June 29, 2009

The Week of Ben

Mark and Claire are on a little father-daughter trip to the Austrian Alps with Jonathan and Julia this week, so I've decided to make it a week all about Ben.

Yesterday we visited Galaxsea, Jena's awesome indoor water park. There are two 105m water slides, the one pictured here and another called the Black Hole, and as you might have guessed, it is almost completely pitch dark inside. Ben is an adventurous soul and went on both of them numerous times with me. I also got him to take off his water wings and swim with me in one of the pools for a while. Then we had ice cream.

Today we visited Gaudipark, our local indoor play place. There was hardly anyone there, so he pretty much had the place to himself. He climbed in the whale, jumped on the trampolines, rode the bumper cars, slid down the giant slide, jumped in the ball pit, and generally ran amok. I had an iced coffee and read my book.

Tomorrow we're going to see Transformers 2, in German. I tried to explain to him that we wouldn't be able to understand what they were saying, but he doesn't care. Oh well. I figure we'll get the general gist and then see it again when we get home. I mean, battle scenes are the same in any language, right?

Wednesday we're off to Belantis, a Silverwood-type theme park about an hour from here. He's my rollercoaster kid, so I'm sure we'll have a great time. But we'll make sure to tell Claire that we didn't.

And last, but not least, we'll visit the Zeiss Planetarium here in Jena. It's fairly famous and we have yet to see what it's all about. Again, it's all in German, but I think the stars are the same here too!

There'll be some McDonald's grubbing and ice cream cone licking, and he's getting to sleep in my bed with me while Papa is gone. He's one happy kid.

June 22, 2009

Paris in Pictures

Beautiful streets

Playing in the rain

Fountains everywhere

Notre Dame

Our first view of the Eiffel Tower

9000 km to Los Angelos from the top of the Eiffel Tower

Monet's Water Garden at Giverny

The Bridge in Monet's Garden

Busy Avenue de Rivoli

Feeding the pigeons at the Louvre

The Venus de Milo

The Mona Lisa

The 8 km view from the Louvre to the Business District

Walking the Champs Elysees

Standing under the Arc de Triumph

An evening cruise on the River Seine

June 20, 2009

The Balance of Good and Bad

It's a cool rainy day in Eastern Germany and I'm waiting for a ride to the grocery store with my friend Kim. Every once in a while she invites me along and I jump at the chance to purchase heavy items that I won't have to carry up the hill in my backpack. I'm nursing a substantial headache from a little too much wine drinking last night and I don't feel much up to grocery shopping, but I have to go because there's not much food here after our trip to Paris and everything is closed tomorrow.

Ahhh, Paris. We went to the top of the Eiffel Tower, toured Notre Dame, visited Monet's Garden in Giverny, saw many great works of art, including the Mona Lisa, at the Louvre, boated down the River Seine, and walked under the Arc de Triumph. It's a bustling, busy, touristy city, but I found the stereoptypes of the French to be untrue; they were really pretty friendly and appreciated the lame attempts I made at speaking their language. The kids did the best they could, being dragged around and made to admire things they didn't understand or care about, but in hindsight I would have waited a few more years for this trip with them. Claire and I would have loved to visit the Impressionist exhibit at the Musee d'Orsay, but we simply ran out of time. We didn't make it to Versailles either, so maybe she and I will return someday. I'll have pictures to post soon; it seems that it's always as much of a rush to get settled again after a vacation as it is to leave.

We've had a bit of bad news from home. It seems that the the economic problems of our state have affected our local school district and they've had to make budget cuts. What this means for us is that Sunnyside Elementary school has eliminated one of their 5th grade classes and because we are out of district, Claire has been transfered to Jefferson Elementary. Poor kid. Not only did we pull her out of school and make her take up a new life in a foreign country, now she can't even return to the way things were. There have been many tears and writing of letters to principals and superintendents, but our fate is sealed. The bright side is that 1) Ben does not have to change schools and 2) it's only for one year; all the elementary schools converge into one middle school in sixth grade. It doesn't provide much comfort for Claire, but it's all we've got right now.

We've decided to leave our penthouse apartment in Jena on July 8 and spend our last week in country traveling the Alps and the Rhine Valley. That makes our time left here a little over 2 weeks. We won't be seeing much of Mark; he's got a lot of work to finish up between now and then, but we can take it knowing we'll soon be home. We've loved living in Europe and having this adventure, but we're ready for the ease of familiarity. Ben says he's been dreaming of playing his Xbox at night, Claire can't wait to see Emily again, and I'm itching to make some art and work in a kitchen with a microwave and dishwasher where I don't bump my head on the "quaint" angled ceiling every time I pull utensils out of the drawers. Being here has certainly encouraged in each of us a greater sense of gratitude for our quiet and simple country life, although not having to mow the lawn has been really nice!

June 7, 2009

Catching Up

Our little girl turned 10 years old last week. We spent the afternoon with our friends and Papa Ray and Grammie at Gaudipark, the huge indoor playground we visited earlier this year. Then it was back home for "green goopy dinner" (pasta with chicken and pesto sauce) and a homemade yellow cake with lemon frosting. Our gift to Claire is a trip to Monet's garden; we'll be embarking on our adventure to Paris next Sunday.

We accomplished lots more hiking around Jena with Ray and Marilyn and were able to show them some orchids and our beautiful scenery. They left Friday morning and headed to Bad Wildungen for a few days before flying back to the U.S. They discovered a castle there that had been in the possesion of the Wildung's around 1600. Pretty cool.

We made a visit to Buchenvald Concentration Camp. It was horrific to say the least. The ovens are still in place, as well as the barbed wire, clock tower, and torture cells. The most poignant thing to me was a 2 x 25 ft. display of buttons taken from the prisoner's clothing and showcased in the museum of their personal effects. This picture is the wording on the gates to the camp and translate as "to each his own". It was read by the prisoners from inside the camp, which I thought was interesting. Even though I recognize that we are generations removed from the Holocaust, it's hard to have respect for a culture that allowed such atrocities to occur. The trip was made all the more creepy by the "black suits" who were cruising around to prepare the camp for President Obama's visit two days later.

We made a trip to the neighboring town of Helmsdorf to visit Wildung Street, the only one in existence in Germany as far as we can tell. We strolled the two blocks and snapped a few pictures. One of the residents was giving us a more-than-once-over, but laughed when I told her that our name was Wildung.

And here's my man yesterday near the finish line after he walked 100 km in 19 hours in the Saale Horizontale, a yearly trek here in Jena for the physically-fit and mentally-impaired. He is recovering nicely, but is hobbling around today and sporting many blisters over most of the surface of both of his feet.

We're beginning our countdown; 38 days to home. I can hear the English words flowing and smell the hamburgers grilling. And I hear there's a Starbuck's Grande Hazelnut Latte awaiting my landing in Chicago.