Sunday, August 19, 2012

Another trip to Germany (and Vienna)

After managing to make 2011 the first year since 1985 that I wasn't in an airplane, I've been to Germany twice this year. In April the entire family went, for the wedding of my friend Peggy. And in July just the three youngest and I went, for a family camp/conference with our mission organization, Globe Europe. They have a conference every year in December, which Jörn attended in 2010, but I haven't been able to go because they aren't able to accomodate children. That is quite understandable, as space and resources are limited, and of course most of the families have parents or siblings in Germany who are more than happy to have the children during the conference, as they don't often get time with their grandchildren/nieces and nephews. However, we're not the only ones without available family members, nor the only ones with small children that we wouldn't leave anyway, and there were also people who didn't want to travel in December because of children in school, so for the first time, they offered a conference with a program for the children. As far as I know, everyone was very pleased with how it went. I certainly was! There were 20 children from the age of five months to about 17 years, not that the older ones needed looking after, of course, and several of the smaller ones spent most of the time with a parent. Elisabeth did, mostly sleeping or playing quietly. One or two sessions I had to go out with her but could still hear most of what was going on. And three of the four evenings I was able to put her to bed before the evening program started, and the two ladies (both of whom had done the mission school with us in 2005, and one of whom had visited us in Cyprus just a couple of months before) taking care of the children were happy to check on her.

I never did officially finish blogging our April trip to Germany, so instead of dividing this into several logical parts, this is just going to be one long post with lots of photos, so that it will actually be finished tonight. And believe me, this is nowhere NEAR all of the photos! For one thing, most of the photos at Globe Europe have other people in them, and if I wait until I get around to asking each person's permission to post photos, it just won't ever happen.

Our flight left Larnaka at 6:30 in the morning on Tuesday, July 24th, so we headed for the airport at 4:30 a.m., leaving Jacob and Lukas sleeping at home. (Marie was in Greece on a mission trip.) Here Katie and Helen are saying goodbye to Papa:

Elisabeth did not understand why Papa wasn't coming with us and wouldn't say goodbye until after we'd gone through security, at which point she kept asking me to let her say goodbye, but of course, we couldn't see Jörn anymore. Her backpack, by the way, I remembered about five minutes before we left for the airport. She certainly didn't need one, but I thought she might want it, remembering our recent trip, so I quickly found and packed it and put it in the car before taking Elisabeth out of bed. She woke up as I was putting her in her carseat, and I said, "We're going to the airport now, to fly to Germany." Her immediate words, at 4:30 a.m., woken out of a deep sleep, were, "Where's my pack-pack?" She was quite relieved for me to hand it to her.

This also happened to be Katie's seventh birthday! The evening before we'd had Sue and Richard over for dinner and cake and ice cream (ice cream made by Sue :-) ), and Lukas gave Katie this doll, which she took with her to Germany. Here's our official photo of "Katie seven".

Finally getting light, shortly before boarding.

Katie stayed awake all the way to Vienna, but fell asleep there while waiting for our connecting flight.

And Elisabeth fell asleep on the way to Düsseldorf.

The plane from Vienna to Düsseldorf was small, only two seats on either side of the aisle, so Elisabeth sat with me and Katie and Helen on the other side. Just before we arrived in Düsseldorf, Helen fell asleep, too, and I couldn't get her awake. A friendly man carried her off of the plane and onto the bus to the airport, putting her on my lap once I was sitting on the bus. She woke up then and was able to walk the rest of the way, but Elisabeth stayed sound asleep in the sling.
 The entire trip went extremely well, no melt-downs, nothing lost, and I think I may have even slept part of the way from Larnaka to Vienna. We got a quick connection to Wesel and on to Hamminkeln, arriving a couple of hours early. After putting our things in our room, we went to Aldi for picnic supplies and ate lunch outside, enjoying the grass and the shade, a bit disappointed that it wasn't quite as cool as we'd hoped! Germany only gets a week or two of "real" summer a year, and they had one of those weeks while we were there. Oh well.

Germans are extremely into birthdays, so it wasn't exactly a huge surprise that this was set up for Katie at dinner-time. Another girl had her birthday the next day, so Katie's name was taken down and Sarah's put up for breakfast, and that afternoon we had a "birthday coffee" for both girls, which was a table loaded with probably a dozen different kinds of cakes.

One very exciting thing for the girls was the chance to play in a sprinkler. Katie was three and a half years old and Helen four months old when we moved to Cyprus, and Elisabeth was of course born here, so none of them had ever seen a sprinkler before. We did have a garden/yard with a lawn when we lived in Germany, but it is SO rarely necessary to water, that we never bothered buying a sprinkler, and in Cyprus we don't have a lawn, as there's so little rain. Elisabeth, who loves to shower, kept calling it a shower, and all three of them laughed and laughed as they ran through it again and again, or just stood in it.

One night I had both Elisabeth and Helen asleep before the evening program started (the other nights, Helen was in the childcare), one on either side of the bed (two single mattresses pushed together on the floor), and when I wanted to go to bed a couple of hours later, supposedly in between the two of them, this was what I found:

The conference finished Saturday after breakfast, so then we took two trains and a bus to Oberhausen to visit the H family. We met them in our first year in Mülheim, as Barbara ran the playgroup I started attending when Marie and Jacob were four and two, and her daughter, Andrea, spent five months with us here in Cyprus and has visited two other times. Andrea unfortunately couldn't get off of work (she's a student nurse), but had just been in Cyprus a few weeks earlier anyway. After the children had played with Duplo for awhile and I'd chatted with Barbara and Karl-Heinz, we went to the Kaisergarten with Barbara in the afternoon. It's a beautiful public garden with a small petting zoo. On the way there, Barbara showed Katie and Helen some chestnuts:

I love goats and Katie was happy to pet them, but Helen was a little skeptical and Elisabeth was extremely skeptical and not very approving of me leaning over the fence to take this photo.

Germans also do playgrounds extremely well and we spent quite a long time playing at this one.

Elisabeth went up this ladder at least half a dozen times, saying "Do it my own!" every time.

And down this slide:

From the Kaisergarten we took the bus back to Barbara's house in time to pick our luggage up and get the bus back to the main train station in Oberhausen, the train to Duisburg, and another train to Angermund in Düsseldorf. We stayed with Margaret and Phil from Saturday until we left early Wednesday morning, but hardly took any photos! Sunday Phil drove us to our "home church" (International Baptist Church of Düsseldorf), where it was great to see a lot of people we knew and interesting to see a lot more that we DIDN'T know (as an English-language church in Germany, it has a huge turn-over rate, with approximately one-third changing each year. The only two people who have been members there longer than I have been are another American married to a German, and a German.)

After the service we went home with the O family for lunch and a wonderful afternoon. I unfortunately didn't take any photos of Susanne, and the other photos have the children (Flora, who is the same age as Elisabeth, and Alba, who is half a year older than Katie) in them, so I won't post them. Susanne drove us back to Margaret and Phil's in time for dinner and bed.

Monday morning we were able to spontaneously arrange to meet at the playground with another "old" friend, Janet, and the baby she takes care of. I took one not-very-good photo, and then my camera batteries gave up. I babysat Janet's sons several times about 20 years ago, and one evening, Jörn called "just to talk". Janet and her husband were getting home so late that I had stayed the night, and by the time I got up the next morning, the boys had already left for school. Over breakfast with Janet I told her that the evening had gone very well, but that I had to confess that the boys had gone to bed a bit late because Jörn had phoned. Janet said, "Oh, yes, they told me that you'd been on the phone with your boyfriend!" I protested mightily that Jörn was NOT my boyfriend, as she should very well know, just someone from house group! That must have been April or so in was in September 1993 that Jörn and I started dating. :-)

In the afternoon the girls and I took the train up to Mülheim, where we got to Peggy's house just as it started raining, bringing the total amount of time I got to feel rain in July in the last four years up to about 45 seconds. (It also rained a few drops on Saturday. And the last three Julys I spent in Cyprus, where it never rained at all, at least not in Larnaka.) Peggy had invited two more friends over, Konstanze and Benita, and we had a wonderful afternoon. All four of us were very startled to hear a key in the door, thinking that Hannu was home early...but it was 9:00 p.m. and we'd been sitting over coffee and cake talking non-stop for five hours!! The girls had played wonderfully with Peggy's son Florian and Benita's daughter Ann-Sophie and a cousin, and time had just flown by. We did take a couple of photos, but at least one of us looks awful in each of them, so I won't post them. Here's one dark, blurry photo of my girls with Florian just after Benita and Konstanze left:

After dinner, Hannu drove us back to Margaret and Phil's, where we had the only easy bedtime of the four nights there, as Helen and Elisabeth had both fallen asleep in the car and Katie was tired enough to collapse herself.

On Tuesday we played in the garden for awhile:

Then we went for a walk to see horses:

And pick blackberries:

The water in the background is an old quarry, right behind where I lived for my first three years in Germany as a nanny. I used to walk in this area all the time with the children I nannied and it was cool being there with (some of) my own children.

We left early Wednesday morning, and then had a ten-hour layover in Vienna. We'd hoped to see friends who recently moved to Austria, but had to book the tickets before we were able to find out if they'd be able to meet with us, and it turned out that they weren't. However, it was easy to get the train into the town and go to Schloss Schönbrunn, which my sister had recommended. (Katie really wanted to see the Lippizaners, after having read "The White Stallions of Lippiza", but she accepted that that simply wasn't in the budget.)

I found it a little confusing where we were to go once we were there, and went inside the main building to get information. Just as I was figuring out that the line we were waiting in was for touring the palace, which I didn't want to do (expensive and not really a great thing to do with three small children anyway), I saw that there was a place to leave bags. Although we'd packed our carry-ons as lightly as possible, I was already tired of carrying mine by this time, and Katie was also complaining, so I decided that I didn't care what it cost, I was checking them in. It turned out that it was free of charge! I suspect that they really only meant that for people touring the palace, but there wasn't a sign saying so, and I didn't ask... So keeping out only one bag with our picnic, passports, and camera, we happily went outside again to explore the gardens, which doesn't cost anything. We saw only a tiny portion of them, could easily have spent days there.

This amused me no end: these "Roman ruins" were built in 1778 because Roman ruins were fashionable at the time! If you look closely, those are the girls in the photo, not at all impressed by the "ruins", but by real live ducks. Elisabeth, who loves rubber duckies, had taken a lot of convincing at the Kaisergarten on the Saturday before that ducks were really ducks, but by Wednesday she was very sure and very pleased.

Blurry, but I like it anyway:

Katie's favorite part was the Glorietta, this building at the top of a long hill. One could walk up a zig-zag path in the sun, or meander through the forest at the side, which was what we did.

This is the view from the Glorietta back down at the palace and over Vienna:

Once down near the palace again, we got a "Topfknudel" to share. I asked (in German) what it was, and the girl answered in English that it was a cheese dumpling. I didn't know what that was, either, but it looked intriguing. It was delicious, especially with the raspberry sauce, and we ate it with four forks.

One of the flowerbeds:

There were quite a few separate places that one could pay to enter, most of which we didn't: various parts of the palace, the Glorietta, some of the gardens, Europe's oldest zoo, etc. However, the labyrinths looked cool and weren't very expensive--€3.50 for me and €2.20 for Katie, and the others were free. We could easily have spent the entire day just there, or even just on the amazing playground. There were three separate mazes or labyrinths--this photo was taken from a platform in the middle of one of them, showing part of the one we were in and all of one of the others.

Throughout two of them there were all sorts of different activites. In this one, Katie is rocking a lever to make the fountain work.

And here we all are in the mirrors:

We made it back to pick up our carry-ons in plenty of time before they closed at 6:00, got the tram and train back to the airport, and got our flight back to Larnaka, where we arrived around 1:00 a.m. By which time, all three girls were sound asleep.
I love the way Cypriots love children, and several young men (maybe early 20s, maybe even late teens) had been playing and talking with the girls before they'd fallen asleep. There were three seats on each side of the aisle, so I was with Helen and Elisabeth, and Katie was across the aisle from us. Once we'd landed, I just let everyone go by, knowing that there was no hurry to get off of the plane. (With our ten-hour layover, our suitcase had been one of the first on the plane anyway, and was one of the last off.) The man next to Katie didn't get up, and I finally said that it was okay for him just to climb over her, but then he said he couldn't, she was leaning on his arm. Which she barely was, but he didn't want to disturb her. I had no such qualms and tried hard to wake her up. With a lot of effort, I finally managed to move her to the row in front, so those two men could leave, but they still hung around, and finally asked if they could help. I had Helen's and Elisabeth's backpacks inside mine, which was on my back, and I had Elisabeth in the sling, so I couldn't reach down to pick up Helen, whom I'd already tried unsuccessfully to wake up. So I gratefully asked if they could just lift Helen up and hand her to me, but the one carried her off of the plane, all the way through passport control and to the baggage pick-up, while the other man carried both men's carry-ons. He carried her so sweetly and I really wish I'd been brave enough to ask if I could take a photo. At one point Helen opened her eyes and looked straight at him, then smiled and snuggled down again, which had both of the guys going all melty. While waiting for our suitcase, Helen did wake up properly, though, and was able to walk the rest of the way, where it was wonderful to be greeted by Marie and Jörn.