Friday, June 27, 2014

38 Stairs

June 27, 2014

I have been in Germany for a month now.  I’m here to see the kids, and help my daughter Kacie with my grandchildren – Clara/3-yrs and Chloe/6-mo – because of her job (while her husband, Pedro, is away for a couple of months because of his) for two months.
Kacie’s apartment is spacious, charmingly decorated and comfortable.  

But it is on the third floor.  That is 38 steps up or down – I’ve counted - from the front entrance of building.  I probably walk these stairs at least 20 times a day (usually lugging something heavy up them). This doesn’t count the seven other steps to basement when I need to retrieve or put away the stroller.
Kacie leaves for work around 6AM (taking the baby with her, to drop off at child care). My day starts at 7AM, when Clara awakes.  She has breakfast, and then Clara and I usually go to the apartment complex playground for about an hour around 10AM to work off some of her energy. At that time of day, there are generally no other kids (or adults – most are at work), so it’s a time of inner reflection for me while I watch her.  Clara is potty training now, so we kind of need to stay close to her “big girl” potty seat.  She goes to nursery school three mornings a week for a few hours, so I do get a break to take a leisurely shower, catch up on emails, screw around on Facebook, etc. in the meantime.

We go through a lot of these

Because of the time difference between friends in both Ecuador and in the States, it is not generally a good time to Skype any of them for a chat.
Our afternoons, after lunch, are generally a repeat of eat/play on playground/play with neighbor kids in community yard, or in apartment to watch more “Little Einstein”, “Barney”, “Mickey Mouse Club” and I believe I have reached my maximum level of forbearance listening to those theme songs.
I currently would prefer shooting a staple gun into my forehead at this point rather than hear them. I now lean towards (and tune to) “potty training for toddler” videos for Clara to watch.
If I sometimes think that my days are “boring”, Kacie’s schedule is even more grueling. She gets home around six in the evening, is still nursing Chloe, and we feed the kids, bath them, each gulp down something fast to eat, and both collapse into bed by around 10PM.

Chloe - who is such an easy going child, and
grown up so quickly, even within the time I've been here.'
We are now sitting up.

Kacie has the car all day, and there is not much nearby for Clara and I to do. However, downtown Wiesbaden market place is a 40 minute walk away (downhill going/uphill coming back – pushing a stroller), and now that I’ve acclimated and become more familiar with my surroundings…Clara and I head there several afternoons a week.  We sometimes go to the lake where we can feed the ducks, but “Gammy Leigh” has definitely wised up…as soon as Clara gets dozy and starts nodding off in her stroller, I make a beeline to the nearest outdoor café for a quiet snack and sample a German beer before making that uphill walk back home.

Whew!  I’m definitely getting a work-out here between those damn stairs and our afternoon walks to town.
My legs, butt, and calves are getting buff…..Haven’t seen this kind of work out since I last went to a gym – which was at least 20 years ago.  I can’t say the same about my upper arms (even pushing the stroller isn’t making an impact)….I’m afraid they fell a long time ago, and aren’t ever getting back up.

Thankfully, on a couple of weekends, when Kacie is off and in a “homebody” mood (and I’m itching to get out for “no kid time”) I’ve been able to spend a couple of enjoyable late afternoons exploring Wiesbaden, and early evening meals in town.

A huge multi-story department store I discovered during
one of my lone afternoon ventures out.
The grocery store was on bottom level, and I will say
This is my kind of wine department section!

A menu in German.
I  rest my case regarding
long words in that language.

I really need to learn a few more basic words in German. Thankfully, many folks in Europe speak English. 
Because if I think my español still sucks (after four years of living in Ecuador), my German language skills are truly spastic.
German is close enough to ingles that I can sort of get it when I see it written.
It doesn't help that most German words typically contain at least 27 letters, on average.

My other challenge is trying to get back up to speed with “child gear” stuff.  They are either “new-fangled” or I’ve forgotten some it.  Mostly though, they are all physically tough, confusing, or too heavy for me now.  Especially things that require “unlatching” with thumb and hand muscles that are now feeling every bit of my age.

Hell, those adjustable latches and belts on strollers, car seats, are impossible; unscrewing baby food jar lids requires some tricks and every ounce of my hand strength, and then there is that look of bemusement in my daughter’s eyes when she spies me wrestling the high chair to the floor, trying to unlock the damn tray off of it to clean (okay…that one is a bit of exaggeration).
Hauling morning fish nets off the shore of Olon would be easier for me to perform.

My ultimate nemesis are these damn buckles.

One innovation I love.
  An engineering marvel.
  And I am bringing a few of these back home,
which will be much appreciated by my friends
who know I am a klutz with major
 tendency to spill or break anything
 glass while talking with my hands.

But you know what?  Though my knees and thumbs are begging for relief, and it would be heavenly to sleep in, I wouldn't trade one minute of this time with my kids here, and it is flying by all too quickly.
I'm sure that when I get back home to Olón, I will yearn for and treasure these moments always.
I am also trying to get to England to see my middle daughter, Katherine, her hubby Clive, and 8 month old twins, Isobel and Levi, but that is becoming more complicated and expensive than I anticipated (I can only do this on a weekend, when Kacie is off work), so that is still up in the air.

To all my Olón friends!
I miss you guys and looking forward to seeing you all again!

A few of my friends who came over for
tacos and dominoes at my place
 the night before I left
for Germany. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Czech Mate

June 15, 2014

Again, for those who may just be reading this blog for the first time, I am a four-year expat living on the coast of Ecuador, in the town Olón, but now on a two month trip to Europe (primarily Germany) to visit my daughters and grandchildren living here.

My daughter Kacie took some vacation time when I arrived in Germany a few weeks ago, to help me get acquainted with my surroundings, and the kids’ routines (Clara/3-yrs and Chloe/6-mo).

Then we took a wonderful 5 night/4 day jaunt to Prague, Czech Republic  – around 5-6 hours from here (not counting stops to change and feed kids).

We stayed in the luxurious “Royal Suite” at the Hotel Residence Retezova, located adjacent to the Bethlehem Chapel in Old Town Prague.  Our suite was on third floor, and had downstairs and upstairs living areas:  2 bedrooms, 2 baths, a fully stocked kitchen, a gorgeous high-beamed living room with fireplace, and the second level came appointed with a comfortable loft den, and an outdoor balcony overlooking the chapel.
What a treat it was! 

Additionally, the staff there was wonderful and couldn't have been more accommodating, understanding, and helpful -- especially since we had such young children with us.

One view of the room

View of Bethlehem Chapel
from our outdoor balcony

Clara eyeballing the bidet for a drink

Prague is a stunningly beautiful city, with its many churches, castles, and spectacular architecture, but with a toddler in tow, and a nursing infant, we were only able to get a “taste” of the town, and somewhat limited to the sites we were able to see.  It is very much a “walkable” city, but not so much with one in a stroller, and a nursing baby in a carrier.

Another challenge was the language (I know virtually “nada” in German, and the Czech language and signs had me completely stymied. Fortunately, many Europeans speak English).  Also, although the Czech Republic is on the Euro currency system (and is accepted), the Czech “Koruna” was the preferred cash used in most shops, museums, and restaurants we visited, so I had to make several trips to local money exchange locations to trade in my Euros for that coinage…once again, all the paper bills in either currency looked like “play” money to me, and a little difficult for me to figure out exactly what I was spending from a dollar perspective.

And may I also say – it’s been quite an adjustment to be in these surrounding after four years of living in the little fishing village of Olón, Ecuador...bit of a culture shock.

One of the first sites we headed out to see was the medieval astronomical clock located in Old Town Square. The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still working.  Every hour, the clock chimes and four symbolic figures are set in motion, along with doors that open above the clock displaying the Apostles as they pass by. Crowds gather each hour in the square below and neighboring restaurant balconies to watch the presentation.

The Astronomical Clock

Old Town Square is just a fun place to hang out, with musicians and street-act performances (which reminded me somewhat of New Orleans and San Francisco scenes), and we went there often during our stay, (usually enjoying cappuccinos in the plaza, but one afternoon we enjoyed the view and lunch from the terrace balcony of the “Hotel U Prince” hotel).

The Charles Bridge, which crosses the Vltava River, was another one of our favorite places to hang out.  There are towers on both sides, and around 30 statues (baroque-style, originally erected around 1700 but now all replaced by replicas; the originals have been placed in the National Museum –according to Wikipedia) line either side of the bridge. 

Along the bridge are various art, craft, jewelry kiosks, and once again, assorted musicians.  It also provides a great view of the city, in particular, Prague Castle on the hill above it.

Kacie was carrying the baby in her chest-snuggle, I was generally pushing the stroller. I definitely have some spatial disorientation regarding the front wheels of that contraption, and several times accidentally bumped into other peoples’ feet, and ran over a few ankles with it, which really pissed off at least one lady, despite my profuse apologies.

Legend has it that if you rub the golden dog,
you are assured of returning to Prague.
So, of course, we rubbed him.

Adjacent to the dog, is the woman.
Most people rub her too.
Presumably..ummm... just to touch her butt.

One day we headed across the Charles Bridge to see the Prague Castle. The Guinness Book of Records lists Prague Castle as the largest ancient castle in the world.
We first stopped at a riverside café for lovely lunch, and Clara had a chance to throw bread at the ducks while we ate.

The café where we had lunch one day

Nearby the café where we dined (I believe in Malá Strana district of the Vltava, near a water wheel) were “love locks” on a small pedestrian bridge, which I found charming. It’s a bit of a hike uphill to see the castle, made even more challenging pushing the buggy.

A “love lock” or “love padlock” is a padlock 
which sweethearts
 lock to a bridge, fence, gate, or similar public fixture
 to symbolize their everlasting love,
 often throwing the key into the river.

The Prague Castle grounds were breathtaking. Though we bought the full-tour tickets, we arrived too late in the afternoon to see all of the buildings, and a number of areas were not accessible with a stroller.

St. Nicholaus Church

Clara enjoying the "bubble guy"
Lots of folks stopped to take her picture

I also wanted to see the Old Jewish Cemetery, and we went there late the second afternoon to check out the hours. As it turned out, it was the last time it would be open during our trip because of a two-day Jewish holiday that began the next day.  So the kids went back to the room while I raced around it for one hour before closing time to see as much as I could.

According to Wiki, “It was in use from the early 15th century (the oldest preserved tombstone, the one of Avigdor Kara, dates back to 1439) until 1787”.  Because burial space was limited, the cemetery soil was stratified, bodies were buried on top of each other, with the previous tombstones moved to the top level each time.

“The numbers of grave stones and number of people buried there are uncertain, because there are layers of tombs. However, it has been estimated that there are approximately 12,000 tombstones presently visible, and there may be as many as 100,000 bodies buried in all”.

Another place I wanted to see was a small museum my brother raved about after his first trip to Prague because of its fascinating (though grim) history.  I had a few hours our last afternoon (without kids) to go see it.

It is located in the church of St. CharlesBorro-meaus (also known in past as Orthodox Church – Saints Cyril and Method).  The crypt was the last hide out/last stand and refuge of Czech patriots/paratroopers who carried out the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich (acting Nazi “head of state” during the Czech occupation). I believe there were about 15 men who took their last stand there, when they were betrayed by a coward who was in on the plot initially. They were surrounded by 800 Gestapo soldiers, and each Czech patriot fought to their death – or committed suicide - rather than surrender. The Nazi’s retribution for this conflict was severe (two Czech towns were annihilated and more than a thousand brave Czech men, women, and children were eventually executed for their participation for helping the resistance fighters). Having the opportunity to leisurely tour this museum was very moving experience.

Taken by friendly Spaniard guy I met on my way
to the find the "Krypt". I took one for him too.
Charles Bridge in the background 

On our last afternoon/early evening, Kacie, the kids, and I walked back up the hill to the castle so we could take photos as the magical dusk glow bathed the city below.  Later we stopped at a charming outdoor café for a delicious last dinner on our way back to room (on the castle side, before Charles bridge).

I’ve driven through England, Scotland, spent a few days in Paris, and taken two really wonderful trips to lovely Amsterdam…but if I had my pick now to visit a European city again, it would be Prague.
It was a special trip, with my daughter and kids, and wonderful new memories to be forever shared with my family loved ones.

Taken our last evening in Prague

Monday, June 2, 2014

Einfahrt - Part 2

May 31, 2014

Once again, if you are just starting to read this blog, I’m a Kansas City gal, former Californian, an expat living permanently in Ecuador for the last four years – but now in Europe for the next two months to be with my kids and grandchildren living here.
I wrote this a couple of days ago, and only now able to have time to post it:



I love, love, love being here with my daughter and granddaughters, though still jet-lagged and not getting much sleep, as I adjust to being around small kids again and working around their schedules.



And after four years of living in Olón, here are a few other things with which I’m trying to get re-acquainted:

Hot water from kitchen sink.
And drinking water again directly from a sink.
A dishwasher machine.
Efficient toilets that I can throw toilet paper in.
Electricity that is reliable.
Enjoying reasonably priced nice wine that isn’t from a box carton.
Things that seem odd to me now:

Commercial jets and other aircraft flying overhead frequently (because the airspace – I believe – is restricted over the coast of Ecuador).  
When at home in Olón, I - for one - still run outside as soon as I hear a Piper 180 or helicopter fly over when that does happen.  And I get really excited when a military jet flies by.
I still haven’t quite figured out how to use some of the public restroom flush functions, nor the paper towel dispensers (I feel like the character “Nell” from Jodie Foster movie).  And I’m absolutely befuddled by some of the light switches and shower heads here too.
And the stuff available in grocery stores has me in a tizzy.
The apartment complex my daughter lives in has many families with young children, and there is a great nearby playground that I’ve been taking Clara (3-yrs) most every afternoon.

Ironically, one of the first young mothers I’ve gotten to know is Ecuadorian (she and her family are from Guayaquil, though she was USA east coast raised, but looking forward to moving back to Ecuador to be with her family).
I still only know a few words in German:
“Nein” , “ya”, “danke” and a few cuss words.
The word “Einfahrt” means “entrance” (and “Ausfahrt” means “exit” )….I only know these because we’ve been driving  the autobahns or going in and out of parking lots while I’ve been here.

We are planning a 4-5 day jaunt to Prague this coming week and I can’t wait to see that city!

I’ve been exchanging dollars for euros…which looks to me like monopoly money, but of course they are much more valuable.