E&B 2012 Highlights (a.k.a. The Christmas Letter!)

2012 was a great year for us, full of traveling and transitions. Read on for the details!

January

At the start of the year, Brandon and I were recovering from our pre-Christmas trip to Mallorca and our week of ski lessons in Garmisch-Partenkirchen between Christmas and New Year’s. Both trips were enjoyable for completely different reasons, although I might have enjoyed Mallorca a bit more since it didn’t involve bruises, blisters and lots of falls! Brandon loved finally getting back on the slopes with the Intermediate/Advanced class while I happily stuck with the Beginners.

I started my third year at the Hohenfels Tax Center on January 3rd. As one of the senior preparers, I played a key role in the training at Vilseck and Bamberg. Brandon continued to work as the Executive Officer (XO) for the Badger Team, the Counter-IED training team.

February

We knew we would be departing Germany sooner rather than later, so we made sure to get our final “souvenirs”: a custom-made dining room hutch for me and a 2011 BMW 335i xDrive for Brandon.

I continued to play clarinet with the Bläserphilharmonie Regensburg up until our move. In February, we had a weekend of rehearsals at Burg Trausnitz, followed by a weekend of concerts to celebrate Fasching, Germany’s Mardi Gras. The concert featured marches of all origins and genres. The audience was quite surprised when I introduced Sousa’s “The Stars and Stripes Forever” in English.

March

After spending a few months around Hohenfels, we started venturing to other countries again in March. I finally made it to Poland to do some pottery shopping with my friend, Rudi. We stayed one night at the Blue Beetroot in Boleslawiec and did some serious shopping in the two days. I definitely should not have waited so long to go, but I made the most out of my one trip!

At the end of the month, Brandon made a quick 2-day trip to Brussels for some NATO meetings.

April

After the craziness of playing the piano for all of the Holy Week and Easter masses, Brandon and I spent the next week in Slovenia for Spring Break. I actually blogged pretty thoroughly about this trip, so you can read about all of the details here. It was a beautiful country and a memorable trip around Lake Bled, the Julian Alps and Ljubljana. Another place where we would definitely go back!

Ljubljana, Slovenia

Lake Bled, Slovenia

After Slovenia, Brandon had to go back to Brussels for another NATO meeting. While the long drive was not fun, at least he could bring back as much Belgian beer as he wanted!

With the nicer weather, comes Fest season in Germany. We enjoyed the live music, carnival rides, crepes, and Maß biers at the Nürnberg Volksfest and the German-American Volksfest.

Nürnberg Volksfest

Crepes at the Nürnberg Volksfest

German-American Volksfest at Hohenfels

May

In May, the moving madness began! After some question about whether the orders for FT Leavenworth would actually arrive, we finally received the Request for Orders (RFO) on May 2nd. We were able to get the official orders on May 8th and could then start making all of the transportation arrangements. There’s a lot to coordinate with an overseas move, including household goods, unaccompanied goods, shipment of two cars, the special shipment of our wine collection, what to sell/give away, and what to carry with us. Needless to say, we worked it all out, and by the end of the month our household goods and my car were on their way back to the U.S.

Loading our household goods into the truck

In the midst of all of the moving arrangements, life went on. Brandon was inducted into the Order of St. George and was farewelled by the Badger team. I wrapped up my duties as the 1st Vice President of the Hohenfels Community Spouses Club and prepared my successor at St. Michael’s Catholic Parish to take over my role as the musician.

At the end of the month, we escaped the moving madness with a trip to Norway to visit my cousins there. (You may remember that we last visited them in August 2010 with my parents.) It was nice that the Norwegian holiday of Whit Monday (Pentacost) corresponded with the American Memorial Day! We flew up to Trondheim on Thursday night and took the train to Oppdal on Friday morning. Over the long weekend, we hiked to the Losvold summer farm, observed muskoxen, and just generally enjoyed the beautiful scenery and generous hospitality!

Losvold Summer Farm

Muskoxen

The Bjørndals & Caves

June

My last day at the Tax Center was June 1st and two days later we were on the inaugural sailing of the Carnival Breeze for our “Last Hurrah Cruise.” It was a 12-night cruise departing from Venice with stops in Dubrovnik, Croatia; Athens, Greece; Izmir, Turkey; Messina, Sicily; Olbia, Sardinia; Civitavecchia (Rome), Italy; Livorno, Italy; Monaco; and ending in Barcelona, Spain. Needless to say, it was a wonderful trip and I need to blog about it in more detail at some point! For now, enjoy these few pictures.

Acropolis; Athens, Greece

Mount Etna, Sicily

Porto Cervo, Sardinia

Via Appia Antica; Rome, Italy

Ponte Vecchio; Florence, Italy

Eze, France
(Nice & Eze Excursion from Monaco)

Carnival Breeze in Monaco

After the cruise, we kept working on the final moving details and tried to savor our last few weeks in Germany. We took lots of walks around Großbissendorf, ate at our favorite restaurants, visited Kuchlbauer’s Bierwelt in Abensberg to celebrate Brandon’s birthday, and enjoyed a final day in Regensburg that included a tour of the Thurn & Taxis palace and Sommerfest.

July

After finally selling our “beater” car, cleaning & clearing housing, and mailing our final packages, our time in Germany came to an end when we flew from Ramstein Air Force Base to Baltimore on July 10th. We picked up Brandon’s car at the Baltimore port the next day and started driving to our next adventure at FT Leavenworth, KS. On our way, we stopped in Iowa and Nebraska to visit family for a few days, and then began the moving process in reverse! Gradually, we were reunited with all of our belongings and settled into our new home in Platte City, MO.

At the end of the month, we attended the 60th Haugland Reunion at Inspiration Hills outside Inwood, IA.

August

The first weekend in August, we drove back up to Iowa for the “Fasse Birthday Bash,” celebrating Emma turning one in July and Hannah turning five at the end of August.

The next weekend, I visited my friend Allie who lives in Nixa, MO while Brandon started his coursework towards a Master of Science in Administration through Central Michigan University at FT Leavenworth. On August 13th, Brandon started his Intermediate Level Education (ILE) classes at the Command and General Staff College (CGSC). In typical Army fashion, they changed the name a week later to Command and General Staff Officer’s Course (CGSOC). All I know is he goes to school every day and had a lot of reading and assignments until Novemeber!

September

Over Labor Day Weekend, my sister and her family were our first visitors to our new home. We visited several kid-friendly attractions in Kansas City, including Science City, Hallmark’s Kaleidiscope, the Kansas City Zoo, and Alldredge Orchard.

My parents and Aunt Sandy were our next visitors a few weekends later. We explored historic Weston, MO on Saturday and then enjoyed the beautiful weather at the Plaza Art Fair on Sunday.

October

Brandon’s family came to visit us over Columbus Day weekend. Brandon’s dad was born just up the road from us in Atchison, KS, so we went up there for a crafty Oktoberfest and to learn a little family history.

I started the Becker CPA Exam review classes on Oct. 11th. The first review section was Regulation, so at least I eased into it with a topic with which I’m comfortable: individual taxation. There are four parts to the exam and I will be done with the first two parts of the review by the end of the year. My hope is to take those first two parts of the exam in January/February 2013 and take the last two parts by the end of April. While my application to take the exam has been submitted to the State of Tennessee (where we are legal residents), I am still waiting for approval to schedule the exact dates to take the various parts.

This year was my 10th reunion from Wartburg College, so I went up to Homecoming with my sister and her family. I was a little disappointed that more folks from the Class of 2002 didn’t attend the reception, but it was nice to see those that were there. And I always have a great time with Hannah and Emma!

On Halloween, we announced via Facebook our biggest news of the year: we’re going to have a baby in 2013! Little Pumpkin Cave is due May 24, 2013.

November

We finally found a free weekend to go up to Nebraska so Brandon could be in Lincoln for a Husker football game. Brandon and his dad attended the Penn State game and were treated to beautiful weather and a 32-23 win. I stayed in Omaha to watch the game from the comfort of Brandon’s sister’s house. (However, since I didn’t attend the game, there are no pictures.)

Thanksgiving was celebrated at Brandon’s aunt & uncle’s house in Omaha. It was a nice treat to actually be with family for the holiday and to enjoy a home-cooked meal. Brandon’s mom always gets an Iowa-grown turkey from a family friend in Atlantic and it was delicious!! After watching the Nebraska-Iowa game on Friday, we headed over to Atlantic to see my family for the weekend. (Again, sorry there are no pictures…I’m obviously getting lazy and need to get my camera out more! Is it that seeing family is actually becoming routine again?)

December

And finally we made it to December! Brandon and I kicked off the holiday season with the Kansas City Symphony’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. I loved it! Brandon thought it was a little long.

Now we are finishing up our classes, so we can enjoy more time with family over Christmas. We will be making a big loop from Platte City, to Atlantic, to Des Moines, to South Dakota, to Omaha and back to Platte City. Looks like there will be lots of time to review my CPA exam materials in the car!

Thank you so much for reading my blog throughout the year, sporadic as it is! The New Year will surely bring us new and exciting experiences as we welcome Baby Cave in May and move again next June. (No, we don’t know where yet, but hopefully the Army will tell us in January or February.)

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2013!!

Erika

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Spring Break in Slovenia (Part III)

April 12, 2012

Today we drove to the capital of Slovenia, Ljubljana. We easily found parking close to the city center and made it to the Tourist Information just in time for the two-hour guided town walk. We had a good guide who was knowledgeable and interesting. We spent the most time at the castle. The tour included admission to the castle tower where our guide was able to show us the city from above. We were again lucky to have a sunny day!

After the tour, we ate lunch at Restauracija Pri Vitezu, which was recommended by our guide. Unfortunately, by the time we got there Brandon was starving, the few tables outside were taken, the menu was only in Slovenian and the man at the next table was talking so loud we could barely hear the waiter’s explanations. Needless to say, it wasn’t our most pleasant meal in Slovenia, although the food was good.

(Ironically, that man at the next table was Giancarlo Guerrero, the music director for the Nashville Symphony, who was in town conducting the Slovenian Philharmonic. I found it interesting to hear what he was saying about the symphony management and musicians. I kinda miss that world sometimes…)

After lunch, we explored more of Ljubljana. A short rain shower passed over, but we were prepared with our rain coats and umbrellas. We checked out the market hall and the main market square and also visited the Serbian Orthodox Church. While Ljubljana is a nice city, it didn’t impress us like other European cities we’ve visited. Everything seems to revolve around Jože Plečnik, the architect, or France Prešeren, the poet. And the only time the city rose to prominence was the four years it was the capital of Napoleon’s Illyrian Provinces.

Since there wasn’t anything else we felt the urge to see, we did what we enjoy doing the most in European cities–sitting at an outdoor café watching the people.

After our drinks, we found a quaint wine shop where we were able to buy some requested bottles for a friend and then we drove back to Bled for dinner at Okarina Etno.

April 13, 2012

Our last day in Slovenia was grey and overcast, but we still walked by the lake one last time after we checked out of the hotel. The weather didn’t seem to bother the swans!

We stopped for one more piece of the delicious kremna rezina cream cake and then we headed out of town.

As we drove through the countryside, we saw lots of the distinctive roofed hayracks. Because of the frequent rainfall, the hayracks are covered by a roof that allows the hay to dry thoroughly.

We drove back through Austria to Berchtesgaden, Germany. Brandon and I had spent a lovely four days in Berchtesgaden during his R&R from Iraq in 2008. We stayed at Hotel Bavaria and still remember the delicious meals prepared by the hotel’s gourmet chef. At one meal, Brandon had a side of baked potato smothered in an herbed sour cream that we have since referred to as “Death by Potato.” We returned to Hotel Bavaria in hopes of finding “Death by Potato!”

We knew that the hotel is now under new management, but when we got there, we discovered that they don’t even serve meals unless half-board has been reserved! Needless to say, we were disappointed, but the new owner did direct us to another restaurant that serves something similar.

Unfortunately, when we arrived at Gasthaus – Cafe “Am Luitpoldpark,” they were preparing for a large celebration and had no available tables. We understood enough of the hostess’ German to come back in an hour. So, we walked to the pedestrian area to try to find a place to have a pre-dinner drink. We stopped at Goldener Bär and ended up having pre-dinner spargelcremesuppe in addition to a drink. One of the best parts of spring in Germany is the white asparagus crème soup!!


We went back to the gasthaus and they still didn’t have a regular table, but they converted one in the front of the restaurant to accommodate us. The food was worth the inconvenience! Brandon had a decadent potato with plenty of garlic sour cream and bacon and I had käsespätzle.

April 14, 2012

The next day we still couldn’t see the top of the Mount Watzmann, so we decided to simply drive home.

We had a lovely time in Slovenia over Spring Break. We wish the weather had cooperated in Berchtesgaden, but we have wonderful memories of that area from 2008. As it turned out, it was good that we arrived home earlier than expected on Saturday because Brandon ended up driving to Belgium on Sunday for a meeting in Brussels on Monday morning! Thankfully, little recovery was necessary from our nice relaxing vacation.

Spring Break in Slovenia (Part II)

April 11, 2012

Rain was forecasted for today, but we’ve learned you can’t let that stop you when you’re traveling or you won’t see anything! I was dying to ride one of the traditional pletna boats out to the island in the middle of Lake Bled. For some reason, I love boat rides. Brandon is indifferent, but he humors me.

The pletna is a Lake Bled tradition that dates back to the 17th century and the boats are still hand-built according to the same centuries-old design. They also have electric boats that they use in the winter and in bad weather. We had tried to take a boat to the island the day before, but the gondoliers were only offering rides in the electric boats because there was little demand. I was afraid we would have the same issue this morning, but luckily a group of four also wanted a ride out to the island, so a total of six people made it worthwhile for the gondolier!

It took about 20-30 minutes to row to the Island (Otok). We had about 30 minutes to explore the church, little museum, and gift shop before our pletna would head back across the lake. This turned out to be plenty of time.

We walked up the 99 stairs to the Church of the Assumption…

Rang the church bell (A local superstition claims that if you can get the bell to ring three times with one big pull of the rope, your dreams will come true!)…

And found a watercolor print in the souvenir shop before re-boarding the pletna. This is one of my favorite pictures of the island from the boat:

After our boat excursion, we stopped for lunch at Pizzeria Rustika. While the location was not the most convenient, the pizza was delicious! We had the Capricciosa with tomato, cheese, ham, artichokes, capers, and oregano.

While we were at lunch, I was reading my Rick Steves’ Eastern Europe book and found a Self-Guided Driving Tour of the Julian Alps. Since we didn’t want to hike in the rain, we decided to drive! The drive is supposed to take all day, but we thought we’d see how far we could get in an afternoon, especially since the weather would likely put a damper on our stops.

The first part was the Vršič Pass (vur-SHEECH). We entered Triglav National Park and quickly came upon the first of the road’s 50 hairpin turns (24 up, then 26 down). Each one was numbered and labeled with the altitude in meters. They are cobbled to provide better traction!

Just after switchback #8, we stopped to see the little Russian chapel. I’ll let Rick explain:

This road was built during World War I by at least 10,000 Russian POWs (of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) to supply the front lines of the Soča Front. The POWs lived and worked in terrible conditions, and several hundred died on illness and exposure. On March 8, 1916, an avalanche thundered down the mountains, killing hundreds more workers. This chapel was built where the final casualty was found. Take a minute to pay your respects to the men who built the road you’re enjoying today. Because it’s a Russian Orthodox chapel, notice that the crosses topping the steeples have three crossbars.

After that stop, we headed for summit. Unfortunately, the rain at the lower altitudes turned into snow as we ascended. After the 24th switchback, we reached Vršič at 1611m (5,285 feet). However, we did not opt to get out and explore due to the weather and poor visibility.

On our way down the other side, we saw an abandoned checkpoint from when this was the border between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

The second part of the drive was the Soča River Valley. We stopped to view the crystal-clear water of the river and Brandon especially enjoyed the suspension bridge.

Our last stop was at Velika Korita Soče (“Grand Canyon of Soča). I can only imagine how much more beautiful this sight would be on a sunny day!

We drove back to Bled via Italy. Nothing like going for a drive and unintentionally entering another country! However, it’s just like entering another U.S. state since both countries are part of the European Union.

That evening we had a delicious dinner at Vila Ajda. Our waiter was very attentive (again, we were the only ones there for a time!) and we had a beautiful view of the lake as we ate. All in all, another good day in Slovenia!

(I got a little photo-happy in this post, but if you want to see even more photos, check out my Shutterfly Share Page.)

Spring Break in Slovenia (Part I)

April 9-13 was Spring Break here at Hohenfels. Brandon and I have been lucky enough to have four Spring Breaks while we have been stationed in Germany. (So you don’t have to look back at the blog, we went to Amsterdam in 2009, Paris in 2010, and a belated Spring Break to Cinque Terre in May 2011 when Brandon returned from Afghanistan.) This year we decided to drive to Lake Bled, Slovenia.

April 9, 2012

We left on Easter Monday after I had some time to recover from all of the Catholic Holy Week services. It was a pretty easy drive through Austria, but it wasn’t the cheapest! You have to buy a vignette to drive through Austria. We bought a 7-day vignette for €10 at the last Esso station in Germany when we stopped to fill up our tank with rationed gas prices. There were also two tolls in Austria totaling €16,50. Finally, Slovenia also requires a vignette that cost us €15. So, in addition to gas, we paid €41,50 to get there and €16,50 on the way back. This wasn’t a problem, but it’s just good to know so you have enough cash on hand to pay the tolls!

We arrived at the Garni Hotel “Berc” around 5pm and the sun was shining!! Luka told us that it had snowed there just a day earlier and it would rain later in the week, so we better take advantage of what was left of the sunny day! We didn’t mess around and walked straight to the lake for a stroll around the 3.5-mile path. It was easy to see why this place is a popular European destination!

We ate at Ostarija Peglez’n for dinner. We were surprised to find pumpkin soup as the Soup of the Day, but it was good. We also read that they specialized in fish, so I ordered salmon and Brandon had tuna steak. We both enjoyed our meals and had an easy 5-minute walk back up the hill to the hotel.

April 10, 2012

The sun was forecasted to shine again today, so we took the opportunity to visit Lake Bohinj (BOH-heen). We visited all three parts that Rick Steves described: a village, a cable car, and a waterfall hike.

Ribčev Laz Village (loosely translated as “Good Fishin’ Hole”) is located at the southeast corner of the lake. Unfortunately, the church, St. John the Baptist, was not open.

Next, we took the cable car up to Vogel Mountain. There were some impressive views of Mount Triglav and the Julian Alps, but we didn’t realize that the best views were as we were exiting the cable car and we wouldn’t be able to get back to that spot.

The last stop was the Savica (sah-VEET-seh) Waterfall. This was the main reason that we wanted to visit Bohinj. We followed the moderate-to-strenuous uphill trail (including 553 stairs) to see the beautiful waterfall.

We headed back to Lake Bled for some lunch along the lakefront at Vila Prešeren. We also enjoyed a piece of the classic cream cake called kremna rezina, a layer of cream and a thick layer of vanilla custard artfully sandwiched between sheets of delicate, crispy crust. Delicious!

Since the sun was still shining, we decided to visit Bled Castle. While the path to get there was pretty steep, the sweeping views were well worth the effort!

At the castle, we checked out the small museum and the tiny chapel with 3-D frescoes. We also visited a working replica of a printing press from Gutenberg’s time and the wine cellar. With some help from the “monk” at the wine cellar, I bottled and corked our own bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon and received a Certificate of Authenticity printed on handmade paper in the print shop.

That evening it finally started to rain, so we ate close to our hotel at Mayer Penzion. We were the only ones at the restaurant for quite a while. Traveling outside of peak season is nice to avoid the crowds, but it can also be a bit lonely! We had a good meal and then went back to our hotel to crash after such a full day.

In my next post I’ll share about our day trip to Ljubljana and the rest of our Slovenian Spring Break, but if you want to see more photos, please visit my Shutterfly Share Page.