November 11th was St. Martin’s day, which is celebrated in the more Catholic regions of Germany, which includes Aachen. Since it is not celebrated at all in the USA, I had to learn all about it. St. Martin lived in the 4th century, and was a soldier in the Roman army. Legend has it that one day he was riding back to camp and there was a freezing homeless man on the road. He ripped his warm coat in half and gave half to the stranger. Later in his life he became a monk, and eventually a bishop. He did not want to become a bishop, but the townspeople really wanted him to. They were all encouraging him to, so he ran away and hid in a barn. The townspeople went out at night with lanterns looking for him, and eventually a goose honked, which gave away his position. He finally decided that he would be a bishop if the people really wanted him to. That’s how the traditions around St. Martin’s day started. You eat goose, and the kids make lanterns and make a parade. Oh, and they also have tasty sweet breads in the shape of St. Martin, which are called Weckmänner (around this region). Elsewhere in the German speaking areas they are known by a variety of different names such as Stutenkerl, Klaaskerl, or Krampus, and are actually usually eaten on St. Nicholas day instead of St. Martin’s day.
For our last day in Madrid, we mostly took it easy again. We walked to the royal palace and to the egyptian temple which was moved in the 1960s from Egypt because it would have been flooded with the creation of a dam. Both were a fairly short walk from our apartment. The kids really enjoyed the labyrinth-style gardens near the royal palace. After a couple hours we went back to the apartment and relaxed. This turned out to be good timing because it started to rain a bit. We did go out again to get some churros and hot chocolate, which was delicious. Clare and I had another date night, in which we simply walked around the plaza mayor and finished the last of the Lagavulin scotch we had bought at a great price in Andorra. I definitely did not want any of that to go to waste.
In the morning we packed up and started the long journey back to Aachen. Our plane was delayed by an hour or so because of plane traffic crossing the Pyrenees, so by the time we got home it was after 8 p.m. I made a quick pasta dinner while Clare went shopping, since the grocery stores are closed on Sundays in Germany. We were all happy to be home (although I was missing the Spanish weather).
Since we had all gone to bed quite late on Tuesday, we slept in and took it easy Wednesday morning. Eventually we decided to get out of the house to explore a bit, and decided to split up. The girls went to get their nails done, as a special treat to Meg, since Spencer had a treat by going to the soccer game. Spencer and I decided to head to Puerta del Sol, which Clare described as a sort of Times Square, and was only a short walk. To be honest, I was a bit underwhelmed by Puerta del Sol, though we went back a different day at night, and it was much more lively. We did see a couple street performers – a Mario and Luigi. They were very impressed with my moustache and wanted a picture with me. Well, rather, they wanted me to give them some money to take a picture with them, which I did. I usually give something to the street performers, especially the musicians, because I find live music pleasing. I keep thinking that Spencer and I should start busking in Olde Town Arvada – he can play saxophone and I can play pandeiro. We could specialize in jazz bossa novas and sambas. We’ll see if that ever happens. I had promised Spencer that Puerta del Sol might have some kiosks which sold Champions League trading cards, and sure enough they did. So we got some trading cards, and some post cards. Some of the post card images were also not that far, so we decided to continue walking on a bit to find them. We walked by the National Bank of Spain, the Palacio de Cibales, and the Puerta de Alcala. We failed to find a restaurant to both of our likings, so we ended up just going back to the apartment for lunch. There was an interesting part where a circuit tripped and we couldn’t find the circuit breaker, but eventually I called the AirBnB host and figured it out. After lunch we played some cards, and Spencer learned how to do the bridge! (shuffling cards)
While we were seeing big buildings, Clare and Meg were getting their nails done, browsing souvenir shops and getting churros. They had some good finds at the souvenir shops. Meg mostly bought souvenirs to give to others, some for Christmas. She is very generous.
One of the things I had read about in Andorra was Naturlandia – a kind of amusement park, which boasts the longest nature slide in the world, go-karts, zipline, and archery, among other things. The kids were very excited to do archery. Clare was not too excited about most of this, so we decided to split up on Sunday – the kids and I drove for 45 minutes (with approximately 6 wrong turns) to Naturlandia, while Clare relaxed and did some hiking near our apartment in Soldeu. We arrived at the park around 10:30, and it was nearly empty, because it was shoulder season. It turns out that the archery was closed, but the kids wanted to stay anyways. We ended up being one of the last people to leave at 6 p.m. The kids were really great about taking turns, since I had to go 1-1 with them on many of the attractions. Spencer really enjoyed these mini jeep go karts they had, which they called buggys. He must have ridden those about a dozen times. Meg wanted to do the Airtrekk and Zipline, which we did early in the day. I was terrified at first, but was brave, mostly because Meg was braver than I. After I got used to it, I was okay, and had a good time. Spencer didn’t want to do it at first, but after I told him my story about skydiving, he decided to give it a try. He did great, and we ended up doing it 4 or 5 times total.
Friday morning we awoke, with the plan of leaving Barcelona and heading to Valencia. We were just about packed and ready to go when Clare got a message from the AirBnB host that there was a big storm in Valencia, and that the restaurant where we were supposed to pick up the keys was probably going to close, but that we could still get the keys some other way. We decided to do a bit more investigation. I contacted one of my work colleagues in Valencia, and he said that they had closed schools and it was pretty bad. The weather forecast was calling for rain all weekend. We decided to look into other options. But first we had to leave the hotel. We took the Metro to the main train station, and used the WiFi there to do a bit more investigating. We ultimately decided to travel away from the storm – to Andorra, for three nights, then one night in Zaragosa, and then on to Madrid. Luckily we had rented a car to travel to Valencia, because we had been unable to find any train connections. Since we had booked directly with Hertz, we were able to change the destination from Valencia to Madrid, and we also paid an extra 8 Euro per day for an upgrade to an Audi A4, which was really nice driving in the mountains.
In case you don’t know, Andorra is a tiny principat in the mountains between France and Spain, and is actually ruled jointly by Spain and France. The only official language is Catalan, though most signs also have Spanish, French, and many English. It relies heavily on tourism, particularly skiing. October is definitely an off season, so we were able to get a 2 bedroom apartment with a beautiful view for three nights for only €280. It took quite awhile to figure out exactly where we were going to stay and get the car, so by the time we arrived in Andorra it was starting to get dark. When we found the apartment, which had seemed like a regular hotel when we booked it, I found that the reception had already closed – it was only open from 2-6 p.m. I tried calling the number by the door to no avail, and we started to get worried about whether we were going to be able to find a place to sleep. We all got back in the car and started to drive towards France, where we could use our cell phones (our cell phone plans here don’t charge extra for pretty much any country in the EU except for Andorra). I decided to turn around and check at a different hotel which we had passed, where I could see that the reception was open. I inquired about a room there, which was going to be over €500. I then asked if the person could help me contact the hotel we had booked, and he was very nice to help me, and we were able to get in.
I actually knew very little about Andorra before we decided to go there, other than having read a play titled Andorra by Max Frisch, which I had always enjoyed. It turns out it is a bit more populated than I had expected – about 70,000 people – though who knows how many people are there on a ski weekend – it has a lot of hotels. On the drive through Spain to Andorra I mixed my time between helping Clare with directions, taking pictures, and reading up on Andorra. I learned that there is a gigantic thermal bath there, and also a nature / amusement park. On Saturday we ended up going to the thermal bath, and it was indeed very cool. They had many different pools of various sizes and temperatures – mostly inside, and some outside. They also had several cold pools. Meg was impressively good at staying in the cold pools. I don’t know how she did it. There was one section built like a Roman bath, and the instructions were to stay in the 36°C pool for 3 minutes, then the 14°C degree pool for 3 minutes, then relax on the stone benches for 10 minutes. I didn’t last more than 30 seconds in the cold pool, but Meg probably lasted more than 5 minutes.
After the thermal baths we went into town to find some lunch. We ended up at a place called Big Ben, which was quite tasty. Spencer had a hamburger, as usual, and the rest of us had the menu with various different dishes. Clare had snails for her first course, which she said were really tasty, and the rest of us tried to not look while she was eating them. By the time we got back to our apartment it was after 7 p.m. We had some snacks and watched some Modern Family, then went to bed.
Meg recently read a Berenstain’s Bears book about Mother’s Day, which included making breakfast in bed of blueberry french toast for Mama Bear. She wanted to replicate it for Clare. We woke up around 7 yesterday and got to work. Meg did a wonderful job cracking 4 eggs without getting any shell in. Spencer helped a bit mixing it up, and cutting up some strawberries. Meg cut some tulips from our garden. Clare doesn’t actually like eating breakfast in bed, so we actually ate in the dining room altogether.
After church, we had Grandma Ellen and Great-grandma Dorothy over for Steak and Shrimp. It was a very nice mother’s day.
After we had some great fun in Philadelphia we headed up to Clinton, New York to visit the Dibbles. We had a really nice time. Highlights included visiting the Rich Dibble farm, meeting the newest addition Rosemary, hiking around Hamilton college, some great New York pizza, incredible food for Thanksgiving dinner, and a very relaxed, mostly unplugged time. Keep reading for about 80 magnificent pictures.
p.s. The above group picture was the only one which didn’t have a kid sticking out their tongue! It looks like Spencer is giving us the bird, but I think that is unintentional. Unfortunately Abe had to leave to tend to a cow before we took the picture.
This year for Thanksgiving we traveled out East. The ultimate goal was Clinton, NY, but it is kind of hard to get there, so we decided to fly into Philadelphia, and take the opportunity to visit some friends from grad school – Wendy and Craig. Wendy is now living with Pete, and Craig is living with Felicia. We stayed with Craig and Felicia, but got to hang out with Wendy and Pete too, as well as their children – Isaac, Aaron, and Vera. On Saturday, we went downtown and saw the Liberty Bell, which the kids and I had not seen before. It was a bit smaller than I expected, but it was still really cool to see. I also thought that the signs at the Liberty Bell about slavery were very interesting. Other than the Liberty Bell, we mostly just let the kids play, and the adults got to catch up. We did do a movie night – Happy Gilmore, which Spencer and Meg really enjoyed. We also went to a bounce house, which is always fun. Meg really loved playing with Craig – he spent quite a bit of time pretending to be a monster and chasing all the kids around.
We had quite a bit of fun for halloween this year. Clare dressed up as sadness from the movie Inside Out. I was a Minion. Meg was Rapunzel, and Spencer was a football player. It looks like we forgot to get a family photo, but at least we got some of the kids.
And for comparison – I was a football player for halloween when I was five. Look similar?