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Our Last Full Day in Europe

by Ben

semi-overcast 26 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

The Gate to Hannah's School in Nancy

The Gate to Hannah's School in Nancy

A wonderful three days with the Poirot family are behind us and only one full day in Europe remains. It was a sad and exciting prospect at the same time. We are eager to be home to see family and friends and experience the joys of a regular productive lifestyle. Nevertheless, we (perhaps just Muriel and I) are sad that the adventuring and sightseeing are now just memories.

Before we left our apartment in Nancy we purged our possessions of worn clothing and shoes to make space for a few souvenirs we bought during our travels. Since each of us only has one backpack and one daypack we needed to keep our acquisitions to a bare minimum. This is a good thing, otherwise we would have likely spent a fortune on the many items we definitely felt like buying but had no space for.

On our way out of Nancy we stopped by the school Hannah attended. The school has at least one structure that dates back to the late 1400's and has some large buildings that are certainly a couple of hundred years old. It is a large campus with a mishmash of buildings of which some are a bit rough around the edges. It was hard to imagine a 15 year old Hannah on her first day venturing into this maze of buildings with thousands of new faces moving to and fro. I would have felt more than just daunted by the prospect. We now have an even greater appreciation of her courage and pluck to have travelled from Canada to France and to live for three months in a totally new environment with only her exchange “sister” as a familiar face.

Hannah's School in Nancy

Hannah's School in Nancy

For the final time we took another “road trip.” It was a four hour drive to Frankfurt mostly along secondary roads through farmland. We had our last roadside picnic which was a hodgepodge of leftover food items. A saving grace was that we still had a bar of Swiss chocolate with which to end our repast. We also enjoyed our last few podcasts together. They have been an edifying addition to our travels. So for one last time I will list our favourites in no particular order as being the Vinyl Cafe, This American Life, DNTO, Wiretap, and Stuff You Should Know. I think our favourite family choice of music has been the quirky and eclectic music by Cat Empire, a band that hails from Australia.

Our apartment in Frankfurt is a “unique” affair which makes it the perfect place to spend our last night in Europe. It was just renovated a few weeks ago and even so it has a number of unconventional touches fir an apartment advertising on Booking.com such as a nearly transparent glass sliding door on the bathroom (use your imagination), a hidden fridge in the living room, blue LED ambiance lighting throughout, a living room sectional that could easily sit ten people and sleep six, and a bed with a flower studded purple headboard with a large blue portrait of a naked woman hanging over it. The owner who hails from Bulgaria has been renovating and renting apartments for nearly 12 years in Spain and has recently moved to Germany to create better opportunities for his children. Apparently, he must have found that this kind of decor was good for business. I am just wondering what line of work his clientèle are in and whether we are somewhat unusual customers for him.

We will watch the final episode of West Wing this evening, something Hannah and Abby thought would be appropriate to watch on the last evening of our trip.

Posted by KZFamily 12:07 Archived in Germany Tagged germany frankfurt Comments (11)

Seeking Thrills

BY MURIEL

semi-overcast 15 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Alpsee bergwelt walk

Alpsee bergwelt walk

We have been able to do some amazing things on this journey. Seen large cathedrals designed by architectural masters. Traipsed over Greek amphitheatres 3000 years old. Swam in the Mediterranean in February. Walked the hills and dales of Great Britain, following in the Romans' footsteps. Followed a Greek Orthodox procession for the town saint's day. Granted, all those were wonderful events. However, we are not yet sated and are still looking for new adventures. And today, we found one. It was unlike anything any of us had tried before, on the trip or otherwise. The adventure involved a roller coaster, a German ski hill, hand brakes, and an adolescent now less intimidated to try driving lessons. Throughout the Bavarian area, there are a number of alpine coasters and slides. Both use gravity to propel a sled or cart down a fibreglass slide or steel rails, allowing the rider to control their own speed with hand brakes. The coaster seemed marginally safer so we opted for that type of adrenalin ride.
To get to the top of the ski hill, you can either walk or take the chairlift. We told ourselves the chairlift would provide excellent views , thereby convincing ourselves to avoid the steep walk. And views it indeed provided: lush green hills, interspersed with clumps of trees; herds of cattle roaming lazily about; a group of beautiful young horses with tan-coloured bodies and white manes galloping together like a gang of adolescents; and red-roofed villages nestled among the hills. It was a beautiful ride, topped off by a walk and picnic overlooking the majestic countryside. Once we had our fill of the landscape, we made our way to the Alpsee Bergwelt alpine coaster. Ben noted it was the longest one in Germany and would take about four minutes to ride down the hill. That was so comforting. Men know just the right thing to say.

Alpsee bergwelt area

Alpsee bergwelt area

This is how it goes. Each cart allows for up to two participants. You choose to go alone as then there's more of a chance that one of you or your lineage survives to tell the tale. Your husband goes first, followed by your daughter, the child electing to be sandwiched by both parents so that at least she won't be sued when something goes terribly wrong. You place yourself in the (basically plastic) orange sled and buckle up the harness, hoping it keeps you in the sled, and try not to think about what is to keep the sled on the track. The indifferent attendant spews several sentences of German at you, presumably all safety instructions and you nod your head knowingly, hoping most of the mechanical aspects are largely intuitive. You must maintain a minimum distance of 25 meters between you and your predecessor. Knowing that the sled, and consequently you, may reach up to 40 kilometers per hour, you quickly calculate that this allows you approximately two seconds to access all your prior alpine coaster driving knowledge (exactly zilch) and effectively respond to a potential crash situation. You decide to wait longer at the top so as to increase the distance between you and your daughter. But that is not to be as it is actually the German attendant who spaces sleds, and to him, time is money. Supposedly, the gap is 25 meters but to you, it seems like only ten. So be it. You take one hand off the brake to cross yourself, remembering that that's supposed to help in situations like these. Gravity kicks in immediately, even though it is a slow start. You determine it is time to check the brakes even though you are still close enough to reach back and grab the attendant by the throat. With some surprise and not unsubstantial gratitude, you note that the brake levers do indeed seem to slow the sled. The attendant motions for you to get going and waiting patrons sigh impatiently. The first several meters take you around a gentle curve and you think this is doable after all. But, you already see your daughter speeding up ahead of you so you know the adrenalin rush is coming quickly. You think, ever so briefly, how nice her purple hair looks in the wind and wonder if she's screaming already or merely has her mouth open like that due to the g-force. Gravity has now found its friend, acceleration, and together, all three of you are off. As you fly by another corner, you wonder why they have installed cheap steel netting around the coaster rails if this is supposed to be entirely safe. And if a sled does come off the rails, can that chain mail mesh really catch it? But, there's no further chance to think of that just now, as you see they have introduced a series of rolling bumps just ahead. Manoeuvring that obstacle by clenching your teeth tighter, you move into another switchback turn. The green pasture looms up before you as you turn perpendicular to the ground. Good to know that three point harness works well. Your child is nowhere to be seen. She has either flown off the tracks or has more trouble than you at remembering to use the brakes. Your in-the-doghouse husband, who suggested this activity, is far ahead. Maybe. You don't really care. You have enough on your mind right now. Why is he always demanding your attention? You vaguely recall having read about one of these alpine coasters having a 360 degree loop engineered into it and now regret not having determined if it might be the one which you now find yourself riding. Again, there's no time to follow the thought through to its end as the switchbacks come faster and faster.

Hamming it up after the ride

Hamming it up after the ride

You hear a cow moo and realize it shares the same field as the coaster. You sense that it is anticipating eventual bovine rule of the earth if this is the way humans continue to behave. There is a straight stretch and you are thankful for the lull in curves. Momentarily thankful, that is, when you realize it's the curves that have been keeping the acceleration at bay. The stretch now allows you to realize the full possibility of speed. You are mesmerized, amazed you find yourself in this position, temporarily suspending belief. By then you are aware of an unusual feeling, centered around your midriff, gnawing at your insides and causing you to widen your eyes as it finally erupts. A laugh ripples out of you and you claim that right of childhood, to experience and demonstrate unabashed glee. Acceleration is now your friend too and you urge the sled on. When you see your daughter ahead, coming closer (or is it you coming closer?), you shout, "Faster, you have to go faster!" You see she is not the hold up but that it is actually the man in front of her. Who is he again? And why do they let people like that on here, who slow up the entire operation? Fortunately, there is a fast part now, one where it seems impossible to slow down and the chain of people all move at a quicker pace. The rush is fantastic, both outside and within. You have found your centre and let the current around you carry you down the mountain. At the very end, you gradually slow, and before it even comes to a full stop, you unbuckle and jump off the sled and say to your windswept partners, "When can we go again?"

For a visual idea of what it is like, I refer you to someone else's video of the ride here.

Posted by KZFamily 01:51 Archived in Germany Tagged hiking germany coaster Comments (7)

Gorgeous Breitachklamm

by Ben

sunny 24 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

Breitachklamm Gorge

Breitachklamm Gorge

A brilliant blue sky and blazing sunshine greeted us this morning. I saw it a great deal earlier than everyone else having gotten up a little after 5:00 am. I had a number of business items from home nagging at the back of my mind so I decided to put them to rest since I could not. I was able to work through them along with half a pot of coffee before anyone else darkened the kitchen doorway.

The concept of re-entry into the real world is beginning to make itself known. I think it is a good thing to start gradually mulling over post nomadic life. There are many, many things to look forward to about life back at home, especially the people. We have no worries about Hannah and Abby’s re-entry into home life, especially since it will still be August vacation when they return. The process of Muriel and I getting back in the saddle may be a little more difficult but at least we are trying to prepare for it by chatting about more frequently over the past couple of weeks.

Breitachklamm Gorge

Breitachklamm Gorge

The wonderful weather did not greet a totally copasetic trio of women. Somehow a cold virus has once again hitch-hiked along on our vacation. It seems each country has its own version of cold virus to share. Although all three of my girls were somewhat subdued by head colds they were not ready to declare defeat—the weather was just too perfect to stay home. Our host had ladened the table in our foyer with countless brochures about sights and activities in the area. Unfortunately, every last one was in German, so we had to rely on the pictures to give us some ideas as to what was most promising. We saw a great photo of a gorge walk that also featured an icon indicating it was an easy stroll which seemed perfect for a group that wasn't functioning on all cylinders.

The length of the drive to our destination was not ideal but time lines can be compressed somewhat when you get to drive the autobahn which has no speed limit. In a diesel powered Renault Kangoo, which has less than 100 HP, there is no danger of getting to the 200 km/h speeds that we see the BMWs, Mercedes, Audis and Porches getting up to, but 150 km is quite achievable and normal pace for most. The Germans only seem to be in a hurry to get to a place to relax and enjoy the outdoors. In this region the numbers of people out walking, hiking and biking at anytime is staggering. It is inspiring to see the passion for the outdoors is multi generational. The only thing that takes a bit of getting used to is how the Germans outfit themselves for any kind of hike no matter how short or gentle. Everyone is smartly dressed in the latest in expensive outdoor fashions complete with huge hiking boots, large backpacks and trekking poles that seem more appropriate for scaling the Alps then a few kilometre stroll over asphalt and well packed gravel.

Breitachklamm Gorge

Breitachklamm Gorge

The Breitachklamm Gorge is one of the deepest in central Europe. In 1905, Priest Johannes Schiebel was the first person to trek the whole length of the gorge, which is quite a feat considering it is only walkable today because of a great deal of blasting work and walkways attached to the canyon face. Schiebel’s description of the gorge is more of a backhanded compliment than poetic musing. He is quoted as saying the gorge is “Not a devils’ work, but a godly creation!” I am not sure I would have been a big fan of his homilies if the first thing he needed to assure me that this canyon was anything but divinely gorgeous. Despite that, I can’t dislike a guy who is responsible for making such walk accessible today.

With the temperature being in the mid twenties and it being a weekend, the walk was extremely popular. As with many walks in southern Germany, the wild is made comfortable and civilized by having restaurants located at both ends and plenty of benches to sit on. Our very pleasant outing showed us once again that Canada does not own all the rugged beauty in the world (a huge share mind you) it just has less people walking all over it.

Posted by KZFamily 01:49 Archived in Germany Tagged germany breitachklamm Comments (3)

Oberschwarzenberg

By Hannah

sunny 23 °C
View Koning/Zemliak Family Europe 2012/2013 on KZFamily's travel map.

It's finally starting to feel like spring over here. Actually, it feels more like summer than spring. It seems that we've skipped spring altogether this year. We took advantage of the gorgeous weather today and took a walk through the German countryside. There were fields of wildflowers and rolling hills on all sides. We came across a number of cows lazing about in the sun, and a little glen dubbed "Hexenwald", which roughly translates to "witches' forest". There was a tiny cottage and a dried-up well where two recently transformed frog princes were perched.

The Frog Prince meets his princess

The Frog Prince meets his princess

Our current home is comfortable, warm and just the right amount of rustic. We get to hear a herd of cattle walk by twice a day, bells clanging. We also have a few pet cats wandering about outside. There are supposedly three or four of them, but we've only seen two. The friendliest of these is named Emma, and she's made her way inside a number of times, so she and I have bonded over the time spent carrying her to the door.

We tried more German sausages, and found that we much preferred them to the weisswurst we'd had earlier. That being said, we're fairly certain that we botched the cooking and eating process. Apparently there's a fairly specific way of doing both. (website) The reason we tried them in the first place was actually because of a blog post that I saw awhile ago (Here's a link to the main blog. I recommend you read some of her travel articles. You may even recognise some of these places from our earlier blog posts.). We're at 5/7 so far.

Posted by KZFamily 07:44 Archived in Germany Tagged walking germany oberschwarzenberg Comments (4)

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