Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Germany 2015

We spent a week before Christmas in Germany visiting Christmas markets and soaking up the Christmas atmosphere.  I don't think I fully realized how empty and dark it can be in Saudi around Christmas until I go somewhere that does Christmas SO right.  Lights and Christmas music every where.  Nativities openly displayed in windows and public squares.  It was a beautiful, non-commercial version of Christmas and it was so good for my soul!  
We took a red eye on Monday the 14th.  The kids were all really well behaved and got some sleep.  We got to our hotel around noon and they said it would be a couple of hours before our hotel was ready so we got out our coats, gave them our luggage and just hit the streets.
This darling market was right across the street from our hotel.  It was so festive and fun.  It had a little gnome theme and there were pictures and statues of funny little gnomes everywhere.

The boys got their first of MANY hot dogs.
And their first of MANY carousel rides.  
They had carousels for ferris wheels in every market and after a couple of days the boys just started looking for them when we walked into a new market knowing that their Dad wouldn't be able to resist letting them have a ride.  They were all different and beautifully crafted and painted.  So many idyllic scenes in this trip I thought my heart might explode.
Like this guy who wandered through the market during the day when it wasn't as crowded and had a real crank organ.  You can't see it in this picture, but the whole front is a little wooden orchestra that plays and moves when he turns the crank.  It was so cool.
The weather was blissful.  We wore jackets that most afternoons and then it got cold enough for coats after the sun went down.  After we got some food and explored a bit we went back to get settled in our hotel room.  The Bermans had been to Cologne a few times and always stayed at this hotel and there's good reason!  The family suites weren't too pricey and they were huge.  In addition to the fact that the hotel was so perfectly located.  Within walking distance to most everything we saw in Cologne.
After we settled for a couple of hours we headed back out at night and were met by sites like this:
The warm orange lights and twinkly Christmas lights made the whole market seem cozy and friendly even when everyone was speaking a somewhat harsh-sounding language.  But as usual, having the little ladies with us turned everyone we met into a cooing fan of our little bunch.  It was a first for us, being in a country where we didn't understand the language even a little bit.  We spent the whole trip trying to figure out how to say "Merry Christmas" to people and we couldn't ever say it correctly enough that we didn't get a confused look from the person we were trying to wish Merry Christmas to.  We asked tons of shopkeepers and even looked up youtube videos on how to say it but we just couldn't say it right.  German is SO difficult!
I couldn't resist a picture of this gnome bathroom sign.  Seriously, the gnomes were everywhere.
This was Taryn and Kenna's first time wearing coats!  They were so confused that first night.  It was so much harder to move their arms that they just sort of forgot how to do it.  We handed them their bottles and they didn't even move their arms to hold them.  We moved their hands and they just flopped back down to their sides.  We ended up having to prop them up with blankets.  It was so funny.

This is the carousel at the other side of the market.  So many Christmas lights!
Our friends who we met in Oman were able to come down to Cologne that first night!  It was a long drive for them but they made a huge effort to meet up with our little crew for just a couple of hours.  Jens and Yvonne are such incredible people.  They brought toys for the boys and fawned over the girls.  We wandered the market together and they told us all about their favorite foods, tried to teach us important phrases for our trip, (like "Merry Christmas", and "Excuse me", which is important when you're pushing a big stroller through crowded markets).  We caught up a bit on their work and family and holiday plans.  We just love these two.  How awesome to meet people from across the world in such unique circumstances and feel like we're bonded for life because we really like each other.
They even took a little family photo for us.
That big statue is right in the center of an ice skating rink.  Seriously, Germany.  That first day, soaking up all the Christmas spirit and ooing and ahhing over all the delicious food, I felt like we were glowing.  So happy to be somewhere so festive, lovely, and new all together.

The next morning we decided to go to the Dom with the Bermans.  It was magnificent.  And such a wonderful experience to visit it with our dear friends who could explain things to us and share stories and experiences about this gorgeous place and their faith.  
There is another beautiful Christmas market at the foot of the Dom.  It wasn't opened on our way in but we paid it a visit on our way out.

The Koln Dom is a majestic Gothic church.  Absolutely gorgeous.  We walked past a display outside the church that showed pictures of Cologne after it had been bombed during WWII and the city was absolutely leveled but the Dom managed to suffer very little damage.
Glenn, explaining to Finn why he probably shouldn't touch the holy water.

One of the main draws of this church is the claim that in this golden shrine lie the remains of the three Magi.  I have no idea how they could even possibly legitimize those claims, but it's still pretty darn cool.

Tate and Finn with two of their buddies.
After visiting the cathedral the Bermans took us to the reliquary.  I had never heard of a reliquary before!  Apparently catholic cathedrals have a special room called the reliquary, all of them may not be open to the public, but it's like a treasury holding pieces of Catholic history from staffs and robes worn by the bishop of that cathedral to actual pieces of famous saints, splinters from the cross, and chains that held St. Peter.  It was fascinating, and a bit gruesome to see elaborate shrines holding bits of bone and hair from saints long dead.  
We hit the market outside of the cathedral briefly and then headed home for a little rest.  After that we decided to take the little train to all the different markets for the evening.  It was probably the coldest night while we were in Cologne and I made the boys wear their long johns just so I wouldn't feel bad if they complained of being cold...which they never did.  Not once.  They were such troopers on this trip.  
We hit up the little market by the Rhine river where we found little boats to play in.
And of course another cool carousel.

After a quick round trip of four beautiful Christmas markets, and eating our fill of so many delicious market foods, we hit the hay for the night.  
The next day we visited the Lindt Chocolate Museum.  It was a drizzly morning but not too wet and our hotel was just a couple of blocks away from the museum so we all walked and enjoyed watching our kids play together.  It's so great that our kiddos are such good friends.  
The chocolate museum was fun.  A few cool displays and lots of information.
Tate's favorite was this one where they had scented tubes where you could smell individual ingredients of chocolate. 
Finn's favorite was this one.  Invented by Mr. Lindt himself.  A machine used to aerate the chocolate for days in order to make it more smooth and creamy.
Free samples in front of the enormous chocolate Dom.

After a little afternoon nap time we hit up the market at the foot of the Dom.  It was just amazing all lit up at night. Christmas music playing, incredible smells, and beautiful Christmas decorations and displays.
It's kind of tricky to get the kids out shopping in Saudi Arabia, and a lot of the toys in toy stores here aren't great quality.  So we decided that it would be fun to have the boys look for gifts for each other while they were browsing the markets.  It was so fun to see them weigh things they saw and try to decide if their brother would like it.  They both picked out very thoughtful little gifts in the end and we were really proud of them for wandering the markets thinking of someone other than themselves.
The carousel at the Dom market was old vehicles and it was SO cute!
As are my little guys.
And my little girls.  
Taryn and Kenna were so dreamy.  They'd just quietly watch all the sights go by their stroller.  Stare at the lights and smile for their many adoring fans.
 Glenn and I understood none of the language at all and I felt so odd not being able to understand the words sweet people would gush at our babies as they walked by.  Sometimes an older couple would stop and have a whole conversation with me or one of the babies without stopping.  Just gushing about how cute they were and smiling and clapping their hands, but I could do nothing in response but smile and say thank you.
The next morning we were supposed to pick up Cope from the train station.  We were lucky to have her come play with us and help get our crazy crew around the country.  We were really glad she was willing to sacrifice her Christmas break with her family to hang out with us for a week!  We had a little trouble getting her there.  That German language is so tricky, and the people at the airport train station were none too helpful.  But we finally picked her up around 10, took her to our hotel to drop off her stuff, and jumped in a taxi to head to Fantasialand.  Fanstasialand was another find of the Berman's from a previous trip.  It may have been my favorite day.  Glenn and I love theme parks and this one was remarkable.  Everything was themed really cute and sort of strange at the same time.  Like they were trying really hard but couldn't quite get it all to work together.  The rides were fun, the park was huge, the food was yummy, we didn't wait in a single line all day, and the park was really beautiful.
Taryn and Kenna went on their first carousel ride and loved it, of course.
They had this cool swing ride but it went over fountains and the fountains would shoot up and almost touch your feet as you swooped toward them.  
Tate said this train ride called, "Colorado Adventure" might have been his favorite.  It was pretty fast and had a few dark tunnels.  Finn rode it once and then he had no interest in repeating that experience.
This ride, however, was his very favorite.  He called it the bouncy one.

We convinced him that it was even more fun if he screamed
The Berman boys are such good kids.  And I'm glad our boys get along with them so well.  It was a really fun day to hang out with a bunch of little boys.
Taryn and Kenna were such little dream babes.  We got them out as often as we could but they were in their stroller for a lot of the time.
We let Cope and some of the older boys (including Seth) ride this atrocity without us.  It looked barftastic.  No thank you.
One side of the park had a huge indoor section of kids rides.  It was so cool.  It looked kind of like a Tim Burton film set.  Everything was colorful and had really cool shapes and lines.

We rode kids rides over there for a couple of hours
Our last ride on the way out was called "Mousse Au Chocolat".  It was the same ride as Toy Story Mania.  The same vehicles and everything.  The story was that we were in a cake factory and we had to use our little icing bags to shoot frosting at the mice who were taking over the factory.  It was so fun.  We wished that we had more time to ride it several more times.
Such a fun day at Phantasialand.  I'd love to go back there again.  I was expecting something much more carnivaly and we were really pleasantly surprised with how fun and different that place was.  So glad we took a day to just play with our kids.
The next day we split up.  I really wanted to see Beethoven's house since we were so close to it and the Berman fam had no interest so we went on our own.  We traveled really well together, I think.  We met up and hung out as often as we could and it was always a blast when we were together, but no one was offended if we had different timelines or priorities.  
We tried to figure out the trains but we missed one out to Bonn and would have to wait an hour for the next one so we just got in a taxi and had them take us straight to the museum.  It was definitely another of my favorite outings on this trip.  Tate did his presentation on Beethoven and he was excited to see the ear trumpets he really used and pianos he actually played.  It was a small house with three floors and every room had little displays with programs from concerts he's given (including his very first concert where his father misrepresented his age in order to make him look more impressive and like a child prodigy, like Mozart).  They had the letter he wrote to his brothers confessing that he was going deaf.  Several instruments he had played including two beautiful pianos and a keyboard from an organ he played in church starting when he was 10 years old.
We weren't supposed to take pictures, but I just couldn't resist!

My favorite little tidbit that I learned was that the song "Fur Elise" was titled incorrectly!  The museum had a couple of busts of women we knew he spent time with, but when I asked one of the guides who Elise was she said, "There is no Elise".  We know the names of his sweethearts but none were named Elise.  She said there was a Therese, but that's the only name that was close.  Most likely, when it was titled and printed, someone read his very sloppy handwriting wrong and the song has ever since been titled after the wrong woman's name!
This room was  most likely the room where he was born.  I got a little overwhelmed and so thrilled to be in rooms where he lived and near instruments that he actually played.  It was a really neat experience and I'm so glad we made it happen.

We all signed the guest book on the way out.  What a cool memory.
Beethoven's house is the pink one right behind us.
Also in Bonn, is a Haribo factory and flagship store.  This was the boys bribe for being good in Beethoven's house.  Though I don't know if they needed a bribe.  That morning they were both really well-behaved.  They were both excited to pick out some gummies...even though Finn looks thoroughly bored in the pictures.
After Haribo we decided to explore the Bonn market.
The decorations at this market were out of control.  How many hours must it have taken to string and hang all those Christmas balls?!
Glenn got another enormous brat.
And of course the boys rode the ferris wheel next to the statue of Beethoven.  So cool.
 Then we took a train and a taxi back to the market at Rudolfplatz called the Nikolausdorf market.
 It was a tiny market at the foot of a beautiful old church and this huge medieval gate.

Glenn found a favorite German market past time right away.  That first night in the market he bought some hot chocolate and it came in a little darling glass mug.  Each marker sells delicious hot chocolate and some really yummy cider as well and each market has their own mug design.  It became Glenn's thing.  In every market he had to scope out the mugs and see which one he needed and then he would buy at least one cup, sometimes more than one cup of cider or hot chocolate.  You could turn in the mugs for a little refund, or you could keep them.  In the four days we spent in Cologne, he collected 12 little mugs.  They were beautiful and unique and so cool.  But where in our tiny house are we going to put 12 mugs?  This is Glenn's face when I gave him the , "Seriously? another mug?" look.
 Aaand here he is after buying one of his favorite mugs, shaped like a little boot.
 That night Cope and I took the girls and went back to the cathedral so Cope could see it, and the reliquary too.  It was a fun little girls outing.  Glenn took the boys ice skating until they'd each fallen a few times and were good and cold, then we went in for the night.
The next morning we checked out, got in our rental van that Glenn picked up for us, and started our commute to Garmisch.  We decided to make a little stop about half way there at the city of Rothenburg.  It's a really well-preserved medieval city with an intact city wall and tiny winding streets.  It was the perfect place to stretch our legs and explore a little.

 Glenn wasted no time in finding the typical pastry of the town, Schneeballen, which is basically strips of pie crust mushed into a ball, fried, and rolled in sugar or dipped in chocolate.  It was not my favorite pastry but I'm glad we tried it!
 I wish I'd taken more pictures of this place.  It was all so picturesque and yet I took only a few pictures.  We walked around the market, and my only other "have-to" was a stop in the Kathe Wolfhart flagship store.  It was immense and so beautiful.  Cuckoo clocks, Christmas pyramids of every shape and size, and ornaments by the thousands.  It was a Christmas wonderland and my heart nearly exploded.  I found a beautiful little pyramid for my souvenir and one for Kenzie's present as well.  I could have spent all day in that store and the village but Glenn was itching to get back on the road so we didn't have to wander around trying to find our hotel in Garmisch too much after it got dark.
That night we got to our hotel in Garmisch and checked into our perfect little top floor room.  It had room for all of us and a beautiful view of the Alps!
The next day I didn't take any pictures!  We went to church in Innsbruck that morning after breakfast.  The ward was very welcoming and the missionaries even gave us headsets, which really helped the boys pay a bit of attention, and translated the several languages spoken over the pulpit for us.  Then we wandered around Innsbruck a bit and found their little Christmas market to stop in for a walk and lunch.  
On the way home we decided to have a low-key evening.  Cope watched the girlies for us while we took the boys to see if we could go sledding but the sledding hill was already closed so we decided we'd just get our skis and equipment rented so we'd be all ready for ski school the next morning!  
The next morning was Finn's birthday!  Our little guy turned 4 in Germany!  I can't even believe that's real.  He opened his one present, a Jake and the Neverland pirates watch that he had his heart set on, and then sweet Cope watched the girls again for us while we took the boys up to the ski resort. 
Here he is, all ready for ski school for his birthday!

I was really proud of these two.  They played and tried hard at ski school all morning.  We checked in on them a lot and they took a break with their groups for hot chocolate half way through, but they were on that little bunny hill with the magic carpet skiing for about 3 hours.  
While they were busy Glenn and I went skiing together for the first time.  In the Alps.  So surreal.  
 The snow was not great as it was really unseasonably warm, and there weren't many runs open, but it was still really fun to spend some time doing something Glenn really loves with him and in such a gorgeous place.
After ski school was done we headed down the mountain and back to the hotel.  Finn had a total melt down on the way to the gondolas as he was trying to walk and carry his equipment.  The poor kid was completely exhausted.  We made it though, and we got them some lunch and got everyone settled in with Glenn at the hotel watching a movie on the ipad for a little rest, and Cope and I got to head out for a little shopping.
She found some really fun and thoughtful presents for her family and we also found a gorgeous traditional dress store and dreamed about having the money and an occasion to wear these beautiful dresses.  But since we had neither, the least we could do was sneak some pictures of them.
Cope is so fun.  She was always jumping in with a new game of challenge for the boys when they got tired and grumpy.  She was so fun to have with us and was really patient with all of the chaos and stress that comes with traveling with a bunch of little kiddos and two tired parents.  The girls decided that they didn't really want to adjust to the two hour time change which meant that I was waking up with them at 4 every morning and trying to keep them happy and quiet until everyone else woke up.
That night we went to a Mexican restaurant, in Germany, with the Bermans to celebrate little Finny.  I think he felt thoroughly celebrated and loved.  It was fun to have more people around to celebrate with.

We sure love our little Finny.  He's such a fun little man.  So full of energy.  So friendly and busy and strong and darling.  We love him so much and we loved telling him so all day on his big fourth birthday.
The next day we split up again.  We were just a 45 minute drive from Neuschwanstein castle and I just couldn't not make the trip while we were so close.  I'm SO glad we did.  It was another highlight for sure.  We went back and forth about our plans for that day and by the time we decided to visit the castle it was too late to buy tickets online so we had to go to the ticket office.  We got there before the ticket line opened and still waited for about 30 minutes and got tickets for a tour in about an hour.  We wandered around for a bit and then bought tickets up to the castle on a horse-drawn sleigh.  How could we not?!
It was cold but the scenery was beautiful.  I'm glad we took the sleigh.  It would have been a long steep hike up the hill with four little kids.

Neuschwanstein was by far the most incredible castle I've ever seen or even heard of.  It was built by King Ludwig of Bavaria in the mid 1800s.  He was basically a figurehead of Bavaria at the point and he was bored and probably more than a little cuckoo and he decided that he wanted to be a medieval king.  He built this castle in medieval style and it is absolutely dripping with money and style.  Tapestries, chandeliers, furniture, everything is so ornate it's almost overwhelming.  And it's funny to see this tricked out castle that looks and feels like a medieval castle but it was built with electricity and plumbing.  King Ludwig was obsessed with Wagner's operas and he even designed a couple of spaces in this castle and other castles as well, after sets from some of the operas.  This castle has a cave.  A man made cave, just in the middle of his castle.  It's spectacular.
We weren't allowed to take photos inside so these views of the outside will have to do.  It was built in this beautiful mountainside right into a ravine.  So magnificent.
And one that we snuck climbing a spiral staircase to the beginning of our tour.
One of King Ludwig's favorite plays was about a prince who was put under a spell and turned into a swan.  Apparently he identified with this swan because he adopted it as his symbol.  There were swans everywhere throughout the castle.  Marble swans, stained glass swans, even the faucet in his bedroom had water coming out of the swan's mouth.  I'm just so glad we made the time to visit this place.  It would have been a real shame to have missed it!
We bought tickets to visit Hohenschwangau castle which was just across a little valley from Neuschwanstein.  It was King Ludwig's father's castle and he lived there growing up.  And watched the progress of his new castle through his bedroom window using a telescope throughout the day.  This guy was fascinating.
While still kind of ridiculously ornate, this castle couldn't match Neuschwanstein for decadence, but it was still very opulent.  Cope's comment was, "I liked this one a lot better.  I could see myself living here, but the other one is just too much."  So true.  Wouldn't that be nice.
After that it was back to our Garmisch for a last dinner out and packing up for our trip home.  What a gorgeous view of the Alps from our room!
Here are a couple pictures of our hotel room with beds everywhere.  It was so perfect.

It was an absolutely dreamy trip.  Playing with friends, strolling leisurely through Christmas markets, eating delicious food and sipping hot chocolate because we were actually cold!  Cope was a doll to help us out and so much fun to be around.  It couldn't have been more perfect.