Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Final Days....

It's hard to believe that in the next month, Jon and I will be moving from this apartment, our squadron, Wiesbaden, and possibly Germany (though we won't be far from it). The fall season is absolutely flying by and we've been keeping busy with all kinds of activities.
As usual, the autumn is when most of the college fairs take place and my busiest time for work. This year I've had to scale back on fairs as we have the move to focus on. In October, I traveled to Berlin, Brussels, the Black Forest, and Kaiserslautern for various events. Jon accompanied me to the military fair and did an amazing job as usual talking to students. He does get a bit competitive though, and likes to see who can get more cards filled out by students. He won - but only because who can say no to those blue eyes?!
In mid-October, we spent a few days visiting the area we'll be moving to near Geilenkirchen, Germany. We were able to tour the NATO base, visit many nearby German villages, as well as see some towns on the Netherlands side of the border. Although the scenery is beautiful there, we are not quite sure we're ready to live in a farm village, and have to decide whether a farther commute to live in a city may be worth it. One thing's for sure, this will be a completely different experience than Wiesbaden. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but is making me realize how much I need to appreciate and savor our last few weeks here.
On October 18th, we took part in a squadron event in the Rheingau wine region to do some grape-picking. Several American groups do this each year and basically, a farmer has you pick his grapes off his vines for about four hours and afterwards provides a dinner and opportunity to buy some wine.
Although it was actually pretty tedious work, we had so much fun enjoying the beautiful weather with our friends and it wasn't all work. We did take lots of breaks for wine drinking and to appreciate the fruits of our labor.
Molly and me holding the extremely heavy buckets of grapes.
Last weekend, we had a farewell party for four families that are leaving the squadron over the next few weeks (including us). The evening took place at the beautiful Kloster Eberbach, which is a former Cistercian monastery and was founded in 1136. There are several vineyards around the monastery and today it is a major area of wine production.
The evening started with a tour where we learned about the start of the monastery, visited the abbey, dormitory and wine press room. We ended the tour in the Cabinetkeller, or cellar of Cabinet wines, and enjoyed tasting three different kinds.
The evening concluded with a delicious dinner in the restaurant. It was so much fun to be surrounded by the many wonderful friends that we've made over the past three years in the squadron. However, it was a very bittersweet feeling, not knowing when or if we would see many of the people again. I guess that is part of the military life and the key is to always cherish the memories and friendships made with no regrets. We plan to do just that over the next few weeks and live every moment in Wiesbaden to its utmost!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Oktoberfest: Partying with the Polkas!

The week of September 18-25 was a momentous occasion as one of my best friends from high school, Allison, and her husband, JW came to visit us in Germany. This was the first time one of my friends (non-family) from the States has come to visit and I had been looking forward to the Polkas' arrival since they'd planned the trip nine months ago.

We began the celebration with a bang by meeting up in Munich for the kick-off weekend of Oktoberfest. I had told Allison that I would be wearing my dirndl (or traditional Bavarian beer maid outfit) and had requested that she get one as well. However, she didn't sound too enthused so I was totally surprised to see not only her decked out, but also JW wearing lederhosen! It was so completely awesome, and our only regret was that Jon was the only one not wearing the gear.

Upon arriving in Munich and meeting up at their hotel, we immediately headed to the fairgrounds to see about getting into a tent with no reservations. Although you may be asking... reservations at Oktoberfest? Yes, it is imperative to have reservations, as most of the tents book up months in advance. Therefore, those without are left begging by the side door for entrance. We thought we'd simply experience the fairgrounds, hang out and then we'd probably have enough. We didn't necessarily need to have the tent experience. What we didn't know is that it's impossible to find beer anywhere on the fairgrounds. Beer is only sold inside the tent or in the tent beer gardens.

After perusing some gardens with no luck, Allison finally suggested we wait by the door swarming with people trying to get their grubby hands wrapped around a beer inside. I thought to myself, this is absolutely crazy and there is no way we're going to get in when there are 20 people in front of us. This is not 6th Street and people are a little more strict here! Nonetheless we waited and held up our hands with the number of people in our party, and low and behold, 10 minutes later we were called to the front. Of course, all the people in front of us were not happy about it, but oh well. They weren't wearing cute little beer maid outfits like we were.

Once inside, Suck-toberfest turned into Rock-toberfest! We immediately ordered beers, joined in on the sing-along with the oompah band to traditional folk music as well as contemporary music. Although we were seated at (rather standing on) a table with a group of pre-teens, we quickly realized that we were all here to have a good time and take part in one of the biggest parties in the world.

It turned out to be a complete blast and after about four hours in our 6,000 person tent, we decided to head back out to the fairgrounds in order to enjoy the rides. But first, we stopped off for some delicious bratwursts. Although I was very wary of the entire Oktoberfest venture, it definitely worked out in our favor, and although I may never choose to return and take part in the madness again, I couldn't' have asked for a better experience with more fun people to experience it with.

The next day, we did some more sight-seeing of Munich, toured the Residenz palace and then headed to Rothenburg where we would spend the night. This was my umpteenth time to visit this medieval city, but I can't resist an opportunity to show visitors its charm and beauty.

We had a great time during our overnight stay hitting up the town wall, the Nightwatchman's tour, Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum and of course, plenty of shopping!

The following day, we drove to Wiesbaden where our guests could enjoy being in one place. We spent a couple days showing them around our lovely town, eating at our favorite restaurants and introducing them to our favorite beer.... kolsch!

We did take a couple day trips to some of the many attractions nearby. The first daytrip we took was to Koln, or Cologne, where we toured the massive cathedral. Afterward, we drove to the Mosel River and our favorite castle in Germany, Burg Eltz.

We couldn't have asked for a more beautiful day to tour this castle in such a fairytale setting. As Jon and I had done the castle tour twice before, we decided to sit it out and walk around the many trails that surround the castle.

Our next day trip was to Burg Reichenstein along the Rhine River. This was actually a castle I had not been to, which was why it was such an appealing option. I wasn't expecting anything fantastic, but boy was I in for a surprise. It was a gorgeous castle with a commanding view of the Rhine and several watchtowers you could climb up to. The castle itself is tourable on your own, so we got to take our time enjoying every room and section of the castle. Although the rooms may not have been as authentic as Burg Eltz, it was still wonderful to see the beautiful architecture, gardens and chapel of the castle.
Afterward, we drove to the wine village, Bacharach, where we had lunch and a wine-tasting.

A view of Bacharach and the Rhine below.

On our final night together, we decided to celebrate in style with a dinner at La Bodega, our favorite Spanish restaurant. After enjoying delicious tapas, Rioja wine and live Spanish guitar, we headed to the Kurhaus and Casino.

Although it was a slow night at the casino, it was fun to experience the sophisticated beauty of the building and enjoy a cocktail. It was the perfect finale to a perfect trip. Although the four of us hadn't had the chance to spend too much time together before this trip, we ended up having the most amazing time and I can't wait for many more opportunities to enjoy each other's company in the future. It's always a gift when you the husbands of two friends can mesh so well together.
Thank you so much, Polkas, for coming to visit and being such wonderful travel partners. We hope you'll come again!