It is Easter break in Germany, and we are taking the opportunity to do a bit more exploring. Saturday we spent the day in Luxembourg city. It was surprisingly quiet, in my opinion. It felt much more like a Sunday than a Saturday. Perhaps this was partly due to the shoddy weather, which alternated between wind, snow, rain, and graupel
We managed to have a good time anyways. We got to experience a glass elevator which connects one part of the city to another. We explored the casements, a system of tunnels built several hundred years ago to connect the various military towers protecting the city. That was about all we had in us for the day, given the weather, so we then headed to Trier to find our apartment for 2 nights. We stopped at the grocery store on the way to grab a few things to eat. We made the kids some noodles, and then Clare and I went out to a very nice restaurant featuring local wines.
In the fourth grade in Germany, students have to take a bike test. This includes both a theoretical and practical test. They had about 6 days where they practiced on the road. I was fortunate enough to be able to go into work late one day and help out once. I was very impressed by how well behaved all the kids were and how serious they took the training. And indeed, there was quite a bit of traffic on the road that day, even in our little town of Würselen. There was a police officer there to help teach the kids, as well as the teacher and several parents. They had to practice how to enter traffic from the side of the road using UHU – Umsehen (look around), Handzeichen (hand signal), and another Umsehen. Also note that UHU is the sound of an owl, which of course can see very well.
The theoretical portion included learning many different road signs, and analyzing lots of different situations to see who has the right of way.
Spencer did a great job with it all, and was very proud to show off his license
While we were enjoying Thanksgiving dinner this year, I happened to notice that the milk bottle from our guests was unlabeled, so I asked them where it was from “von der Milchtankstelle”, came their reply. “What’s that?”, I wondered. It is basically a vending machine for fresh raw milk from a farm about a mile from our house. The German word for gas station is Tankstelle, which literally means filling place. It does not specify what you are filling. The default is assumed to be fuel for a vehicle, but in this case it is milk. We decided to try it out, and we have been very happy with it.
Besides the fact that we get local milk which means less transportation, which is good for the environment, the vending machine is open all the time, which is handy, since Spencer usually drinks at least a liter every day. They also sell fresh eggs and butter. As the weather gets nicer, I am hoping that we can make it a chore for Spencer to go get it. It is a short bike ride, and most of the way is on a bike path.
One interesting thing I have noticed here is all sorts of different meat that we don’t usually see at the grocery store in the USA, like goose, duck, deer, and rabbit. Clare recently got some frozen rabbit on sale.
First Clare baked it with some potatoes and carrots. The meat was really chewy, so we threw it all in a pot with some water and simmered it for another couple hours. Then it got very tender! An interesting taste. Sort of in between chicken and lamb. Very lean. The stew turned out very well.
Meg is starting to learn cursive, and I noticed today that her book lists Indian (feather not dot) as the example word for the letter I. This would not be politically correct in the USA. Then again, Germans don’t make jokes about Hitler or Nazis, the dark sides of their past. Also, they still learn cursive in Germany, and by 4th grade, are expected to do most of their work in cursive, using a refillable fountain pen!
Today we painted the salt dough ornaments for the Christmas tree and made peppernuts, one of our favourite Christmas cookies. Meg and Spencer were very helpful. Pretty soon they will be able to do it all by themselves! (Although I would miss doing it with them) thanks for teaching me how to bake mom!
On Monday I took Meg to swim practice. She joined the Würselen Schwimmclub in November, and has been really enjoying it. They practice Mondays and Thursdays. I usually have meetings on Thursdays, but Mondays I often have time to take her. Some parents stay, but many just drop off. So far we have mostly been staying. This past Monday I noticed more parents than normal were there and I noticed that a mother from Spencer’s football team had a stop watch. I asked her if there was something going on, and she told me there was an internal club meet. For megs age group they had to swim 25 meters for each of freestyle, breast, and back. She did great, with times of 32, 41, and 36 seconds respectively. We are very proud of her!
Advent is in full swing here in Germany. We got 3 different advent calendars at home. The kids are exchanging gifts in their classrooms, and the Christmas markets are packed full. Würselen had its Christmas market this past weekend. It was relatively small, but quite well attended and we enjoyed it quite a bit, even though it was drizzling a bit. Meg and I went just the two of us on Saturday. Then all 4 of us went on Sunday. The Glühwein (hot spiced wine) was tasty, as was the potato pancakes and the waffles on a stick that the kids school sold.
Yesterday Spencer baked cookies with his class at school (they have a kitchen with 2 ovens). I helped with Meg’s class today (unfortunately I have to work sometimes so can’t always be there). I had asked the other parents for a recipe, but they said I should use one of my own. So everyone else had cut-out cookies, and I made spritz cookies with the new cookie press my wonderful mom sent me just in time for cookie making. It works great!
After a mostly relaxing day in Madrid, we had a more serious sightseeing day in Segovia, a town not too far from Madrid. To get there, we first took a local Renfe train (basically an express subway in Madrid which is different from the Metro system) to the north train station. We were a bit confused when we got to the north train station. There was a small board with upcoming trains, but we didn’t see ours. A friendly woman suggest we go ask someone at the counter. The only counter we saw was a bakery, but they were helpful. It turns out we had to exit this part of the train station and go upstairs to the far train part. We just barely caught our train. After a quick 37 minutes on the fast train we arrived in Segovia. Apparently the fast train is still quite new, as the train station was still partly under construction. It is also quite far outside of town, but we were able to catch a taxi into town for only about 12 Euros, which is not bad when you are traveling with 4 people. We first admired the aqueduct for awhile, which was built during Roman times. When the Moors conquered Spain they destroyed it, but some Monks rebuilt it in the 15th century, and it was in use up until the 19th century. It was used to bring water to the castle, Alcazar, which we also toured.
I suggested we use the toilet before we start walking towards the castle. We tried to go to Burger King, but it wasn’t quite open yet, so we went to McDonald’s instead. We ended up having a little lunch there, and then got on our way. It was a mostly pleasant walk through the narrow streets of the old town to the castle (other than the kids fighting and complaining). We tried to visit the cathedral on our way, but mass was still letting out, so we continued on the castle. We got the audio guides for the castle tour, and enjoyed it quite a bit. It was a very impressive building indeed, and the gardens were also splendid. After the castle tour we tried to get some lunch at a restaurant, but most of the restaurants were on siesta. However, the cathedral was open at this time, so we looked inside there for awhile. It was yet another impressive church. I particularly found the chapel with the recumbent Christ very unique. It was a very graphic depiction of his death. After visiting the cathedral, we finally ended up finding a bakery/lunch counter and had some treats there, including several tasty empanadas.
In hindsight, we should have booked a train for an hour earlier (or eaten lunch at a restaurant before they closed). We ended up waiting at the train station for about an hour for the train, but we had some time to relax and write postcards. By the time we got back to our apartment we were all quite hungry, so we had a bite to eat and then went to bed.