Tilting at windmills

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For our one full day in Rotterdam we went to the Kinderdijk museum, which has a series of 19 wind pumps built in the 18th century to pump water out of the otherwise marshy land. We got a bit of bad advice on directions there, since there is both a water taxi, and water bus, and several people told us directions to the water taxi instead of the water bus. The confusion was further compounded by conflicting information about which water bus line was running at the end of May. Eventually we figured it out though. We took the water bus, which was a quite big and comfortable boat, for about 20 minutes, then had to transfer to a smaller boat where we were crammed into an open air standing section for a 5 minute ride.

At the museum we learned a lot about how the Dutch have been fighting water for hundreds of years. 40% of the Netherlands is below sea level. I knew about the dikes to hold back the seawater, but somehow or other, I hadn’t realized that many of the “windmills” in the Netherlands are actual wind pumps. That is, they are not used to mill flour, but rather are used to pump water upstream, in a series of channels, sort of like locks, until the water can be pumped into a natural river which carries it away. These wind pumps have now been replaced with electric pumps, but they kept them around for historical reasons.

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Clare and Rob at Kinderdijk

There are two windmills you can actually go inside and see how the Miller’s family lived back in the day. One of the mills still has the gears going to pump the water, which was pretty neat to see.

Fedibbletys at Kinderdijk
Fedibbletys at Kinderdijk

Happy Father’s Day

This morning I got some great presents – BBQ tools and coasters in the shape of vinyl records. The big present is going to Rotterdam to see Nate Smith and Kinfolk in concert tonight. Off we go!

BBQ and coasters for Rob

Koblenz

German corner, as seen from the fortress Ehrenbreitstein

After a long day of travel and touring castle Eltz, we had a more relaxing day to spend in Koblenz. As usual, Clare found us an amazing place to stay. One of the things that really surprised be about Koblenz is how quiet it was. For a town of over 100,000 people I had expected it to be a little bit louder and more boisterous. I really enjoyed the calm and quiet though. We stayed in the Neuendorf neighborhood, across the Rhine from the fortress Ehrenbreitstein. There was a bakery within walking distance, so naturally I got us some fresh rolls. We had a leisurely breakfast, then set strolled along the Rhine for 20 minutes to get to the little ferry to take us across the Mosel to the German corner ( das Deutsche Eck),

German corner

Das Deutsche Eck was created by Kaiser Wilhelm II as a memorial to his father Kaiser Wilhelm I, who united Germany in 1871. The statue is the largest in the world of its kind, weighing 63 tons, and is 45 feet tall (just the bronze statue, not including the base). It was destroyed in World War Two, but a new statue was made and placed there in 1993, nearly 50 years later)

Gondola

After gawking at the gigantic statue we got in line to take the gondola across the Rhine to the Ehrenbreitstein fortress. We ended up getting a combo deal which included the gondola both ways, admission to the fortress, and a one hour boat ride for only 23€ for the adults and 13.50€ for the kids. What a deal!

Fortress Ehrenbreitstein

The fortress has been around a long time, and was considered to be the safest place for the Kurfürsten from Trier. Not only does it have really impressive massive walls, but it also boasts great views of Koblenz. After touring around for a bit we had lunch in the cafe there overlooking the Rhine.

Art Exhibit

There were many exhibits of all sorts in the fortress, including an art exhibit by Monika Kropshofer, who had these really cool pictures printed on a sort of transparent corrugated plastic, with one picture on the back part and a different one on the front, creating a 3-D sort of effect. We all found them very fascinating.

Boat tour

After lunch we took the gondola back across and the river and then enjoyed the one hour boat ride up and down the Rhine and Mosel around Koblenz. The weather was great and we sat up top, but at some point it suddenly got very windy – so windy in fact that the glasses and plates on the tables started flying away and breaking. So we enjoyed the rest of the ride from one level below.

Old town Koblenz

After the boat ride, Dave, Ellen, Alice, and Spencer went back to the fabulous vacation rental and cooked some dinner there. Clare and I toured around old town Koblenz a bit more, popping our heads in churches and shops, and enjoyed a couple beers at the beer garden by the German corner. Then we enjoyed a little picnic along the Rhine before heading back in for the night.

Departure

The next morning Dave and Ellen got an early taxi at 6 a.m. to catch a train back to Frankfurt, and a plane back to Denver. We walked about an hour to the train station to catch our train back to Aachen, which was once again delayed. We ended up catching a different train in Cologne than our original scheduled one, and got back around 12:30, which left a couple hours to relax at home before we had to take Alice to meet up with the scouts for their annual Troop games campout, which is her favorite. She brought along her trumpet to play some songs, and had a good time, though as always, came home exhausted.

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Alice ready for her scout trip

Eltz castle

Burg Eltz from above

Tuesday morning we awoke early to make our 7:15 train from Aachen. For reasons I don’t fully understand, every single train we took over Easter break was either delayed or cancelled, and we were not able to complete any of the originally scheduled itineraries as planned. However, we did always manage to make it to our destination one way or the other. We first traveled from Aachen to Köln, then to Koblenz, and finally on to Moselkern. Our train to Koblenz was about 20 minutes late, which meant we missed the first train to Moselkern, and had to wait for the next hourly train. Clare, Dave, and I walked around Koblenz a bit to kill the time. The ride from Koblenz to Moselkern was very beautiful, with views of the Mosel river, vineyards, and lots of little towns along the way.

Clare had read that we should expect taxis to be waiting at the Moselkern train station to take us to Burg Eltz, which turned out not to be the case. Maybe only in high season. We were able to call a taxi though, and made it to the castle for a tour. The taxi dropped us off at the parking lot, and then there is a small hike down to the castle. We got our tickets and then got in line for the tour, which was about a 45 minute wait. The tour itself was also about 45 minutes. We learned all sorts of neat facts. The castle was not built as a military castle, but rather an economic castle, to collect tolls from merchants along the trade route. Shortly after being built in the 12th century, the castle was divided among three sons, and they each had their own separate houses on the grounds. One line eventually died out, and the other one sold their stake to the remaining Kempenich family in 1815, which has been the sole owner and operator of the castle ever since; apparently they sometimes still live there. At some point they remodeled to add passageways between the formerly distinct houses. One interesting fact about the castle is that it was not sacked by Napoleon, unlike most of the other castles along the Rhein and Mosel. The story goes that they never found it, since it is kind of tucked away.

The tour did not allow photographs, so I am including some interior shots from postcards. Some other fun facts from the tour we learned – the castle has 40 fireplaces and over 20 toilets (which just dumped outside). The kitchen had an open fire, and a neat ratcheted contraption to raise and the lower the level of pots and pans over the fire, to control the temperature. It also had two “refrigerators”, which were just rooms with really thick walls and heavy doors – the outside wall of the kitchen was over nine feet thick.

After the tour, we also visited the treasury, which housed all sorts of weapons, jewelry, fine china, golden chalices and other valuables the family had collected over the years. Then we decided to stop at the little cafe for a bite to eat. After a little chance to rest, we decided to hike back down to Moselkern. We kept getting different information about the length of the hike, but in the end it seemed to be about 3 miles or so. We had perfect weather, and the path was beautiful, with lots of wildflowers and early spring leaves coming out. The sound of the Eltz river going by, and the birds chirping was very calming. It was a very long walk for 70 year olds though. At some point it seemed like Dave and Ellen couldn’t make it, but eventually we did make it back to the train station, to wait for another delayed train.

After we arrived back in Koblenz, I make a quick trip to the Aldi we had discovered during our previous stop in Koblenz and picked up a few things to make dinner. I was going to get stuff to make peanut butter noodles, in memory of our Greece trip, in which that was the only thing we had available, but Aldi was out of peanut butter, so I just got some tomato sauce instead. Then we got a taxi to our final destination, the Rheinterrasse vacation apartment, which was absolutely beautiful. It would have been better if we could have stayed one day longer there to do a bit more relaxing, with the beautiful view of the Rhine, but we had too many other things we wanted to see while we were in Koblenz.

To be continued …

Clare, Alice, Dave & Ellen go to München

Our whole family plus Clare’s parents were supposed to go visit München together, but a few days before we were supposed to leave, Rob and Spencer got sick and tested positive for COVID. Luckily it was not a life threatening case, but they were both sick for close to a week. Luckily, Clare and Alice were able to avoid catching it and we were able to travel with my parents to stay away from the apartment until the boys tested negative.

The (grand)parents arrived at Frankfurt airport and we travelled together by train. There was a delay due to a medical emergency on the tracks. It was annoying to be delayed, but not the worst day of our lives like it was for someone else. We did get a train an hour or two later and even found seats together, so it could have been much worse. We walked from the train station to our apartment in the Altstadt and saw many famous sites on our way into town.

Wild blueberries

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Yesterday Meg and I joined our friends Thomas and Ulli for a little hike in Belgium to pick wild blueberries (in German Heidelbeeren); they had discovered a big patch of them while hiking last year. Even though it was a little bit later in the year than peak time, we still managed to find quite a few blueberries.

Meg made muffins today – a recipe out of the cookbook that grandma Felty got her several years ago. They were very tasty! She shared them with some neighbors as well as her fellow scouts.

Blueberry muffins

Thanks Thomas and Ulli for taking us out for some adventure!

Father son weekend

Prost

Last weekend I spent some extra time with Meg. This weekend she was on a camping trip with the scouts, and I got to spend some extra time with Spencer. We had beautiful weather! We slept in a bit on Saturday, and then had breakfast on the balcony. Our friends Thomas and Ulli are plant sitting for us while we are in the USA, so we brought the rest of our house plants to them at their garden plot and had lunch. We brought our new table tennis paddles with us and played for quite awhile in the nearby park. We also enjoyed the zip line there, which is one of the best around.

The European cup soccer matches are going on right now, so in the evening we watched Denmark against Wales, and then Austria against Italy.

Spencer and Rob say cheers
Prost

On Sunday we had more great weather. We had breakfast on the balcony again, and then went to the park to play a little bit of soccer. I fell at some point and seemed to injure my toe a bit. Getting old is tough. Spencer then had a soccer game with this team, the first in about 10 months. It was just a friendly game against the 2008 team from his club, VfR Würselen. Unfortunately I ended up missing a bunch of the game because I had to pick up Meg from her scout trip, but I did get to see him play for about 30 minutes. It was the first time they played a game with 11 versus 11 on the full field. Some of the older boys were a good head taller than the younger boys. Nevertheless, they played very well. Spencer’s coach commented to me personally afterward that Spencer did very well. He has grown so tall in the last year. In another year, he might be taller than me!

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Daddy daughter day

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Meg was feeling a bit sad that all of her friends were busy this weekend, and Spencer was having his friend André over for the night. I am having a bit of a hard time to adjusting to the new old normal that is coming now that Corona regulations are being eased, so I guess I haven’t been as aggressive about making plans as others. Also, we are getting ready to visit the USA, and have a bunch of other stuff on our plate. Normally on a Saturday we would spend some time cleaning house, but instead, I thought that Meg and I could use a daddy-daughter day.

Meg and Rob by a statue in Aachen

My house shoes (some imitation Birkenstocks) have started to wear out, and I had been thinking about finally replacing them with some real Birkenstocks. I looked on Amazon a bit, but eventually decided it would be best to visit the store in person in Aachen, partially so that I could be sure to get the right size, and also partially to support local businesses, which have been affected so much by the pandemic. I asked Meg if she would like to come along, and she agreed. Originally I thought that we would drive or take the bus, mostly because I thought it was supposed to rain today, but then when I looked at the weather forecast again in the morning, I saw that it was not supposed to start raining until late evening, so I convinced Meg to ride our bikes instead. It is about 7 km (4.5 miles) each way – not a short ride, but really not too bad. The worst part is going from Würselen into Aachen, which is fairly steep. Once you are into Aachen, it is pretty flat.

Meg by Kanpai running sushi restaurant

We had to wait about 10 minutes to get into the Birkenstock store, because they are only allowing a certain number of people in at a time due to Corona regulations. But once we were in, we were both able to try on some sandals, and ended up both getting a pair. After the Birkenstock store we got some Sushi, at a place where we could eat outside. It was very tasty. Then we went back in the direction of the Birkenstock store to get some Boba tea. We ran into my old boss right outside the store, who gave us some tips. It was nice to catch up with him a bit. I miss going to the office some. Meg got some macha tea, and I had a sip. I avoided the bubbles, because I remember not liking them. After some prodding, she convinced me to try them again, and I decided that after fifteen years or so since my last Boba tea experience, it was possible that my tastes may have changed. I remember the bubbles being just weird, and I didn’t like it. This time around, I sort of tried to taste the boba, but found it relatively tasteless. Then I tried chewing one, but I couldn’t really get it between my teeth. Then I squished it using my tongue, and I got a taste explosion of mango, which was quite nice. I then realized that in my first attempt, I had just swallowed them whole, so it just sort of felt like this weird, slimy, tasteless thing going down my throat. Now I actually understood how to eat them. I am still not a huge fan (mostly because of the price – $5 for a drink that has neither beer, whiskey, nor coffee, my 3 favorites), but I gained a new appreciation. Thanks Meg!

GluEcke Boba tea

After we got the Boba tea, we went to Kaufhof to look for some clothes for Meg. We found her a dress and a skirt on sale. Then it was time to head back home. On the way home, we took the longer, yet less steep route through the Würselen city garden. Meg had some baggy jeans on, and was using some velcro straps around her legs to make sure her pants didn’t get caught in her chain. One of them fell off as we were riding back, and a nice woman on a bike behind us picked it up and gave it to her. Always nice when strangers help each other out.

Meg and Rob modeling their new Birkenstocks back at home

Happy Mother’s Day

Enjoying ice cream by a fountain

It seems like Meg gets more excited about Mother’s Day each year. With the Corona pandemic, the kids have only been going to school every other day, and most activities are still cancelled, so Meg had extra time to work on gifts for Clare. She made a variety of different cards and paintings and such. I really like the pop-up style of cards she has been doing lately. They are really fun and creative.

One new idea Meg had this year was to make a room service menu. There are so many stories and movies in which kids make breakfast-in-bed for mom on Mother’s Day. The thing is, Clare doesn’t really like to eat breakfast in bed (and I agree). So instead, we just had breakfast at the table, but made it a bit special, and we let Clare decide ahead of time what she wanted. She decided on omelettes. I made the omelettes, while Meg made a fresh fruit salad.

After breakfast, we migrated upstairs to give Clare all of her presents.

Even though the weather in the week leading up to Mother’s Day was mostly wet and dreary, Mother’s Day itself turned out to be beautiful – almost too warm in fact, at about 26C (79F). We decided to take a bike ride to the park we recently discovered in Bardenberg. They have a nice table tennis table and basketball court, a large field great for picnics, and a sort of rope swing from a tree which Meg really likes. Spencer surpassed Rob at soccer and running a couple years ago already, but Rob frequently can still win at table tennis. It seems unlikely that will be the case for too much longer.

We also finally got to try out the new ice cream place – Delzepich. They have had a store in Aachen for a number of years, and are quite famous, but only recently opened a store in Würselen. They make the ice cream fresh every day, and when they run out, they close. They sell out nearly every day, and there is almost always a line. The lines are a lot longer at all places right now because of Corona, and you are not allowed to eat the ice cream within 50 meters of the establishment. Basically, they don’t want crowds of people without masks on, and you have to take off your mask to eat. No problem, we found a bench by a peaceful little pond full of turtles and fish. The ice cream was quite good, although I think that I might like Peppone better, and the line is usually shorter. Clare happened to have a gift certificate from as part of her going away present from her work colleagues, so the ice cream was already paid for (and we still have some money left, so we will be forced to go back 🙂 )

The sun rises

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The view of the sunrise from our 3rd floor (counting from 0) apartment is frequently really beautiful. In the fall it seems to be the best – this is partially because of the time of the sunrise, I am usually waking up and getting the kids ready for school while the sun rises. It may very well be beautiful at 4 in the morning in July, but I am still asleep then. One important aspect to a beautiful sunrise is a partially cloudy sky. If it is totally cloudy, you see nothing, and if it is totally sunny, it is pretty boring. Here are some of my favorite sunrises from this fall.