Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas in Germany!

This post is going to be a bit long, because we spent two weeks traveling around Germany with Greg and Ellyn and family. It journals most of our activities and sights that we saw, and I wanted to include as many details to help preserve the memories of this trip. We spent time in the eastern portion of Germany where Ryan served his mission, in Koeln near Greg and Ellyn's home, and in Muenchen, where Ryan lived while working for BMW while in college. It was a jam packed trip, and here is the full rundown of what we did.

We got off to a rocky start out of Detroit, as our flight was delayed significantly. This was due to plane difficulties, and we had to change gates and planes, but finally got into the air. Keira and Soren did surprisingly well despite the later start, and they were able to get some sleep on the plane. Ryan and I did not fare so well in the sleep department, only catching maybe an hour or two because we were worried about keeping the kids asleep. As a result of our delay, we missed our connection in Amsterdam to Dusseldorf, and we were able to fly standby to catch the next flight. We had a slight delay on this flight as well, due to some seat assignment issues. They had double assigned the seat next to me, as well as not assigned a seat to Keira- we didn't realize we didn't have a boarding pass for her until we were on a shuttle bus past our gate to the plane. We were fine with her flying on Ryan's lap because we just wanted to be done with our flight, and were worried throughout the delay that they were going to make us get off the plane. Once we were in the air, a flight attendant came up to us and thanked us for having Keira ride on Ryan's lap, otherwise someone would have needed to get off the plane. We finally arrived and met up with Ellyn and she drove us home from the airport. Of course, we had no luggage since we flew standby, and that was delivered later that evening. Our first day was spent pretty much in the airport or car, and we didn't do any sightseeing.

On Friday, we had a relaxing morning and then drove to Weimar, which is one of the cites where Ryan served on his mission. Greg, Ellyn, and their 4 children, Bailey, Avery, Bryn, and Lleyton, traveled with us for this portion of the trip. What should have been a 3 hour drive took over 6 hours, due to a "stau", which is the term for a traffic jam and some inclement weather. We had been routed off the autobahn by the navigation system to avoid the stau (which had completed stopped traffic) through small towns. The difficulty came when we came to snow covered roads, and neither of our vehicles were equipped with all weather tires, and Ellyn and I spent a great deal of time pushing our vehicles up the hills. Had our vehicles handled the road conditions better, it would have been a great drive. We drove through many small towns, and this was the first time that I noticed the beautiful outdoor 3D lit stars hanging outside of many homes. Ryan had noticed these on the internet while doing our reservations, and they come from Annaberg, one of the cities we will be visiting. We were finally able to get back on the autobahn, just barely making it to our hotel before the front desk closed for the evening. We stayed in a brightly decorated hostel.

The next morning, we woke up ready to see some sights in Weimar. When we walked out of our hotel that morning, we noticed that the church building had moved from when Ryan was serving to the same courtyard as our hostel! It was very very cold, so we only stopped at the Goethe House. We couldn't go in, so we just got a picture, and then were ready to get back in the car.

Next, we drove to Greifensteine. This was a very cool area with craggy rock formations. We spent a short time here since it was so cold. It was really beautiful.

After that, we drove to Annaberg and stopped at the Frohnauer Hammer. It is a forge/blacksmith hammer that is powered by a river. It was built in the 1400s, and the tour included a working demonstration. It was quite an impressive sight for us engineers to see.

We did a bit of shopping here to buy an Annaberg Faltstern (folding star) and then had dinner at a traditional German restaurant.

After dinner, the winter driving conditions continued on our drive to our hotel at Oberwiesenthal, which has the highest elevation of any city in Germany (there are peaks that are higher in the Alps, but not part of an actual city) and is a ski resort. We took small surface roads for the drive, and all of the towns we drove through were so cute looking. They were decorated for Christmas with traditional Erzgebirge arches in every window and a large outdoor pyramid on either end of town. We didn't plan to do any skiing, but enjoyed the resort like accommodations. One of my favorite parts about this hotel was that is had its own arch in the window of our room.

The next morning, Sunday, the views from our windows were beautiful.

We headed back towards Annaberg to attend church. We were all pleasantly surprised with how many people remembered Ryan from his mission, and they were happy that we had come back to the area.

After church, we headed into the downtown area of Annaberg. On our way, we stopped into the Sankt Annenkirche church. Greg and some of his girls climbed the tower, while the rest of us waited in the church.We had initially planned to go to the Weihnachts Markt (Christmas market), but were interrupted by a parade. People were dressed in the traditional mining clothes of every era marching. It was pretty cool to see, but we had no real way of getting through the parade to the market on the other side.

Next, we went to Seiffen. We considered skipping this town, but we are so glad we went. Seiffen is the home to many of the nutcracker, smoker, and pyramid manufacturers in Germany, and the whole Erzegebirge region is know for their handmade Christmas decorations. While in Seiffen, we went to the Spielzeugmuseum (toy museum), which contained pyramids, nutcrackers, and all sorts of wooden toys. This was a welcomed break from the car to all of the children. Soren, in particular, LOVED this place. He has been really taken by the pyramids. As we exited an elevator, he ran screaming and pointing at a huge 6 foot tall pyramid that he saw as the doors opened. It was pretty funny to see. It had many exhibits encased in glass, but also several hands on activities for children.

After the museum, we picked up a few gifts at one of the shops and then dined on street food; large brats, quark krapfen (fried dough balls similar to donuts), and pommes (french fries), before driving to Dresden. One thing that we realized in Seiffen was that our wooden arch that we had prior to this trip contains the church in Seiffen, which makes it even more special to us.

On Monday, in Dresden, we took a train to Saechsische Schweiz to see the Bastei Bridge. We took a ferry before embarking on a short hike to reach the bridge. The views were amazing.

Then, we went into the city of Dresden as it got dark. We went to the Frauen Kirche, which was beautiful inside but did not allow photos. It had been completely destroyed in WWII. The bricks were cataloged and it has been rebuilt. In the pictures in the daylight, it is easier to tell, but the dark bricks are the original bricks and the white are the new. This shows how much had to be rebuilt.

Next, we went to the Fuerstenzug is a huge wall made of porcelain. It is one of the outside walls of the royal castle / residence where the Saxon rulers lived. The Fuerstenzug is a depiction of all the Saxon kings throughout the years made from Meissen porcelain.

We were getting pretty cold outside, so we decided to go into a mall for some gelato. I thought it was funny to warm up and eat ice cream, but it was great and it made all the children happy.

We did a bit of walking through the Dresden Weihnachts Markt on our way back to the hotel, and the kids all became "warm" to ride on a carosel, and of course were instantly cold again as soon as the ride stopped.

On Tuesday, we returned to the same areas that we were in the evening, although this time we were able to go into the Zwinger, which to call it a museum, is an understatement. It was a royal party ground used by Saxon royalty to entertain, and the surrounding walls contain museums. We went into the Altemeisters Gallery and the Rustkammer (armory). We also made our way back through the Weihnachts Markt where we purchased a smoker for ourselves and the kids rode on a train ride before driving back to Greg and Ellyn's home.

On Wednesday, we went into Koeln (Cologne) and saw the Koelner Dom. This church was not bombed during WWII because it was used as a landmark for the planes doing the bombing. Our next stop was the GeheimStaatPolizei (GESTAPO) Musem. It is generally dedicated to historical events associated with Nazi movement during the 1930's and the atrocities committed before and during the Second World War. The basement level which functioned as a Gestapo prison and interrogation center has been preserved and restored. It was a somber activity to do amidst all of the Christmas preparations, but it is something that should not be forgotten, especially since my grandfather and other relatives had been imprisoned in concentration camps. We finished up the afternoon in Koeln by doing our Christmas shopping for Keira and Soren at a department store, purchasing Playmobil sets for each of them. That evening, I went into Bonn with Ellyn for some last minute prep and items. Everything pretty much shuts down Christmas Eve through the whole weekend, so we had to stock up on the essentials today. We stopped into the Bonn WeihnachtMarkt for some waffles on our way out, before they would be shutting down until next year.

On Thursday, Christmas Eve, we attended a church service at Greg and Ellyn's ward. This is not something that Mormon churches in the US do, so it was fun to attend this type of service here. It was mostly songs. We came home and enjoyed a roasted Christmas Goose which was delicious. Soren loved it as well.

We had been really pleased with how well all the cousins got along right from the begining of the trip. There weren't really any hesitations or shyness between any of them, and Soren and Lleyton really enjoyed having each other around. Here is a video of the girls playing after the Christmas dinner.

I had wanted to get a family picture of all of us in our church clothes with Greg and Ellyn's freshly decorated tree. This was the best we could do. Note my winter biking socks in the photo. Stylish! I was hoping that Ryan would hold Keira and it wouldn't be a full body shot, but she wanted to stand. Oh well.

We did a quick Christmas pagent before bed and got into our Christmas pajamas.

After only a few hours of being in bed, Santa had arrived and the children were up. Keira came into our room at 5:15am after her cousins, who had been up for 2 hours already, sent her in to wake us up. Keira had a major meltdown when she opened her Princess Lillifee Doll from Santa, because she was excpecting Snow White. She had told Santa at Three Cedars that she wanted a doll, but didn't specify Snow White. Thankfully I had been shopping with Grandma and knew that there would be a Snow White waiting for her in Ohio, and she believed me so that she was able to calm down and enjoy the rest of Christmas. She has really loved her Princess Lillifee doll, who is a popular German princess character, and has brought her to bed with her every night since. Soren enjoyed tearing through the paper to open his wooden toy from Santa and loved all of Lleyton's toys, especially his ride on zebra and push toys. Both Keira and Soren also received a mop and broom set of their own. Keira had asked Santa for a broom, and they had enjoyed playing with Lleyton's up until Christmas. It was very funny to see the little boys running around with miniture cleaning supplies. Keira also really loved playing with all the girls' new playmobil sets, as well as her own.

After the presents were opened, we had a yummy brunch of quiche, fruit salad, and potatoes. I think Soren ate as much as I did! We relaxed all day and eventually most of us changed our of pjs. We had another Christmas presentation from Bailey, Avery, and Bryn. Keira was too tired to finish it with the girls.

On Saturday, the four of us drove to Muenchen, and Greg and Ellyn had a separate trip of their own planned. Ryan had lived here while working for BMW for his second internship, and spent all his weekends here on his first. We stayed at the Marriot, which due to all of Ryan's Ford travel, was practically free and we got the breakfast buffet also included for free as gold members. Once we got checked in, we went to the Olympic Tower. The photos I took from the top don't accurately portray how cool it was to see the city from that vantage point. We walked through the olympic complex, but there wasn't a lot to see in the dark. The aquatic center was functioning as a public center, so there were people going in a out, and you could see the pools from the street. Even with the amount of swimming that I have been doing prior to this trip (I have worked my way up to a mile as my longest swim), seeing an olympic sized pool seemed really intimidating to me.

On Sunday, we attended the ward that Ryan attended. He had lived with Patrick, from his mission, and his parents, and all were at church today. Patrick no longer lives in Muenchen, but his parents are still in the same home that he shared with Ryan. I was pleasantly suprised to hear Primary songs being sung in English while out in the hallway with Soren, and was able to chat with some sisters serving in Primary of an English speaking international ward that was also meeting in that building. It was nice to be able to just chit chat a bit and I felt like it helped bring the Spirit when I returned to the chapel. It had been a bit intimidating for me to be in the hallways with Soren (who won't sit still in church for more than 5 minutes) knowing that I can't understand the people and they can't understand me, especially when apart from Ryan. It was also nice that many of Ryan's friends here also spoke English. After church, we went to Schloss Linderhof, which was the primary residence of King Ludwig. It was quite over the top inside, with most of the place covered in gold leaf and very ornate. We couldn't take any pictures inside.

The drives between the castles contained some amazing views of the German Alps. The towns were so quaint and distinctly Bavarian.

Our next stop was Schloss Neuschwanstein. This is another of King Ludwig's castles, and was also the inspiration for Walt Disney's Cinderella's Castle at Disney World. It is a huge castle on a high hill, and is mostly unfinished due to King Ludwig's death. Keira really enjoyed this castle, as we had been hyping it up to her the whole trip. This was the "real" Cinderella's castle, and we had fortunately remembered to tell her in advance that Cinderella would not be there because she was on Christmas vacation as well.

We finished up the day by stopping by the home of Patrick's parents, where we were able to let the kids play with Patrick's 4 children as well as some cousins who were also visiting for the evening. We had a quick dinner and Ryan was able to catch up with his friends and make some plans for tomorrow.

On Monday, our last full day of sightseeing, Patrick and Petra joined us with their children. We started off by taking the subway to Marienplatz, the city center. We walked through a permanent market that had been here for a very long time where you could buy fruit, cheese, and all sorts of foods.

Next, we went to the Rathaus where we were able to watch the Glockenspiel rotate around and listen to the chimes.

We climbed to the top of the Alte Peter church to get some great views of the city. It wasn't easy carrying Keira and Soren to the top, but we managed through the narrow stairs. Soren loved walking around atop the church tower and made me a bit uneasy, despite the adequate guardrails.

Once we returned to the ground level, we entered the church, which its ceiling had been recently repainted.

Our next stop was the Residenzmuseum Schatzkammer (treasury). I wasn't initially excited to see the treasury because I misunderstood what it was, and was expecting it to be like a mint, and not be full of really cool jewels and artifacts. It was also cute to see Keira playing with Chiara (Patrick's 3 year old). They both LOVED the audio tour, and seemed to understand each other despite not speaking the same language. I guess the sometimes confusing 3 year old language is universal amoungst the 3-4 year old crowd, as we adults sometimes couldn't understand Keira or Bryn's English either.

Then, we went to the Dreifaltigkeits Kirche (Trinity Church).

Ryan, Keira, Soren, and I went to the Cuvillies Theatre, which was also part of the Residenz, but wasn't open yet when we finished with the treasury. Soren probably loved this part the best since strollers were not allowed.

We met back up with Patrick's family in Hofgarten.

After that, the kids were all getting tired and in need of some McDonalds to cheer them up. After our third McDonalds (and fortunately there is one at nearly every subway stop), we finally found one that was not insanely crowded and with enough empty tables for all of us. I really was amazed by how much McDonald's we ate during this trip. I was very excited that Petra was making handmade "Kaas Spatzen" or cheese spaetzle for us for dinner that night. It was excellent, and something that I had been wanting to eat the entire trip. It seemed rather straightforward to make, given the proper tools for squeezing out the dough into a pot of boiling water. I am hoping to try to make it myself some day.

On Tuesday, we checked out of our hotel and took the subway again into the city center. Soren and Keira both loved taking the trains, and the subways were much more stroller friendly here than in NYC. We still had to carry the strollers up and down some stairs, but there were more frequent elevators or "lifts" that we could use. We went into 4 churchs and also went to the gates at either end of the city.
We went into the FrauenKirche which looks like two large salt shakers.

Next, we went into Michaelskirche.

The first gate was the Karlstor Gate.

The next church was the Buergersaal. It was two levels, and Ryan and I each just ran up for a quick view.

This is a department store that we liked the way it was decorated.

The last church was the Asam Kirche, and it was gated so that you could see in but not enter. It was very ornate.

The final gate was the Sendlingertor before driving back to Greg and Ellyn's.

We made great time getting back into Bonn/Bad Godesberg. We got the kids put to bed and had this unique dinner that was made on a special griddle with a top tray for meat and a bottom tray to warm cheese to pour over the meat. It was great, and very filling. Ryan and I then had the task to get everything all packed up. While we were attempting to check in to our flight, we kept getting errors and were being redirected to Air France, which was odd since we were supposed to be flying KLM. Eventually, we got checked into our first flight, but not our second (which, in no relation to our issue, was the same flight number that had a terrorist attack thwarted by passengers on it only days earlier). After some phone calls, we realized that our flight out of Dusseldorf had been cancelled, and that we were being rerouted through Paris. Finally, we were able to go to bed, but it had been quite the late night.

On Wednesday, we flew back home. We were seated together on our flight from Dusselfdorf to Paris, but had no seat assignments from Paris to Detroit. We had booked our flight 7 months in advance, and had a great selection of seats at the time of booking, so we were expecting a challenge when we arrived in Paris to get seats assigned together on this flight. Once we arrived, the majority of our layover was taken up in shuttle busses from the plane to the terminal and terminal to terminal. The international flight gates had been roped off so that you needed to pass through an additional level of security to get to our gate, and they were already boarding once we got there. We praise the people of Air France who were able to get us all seated together on our return flight. We were the last to board, and just before take off, we were able to get an extra seat for Soren. The flight went very well. Soren was very busy, wanting to walk all over the plane as much as he could. Keira watched every princess movie she could until we ran out of battery on the DVD player, and then she switched to the in seat movie screen and headset to watch Cars and the Tigger movie. She did fall asleep at the end of the flight and had to be woken up to deplane. It was a great trip, but it felt great to be home. It was quite the adventure to travel with Keira and Soren, and they were such troopers.


Kris and Linda said...

Wow that is quite the post. It is so fun to see the pictures and all the discriptions of the wonderful trip. You will never forget Christmas in Germany. I'm so glad that you had a great time. Mom

michiganhills said...

Wow - looks like a fabulous trip. I loved seeing all of your pics. It makes me want to take a trip to Germany too!

Saskia said...

I'm so glad you had such a great time! It's just too bad there was no time for us to meet up. We drove up to Zwickau right before Christmas, a little too late for you. We'll just have to find some other time, I guess. :)

julie said...

I am so glad that you were able to take this great trip to Germany. How fun! I can't wait to take our kids to Europe, what a great family memory that will be for you and Ryan. :) I hope you are doing well and enjoying Primary! :)