Monday, 23 May 2011

Second week in Lille - weekend in Munich and southern Germany

We returned to Lille late Sunday night (after the train disaster).  Monday it was back to work again.  The routine was pretty well established by now, work, home, eat, go out for a walk or to the park, bed.  The kids worked on fractions this week and still Robin Hood.  They also worked on writing (which hopefully will be posted very soon).

Work was going well, it was good to be in Lille.  This week we had several meetings with people who worked there that helped us in our planning and designing.  We had a new consultant, who was very helpful but unfortunately he had to go home on Tuesday.  The week went by quickly at work.  We had meetings ½ the day and then we had to work to get more details into our design and documentation (details are not my favorite part).

Monday after worked we walked to the grocery store, bought some cooked chicken and other things (a bagette) and had a picnic in the park which was right there.  It was a beautiful day.  We then played in the park.  E  and I climbed to the top of this giant spider web thing, we had been to the park before.  I was feeling brave.  They would never have a climber that high in the US.  It was scary, and pretty fun. The boys played on it too, we all spent a log time playing at park.  There was a slide ingeneously built into the side of a hill.  There were also nice trails for walking.  We had a good time.

At night before bed we have  been reading fairy tales every child should know.  We are currently on Aladdin, it is a long story.

Tuesday at work I got pretty frustrated, some politics of the business were getting me there a string… MOM water is coming from the ceiling.  The water was coming down so hard, it looked like a string.  We grabbed a bowl to collect it, but we noticed the water etc had already gotten on a suitcase and clothes.  I called the front desk.  It turned out to be the air conditioning.  We had to sleep in a different room that night.  It was frustrating to move and on an already bad day.  We decided to go to the grocery store and get chocolate.  I bought the kids kindereggs.  They are chocolate eggs with a little toy inside.  Libby got Papa Smurf.  The boys were jealous.  We split a delicious chocolate bar, the trick was, we had to pick something you couldn’t (easily) get in the US.  That limited us because much of what we could find, we could get in the US.  We found something delicious.  It made me feel better.

During the day on Wednesday the kids went to Paris to the Louvre.  On two previous occasions they tried to go to the Louvre, once the line was too long and we didn’t have enough time, and once it was closed (apparently may 1 is mothers day in Paris, though I think taking her the Louvre would be a nice thing).  They seemed to like the Louvre.  Grandpa tripped and almost fell against a priceless statue, the Mona Lisa looked like it was looking right at you no matter where you moved.  Jacob liked a statue of wood made out of thin pieces of plywood.  They also toured Napolean’s Apartments.  It was a good day.

Wednesday after work we decided to walk to the city center, because I had not been there yet.  We walked and it was very nice.  We found a creperie.  Yum.  We had gallets.  The waiter did not speak much English.  The boys thought it was very funny, because when I ordered I said I would share what Elizabeth had.  He said “same” and I said yes, but in retrospect, I should have said no.  He brought me the same thing elizabath ordered.  We had two of them, and too much food.  The boys thought that was very funny and from then on, always wanted me to tell the waiter I was going to share.

Thursday we were trying to pack etc to get ready to go from Lille.  They had found an ice cream store named Chuck’s close to the hotel and wanted to take me there.  We went for ice cream first, because it closes early.  Then we went to the grocery.  We were too late for chickens and we were at a loss of what to get, keep in mind the only way we could cook was tea kettle (hot water warmer).  We ended up having instant mashed potatoes with ham and cheese.  It was pretty good.  Can I tell you how great my mom is, how many different meals we made with just hot water?  We had chicken twice,  With the leftovers we had couscous with tomatoes, black olives and chicken, we had potato chowder with corn, we had tacos with beans and cheese.  Each one of these things represented quite a savings.  To go out to dinner usually cost a lot.  There is no way to save money when you eat out, soda is cheaper than ordering water.  I eat off the kids plates and don’t usually order something for myself, but still.  Sheesh.  So I am very grateful we though of all these different meals to have that would save money.  For lunch we mostly had sandwiches.  Baguettes are very yummy when fresh, and we had a lot of those. 

Friday morning I got up very early to work.  We let the kids sleep in and Elizabeth didn’t get up until 9.  We were all packed and ready to go, and the train left at 11.  We took the train to Brussels.  In Brussels we went to a ticket place to get reservations for our journey.  You don’t have to get reservations, but then you have a seat, on some of the fuller trains, it isn’t a bad idea.  We got reservations to Frankfort, but not all the way to Munich, so the second train we had to just find seats that weren’t reserved.  E had a seat separate from the others.  Mom and Dad were behind each other and Paul and Jacob found places across the isle.  We were all in one car, but I didn’t have a seat.  I had to be on a conference call for work, so I stood in the hall outside the car, with my headset.  I could keep Elizabeth in my eye.  It was pretty cool to work from the train while driving to Munich.  Just about the time that my call was over, the seat across the Eisle from Elizabeth opened up.  I was able to finish the call sitting across from her (most of my talking was done by then).  It was so nice to have that seat across from E.  We got in to Munich.  We had to get a town train to the airport since that is where our hotel was.  The airport sure is out of the way.  No wonder it was so much cheaper than in the city.  We got on the right train going the wrong way the first time, but Mom figured it out quickly, when we finally got to the airport we had to wait forever to finally to get the airport shuttle.  We finally got t, our rooms were not ready (so much for a reservation – prepaid)  finally we got to our rooms and went to sleep.  The bed was hard and the pillows were small and I was sore the next day.  No wonder the rooms were so cheap. 

On Friday we literally had no time between trains so we had to have sandwiches for lunch and for dinner.  The kids were pretty bummed, but we made it.

Saturday was what I called CASTLE DAY.  We rented a car in the morning and we went to Hohenschwenstien and Neuschwenstein castles.  It was about a 2 hour drive.  We got a little confused getting out of the city, but finally found our way.  We had this HUGE people mover (their name for mini van).  It could hold 9 people.  Mom and Dad didn’t think it was much bigger than my van, but it sure seemed bigger.  I thought we were driving a boat.  It was blue, it was a Mercedes.  Maybe it seemed bigger since I haven’t been in mine for 6 weeks. 

So we drove through Bavaria to these castles.  The countryside was beautiful.  The first castle Hohenschwenstien castle was called the swan castle.  It was built by
King Maximillion on the site of a medieval knights castle.  It was a hunting/summer castle.  It is still owned by the family and they tour guide was an employee of the royal family.  He was a very good guide and the tour was very interesting.  The boy liked the dining room which had a battle seen painted on the wall, but in the scene, there was no blood painted, because that would not have been appetizing.  I thought it was interesting that it was believed that in the old Swan’s Knight castle, it is believed that Martin Luther hid there for a while.  King Maximillion had a son who built the other castle – Neuschwenstien – new swans castle.  He was the last king of Bavaria.  He built 4 castles duing his reign.  He became king at age 18.  The family doesn’t own any of the castles he built, because he just like to spend money and he racked up lots of debts.  After his death, the family had to sell the castles back to Bavaria to pay the debts off.  The castle was pretty amazing.  He only lived in it 172 days and only about 1/3 of it is finished.  We saw King Ludwig II’s private rooms.  Each is decorated after a different Wagner musical.  King Ludwig II was a supporter and good from of Wagner.  The castle was the inspiration of Cinderella’s castle.   It is not to hard, after touring it, to see how he became broke.  It is pretty elaborate.  Construction lasted 17 years, when it had to be abandoned after his death. 

So, his death was pretty interesting.  He was raking up all these debts, and he fired one advisior who told him he was too in debt.  His next advisor secured a loan to pay his debts but instead of doing that, he just funded more construction projects.  He built these different castles, and at least two theathers, supported several artists (including Wagner), ETC.  So, the state of Bavaria had him declared insane, though no doctor actually examined him.  This is why he is sometimes called Mad King Ludwig.  He was taken into custody, and the next day he was dead.  Interesting…  They say he died under mysterious circumstances.  I don’t know if he was mad or not, but he sure did like to spend money and had very nice taste.  His bedroom had this furniture which took 60 workers in 2.5 years or something like that.  He even had indoor plumbing (thanks to being build on a hill and a mountain stream).  It was a very elaborate castle.

After the first castle, while waiting for the second we had brats, “meatloaf” and pomme frits at a Biergarten.  Yummy!  There was a very long uphill walk to the second castle.  Mom, and Dad decided the walk might be too much, so they took the horse wagons.  Elizabeth went too, because, well, it involved horses.  The boys and I walked up.  After the tour we walked back down.  The woods were beautiful, I really liked that part of the country.

We went back down, had ice cream and popcorn from this crazy machine that popped it right into your container.  It didn’t taste as good as it looked.  We did some souvenier shopping and it was time to drive back.  We stopped at a little place in a small town along the road and the food was so yummy.  It was here Jacob said “This is the best day of my life, everything is meat”.  They had little brain puzzles in small clear plastic cubes and our table was covered with them.  I had ½ wheat beer and ½ cola.  It was so weird, I had to try it, from a flavor perspective.  I couldn’t imagine it.  It was very sweet.  I liked it.

Finally we made it back to the hotel.  Dad and I decided to return the car right away so we didn’t have to worry about it in the morning.  We had to wait for 40 minutes for a shuttle and when we got back Mom had the kids in bed.  So we went to bed.  Paul decided to sleep with Grandma and Grandpa since the extra bed wasn’t too big.  This lead to some interesting conversations with Jacob.  We are laying in bed and he says “Mom, what is a spinal tap?” When I explained it he said “does it hurt?”  I don’t know what that kid thinks sometimes, or how his brain works, where this stuff comes from.  I do like talking to him though, and I am glad for the quiet moments where I finally get a peak in there. 

Sunday morning we got up late, had a long leisurely breakfast and took the train back downtown.  We had an hour to wait for the train so we walked around the block and tried to get a little bit of a view of “Munchen”.  We got on the train and rode for 4.5 hours and got off in Colonge.  The main cathedral (Dom) was close to the train station.  We walked to the hotel, checked in and then walked to the Dom.  It was Sunday night, so when we got there they were just starting mass.  They had the most beautiful organ music playing.  We stood at the back.  I didn’t know if I wanted to force the kids to sit through church – in german – after sitting all day on the train, but we stood at the back for a very long time listening to the music and the singing and talking.  For my part, I enjoyed Church that day emensly.  We then walked to a german restaurant and had more delicious food.  Mom and I shared this pizza type thing which was a local specaialty.  It had a very thin crispy crust, and then sour cream, bacon, onions and cheese.  I liked it.  Elizabeth and Jacob had snitzel with cream sauce, Paul had pasta and Grandpa had Snitzer with an egg.  We had apple flavored soda, but with a little bitterness to it, we really enjoyed it.  We went to bed.

Monday morning we got up and went to the visitors information center and asked what we should do with just a couple hours, they said go to the cathedral, we said, we have already been there, and they said, did you go to the top of the towers?  We hadn’t so we went there.  We got mom situated in the pews with our luggage listening to more organ music and we were on our way.  The towers are 157meters high, though you don’t climb to the very top.  You do, however climb, 533 steps, so we were pretty tired!  The boys didn’t want to go, they were afraid of heights and their legs hurt.  I made them.  I am not a nice Mom.  There was a beautiful view of Colonge from the top.  Colonge is a different city because the buildings are much more modern than most of the cities we had seen.  It was bombed on 262 occasions in World War II.  90% of it was leveled and rebuilt after the war.  An interesting thing is, this cathedral, the largest cathedral in the world for a long time, the highest building in the world before the Washington Monument was built, was not damaged in these raids.  Colonge was the site of the first 1000 bomber night by the RAF - bombed with 1400 tons of bombs in 90 minutes.  And that is just one of the 262 air raids.  One bomb was reported to hit it, but it did not go off.  It is a beautiful gothic cathedral, and I am glad it was not destroyed when most of the rest of the city was.

We then decided to walk to the Rhine.  I took off in one direction, thinking it was a good idea, but we walked too far south, and well, we ran out of time about a block away.  We had to go back to the station.  At least we saw the rhine from the top of the bell tower.

We then got on our train to Brussels, and switched in Brussels to a small local train, and then another train and then to Lille.  We will eventually end up in London tonight.  We then start the season of visitors.  First my sister and her son, then (finally) Matt and his parents.  So the next two weeks in London will be quite busy.  The kids are looking forward to people speaking English again.  I am a little tired of trains at the moment. 

The next post (from me) will start on Tuesday May 17th. 

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