Friday, April 25, 2008

A Night at the Casino and The Last Week

Viva..... Wiesbaden!? Well, although we didn't land hordes of Euro to set us for life like we planned, we had a great time dressing up and gambling away our piddly amount we set aside at the casino this week. Although I had been to the decadent casino a couple times before, this was the first time I gambled at the black jack table solo. Well, I didn't quite have the lucky streak that Mandy and Jason did a few weeks ago, but it was fun nonetheless and definitely improved my math skills.

The night actually was intended for the four studly men pictured on the left (Jose, Jake, Jon and Ray) to have a classy men's night out making the big bucks. Well, no one made the big bucks, sadly enough, but I think they enjoyed suiting up and feeling oh so debonair. The casino in the Weisbaden Kurhaus is truly a sight to behold and Molly and I tagged along so that we could also have an excuse to dress-up and rub elbows with the rich people (or at least the people GETTING rich). Some of these folks had stacks and stacks of 50 Euro chips at their table, all the while we were pondering why they wouldn't break our 2 Euro chips down to .50 cent Euro chips. It sure would have allowed the night to last longer!

Last weekend, Jake and Molly hosted a going away party for those deploying in the squadron. The theme was to celebrate all the holidays they would be missing over the next eight months including 4th of July, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Halloween, Election Day, Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.
When I first walked in I was totally confused as to why Molly still had her Halloween decorations up when they didn't even move in until January, but then remembered the adorable theme. It was a great party with tons of food (the most important element of a successful party), games for the kids and one last opportunity to unite with the squadron before Jon deploys and I head to the States.

Yes, the dreaded date is soon approaching, one week from today to be exact. I find myself wanting the week to speed up and slow down at the same time as I want to cherish every moment we have left together, while also wanting the countdown for the time he's gone to hurry up and begin. This last week together we have nothing major planned, but simply hope to enjoy each other, our friends, and Wiesbaden as much as possible.
Happy Friday to all!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Catlin Sisters in Germany!

Deutschland mit meine Schwestern ist wunderbar! Yes, indeed, Germany with my sisters is wonderful! I am so lucky to have such fun, fabulous sisters and the 10 days they were here were absolutely fantastic. It was so thrilling to be able to plan the trip and tour them around for once, and although we saw some amazing sites and visited beautiful towns, the best part was simply being together. Although there are more stories and adventures than I could ever try to condense in one blog entry, I did my best to include the highlights of our incredible reunion.

They arrived together on Saturday, the 29th, and Jon and I wanted to give them an authentic German welcome with German style. Me in my drundel and Jon in his 'stache and hat.

After a day of touring around Wiesbaden and visiting the Farmer's market, checking out the shops and a wee nap, we had a welcome dinner at a traditional German restaurant with friends. It was great to have them be able to meet the friends we have made here, and of course everyone LOVED meeting them! Afterward, we had a fun night at a nearby bar decked out in whimsical decorations, a bit of dancing and sparklers at midnight.

The next day, we began our traveling adventures by trekking to the medieval town of Rothenburg via the Romantic Strasse, or in German, Romantische Strasse. It was an absolutely beautiful day and was almost warm. Who would have thought - warm in April!

After settling in at our guesthouse, we took a stroll around the town. We then walked the mile on top of the wall that surrounds the town and got great views from above. Rick Steves claims that this is the best preserved medieval city anywhere, and the town works hard to keep it that way.

That evening, we went on THE Night Watchman tour that is very popular with tourists. At sunset, the Night Watchman invites guests to take a walk with him around town and provides stories of Rothenburg during medieval times. Rick Steves calls him the German Jerry Springer, and although I'm not sure I agree with that, he sure does have a great sense of humor!

The next day, we enjoyed a morning of shopping while Jon busied himself with taking photos (we have over 300 of 1.5 days in Rothenburg).We had a blast meandering down the alleys and browsing in the shop windows. Among our purchases, I received two beautiful German dolls. The wine princess girl was an early birthday gift from my two sweet sisters and I also got a Bavarian boy. What an international doll collection I will have!

After touring the largest Christmas shop ever, eating a great lunch and partaking in more photo shoots with our personal paparazzi, we said aufwiedersehen to Rothenburg and headed back to Wiesbaden.

The next day was our "local day" where we would simply enjoy Wiesbaden. We ate lunch at an outdoor cafe and then headed up to the Neroberg, which is a hill that provides beautiful views of Wiesbaden below. At the top also stands the Russian church. This was built by a duke in the 1800s in memory of his Russian bride who died in childbirth. It's absolutely beautiful inside and the golden spires can be seen from the opposite end of town above the treetops.

That night, we ate dinner and our favorite Italian restaurant, Il Mediterraneo. It also so happens that this restaurant is 10 feet from our apartment entrance. We go there quite often and enjoy their delicious pizzas, pastas and of course, prosecco. The waiters loved meeting mia sorrelle, and how could they not? They are pretty dazzling (wow, I'm turning into Jason with the cheese)!

The next day we were headed off again on our journey to experience more charming villages. This time we headed west to the town of Cochem on the Mosel River. It is an adorable town with a pointy castle that sits above town. We had a great time wandering down the streets, enjoying local wines in a weinkeller (winecellar) and eating at another authentic German restaurant. The following day, we toured the Cochem castle, which is small, yet absolutely beautiful with views of the Mosel river and steep cliffs on all sides.

Afterward, it was time to continue on our castle quest to see yet another gorgeous castle, Burg Eltz. It is claimed, once again by Rick Steves, to be the best preserved medieval castle. This 700 year-old castle is nestled between two valleys behind the Mosel River and has stayed in the same family and never been destroyed.

Two castles in one day was pretty exhausting so afterward, we headed back to Wiesbaden where we made a home-cooked meal of Mom's spaghetti and enjoyed watching American Idol. Although they are great traveling partners, sometimes it's just as fun to be doing the every day things we seldom get the opportunity to do anymore.

The next morning, Laurel and I rushed to the airport to pick up Jason, her boyfriend, only to find him waiting on us. Oops! He was a great sport about it and we were all excited to have a new companion on our journey. After a short break at my apartment, we headed out again to another castle, this time along the Rhine. Marksburg Castle was amazing and is considered to be the most authentic along the Rhine. We were able to see a kitchen, a bedroom, chapel and armory room furnished as how they would have looked in medieval times.

After our wonderful castle tour, we rode a ferry to the other side of the Rhine to the town of Boppard where we viewed a gorgeous church. No matter how tiny the towns may be, they all have magnificent and huge churches. We then traveled a little down the road to the town of St. Goar where we began our Rhine river cruise. Jason had been aching for a beer all morning, and finally on the boat we had our first opportunity to toast to our Germany adventure.

Although we only cruised for less than two hours, it seemed the numerous castles and villages were never-ending. At the beginning, it was such a thrill to spot the first castle on the hillside, and by the end of the two hours, it was like, hmm another castle, should I get up to take a picture, or do we have enough?

It was a blast and I'm so glad that the weather held out for us. We concluded our Rhine cruise in the town of Bacharach.

We enjoyed walking around this adorable town with half-timbered buildings. As the Rhine region is well-known for making Riesling wine, we decided to partake in a wine-tasting at a nearby restaurant.

We received a lazy susan with 15 glasses of wine that we took turns sipping from. It was so much fun to compare thoughts on each glass and Mandy and Laurel both bought two bottles of their favorites. I feel so lucky to get such great and cheap wine here all the time and I'm sure going to miss that when I'm back in the States!

The next day, we enjoyed another 'local' day and also went to the neighboring town of Mainz to visit the famous cathedral. That night, we got spiffied up and went to the Kurhaus in Wiesbaden where the casino is located. This is no ordinary casino, but is very fancy and sophisticated as all the dealers wear tuxedos and a dress code of suits and ties is required for men.

Although we can't take pictures inside the casino, we are standing here in the Kurhaus main entrance. The cherry wood ceiling and walls of the casino room with beautiful crystal chandeliers, fancily clad people and black jack and roulette tables made us feel as if we were stepping into the last James Bond movie. Both Mandy and Jason came out as big winners at the black jack table as Laurel and I enjoyed being mere onlookers.
The next morning, it was time to say a sad good-bye to Mandy as she headed back to Texas. The week with her seemed to fly by so quickly, but at least I will be seeing her again soon! Laurel, Jason and I headed east to the town of Bamberg. Two waterways intersect this town, and the old town hall pictured above is actually positioned mid-stream in one of the rivers. Due to the emergence of this town from WWII bombings with barely a scratch, it has numerous original half-timbered buildings. Also, this town is known to be a beer haven in the country of beer, producing over 200 varieties locally. Jason was excited to visit the beer museum and afterward, we all enjoyed a rauchbier, which is authentic to Bamberg. We had a wonderful day drinking beer, visiting the Kloster St. Michael on the hilltop above town, drinking beer, eating lunch, meandering around town and finally, drinking more beer.

When we returned to Wiesbaden that night, we met up with Jon who had been in France for a work trip. We had a fantastic evening exploring the beers of Wiesbaden (Jon's a much better tour guide in that area). It was a blast having the four of us together despite the guys tendency to get a bit rowdy around each other. I suppose boys will always be boys!

The next day, we had a surprise when it snowed all morning long. After enjoying a lazy morning, we spent the rest of the day going to the gummi bear shop, walking around one of our many beautiful city parks and our afternoon beer break.

We had a wonderful farewell dinner at the same restaurant where we celebrated Mandy and Laurel's first night and it seemed that the trip had come full circle. It began as a wonderful reunion with my dear sisters whom I love dearly and ended with a celebration of four friends who can't wait to travel and spend time together again. I feel so fortunate that I was born into a wonderful family that is so supportive, extraordindarily kind, and absolutely hilarious, and yet also have such wonderful friends who have become a part of the family I have made. Jon and I can't thank you enough, Mandy, Laurel and Jason for the effort you made to come visit us. We were overwhelmed by your generosity and enthusiasm about the trip and I can't wait until you come visit again. You are all the absolute best!

Tschussies, ciao ciao, bye-bye!