Last weekend we spent much of the time celebrating the button in our family – that is, the person who holds everything to together – Clare. Meg made several projects for her, including one that was a school project, plus several she came up with on her own, or saw on youtube. While Clare was at work the kids and I went shopping a couple times in downtown Würselen to get some presents – including ordering some flowers, and some fancy Belgian pralines.
Clare requested scallops for her special meal. I went on Friday to the local fish monger, but they were out. They said they would have some on Saturday. I went back Saturday, and they still didn’t. So I got a nice salmon filet instead. Clare got some fresh asparagus from the local farm stand, and we had a nice meal. We decided to eat on Saturday instead of Sunday, because it was fresh.
On Sunday, Meg woke up around 7 o’clock to get all the surprises ready for Clare, including making french toast. I went out to get rolls from the bakery for pulled-pork for dinner. I was also going to pick up the flowers from the florist we had ordered earlier in the week. I ended up not getting rolls, as the line at the bakery was half-way down the street, and it was starting to drizzle a bit. so we ended up having our pulled pork sandwiches on english muffins instead, which was still good. Clare also bought fresh strawberries and rhubarb at the farm stand. There was just enough for 2 pies. The strawberries were so sweet that I halved the sugar. I also need to remember to thank my mother for teaching me how to make pie. We shared one of them with our friends down the street at typical “Kaffee und Kuchen” time. They provided the coffee, which is always very tasty. It was the first time we had visited anyone in nearly 2 months! (thanks Covid 🙁 )
I’ve been making this recipe long enough that I have made it my own and want to keep track of the recipe. Spencer loves these muffins with cream cheese. These have been a good treat to make during the COVID-19 isolation, until we ran out of cream cheese.
1/3 cup (75 g) melted butter
3 very ripe bananas, peeled
1/2 cup sugar
1 vanilla sugar packet
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1 Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C), and spray oil in a silicon muffin pan.
2 In a mixing bowl, melt butter in the microwave. Mash bananas into melted butter.
3 Stir in the sugar, beaten egg, and vanilla sugar (or extract).
4 Mix in the baking soda and salt. Sift and mix in the flour in 3 half-cup portions.
5 Pour the batter into your prepared muffin pan. Bake for 10 minutes at 350°F (175°C), or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. If you prefer it as bread, you can use a loaf pan, but then it bakes longer ~ 45 minutes.
6 Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for a few minutes. Then remove the banana muffins from the pan and let cool completely before storing, if there are any left after devouring them while still warm.
Originally inspired by this recipe: https://www.simplyrecipes.com/recipes/banana_bread/
For our second full day in Berlin we first headed to the Berlin wall museum at Checkpoint Charlie. I think we all really enjoyed it. There is a huge amount of artifacts and information about the wall packed into a relatively small space. Other than the occasional piece of the wall here and there scattered about Berlin, it is nearly impossible to notice the differences between West and East anymore.
For our first full day in Berlin, we headed out to Potsdam to visit the famous palace of Sans Souci, which means “without worry” in French. Frederick the Great spent his summers there in the 18th century. The entire park houses several different palaces. Sans Souci was Frederick the Great’s favorite palace. It is actually not that big for a palace, with only about a dozen rooms. We took the train from Berlin out to the park. We arrived near the new palace, but had timed tickets for Sans Souci, which is on the other side of the park, so we had a pretty long walk to get there. Fortunately it wasn’t rainy.
After the tour of Sans Souci we had a little snack of leftover rolls from breakfast and some fruit, and then found a bus that took us back to the new palace for the tour there. We stopped at the museum shop there to get a cookbook that Meg liked, and then we got a tour of the new palace, which is much bigger than Sans Souci. Frederick the Great had it built to display the wealth and power of the kingdom of Prussia. Emperor Wilhelm the second spent much of the last several years of his reign during World War I here. One of the many interesting facts we learned was that Frederick the Great allowed common people to tour the palace even while he was in power, so long as they were dressed appropriately (which for women apparently meant wearing a dress 6 feet wide).
After the tours we had a tasty lunch at a Vietnamese restaurant in Potsdam, then made a brief stop at the Nauener gate before heading back to our aparment in Berlin near the Brandenburg gate.
We had to change trains from the S-Bahn to the U-Bahn at Zoologischer Garten, and I managed to drag everyone to the Kaiser Wilhelm remembrance church, which, while only a few blocks away, seemed long for tired legs. I think it was worth it though, to see the contrast of one mostly-destroyed church from WWII, and the new church right next to it, which is bathed in blue light from the stained glass windows.
The swim club has an internal swim meet every December. In January they present the awards. Meg was really excited for it. Last year she got 3rd place, and this year 2nd. Her times were: 56.40 50m freestyle, 1:10.22 50m breast, and 1:09.84 50m backstroke. This was Spencer’s first year, and he didn’t make it into the top three, mostly because he was just getting over from a nasty cold, but he still got a medal. His times were 47.78s 50m freestyle, 1:06.72, 50m breast, and 1:05.13 50m backstroke. We are very proud of both of our swimmers!
We ended up being very busy in the Advent season with a number of activities for the kids, so we did not get to as many christmas markets as we had hoped. A colleague had mentioned to me that one of the several markets in Cologne remained open until January 6th, so we decided to check it out a few days after Christmas. Clare needed to get her screen replaced on her iPhone, so we used the Apple Store appointment as an excuse to get there (turns out it was only the screen protector that was cracked after all!). The kids had been asking to go ice skating in London, but we said no because it was super crowded. So this time we said yes. Clare was patient while the three of us went skating. It was certainly one of the most pleasant skating experiences of my life. With mulled wine and smoked meat wafting through the air, surrounded by pine trees, in the historic downtown of Cologne, with the cathedral in the distance. It was worth the price.
After seeing 2000 year old civilization in Italy in October, we decided to go back even further in time in December to visit experience the druidic magic of the sunrise during the winter solstice at Stone Henge. Clare found a tour which would take us from London to Stone Henge, where we would get to stand right in the middle of the rocks, a privilege only 1% of visitors to Stone Henge get. Usually you can only look at the stones from a path around the perimeter.
Before our adventure to Stone Henge started, we had a few adventures along the way. Clare had booked an apartment in London back in June, and shortly before the money was due for it, she had the feeling that it might be a scam, after reading a review that it was a fake address. So she ended up booking 2 rooms in a regular hotel instead. It started to seem more and more like National Lampoon’s European Vacation. We had also booked train travel from Aachen all the way to London, taking the Eurostar train from Brussels to London. But then we learned that the French train service was on strike, and there was a pretty good chance that our train from Aachen to Brussels might be cancelled. So at the very last minute we decided to drive to Brussels instead and park there. We ended up parking at the best parking garage ever – Park Indigo. Not only was it freshly painted and clean, but it had hanging foam dividers between each parking spot, and classical music playing. And it was only 15 Euro per day, half the rate of the parking at the train station, and only 3 blocks away.
We arrived safely on Saturday afternoon as planned, after a very enjoyable train ride. After checking in at the hotel, we went to the London Eye, the big ferris wheel by the Thames. Spencer didn’t want to go, so he and I went bowling while Meg and Clare went on it. Then we had some tasty Korean mexican fusion street food, headed back to the hotel, and called it a night. Sunday morning we woke up at 3 a.m., quickly got dressed, and headed out in a cab to the place where the bus was picking us up. We got on the bus right around 4 a.m. and arrived at Stone Henge around 7 a.m., where we had about a 20 minute walk to the stones. Meg was wearing her new scout jacket, which is waterproof and quite warm, and was eager to show us all how she is a better hiker than us, and kept walking ahead, in spite of my requests not to. When we got to the stones, the Druidic ceremonies were just about to start. I set my backpack down for a minute to pull out my camera, and then Meg was gone. A minute or two later Spencer and Clare came back to me, and we could not find Meg, but the ceremonies were starting, so we just walked towards the stones. Soon we were crowded in by hundreds of people, and there was no turning back. Meg ended up finding a security guard, and ended up watching most of the ceremony with them. After the ceremony was ever it didn’t take too long to find her, and she didn’t seem that worried about the whole thing. It seems she had even a better spot for viewing the ceremony than the rest of us. That is one independent girl!
While Stone Henge was the big reason we went to England, we also had some time to explore London as well. After we got back from Stone Henge we had a little time to relax, then we headed to Westminster Abbey for an organ concert. Once again, Clare’s research was spot on – it was fairly expensive to get a tour of the church, but concerts are services and are free, though it did require a ticket in advance. It was a very nice concert. Afterwards we had dinner at a typical London pub.
The next day we headed first to the Tower of London, which housed many famous prisoners throughout history, as well as the Crown Jewels. We walked along the Thames some, then had pizza at a place recommended by a work colleague from Naples. We toured the National Gallery at Trafalgar square a bit, walked past Buckingham palace, and then headed back to the hotel with tired feet. Clare and I had a date at a nearby Indian restaurant and brought back some takeout for the kids.
The next morning it was time to get back on the train already. We got to King’s Cross station with enough time to stop by platform 9 3/4, where they have set up a Harry Potter shop. The trip back on the Eurostar train was very enjoyable, and our car was waiting for us back in the nicest parking garage ever. We got home in time to open a few presents before shutting our eyes and dreaming of der Weihnachtsmann.
After Stone Henge our tour bus continued on to Salisbury, which has one of the largest churches in England. Unfortunately we could not go into the church itself because they were having services, but we did get to tour the grounds a bit and we also got to see one of the original copies of the Magna Carta, which is also housed there. You’re not allowed to take pictures of the Magna Carta itself, but we do have a few pictures from inside the room.