Becca’s Grand Tour

Jenny’s sister Becca has been visiting us the past couple of weeks. Working around endless hours of playing hide and seek with Dominic and Ali, we managed to get out and explore some of Northern Israel, the West Bank, and the Dead Sea. Looking back, it has been a pretty full trip. We climbed Masada, home to Herod the Great’s palaces on top of an enormous plateau and site of a Jewish siege by Roman soldiers. We floated in the Dead Sea and gave ourselves a mud bath, explored the Crusader town of Akko on the Northern Coast of the Mediterranean, saw the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, had lunch on the Sea of Galilee, toured amazing Biblical sites like the spot where Jesus appeared to the apostles, and did a windshield tour of Jericho, the world’s oldest inhabited town.

We are really going to miss her (and the motivation she gave us to get out of the apartment)!

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Ali at the Sea of Galilee

Ali at the Sea of Galilee

We took a quick daytrip to the Sea of Galilee. Here is Ali letting off some steam during our lunch on the water.

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January 11, 2013 · 10:11 am

Happy 2013!

We are three months into our Jerusalem adventure, so seems like some new blog posts are overdue.  We spent our first month just getting acclimated to our new surroundings and feeling a bit shell-shocked.  Suddenly it was November, though, and we had all of our things, a great group of friends, and even a war in Gaza to deal with.  I am always amazed looking back on initial weeks at a new post at how quickly life becomes normal.  I guess that is part of the art of frequent relocations – if you constantly felt like you were getting settled, chances are good you would go insane.  And one of the best things about having worked in this region for so long is we knew quite a few people before we arrived. Thanks to a great group of friends here, we had a wonderful holiday season here with our Foreign Service “family.”  Just after Christmas, my littlest sister, Becca, arrived for two weeks with us.  She leaves us tonight and we will all miss her, especially Dominic and Ali.  I took a week off of work and we used the visit to finally explore Jerusalem and Israel a bit (more on that shortly).

This is a bit rambling, but simply intended to get everyone caught up on what we’ve been up to.

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Seasons of Love – A year in our lives

529,600 minutes,

529,600 Moments so dear.

529,600 minutes

How do you measure, measure a year?

In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee

In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.

529,600 minutes

How do you measure a year in the life?

This song constantly found its way into my head over the course of our year in Germany and before we close the chapter on our time there, I want to dedicate one last blog entry to the experience.  By this point, most everyone knows my long time connection to Germany.  I first arrived in West Germany (Goch, to be exact) in 1990 as a 15 year old exchange student.  To say my year there put me on the path to where I am today would be a understatement.  I returned in college and then again as a first tour FSO assigned to Frankfurt.  The chance to bring my family back to the country – and the friends – I have loved for so long was an amazing opportunity.  That it ended up being for only a year, intensified the experience even more.

It is a rare opportunity in the Foreign Service to choose your house and your lifestyle, but that’s what we did in picking our dream home in a small German village called in Weil im Schonbuch on the edge of a massive forest.  The boys participated in the same German school traditions I remember – the lantern walks of St. Martin’s day, St. Nicholas, town festivals (“Kirmes”), spring visits to the local gelato store, and Saturday morning walks to the outdoor market.  Tony took Ma’issa on long walks through valleys and forests, we got fresh milk from the goat farm each week, we drank mulled wine at countless Christmas markets, and we were incredibly lucky to find two families in our little town who would become close friends and near constant companions (kids and adults alike).

The travel was great, but our everyday life was as close to perfect as we’ve ever had.  We had intended for it to last 3 years, but new opportunities called.  I wonder sometimes if 52 weeks of magic could have realistically extended to 156.  Maybe, but I am content to have had 529,600 pretty spectacular minutes.

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Tuscany

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Before too much time passes, I want to get a post up about our fabulous trip to Tuscany in late May (I know I am jumping around a bit, but the important thing is to get the highlights in here…right?).  My dad and Joyce came to spend another month with us before we leave Europe.  Since it has been a long time dream of my dad’s to spend a vacation at a farmhouse in Tuscany, we figured no time like the present!

We drove down from Stuttgart, while they planned on meeting us at our villa outside of San Gimignano after a couple of days in Rome.  Our drive was surprisingly easy (the boys have finally learned to relax in the car) and we arrived mid-afternoon.  We headed into San Gim for dinner and expected to see Nana and Pappy when we got back.  Unfortunately, some ambiguous directions, a remote location, and a late start rendered them lost and we spent the first night alone.  We re-grouped the next morning and met the up for the drive to Siena for the day.   It was a beautiful city, but the next time we do a similar trip I think we would choose just one “big” city to reduce the time “touring” and spend more time “experiencing.”  In fairness, I might have a different view if we hadn’t spent 90 minutes looking for parking, but I digress…

The rest of the week was a balance of wine country and Tuscan towns.  Unfortunately, it rained the first part of the week, which made staying home less appealing.  The upside is we saw quite a few of the hill towns in the area and replenished our wine stock with visits to Montepulciano and Chianti.   

         

We had a surpisingly easy day in Florence.  We found it less overrun with tourists than Siena and had some fun exploring a bit off the beaten track.  Pappy and Nanny took Dominic to see Michaelangelo’s David and then to the Duomo, where he climbed all 463 steps BY HIMSELF.  When we met back up, he was so proud and eager to tell us about his accomplishment.  Meanwhile, Tony and I took Ali with us to see David.  We didn’t expect him to get much out of it, but to our surprise, he talked about it throughout the trip and can still identify it when he sees it in a picture.  Moment like that, away from the guilt of multiple moves, changing friends, and struggles with languages, I am able to appreciate the experiences our kids are having as a result of our nomadic lifestyle. 

The rest of the week was spent eating, tasting wine, and enjoying the villa (Tony would probably argue there was a good amount of shopping in there, too, but I think it was pretty tame).  Once the weather cleared in the latter part of the week, the boys had a ball romping through the olive trees playing hide and seek with Pappy, swimming when I couldn’t talk them out of it, catching lizards and fireflies.  All in all a pretty great time.

                                                                                                

 

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Just Plain Pretty

ImageImage  We may like the work in the desert, but we are mountain people through and through.  One of the joys of Europe has been running into vistas like this.  The above is a rest stop about halfway through Switzerland on the way to Italy.  I wanted to stay and stare at the view all day.

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No Kids Allowed!

Tony and I were grateful to have a chance to get a few weekends away by ourselves this summer, thanks to my parents.  We agonized over how to use these precious days most effectively.  Ultimately, we headed first to Barcelona for a long weekend in early May.   Our focus here was really on the amazing food and wine.  Speaking for myself, though, I was much more impressed by the amazing architecture than I expected.  In particular, Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia absolutely lived up to its hype as the most incredible (although unfinished) building ever created.  We also took in a great classical guitar concert and, of course, ate.

Next up was a suprise trip to France’s Champagne region over Father’s Day.  I knew Tony really wanted to see Belleau Wood, made famous by the Marine’s in WWI, before we left Europe.  It had fallen off our agenda, however, and I decided to put it back on.  In addition to seeing the site of the famous battle, the fountain that gave the Marine’s their “Devil Dog” name, and a beautiful monument and cemetery, we spent some quality time taking in the region’s most famous product.  We went on a tour of the champagne making process that took us out to the vineyards and to a family ferementing/bottling operation and tried our first Michelin-starred restaurant (the cheese cart alone was worth the experience, while the dog yapping under the table next to us to the – very vocal – chagrin of another guest reminded us we were indeed in France!).

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Berlin

As the summer – and our time in Germany –  began to wind down, Tony picked me up from the airport one morning after a quick trip to DC and we headed to Berlin.  This was a trip we had both been eagerly anticipating.  Tony has done a lot of reading this year focused on post-WWII/Cold War Berlin and was eager to experience the complicated and magical (my word) city himself.  For me, it was a return to a city that I feel like I have seen grow up – from 1991, when the Wall was still largely in tact and Soviet soldiers still roamed the streets of East Berlin, to 1995 when it was the world’s biggest construction zone, to 2000 as the seat of Government was being moved back to the traditional capital and the city was beginning to re-establish itself on the world stage.  This visit was surprising emotional for me as I saw that the “living history” era I had been fortunate to experience had really transformed into a monument to a past I felt intimately involved in. 

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                We got to see it from an interesting vantage point – after a morning at the Checkpoint Charlie Museum, we hopped in a Trabi for a two hour drive around the city.  The only thing I remember from my last ride in one of these East German cars was the lack of shocks.  Twenty years has not improved upon that.

 

Trabi!

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      The highlight for me was a return to the East Side Gallery – or, rather, the backside of it which had been closed off on my previous return trips.  In 1991, some AFS friends and I, in Berlin for several weeks living with East German families at the midway point of our year in West Germany, took some spray paint and added our own graffiti to the Berlin Wall.  While surely painted over many times since, being back in that spot evoked some amazing memories. 

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         On our way out of town, we made one last stop in Potsdam to see the Glienicke Brucke, the bridge where Cold War spy exchanges took place and where East Germans streamed across in November 1989 as the Berlin Wall opened.  Berlin continues to have a hold on me like no other place.  After all of our travels this year around Europe, and elsewhere before that, I think I have to conclude it remains my favorite city.

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Travel Marathon

Three straight months of visitors (Jen’s dad/Joyce in May and mom for June/July), combined with our impending move, have made the last few months something of a non-stop traveling circus. We decided to eliminate from our list places with direct flights from Israel (Croatia and St. Petersburg top that list) and focus on our other priorities. I’ll try over the next couple of weeks to post on our trips to Barcelona, Tuscany, Champagne, Scanno, Rome, Berlin, and Goch (whew!).

In the meantime, though, we are hunkering down at home to enjoy our final weeks in Weil im Schoenbuch before the movers come on September 10. I think the boys have a little better idea of what “moving” is this year. As much as we hate to pull them out of their German kindergarten now that they are finally really speaking some German, the process of learning a new language has been frustrating for them and they seem ok with gambling on a new school. I fear the day they realize their new preschool will revolve around not one, but two new language (the YMCA Peace Preschool is a bilingual Arabic/Hebrew program). Anyway, this is just a placeholder as I start to get caught up on updates of our last few months. Be back soon!

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Spring Break Part 3: Wroclaw

The third and final stop on our Spring Break extravaganza was the Polish city of Wroclaw.  Prior to the redrawing of Europe’s borders post-WWII, it was the German town of Breslau.  It was both a Hitler stronghold and center of Jewish intelligentsia and, pre-dating the war, has a fascinating history.  Tony and I have both been interested in it since reading Fritz Stern’s “Five Germany’s I Have Known” and getting there was a priority for us.   We are actually lucky we made it – after a morning of pottery shopping in Boleslawiec, dreary rain, and fried little boys, I think we would have driven right on home if we hadn’t already paid for a hotel room.  Once we arrived, though, we were so glad we put the extra effort in.  It was much like a Prauge or Krakow, but without the tourists.  And the boys loved it because the city has hidden little bronze gnomes all over the place.  Ali, in particular, had a blast looking for them and getting his picture taken

 

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