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.

Not a Sit-Your-Butt-On-The-Beach-And-Don’t-Move-It Kind of Trip

I’ve been trying to decide which topic to write about this time (how vulnerability rather than strength allows us to connect with each other, or, musings on why so very few of our friends and family members “like” or comment on my blog posts, or, the enormous blessings that have resulted from therapy and a lot of hard work, for example) but I just wasn’t feeling any of those this time. Over the years I’ve learned that my best writing happens when my brain starts racing, sentences begin to form in my mind, a spurt of energy comes, and I feel a sudden rush of urgency. I’ve tried following those cues to guide me when it’s time to put thoughts onto pages.

As I was thinking about the above topics, I just wasn’t feeling any of these physical and mental signs this time. But what else is there to write about these days? Then, as soon as I started thinking about documenting our upcoming trip, all those feelings came. So that’s what I’m going to focus on today and I’m excited!

In a future post, I’ll go into specifics about my process of financing and planning our trips…because it IS a process! This time, one that’s taken 9 months to fund and 4 months to organize. However, since I finished all of that and am now in the waiting game (6 weeks to go!), I want to focus this post on the more fun side of things and just tell you want our plans entail. Eeee!! We are so excited!

Great-Britain

Through the sometimes arduous task of deciding where we go next (dependent upon airline and hotel point availability, easy flights, season and weather, where I’m not susceptible to getting sick, etc.) we settled on a road trip through parts of England, Wales, and Scotland. Ireland was included originally but it quickly became apparent how much we’d have to cut out of Great Britain to make it work. Something had to give. Actually, LOTS of things had to give. There are just too many amazingly incredible places to visit in these countries! We had to do a lot of focusing and zeroing in on the places we ultimately felt we would enjoy the most.

Here’s rundown of our itinerary, subject to any needed flexibility when we’re actually on the ground:

  1. Fly nonstop red-eye from SLC to London.
  2. Take the train to our hotel in the Bloomsbury neighborhood of London. After resting up, we’ll take a double-decker bus to Big Ben and Kensington Gardens. We’ll walk through the gardens to the Princess Diana Playground.
  3. Ride the River Thames ferry to the Tate Modern Museum and eat our way through Borough Market. We’ll also walk across the Jubilee Footbridge when it’s lit up at night.
  4. Explore the Mayfair and Marylbone neighborhoods (or Notting Hill?). Head to St. James Park to watch the Cavalrys Parade and Changing of the Guard. Then we’ll pick up our rental car and head out of town to Eastbourne, a Victorian seafront town on the south coast.
  5. Go see the white cliffs at Seven Sisters Country Park, walk along the beach, and do some rockpooling (tidepooling). That night, Rob and Nate have plans to do the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studio Tour. The girls and I will relax at the hotel.
  6. Rent a punting boat in Oxford and do a self-tour. Drive/walk through a couple of the Cotswold villages and play croquet at Hidcote Manor Garden.
  7. Stop at Ludlow (medieval town) and walk across the Pontcysyllte Aquaduct on our drive through Wales to Snowdonia National Park.
  8. Play on the beaches of the Lleyn Peninsula (most Welsh part of Wales).
  9. Try our hand at crabbing and visit Conwy Castle.
  10. Drive Winnat’s Pass to Castleton in the Peaks District and on through to York.
  11. Stop at Hadrian’s Wall and wherever else suits our fancy on the northeast coast.
  12. Visit Edinburgh’s Old Town and Royal Mile.
  13. Explore more Edinburgh, Culross, and drive to The Trossachs National Park.
  14. Hike through the forest to see Braklinn Falls and Devil’s Pulpit.
  15. Fly out of Glasgow (possibly stopping at the Necropolis on the way) back to London and catch our late afternoon flight to Boston.
  16. Walk Beacon Hill and maybe Boston Common or Feneuil Marketplace. Fly home!

Oh! One more thing I want to do while there…keep an ongoing list of all the new words/slang we can use in our speech once we are home. Their verbiage is so great and it’d be so fun to sprinkle it in whenever we feel like raising some eyebrows!

Half of our lodgings are normal Holiday Inn type of places, but I did book us in a few gems:

  • Victorian seaside row house B&B
  • YHA (youth and family hostels)
  • Mobile home by the beach
  • Hut in the woods of Snowdonia
  • A vestry (little apartment attached to an 1800s church)
  • Stately luxury hotel on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh
  • Converted manor house garage apartment in a mountain village

Animals we are endeavoring to see:

  • Shire or Clydesdale horses and Shetland ponies
  • Lots of starfish, crabs, etc.
  • Puffins
  • Highland cows

Food we are endeavoring to eat:

  • Fish and Chips
  • Scones with jam and clotted cream
  • Banoffee pie
  • Norfolk crab
  • Blakewell pudding
  • Hot cross buns
  • Rarebit
  • Jacket potatoes
  • Various cheeses
  • Sticky toffee pudding
  • Aberdeen angus beef
  • Scottish eggs
  • Lobster roll
  • Cod

That’s it! Easy peasy! Haha, don’t worry, I’m not daft. I DO realize that this itinerary (and menu) is NOT for the faint of heart or for those who actually like to RELAX on their vacation. This is more for the family who likes to see and do (and eat) as much as they can because they wonder if they’ll ever return to this part of the world again. This is for the family who loves the drive through the landscapes and towns as much as the destinations at the end of the road. This is the stuff that gets my blood flowing and my mood high. Ooooh, I LOVE it!

Maybe our next trip will just be a sit-your-butt-on-the-beach-and-don’t-move-it kind of trip…but I doubt it.

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!