…Our 2012 Highlights! Check back soon for our Year-in Review.
I’m still alive!! Moving back to the States really threw off my blogging. (Not that I was that consistent before!) We’ve been in the FT Leavenworth area since mid-July and we are enjoying being closer to family. Hopefully, I’ll write more soon about our transition and how we’ve been keeping busy. But first, I want to cross off another post that has been on my “To Write” list for the past year.
About a year ago, Brandon was sent to a conference in Brussels, Belgium. Since my job at the Tax Center had ended for the season, I took the opportunity to go with him and enjoyed four days exploring the city with Rudi, another spouse who had also accompanied her husband to the conference.
Sunday, November 13, 2011
After I played for Mass, we drove to Brussels. It was an easy 6-hour drive, and that included stopping at the Nuremberg airport to book our December trip to Majorca. On the way there, the car hit 50,000 miles! (Brandon is particularly proud that he was going 100mph when the odometer turned.)
Unfortunately, once we arrived at the Crowne Plaza Brussels – Le Palace, we discovered that we left a few things at home. Brandon forgot his “cover” and I forgot the electric toothbrush. At least the hotel had toothbrushes, but they didn’t have any Army berets or patrol caps. We ate dinner at the hotel and enjoyed the fast & free Wi-Fi in the room.
Monday, November 14, 2011
While Brandon and Phil were attending the Counter-IED conference, Rudi and I started exploring Brussels. We followed Rick Steves’ self-guided walks of the Lower Town and the Upper Town.
We stopped for lunch at Le Cirio and enjoyed delicious lunch accompanied by half & halfs…half champagne and half wine.
While Rudi & I were exploring the city, we found a cute restaurant called L’Estrille du Vieux Bruxelles that we went back to for dinner after the guys were done with their conference activities.
We knew it was going to be a good restaurant when we saw the same two gay guys we’d seen at La Cirio at lunch! I had the sampler menu and not one of the six dishes was bad. The wine was also excellent! However, Brandon won best dessert by ordering a baked pear with Speculoos ice cream on a Speculoos cookie. I can’t remember what I ordered for dessert, but his was so good that we still remember it a year later!!
On our way back to the hotel, we made a detour to find the sister statue to Manneken Pis, Jeanneke Pis. What it is with Brussels and peeing statues??
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Today, Rudi and I started at the City Museum to see the costumes of Manneken Pis. It was amazing to see all of the colorful costumes from around the world for a statue!
We met up with the guys at lunch and they decided to skip the afternoon session for a day trip to Bruges. We had a nice time walking around, shopping, and enjoying the quaint city.
We decided to go back to Brussels for dinner to avoid the late drive on full stomachs. We enjoyed dinner at La Villette.
Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Rudi humored me by visiting the musical instrument museum. I saw some old clarinets and a really neat double piano. Even Rudi found it pretty interesting and there was a great view from the top restaurant.
The rest of the day we finished souvenir and chocolate shopping. We finally had waffles, but neither of us could finish because the chocolate topping was so rich and we’d eaten so much delicious Italian food at lunch!
Finding a dinner spot was tricky because the boys ran late and we were out at prime time. We ended up at Belga Queen, which was pretty fancy, busy, and good.
Thursday, November 17, 2011
Brandon and I did some last minute shopping for beer before leaving Brussels. We also got to see Manneken Pis in costume! He was honoring the Compagnons du Beaujolais celebrating the official launch of the “Beaujolais nouveau.” Supposedly, he was also peeing Beaujolais that day, but we weren’t able to get close enough to sample.
We did stop for a beer across the street from Manneken Pis, and Brandon was finally able to try the Kwak beer in a genuine glass. It stays in the wooden holder while you drink it.
Unfortunately, when we finally got on the road, we hit several staus that slowed us down and we arrived home late. Still, it was a wonderful trip. While it was a bit cold, November was a nice time to visit Brussels to avoid lots of tourists. And we brought home lots of consumable souvenirs to help us remember it!
We’re still in Germany, but not for long! After an uncomfortably prolonged delay, Brandon finally received orders to FT Leavenworth, KS, at the beginning of May with a report date no later than July 27th. We jumped into action, and by the end of the month, our household goods and vehicles were on their way to the United States.
There are so many things that I want to blog about, including the complexities of moving overseas, our last two major trips (Memorial Day Weekend in Norway and another 12-Night Mediterranean Cruise at the beginning of June) and our last impressions of Germany, but I am going to have to tackle those topics a little at a time over the next few weeks. Most of my days are still consumed by cleaning and sorting, and cleaning and sorting some more, so we will be ready to move out of our house on Friday. It is amazing to me all the little decisions that need to be made about what goes in what shipment, what gets packed in suitcases, what gets sold, what gets given away, and what just gets trashed!
We have mixed emotions about leaving Germany, but in honor of Independence Day tomorrow, here are some of the things that we are looking forward to about being back in the U.S.A. (in no particular order):
- Window screens
- An attached garage
- Central air conditioning
- Being able to get gas at any gas station and pay at the pump
- Using credit cards without a foreign transaction fee (and having Discover accepted)
- Asking questions in English and being able to read all signs
- Having most stores open on Sundays, if not 24/7
- Being able to mow the lawn on Sundays and holidays
- Target stores
- Fast Internet
- Nebraska football games
- Being close to family & friends!
Happy 4th of July!!
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.
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.)
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.
Happy Easter! He is risen! He is risen indeed!
(And I’m alive, too, although it’s hard to tell from my blog! Was my last post really back in January?? Yikes!! I’m going to blame tax season…but enough excuses.)
It was a chilly Easter here in Hohenfels. There were even snow flurries on my car this morning!
I am proud to say that I survived playing all of the Holy Week services for the Catholic Chapel on post. To be honest, I will not miss playing the Easter Vigil Mass next year! The service was about two hours last night, and I’ve learned to wear my glasses because the incense bothers my contacts. At least there was cake afterwards to celebrate the confirmation candidates! I am also super thankful for my wonderful cantors that assisted me at all four services!
After church this morning, it was a pretty quiet Easter day for us; however, last weekend we enjoyed a relatively new German tradition, the Ostermarkt. Easter Markets are not as prevalent as Christmas Markets, but they are growing in popularity. We went to the Easter Market at the Kuhstallcafe in Illkofen (about 10 minutes from Hohenfels).
Kuhstallcafe literally means Cow Barn Café, which is exactly what it is! It’s a café over a cow barn that is only open on Sundays and holidays and serves delicious kuchen (cakes). Even though we went for the market, we had to stop for cake and coffee/tea. We even splurged and had our drinks mit Schuss (with a shot of liquor)!
While the Easter Market was small, there were some nice things. I purchased the wooden bunny pictured at the beginning of this post, along with a spring door decoration, a metal hanging plant holder, and a decorative wooden basket.
I definitely think we should have Easter Markets back in the U.S. and a Cow Café certainly seems feasible back home in the Midwest! Just a few of the things we will miss about Germany when we move later this year.
I wish everyone a blessed Easter!