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:

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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.

August 13, 2009

Tomorrow we’re touring Nuremburg pretty early (read: 9 a.m.; I am on vacation after all), and I want to sleep a lot, so I’m going to keep this post short.

We went shopping down in Ansbach today. The shopping district was beautiful, I thought. The narrow-ish cobblestone streets probably don’t seem terribly romantic to the people who work there every day. However, I’m starting to recognize that good-looking architecture makes me really happy. See below.

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This was the sight that greeted us once we stepped away from the parking lot. I’m tempted to vote that Woodland mall adds some stone walls and turrets to its design, although I’m not sure how good they’d look with the rest of the buildings ….

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There weren’t too many people when we got there, but this is the most open, square-like part. The shops were mostly on the right-hand side. We stopped in a music store and tapped a few djembe and struck a few glockenspiel. Also checked out the H&M and found this fantastic navy blue pea coat with belt and many pockets and random details for Steve. He didn’t buy it, but I suspect we will be returning to make the acquisition.

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This church was also right by the square. To the left and behind, if you’re looking at the first picture.

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The interior. Grace told me there were many churches like this (only bigger) in Nuremburg, but I was already feeling awed. I wondered the not-so-original thought that maybe modern churches could use a little more beauty.

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One of the streets in the shopping district. We poked our heads in toy shops and antique stores before having some ice cream.

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After dinner, we headed out to Bad Windsheim to check out the Franken-Therme (geothermal salt spas). It was a fantastic two and a half hours.  There were five pools, and as you moved away from the lockers they got increasingly salty. Most of them had places in the pools where you could sit or lie down and get massaged by water jets. My favorite, however, was the second-most salty pool, which was indoor (dim) and the warmest. Soft music played in the background, orange light globes hung from the ceiling, and a pink/purple light shown from the center of the bottom of the pool. The water was salty enough that you could relax completely and you would just float above the water. Dad referred to it as the “womb room.”

They had an even saltier one outside. The wooden steps leading down to the water were partly crusted in salt, as were the rocks around the edge of the pool. You could stand and feel the rocks between your toes, but it was much easier to just float on your belly or back and paddle about lazily.

I thought vaguely about the possibly of treating our pool back home with salt instead of chlorine.

August 12, 2009

Today was suhgood and lazy. I stretched out of bed at about eight forty-five, and after a quick shower toddled off to the bakery with the fam to pick up some pastries. By the time Eowyn had finished pulling apart and eating her nut-filled pocket of flaky and buttery goodness, we had to leave for Illesheim to meet up with Michael over his lunch break. We were allowed on the military base after showing our passports and having our car searched.

We ate sandwiches from Frau Fischer’s bakery in Illesheim in Michael’s office on base. See fig. 1.

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Michael’s patient didn’t show up, so he got to show up around the dental clinic and the base at large. I felt American when the smell of pizza and the sight of Subway in the base food court made me think “home.”

Back in Marktbergel, I read The Name of the Wind for a while. Have finally got myself entirely stuck in the story, and I don’t doubt I will be finished with the book soon.

Went for a bike ride through Marktbergel and out into the cornfields. I took my camera and meant to take pictures. Marktbergel is settled in a valley, and thickly forested hills sprawl above and past the cornfields and harvested wheat fields. Drop dead gorgeous. Also: yellow-painted stucco house in Marktbergel with flowers all over the balcony and walls and porch and courtyard and fence. Will try to take pictures of both next time I go biking.

We went to Colmberg for dessert after our dinner at the apartment with Patty (neighbor and army wife with two kids, Amelia and Delilah). Colmberg is about fifteen minutes away and has a fantastic medieval castle overlooking it from a hill. The castle is now family-owned and serves as a restaurant and hotel. We walked on cobblestones past buttressed, fifteen-foot tall stone walls. The tower keep could be seen ever-present above the walls, and we had dessert in the upper courtyard just feet away from it (and from the playground … Eowyn was restless).

The inside of the castle was my fav. The floor and ceiling were of old, dark wood panels, and the decorations included stuffed falcons and piles of deer racks and bear-skin rugs. There were open rooms with tables, dim lights, wooden pillars, and long rafters. Upstairs, there was also a small chapel with mullioned windows and a creaky floor, and another room piled with seemingly forgotten furniture. A couple of massive wardrobes with carved lion heads for handles, painted boxes, a stuffed peacock with a full tail of feathers, old wooden benches and chairs. Steve and I wandered down some of the hotel hallways and found fantastic little alcoves with couches, tables, bookshelves stuffed with green and brown book collections, painted ceramic stoves, and fur-covered stools. It was dark when we went outside, and I almost died when we leaned over the castle wall and looked down on lamp-lit Colmberg.

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The tower keep.

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Colmberg from the castle wall.

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Another shot of the castle. More of the inhabitable parts.

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In the lodge-like hall.

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In the chapel.

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The more fantastic wardrobe.

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Some freaking awesome creaky stairs that led to the hotel hallways.

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A base of pitted cherries and cherry liquor under vanilla and chocolate ice cream, topped with unsweetened whipped cream and a cookie.

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The fam at table.

I already want to go back.

I will have to post briefly if I’m to get any sleep after staying up late reading The Name of the Wind. (It’s good so far. A lot of classic fantasy elements, but quite well done. One of the most interesting things, however, is how Judeo-Christian the religious history is.)

Yesterday was Linda’s birthday, and we had a late breakfast of bread, jam, cheese, and coffee at the Jaeschke house. A contingency of Armstrong boys walked to the Plus supermarket in Erlangen to pick up food for Jon and Linda’s dinner. Prices were in euros and weight in kilos, and I had no idea how much the lemons or chicken or strawberries cost. We saw Jon  and Linda off when we got back to the Jaeschkes; they’re honeymooning in Switzerland.

Mr. Jaeschke gave us a tour of Erlangen in the afternoon. Erlangen is a university town small enough to feel comfortable to my suburbia self and compact enough to feel like a city. Most people got about by bike or on foot, and a lot of the streets were cobblestone. The original town was planned in baroque style with a small castle, and we toured the gardens behind the castle, the square in front, the churches nearby. (The Reformed [Presbyterian] church had a raised pulpit that you had to climb stairs to get in to, and it reminded me of the ship-haul pulpit in Moby-Dick with the rope ladder.) Most of the buildings were only two or three stories tall, giving Erlangen an open feeling, and the buildings were old and well-worn. Mr. Jaeschke casually pointed out a door to an apothecary shop that was older than the USA.

We ate dinner at the Jaeschkes; leftover beef burgandy from the wedding. I realized that Mrs. Jaeschke has a classic and fantastic Irish accent when speaking English. Also, I found their family dynamic very familiar and entertaining. My personal favorite was watching Johannes, the oldest son, at dinner. He fidgeted and looked as if he had heard Mr. Jaeschke’s conservative rant on the European Union a couple thousand times, and when Johannes tried to mention the good things about the EU, his mother quickly contradicted him.

Today we met with the Jaeschke parents and Johannes and his wife, Susanna, at Wuerzburg to tour the Wuerzburg Residenz (manse of the prince bishop). It was one of the most gorgeous houses I’ve ever seen. Note the following pictures, but I couldn’t take pictures inside the manse or in the chapel. You may also want to check out the virtual tour here.

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The fountain and side of the front facade. The manse was constructed in a generation’s time and has a uniform baroque style.

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A shot of the back facade from the garden.

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Note the sneaky statue under the pyramidal tree.

After a sleepy afternoon and dinner, all of us went walking to the neighboring village of Ottenhofen (about 0.8 miles away from Marktbergel). The village houses all have fenced-in courtyards with dusty tables and tractors and dogs and stucco walls with roses and pear trees climbing up them. The cemetery was gorgeous too, with plots of planted flowers before square slabs or polished wooden crosses. A row of community watering can stood by one of the doorways into the cemetery, and apparently the villagers water the flowers for their own family graves.

And now I’m uber tired, but I wanted to mention that there was a WWII exhibit in the Wuerzburg Residenz that Mr. Jaeschke walked us through. Really odd to see models of bombed out Wuerzburg and get a guided tour by a man who remembers digging through the rubble of Nuremburg and tasting his first chocolate from an American soldier during reconstruction.

DSCF9434I am now safely seated on Miq and Grace’s couch, red-tiled roofs and white and tan stucco walls in sight outside the window. I feel rather exhausted from all of the wedding festivities, but it was all gorgeous and almost everything went fabulously (could I speak in more generalized and un-meaningful language?).

The plane trip was mostly good. I admittedly felt trapped and greasy after seven hours in an airbus flying overnight from Detroit to Amsterdam. In spite of my limited space and well-endowed sebaceous glands, I enjoyed reading the last half of The Dubliners by James Joyce. I feel snooty and ridiculous saying I enjoyed it a whole lot, but I did. Something deft and inconspicuous about his descriptions and plots.

By the way, English is the biggest language on the signs in the Schiphol airport in Amsterdam. I finally felt like I was in Europe once we landed in Munich. I only remember the “Push” signs on the doors being in English, and all the German signs and glass walls reminded me of the Bourne films.

Upon arrival in Marktbergel, we stayed up until after midnight (German time) making five batches of chocolate chip cookies for the wedding reception. We had four or five people wedged into the apartment kitchen with the windows closed (because most German houses don’t have screens and the mosquitoes are pretty bad). We, of course, discussed  men and women and marriage in the sauna-like kitchen.

The wedding was held in the largest cathedral in Erlangen, at which Linda’s great-great-great-ish-grandfather was minister. Most of it was in German, but Linda’s father (who is a short, bearded fellow with a fantastic accent named Christoph) translated some of it. Very nice. Beforehand, I greeted people, handed out programs, and said I didn’t speak German, you know, a couple of times. As one of the groomsmen, I sat (yes) in front of the church. Also: we sang songs like “Everlasting God” and “Amazing Love” as a congregation throughout the service.

There was a champagne and cookie reception right afterward — or rather, the champagne was immediately after. Aaron and I walked through the streets of Erlangen back to our car to get all the cookies we baked the night before.

So, I’m getting tired of writing. Let’s try this in time line:

3-4 p.m. — We took pictures right outside the church. More informal than most American wedding photoshoots. All the other guests just stood around drinking champagne and talking.

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4 p.m. — Cake and coffee reception at a different church about three blocks away from the cathedral. Linda’s mom, Sarah, baked nine of the many, many cakes available for consumption.

The time line gets a bit sketchy, as we fell behind schedule. More pictures were taken afterward, and a lot of people went outside to walk around or get fresh air. Aaron and I ran around looking for a wireless Internet connection so I could download a driver for my laptop and import the 875 pictures my mom and Aaron had already taken of the wedding.

We had appetizers afterward. All of the deserts had been whisked away and the buffet table had been replenished with a wide array of pickled peppers, meats in sauces, and pasta salads. And then the buffet table was laden with main courses (before the night was over, we also had a desert course and a cheese course; the fact that I ate anything today is a miracle). The beef burgandy was delish.

There was a “program” then, where many of the guests performed songs or skits, or they made the bride and groom do fun tasks. The songs and skits were originals satirizing Jon and Linda’s relationship and foibles. The duet that Linda’s parents sang was especially enjoyable.

After dessert, there was a wedding video and then dancing. The cheese course came out sometime around 1:30 a.m., and we finally left the reception around 2 a.m. Apparently Jon and Linda stayed until about 3 a.m.

Note: Totally culturally shocking to see nice church girls between the age of 18-21 carrying around bottles of Radler beer. I had images of the college girls from my church carrying around beer bottles and smirked to myself.

This morning we went to Linda’s parents for a while and hung out with the Jaeschkes. Returned to Marktbergel and took a walk in the village. It looked fantastic. Will have to take pictures later, but for now here’s a shot of Eowyn with some local chickens.

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And Grace and Eowyn in an alley.

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So, I haven’t even started packing yet, but I thought I would post a list of essentials I’m pretty sure I’ll forget. Ahem.

1. Dave

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2. Molly

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3. Abishai

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4. The Den

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5. The shelf

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6. The lane

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I suppose I shouldn’t take too long contemplating the soon-to-be lost comforts of home. Have some correspondence to write and clothing to launder. Would also vacuum my room tonight, except the ‘rents have already gone to bed.

Among other things I’m leaving for the day of.