Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Christmas in a Castle

(To tune of White Christmas)...."I'm dreaming of a medievel Christmas, in a lovely castle along the Rhine."

And that's just what we got! This year, Jon and I spent Christmas in Shonburg Castle located in the village of Oberwesel on the Rhine River. It was an amazing experience and it was special to be able to spend it with our dear friends, Dave and Michelle, and Michelle's parents. We arrived at the castle in the afternoon of Christmas Eve and enjoyed our complimentary sherry and cake in D & M's tower room.

After exploring the castle grounds, we all retired to our rooms to get ready for our gourmet Christmas Eve dinner. We had four delicious courses of fancy food and exchanged gifts around the table.

Jon and I received some adorable coffee mugs with Australian animals on them.

After dinner, we all went to the tower to sing carols together, and read the Christmas story.

The castle was incredible and although it was no Christmas at the ranch or farm, it was an amazing experience we will never forget. Below are pics of the castle grounds;

After breakfast on Christmas Day, we embarked on a mini-tour of the Rhine and visited the Loreley (famous rock cliff that is legend to be home to a fair maiden) and later meandered along the Rhine to the town of Rudesheim where we had the famous Rudesheimer coffees.

Jon and I returned home and had a couple hours to prepare our potato dishes before going to our the Grades house for Christmas dinner. We enjoyed a delicious turkey with all the sides, but were eager to return to our apartment for the gift opening extravaganza. We had so much fun opening the many gifts from our families and each other.

In addition to a beautiful ring, Jon got me a karaoke game with microphones to play on his new Playstation 3. So, in true Clough fashion, between every gift we opened, we sang a song.

It was the perfect Christmas Night together and although we missed our families, we made the most of it and had a fantastic time with just the two of us. But, we weren't completely alone. We did have our mascots the Fox and Weasel taking part in the fun with us.

Tomorrow is New Year's Eve, which means we will be hosting the annual New Year's Eve pre-party followed by a fireworks display at the Kurhaus (Casino) near our apartment. I'm looking forward to another great celebration to ring in the new year. It just keeps getting better and better!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Squadron Christmas Party

On Friday, we had our squadron Christmas party and Jon was the MC for the second year. He did an excellent job keeping everyone entertained throughout the night and it was great to have almost the entire squadron able to attend, as most everyone is returned from deployment.

Erich was voted the "Elf" for the party and was lucky enough to wear this sylish outfit most of the night.

Molly, Nancy and me

On Sunday, Jon, Michelle and I all participated in our church cantata. I sang in the choir while Jon and Michelle narrated. It was a fun weekend and I'm looking forward to many more holiday events ahead!

Italy..... It's Amore!

A week after Jon's return to Germany, we headed to Italy for what we called our "second honeymoon." We stayed in the northern region of Italy, in the Veneto, for 10 glorious days! This is the region where I studied abroad for a semester while in college, and through our connection with this program (and my parents' friend and owner of the school, Al) we got to stay in a faculty apartment for the duration of our visit. It was an incredible time of being together with plenty of laughs and adventures experiencing the dolce vita. After a snowy and overcast drive through Germany and Austria, the sun broke through when entering Italy proving that everything really is more bella in Italia (I might be somewhat biased).

Our first day, we decided to hike Mt. Grappa, which looms over the towns of towns of Paderno, Crespano and Bassano del Grappa. Although it is normally an all day hike, we didn't embark until the early afternoon only wearing our running clothes.

There wasn't much running considering the steep grade, and we even had to climb the "Iron Ferrata" or Iron Way, which is a cable nailed into the side of a cliff to help you climb.

It was pretty fightening considering it was straight up for a while, but Jon was an excellent encourager. Once at the top, the views were incredible at sunset.

Because we weren't able to enjoy the views for too long, needing to head back down before it was completely dark, we returned to the top of Mt. Grappa the following day. But, this time we drove.
We toured the impressive World War I monument at the top and enjoyed a picnic lunch just off the windy, narrow road that snakes across the mountain.

The next day we had planned to go to Venice and awoke to a snow-covered Grappa Valley. It was amazing - the previous two days were perfectly clear with plenty of sunshine, and the following morning the country-side was completely blanketed with snow. After staring in disbelief at the winter wonderland outside, we decided to leave for Venice. We drove to the nearby town of Castelfranco and took the train from there.

Walking out of the train station, Jon was in complete shock. Although I had told him how amazing Venice was, he was in awe of this city on water. We took a water bus to St. Mark's Square, dropped off our bags and had an amazing two days exploring this fascinating city. Papparazzi Jon got a little carried away in this pircture perfect city and took endless photos, but I'm only sharing a few of my most favorite.
St. Mark's Square at night....

St. Mark's Square during the day with the basilica in the behind.

Jon was attacked by the brazen pigeons while eating his daily ciabata sandwich.

Besides getting incredibly lost navigating our way through the narrow alleyways and canals, we visited St. Mark's cathedral, the Doge's Palace and of course, had to take a gondola ride.

After our trip to Venice, we decided to explore some of the nearby towns in the Veneto region.

We went to the town of Bassano del Grappa, which is popular for their landmark bridge and landmark distillery that makes the digestive, grappa, or hellfire in a bottle.

After touring Bassano del Grappa, we went to Marostica where we experienced a gourmet dinner in a castle the night before. Above this medieval town sits the ruins of a castle that has now been converted to a restaurant. We climbed to the top on a stone path through olive orchards.

After a week of divine sunshine and exploring the beautiful towns of the Veneto, we traveled north to the heart of the Dolomites.... Cortina. It snowed our entire drive to Cortina and we were excited about the opportunity to ski on fresh powder the first weekend the ski runs would be open this season.

Although it was challenging skiiing through the intense powder, we had so much fun and the snow even let up and the sun broke through for a couple hours. This is such a beautiful town and I can see why so many people vacation here each winter.

It was sad to leave our Italian adventure, but then again we were only heading back to Germany. How bad could it be? We're still in Europe, the Christmas markets would be in full swing, the holiday season is near, but best of all.... we're together. We really ARE living the dolce vita!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Return of Juan

On November 14th, all things in the world became right again; Jon returned from Iraq! I greeted him at the Ramstein, Germany, airport terminal with many of his squadron buddies and it truly was one of the best moments of my life. It has been a long 6 1/2 months, and although we both had plenty to keep us busy, it was time to be reunited. We are thrilled to be able to stay another full year in Germany and will be leaving next November, 2009. That means another spring, summer and early fall in Europe and a busy travel schedule of all the places we have yet to see. Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers during our time apart.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Hills Are Alive....

With Larry, Charmen and Cathleen. Yes, that's right. Lar joined in on the European fun on October 5th and we had a tremendous time touring Austria and Switzerland together for two weeks.
However, before venturing south of the German border, we did make a mid-day stop to the charming medieval town of Rothenburg.

After touring around and grabbing lunch, we continued our journey south to Salzburg. Our first day, we took a tour of Hitler's Eagle's Nest, in the town of Bertchesgaden, Germany, near Salzburg.

Surprisingly, there isn't much there, other than the one building at the top that was built for Hitler by his Nazi party as a gift. He actually only went there a handful of times, but to get to the top is quite impressive. You have to walk through a long tunnel and ride a brass elevator to the top.

Once back in Salzburg, the sun was shining and we walked through the beautiful Mirabel Gardens.

The following day, Lar and Charm did the Sound of Music tour. They were able to visit the famous gazebo (during song, "You are Sixteen, Going on Seventeen"), the house used in the film and the church where Maria got married.

View of the fortress and Salzburg's old city.

Salzburg's old city.

After two days in Salzburg, we traveled an hour south to Hallstatt, in Austria's Salzkammergut Lake district. This adorable village nestled into the hillside, sits along a gorgeous and peaceful lake.

We had a wonderful and very relaxing overnight stay in this quiet and quaint setting.

Next, we were off to the western part of Austria, to Innsbruck. Here, we met our friends, Al and Cristina, who joined us from Italy for two days. Most of our time consisted of visiting restaurants adn experiencing Austrian cuisine. One morning we did trek to a palace on the edge of town that was frequented by the Hapsburgs during summers. There were beautiful gardens surrounding the palace.

We also visited the neighboring village of Hall. The old town is actually larger than Innsbruck's and we enjoyed listening to an oompah band while having coffee in the market square.

After Austria, we headed to the Black Forest of Germany where Lar and Charm participated in a mission trip with their church for several days. Afterward, we enjoyed one final weekend together in Lucerne, Switzerland.

We had a lovely time walking around this beautiful old city alongside a lake with the Alps in the distance. The Chapel Bridge is beautiful as it snakes across the lake from one side of the city to the other.

We took a sunset boat cruise on the lake.

The following day, we trekked to the top of Mt. Pilatus, which towers over Lucerne. To get to the top, we rode the steepest cogwheel train in the world. Luckily, it was a clear, sunny day and the views were magnificent.

We had the best time together and I feel so lucky that I can have so much fun with my parents. They truly are two of the most remarkable people I know and I can't wait for many more traveling adventures ahead!