A Monchau Feeling

Well before we left Monchau I knew it would be my favorite stop in Germany. The architecture and the colors completely grabbed me. We visited the medieval town center dominated by narrow streets, the Rur river, and the half-timbered buildings (structural timber frame is visible on the outside of the structure with plaster, brick, or stone infilling). I love this type of construction because the structural elements are exposed rather than hidden away and are often used to great artistic effect. I’m hoping to see a lot more of these types of buildings on our British Isles trip that is coming up right around the corner!

Monchau is nestled into lush and green hills. I can’t imagine a more appropriate and charming setting for a medieval town. I was smitten. We were caught in a little rainstorm while hiking up a hillside of the town. Under normal circumstances we might be a little annoyed to be wet. However, it seemed so appropriate to rain here that it simply added to the ambiance and our enjoyment of the moment.

I’ve prepared a couple photos that capture a little of this Monchau feeling.

This photo captures some of that medieval timber construction, the Rur river passing between buildings in the midst of the town, and the green hills outside the town. It was taken handheld on May 12th 2017 in Monchau, Germany using the Fuji X-T10 and the Fuji 18–55mm lens at 18mm, 1/250s, f/7.1, and ISO 800. Editing was performed in Lightroom to square the architecture and slightly adjust the white balance.

This photo captures some of German shingle work that I noticed in many of the cities and towns is a favorite detail of mine. Just look at the patterns; the are fantastic! Throw in a little grunginess and I’m as happy as a clam.  It was taken handheld on May 12th 2017 in Monchau, Germany using the Fuji X-T10 and the Fuji 18–55mm lens at 37.4mm, 1/250s, f/8, and ISO 320. Editing was performed in Lightroom to square grunge the photo up a little.

This photo was taken as we were walking back down the hillside into Monchau!

This photo is a great little example of the small and narrow streets in Monchau.

This one is of Julie and the kids taking in the scenery.

Warm Spring Sun in Troyes

There are few places I enjoyed on our trip more than the medieval town of Troyes. We didn’t spent a lot of time there but we really enjoyed getting out of Paris and into a smaller town. The old town of Troyes is home to many half-timbered structures which are a joy to take in, photograph, walk in, and drive through. We found a place to sit down and eat both savory and sweet crepes and these were probably the best crepes we had on the whole trip.
This day and the prior day were important as they marked the huge transition from city (NYC and Paris) to the countryside and small towns. This transition, along with the warm spring sun, felt like stripping the stress of the large cities off like an oppressive winter coat at the advent of spring.
We scrambled to get our clothes dried (see the story about our stay in Troyes here) while eating and exploring the city. I was walking back through the Place Marechal Foch on rue Urbain IV to pickup our car when I took this photo in front of this restaurant.
What struck me at this moment was the light on the facade of the buildings, the people waiting to eat, and that dude in the tan leather suit.

Warm Spring Sun in Troyes
Warm Spring Sun in Troyes

Warm Spring Sun was taken handheld on May 9th 2017 near the Place Marechal Foch in Troyes, France using the Fuji X-T10 and the Fuji 18–55mm lens at 26mm, 1/400s, f/9, and ISO 200. Editing was performed in Lightroom to square the architecture and make the light a little more uniform.

Europe: Where We Walked and Walked and Walked

Rob and I love to walk on our vacations. Our kids don’t but they learned to do it anyway.

Rob tracked it and we walked a total of 85.6 miles over those 19 days (avg 4.5 miles per day). Not bad for little legs!

Walking is the best way to see and experience all the new sights. Plus, we had to work off all the dozens of pastries we devoured.

Other than a couple of cities, we really wanted this trip to highlight the natural landscapes of each country. Of course, those parts turned out to be some of our very favorite places. We just love the feeling of freedom and wholeness that comes from spending time in God’s incredible creation.

Caroline walked about half as much as everyone else. She really enjoyed the view from up top!

New York

 

France – It rained on us a lot here.

 

This area outside of Fontainebleau was such a nice respite after the craziness of NYC and Paris.




Luxembourg

We climbed a TON of stairs in each country. We climbed 214 flights of stairs total but one day alone was 48 flights (hiking in luxembourg).

We all LOVED our hiking day in the Echternach area of Luxembourg!

We found ourselves among trolls.

And a troll bridge.

This area is called Wolf Cove. The story goes that when people settled here, there were many wolves in the area that would eat the farm animals. To solve the problem, the people lured the wolves into this canyon, trapped them, and then stood on top and threw boulders down at them, killing every last one of them.

Caroline found this story fascinating and had me tell it to her over and over again while we were walking…Strange girl.

 

Germany

I’m not sure why this is a go-to pose for this man. It always has been and I have a sneaky suspicion he’ll be 85 years old one day doing the same thing.

We were dumped on for a few minutes in Germany while walking the hills above a hamlet.

 

Netherlands







 

Our kids loved this beach. They could just dip their hands in the edge of the water and pick up handfuls and handfuls of shells.

 

Belgium

 

Well, everyone…we did it! Not only did we get through Europe…but we got through posting about it. Ha!

Looking at these pictures is such motivation for me to keep writing and slowly, slowly saving up for  another trip someday.

Europe 2017: Art & Architecture

Our second-to-last installment of European blog posts features art and architecture in various forms. They just don’t make stuff like this here in ‘Merica.

‘Cept for this stuff, ’cause it’s in ‘Merica.

Such a cute family shot!

This pic was taken at Ellis Island. The girls are trying to fit in with the crowd.

Paris (in case you couldn’t tell from the French sign…)

The heigh of the tower is surprisingly imposing.

 

One of our (except for Cara’s) favorites? Walking up Miss Eiffel’s leg.

Skip the lines? Check. See the inside workings? Check. Skip the crowded elevator? Check. Enjoy a better view? Check. 
 

We wanted to visit museums, but weren’t interested in spending entire days in them or bank accounts on them just to see a ton of nads and nudes. Don’t worry, we saw plenty…just not so much that we were overwhelmed at every viewpoint. 
The Musee de la Musique was magnifique, even if we didn’t enjoy the longish Metro ride. The kids got really into their headsets. They punched in the instrument number and they could hear what it sounds like. This kept them busy for a very long time!

Musee de l’Orangerie was serene. Monet’s magical brushstrokes are showcased in multiple large format canvasses that wrap around the room. Incredible.

I know there’s a metaphor here about small, individual brushstrokes contributing to a stunning masterpiece, or how a masterpiece is made up of individual brushstrokes…

but I’m too tired to come up with something brilliant or spiritual so I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.

A street corner in the town of Fountainbleau.

Here’s Troyes, a very cool little medieval town. The kids couldn’t believe people used to throw buckets of poop out the windows into the little gutters that we were walking in and thought looked so cute.

Germany

Don’t get me wrong, the tiny towns are cute and some were better than others…but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that a lot of them were just cute-sified malls. Think Park City Main Street. 

We still really enjoyed the structures and took plenty of pictures to prove it!

I LOOOOVE how Monschau looked after a good rain!

Other than the windmills at Kinderdijk, there wasn’t much, architecture-wise, that stood out in The Netherlands.

 

Belgium
Antwerp had a nice city center square. The architecture is spectacular!

Ghent was really cool, especially all lit up at night. It has won the most “Beautiful City at Night” awards.

Bruges was so great. We could have walked amongst the buildings, shops, and houses forever.

Europe 2017: Eating, Drinking, Sleeping, and Bathrooming

Since we are human, there was a lot of eating, drinking, sleeping, and bathrooming on this trip.

A. Lot.

Eating

One of the things Rob and I were looking forward to the most on our trip was eating! Duh! But traveling with three little pickies was trickies.

Leading up to leaving we tried to prepare and warn our kids that good little European children sit quietly for long periods of time at the table and eat everything placed in front of them.  I told them that the French are not afraid to kick naughty, snotty American children out of their revered eating establishments. (I warned them about this many times at the dinner table, mostly so they would behave and eat better. Striking fear in their hearts was a slightly successful strategy.)

I had decided well ahead of time that we wouldn’t be eating at any frou-frou places and not many sit-down places. The upscale tastes, time commitment, and high prices were enough to dampen my dreams of dining on eclectic European fare.

My plans were these:

  • Focus on quality (aka fabulously awesome) snacks rather than big meals.
  • Eat as often as possible at outdoor carts and take-away counters.
  • Plan satisfactory eateries ahead of time to coincide with areas of interest that we will be visiting.
  • Always keep a McDonalds or Pizza Hut in the corner of my eye.
  •  

    I’d say it went as smoothly as can possibly be expected, judging from their 100% genuine smiles.

     

    Other than pastries, pastries, and more pastries, the kids survived on strawberries, yoghurt, waffles, ice cream, pizza, frites, 20 baguettes, and 100 chicken nuggets. This is exactly what I meant by the above mentioned “quality snacks” and nobody complained!!

    One morning we even had candy for breakfast. Cara’s dream come true!

    Proffetrjes are a wonderful treat!


    Sadly, this hot dog looked a lot better than it tasted.
     

    We are all still mourning our loss of incredible baked goods but I’d say Madeleine is the most heartbroken about not being able to find a decent baguette back in America.

    I mean, bread in bed…that’s really all a girl wants in life.

    Drinking

    Finding potable water was a challenge. Whenever we asked for water in France, we were pointed toward the faucet in the disgusting bathroom. But the lack of l’eau explains the lack of les toilets, no?

    We ended up spending a fortune on bottled water.

    A couple of times we made the mistake of ordering water in a restaurant and were presented with $10 of non-potable sparkling water. Bleh!

    This brand of boxed water that we only found at all the Burger King’s in Germany was the best water in around. I stocked up while I could.

    Sleeping

    I’m a sleepy person by nature so one of my worries pre trip was feeling extreme jet lag. I’m happy to report that because of our stops in JFK and our convenient flight times, it wasn’t that bad! There were, however, a few moments of undeniable drowsiness.
    This is during our car ride after landing in Paris.

     
    Here we are intensely meditating on Monet’s Water Lilies. Gorgeous, by the way.


    Through credit card points, our 3 nights of hotel at JFK, our 5 nights of hotel in Paris (with two rooms and a surprise view of Miss Eiffel!), and about half of our other hotel/airbnb nights were
    F-R-E-E!

    We wanted to stay in some fun places so I booked us in a camping cabin (mobile home) in Heiderscheid (Luxembourg), a houseboat in Utrecht (The Netherlands), and a swanky hotel in Dordrecht (The Netherlands). The other airbnbs were quaint little homes in Troyes (France), Glees (Germany), and Bruges (Belgium). All the other accommodations were typical European hotel rooms.

     

    When it came to laundry, it was a bit of a struggle. We packed a week’s worth of clothes because that’s how long it would take us to get to a house with a washing machine (I was trying to avoid having to do the whole laundromat routine). Well, our first house did have the advertised washing machine…the size of a toaster…and no dryer.

    We stayed up late and got up early trying to get our week’s worth of clothes clean (to get us to our next house with a washing machine) but they were never going to dry. We laid them out on the back patio…but then it rained. We laid everything out all over the kitchen, but we were wasting daylight. I finally used the blowdryer to get each of us an outfit to a wearable-but-still-damp condition. Finally, we packed all our wet clothes up in our suitcases and dragged them to a giant commercial dryer. 

    The houseboat also advertised available laundry but it turned out that there was one tiny washing machine and dryer set for the entire marina and there was a long line of users. So again, we shuffled our dirty laundry to a laundromat, this time in Antwerp. There was still a wait but at least here they had lunch and wi-fi and it was downtown in the middle of sightseeing.

    We didn’t have another opportunity to do laundry until we got home, so by the time we hit NYC again (after plane rides and sweaty weather), we were scraping the bottom of the barrel as far as clothes wearability goes.


    Bathrooming

    Ugh. This part was frustrating.
    So many small bladders require many bathroom stops and I’ll tell ya, I won’t ever take public restrooms for granted again! There’s just something magical about walking into building and finding a clean place to sit. You know?
    In NYC, the bathrooms were filthy but plentiful. 
    In Paris, the bathrooms were FILTHY. That is, IF you could ever find one. Even the sidewalk-side pay toilets were few and nasty. Also, apparently the French never have to use the restroom on Sundays or holidays…because every single one of them is closed.

    Germany, by far, had the best digestive system accommodations and plenty of them. You just had to find the tiny signs that pointed WC and we were okay. The Germans also win for the biggest wall-mounted flushes (the size of iPad pros) and the scariest (hello, guillotine!)

    This was the cutest little German bathroom, even if it took me three whole minutes to figure out how to get the soap out of the pink wall-mounted bottles (they swing upside down and soap pours out of a pin-sized hole in the brown nubbin).

    Belgium had the most open-air urinals and Nate made a point to visit most them.

    Phew. That was a lot of details you didn’t really need to know about but Rob convinced me that some day I’ll be glad that I wrote them all down. 
    In the end, despite all the little inconveniences and strangenesses, I will never hesitate to go back and experience them all again!

    Schiessentumpel Waterfall

    While planning our trip to Luxembourg Julie pulled me aside to show me this photo of a small waterfall on the Mullerthal Trail. Over the next few weeks I explored many photos of this large trail network in the “Little Switzerland” area of Luxembourg. I was so excited! I must say that this little walk and stop was well worth the time. These areas of Europe are magical little forests. I loved exploring this area with my family.

    Schiessentumpel waterfall
    Schiessentumpel waterfall

    Shot on May 10, 2017 at Schiessentumpel waterfall on the Mullerthal Trail, with the Fuji X-T10 and the 18–55mm lens at 20.5mm, f/18, 1.4s, and ISO200. Edited in Adobe Lightroom.

    Road Tripping Northwest Europe: Planes, Trains, Buses, Cars, Boats, and Bikes

    I love road trips. Taking one in Europe sure gives you one pleased-as-punch gal!

    We decided to stop in NYC on the way to and from Europe for 3 reasons:

    1. Break up the long flights
    2. Help curb jet lag (it worked!)
    3. Why not?!
    I will admit that the reason this plan worked so well for us is because our airport hotel allowed us to check is super early (8am!) and super late (3pm!). If we hadn’t been able to sleep off our plane rides then it would have been a LOT more difficult.
    Once in Paris, we stayed put for 5 full days. Then we picked up a car (HEAVEN after all the public transit!) and spent a week and a half driving through parts of 5 countries (France, Luxembourg, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium). We spent 2 days in each, soaking up as much as we possibly could within our timeline.

    Here is a snapshot of our route, not taking into account any side trips.

    When posting about all the doings we did and the sights we saw, it’s easy to think that we overbooked and overextended ourselves. However, it really didn’t feel that way. Each day we would sleep in and eat breakfast at a leisurely pace before driving an hour or two to our first destination. We’d eat and explore before driving another hour or two to the next destination where we’d eat and explore again before settling in for the night.

    We love seeing the lazy landscapes and the little towns. We love the freedom only driving can bring.

    Here is a collection of our “traveling” pictures.

    Planes

    We look so happy to catch our flight!

    2 hours later…

    There was a 2 hour flight delay so we didn’t take off until almost 2am.

    Of course once on board the kids were too hyped to go to sleep for quite a while.

    That’s why we looked like this when we landed.

    Our flight home also had a 2 hour delay, this time it began after we had already boarded. Argh! Oh, and there were multiple crying babies surrounding us so we got to relax real nice-like the whole way home.

    Trains

    Our kids decided they are not fans of subways. Usually I don’t mind too much but for whatever reasons, this time around I wasn’t feeling it either.

    Buses

    We opted for the bus most of the time in Paris and it was a great, convenient way to get around. Plus, you get to site-see on your way.

    Cars

    There is a story about picking up our rental car:

    Per Rob: “We booked through Dollar and it turned out that the rental was serviced through Hertz. Nate, Madeleine, and I took an Uber to the address listed but it was not the correct address. We had to go into the train station and walk a long way to the counter only to find it closed. I called the number and was directed to walk across the street and go two floors below ground in a parking garage to find the counter. On the way into the garage, a parking gate came down on me, smacking the top of my head. Luckily it wasn’t a heavy gate and the kids sure had a good laugh.

    After that, I found out that I needed my passport to get the car. It was located back at the hotel with Julie and Cara. I booked an Uber to bring them, the luggage, and the passports to the car rental location. After a dreadfully long processing time we finally drove away in our car… two hours later than planned.”

    We thought the Autobahn was cool, especially the acceleration part! 175 kph = 105 mph.

    But our hearts are with the country roads of Luxembourg. The winding, forested, meadowy, empty back roads where you are free to drive like you mean it.

    Driving in the little towns was interesting. Those older European women have a stellar finger wag! I suppose they have much practice with tourists driving down the wrong way all the time…

    Circling and circling, sometimes it took forever to drive 1 mile. The roads are tight and it’s not easy to get anywhere.

    And parking! Never free. Always tight.

    Boats

    We went on a couple of boats. The first was our Seine river cruise. I like doing this at night so you can see the architecture all lit up. Plus, what a killer view of Ms. Eiffel!

    Our next boat we captained ourselves. This was a fantastic way to see the canals of Utrecht. The kids loved piloting the s-l-o-w boat themselves while Rob and I relaxed. Toward the end we got caught in a storm at sea. The waves weren’t quite billowing but we all got drenched. Add that to the memorable list!

    Caroline worked very well as an anchor… Just kidding, we tied her up because she wasn’t following orders…Actually, she was dishonoring the pirate’s code. No, that wasn’t it. Why was she tied up??

    Our next boat ride was to Liberty Island and Ellis Island.

    Bikes

    Utrecht could be renamed Planet of the Bikes. They surrounded us at all times and they were like swarms of flies coming straight at us. Pedestrians definitely don’t have the right of way there.

    The next day we rented bikes and rode to the windmills in Kinderdijk, Netherlands. It was a seriously fun way to spend time touring. The thunderheads were threatening and we weren’t keen on riding a couple of miles back in another storm so we headed back early (and it never did rain).

    Transport stats:

    • 20 = Train and bus rides Taken
    • 22 = Parking Meters Paid
    • 150 = Roundabouts Driven Through

    So over the river and through the woods we finally made it back home!!

    Coming Out of the Hodophobic Closet

    4 hours to go.

    We are packed (mostly). The house is clean (almost). We are waiting impatiently for departure time.

    But allow me to back up a little…

    September:
    I realized that if I was ever going fulfill my dream of family world travel then I would need a little help. That’s when Rob and I started collecting reward points from credit cards.

    November:
    Some incredible airfare sales to Europe opened up on the day after Thanksgiving. After a few hours of deliberation, Rob convincing me that he felt really good about it, sleeping on the idea, and waking up to more deliberation, we pulled the trigger.

    October – April:
    I saved up my pennies by writing 140 articles.

    January – April:
    I planned my hiney off in order to have the most memorable, convenient, and wonderful family trip yet (NYC, Paris, Luxembourg, part of Germany, Netherlands, and Belgium).

    ———————

    Now, back to present day…

    PANIC. ANXIETY. WORRY. STRESS. NERVOUSNESS.
    Let’s see, what other synonyms can I use?
    TREPIDATION. APPREHENSION. CONSTERNATION.

    Hodophobia: The irrational and intense fear of travel. Hodophobia.

    ———————

    The thing is, I LOVE to travel! I feel an energy to it that I don’t have toward anything else. But ever since I can remember I’ve always felt all of these scary things leading up to leaving. Every time.

    Why??

    • Acts of terrorism
    • Acts of God
    • Fear of coming home without one of my kids
    • Fear of not coming home myself or in the very least, not all in one piece
    • Fear of a crashing plane, train, car, boat, or bike
    • Fear of coming home to a dead cat and devastated children
    • Sadness over leaving my other family behind
    • Guilt over the fact that not everyone can do this
    • Guilt over spending so much money on this rather than it going toward many other much more important and worthy things

    • Nervousness over leaving my comfortable bed and being in pain after waking up
    • Nervousness for not everything to go perfectly after I’ve spent so much time, effort, and energy bringing it to pass
    • Nervousness because my dream’s reality may not live up to the dream I’ve had in my head for more than a decade
    Did I cover everything? Likely not. But you get the idea.
    These fears and thoughts swim (more like, tread water) through my head for weeks and months before impending doom travel. I wish it wasn’t so. I wish I could be one of those people (ahem, Rob) who feel nothing but joy and excitement for leaving everything comfortable and routine behind…but I’m not. I work hard in my head to keep myself from backing out at any moment.
    BUT THE THING IS… I DON’T!
    I don’t let the anxiety overtake me. I don’t let the thoughts dictate my actions. I want to explore the world and, by golly, I decide that I will!
    And then a magical thing happens. Every time.
    I arrive at my destination and all the scariness sinks away, the dread dissipates, and I’m left feeling…well…DELIGHTFUL and terrific memories to last a lifetime.
    When I’m out being curious and seeing new surroundings I feel more calm and more happy then I do at any other time. I feel like ME. 
    And all the work, time, money, and worry that precedes is 100% unabashedly WORTH all of it!
    Phew.
    ———————————
    Now since I haven’t actually landed anywhere yet, I’m still feeling all the bad feelings. However, I’m banking on my past experiences to get me through this unpleasant phase…because all I can think about right now is the fact that we will be in Paris during their election and I hope we don’t get caught in the middle of any infighting. Or that my c-diff will be triggered. Or that we will all catch a nasty cold. Or that I will have overwhelming fatigue from 4 overnight flights and jet lag. 
    Or, or, or, or, or…