Jul 272012
Seems like a good day for Medals….

Confusion Says….

Today as I was driving the kids back from town we happened upon an older lady with very died blond hair standing in the middle of the street frantically waving us down.  This was a quiet stretch of road connecting the train station (and the building where David works) with one of our smaller grocery stores and what I think of as the Back End of Town.  As we pulled up, we could see that there was a man and his bicycle on the ground between two cars.

Remember her?
This image is somehow scarier
now that I am older.

Remembering my German Red Cross training, I blocked traffic near the accident with our vehicle and hit my hazard lights.  The woman was aflutter and the man was lying with his head down on his arm oozing blood from some large scrapes across his face.  I couldn’t tell at first if she was his wife or just someone who saw him go down.  But, whatever the case, it was clear that she needed help and so did he.

I pulled out my cell phone and, for the second time in 1 week, called emergency services.  This time I remembered 112, but when the dispatcher came on the phone, he had trouble understanding me.  I passed the phone to DS, but they hung up on him!  So, then DS and I *both* dialed back.  And, we both got through.  I started to explain as best I could in my broken German what had happened

“Ein Mann hast fallen und hast blut!”  (A man did falling and have blood!)  But, then things got confusing, so I handed to the phone to DS, not realizing he had his own dispatcher on the line.  DOH!  That got sorted out quickly.  DS described the situation, then handed the phone to the older woman, who still seemed flustered.  The dispatchers were trying to figure out where we were, but all she could say was “By the train station, near Kaufland!” which is exactly what DS had already told them.

So, DS and I jogged to the end of the block where we could view the street signs and reported back the names.

Somewhere in all of this I had grabbed out my first aid kit, but there wasn’t really much I could do with it.  The man was sitting up and talking, but his speech was slurred.  He seemed confused and kept trying to get up.  He was a bit grungy and unshaved.  I was starting to think he might be mentally challenged, or otherwise impaired. Whatever the case, he kept chuckling and trying to tell us he was fine.  I couldn’t tell if he was just abashed at what had happened or if he was altered and trying stupidly to wander off.  But, he kept trying to stand.  The woman, who we had figured out was unrelated to him, just kept repeating loudly “You are BLEEDING, stay sitting!!!”

Yup, that is a Beer Purse.

While we were waiting for the ambulance, a young couple pulled up and came over to help.  They seemed more with-it than the older lady and started taking down information, etc.  At one point the young woman searched the bag that was hanging off the man’s bike.  It was definitely incongruous with his appearance.  It seemed to be some sort of faux Gucchi style purse with a name plate that said ‘Wendy’.  When she opened it, all that was in it was some paper and a bottle of beer!  I suppose that could explain the slurred speech and the fall.  But, then again, we are in Germany.

The ambulance arrived shortly after that.  They asked the man his name and he said “My name is…. I have a problem…”

“Yes, you have a problem!”  they agreed.   The ambulance attendant took one arm and the young woman took the other.  As they hauled him up, his sandal became stuck in the grate where he had been sitting.  I showed them, so that his ankle didn’t get wrenched.  Once he was up, he looked me full in the face and made a speech that DS tells me was pretty much incoherent.  I tried to smile reassuringly, then silently wished him well as they hustled him slowly into the van.

We checked with the young couple to make sure that there was nothing else we could do.  The young woman said a few words in English by way of “thank you, that is all”.  Then we toodled off to McDonalds for a well-earned air-conditioned lunch.

End of School at Durmstrang

DS’s Durmstrang Class

As long as I am blogging, I might as well take a moment and mention that this was DS’ last week of school at Durmstrang.  Oddly enough, the closer to the end of school it got, the more French the Germans became!  Every day was a dice roll to see what hours DS was supposed to be there.  I got many phone calls that amounted to “Well, yeah, I thought we were going until noon today, but its only 11 and they just let us go.”  The final weeks were mostly filled with party events.  There was the all day PE event, movies and videos, a walking fieldtrip to get ice cream, assemblies, and an evening party.  There were also playdates, exchanging of contact info, and the revelation that one of DS’ main teachers won’t be back next year, either.  So, teary farewells all around.

One thing DS loved was that they had a box climbing station set up at the evening party.  He got to try box climbing for the first time at landschulheim (STILL waiting on those photos… how did we ever cope before digital?).  He made it up just as high this time.  He really enjoys the challenge of it.  This time he asked them to test the ropes after 4 boxes so he could be sure they would hold him.   Then, he built himself a tower 14 tall!  Woot!  He says that his knees shook with fear the entire time, but he just kept his mind on his goal.  SO proud of this aspect of him!

Ready to go

They pass him the boxes and he builds as he climbs
14 boxes high!
Hanging around waiting to get unhooked

Actually, it is a pretty nice part of German (and to a lesser degree French) schooling.  They are educating the whole person, and believe that non-academics have a place- and in particular, that giving kids the chance to overcome physical and emotional challenges is valuable.  DS learned how to juggle and make a human pyramid as part of his schooling this year!  Plus, of course, they had art, music, square dance (!), robotics, acrobatics, etc. 

Accidents do happen.  A friend tripped over him on the ground last week and kicked him in the face.  Small black eye, but no big deal.

His final report card was good, actually.  Considering that 12 months ago he had NO German and was dumped into full-immersion at a junior high school level!  All in all, I think he will miss Durmstrang, but that Hogwarts will hopefully be a better fit. 

Tomorrow is my birthday, so I suspect there will be more interesting things to report soon.  Trying to overcome some technical difficulties and finish up the final two books currently on my plate.  Then, a couple weeks of Vacation (knock wood)!  I need it!

Jul 232012

Gifiz See, Offenburg

Everyone has been so sweet in their support after our harrowing Sunday.  Thank you!  I never knew how many people have had fainting spells!  I guess it is a very common, if scary, experience.  Just wanted to do a quick update.

Our usual doctor was unavailable, so she sent us to Herr Doktor Greuter, whom we have seen once before.  After a brief wait, we were shown into his consulting room, a large office with an antique tile fireplace in one corner and prints of impressionist art hanging all over the walls.

He carefully quizzed us on what had happened, read the other doctor’s notes, then he asked about DD’s exercise habits.  After a moment, he shrugged!  His basic take is that sometimes, especially with tall thin kids, their blood pressure gets a little low- particularly in the mornings.  In the shower, the hot water makes it drop further and they can wind up fainting.  (DD explained to me that since blood is used by your body to circulate heat, when you get warmer, your body naturally lowers your blood pressure- I had not known that!)  The doctor recommended upping her exercise level a little to control the pressure more (I thought exercise lowered pressure in general, but he indicated it can help keep it more stable, too).

Then he Googled a local lake that he likes and showed us that it has wonderful paths to hike, swimming and food!  His basic attitude was, “The weather is great!  Go outside and play a bit!”

Apparently Lake Gifiz has a triathalon, but I don’t think we are ready for that!

He also took her blood pressure and listened to her heart very briefly.  DD, was pretty nervous, after all the poking yesterday, but there was no need.  He said he would contact the hospital to get the results of the anemia testing.  If her iron is low, they will put her on iron supplements for 4 weeks.  But, otherwise, just watch her and don’t worry.  If it starts happening a lot, they will be more aggressive with MRI’s, etc.  But, one or two fainting spells isn’t something we should be seriously concerned with.

So, all in all, a pretty mellow doctor’s trip after a fairly hellish weekend.  And, hey, we now have tips on local recreation zones :-)

Jul 222012
Disoriented Showering


It was late Sunday morning and we were all still getting ourselves up and dressed.  DD had taken first shower after being banned from the computers for fighting with her brother.  DS had just returned from his Post-Sibling-Drama run.  I had just started eating breakfast when we heard the familiar sound of the shower doors banging.  David sighed and walked over to the bathroom.  We guessed that the door with the faulty runner had fallen again and DS may have trouble getting it back on.

“You OK in there?” David asked.

“Um, er, No!” came the reply.

David asked if he could come in and help.  From his tone on entering, I was suddenly aware that DD’s “No” was not just in reference to the door.  I was already up and across the room when David called me:

“Steph!  She passed out!”

The next couple minutes are a blur.  DD, dripping wet and looking frightened and unclear was holding on to David as I started checking her.  She was confused and unable to answer questions.  Then, her eyes rolled back and she went down again, convulsing a little as she went.  The bathroom floor is quite hard, so we got her to the bed as David declared the obvious: “We need emergency services NOW”.

I grabbed the phone, but it wouldn’t dial at first.  We rarely use the house phone and the keys all looked foreign.  I passed the set to David, who cursed as it locked up. I sat down with DD as she came-to once again.

David got his cell phone and managed to dial with that.  But, in Germany, unlike the US, there are two emergency numbers.  110 and 112.  We only remembered the first one, and wound up connecting with the police.  The dispatcher declared that he didn’t speak English, but, when David popped in and out of German on the phone, he proved his English was far better than advertised.  At first, he couldn’t understand why we were calling- he seemed to think that we were making a missing person’s report!  “Your daughter is not with you?”  Finally, he figured out that we needed an ambulance and promised to send one for us. 

The ambulance took a bit longer to arrive than we might have expected.  But, it was good to have the time.  DD was feeling better.  We got her dressed, and she was even able to brush out her wet hair.  The rest of us also threw on clothes and shoes and got ready.  There was really no question that this was going to involve a trip to the hospital.

We sent DS downstairs to meet the ambulance while we sat with DD and turned off the coffee, etc.  Soon, two uniformed, burly young men arrived at our door.  Luckily, they both spoke excellent English.  Unlike in the States, they carried no equipment and made no motions to examine DD.  They stood back and asked her what had happened.  She talked them through the events from her perspective and David and I added in info when necessary.  They consulted briefly (epilepsy maybe?  Hmm…), then told us that they needed to take her in.  We got directions to the hospital and agreed that David, with his superior German, should go with her in the ambulance and I would follow with DS in our car.

The ambulance looked just like this one

They were taking her to the Children’s Hospital, and I was really unsure where that was, so I rushed to make sure I would be able to follow the ambulance.  As it turned out, though, I needn’t have hurried.  They stayed in the parking lot for a while, as the driver spoke with someone on the phone (the hospital, I assume).  Then they headed out.  Following was still a good idea, though, because town is a series of road blocks for road work, construction, and a neighborhood fair right now.  Garmin would have gotten me there, but the ambulance knew the best routes.  I noted that as they drove, the rear compartment bounced a lot.  I guessed, correctly, that they were busy doing tests, etc, as they drove.

At the Hospital

DD, pale and still damp from her shower.  She is
wearing her brother’s jacket to get warm.

By now we were feeling considerably less afraid.  I parked and caught up with the ambulance crew as they entered a modern looking building tucked at the back of the hospital complex.  I noticed that there was a playground out back, and passed a very pregnant woman as I hurried down the sidewalk.

The hospital staff were expecting us, and sent us down to room 13.  It was a large friendly room with a single hospital bed in the middle, several chairs, and a cafe table to one side laid out with refillable bottles of water and plastic cups.  There were toys and books, too.

The ambulance crew stayed with us until a young, female doctor arrived.  They explained to her what had happened, while an older nurse busied herself with doing a finger-prick blood test on DD.  Apparently once they had her in the ambulance (krankenwagen), the crew had conducted the usual first exams.  They had done an EKG (normal) and a finger stab for blood sugar (also normal).  This last test had occurred during the bumpiest part of the ride and resulted in a sore finger and frayed nerves.  So, when the nurse came to take blood from another finger, DD was not pleased!  But, the nurse was used to tough customers, it seems, and was quite kind.  DD’s hands were icy cold, so we warmed them to make sure there would be enough blood flow.   Still, it took several minutes to milk enough blood out of her poor pale fingers!

Interestingly, the doctor seemed to speak no English at all.  And that did make things a bit more difficult.  She did assure us that the ambulance crew’s fears of epilepsy were unfounded given our description of events.  But, honestly, it had never been a big concern, so that was OK.  

After doing a blood pressure test (which I was surprised turned out in the normal range). They decided that the best route was to keep her there for observation for 2 hours to make sure she didn’t pass out again.  They wanted her to walk about some, drink some apple juice, and basically just kick back.  So, they showed us into the Spielzimmer- the play room!

The room was quite large and airy and, of course, filled with toys and games.  While we were there several kids came through.  Most seemed to know each other, so I am guessing they were folks who were hospitalized for a while.  One girl had casts and was in a wheel chair.  The rest looked normal, but maybe a little thin.  Some, I am pretty sure, were siblings of kids in the ward.

DS made a friend
Tall tower!

Offenburg Monopoly.  Hee!

You can see one of the kids eating her lunch while another plays a game
beside her.  Lunch was spaetzle with a pool of gravy next to it, cauliflower,
yogurt and a salad.  She ate the spaetzle.
DD had already read the entire Calvin and Hobbes book DS brought.  By
now she was ready to go home!

By that time, DD was bored and quite ready to be in her own familiar surroundings.  So, David went in search of the doctor.  She told us to be patient for another 10 minutes. But, they fetched us in about 2.  Only now did the doctor do any real examination.  That is something we have noticed in general in Germany.  They do a lot more listening to the patients and a lot less examining on their own. The default is to give the patients time and space.  In any case, she listened to DD’s heart and lungs, did another blood pressure test, gave us info for our family doctor, then sent us on our way with admonitions to come back if DD had any repeated issues or seemed worse in any way.  They were still waiting on the blood test for anemia, but the quick hemoglobin and blood sugar tests and the EKG had all been normal.  They ruled out everything emergent that they could, and now it is up to our family doctor to help us decide whether this was just an isolated incident, or something we need to be concerned with longer term.

Poor David probably had the roughest day of the non-fainters.  He says it may take years of therapy to deal with the memory of having his daughter say “help me, Daddy” then faint in his arms!  (no one but him is sure she said that, but it doesn’t really matter as far as the therapy issue goes!) So, grabbing hold of the one thing he is currently sure might be helpful, he has decided that DD MUST EAT MORE IRON.  David is absolutely convinced that anemia is the most likely suspect- which it well might be.  DD is not much of a protein eater, it is true.  So, until we know for sure (and probably after) he is pushing the meat eating, big time!*  Luckily for DD, though, we will be seeing our doctor tomorrow, so it is unlikely he will have a chance to follow through on his threat to put raw meat in her pumpkin pie.

*yes, he knows it is not only meat that has iron.  She will be getting force fed broccoli and black strap molasses, too, I am sure.

She is humoring him by eating a
really red local cured beef lunch meat-
it is sort of like prosciutto only beefier.
I must admit, her color is a bit better now than it was at the
hospital.  But, that could just be light
bouncing off the Bünderfleish.

Back Home
So, you spent the morning in the hospital for fainting, what should you do in the afternoon?  Well, in Germany, of course, you go for a good, healthy walk!

After getting everyone home, cleaned up, snacked and basically in better spirits, we decided to walk down and check out the local fair that has been blocking our main route into town.  As it was now 2ish, things were starting to get cleaned up, but there was still a lot happening.  They had sand laid out for kids to play in, hay bales lining the street, live oldies American rock music (I put a hex on you!), food stands, and, since this part of town has the police station, access to the emergency vehicles, guns(!) and history of the local police force.

DD hated all the people and noise and we wound up leaving pretty quickly, but, it was nice to check it out anyways. 

Kids pitching hay bales onto the truck.
local rockers

DH and a model of a German motorcycle policeman from
the 1960’s.  The car behind is what our current officers drive.
Looks a lot friendlier, no?

So, that is where we are at.  DD seems to be doing fine, knock wood.  We will take her in to see Frau Doktor Kleiber tomorrow.  Both DD and I have been fighting a cold that seems to have gone into some sort of secondary infection, so that is another thing she will need to check out.  No one at the hospital seemed concerned when we mentioned it, though, so I guess it isn’t what they figure caused the fainting.

Also, a shout out to DS who handled himself beautifully through the entire thing.  He was helpful and thoughtful and patient. His German skills filled in a couple blanks for us.  And, he unselfishly shared both his jacket and book with his sister when she needed them.  Plus, he helped to entertain the other boy who was definitely bored in the speilzimmer.  So, Yay DS!

Jul 152012
Deflating the inflatable

Ok.  So this last couple weeks has been recovery from our travel adventures, catching up on work, getting ready for summer, and continuing our efforts to figure out what the heck we are doing.  Nothing really thrilling and exciting, but ye old normal Americans Living in Germany sorts of stuff.  DS is still working on finishing off his disposable camera so I can post photos from his landschulheim experience.  But, here are just a few tidbits to share.

Google translate says
“Because bites from the competition the teeth.”
Kerstin?  Hans?  Marc? Diane?  Kim?  Someone?  WTF?

 It is still all the little challenges….

Yesterday David did the shopping.  As a rule, I stay home whenever we have to shop on Saturdays because the stores tend to be so overrun I get mild panic attacks from the press of people.  I dictated a list to DD as I kneaded some dough, and then while they were out I remembered something we needed and called DS, who is the one always sure to answer his phone.  But, when they got back, some of the items I had asked for were missing. DD had missed one of my dictated requests.  And DS had completely failed to relay my message to his dad (he had been searching for an unusual item at the other end of the market when I called and by the time he returned to the group, the message was lost in the glow from his triumph of finding Buttermilk)…. So, David had to make a second run to get batteries and light bulbs and bacon.

It wasn’t too surprising, then, that my dear husband was not thrilled to discover the next morning that no one had mentioned the fact that we were almost out of toilet paper!  Downright annoyed would better describe his mood.  But, whatever his feelings,  1/4 roll was unlikely to sustain a family of 4 for a full 24 hours.  Especially with two women in the mix.  So, we spent some time trying to figure out where on earth one could find TP on a Sunday in semi-rural Germany.

The only answer we could come up with was a gas station mini-mart.  Until recently, the nearest one of those open on weekends was 1/2 way to Kehl.  But, (woot!) David remembered that they had just finished a new one near his work.  Hey! worth a shot.  Surprisingly enough, they had the item in question. Easy Peasy!  Though, in my excitement, I accidentally tossed David a pack of paper towels to purchase first. ah well, we always need more of those, too.

So, in the end, we got a couple emergency rolls of TP with far less fuss than we might have feared.  BUT, it meant we had to be exposed to the above sign prominently displayed at the new Jet gas station.  I think it is talking about taking the teeth out of the competition.  But….  Um.  EWWW.

UPDATE:  David got one of his German friends to translate the sign.  It is an idiom that means “The competition breaks their teeth on us”- i.e. we are too tough for them.  And the sign is apparently made by a well-known German cartoonist with low-brow grotesque aesthetics. So, there!  Learn something every day.  


In other news, the weather here is starting to show the earliest signs of an autumnal chill.  Most days are still hot and humid, with rain storms blowing through every couple days.  But some of those storms are now carrying a cool wind, and the damp isn’t always muggy.  I took this as a sign that it was time to do some cooking! So, in honor of Bastille Day (aka La Fête Nationale)  I made Beignet, Blackberries and Baked Bacon.  Then I used the leftover dough to make cinnamon rolls the next morning.  :-) I admit, I am still pretty proud when I can accomplish decent results here.  I am getting better at it, but it is still a challenge to do everything in a tiny kitchen, with different ingredients, none of my high end tools, and appliances all proportioned for Lilliputians but meant to serve for, well, Germans!  It still feels just a wee bit like I am a homesteader grinding her wheat by hand…. (which, admittedly, I don’t do…. no place to keep a dang mill)

Believe it or not, we are already getting eating pumpkins in the stores, so the next project is probably pumpkin pie!  I have two of the orange gourds sitting on the counter waiting to be roasted now.

Also, right now, DS is out on his daily “run”. He goes out most days to make the loop around the corn field and past the factory near our house.  He either runs or rides his razor.  This time, though, he left while it was overcast and 2 minutes in, thunder started.  5 minutes in, the rain poured down.  I have placed a towel by the front door.  This is going to be an unexpectedly wet one, I think!

SECOND UPDATE: DS was only somewhat damp after his run, but, he reports that near the river he encountered a troop of ducklings.  As he approached, they raced out in front of him to seek refuge in the water.  That is definitely the sort of thing that is supposed to happen when you are out running in a rainstorm in Germany!

Stuff we still don’t know

Been in this apartment about a year, now.  So, unsurprisingly, many of our lightbulbs are starting to burn out.  Here is the problem.  We can’t figure out where to buy replacements!  We have tried about 3 times, now, and each time we get something that is just a little, well, wrong.  I think next time we are going to have to seek expert assistance.  Cause seriously, check this out:

This is what our lights are supposed to look like

This is what the one over my work area currently looks like

The one with the little silver attachments is what is supposed to fit…
The golden one is all we could find.

Also on our Challenge List- my new glasses have scratches on one lens already.  Since we got the scratch coating, and I have only cleaned them with the micro-fiber rag that came with them and pure cotton towels, we think there may be a problem with the manufacture.  Will a German optician be better about fixing the problem than Lens Crafters was in the States?  Stay Tuned to find out!

Durmstrang Drama

Our lovely reflective paint marred by dried rain rings and the divot.

See that dark circle?  David and DS were on their way to Durmstrang when all of a sudden they heard a huge KNOCK!!!  David thought at first that they had blown a tire, but the car drove OK and DS was able to pinpoint that the sound had come from the roof.  When they got to the school, they discovered that a passing truck had kicked up a rock or bolt that had slammed into the roof of the car, creating a divot in the paint!  I was just grateful that it hadn’t slammed into the windshield, because that would almost surely have been a more dramatic drive to school than anyone would need!

Durmstrang has actually been seriously abuzz with the end of the school year approaching.  DD has been out for almost 2 weeks, but Germany is on a different schedule, and, apparently, they work hard and play hard in these parts!  The other day as DS and David got near the school, packs of students were running about with painted markings on their faces and cans of shaving cream in their hands.  They were using the cream to style their hair in unusual ways- and they tried to stop the car as David drove up.  Deciding that he wasn’t really secure with what these hooligans might be up to, he continued on without stopping, and came at the school from the less-used side, dropping DS in relative safety.

As it turns out, this was the preliminary excitement for an all-day sports event with students competing in various physical trials throughout the day.  The rowdy students were just getting pumped for the fun!  DS was a bit bummed, actually, because he was still sick with a head and chest cold and thus didn’t do as well as he would have liked.  All the students would shout “Ami!  Ami!” as he passed (slang for American) trying to root him on, but he just wasn’t up to his normal ability and came in last in a couple of the races.  He worried that he let the crowds down!  Being a minor celebrity has its price, it would seem.

German Voyeurism

There is a motorcycle in that field!

The other morning we awoke to the unfamiliar sound of sirens, and when I looked outside, I noticed emergency vehicles blocking the road! David threw on his shoes and walked out to get the scoop.  What he found was all our neighbors out and about- Doing Chores where they could clearly see the action.  The cleaning lady was out with her daughter, pulling weeds (mind you, we have a gardener, too!)  The dog owners were out walking their dogs.  Etc.  The only one there without a secondary purpose was the man we call “the straight-backed old gentleman”, who, as senior Male on scene, took it upon himself to gather info and relate it to the inconspicoulsy gathered apartment dwellers.  Apparently a motorcycle had gone off the road and into the corn.  The driver had been taken to the hospital and the bike was “kaput”.  I wanted to get a better photo of the emergency crews, but since I had no fake chores to do, I had to settle for this one from our kitchen window!

Jul 032012
Yes, there is a taxidermy shop by the Strasbourg Cathedral.
Yes, it has a flying jackalope. What of it?

Picking up where I left off:

So, Once we got back to Offenburg, we slept.  Then I blogged.  Then, Raquel and Clive and their daughters showed up on our doorstep.  Woot!

They Made it!!

Happy to be done traveling for a few days

Warm Cookies Waiting

And warm laps

Plenty to entertain- Discovering DD and WoW

Pizza!  Ok, not the most German first night meal, but, its Turkish Pizza…
That sort of counts, right?

The next day was all about local stuff.  DS went to school, but got out after 3 hours because his main teacher, wait for it- was in Paris!!

Juggler Boy at your beck and call

Builders of a large tower

Eating at the Engel Restaurant in town… Good Schnitzel

Water, German Style

Feeling perkier once we had eaten!

Offenburg Birds

My Favorite Mural in town, with adornment

Ok, perky had a limit…

It has been a Long Trip

DD in the woods

Fresh basil and local blackberries with chicken

And, more relaxing in the evening…

Another warm lap

Here is international for you- Clive and Raquel househunting
for a possible new Pleasanton Apartment- while in our
Offenburg apartment!

Hmm, this is starting to look like all we did was log on,
but really that was just when folks were still enough
for photography!

We really did spend some time talking and being social and all, but not many photos to be had with that line of experience.  Look!  Her mouth was open!  Then, my face was… animate!

The next day- Kehl
Second day was all about Kehl and Strasbourg.  Checking out more local sights and sounds.

The Kehl Penny- not quite as cool as the birds, but still fun.

Dank Wart Street?  Really?
We think it translates to something like “Awaiting Thanks” or “Thanks Waiting”. 
There is a church down the block..

The world’s zippiest tortoise lives in Kehl
It came *running* out as we walked by!

Kehl Fountian

 It has become a bit of a running gag that no matter where we go, David gets asked directions.  Truck drivers have asked directions, tourists have asked directions, a little old couple swerved across the road to ask him directions.  I have personally witnessed a man spot him across a parking lot and RUN (passing other locals on the way) over to ask him directions.  It happens frequently.  All we can figure is that David must look more approachable than the average German.  In any case, while we were out with the Blackledge clan, not only was David accosted for directions, but, this news crew stopped him to ask for an interview!  They looked crushed and confused when he refused.

They eventually found another interviewee….

View from the Europa Bridge:

This bride was at the bridge for some reason.

The Bridge from Kehl to Strasbourg

Men on the Bridge

Locks on the Bridge!  Kerstin, you need to add one to our town’s
lock collection, too!

She really liked the locks.

Radical Bikers of the World, Unite

Large Swan, small local children
This guy was not pleased with kids being so
close to his offspring

Smaller swans….
Presumably the Wife and Kids hanging out in the water.

Back home….

The elder kids made great art

The younger made a great tower!

Great Art!

Next up- The Cathedral of Notre Dame of Strasbourg
DD was fighting a cold, so she stayed home, but the rest of us headed to the City

WHEEE- walking along the construction zone

Holy moly, there is…. a drinking fountain set up outside the cathedral!!!
You have no idea how rare drinking fountains are in France and Germany.

The cathedral still rocks.

They are constructing a fountain and square next to it
Irish Music Buskers- I so wanted to dance along

I lit a candle for loved ones who have passed.

I had no idea before today that the cathedral is the home
of this marvelous astronomical clock!

While we were there it chimed 4PM and one little figure moved
around.  I suspect at more important hours something
more impressive may happen….

We decided these Saints had gotten the Bobble-head treatment.

This gorgeous chapel was filled with amazing stained glass….

…and set aside for people in need of quiet prayer.
I love that they had several places like this for local
faithful to avoid the crowds.

Yeah, really nice effect- kept thinking what it must have been like
to be a 15th century villager sitting in this room….

Jesus on the Mount of Olives

Every detail is so… detailed!

Museum across from the Cathedral- didn’t seem open today…

After the cathedral, we walked around to the Place Gutenberg and had some ice cream, got some cookies and rode the carousel….

Base of Gutenberg’s Statue- around the base are
Bas Relief images of the important uses of the press….

Et la lumière fut- And there was light

Don’t actually know that these folks are a LARPing gamer party….

But they sure looked that way… and they were here to ride the

Finally, we checked out a weird shop with amazing (Kitchy, bizarre, fabulously diverse) art reproductions from around the world.  This lady caught my eye right away, as did the black egyptian goddess with cobra hood made into a lamp!  But then…. (warning nekkid art ahead)

Raquel noted the nekkid wrestling dudes with the giant crotch grab and I just had to
agree that this was definitely the best of the bunch!
Anyone know what this piece is from???

EDIT: My Dad recognized it rightly as one of the Heracles images by Rossi:

And, I leave you with the final image- Weird French Ad of the Day:

Imodium: It makes your digestive system work in harmony….
Got me on the facial expression/finger thing, though.
Jul 012012
Pont Alexandre III and La Tour Eiffel

Well, I have a couple hours to breathe, and since reporting on this fortnight is going to be a multi-blog job, I figured I might as well get started!  No fears, I will talk about DS’s Mountain Adventures in a few days when we have his photos developed (old style single-use camera for the trip).  But, since I did in fact have my digital with me the last couple days, I will start with what turned out to be an amazingly fast and dirty trip to Paris!

The plan was simple.  Out friends Raquel and Clive and their daughters were coming to Europe and were going to swing down to our neck of the woods for the final leg of their journey.  We were to meet them in Paris for a couple days, and then all come back here.  Unfortunately, train tickets to and from Paris turned out to be far more expensive than any of us had hoped.  In the end, David and I decided to drive up instead of taking the train.  Garmin told us it should take about 4.5-5 hours, which was a lot, but doable.  And, hey, scenic tour of France! 

But, the problem on our end was that we wouldn’t be able to leave until mid-afternoon since DS was getting back from Landschulheim that day.  Also, the weather had been wicked hot and humid.  And we had had a Thunder and Lightning storm the night before that left everyone sleepless.  We found out later that Clive, Raquel and the girls had had a similarly sleepless night from the humid weather.  But Paris had missed the spectacular light storm, so it was just all hot all the time!

Getting There
[REMINDER- All photos can be clicked on for larger, more detailed views]

So, off we went….

Yes, the French countryside really is scenic!  Green fields, blue sky,

Oh come on, you KNEW this town had to be in France, didn’t you!

Argonne Forest.  Far prettier than the photo says….
Note the windshield.  I am amazed that any bugs are left
in France.  Every single one seemed to dive at our car on the trip.

At one point we happened upon an accident that had just happened.  Someone flipped their car and several other folks were out and running toward them.  Cars on our side of the road were all pulled over and calling emergency response.  It was a bit sobering and scary, but there was nothing we could do to help, so we continued on.

Random French Road Art.  Colorful shapes just sort of… there….


Squares- there were pyramids and triangles, too

Lots of “What the heck is THAT?” moments as ancient ruins just sort of
appear on random rural hills.

Spheres lining the road.

To the left, a historic windmill of some sort, to the right, a really tall statue…

Love all the town names.   Roman, German, French…..

Our first unpleasant discovery- the entire road to Paris is lined with toll booths.
It cost us a total of EU 44.90 to drive on the roads each way! 

Lots of windmills around
Amazing light effect.  The whole sky was sunrays.

 Rest Stops

First pleasant surprise- French road stops are really quite nice.  Easy on and off, gas stations and restaurants.  Sometimes cool art- like this one.

Granted, in the tradition of roadside diners world-wide, the food sucked.  It
LOOKED good- ham carved off the bone for you.  But, just not tasty.

DS and DH both got the lasagna.  I am told they wish they had not.

Staying hydrated was a challenge.  We had AC, but the French are
even more stingy with liquids than the Germans, if you can believe it!
Also, please ignore my hair.  The weather has not been kind to it.

Second unpleasant realization was that Garmin was full of it on its time estimation.  Leaving at 3 we didn’t get in until 10.

The Hotel

The Hotel Charma is charming in the usual ways.  Tiny, old, in a vibrant but just slightly sketchy part of town, run by nice people, smelling just a bit of mildew and, unfortunately, completely without parking.  I don’t mean the hotel itself doesn’t have any.  It doesn’t.  But, not only that. There is none to be had.  Roadwork and a thriving residential zone meant the few places that did exist were unavailable.  It took us 1 hour the first night to find a place about 3/4 of a kilometer away.  And it was only available until 9 am.  So, the next morning we got up and spent 2 hours looking for a spot.  All the local garages were closed.  Not full.  Closed.  But, we finally found one not 100 yards from Clive and Raquel’s hotel (3/4 of a kilometer from our hotel)!  Doh!  Also, we were on the 5th floor.  There was a tiny 1 person elevator.  But, we didn’t use it.  So, yeah, our hotel made sure we got a work out!

Once we finally found a place to park, got checked in, and got our internet connection connected so we could contact Raquel and Clive, they were understandably worried!  We were something like 3 hours late by then.  Luckily they had eaten dinner.  We all decided to meet up in the morning, and collapsed.

The next morning we were greeted by the girls out front of their hotel, then we all went in search of an affordable breakfast.

We found a nice little patisserie and got pastries and sandwiches.

Hugs were exchanges all around!

David may have been a little grumpy by this point.  Long drive, crap parking,
unimpressive hotel, unpleasant weather.  But, he was happy to see Raquel! 
She was managing to smile even though she is holding her morning coffee in her hand.
yes, that shot glassed size to go cup.  Like I said, hydration was an issue!

Hi Clive!!!


Double Aw!

So, this is at the corner near the hotels.  Random Historical Monument.

This is where Raquel and Clive’s hotel is.  Slightly swanker
zone than ours.

Ubiquitous Peruvian Buskers.  David Sedaris has a whole bit about these guys
being in every city of the world.  Given that some showed up in our local
Offenburg Christmas Market, I suspect he may be right. 

David on the Metro with DS and me reflected.

David and DD on Metro.

Bastille station.  Colorful tile mural of the Revolution.
On the Metro
They leave windows open, so you get wind blown on the trains!

Walking out of the train station we noticed this rather random
memorial.  The National Society of French Trains, South West Region
To Your Dead
First off, Paris is nowhere close to being in the South-West of France….
So, I guess this must be a gift from the other end of the country?
Second, “To your dead”?  That is succinct in the German Way!

So, Saturday was all about seeing Paris Stuff!

We started by hopping on board the Bato-Boat, a tourist boat that takes you around the city.

Our first glimpse of the Seine… um, lovely?

The kids were all happy to see each other.
DD found lady bug nymphs and showed the girls.

Always unexpected lessons if you keep your eyes open!
On the boat.  Hey!  Eiffel Tower!

I am told this is Musée d’Orsay

We hopped off the boat here.  Our motley crew.

This, I found out, is the Alexander III Bridge.  Gorgeous, and familiar, but I never knew what it was called.

David and Me.  There seems to be a tower coming
out of his head.

Now there is something between us….

There were other folks doing photo shoots of a more organized nature there, too.  This lady was having her makeup done.

Model being made up.

Details of the bridge
Another shot.  What can I say, I liked the lizard.

Statues on the bridge

 Across the street were the Palaces of Fine Arts.

This is the Grand Palais of fine arts.  Dozens of statues cover the place.  Also
Mosaics, and probably any variety of other art forms.  Oddly enough, the art
palaces are fairly well covered in art!

Looking across at the small palace.  Not really all that small, though.

Some of the many statues.  The person up top with the long
flowing hair and the feminine figure is anatomically a guy.
I think it was sposed to be Adam since there was a matching
female across from him.

This was our first sign that some members of the group might be a bit draggy.
I was walking along studying statues when I looked back and realized I was
FAR out ahead.  As the day went on it became clear that both little ones
were sick and their parents were both exhausted.   We may not have been
all that perky ourselves, honestly…..

Champs Elysee

Charles De Gaulle memorial

In front of the Big Palace at the corner of Champs Elysee

Chantez Avec Moi!

Aux Champs-Élysées,
Aux Champs-Élysées,
Au soleil, sous la pluie,
À midi ou à minuit –
Il y a tout ce que vous voulez aux Champs-Élysées.

Yes indeed, we had made it to the Rodeo Drive of France!  Crowded, lovely, tree-lined, bustling avenue that connects the Louvre at one end with the Arc de Triomphe at the other- filled with every upscale shopping brand you could imagine.  Most of the architecture was old Paris, but occasionally something freakily new would pop out at you….

DS posed for me in front of Louis Vuitton’s

Well, heck, I bet I know where they filmed it!

Eateries line the walk, this one caught my eye because of all the cool copper!

Folks were lined up to enter the gate, but I don’t know
what they were queuing for.

Fun muraly things.

An appetizing sculpture (Tasty!)

Lots of gold used to embellish

Lock dancers.

Spinning propellers.  Why?  Why not?

David almost gave this guy money just because, as far as buskers go,
he was so unobtrusive!

Looking all the way down the avenue toward the Louvre
A little assist down the Avenue

Arc de Triomphe
Yeah, that is the real thing.  L’Arc de Triomphe

As far as monuments go, this one is pretty sweet.
Under the Arc
(DS wore his hood the whole time because his ears were sunburned)

Awesome statues decorate all sides

Underneath the arc

Eternal Flame

 So most folks climbed to the top. DD, Alexis and I stayed below.

This is what they saw there:

This was a video feed of what is at the bottom- from the top.  DD has Lexie on her lap on the left of the top right  bench.

Glad they have the rail!

Looking down.

So, after that, the Blackledge family needed a nap.  Both girls were under the weather.  Honestly, we were pretty weary, too.  But, with only a day and a half to spend in Paris, we figured we ought to check some things out.  Since they had balked at the Louvre, we decided to just Go For It.  So, we hopped off the Metro on the way back to the hotels, and went off for another adventure.

[REMINDER- All photos can be clicked on for larger, more detailed views] 

A lot of people really hate the pyramid.  Can’t say I love the way it fits in… or rather, doesn’t.  But, as a stand alone element, it is actually pretty cool. 

Inside the pyramid.  Sort of lovely, right?


The stairs to Nike

 The Louvre is incredible.  Huge, gorgeous, and filled with just amazing things.  Also filled with a a lot of people, and an unprecedented amount of really, really hard flooring. 

Mona Lisa–  Figured we ought to check this one off… Interestingly, that seems to be what people do with the Mona Lisa.  Check it off.  You can’t really get close enough to study it.  You can just join the crowd and say you have seen it.

Yep.  That is it.

DS trying to get closer.

So, this is what the room surrounding the Mona Lisa looks like. 
Incredible art.  All being ignored while people look at the little painting in the
plexiglass case.

I mean seriously, why aren’t folks looking at these?

TURN AROUND, people!  There is a HUGE last supper on the wall
behind you!!!

 Ok, well with that done, here are a few of the other pieces that we saw that I enjoyed much more….

I call this Mohawk Baby
This is St. Francis receiving stigmata.  That is right.
Jesus is shooting wounds at the poor guy!

 If you don’t want to see nipple skip ahead.  Nipple seems to be a specialty of the house, actually….

Somehow that isn’t how I pictured Cleopatra’s suicide.

To make a weird point, I guess, they matched Cleopatra with this
painting of “Virgin suckling the infant” .  What is the look
Jesus’s face?

They had a room of these, but this was my
favorite.  It is a bronze with stone-carved clothes.  This
particular one was especially awesome because in a wing of
Grecco-Roman art, he rather stands out as one of very-very
few non-anglo images.  According to the plaque,
he is Moorish.

Dela Croix is famous for this Miserable image, among others…

But, as DD points out, apparently he never saw a real tiger!!

This next one is easily my favorite piece that we saw.  If Edward Gorey had lived in Italy in the 1500s, he might have created something like this.  It is supposed to show the infant being presented at a Temple, with saints standing around watching.  But, look closely.  First off, everyone is Zombie Grey.  Second, yeah, that is an axe in that saint’s head.  The people with the saints are donors- uh-huh, folks who paid money for the privilege of getting in the picture. Creepy doesn’t even begin to describe it.

Does anyone in this image look the least by happy to you?

Speaking of creepy- are adult sisters dressed identically
ever not creepy?

Another fave- Heracles fighting the weeee little frightened hydra!  Awww.. poor thing!

Please, don’t hit me with the big stick, huge man!

Egyptian ladies with skewered birds.

Ceiling art is pretty much always just over the top excellent, isn’t it?

DD loved the colorful wings on the angels, DS was enthralled with the gold leaf.

Creepy + Nipple- two themes in one!

The guy is in chains.  I don’t
know who he is supposed to be.
Oedipus maybe?
Sphynx and Me

Someone cut off 3/4 of the imp’s nose!

Uncrating room.

Ok, this was cool.  Did you know that the Louvre used to be a castle?  Like stone walls, moats and draw bridges, cisterns and knights, the whole deal!  They excavated a bunch of it under one section and have it on display now.

Coolest Dollhouse Ever?

anatomy of a cistern

Map of the medeival town
Don’t you hate artsy “benches”.  WTF Louvre?

Final Ouch 

Ok, so, by the time we were done with the Louvre, everyone was cranky and exhausted.  The rooms were not welcoming or pleasant.  And David was pretty much at the end of his rope.  The car stuff bugged him more that I perhaps implied earlier.  The man was a large knot.  DS was understandably a zombie after a week in the woods followed by this trip.  And DD was done.  Just done.  With Raquel, Clive and their kids under the weather and equally drained, David started floating the idea that maybe we could go back home a night early, sleep in our own beds, and have a few extra hours to recover before hosting the Blackledge family for their German Tour.  I wasn’t completely convinced, but acknowledged there was merit to the concept.  I still wanted to do dinner with everyone and maybe see another site or two in the morning- even though we would clearly have to leave earlier than planned since the trip took longer than expected. 

As we were leaving the Louvre, we gave a coin to a lovely cello player in the tunnel.  She called out “Monsieur!  Monsieur!”  Urgently as David walked away.  “Your Pocket!  Be careful!  People take it!” She was kindly warning us against pick-pockets.  But, there was such urgency in her voice that it put me on edge.  Had someone been stalking David when she warned him?  An older gentleman reaffirmed her advice as we walked to the trains.

Once the train arrived, we understood why.  It was PACKED.  Crowded and almost overflowing.  We bustled on, but not quite fast enough.  The gates closed- ON David!  People on the train leaped to try to help.  One man managed to prise the doors open.  We tried to pull David in, but understandably jarred, he balked- just long enough for the gates to close on him AGAIN!  He pulled back out safely, but the train whisked the kids and me away, with David looking bruised and angry at the station.  DD burst into tears.  We got off at the next stop to wait.  A reassuring man told us that we would only have to wait 5 minutes.  Everyone spoke English to us.  I comforted the kids until the train arrived.

David was on an equally packed train, and we hopped successfully on.  More crying, but relief.  We went straight to Clive and Raquel’s hotel (The Picpus… seriously, it should have been an omen!).  We told them we were checking out and driving home early.  No one wanted to be in Paris anymore.


David’s gate damage. 

Trip Home

The trip home was equally long, but a little more pleasant.  The kids slept part way.  The traffic was bad through town, but lightened up immediately after.  We saw mice run across the freeway unmolested.  Really, the only bad part was that at a couple points, as on the way there, Garmin sort of lost its marbles.  It sent us off the freeway on a wild goose chase once.  Then, a little later, it was completely convinced we were driving off road somewhere.  We tried to reassure it, but to no avail.
“Drive to highlighted route!  DRIVE TO THE ROUTE!  GET ON THE DANG ROAD!  NO!  DON”T HIT THE COW!!!!”

It thought we were somewhere out there…..

 The silver lining was that it accidentally navigated us to this fabulous American-Style restaurant.  The Buffalo Grill.  Steaks, Ribs, Chicken and Fish- and, of course, that typical American food- Steak Tartar! (seriously, the main menu had a whole page of Steak Tartar offerings!)

How ironic is it that our best Parisienne meal was at an “American Style” restaurant
chain?  Laugh.  I feel like such a failure!

The meal was actually quite pleasant.  And the restaurant had a line out the door as we were leaving.  With our bellies finally full, we settled in to the long drive home.  There was a minor flood we had to wade through.  And, a variety of missteps to avoid.  But, by 2 AM we were finally home in our own beds.

The Blackledge family opted to leave early today, as well.  They are due to arrive any time in the next hour.  So, more adventures to post soon.  Until then, I will leave you with the sign that cheered us the most:

Sort of interesting to realize that the Road to Strasbourg is now the road toward home!