was ok.  I reloaded the suitcases on the bus and we were on our way.
So we made the bus, to the train.  At the train station I was laughing because my mom was giving directions to another American because she had investigated the trains so well she knew them all.  They called me the pack horse since I was loading and unloading the suitcases all those times on the bus (and everywhere else) and I called her the travel agent.
We got on the night train before 7 which was nice, just because we were settled and we didn’t have to switch for 12 hours.  The kids and I had started reading a book that Matt had brought to us, called “Monster in the Hallows” which is by Andrew Peterson.  It is the third book in a series he is writing.  We love them, I would highly recommend them.  So we read some chapters and we went to bed, early, but it has been such a long day, and we went to bed late the night before and we were tired. 
The next morning came early, we had to switch trains in Cologne.  We got rolls from a bakery in the train station and waited for our train to Brussels.  We made it to Brussels and found our hotel.  We dropped our luggage around 10am.  We were rather putzing around and I asked my mom what our plan was for the day.  We couldn’t decide between Gent and Brugge.  I had been to Gent and not Brugge, my parents had been to Brugge but not Gent.  My mom said that the train was leaving at 10:05 for both, and so we booked it across the street to the train station and got on the train.  Just in time.  We sat on the train and decided that rather than either Brugge or Gent we would go to Ostendee to the Ocean.  It was a sunny day when we arrived, we kinda walked aimlessly around, saw their cathedral and found the main drag through town.  It was a pedestrian street with tons of shops.  Our goals for Belgium were waffles and Pomme Frites.  None of the waffle places we saw were what we wanted.  We finally bought some Pomme Frites because we were getting pretty hungry (remember breakfast was just rolls in Colonge a long time before).  (Pomme Frites are what we would call French Fries).  We reached the beach, the boys rolled up their pant legs, Libby took off her tights and ocean frolicking commenced.  My parents went off in search of food while the kids played.  It was overcast now, and with the ocean breeze it was a little chilly, they kids didn’t care.  We saw the English Channel from the other side, which was pretty cool.  My parents found a sandwich, a _________, which is another Belgium favorite, and we ate that, it was pretty yummy, they went and bought 2 more.  We ate those too.  Then we decided we had seen what we wanted to at Ostendee and so we walked back along the beach to the train station.  Along the last street there were tons of vendors selling things made out of fish.  They also had a fish market that we took the kids to, so they could see what one of those was like.  There were many sites and sounds.  It was nice.  We made the train, decided to take it to the central train station in Brussels instead of the south one we were staying at.  The central one is downtown and we knew where to get the good waffles and Pommes Frites from there.  That, and of course, my mom wanted more chocolate.  We hit all our favorite spots and walked back to the hotel and just relaxed for an hour or so.  Then it was time to figure out dinner.  We went down and talked to the front desk and they recommended a nice Belgium restaurant just a short walk away.  We went there and it was really yummy.  My Dad got beef stew, Libby and Jacob got chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce.  Paul got meatballs in tomato sauce.  I got cheese Croquettes (another Belgium food we hadn’t eaten yet.)  The restaurant was really cute, with a circular staircase in the middle, and stain glassed windows and a stained glass dome at the top.  We walked back home with bellies full.
The next morning, we got up and went back to the train station to take the Eurostar to London.  We left about10.  When we got to London, we took the tube back to our cute apartment and we were all very happy to be settled again.  We were all very happy to not be lugging our suitcase around anymore.  My Dad will leave on Saturday and we will have just 10 days left after that.  The time will go fast now.  We are a little concerned about how we will get all this stuff home, but we just have to make it to the airport and then it should be ok.
I worked from the kitchen table till 5, my parents worked in the bedroom and the kids played Legos.  Paul worked on math, but I think he forgot stuff in the time he had off.  It shows the importance of doing this stuff every day until it is engrained in their heads. 
After working we walked to the grocery store and the park.  We came back home to a pasta dinner and played and then read our 2 chapters of Monster in the Hallows and went to bed.  It was a nice day.  It was funny, I guess since it was before 6, but the drug store next to the grocery store was open for the first time.  It is usually closed.  My dad was able to get reading glasses which help him survive until he can get his real glasses.  That was a blessing.  After the glasses we went to the park, my dad was chasing my children around to their great glee and the glasses fell out of his pocket.  Fortunately the boys found them.  I hope he can keep a hold of them for a couple days. 
After that it was home and eating and to bed.  We made it through another week and our time is coming shortly to an end.  Time goes fast, and we still have a lot to do! 

Friday, 17 June 2011

Weekend with the Kroschels

So, it is Friday morning.  I got up and worked from the hotel for a while while everyone slept.  About 10 we got ready to meet Olaf who was an exchange student from Germany who lived with Matt’s family when Matt was in high school.  He happens to live in northern Germany now, which is about an hour or a little more from Lübeck where we were staying.  He came down with his 10 year old daughter Mercedes.  We toured around Lübeck a little bit.  We went and saw the city gate from the middle ages.  We climbed to the top of a church and looked over the town.  Lübeck is know as the town of the 7 cathedrals.  It is funny to drive into town, because from a distance you can see the spires of the 7 churches much higher than the other buildings.  They are tall and green and skinny.  We toured the famous Marzipan store in Lübeck and went to their “salon” which had all kinds of things like life size statues made of marzipan.  (there is a picture posted previously).  We bought marzipan to eat later. 
We walked around a little more and bought a snack.  We got the Alsis pizza (it is on a thin crust, with sour cream and bacon and onions) and curry wurst.  Curry wurst (as you will see) becomes some of our favorite.  It is a sausage with a sauce – most like barbeque sauce, with curry.  It is yummy and we love it.  We got ice cream too.  Yum.
We then drove up towards Gettorf, Olaf’s son had a soccer tournament.  We got there after the game was over, but we met up with the rest of the family.   A 8-year old son named Finn, a 6 year old son named Elias and a 2 year old son named Keanu.  We decided to go to the beach.  They live right by the Baltic Sea.  We went for several hours, the kids played in the ocean.  They had their suits.  I didn’t put mine on, it was cold!  I did get my feet wet and take lots of pictures.  Just sitting on the beach in the sun, watching the kids, was so fun.  After they got cold, they played on the playground equipment, and played in the sand and just had fun.  It was a nice afternoon.
After the sun was setting, we got ice cream and left.  We went to Olaf’s and they bought pizza for dinner.  The kids enjoyed being at a house with toys and they played and played.  They had a lot of playmobiles, the kids had them all over the floor covering everywhere.  Keep in mind, my kids have only had some littlest pet shops, squinkees and a bag of legos for the past 3 months.  They were in kid utopia.  They had a really nice little house, with three stories (and a basement).  We felt like it was huge after living in a one bedroom apartment and hotel rooms.  I was glad, one of things I wanted us all to learn is that we are really blessed with all that we have in Decatur, and we could really live on much less.  The kids played and the adults hung out and talked for awhile before we went to bed. 
Saturday we got up and were treated to a huge german breakfast.  It had lot of rolls, meat, cheese, cream cheese, salmon, yogurt, juice, oh I don’t remember what else.  I do remember that I liked german breakfast and there is nothing better than a fresh roll with a good cup of coffee.  UMM.   The only coffee we had been drinking was instant coffee from the hotel, so the coffee was a nice treat too.  After breakfast, we decided to drive to the nearby town of Kiel, which is the big town around there and a major port city in Northern Germany.  There is a canal that goes from the Baltic Sea to the North Sea to facilitate trade with Scandinavia.  We took a ferry up and down the port, we had currywurst from a vendor.  We stopped at one of the top 10 ice cream places in all of Germany.  After all that, we were deciding what to do next and thought…we will go to the beach.  So we did, for the afternoon.  Again we sat in the sun and played in the waves and had a great time.  Elizabeth spent quite a while trying to catch a jellyfish, which she eventually did catch.
After the beach we went back to the Kroschel’s and were treated to a huge pasta dinner with tomato sauce, and home-made cheese sauce.  It was really yummy.  They kids played more.  It was really fun to watch them interact with Olaf’s kids.  His kids didn’t know much English and our kids didn’t know any German.  Mercedes was just learning some.  Elias followed Paul and Jacob around and basically repeated everything they said.  P and J called him “little buddy”.  We all enjoyed Keanu’s silly antics.  Finn was incredibly passionate, especially towards soccer, but you could see it in other areas too.  Mercedes was a beautiful girl, with a very sweet spirit.  She was a girl slightly awkward on the brink of starting her trip into being a woman.  Olaf’s wife was named Gitte and she was so patient with her children and such a loving mother.  She was so tolerant of all of us, and nothing seemed to fluster her.  She spoke just a little bit of English, more than I spoke of German.  I really can’t put into words all my memories, but they are warm and rich and wonderful.    The Kroschel’s were so hospitable, it was just crazy.  I hope they come to the US someday, I would love to have them stay with us to return the favor.  We said that we would have Mercedes and whoever else would like to come and stay with us in the future.
The kids watched a Land Before Time movie they had in English while we played a card game..  Then it was time for bed. 
Sunday we had another big breakfast, and decided to go to the zoo there in Gettorf.  It was really different in that you buy some zwieback (that dehydrated toast stuff) and feed it to any animal…  the monkeys, the birds, the goats (of course).  The kids had a lot of fun interacting with the different animals.  There was also a playground every two or three animal exhibits so I think the kids spent more time playing than looking at animals.  There was an upside-down house at the zoo and so we toured that.  It was built right side up and put upside-down on its roof.  That was fun for the kids too.  At the zoo we got a snack – yes – currywurst.  I gotta figure out how to make that in the US.
After the zoo we went back to the Kroschels.  The kids played badminton in the back alley and finally it was time to go home.  Olaf drove us back to Lübeck, and we were sad because we had such a nice time and we knew it would be a long time before we could see these friends again.  The traffic got worse the closer we got to Lübeck because people were returning from the holiday weekend.  Fortunately, we heard that Olaf was able to take a different way home that was a little better. 
Olaf had packed us sandwiches and we had those for dinner and went to bed.  What a nice weekend.  One of the highlights of the trip to be sure.

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Starting Monday May 30

Matt and his parents were still here but today is the day we needed to leave on our two week trip to northern Germany.  Tate & Lyle has a company they own in Luebeck Germany.  It is close to the Baltic Sea (or Ostsee).  More about that later. 
So Monday, yes, we got up and since we were leaving we had to pack.  I was going to start the day before, but, of course, we got home too late for that.  So we got up and started packing for our trip.  Everything, of course, took much longer than expected, and Gordon and Mary Ann came over and were weren’t ready, and we weren’t ready for a while after that, finally we ate breakfast and we were ready to go.  It isn’t easy packing for 2 weeks and different kinds of weather even when you don’t have very much stuff.  I don’t know why it took so long.  After breakfast, we took the bus to the tube and then tube to San Pancras station where the Eurostar would take us at 6 pm.  It was around 11 when we got there.  My great idea was to leave the luggage there so we didn’t have to go out to the apartment after we did things downtown.  Most train stations in Europe have some sort of luggage lockers.  We were  packed rather… inefficiently, with lots of extra bags, because it didn’t matter, and we were in a hurry, but soon that came to be a problem.  I figured we would have to rent a couple lockers and typically they can cost 8 euros, we were traveling with Matt, me, the three kids, and my Mom and Dad for 2 weeks, we had a suitcase each.  Well, turns out, for all of you who think it is a good idea in the future… San Pancras station does not have luggage lockers, they have a luggage check, and for each bag, you have to pay a fee, and the fee is pretty ridiculous.  I wont tell you how much because I am still disturbed about it.  I am pretty sure we could have fed a family for a long time with that money, but ok, we didn’t have much choice at that point, we couldn’t lug the luggage all over London.  So we left it.
After that we went to Greenich.  The plan was to take a tour boat down the river, it isn’t too costly and more interesting.  We had a great tour guide and finally landed.  We hiked up to the observatory.  Matt made a point with his GPS at the prime meridian.  He was 9 seconds off, it was so sad for him.  We took pictures with our feet on both sides.  We then hiked back down the hill and had some ice cream before we had to rush back to get the train to get the tube to get to the Eurostar.  It was a fast trip.  The Eurostar is the train that connects London to Paris or Brussels.  We went to Brussels, so that night we had a hotel close to the train station. 
The next morning we had a few hours before our train so we walked toward downtown Brussels and as I say, we ate our way across Brussels.  First we had Belgium Waffles, you could have them with chocolate sauce (my choice), or fruit and whipped cream or both.  They smelled so good as you walk down the street.  They are sold at little places along the street, you go to the window to order and eat there in front of the shop.  They have a “shell” which is almost like crystallized sugar on the surface, they are soo good, I love the texture.  I have to figure it out.  We walked around saw the cathedral, the main sites (there is a special statue you can ask Paul and Jacob about), and went to a chocolate shop.  They had free demonstrations and samples…. MMM… it worked for us, we bought stuff there.  After the chocolate and more walking and seeing we ate Pomme Frits (French fries) did you know french fries were invented in Belgium?  They like to put mayonnaise on them.  I think I am getting used to it.
After that we decided we better get back for our train.  We had to go fast, but we made it to pick up our luggage and to the train station in the nick of time.  We took trains the rest of the way to Lubeck and got there in time to go to bed.  I was really upset, because I had gone to the money machine in the train station and it ate my card.  I was pretty sick about it actually, but it turned out ok.  I cancelled mine right away that night and matt had another one we could use.  No loss, just frustrating.
The next day I had to go to work.  Matt stayed with the kids and mom and dad.  They were so nice and went and got the kids breakfast before they got up.  They swam mostly that day and had a lazy day.  After so much business, that was nice, besides, we were finally in a hotel with a pool.  After work that night we went to a restaurant recommended by the hotel which they called “flintstones” in English.  It didn’t have the characters, but it did have dinosaurs.  German food was yummy.
Thursday my parents decided to go to Poland for a few days.  Maybe I should ask them to blog about it and post it here, because I don’t know too many of the details.  They left Thursday morning and came back on Sunday.  They got all the way across the country and found out their passes didn’t work in Poland, which I think is kinda funny.  They liked it, and it gave them a different experience from the rest of our trip.  They rode on a very scenic train along the low mountains and streams there in Poland.  They went to Krakow.  I guess that is pretty much what I know.
Matt and the kids walked around the town, did some geocaching, went to a park and waited for me to get home on Thursday.  Unfortunately, I had to work late.  We were going to go out with some friends from work for dinner at this resturaunt that I thought Jacob would love, it was called something like Karrtoffhoger.  Kafftoff is potato I think.  Anyway, Jacob got potato pancakes with mushroom sauce, libby got potato pancakes with applesauce.  Paul got a plate of roasted potatoes with eggs, matt got sausages, sourkraut and potatoes.  I usually can eat off everyones plate and get enough to eat so I didn’t order anything.  Of course, what is most often left over?  Salad, which is fine with me.  I ate salad and some of most everything else. 
Turns out, I found out over the weekend that this was a restaurant which was connected to the EHEC outbreak and one woman died after eating there.  She ate there May 13-15.  They thought it was the sprouts that made her sick, I ate radish sprouts, I remember because they were so good.  That rather freaked me out for a while, but we are going on day 8 now and I still feel ok.  The E Coli outbreak was going strong the whole time we were there.  I didn’t pay attention at first, but it was concentrated in northern Germany (right where we were).  After the weekend we were more careful. 
Friday morning I worked for a while from the hotel. Thursday and Friday were holidays in Germany.  Thursday was Fathers Day.  In Germany, that means that the guys all get together and hang out.  As it was explained to me, the guys get together, pull a wagon of beer and go to the woods.  Matt walked in the woods with his kids. (close). 
I will have to tell you about the weekend later.  We are on the train now, after the weekend after this (i am a bit behind).  We have internet on the train!  LOVE IT!  So I thought iIwould post what I have.
Post more soon.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

London with the Matt and Parents

Tuesday the kids, Heidi and Braden went back into town.  They had a busy day at the Bank of England museum, science museum, V&A, Harrods and Picidilly circus (sovienier shopping).  They liked the Bank of England museum, they learned about the money, and economics... it was a neat find (and free).  They didnt get home until after I did.  I had started dinner and then it was pretty much bedtime.

Wednesday the kids had to get back to work again (school).  After work we went to the grocery.  We went to the first Tesco.  We got some nice bargins, but it was a disaster.  They wouldnt take my credit card, I dont know why.   They wouldnt take my Dad's since his signature since it didnt match his drivers liscense.  That is because he had written SEE ID after his name.  His drivers liscense didnt say that, so they didnt match.  Finally, I went out and got cash.  When I got back inside, in the meantime, they accepted Dad's credit card.  I was left with a lot of cash.  We went out for the bus and waiting over 45 minutes for a bus that is supposed to come every 10-12.  Very frusturating.  I just wanted to go home.  We finally made it.  We went to bed after I made some delicious peanut noodles with vegetables.  (all on clearance, so I fed the family for less than 2 pounds, I was so proud,.) 

Thursday – finally Matt came.  His parents are visiting London too.  I had to work all day.  Matt and his family arrived around noon.  It was torture to work those last 6 hours until it was time to go home.  Finally, it was time, I made sure I was on the first van home.  I pretty much raced to the flat, went up stairs, opened the door – and – no one was home!  After coming home for lunch, and depositing their stuff, they decided to into to London.  They left about 3:30, but with so little time till I got home, they did get to see much.  They got home a little after 7.  I went ahead and started dinner, so at least that   was (almost) ready when they got home.  My mom had to finish it up, because after Matt got there, I was a little distracted.  They said they had gone into London on the Tube.  For a while, it had rained very hard.  They saw Westminster Abbey from across the street, and they were able to walk to the middle of the Westminster Bridge.  We had dinner, and sat and talked and pretty much went to bed.

Friday I had planned for people to sleep in a little.  By Friday I had already worked around 50 hours so I decided I didn’t need to work.  I thought it would be best to let the jet lagged people sleep.  We finally got up and got going around 9 or 10 and we decided to go to Kew Gardens, the Royal Botanical Garden, and Kew Palace (in the Gardens).  Matt’s Dad really likes plants, and my Dad does too.  We hadn’t been to the Kew gardens so it seemed the perfect plan.  We had a wonderful day at the gardens.  The weather was a little cold, but pleasant and no rain.  We walked and walked to see everything.  They had Japanese gardens, and a warm weather plant house.  They had a redwood walk.  They had a more recent planting of a tree which until recently had be believed to be extinct.  Until they finally found it in New Zealand, the tree had only existed in the fossil record.  It was called the Wollemi Pine.  They had some really huge trees that were planted in the 1700’s.  The walk with the Rhododendrons was so beautiful,  They had a fun place for kids with caves, which was supposed to be like where badgers lived.  We met a woman whose husband grew up in Champaign there.  We were recognizable by our Illinois clothes.  You could crawl around, I had to be on my knees.  My knees got a little dirty.  We had a picnic there.  They had a very high tree walk, which was built above the trees.  Matt liked the engineering as much as looking down at the trees.  Kew palace was interesting; it focused on Queen Charlotte, who was married to the King George, who was the King George of our revolution.  They used Kew Palace as a summer getaway, and one of their 15 children started the Gardens. 

After Kew Palace and Gardens we went home.  We had cooked hamburger before, and so we chopped stuff, warmed the hamburger and had Tacos.  Then we all winded down before bed. 

It is light so early in London, before 4 am.  It is light very late, after 9pm.  You end up eating late, like at 8 all the time.  Maybe because we are always going places and getting back later, or maybe because it is light so long.  Londoners eat late too, the company dinners are always planned at 7-9.  That is a little different.

Saturday it was time for the big adventure.  I decided to drive.  I wanted to get an early start because we were going to go down to the white cliffs of Dover and to Leeds Castle.  It is a two hour drive down to Dover.  We were able to leave early, I had a few problems finding the right road to get on and it was not comfortable to get used to driving on the other side of the road.  Without too much stress or yelling, we got on the highway (M25) and we were on our way.  I liked driving on the highway much better.  The funny thing about that was the slow cars are supposed to go to the left, not like on our roads where the slow cars are on the right.  The white cliffs were very impressive.  It was a cloudy day, and it was VERY windy by the coast.  We hiked around along the cliffs, it was so windy, sometimes it was a little scary.  We saw some wild ponies who live there.  Instead of National Parks, they have National Trusts.  We found a step path down the cliffs and  Matt and I and the boys hiked down.  My dad came with us.  Down by the ocean we could see two old gunning stations, with a connecting cave left from World War II.  They would be stationed there and make sure no boats crossed the channel.  The white cliffs were made of chalk,  They had round rocks of flint in layers in the chalk.  The beach was made of these large round rocks.  When the waves came in, it sounded like marbles, you could hear the rocks rolling against each other.  The tide was going out, and so you could start to see a couple shipwrecks.  I think there were many in this area, one of the signs said it was a protected shipwreck (preservation) area.  After hiking we ate lunch, which was cold and windy, but we all enjoyed seeing the cliffs.  Then we all piled back in the car and headed to Leeds castle. 

Now the thinking reader is probably counting in their head, the four London Schwenks, Michelle’s two parents, Matt who is visiting, Matt’s parents, what in the world car are they driving.  And I don’t really know, it was some kind of a Chevy, and it was PACKED full.  Fortunately it had three rows of seats but really because of the wheel well there were only two seats in the back.  Jacob, Paul and my mom had to sit back there.  In the middle there was a bench, matt’s mom, matt, my dad and Elizabeth sat there, in the front, I was driving and Matt’s dad got the other seat, I guess there is an advantage to being the biggest.  It was a very tight fit, but I think we got to do some things that would be difficult by train, and fit a lot into a couple days, so I think it was worth it.  You will have to ask everyone else if they did.

Leeds castle was build in the 16th century.  Or at least started back then. It was bought by an American Heiress in the 1940s, and so she had spent a lot of money, restoring and updating.  When we arrived, they were having a bird show.  The heiress liked birds so she had started an Aviary.  They had a outdoor flying birdshow.  They had a macaw, and an owl, but the most interesting to me was two falcons.  They had trained them to dive at a target, which they would swing above their heads.  It was amazing to watch those birds fly.  It was really windy that day, so you could see the birds the using the air currents.  The little falcon, called a Merlin falcon would fold his wings in and dive down so fast, then pull up at the last minute when you thought he would crash.  It was amazing. We enjoyed the bird show.  There was a hedge maze so after the bird show we thought we would do that before going into the castle, though we knew we couldn’t dilly dally or we would miss the last entrance.  Well, my mom, me and Matt’s mom stuck together and got very lost.  It wasn’t very comforting to have everyone standing on the platform in the middle saying we were going the wrong way.  Finally Paul (and my Dad) took pity on us and came back to get us.  Paul lead us, and a lot of other people we picked up along the way, out of the maze.

The Castle was interesting; part of it was from Norman times.  There was an old cellar and storage rooms.  Part of it was updated and renovated more recently and so it had an interesting personality.  The heiress had an uncle who founded Standard Oil along with Rockefeller.  He died without children, so she and her sister inherited 40 million dollars, just think how much that would have been back then, no wonder she bought a castle.  It was a very pretty castle with a moat and gardens all around.  When she died she left the castle to a trust, which is who manages it today.  Her daughter still lived in the castle until 2001 when she died.  They had a picture treasure hunt for the kids, they had to look for certain animal pictures in different rooms, which kept them looking around while they had a reading guide and signs in the rooms.  They had knowledgeable people standing around, but you had to ask a question, if you did, you learned a lot.  After the castle, we headed home.

Since it was Saturday we had frozen pizzas when we got back, and then it was bed time again.

Sunday we were slow, which was ok, because church didn’t start until 11.  I took the whole clan to church and they got to see my interesting and ecletic little church.  I will have to ask when this church was built, you can tell it is old.  It is made out of stone with stainglass windows and beautiful woodwork.  We walked to church and then walked home.  We had made a nice lunch in the crockpot so it was ready when we got home.  We ate, and then I don’t know what happened, but it seemed like we could never leave, we finally did around 2 which was much later than I wanted.  We drove (yes, I drove again!) to Stonehenge, it was very impressive, like taller than I thought, but closer together than I thought.  They had a display with the two kinds of stones used at Stonehege, one is a stone from nearby but it has a cold feel, one is from all the way in Wales Called Bluestone.  It has a warm feel.  They had the two stones side by side and you could feel a difference.  I never noticed that in stones before.  It was kind of amazing to think how people back then could have brought those huge stones for 200km away!  Though there are many stone circles in that part of England, Stonehenge is unique for a couple reasons, one is that it has stones on top going horizontal, the other is that the stones are all smoothed and uniform.  Did I mention that we didn’t pay to go in, but stood on the other side of the fence?  It seemed like a good way to do it, you couldn’t get much closer, it is all roped off, even on the other side of the fence. 

After Stonehenge we went to another stone circle called Avebury.   It seemed like a good idea at the time.  The guidebook said Avebury was nice because you could get right next to the stones.  Stonehenge and Avebury were not too far apart either, so it seemed like we could do that and still make it to Bath.  Well, let me tell you, driving on the M25 on the left hand side is a lot different than driving though the English countryside on the left side.  The roads are SO NARROW, and winding, and you had to stay on your side of the road, but there doesn’t seems to be enough room for you on your side.  I hit the bushes on the left more than once.  Someone in the car noticed I seemed to speed up when I got in a dangerous spot, rather than slow down.  Maybe I did, because I wanted to get out of there quickly.  I tried to be mindful to be more slow after that.  At one point, I said to my riders, does it disturb any of you to know I close my eyes every time we pass a car.  They said, that is what they did too.  Oh it was scary and stressful, but I made it to Avebury.

We made it to Avebury, and it was neat because we could get out and walk right up to the stones and touch them, climb on them etc.  It was a HUGE stone circle all around the town, at one place there was a smaller stone circle inside the bigger one, though not in the middle.  It was a really cute little town, and a nice thing was that when we were driving in, a guy gave us his parking pass so we didn’t have to pay.  We didn’t say too long because it was getting late and we still had to get to Bath.

I was a little concerned about driving more, but hey, at this point we were already out, and this was our one chance to see all this stuff, so on to Bath we were. 

We got to Bath after 6 so we missed the Roman Bath tour.  I had printed out a walking tour from the internet, so we started that, only I wanted to be efficient, so we started the walking tour in the middle (close to the parking garage where we parked).  That made it a little tricky, but maybe it was fun to try and find the next plaque on the ground.  The kids liked looking for them.  We started at number 15 or so and made it back to the beginning, so we could do some of that in order.  We saw all the houses in bath, they all looked the same, and they were all connected.  It as a very clean and neat town.  We went down and saw the bathhouse and Bath Abbey.  We walked around and saw the Avon River, and a famous bridge, one of only three known bridges with shops lining both sides.  (we saw one of the other two in Venice).  Bath was a really interesting town.  We wanted fish and chip for dinner and we wandered aimlessly for a long time with my map of resturants, not really finding what we were looking for.  Finally my parents had the brilliant idea of asking at a pub.  They were only serving pizza but they had a brilliant suggestion of a place with "crackin" fish and chips.  We walked there, and they were right, the fish and chips were crackin.  YUMMY (and I dont like fish that much).  After dinner it was back to the car and back home.  We got home very late, but it was a great Sunday.