Thursday, June 26, 2014

10 Reasons Why YOU Should Add Germany to Your European Travel Itinerary

Uncle Max is coming to Germany, you guys. FOR REAL.

We have been trying to get him (and everyone, really) to Germany for quite some time now, and now it's finally happening. He's getting on a plane and heading over to see his favorite sister.

Although, if his favorite, most excellent, amazing sister didn't have a baby Zoe and a huge Great Dane, it is questionable whether or not this trip would be happening. We don't dwell on such things.

We are excited. We LOVE visitors. Seriously you guys. We do.

And so, in the spirit of anticipation for Max's arrival, I think it's important to highlight why YOU should consider adding add Germany to your European Travel Itinerary.

Look. I get it, ok. When I studied abroad in college, Germany was not high on my list of mustgoseenomatterwhat. I don't know a ton of people who are all "we're headed to Munich! We can't wait!" Paris? Yes. Rome? Absolutely. London? Probably. Germany doesn't call out to people like France or Italy or the United Kingdom. But I think it's just because Germany doesn't have great PR, you know? I am here to argue that Germany is a diamond in the rough. Sure, you can visit the big cities (Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt, etc.) and those would be cool, maybe even super interesting. We've loved our trips to the cities, especially Berlin. But the REAL Germany, the Germany you NEED to experience is found in the smaller cities...Wurzberg, Bamberg, Luneberg, Baden-Baden, Garmisch, etc. It's found in the Black Forest region, in the German wine country, along the Romantic Road in Bavaria. Germany has so much to offer.

And listen, you may think "Oh you're just biased because you live there". No ma'am. I do not have to like (or fall in love) with the places I live. I could live here for 3 years and at the end of it think "I'd be ok with not coming back". But au contraire mon frère! Or, more accurately, Im Gegenteil mein Bruder! (Well that just doesn't have the same ring to it, does it?)

Given the opportunity to come to back Europe someday, I think both Z and I would put Germany at the top of our list. So I'm making it my goal to convince you to put Germany on your list, too. Maybe not at the top; I can understand that. But put it on there, friends. Otherwise you're missing out on a big chunk of what Europe has to offer.

10 Reasons Why YOU Should Add Germany to Your European Travel Itinerary (in no particular order)

1. Scenery. Germany is gorgeous. I can't speak for all of it, but I can speak for a lot of it. You've got wine country. You've got hops country. You've got the Black Forest. You've got the Bavarian Alps (definitely hit those). You've got the rolling countryside dotted with giant, lazily spinning wind turbines. You've got the Danube. You've got the aforementioned Romantic Road. You've got the Saxony region. You've got Lake Constance. You've got the Nekar Valley, the Mosel Valley, etc. etc. etc. Just Google any of those places. The pictures speak for themselves. Or just look around at my blog, at the pictures from some of our tips. Or if you're really feeling ambitions, check out this blog, specifically her Germany travels. Whoa. Are you ready to book your flight?

2. Beer. Even people who don't like beer can usually find a German beer they like. And this isn't about just grabbing a beer like you'd grab a Bud Light. Beer is an art form in Germany. Avoid the big names, try the local beer (it's probably the only thing on the drink menu anyways). There's sure to be a brewery in a 10 mile radius. (Bonus: tour the breweries!) Chances are, the restaurant you're eating at has a brewery affiliated with it. German beer is a serious thing. It's an event, this beer drinking. You sit, you enjoy, you savor. It's worth the trip to Germany, just to sit in beirgartens in the summer when the sun doesn't set until 9:30pm and no wait staff would dream of rushing you out to free up a table. You're expected to sit for hours and drink ice-cold beer from sturdy steins, maybe have some dinner, play some cards...or just sit and talk and enjoy the slow, lazy evening. Ah, it's one of my favorite things in the world. And let's not leave out German wine. Germany has some of the best white wine in the world, but it gets overlooked because the "famous vineyards" are all French and Italian, you know? But I have had my eyes opened. German wine. Yes please.

3. German food. As long as we're talking about beer, we might as well address the food situation. Ok. You guys, German food is GOOD. Yes, it has the reputation of being sturdy, meat-and-potatoes food...and it is. But it's really good. And fresh. SO fresh. Zach and I are already lamenting that "German restaurants" don't really exist in the states. We're going to miss the food so much. So many seasonal delights. So many unique dishes. Gosh, it's good. Spargel. Spatzle. Schnitzel. Also pretzels. ALSO amazing bakery selections. Oh jeez. And so much more. It should be noted that Germany does not just boast good German food. It has AMAZING Italian food, which makes sense based on proximity to Italy. The Italian restaurant in our village is owned by a man who speaks no English...only German and Italian. He and his family are authentic Italians, and much to the dismay of our family, they shut the restaurant down for a few months every year to make a trip back to Italy. They are the real deal. And that seems to hold true for almost all of the Italian restaurants we've eaten at in Germany. DIVINE. In fact (WARNING: super snobby comment coming; I know, I hear it), the last time Z and I were in Italy, we discussed how part of the excitement of going to Italy was lost for us because we regularly have amazing Italian food and gelato in Germany. Don't get me wrong, friends. We still love Italy. We still have 2 more trips to Italy planned before we leave Germany. We still know how blessed we are and how incredible it is that we have the opportunity to just pop over to Italy for a few days. I'm just saying...come to Germany and get the bonus of amazing, authentic Italian food and gelato.

4. Castles. Ok. I'm not huge on history and really learning all about different sites and their significance. I just don't spend a lot of time and energy on that sort of thing. BUT I do love castles. Regardless of their history, they are just super cool. And so old. And so interesting. And Germany has a wealth of them. You basically can't visit a German city without also visiting the castle associated with that city. And good news, friends. The most famous castle in Germany? The one Walt Disney used as inspiration for the Cinderella Castle? It's a day's-trip away from us.

5. History. So if you ARE into history, Germany is the place to come. Especially if you have a grandparent or relative who served overseas during WWII. Or just any interest in WWII. Amazing history here. Hallowed ground. I'm not going to say I enjoy visiting WWII memorials or concentration camps, but I certainly think it's important to visit them and learn about them and honor those lives that were lost.

6. Christmas markets. This may actually be the best reason to visit Germany. Yes, this means you'll be here when it's cold and dark and dreary and probably with 18 feet of snow on the ground, but OH the Christmas markets. Glorious. They make winter in Germany worth it. Gluhwein. Festival food (drooling just thinking about it). The smells! The rows and rows of booths with food and drinks and holiday wares. The parades. The lights. The music. It is absolutely magical. There's nothing like it and you have to experience it to truly understand how incredible it is. 

7. Which leads us to just Festivals, in general. You guys, no matter when you visit Germany, there's sure to be some kind of festival going on. Beer Fests. Wine Fests. Pumpkin fests. Easter markets. Christmas markets. Burgerfests. Volksfests. Oktoberfest. Carnival. Kinderfests. There's even a Bach Fest. There's always something to celebrate and it's always fun.

8. Culture. I think this applies to ANYWHERE you visit, but German culture is especially interesting, in my humble opinion. Germans are polite and efficient and rule-followers. Everything is clean and well-organized. They work hard, yet the play hard. See numbers 2 and 7. They REALLY honor tradition and value family, and I like that.

9. Ease of access to other places of interest. Germany is pretty central when it comes to Europe. Rent a car (autobahn driving, hello. A bucket-list item for many), hop a train, grab a cheap RyanAir flight and you're just a few hours away from Italy, Austria, Czech, Poland, Croatia, France, Belgium, Spain, Poland, Switzerland, The Netherlands...the possibilities are endless. You could visit multiple countries in just a few short days. It's so easy to get around once you're in Europe...just get here!

10. (But maybe this should be #1, if we were going in order) A FREE place to stay. Breakfast included. Lovely guest room. Full bathroom with a gloriously large bathtub AND a shower (not gloriously large, but let's not get picky, ok?). Cute baby. Fun hosts. Located in a charming, authentic Bavarian village. Convenient access to grocery, bakery, German and Italian restaurants, Eis (gelato) café, and train station. The true German experience. Offer expires 6/2015, contact management to book today!

So come on!

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Black Forest

I really have not done a good job of using this space as a "chronicle of our journey" recently. But this is ok, because that mostly bores me (and if it's boring me, it's definitely boring you). I don't love taking precious writing time doing a "here is what we've been doing and where we've been going" thing. However, because I know my memory is prone to discard large chunks of time as it marches on (my high school memories are seriously lacking and it's starting to happen to my college memories, yikes), I need to get to documenting...things. That was part of the reason for this blog anyways. Memories need to be recorded, or I lose them. I just need to make peace with this.

So. We went to Atlanta for a few weeks. It was wonderful. We came back. I wallowed. And then life picked right back up.

We have one year left in Germany and this means we are really buckling down and getting serious about traveling. We always travel more in the summer anyways, but now we're working with a time crunch AND the fact that Z is about to be done with his time in command, which will free him up IMMENSELY and for this we (especially me) are extremely thankful. So we take advantage of these things and are booking trips right and left.

Last weekend we headed down into the Black Forest region of Germany, stopping to visit Lichenstein Castle, which is easily my favorite castle we've been to thus far. I'll be honest, I wasn't feeling super excited about this trip, but it exceeded expectations. I highly recommend it. We had a lovely's a gorgeous area of Germany and the drive through the Black Forest (via the Schwarzwaldhochstrasse) was truly breathtaking. And sometimes nerve-wracking and downright scary. At one point we're driving UP a mountain and it's dark (the Black Forest is named thus because the trees are so thick it looks black...and it's very eerie driving through such dark forest and emerging into a bright sunny day) and we are almost falling off the side of the mountain and then the GPS is like "Turn here" and we ALWAYS listen to the GPS so we turn and suddenly we are no longer on a paved road but more of a... trail, if you will. And I'm all ohmygoshwe'regoingtodiehere. And Z's all we're fiiiiiine (he later told me he was also nervous. Good move not telling me in the moment). But we drive along and at one point we pass a lone hubcap propped up against a tree. And at this point I think "do I take this as a good sign, like HEY! Another car was here, so you're definitely still on a road of some sort, for real. Or is this more like a warning? Like, turn back now, or meet a similar fate. This hubcap is all that survived of the last car that came through here."

Anyways. We obviously survived. Aside from the scenic drive, we visited the tallest waterfall in Germany and also the cookoo clock factories/shops that the Black Forest is famous for. We stayed in the city of Baden-Baden, which I can only describe as sort of the Savannah of Germany. It's a spa/resort town and was delightfully charming and relaxing. We thoroughly enjoyed our trip.

Ok. Consider it documented. Pictures below.
This little hotshot

He's such a good dad. Headed up to Lichtenstein Castle.

Whoa the view.

Family arm-shot

Schloss Lichtenstein

Don't be fooled. She screamed way more than this picture would lead you to believe.

Just stunning. Can you see why I loved this castle so much?

Wine country. Pictures don't do justice.

Tallest waterfall in Germany

Z and z. Adventurers.

Triberg. In the Black Forest region.

Cookoo clock country

Garden in Baden-Baden

Monday, June 16, 2014

Father's Day

A day late, but that's know how we do things around here.  

Yesterday was Father's Day, which is kind of a big deal since it was Z's first Father's Day. I think a big difference between us is that I get a little wound up about these sorts of holidays and I think Zach just...doesn't. Which is fine, because I think he approaches it in a more "mothers/fathers/love/St. Patrick should be celebrated every day, not just on the designated holidays" (just kidding about St. Patrick. I think he's pretty ambivalent about ol' Patty, but I'll fact-check that later).

So I'm all "IT'S YOUR FIRST FATHER'S DAY!" and planning special meals (he wanted to grill out, but that leaves him doing most of the work, so tonight I'm extending the celebration and making his favorite risotto) and eagerly awaiting the arrival of his gift (which I may have ordered too late to get here on time, but I still faithfully checked the mail with great hope and expectation every day last week) and just generally being excited. And he just kind of smiles and goes about his normal day. And then brings me flowers. On HIS special day, he brings ME flowers. This is just how he is. And that's precisely why I feel so strongly about celebrating him, particularly on Father's Day.

When I think about the way he treats me, and realize that Zoe gets to grow up with a front-row seat to witnessing her daddy treat her mama with such care, patience, love and kindness, I just get overwhelmed with thankfulness. She will learn from an early age what to expect in terms of how men should treat her. And we pray for her future husband already, because those expectations will be (and should be) high. And not only that...not only will Zoe get to watch her dad be an incredible husband to me...she will get to experience him as a father, and she is in for a treat. Zach as a daddy is one of my favorite things in the entire world. He LOVES that baby girl. And she adores him. And when I watch him with her, I think "Oh little have no idea. You have no idea how much he loves you, how fiercely he will protect you, how far he will go for you, how sweetly he will treat you, how much he cares for you, how hard he works for you..."

Here's the beauty of this...Zoe is blessed with a dad like Zach because of the dads Zach and I were blessed with.

Zach's dad is steady, hard-working, loving, and will do absolutely anything for those he loves. Zach gets those solid qualities from his father. Because he grew up with a dad like his, he is very intentional about how he treats me and how he cares for our little family.

My dad set the bar high in terms of my expectations and experiences of how I should be treated...and he modeled such a beautiful picture of marriage for me and my brothers in how he treats our mom. He is wise, devoted, and invested (and continues to invest) so much time in his family. Because I grew up with a dad like him, I was very intentional about not settling for anything less when it came to choosing a partner for life.

Zoe gets the reap the benefits of having a father like Zach because Zach and I have such incredible fathers. To me, this is beautiful.*

So while, yes, fathers and mothers and love should be celebrated every day (and maybe St. Patrick too, we'll see), I particularly like these holidays that are an excuse to shine a spotlight on the things that maybe pass us by on the "everyday" road we're on. I like the fact that we get a calendar reminder to pull over and say "HEY! This thing that you're doing so well every day, that I appreciate so much about you, that I respect and love and cherish and feel HONORED to watch you deserves a little extra attention, because sometimes on any given Wednesday I am tired or on any given Monday I am busy and I forget to let you know how much if means to me that you are being this amazing dad."

So let's celebrate the heck out of it. And use it as a reminder to celebrate these men in our lives and this dad thing they're doing more often than just the calendar-designated Sunday in June.

Happy Father's Day to the most amazing dads, the greatest blessings in our lives...the ones who raised us and who get to be the best Opa and Poppy IN THE WORLD to our sweet Zoe.

And Happy 1st Father's Day to Zach, who is the best dad to our daughter...I LOVE watching you be a daddy and I'm so excited to get to do this parenting thing with you. You're so good at it already and I know I will continue to learn so much from you as Zoe gets older and this parenting thing gets more complicated. I couldn't ask for a better partner in all of this.

*Please understand that I'm not saying that anyone who has a different experience with their father or father-figure can't or won't be a good father or marry a man who will be a great dad...this is not the case at all. I'm just speaking from my life and my experience. Yours may be different, and that can be beautiful too. There's no "better-than" scenario here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

OWW: Day 7 (The End)

Well, we did it. We made it through week one back in Germany. One Week Wallow is complete.

I'd say we're doing pretty well, all things considered. Zoe is sleeping. Zach is back in the swing of things at work. We are no longer suffering from jetlag. It has been sunny and warm(ish) the past few days. I ate a lot of donuts/chocolate croissants/my supersecretstash of Thin Mints.

Last night Z came home and saw me in my yoga pants and tank top and asked (perhaps with a little too much excitement in his voice), "Hey! Did you work out today?"

And without thinking I responded, "No...this is just what I wore today" before realizing DARN IT! I should have said yes. That would have been way more impressive.

But that should tell you about the state I was in this past week, if wearing yoga pants and a tank is cause for a question about my activity for the day. We've really taken it up a notch over here as the OWW winds down. Out of the pjs and into the workout clothes. Minus the actual, you know, working out.

Baby steps. DON'T RUSH ME.

I feel pretty good, though. I think I was just so focused on getting little Zoe back on track and trying to sleep every time she slept that I didn't have much time or mental energy to really mourn leaving our families and friends. This is a good thing, I think. Because let me tell you, coming back to Germany this time was HARD. Z and I both felt it way more than we have before and for the first time ever, Z voiced how much he's excited to move back to the states (and hopefully, very close to our families). Having Zoe has made that ache to be "home", to be with our people, so much stronger.

I'm wondering if I'll ever feel like "home" is someplace other than Atlanta. That's the trouble with the military, you know. "Home" is Germany right now, but "home home" is Atlanta. And while I will always fully support my husband and follow him to the ends of the earth until the end of time, I really do have such a longing to make a "home home" somewhere. To settle and settle good. It's really, really hard to settle when you know there's a timer counting down, when you know you won't be in that house for more than a few years, or at that church for more than a few years, or whatever. I think I'll always have trouble with that...fighting the need and desire to dig in and let the roots go down deep while trying to thrive and be fully present and engaged in a life that has a 3 year time limit. You don't think about those things until you're living it. It is a really big struggle. And I'm ok with struggling through it...I just want to do it well and not look back and regret things or feel as if I've held back because I felt defeated by the temporality of everything. That's the biggest tension for me personally: trying to fully engage and throw myself into relationships and communities and building a home and a life where we are, but not to the extent that leaving and starting over someplace new completely devastates me or sends me into a One Week Wallow that never ends.

How do you do this? I don't know. I'm working through it. Maybe for the rest of my life (or for as long as Z is in the military. Which may be the same thing).

So I'm just processing all of that as I continue to ease back into reality over here.

The upside is that we have one more year in Germany and Z's command role ends in a few months WHICH MEANS...we have lots of travel plans ahead. We're trying to take advantage of the last year in Europe and hit all of our "wish list" because we realize we probably won't be back this way for quite some time (maybe not until after our currently unborn kids are off to college). So I think we're in for a busy and fast year. I'm excited to start planning all of these trips.

Ok, without further ado, let's wrap up this OWW.
Day Seven:

Bedtime: 8:30pm. Zoe did her crocodile thrash for a while before conking out around 9:30. I stayed up too late watching The Bachelorette.  

Wake time: 6:30am. Too early.

Chocolate croissant count: Finished my last donut yesterday. It was good.

Weather: sunny. Surprisingly warm. Considering a walk down the tractor trail today. Will report to Z that I DID work out if I actually accomplish this. 

Probability of leaving the house: life resumes. House-leaving is mandatory. Sigh.

Status of suitcase(s): I mean, does it really even matter at this point?
Ok fine. I'll unpack them.

Thanks for hanging in there with me, you guys. If you ever need a good wallow, you know who to contact. I'm there for you, too.

Monday, June 2, 2014

OWW: Day 6

We are nearing the end, friends. And I can feel it. I'm emerging from my OWW, slowly but surely. And it has been good. I highly recommend this method for any major life transitions. Or minor ones. Anything goes.

Today, I cleaned the kitchen. And tidied up the living room. Sure signs the wallowing is coming to a close.

I even (voluntarily) left the house today to get groceries.

I know. How amazing am I?!

Bedtime: 8:30pm. Zoe was asleep by 8:45. Hallelujah. I was asleep by 10, the earliest I've been asleep in weeks.

Wake time: 7am. I had to wake that little monkey up. The schedule, you know.

Chocolate croissant count: 0. But donuts! 1.

Weather: sunny. Surprisingly warm.

Probability of leaving the house: groceries were needed. It was sunny. I ventured out.

Status of suitcase(s): about 80% packed still. But only because I was looking for a certain shirt so I rifled through the whole suitcase until I found it. So now the suitcase is a mess and has exploded onto the surrounding floor space. I may tackle it tomorrow. Or I may do ABSOLUTELY NOTHING but bask in my final day of this OWW.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

OWW: Day 5

Oh the difference one day makes.

This evening, I sit here with my cup of tea, my Z, and my Olive watching the end of a movie we started last night. All is calm. All is quiet. I'm afraid to even type this because I don't want to break the spell.

Zoe is asleep. She hollered for less than 10 minutes and conked out. This is a miracle. I have no doubt it's attributed to the prayers of many people. And also maybe to the fact that Zoe', how do we say this?..."bowel work-stoppage" In a major, huge wash-the-bouncer-fabric-put-the-baby-straight-in-the-tub-holy-cow-where-did-it-all-come-from way. Z thinks this is why she's sleeping like a little angel right now. Either way, we're so thankful.

OWW: Day Five

Today we went to the Nuremberg Zoo. Zach talked me into it, even though when he suggested it I looked at him sideways and reminded him we are still observing the OWW. But then he said that if we went to Nuremberg, we could get Dunkin Donuts. And who am I to deny me some delicious donuts?
So we went and it really was delightful. For me and Z, at least. Zoe slept in her Ergo carrier most of the time, but that was totally ok. She's only 4 months old. We can't except too much out of her. The Nuremberg zoo is WAY more impressive than I had imagined and we saw more baby animals than I have probably ever seen in my life. Baby bison, baby goats, baby antelope, baby monkeys (a BRAND NEW baby monkey), baby baboons, baby ducks, baby seals. BABIES EVERYWHERE! Super cute. So it was a good day.

Bedtime: attempted 8:30pm. So much screaming. I fell into a vortex of timelessness so I don't know what time she actually fell asleep. But she did.

Wake time: 7:45am. I fed her and then Z took her and I slept a few more hours. God bless that man.   

Chocolate croissant count: 0. But donuts! 3.

Weather: mostly sunny. Perfect zoo weather.

Probability of leaving the house: I was bribed with donuts. I'm not ashamed.

Status of suitcase(s): still 98% packed. I will do a ceremonial unpacking to signal the end of the OWW on Tuesday. Maybe. Probably. We'll play it by ear.

Turns out there is hope for us after all.