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!
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).
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.
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.
On Tuesday we woke up relatively early again so that we could make it to Madrid by 1 p.m. in order to return the car. Clare wasn’t feeling that well so I drove. We ended up getting into Madrid right around 12:30, and were lucky to find a parking spot a couple blocks away from the AirBnB, which was in a pedestrian zone, right on the main square, the Plaza Mayor. It was very convenient to be right in the heart of the city with many famous landmarks within walking distance, along with street performers, souvenir shops, and restaurants. The only downside is that it was a bit loud at night while we trying to sleep.
Once again, we had some minor panic about getting into our apartment. The AirBnB host had said that the cleaning lady should be there to let us in and get the keys, but apparently she hadn’t been notified someone was coming, so she wasn’t there. After lots of climbing up and down stairs, ringing doorbells and such, we were finally able to get a hold of Jose by phone and the cleaning lady said she could be there in an hour. We left our suitcases inside the building right outside the apartment and went to return the car. Driving in the city center was very stressful, with lots of very narrow one-way streets that crossed pedestrian zones, but we made it eventually. After dropping off the car we got Spencer some McDonald’s and the rest of us ended up having Taco Bell. Generally I try to avoid fast-food restaurants like the plague, but sometimes they are handy. It is interesting to see the differences between the chains in Europe and the U.S. This Taco Bell had a Taco Tuesday deal of a crunch taco and a beer for €1.50, which seemed like a good deal. Clare had a Chicken 2.0 – which was basically a chicken schnitzel wrapped up like a taco shell with taco fillings inside it.
When we got back to the AirBnB the cleaning lady was there and we got the keys. We relaxed for a bit and enjoyed the view from the balcony, and relaxed for a bit. Clare and I then went to a nearby Lidl to get groceries. We had a quick dinner and then Spencer and I headed out to the Real Madrid vs. Viktoria Plze? Champions League game. Consistent with the late-night culture in Spain, the game didn’t start until 9 p.m., so we left around 8 p.m. to take the Metro. Google Maps had told us there would be 3 stops before we needed to transfer, but one of them was closed for construction. We almost didn’t get off at the right spot, but Spencer was paying attention and we saw the name of the station and got off. Both kids are really getting to be good travelers! We got to the stadium around 8:40, and I was shocked at how short the line to get in was. Same goes for the line for bathrooms and refreshments. I think that they have designed it well to have many different small entry points – we entered at Gate 35. Real Madrid dominated most of the game, and won 2-1. It was quite exciting. Getting back was even more exciting – the Metro was packed, but everyone was quite calm and orderly, and we eventually got back to the apartment a little before midnight.