March 25, 2009


I've heard there are three levels of settling into being in another country: 1) survival 2) competency and 3) fluency. I would like to think that I have made it to competency, after all I studiously attend my German lessons, but it is sorely apparent that I am merely a survivor. Case in point: I was recently forced to navigate the German health care system. When we decided to come here, I knew that I would have to have my thyroid levels checked to measure the effectiveness of my medication. I gathered some courage and walked down to the doctor's office, hoping there would be someone at the desk who spoke English, but there wasn't. I had anticipated this scenario and written what I needed to say on a piece of paper beforehand, knowing I would draw a complete blank and begin to sputter and throw in a little French if forced to conjugate the German verb for "need". So I spoke my words to the nurse in my best German accent and she understood me. Then she spoke back to me, like she thought I would understand her. All I wanted her to say was "Of course, your accent is great and your appointment is tomorrow at 10" in plain English, but with a little German flair. We ended up playing charades and came to the conclusion that I needed a blood test (blutuntersuchung) because I had my thyroid (Schilddruse) removed (insert a picture of me slashing my finger across my throat).

I saw the doctor the next day. Replay the day before, me feeling helpless and inadequate in my language skills, trying to communicate my problem with my sparse German. Again we resorted to charades and when that didn't work, we moved on to drawing pictures. The doctor explained and explained and explained and still I did not understand. Just when I was beginning to lose all hope, he took a deep breath and said "My English is not very good. I think we need your, how do you say, calcitonin levels checked also." WTF?

I'm sharing this story because my test results came back, my levels are low, and I will have to increase my hormone dosage while I am here. I will visit the doctor's office on Tuesday armed with a copy of my new prescription and lab orders from my doctor in the states. And when you read about the American woman who was detained because she strangled the little doctor when he refused to speak English, you'll have a brief history. Please don't get me wrong, I am not one of those tourists who insists on speaking English in a country whose first language is not English. I always try to speak German. But you'd think that as a medical professional this doctor might best understand the possible consequences of playing a little joke on a woman whose hormone levels are low, hmm?

March 24, 2009

Westward Part 3: To the Ocean and Home Again

We left Amsterdam and headed west again, and guess where we ended up? That's right, in a scrapbook store, the only one I've seen since I left the states. The owner was just starting to receive CHA orders, so the store was full of all kinds of new things.

I wanted to stay all day and just wander around and soak up all that creative mojo, but we had promised the kids the North Sea, so we kind of had to go. I did get some cardstock and paint and I've got a little bit of art started around here now.

Then we drove to the edge of Europe. My kids are always happy at the beach, no matter the weather, and the weather really sucked. Rain and wind and coldness. But they ran around joyfully digging in the sand and looking for shells. I liked this beach because it sported a restaurant where Mark and I could watch the kids play while sipping a piping-hot Latte Macchiato, sheltered from the wind.

Now, remember we're still in Holland. And in Holland, it's all about the windmills.

This one was especially beautiful, located at the center of a town called Leiden, home of the pilgrims before they set sail to America on the Mayflower. We stopped for awhile to stretch our legs and take in the sights. Then we drove and drove to make some time, but our highway was detoured and we ended up having a Twilight Zone-like experience on some back roads of Holland. We exited the autobahn as instructed and followed the signs toward the place we wanted to go. Then the detour put us back on the autobahn, took us off at the next exit, turned us 180 degrees and put us back on the autobahn, took us back to the previous exit, then had us exit and take another route that could not be seen the first time we exited. I'm not kidding. I think some highway workers were having a good laugh at our expense, because I know we laughed ourselves silly about it later.

We finally got to our town and it was this gem, Maastrict. We spent the night at a hotel by the airport and then headed into the city center bright and early the next morning. It was completely deserted and so magnificent to weave through the empty city streets looking in the shop windows.

This shop was some sort of wanna-be hip clothing store. It was just bizarre and I love how the square is reflected in the background of the photo. After eating some breakfast, we headed back on the highway and made some time through the wondrous Belgian countryside and into Luxembourg.

Luxembourg was amazing. The city, and the stone wall which encircles it, was built in the mid-900's right on the Alzette River. The whole atmosphere was so regal and stoic. I claim little knowledge of the country of Luxembourg, but I imagine that the people who lived here took great pride in their surroundings. It was stunning.

And did I mention that the sun was shining?

We finally pulled ourselves away and started making the trek toward home via the Mosel River.

Here we met Sammy Swan, who loved bread hand-outs and made for great conversation between the kids for the next hour's drive. They talked at length about the possibility of Sammy making it to America and how maybe we could get a swan too if we only had some water in our yard. They both cited this encounter as the highlight of their day.

Then we meandered many miles along the river and through German wine country, and I have already decided to return when the leaves on the grapes are green. These folks grow their grapes terraced straight up the sides of the river canyon, with their picturesque little towns nestled at the bottom, and the grape grower's names prominently displayed on their homes.

Can you imagine it all greened up?

This is a real castle. And it was just as majestic in person as it appears in the photo. We passed this one by with high hopes of finding a "better" one that was purported to be a little farther down the road (which it wasn't, by the way), but we'll catch it on the wine tour.

March 22, 2009

Part 2: Amsterdam

I love Amsterdam. It's the epitome of Europe to me; like a bee's nest, crowded with buses and trams and cars and bicycles and pedestrians, art and music and museums and delicious food, and people from all over the world going about their lives in the hive. Mark and I have such fond memories of our trip here together four years ago and we both really enjoyed the familiarity of returning. Claire channeled right into the energy of the city and soaked it all up like a thirsty sponge. She wanted to stay outside walking around all night. Ben did not like it quite so much. Noise and lights and hurried-ness are not his favorite things. He was feeling sick with a headache and developed a fever our first night at the hotel, but he agreed to see the sights the next day while perched upon Papa's shoulders.

Soaking it all up from a bench in front of our hotel.

City lights reflected on our canal.

A view of Prinsengracht, the area where Mark and I stayed before.

Ben chasing pigeons in Dam Square, the heart of the old city.

The kids and I posed outside the Anne Frank House. We took the tour and it was challenging and enlightening for all of us. It was the first time the kids had really seen any kind of documentation of the Holocaust. I was reading Anne Frank's diary while we were there, so the whole experience was really alive for me, like I knew all the people personally and were right in the middle of their story.

Anything goes in Amsterdam and all are welcome.

Us girls delighting in our discovery of pure chocolate bliss. We spent 15 euros on six pieces of chocolate here and we both agree they were worth every penny!

Happy kid soaking up the sunshine.

The canal tour was awesome and we pretty much had the boat to ourselves.

And the trip would not have been complete without strop waffles.

On our way out of the city the kids decided they wanted to pose for one more picture in front of this cool statue. I love giving them this experience. I wonder what their memories will be like.

March 18, 2009

Westward Part 1: Bad Wildungen

In true Wildung Family fashion, our westerly roadtrip began by attempting to navigate the backroads of Eastern Germany. I think passing through small towns on a leisurely drive just to see the sights is definitely an American pasttime; our friends and co-workers here thought it "interesting" that we would lolligag and zigzag instead of making our way directly to Amsterdam via the autobahn. In tribute to them, I will tell you that there was more than one (or five) times that we had to turn around because the map and reality did not mesh, and yes it took all day to get to our hotel, but the drive, even in the rain, was amazing.

Coming from the Evergreen State, it is a rare opportunity to drive through a beautifully bare deciduous forest. And our rental car was some luxury SUV-wagon type thing that had tight suspension and pretty much drove itself, so the twists and turns on our journey were exciting. And you all know how I feel about rain....

Getting closer.... we were all in agreement that kilometers are a fantastic way to measure distance, they go by so much faster than miles!

It was so delightful to come around a bend in the road and see something like this standing so proud on the side of the road. It is a testament to the spirit of history that whoever built this road decided to keep this silo; I like to think someone else saw this view and wanted to pay it forward. Being in Europe sometimes gives me a brief and fleeting understanding of the magnitude of time.

And here we crossed into the city of Bad Wildungen. This shot pretty much came out just as I had envisioned, sans Ben, who would not get out of the car because of the rain. He's pretty sure he'll melt you know.

And then we parked the car instead of just stopping to look on the side of the road and everyone anxiously jumped out and became joyous. Joyous because this beautiful castle/palace/estate sitting high above the hills of Bad Wildungen was one of our first views, and joyous because we were done driving for awhile.

We loved Bad Wildungen. The "Bad" means a bath or watering place in Deutsch, and usually refers to a spa town. The streets were all narrow and cobblestoned, bordered by the neat and tidy architecture of the German people. It was definitely a touristy place, but oh so pretty and filled with art, from the way that the inhabitants landscaped their yards to the rocks in the middle of town covered in mosaic tile scenes. I can imagine how visitors might want to hang out here when the flowers are blooming and the sun is lighting up the stained glass windows of the antique buildings.

We grabbed a coffee and spent a little time wandering around a toy store, and you know how that goes when kids are tired and hungry. Needless to say, we ended up having a little family discussion on the sidewalk in front of the toystore. While we were out there we heard a loud crash behind us. Turns out someone hadn't set their parking brake and their car rolled backwards down the hill from the post office and crashed into some metal posts. The super funny part is that Mark and Ben had just been enjoying a blooper film on the interenet about bad women drivers and the scene before us could have been cut and pasted from that little movie. It was so familiar that Ben asked "Is this where they made that show?"

This was one of the most beautiful homes/storefronts in town. And it was right next to a smaller home that had a little blurb written on its wall about the "Wildung Family", or so we thought. Turns out we can't read German all that well yet and the sign actually said that a prominant Jewish family by the name of Hammer used to live there, but they either perished from persecution or were expelled. Yikes. So glad we had that wrong and so grateful EVERYDAY not to be a Jew living in Germany in the mid-twentieth century.

And here's a closing shot of that rock with the mosaic tiles in the center of town. Loved it that the German flag was flying above it.

March 16, 2009

4 N a Day ne-be-lux-de

By Mark

It took us two months, but we finally got out and about on an old fashioned American road trip. Amsterdam was calling our name and we were able to see Anne Frank's house early in the morning before it got crowded and take a boat ride around the canals. We got wonderfully lost along the way in Germany trying to find Bad Wildungen. We made a wrong turn, then another, then another until we discovered the remotest most interesting convoluted way through the countryside. FYI Bad Wildungen is a pretty cool town. Looks like it can get a bit touristy, but it was quaint, had a nice palace and churches and we got to see a car roll down the hill by itself and smash some stuff up. Hard to top that!

There was an evening, two nights and a wonderful day walking the canals together and chasing the pigeons around the bustling city. The daffodils and crocuses were up and the sun was shining.

After busting out of Amsterdam we headed to the west coast. The kids played on the beach until the weather turned and we packed them up and headed for Maastrich in SE Holland to spend the night. Ask us about "the circular detour" sometime, if you want to see us laugh until we cry.

We had the city to ourselves in the morning and then headed toward Luxembourg via Belgium. Again the sun blessed us and we had a warm time climbing around the strikingly beautiful old walled city.

By the afternoon we were back into Germany, the fourth country of the day. We drove down the Mosel River in the direction of home, feeding the swans, marveling at steep hillside vineyards and castles until it got dark then we jumped on the autobahn and shot home like a rocket.




Bad Wildungen, Amsterdam, Holland, Luxembourg and the Mosel are all photogenic and worthy of their own posts,, hopefully more pics to come,,,

March 10, 2009

Out and About

Even though it seems that we're not really doing anything except waiting for the weather to "spring up", we've been doing quite a bit.

Dressing up for Fasching, the German equivalent of Carnival. Claire went as a flower. We had a blast making her costume and she was absolutely lovely, although a bit disappointed that she was the only student at school who chose not to wear a store-bought costume. And not because she was different; she thought buying a costume was a waste of good money.

Driving on the Autobahn. Exciting and scary all at the same time. Germans really do drive fast, fast, fast, and one time on a nice straight-away Mark took us up to 200 km/hr. Who knew our little Opal rental wagon could go so fast?

Spending time with my brother Ray as his first stop on a 2-month European tour. Showing him around the city and getting him on a train to Prague really gave a boost to my self-confidence; I've learned so much in such a short time.

A visit to the Versailles of East Germany, the Heidecksburg Palace. Wow. Placed in context of the early 1700's, this place was quite impressive. Each piece of furniture, each tapestry and carving, all the made-to-order handwork of great artists. The palace burned in 1735 and was renovated, then became a museum in the early 1900's.

Here's Ben and I skating our way across the main ballroom in little slippers we had to wear over our shoes so as not to scuff the floors. The decor in this room was literally jaw-dropping; the whole ceiling was an amazing painted mural and I can only imagine the kind of parties that went on here, maybe something akin to the ball in Cinderella. Higher up near the ceiling were small alcoves where the musicians sat to play their music. Everything was gilded and sparkly.

This past Sunday we attended an honest-to-goodness traveling family circus. There were contortionists and clowns and fire-eaters and camels and horses and goats and freshly-spun cotton candy.

It was an intimate venue, so small that we could smell the camels the moment they came through the flap in the tent and could feel the heat on our faces from the arcs of fire blown by two of the performers. In the states, a fire marshall would have shut this place down in two seconds flat. I love that the Germans are not as conservative as we are in so many respects.

On Thursday morning we are getting in a rental car and heading out to Amsterdam for a few days via a little town called Bad Wildungen. It's a no-brainer that we have to visit and snap a photo of the kids there. I am rereading Anne Frank: Diary of a Young Girl in preparation for a visit to the "Secret Annexe" in Amsterdam. We're also hoping to get the kids on a canal boat tour, something Mark and I did not have time to do on our last visit.

P.S. Thanks for all the birthday wishes. I had a great day and a very fun evening. Joslin cooked dinner for me and then us "girls" went out to a nice bar called "Mangoes" where they serve foo-foo drinks of the blended sort, and we talked and laughed for hours.