Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Rainy Days

They're baaack... the cool rainy days of summer here in England.  After wearing shorts for the last week, I've returned to yoga pants and a hoodie the past couple days.

I should be working on the next post about our river cruise, but instead I'm just mindlessly surfing the net and snooping through my pics from this summer.  

Sunday afternoon, in between the bouts of showers, the younger daughter and I had a record breaking slug count in the backyard - 22 to beat the former top count of 16.  I think they were out in record numbers because we had gone over a week without any real rainfall.

Following the leader - a nice brown and red specimen.


A different pair munching on a mushroom - yum!


Another reason I'm not getting much done is because I've got some help at the computer.  He likes to rest his chin on my arm that operates the mouse.



It's a handy place to sit up high and see out the patio french doors - easier to spot the local squirrels and birds that dare to set foot into Ollie's yard.  And how can you resist that scruffy face?



Sunday, July 29, 2012

Olympic Volleyball

The younger daughter and I attended our first Olympics event yesterday and had a really good time. We watched the Russian team beat the crap outta Great Britain, winning the first three sets so there was no need to go through all five games.   


Here is the youngest daughter standing in front of a female volleyball player in the arena before we found our seats.  It's eye catching, but kinda in a creepy way because she resembles some sort of alien trying to pass for a female athlete... or maybe an Austin Powers fembot since this is England, baby.




Here is the volleyball court before the players arrived for the match.  On the opposite side of the net, you can just make out a couple clusters of people.  Surprisingly, they were cheerleaders who entertained the crowd before the game started and cheered throughout the games.  




I never heard where the spirit bunnies hailed from, but it was a very American thing to do.  And they looked like any cheerleader you would find at the local football fields every fall cheering on the team back in Texas, even down to the high ponytail with the big oversized bow.  A bow that sits way up there and is close to flopping into your eyes with its trailing ends.  




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Above is a clip of them doing some of their stunts and then waving at the crowd and then doing another stunt and then waving some more.  What a great opportunity for them to perform at the Olympics, especially if they were imported from the states.


And then it was time for the games to begin - couldn't resist that!  Here come the volleyball teams for Great Britain (red and blue) and Russia (blue and white).


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I took a pic of the referees pictured in navy on the left side of the net because the lady ref was from the US.




Here is a pic of the two teams.  The Russian ladies were Amazons.  After we got home from the games, I went online to check out their stats. The shortest player on their roster is 5' 9"... the only one less than 6' tall.  The average height was 6' 3" and the tallest was a freakish 6' 8".  Makes you wonder what their basketball team looks like.




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I have two funnies from the volleyball games.  First is the wave and second is the high school age students running commercial sized dust maps over the court in unison during a time out.  A group of high schoolers from the girl's school are serving as ball girls at beach volleyball.  My oldest was asked to participate in this since several of her friends are doing it, but she wouldn't arrive home from her language program in Spain in time to train or attend the games.



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Last, but not least, is a pic I took of our Olympic paraphernalia from the day.  I also toted home my Coke Zero that I bought at the arena before the game.  I was about to toss it in a recycle bin on our way out when I realized the Olympics pic on the front is a volleyball player.  Was this on purpose or just blind luck that I was sold one with a graphic of the event we were attending?






Today the youngest daughter and I had every intention of walking the 1.5ish miles to watch the women's Olympic road cycling race pedal through our town. About the time we were ready to start walking over there to claim a spot on the sidewalk for race viewing, it began to rain and even thunder.  Therefore, the daughter vetoed walking since she's not a fan of the rain.  And I'm not a fan of being a human lightning rod.  So Wednesday we'll walk to the other end of our neighborhood to watch the cycling time trials, even if it means I'm juggling a brolly while trying to snap a quick pic as they zip by us.



Friday, July 27, 2012

Regensburg

We spent our second day of the river cruise in Regensburg.  Every time we arrived at a new location, I immediately searched for the name on something so I could take a pic of it and would know where the pictures were taken.  It turns out that the first thing I found in Regensburg with the town's name on it was a manhole cover.




It was convenient to tour this town because our boat was docked right at the old city center.




And when I say old, I mean ancient.




During the reign of Marcus Aurelius, the Romans settled a legion here in 179 AD when they built the town known as Castra Regina.  Below are the remains of a fortress tower and archway incorporated into more modern buildings.





German wall art near the old Roman fortress - gotta love it.


The bridge below that spans the Danube isn't quite as old, but it does date to the 12th century.  It's called the stone bridge - bet you can figure out why.  It's pretty cool because at the base of the bridge are these wide, diamond shaped structures that are supposed to help break up ice floes in the winter and divert debris away from the supports during floods.  Obviously the medieval folk weren't complete idiots.  




The pics above are of the husband with his back to the bridge and then on the bridge where only pedestrian and bike traffic are allowed.  Shortly after it was built, knights from the second and third crusades crossed this bridge on their way to the holy land.  How awesome is that?!

As usual, I found the buildings very interesting.




I love how the Germans utilize every bit of space.  Where, exactly, would the attic be located?




You can definitely see a bit of an Italian influence in some buildings since this was an important trade center in the late middle ages.




Back in Texas, some people use longhorn cattle as pricey yard art.  In Germany, they just stick carved critters above entry ways.  They don't eat much.


And, of course, every town of any size has their very own Ratskeller - a bar or restaurant located in the basement of city hall.  Once again, you can see a bit of an Italian influence in this public building.






The final stop on our walking tour of Regensburg was the Dom, or gothic cathedral.  Construction began in the 13th century and it was finally finished a mere 600 years later with the addition of the towers.  You can definitely tell it took a while to complete this place - check out all of the different varieties of stone used on the facade.





I took the pic below because you can tell they're in the process of cleaning the exterior - creamy white above and blackened, dirty stone below.



I have no clue what or who is represented in the statue below as part of the cathedral's decoration.  It looks as if this guy with the crown and sword is riding sidesaddle on a lioness.  Biblical or historical reference?  No clue.




Always in search of his next beer and sausage meal, the husband chowed down on lunch at Historiche Wurstkuche.  He gobbled up a plate of finger-sized sausages grilled over a beechwood fire with a side of sauerkraut and sweet grainy mustard.  And washed it down with a dark beer - prost!  


According to the signs, this is supposedly the world's oldest sausage kitchen since it has been in business at this location on the banks of the Danube with a view of stone bridge since 1135.  Maybe crusaders stopped here for a bite to eat - gotta keep up their strength to slay the infidels.







Thursday, July 26, 2012

Sorry, Michelle...

A couple days ago, we received the following email from the school's headmaster.



We have just been contacted by the US Embassy with regard to a very interesting opportunity.

This Friday, July 27th, First Lady Michelle Obama will be hosting a "Let's Move!" event for American and British children aged 8 to 14 at Winfield House, the US Ambassador's residence in Regent's Park, London. We have been asked to extend the invitation to the event to our students. (See USA Today article at http://content.usatoday.com/communities/gameon/post/2012/07/first-lady-calls-olympic-trip-a-dream-come-true/1#.UA7Bkr_K0xY)

While the school cannot provide transportation or chaperoning, we wanted to let you know about this exciting chance for your children to take part in the day's activities, and meet some professional and Olympic athletes.

Anyone interested in attending must arrive as a group for entry to Winfield House at 9:40 or 9:50 on Friday morning (exact time to be confirmed). It is anticipated that the event will end at approximately 1:30pm. There is no charge for this event, and each child will be given a "goody bag" to take home. Water and snacks only will be provided at the venue (no breakfast / lunch).

The Embassy requires a list of the participating children and their parents/chaperones in advance. The school can act as a focal point to facilitate communication of the list to the Embassy.
 If you would like your children to participate, please email Mrs X (school contact person's email here)  no later than 3:00pm tomorrow, Wednesday July 25th, with the subject line "Let's Move".Please provide:
1. the names and ages of the children (please note the allowed age range of 8 to 14)
2. the name of the parent/chaperone
3. a contact telephone number, and
4. permission to share email and telephone details with other participants

Our campus can also help to communicate the travel arrangements among the participating families. We would advise the use of public transport and the exchange of mobile phone numbers. We would also suggest that the children wear school logo or crest t-shirts for ease of identification.

Nickelodeon and NBC will be filming, and permission slips will be required to be signed by parents to allow use of any video or still images taken of their children during the event.

Apologies for the short notice, but we were only contacted by the Embassy today. I hope you are all enjoying the summer break and - at long last - the beautiful weather.

Nothing like last minute, I always say.  I actually think it's a pretty neat opportunity and might have thrown my hat into the ring if 1) my child was too young to understand what we signed on for with the exercising but no meal included in the gig 2) horrific commute into central London for this event the day before we have to fight the maddening crowds to attend an Olympics volleyball game and 3) the only daughter at home to attend this shindig is the one who prefers cake to crunches, carbs to carrots or celery and getting in front of the computer screen to watch her fave baking shows instead of getting out of the house to ride her bike.

And, of course, I voted for the other guy back in '08 and don't really want to be a part of this administration's propaganda machine.  I guess I'll just have to watch Michelle do her one-armed push ups while balancing a normal BMI American kid living in England on her back.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A Day in Nuremberg

We started our river cruise with an official tour of the town of Nuremberg where the ship was docked, a place made famous during modern times for the Nazi trials after World War II.  We drove by the Palace of Justice where the tribunals were held, as well as the attached prison where infamous Nazis such as Hermann Goring and Rudolf Hess were sequestered throughout the process.  


Nuremberg is also famous for staging Nazi rallies held from 1927-1938, an important part of Hitler's propaganda machine.  




We got to tour what's left of the old grandstand and parade grounds area.  I've included a B&W Nazi pic I found of the grandstand with the three swastika banners flying above it taken during one of the 1930s rallies.  It's in this place that Hitler stood and surveyed hundreds of thousands of troops, spewing his venom about racial superiority as well as world domination.




We continued our visit in Nuremberg with a tour through the old town.  The city was systematically bombed in 1945 by the RAF and USAF so that over the course of an hour, 90% of the medieval city center was destroyed.  What a shame - way to go, Adolf.


Below are some of the beautifully restored buildings we saw.



The gothic Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) was built on a corner of the main market square in the 14th century and it contains a little glockenspiel.


Below is St. Sebaldus church, named for the 8th century hermit and missionary who is the patron saint of Nuremberg.


The following building wasn't any more interesting than most of the other facades until you looked up at the top two narrow windows in the upper right corner.  Love the happy smiley face!




Look - a river runs through this part of old town.  And a building sits over it, with some cute little windows in the roofline.




Check out this odd bit of wall art - a mythical griffin doing Lord only knows what to that smaller creature.  Intriguing, yet also disturbing.




Plus an interesting old door with some statuary above it on either side of the shield.  Compare the entry column on the left and right.  Can you tell it's built on a street that slopes downhill towards the square?






Beer, glorious beer, in these man sized pitchers sporting a convenient handle with which to down your brew of choice in the local biergarten.  Never fear - he drank every drop.




On the corners of buildings in both Rothenburg and Nuremberg, I noticed statues and collected several pics of them as we toured because I thought they were unique.










A bit of trivia about Nuremberg - the Faber Castell pencil company was founded on the outskirts of the city in 1761.  We drove by the old factory and family palace in Stein on our way to tour Rothenburg the day before.


Another thing I noticed in Nuremberg is how the cemeteries all look as if the local florist has just paid them a visit.  I'm thinking graveyards wouldn't play a big role in German horror films or halloween scenes since they're so beautiful.  It makes you want to take a stroll through the headstones just to enjoy the floral arrangements.





Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Half the Fun is Getting There

After several ocean cruises, we decided to give river cruising a try.  It's definitely a relaxing way to travel, especially since we didn't have the girls in tow.  I would say the average age of the cruisers on our Viking longship was around 65.  Of course, there were older folks, too, like the sweet couple from South Carolina who were in their mid 80s.  However, they were pretty spry octogenarians since they golf and go out dancing every week.


We kicked off our river cruise trip Saturday morning when the alarm woke us up at 4:30 since the car service was collecting us at 5:45 am for a run to Heathrow.  We flew to Frankfurt and then changed planes for the crop duster over to Nuremberg, Germany.  That was one hairy ride.  The vicious winds had our little plane weaving from side-to-side as we zipped down the runway for takeoff.  That was my first experience with horizontal turbulence since it's only the vertical, shake you up and down sort I've experienced in the past.


Since we arrived in Nuremberg the day before our cruise embarked, we had the chance to walk around the old town and get a feel for it.  We had a late lunch at the Bratwursthausle beneath the shade of the chestnut trees. I took this pic of it the next day when we were touring with the Viking folks that morning and it hadn't opened yet.




We shared a table with an older German couple.  I sipped a soda because the only thing on the menu was sausage and pig knuckles and beer, oh my.  I'm not a big fan of pork and so I just soaked up the atmosphere and people watched as folks passed by on the street.


The husband was in hog heaven, literally and figuratively, with all of the great sausages to sample in Germany.




The next morning, we went for a private tour of Rothenburg ob der Tauber that our travel agent arranged.  The car was this swanky made-for-the-chauffeuring/touring market BMW that had bells and whistles I didn't know existed.  The driver/tour guide wore a suit and I decided right then and there this was definitely the best way to see Germany.


Located in the Franconia region of Bavaria, Rothenburg is a precious medieval town with not just one but two sets of city walls - both inner and outer.  










I could have just gobbled it up and asked for seconds because it was so danged cute.  




I would have been hard pressed to find a public building that wasn't bedecked in flowers and just too picturesque for words.  




Signs hanging on the buildings were just beautiful.  And I love anything with a date on it, like the one above with 1661.


And churches with beautiful handcarved altars.  






And decorative city wells like the ones above.


Our tour lasted almost 6 hours and I spent over an hour in the mothership Kathe Wohlfahrt Christmas Village and Museum.  Overcome by the holiday spirit in July, I blew my entire souvenir budget before we even set foot on the cruise ship for our eight day Danube adventure.  Aint it purty?






The little elves are gonna change it from 220 volts to 110 volts so it will spin with the simple throw of a switch versus candle power and then UPS it to my in-law's house in about 7-8 weeks.  Down the road, my girls can argue over who has to take this monstrosity to ferret away and gather dust in their attic once I'm dead and gone.  Until then, I'm giving this holiday pyramid spinny thing a place of honor in the house every November - gotta deck the halls before Thanksgiving so we can all enjoy it well in advance of the big day.


Travel guru Rick Steves had warned us NOT to waste our time on the schneeballen (translates to snowball in English) in Rothenburg, but we just had to indulge.  Rick was right - the fried shortcrust pastry dusted in powdered sugar wasn't particularly tasty but it was all part of the experience.  You can see a reflection of the husband lining up his shot of the schneeballen in a shop window.  




On the drive back to Nuremberg we detoured to the abbey church in Heilsbronn, seat of one of the great German monasteries during the medieval period (1132-1555).  I do love a good tomb with a sarcophagus atop it.




Around 3:00 pm we boarded our Viking longship, the Legend, on a canal of the Danube River.  Auf wiedersehen to fast paced touring and guten tag to a leisurely cruise.