Just in case

October 12, 2009

I may be speaking to a rather small audience, but for those of you interested in both “Mary Poppins” and electronica, I highly recommend the music video Expialidocious by Pogo. I may also have a weakness for Bangarang, for you “Hook” fans.



October 6, 2009

I thought I should post briefly to say a couple of things.

  1. I am back home safely and have been for about ten days now. Yay good old G. Raps!
  2. Usually I’m horrible when it comes to blogging; I just had a particular urge to record my sojourning in Europe. I personally am not expecting to see much new on this blog for a while.
  3. Happy October 6th.

Um, yeah.

September 21, 2009

I must admit to some mischief in my last post. Michael and I enjoy the new nursing/swinging chair from Pilipp so much that we decided to make a visual representation of how fabulously much you feel like you’re floating when you sit in it. But, really the chair is quite normally suspended with a spring and metal pole.

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Anyway. So much for fiction. On to the much more exciting and photogenic realities of my last few days in Germany.

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Gangster Eowyn at the train station and on her way to Rothenburg o.b.T. The touch screen on the ticket machine had been wrecked with burns (“although not with a cigarette lighter, since there’s no smoke above,” Michael said. Apparently he’s seen three or four wrecked screens already).

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In the words of Miss Bates, Rothenburg looks just like a fairyland.

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Grace contemplating the very great pleasure bestowed by a 2-euro glass of fresh pressed apple juice. (Apparently I’ve hit an Austen rut.)

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Michael and I went back to Rothenburg in the evening to walk the city wall and take the “Nightwatchman Tour” of the city. 1 part Monty Python and 3 parts history. Very enjoyable.

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Inspired by Eowyn’s distinct eating style, I’ve had this notion to have an Eat Like Skeeb Dinner. Note the sippy cups, watered down juice, bibs, and lack of silverware.

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This shot was taken later in the dinner, as you can tell by the amount and radius of the sauce on our faces. We started out using two or three fingers on only one hand, but to be truly Fleeb authentic, we felt the need to grab whole handfuls of pasta.

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Michael trying to sneak a kiss; Eowyn playing hard to get.

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September 18, 2009

Miq and I dashed off to the Ikea-like Pilipp in Ansbach to pick up a new rocking chair for Grace, and we came back with THIS:

Joel in New Chair

It’s apparently a brand new generation of the basket chair I mentioned a couple of posts back. It’s crazy expensive because it utilizes new German technology, but the Pilipp service reps didn’t speak enough English to explain it, and the manual is all in German too. We’re waiting for Linda to come over and translate some of it for us. Miq kind of impulse bought it, and we took it straight off the showroom floor. The ironic thing is it creeps Grace out to have Nycteris in it because she’s worried about radiation.

Anyway. I’ve been feeling guilty about not journaling for the last while, so last night I pulled out the journal and pen. At first I wrote in paragraphs and then in bullet points as it got closer to midnight. I guess spending seven weeks in Germany is a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I thought to myself (philosophically) about the fact that every day back in Grand Rapids was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I didn’t feel a particular urge to write down what I ate for dinner on January 17, 2005. Hmm.

I have an abundance of pictures because of my long Sabbath rest from blogging, but I’ll just post some of my favorites.

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I took Fleeb to the park the Friday after Nycteris was born in an attempt to quell any feelings of jealousy. She enjoyed herself and didn’t even cry when we left because she had just got a new biking helmet and it was so exciting to put it on.

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Miq and I also did some mountain biking around Petersburg. The uphill was rough, but zipping down rolling green hills with mountains all around on the horizon is exhilarating.

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I trained to Erlangen to visit the Jaeschkes on Monday. They took me to Coburg, near where Herr Jaeschke’s parish was. This is inside the cathedral, which has a classic Gothic exterior but this Victorian (?) style inside. Beautiful, but it was shocking when I first stepped inside.

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I think this was part of the original Coburg city wall. Coburg was the city of Prince Albert’s family, and we toured the city palace. We also went out of the city to see the castle:

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The castle was the old home of the royal family before they descended to live in the more modern city palace.

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Inside the castle walls. There were two courtyards inside the castle walls and a lot of buildings surrounding the courtyards.

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There was a museum inside the castle, but I was more interested in the rooms themselves than the showcases.

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The hunting room in the castle. Uber fabulous.

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And, for all you grandparents out there, here’s a new picture of Nycteris receiving an oracle from above.

Nycteris Armstrong

September 9, 2009

Grace started having contractions about the time I finished last night’s post around 12 a.m. this morning. By the time I was in bed, Miq and Grace were packing to go to the birth center.

Nycteris [undecided middle name] Armstrong was born at 3:35 a.m. For the record, she weighs 7.9 pounds, is 20 inches long, and looks like so:

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Grace and Nycteris when they came home around 11:30 a.m. Nycteris creaks in her sleep instead of snores. She really does sound like a little tree creaking in the wind.

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September 8, 2009

Usually I’m resentful about feeling like I Should Blog, but tonight I’m more petulant about feeling like I Should Go To Bed. I just finished The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Galaxy, which left me feeling entertained, dissatisfied, and overdosed on absurdist humor. A quick spin on Wikipedia to peruse the plot summaries of the other Hitchhiker books didn’t help.

I would like to say that I’ve settled into a writing routine since Fig hopped on a plane and left me alone with the locals. However, I’ve only done seven and a half hours of creative writing since I got to Germany. For the record, Michael does have random days off every time I turn around, and I find myself on the weekend often. Seriously, we went to Garmisch two weeks ago on a four-day weekend, and then we just had a four-day weekend for Labor Day. Not to mention Michael’s Bavaria Dentac “Organizational Day” on Thursday, which was a day at the Freizeitland Park (German amusement park).

Anyway, today I forced myself to finish Moby-Dick, and I was having so much fun reading and avoiding writing that I sat down and read Hitchhiker’s Guide too. Moby-Dick also left me a little listless, but at least I came away feeling like it had a Traditional and Positive Point. And Ishmael’s voice is just so passionate and over-the-top. I mean, you just have to love someone who loves whaling enough to say:

“It now remains to magnify (the whale) in an archaeological, fossiliferous, and antediluvian point of view. Applied to any other creature than the Leviathan – to an ant or a flea – such portly terms might justly be deemed unwarrantably grandiloquent. But when Leviathan is the text, the case is altered. Fain am I to stagger to this emprise under the weightiest words of the dictionary. And here be it said, that whenever it has been convenient to consult one in the course of these dissertations, I have invariably used a huge quarto edition of Johnson, expressly purchased for that purpose; because that famous lexicographer’s uncommon personal bulk more fitted him to compile a lexicon to be used by a whale author like me.”

Ah, Melville. I’m remembering how Fig could read a 660-page fantasy book in the same time it took me to read less than half of Moby-Dick.

Chris and Patty, our neighbors downstairs who are also Army people, offered to watch Fleeb for the evening, so we all boosted off to Ansbach to look at furniture and eat dinner. We went to Pilipp, which is a four-story German Ikea-like furniture/clothing/stuff store. Miq and Grace are looking to put a rocking chair in the living room before Fleeb 2 pops out (the due date is tomorrow), but they didn’t find anything they both loved. Miq was rooting for a wicker egg-shaped basket/chair that hangs by a spring on a metal stand. Kind of like having a swing in your living room, except cooler.

Also, went to this most excellent Thai restaurant. I now have a strange desire to try making all sorts of marvelous dishes with coconut milk, chopped lemon leaves, and curry powder. I may be looking up Thai restaurants in G. Raps when I get back.

It’s time for some random pictures.

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Miq, Fig, and I climbed Petersburg, which is a small mountain next to Marktbergel (it is also featured on the banner of my blog right now). This shot of Marktbergel is taken from maybe one-third of the way up Petersburg.

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There was a random standing stone on Petersburg that Fig climbed and from which he pontificated to the world.

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Jon took this picture of us at a gasthaus in Bad Windsheim. Linda was sick with mono, but we were able to go out with Jon, get ice cream down the street, and play a roaring game of Masterpiece before he left for Erlangen and then Michigan.

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Here are Miq, Grace, and Skeeb in a cathedral in Dinkelsbuhl, which is a walled medieval town kind of like Rothenburg.

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This waterwheel was in a random deserted square by a theater. Next to the wheel was a defunct mill, which Miq thought had been powered by mules to crush grain.

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Miq and I posing in a random public garden outside the city wall (left in picture). We took a walk around about half of the city wall and found some really nifty nooks. Note the next picture, for example.

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Grace and I posing on a random awesome bridge also outside of the city wall.

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Miq, wondering about the possibilities of The Grim Reaper in Front of Time.

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Miq, Grace, and Fleeb leaving the bridge and passing through the Dinkelsbuhl wall.

September 4, 2009

I’m going to give a brief photo-tour of our time in Garmisch here, but if you happen to be friends with Stephen Armstrong on Facebook, I highly recommend his “DEEP RAVINE” photo album.

Garmisch is about three or so hours south-east of Marktbergel and is decently near the Germany-Austrian border. Apparently it’s a big deal for the Americans here because of the Edelweiss Lodge and Resort reminiscent of American resorts like the Wilderness Lodge in Disney World (or, at least, that’s how Michael explained it to me). Miq and Grace, however, were more interested in taking us to Garmisch because of the Partnachklamm, or Partnach gorge. Note:

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It pretty much looked like this the entire way down the gorge. There was a walkway blasted into the rock to the side of the gorge.

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There was a series of bridges that crossed the gorge above, but it was steep, rough climbing to get up to them and we didn’t go farther than the first bridge.

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This gives a better view of the sidewalk from which we enjoyed the gorge.

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I went a little picture happy, but it was kind of hard to resist.

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The darkness made for some fuzzy/odd pictures. Note Steve’s head poking above Grace’s right shoulder.

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Steve, styling his H&M coat. Like any good model, his mouth is partially open and his face renders a look of profound enlightenment.

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As Michael said, the only thing that would make the gorge better is if the river were heated to hot-tub temperatures and you could float down it.

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We drove an hour over to Neuschwanstein that afternoon after eating doners in Garmisch. Driving in a five seater with Fleeb in the middle of the backseat can be uncomfortable, but we made it. You have to hike up to Neuschwanstein, and this was a little restaurant about halfway up. We ate there on our way down.

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An uber-classic shot of Hohenschwangau Castle from the walkway up to the Marion Bridge. Hohenschwangau was the childhood residence of King Ludwig II of Bavaria. I always thought the lake to the left was the one Ludwig drowned in, but apparently he drowned in a lake near Munich.

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Neuschwanstein from the Marion Bridge.

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The gatehouse at Neuschwanstein. The red stone work made my day, and on the other side the gatehouse was paneled with yellow stone. We took a tour of the castle, but we couldn’t take pictures. There was a lot of ornately craved, rich wood and wall-paintings of Wagnerian opera scenes. It was probably as opulent and overwhelming as anything I’ve ever seen, but there was a warmth to all the paintings that made it feel very comfortable.

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Here we are eating dinner. We were all kind of brain dead and tired after our long day, but the jagerschnitzel was quite delicious.

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It was dusk by the time we got down from Neuschwanstein. We had to drive back to Garmisch then, but we struck up a hot conversation about how we could improve the quality of life of our family, and we continued talking late after we got back to our hotel room. We passed around the Granini pear nectar, which is basically bottled magic. I’m planning to check on the availabilty of the stuff in America when I get back.

More Italy

August 26, 2009

I am back from Garmisch and basking in the fact that I have nothing particular to do today. I’ve pretty much loved everything I’ve seen in Europe, but I also rather enjoy the days where I get to sleep in, saunter down to the bakery after breakfast, and (in all probability) spend a couple hours reading, computing, and languishing on the couch. We are all zipping off to Bad Windsheim tonight to eat dinner with Jon and Linda, but I trust that falls in the languishing category instead of sight-seeing.

Anywho, I wanted to finish putting down some notes on Venice and Florence. Oh, but before I get there, I need to post this for Jane:

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I believe the words are, “I didn’t know he was invited!” This, at least, is not too modern of a style.

Venice was fabulous, but by the afternoon we were all hot and hungry and starting to feel sick. We had a second wind after getting pizza and Coke at a cafe about a block away from the Rialto Bridge. We wandered through the shops, and Steve and I watched Mom and Dad buy things. Admired some 600 euro shirts and ties, not to mention the 120 euro scarlet jeans. We didn’t stay long enough to see San Marko’s by night, but our last hurrah was a second walk around San Marko’s and down by the open-ish water.

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Shopping at San Marko’s.

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I thought I should include an uber-classic picture of Venice.

The Tuscan countryside, by the way, seems to be predominantly dominated by crops. Tons of flat expanses of green vineyards and cornfields and such. Very gorgeous.

Florence (have I mentioned?) was 40 degrees C, which is 104 F. Our hotel was on the third floor with no air conditioning, and we had four people crammed into a single room. Not to mention that there was a ceiling leak in our bathroom and the lights in said bathroom didn’t work. On the plus side, we were only 200 meters from the Duomo, and we could walk to everything we wanted to see.

Speaking of the Duomo:

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The Duomo proved to be much too much big to capture in a single shot, but here’s a decent representative. The green/pink theme looked so good.

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The Duomo was not as ornate inside per square inch as some of the Gothic German cathedrals we saw, but it was just so huge.

The next morning, we bustled off to the Gallery of the Academy. There were not actually that many rooms, but the walls were just covered in paintings. We weren’t allowed to take pictures, although I was tempted to sneak a photo of the David. At seventeen feet tall, David is crazy impressive and realistic. There was also this room stuffed full of Lorenzo Bottecelli (?) statues. The walls featured rows of busts of then-famous people, and the walkways were narrow for all the Allegories of such-and-such virtue on the floor.

We also made it into the Uffizi, although tickets had been sold out back when we first planned the trip. They apparently start letting tourists filter into the Uffizi during the afternoon after enough people have left. We only had an hour and a half or so, so we pretty much ran through the whole thing. I have vague memories of the Birth of Venus and da Vinci’s The Annunciation and Rembrandt’s self-portrait, but it’s all pretty much run together in my mind at this point. I still distinctly remember, however, wondering what good Perseus’s helmet would be in battle since he wasn’t wearing any other clothes at all.

We also followed Lucy Honeychurch’s steps to the Piazza Della Signora and Santa Croce. Unfortunately, Steve and I couldn’t get into Santa Croce because we had only briefly separated from Dad and Mom and didn’t have the ten euro in cash.

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The porch near the Piazza Della Signora.

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Santa Croce, and we didn’t even have a little bit of Baedeker.

We also walked along the Arno and I got a view similar to the other outside Lucy’s hotel window, but the sun was behind my view and I couldn’t get a good picture.

I spent 13 hours in the car and on trains the next day, driving from Florence to Munich and training from Munich to Marktbergel. Of course, Steve and I hopped a wrong train from the Munich airport heading toward Ottenhofen before correcting ourselves and re-routing for Ottenhofen-Bergel. As Steve said in parody of Lucy Honeychurch, “After an appalling journey in which our brains went missing not once but twice, we escaped Florence.”

August 23, 2009

Mike and Grace have returned from a co-ed baby shower for one of Michael’s dental assistants (I think?), and so we are planning to boost for Garmisch quite soon. It’s in the middle of the German Alps, about half an hour from Neuschwanstein, which I believe we will be visiting. But, while Mike and Grace are packing and prepping Fleeb (as niece Eowyn is often called), I thought I would give a whirlwind, highlights tour of my whirlwind tour of Vienna, Venice, and Florence.

1. We traveled from Marktbergel, Germany, to Vienna last Sunday, which is about six hours. The Austrian Alps are some of the most gorgeous things ever. When you’re traveling through the foot-hill-ish parts of the Alps, you get these really sloping mountains that are just covered in trees. This is a decent example:

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(Ignore the lapse of ten minutes in which I celebrated a banana-walnut bread orgy as Michael said there was no dinner planned in the foreseeable future, due to too much food at the babe shower. I now have half an hour to write this post. Yes.)

Vienna’s city center is packed with some of the most gigantic and good-looking buildings I’ve ever seen. Granted, I haven’t seen many large cities. The shopping district looked pretty much exactly like New York’s, although, of c., everything was in German. Anyway, about those buildings:

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I believe this is the natural history museum; that, or the modern art museum. They’re right across from each other, about a block away from the Hofburg, which is more of a complex of palaces than a single palace. We toured the imperial living quarters and saw the royal silver collection.

(Or, in other words, we went to the Hofburg and made an evening of it. Ignore this parenthetical paragraph if you aren’t Illusionist-crazy. But, if you ARE, let it be known that I saw a statue of Emperor Franz Josef, and the painting Ed draws of the emperor in the Hofburg is based on Franz Josef. Franz Josef’s son wrote anonymous articles in newspapers against his father’s politics and committed suicide in his hunting lodge at the age of 30-something. There you have it.)

Anyway, the pictures.

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Pardon the background sun; it was unavoidable. This part of the Hofburg is now the national library/book museum/we couldn’t read German and I really have no idea.

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Note the fantastic soup tureen. The “silver collection” is a deceptive name, as it includes all the royal cutlery and dishes and table decorations. So gorgeous, so expensive.

2. Anyway, I have fifteen minutes left and need to get on to Venice. We stayed 17 kilo outside of Venice in a little town called Quarto D’altino and trained in for a day. Portions of Venice are really beautiful, but a lot of the everyday buildings look unfinished with stucco over half of the brick work, and it is really pretty dirty. It was also like at least 90 degrees F. The streets are all narrow and twisty, with at least three-story buildings on each side. Canals everywhere and little bridges everywhere. Also, most Italians speaking English sound pretty much like a Lady-and-the-Tramp-educated mind would think.

Memorandum: Venice is a tourist trap. There are shops and booths everywhere with, collectively, one of the most enormous selections of knick-knacks, t-shirts, scarfs, aprons, and junk I’ve ever seen.

Despite what I’ve written, I’m really glad I went to Venice. We went to the largest collection of Venetian art at some gallery or another, but I couldn’t take pictures. (Between the five or so hours I spent in that museum, the Academy at Florence, and the Uffizi, I saw so much art in so little time that I still have no idea what to think about it.) Moving on, San Marko’s square is amazing:

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We need to leave now for Garmisch, so I will continue this saga later.

August 15, 2009

Per usual, I’ve started this post fairly late in the evening, and once again I’m promising myself that I’ll go to bed at a decent time (heh). Tomorrow we’re leaving for Vienna, and while I may snag some extra hours of sleep during the seven-hour drive, I also have plans for some wild and extended reading. Have sixty pages left of The Name of the Wind. Then, I’m restricting myself to Moby-Dick and The Great Hunt for the next six days and twenty-one hours of driving. I’ve been neglecting both on purpose and by principle.

Yesterday, we toured Nuremburg with Mr. Jaeschke as our intrepid tour guide. He grew up in Nuremburg, and when you combine this fact with his penchant for German and church history, he does a very good impression of a walking encyclopedia. We started at the castle, which, like Burg Colmberg, sits on a hill overlooking the city.

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Lots of cobblestone streets, stone walls, tile roofs, and flower boxes under the windows. I was content to think of it as medieval, but Mr. Jaeschke pointed our which bits were constructed during the Romanesque period and which bits during the Gothic period. You can tell by the windows, apparently; I kind of had it after we saw the Renaissance-style town hall and fountains, and the Gothic cathedrals. (And, by the way, Mr. Jaeschke pronounced it “Ra-NAY-sense,” which made my day.) Anyway.

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Here’s a closer view of the main castle. There were apparently three castles in this complex: one for the regional prince, one for his under-leader-dude who always stayed in Nuremburg, and one for the castle-keeper. To the right of this picture is the well house. The well was almost fifty meters deep through straight rock and took ten years to chisel out.

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Here’s a view of Nuremburg from the castle wall.

Hm. This was just yesterday and already I don’t remember my order of events. We sauntered down from the castle into the city, and I think we ate lunch next. We sat across from town hall and had Nuremburgers (sausages; every region in Germany has its own distinctive type of sausage). They were good enough that I didn’t even mind the sauerkraut when I ate them together. Actually, the sauerkraut was good as far as pickled cabbage goes, despite the lurking caraway seeds.

Memorandum: German bathrooms sport this odd, plastic, re-usable “paper towel.” The thing looks like a paper towel dispenser, but the “paper towel” makes a loop through the dispenser and hangs down beneath the dispenser. You can pull a fresh part of the “paper towel” ring out of the dispenser, but you can’t pull and tear it. The towel feels funky and synthetic and strikes me as unsanitary.

Anywho. We walked through a couple of cathedrals. See below:

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Note the Gothic style (I’m pretty sure). Mr. Jaeschke led us inside to a row of seats near the back, stood in front of us, and drew our attention to the various parts of the church. The heraldic shields were placed there in memory of members of those aristocratic families that died. The shields kept on getting bigger and bigger until the church enforced limits. The ceiling near the back is Romanesque as you can tell by the stolid capital and vaulting, but the front of the church was finished during the Gothic period as you can tell by the windows. This statue represents human mortality and was placed by the door where the emperor, when visiting, would leave the church. Etc.

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The host and relics would have been kept inside this door.

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This is the Beautiful Fountain, which stands in the corner of Nuremburg’s center square. The shop where Jon bought their wedding rings is about fifty feet away.

After touring the center of town, we went to see the Zepplin Field and the Nazi rally grounds. The size of those sights staggers the mind. I didn’t know how to feel as I stood and leaned against the railing where Hitler gave all of those speeches of which I’ve seen grainy black-and-white pictures.

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It may look more familiar like this:


The Jaeschkes foisted cola and cookies upon us when we got back to their house, and we discussed how fast we’ve all driven on the autobahn. When Mrs. Jaeschke learned I was staying in Germany for five weeks after Mom and Dad are leaving, she said I should spend a weekend with them. She also volunteered her son’s soon-to-be in-laws to host me for a weekend in Hamburg. I smiled and nodded.

I feel like this post is already quite long enough, but I’d like to touch on today’s visit to Rothenburg quickly because I don’t think I’ll be posting for the next six or seven days.

Rothenburg is a walled medieval city and the inspiration behind the setting for Disney’s Pinocchio. Very cute with tiny cobblestone streets and wood-and-plaster buildings. It is also, without two doubts, a tourist spot. The outsides of the buildings are deceptive, but once you’ve stepped into the teddy bear shop or the knights and armor shop or the Christmas shop, you feel like you could be at Mackinac Island. The Christmas shop was absolutely enormous, with room after room of ornaments, toys, gadgets, and things of questionable usage. It was all bright and flashy, well designed and well marketed. The smell of the air conditioning reminded me of Pirates of the Caribbean, and Steve asked if he had died and gone to Disney World.

This post is already pretty picture heavy, but indulge me.

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Our view of the city wall as we walked in.

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Just a random street. It pretty much looked like this everywhere.

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I’m guessing this building is the town hall. Anyway, the area underneath is the main marktplatz of the city. As you can see, there were various fruit stands, apple cider stands, embroidery stands. Most of the shops were near this marktplatz.

We had feuerwurst (fire sausage) for lunch down the street. Imagine half a meter of thin hot dog, except the hot dog is actually quality sausage with mustard and the bun is crusty European baguette.

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There’s a fort at the southern end of Rothenburg, and this is the rotunda of the fort. Quite the juxtaposition to see cars driving through this.

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Inside the fort. There was hardly anyone around and we didn’t have to pay to get in. Michael kept on humming Legend of Zelda tunes. I wondered if the setting for a dozen and one fantasy novels come from research into medieval times or research into how other fantasy authors wrote medieval times.

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We walked most of the way back to the marktplatz via the city wall. Also felt extremely fantasy. Fig had to duck sometimes because the rafters were so low.

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Once off the wall, we indulged in some ice cream. Here is Fig beforehand, contemplating the thought of ice cream and the warmth of the sun on his luminescent skin.

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We had to park outside of the city. Here is Mom picking a plum from a tree on one of the sidewalks. I asked Mom to give me a sneaky expression, and this is what I got.