MONDAY, MARCH 27, 2006
Changing spaces

We are dicontinuing the use of greymatter, but we will still be maintaining a blog. All of the old entries will remain here, but the new entries will be posted at

Posted by Laura @ 3:35 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

SUNDAY, MARCH 26, 2006
Back to Madison

March 18th

Friday morning we had another treat of waffles by Mark, pancakes by Dad and fruit salad by Laura. After a relaxing morning we packed up the van- still had to put one igloo on top of the van- and headed to Cabelas. What an amazing store. It is as large as a small mall. Inside are mini museums full of fabulous wildlife displays. First we saw a river Aquarium with fish longer than my arm. The catfish were so big that they just ideled around the bottom of the tank. The tanks themselves were impressive. They were at least 12 foot tall and about 8 foot wide. An entire wooden canoe was placed in one. And the length, it was as long as our apartment, on both sides- two aquariums. The blue gills were especially pretty as were the territorial bass.

Next we saw the African safari. Here we saw zebras and rhinos, crocs and whole pride of lions, there was even an elephant. We headed to the mountain- the centerpiece of the store. Each quadrant was a bit different. The first quad contained beavers and koi (these were actually real), next were the dessert dwellers with diamond backs, prairie dogs, cougars and deer. Then was the northern quad with ptarmigan, snow hairs, artic foxes, a polar bear and mountain goats.

Then we headed to the big game room, here there were stags mounted around the room and a description of how the points are counted. Most of the animals had irregular racks. We saw the difference between mule deer and white-tailed deer, wild turkeys, exotic game, and javelinas. After all that excitement we headed up to the lunch room where we got catfish, hushpuppies, cold slaw, pasta salad, puddin', mac 'n cheese and a salad. It was all great. Next we went to the shooting gallery- like a carnival, you shoot at targets and they cause a bear to pop up from behind the bushes, or a door to creak open, etc. Mark and I had fun with the other kido's making Halloween noises- I didn't realize I was such a good shot- last gun I shot was a be-be gun in middle school.

Heading back down stairs we wondered into the gun show room- an impressive classic collection. What an amazing store/museum. A short ride and we were home again, doing laundry. Mark and I headed out to the local half priced books- learning that they only take donations from in-state now. Mark didn't find any games this time, but we found a book on magical creatures for Mark's gaming reference, and Tigana. Heading over to Hastings we found "Walk the Line" and Brother's Grimm. For dinner, Mark and I made delicious nachos. With full tummies, we all sat down to watch "Walk the Line"- a sad but wonderful story about Johnny Cash with many of his great hits- we all loved it. Unfortuantely "Brother's Grimm" was not a hit, oh well.

After a breakfast of waffles and RR donuts, I permed Mom's hair to her curly delight. I also made a door stopper, based on the one that Mark and I have. Last time we visited, we found all the supplies, but ran out of time to put it together. Fortunately it worked wonderfully! Midmorning, we realized that we had the wrong time for our flight and ended up getting there just before they started boarding. Fortunately it was a direct flight to Chicago on Continental- they even gave us sandwiches and M&M's for a lunch snack (Mark and I had a schlotsky's earlier, but the snack was great) which doesn't seem to happen very frequently anymore with airlines.

Once we landed, I rewarded myself with an ice cream cone as we headed over to find the Van Galder. Since there were so many passengers returning from spring break to Madison, our bus went straight to Madison. Taking a taxi home, we fell happily into bed.

Posted by Laura @ 4:45 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Good views

March 16th

This morning we put together a feast for breakfast. Mark broke in the cast iron waffle maker to make waffles for everyone. We also had pancakes and to top it all off a delicious fruit salad with blueberries, strawberries, pineapple, and blackberries. I have never been much of a pancake/waffle eater- but add equal parts fresh fruit salad to it with a bit of real maple syrup and I could eat all day. What a treat!

After we tried to identify some of the local birds, Mom took a brief nap while we were happily reading our novels, we headed out for a long hike. Dad had already been hiking the day before and took us up to see some great views of the surrounding countryside. We passed some amazing curly grass that grows in circles- we saw some bunny droppings in the center of one such circle. As we got up higher, there were beautiful yucca's and some coreopsis blooming. We saw the Blanco river winding below us and small horse farms in the distance. As we walked down the hill, through a flat area, we saw collections of snail shells clustered under trees, left by some hungry bird. We also saw a rubbing by a buck on one poor little sapling.

Returning to the campsite, we all had lunch and took a luxurious nap. Afterwards Mark and I played another game of Bocci as the sun was going down. That night we feasted on mouth-watering grilled steak, delicious mushrooms, garlic hash browns, and perfected cornbread. We were all groaning with delight after that amazing meal! I didn't remember, but my parents said that they always had a steak night when we went camping/hunting. I am glad to encourage the tradition!

That night we put on our water shoes and headed down toward the river. The frogs were especially loud. Mark and I waded in the water, and although we could hear the frogs, we couldn't see a one. Now my parents have good sized frogs in their back yard due to the pond, and they croak real loud. But I think that the frogs along the river must have been an inch or so long- we didn't see one. Every time we got close, they got quiet. We saw plenty of perch and small bass in the river, but not a frog. A mystery that we will have to solve, perhaps by camping there next year!!

Posted by Laura @ 4:01 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Exploring San Marcos

March 15th

This morning we woke to the sound of overly chirpy birds and turkeys in the distance. The warmth of our sleeping bags was hard to leave, but we quickly got dressed walked up to the restroom to take care of business.

This morning's breakfast was a treat, breakfast tacos with precooked red potatoes, egg whites, bacon, warmed salsa. Such a yummy treat wrapped in a skillet warmed flour tortilla- it reminded me of all the camping/hunting trips I have had with my family- and on such a chilly morning the warm breakfast with warm sweetened tea was the perfect wake-up.

After filling our tummies, we headed out on a short hike. Along the way we saw horsetail and bamboo along side the river, walnuts under the walnut tree, several rootings that looked like the result of armadillos and a small hole filled with owls. Fortunately I had Mark's binoculars, a present from my parents, and we could see small owls in a whole on the side of a sharp drop-off. We also saw some fascinating work from different varieties of ants. There were roads lined with juniper berries for some larger black ants while the smaller sugar ants had roads of juniper needles. It was an impressive sight which we walked carefully around. There was also an impressive bright orange lichen in some live oak trees.

For lunch we had sandwiches, and I indulged in more potato salad. Mark and I played a game of Frisbee- I can't remember the last time I played, but by the end I was getting most of the shots to Mark. With all the fresh air and exercise, everyone headed down for a nice nap.

Dinner that night was turkey burgers, a modified recipe from Mark's famous turkey meatballs. They were amazing and so moist with the bread crumbs. Followed by some more oven warmed bread and a scrumptious fruit salad. As we ended dinner, we got a slight drizzle, so games were taken inside the tent. We played Once upon A Time where we all came up with some fantastical stories, and Land Unter where we endeavored to save the sheep.

After the games, the rain let up so we cooked up some desert. Dad made some cornbread with his Dutch oven and we all enjoyed making smores with the remaining coals. Before we went to sleep, Mark and I put out apple slices for the deer. It didn't seem like they ate any of the corn, so maybe a sweet treat will tempt them.

After one more quick trip to the restrooms, we all went to sleep with the croaking of frogs in the background interrupted by the occasional coyote off in the distance.

Posted by Laura @ 3:37 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Camping in San Marcos

March 14th

In the morning we packed everything up in the van for our camping trip. I love organizing- it is a fun puzzle, and impressively I got everything to fit except for the suitcases which Dad tied to the top of the van. Leaving at noon we headed to Delaware Subs for lunch- I love pickles on sandwiches! As we were headed south we talked about camping games, and swung in for a quick trip to Academy where Mark picked up Bocci and I got an aroebe Frisbee.

After what felt like a very short time, we were in San Marcos. My Dad is attending Texas State and reserved a campsite # 6 for us at the schools camp. It is an impressive location with the campsites right next to the Blanco river and a large amount of acres to explore. The site they picked had 3 massive trees and we popped up our tents right in between them. Dad got a new tent that has three rooms inside it- it is almost like being at home :) and an open air tent for us to eat under. Adding the air mattresses and we all slept good at night!

After putting everything together, we relaxed with a game of Bocci. Only Mark was familiar with this one, where the goal is to get your heavy ball as close as possible to a little white ball. By the second game we were knocking out each other's balls and getting pretty creative. With the dying light we had to stop so Dad fired up the lanterns and we put dinner together. Dinner was fried chicken and bread (warmed in a nifty outdoor oven- just placed over the gas burner), potato salad (with amazing golden red potatoes) decaf sun tea sweetened with some of Dad’s honey. Makes you feel like royalty to eat so well in such beautiful setting with wonderful company. After dinner we played two quick games of For Sale- an interesting real estate game that Mom picked up on real quick with her real estate experience. Then we headed up to the restrooms for a quick bathroom break and saw a small herd of deer in the brush.

By the time we got back it was pitch black, so we took out the telescope to look at the stars. With a full moon, it was almost too bright to look at through the scope. We zoomed in on some of Orion's belt. It is always impressive to see more stars anywhere you look, even though you can't see them with your naked eye, the scope picks up on the beautiful details in the sky. Before heading off to sleep, Dad and I put out some corn for the deer to help encourage them to come a little closer- we will see if we see them tomorrow.

As we snuggled into our sleeping bags, we went to sleep to the sound of frogs croaking along the river.

Posted by Laura @ 3:17 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Trying to get to Texas

March 13th

Saturday being the first day of spring break, I sifted through all of my novels and started reading Sue Grafton's P is for Peril. We both had a wonderfully relaxing day. Sunday we packed and headed out on the bus to Memorial Union where we caught a ride on the Van Galder to Chicago in wait for our evening flight to Texas. Unfortunately we got there just as a massive storm system hit. At midnight with a shaking clap of thunder and a scary lightning bolt, we found out that our 8pm flight was canceled. Since I was rather ticked- no ticket agent was there when they finally canceled our flight, we were told over the loud speaker (and noticed that the pilots left), Mark called to reschedule our cancelled trip. The best we could do was San Antonio the next afternoon- so we took it.

Next Mark called the airlines hotel booking to get a discounted room for the night while I tried to get a rental car from San Antonio to Austin- the one-way costs are hideous. At 2am, after a short taxi ride, we ended up at the Regency and slept until 9am. Since I am more of a morning person than Mark, I got up to get us some breakfast. Unfortunately it was Dunkin’ Donuts (not even comparable to RR donuts) with milk and Kellogg’s corn flakes for Mark. Watching the news I found out that the storm system last night was responsible for tornados and deaths throughout the Midwest.

After a nice shuttle to the airport, we talked to a pleasant ticket agent who found a flight on an earlier trip to Austin!!! Yeah!!! At this point I had finished my book and bought Memoirs of a Geisha out of curiosity, and after two short delays, we left for Austin. I was so happy to be out of Chicago I could have kissed the ground when we arrived. We had a fabulous dinner of fajitas at Antonio’s and I even tried a Mexican Martini (which I will admit was one of the best drinks I have ever had). It was so nice to see home again! We sat down and watched or pre-recorded (my folks are so thoughtful) Gray's Anatomy (I love that soap) just as we do every Sunday (plus one day). After all of the hustle and bustle of the day, Mark and I both slept well on our waterbed that night!

Posted by Laura @ 2:24 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Crazy week

March 10th

This week is the week before spring break. All week I worked on tweaking my cs412 midterm. Thursday Irene and I went to Takara for a very nice lunch- their box lunches fill you up for the rest of the day! Thursday night I gave my cs412 midterm with the make-up on Friday in between grading it. Fortunately my TA's and I finished grading just before 8pm. Then Mark and I headed downtown to have dinner at Kabul's with Matt and and visiting friend from Kenyon, John. I had moist marinated beef kabobs while mark enjoyed lamb kabobs. It was a pleasant way to end a very long day.

Posted by Laura @ 2:02 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Sad week

March 5th

This has been a very sad week. We found out that Melanie's Dad passed away. We attended the beautiful service with Irene on Friday. Unfortunately I never got to meet Melanie's Dad, but the stories told by his family and all the beautiful pictures told of his wonderful life dedicated to his family. This was the first military funeral that I had been to and the flag presentation and gun salute at the end was very moving.

Otherwise, I continue to take temperatures at 7am 3 times a week to help out at the barn. Another hoofer's horse was taken to the UW vet clinic but seems to be in stable condition. Fortunately none of the horses in the upper barn (that is where I am taking temperatures) show any symptoms. I also had a wonderful lunch with Irene at Ian's pizza on Thursday. This amazing restaurant makes the best pizzas with anything on top. I love the chicken cordon bleu and lasagna.

Posted by Laura @ 1:02 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Helping out at the Barn

Feb 26, 2006

Unfortunately there was a equine herpes strain affecting some of the local barns and now it has spread to ours. One of the beautiful Hoofer horses and another stabled in the same barn had to be put down- the effect of the disease is neurological and the horses lose function to their hind quarters. There was a very informative meeting on Wednesday to tell us about appropriate procedures for the barn's self-quarantine.

To check and make sure that the horses are alright, everyone is volunteering to take temperatures. This week I have taken temperatures 3 times, at 7am. While I have never taken temps before, I have learned from some very nice people at the barn. I am glad for the experience of learning about how to care for horses since I look forward to owning one some day.

On Saturday, we hosted dinner for our apartment neighbors Adam and Priscilla. Mark has been wanting to make the Cuisine flank steak recipe again and this was we get to share with our fabulous neighbors. In addition we had a wild salad from Whole Foods with delicious 365 dressing, oven baked potato wedges- I swear they are better than French fries, and an amazing apple crumb cake with ice cream from Priscilla & Adam. We had a wonderful evening talking about gardening plans, a fun visit from Harold McGee and playing Diamant. What a great evening!

Posted by Laura @ 12:55 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Potato Ravioli Treats

Another week of shopping at Whole Foods- we found some yummy eggplant, stinky olives (Mark's fav), and organic ground beef. The beef was for potato ravioli. Making pasta by hand is a long process of love. Potato ravioli was a quick and fun process. We found the recipe in "Potatoes & vegetables" a book from my folks one Christmas. The idea is to make mashed potatoes, mix a bit of flour and egg- rather like making latkes (which I can't get enough of). The thick mixture is your "pasta" that you just flatten out fill with the meat mixture. They were amazing and quick!

Our second dish this week was a simple and delicious baked pasta with tomato sauce topped with bread crumbs- just mix and pop in the oven.

On Valentines day, Mark made reservations at Otto's- a friend of Mark's recommended it for steaks and they were right! We started the meal with a creamy feta bruchetta. With our salads we had a wonderful loaf of sourdough bread. I had a mouth-watering New York Strip with a side of fabulous white mushrooms, creamy mashed potatoes and julienne veggies with a dill sauce. Mark chose pork chops stuffed with fennel and vegetables, mashed sweet potatoes with a cherry glaze.

I got Mark a copy of the newly printed Reef Encounter- a rather complex game about the fascinating world of corals. Mark got me two wonderful mushroom logs. They arrived last week and we have been enjoying sautéed oyster mushrooms in butter for the last week- next week will be the delights of shitakes.

Wednesday night and Thursday morning we had a wonderful snowstorm- delivering about 9 inches total! Looking through our window was a beautiful white sight- but it is now bitterly cold- so I think we will keep the admiring via windows.

We were happy to have Burr and Natalie come over Friday night for some games and snacks. We had cupcakes with strawberries and ice cream followed by some movie butter popcorn- what a delicious sweet and salty combo! We played Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde- a trick playing game girls vs. guys. The only other trick playing game I have played is Euchre- this one was a bit more complicated but very interesting.

Saturday we enjoyed a nice lunch with Mel and Sasha at Lulus. I got my fav- couscous and beef stew while Mark enjoyed his favorite chicken fate'. It was so exciting to hear about all of their wedding- it is going to be beautiful! We can't wait to see them the next time they are in town.

Posted by Mark @ 11:42 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Visit from an old friend

Jan 29

This was the first full week back in the office. Getting ready for riding, Mark took me to Fitchburg Pet Warehouse where we picked up a new riding helmet (my parents had bought my other one for me when I was a teen). After a bit of adjusting it fit perfectly and although riding was canceled this week, I can't wait to try it out next week.

On Tuesday, we had our game night with some wonderful cookies from Kathleen. Mark and I got warmed up with Clock Towers. When everyone arrived we opened up Senator. As I headed to the back to work, everyone wrapped up with a final game of Domain. Overall a fun and eventful night.

Wednesday we went out to dinner at LuLu's with a friend from Washington, Dan. Dan was a TA for cs302 here at UW in Mark's office and then left to work for Microsoft after his Masters. He always has
the most amazing adventures to talk about, and this time was no exception. Between his rock climbing, hiking, skiing, camping and kayaking, Dan leads an amazing life with a wonderful wife and darling new baby boy.

As the week winded down, Mark and I picked up a copy of Serenity from our local comic shop. This beautiful graphic novel tells of the adventures after Firefly and before the movie Serenity. I can't wait to fill in some of the storyline.

We also toted around town and ended up finding me a very nice new pair of shoes. I have been wearing a comfy pair of black loafers from SAS for the past years (Mom said a decade- didn't realize it was that long), but lately my feet hurt with their lack of support. We found a wonderful pair of Naot shoes at Morgan Shoes in Hilldale Mall and the lady helping us in the store helped fit the shoes perfectly to my feet. While they were expensive, if I wear them even half as long as the others, they will have well earned their keep.

Posted by Laura @ 11:25 AM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

School starts

January 22

This Tuesday, classes started at UW and MATC. It is always a joy to teach small classes, and my MATC class only has 16 students. We have already generated great discussions and I think the students are feeling very free to ask any questions.

My UW class is full at 90 students. Unfortunately only the most bold students seem to ask questions, but many students feel confident to come up and ask questions after class. I look forward to meeting more of the students as the semester goes on so that it won't fell like I am looking out at a sea of faces.

Mark surprised me yesterday by taking me sledding. I have never been sledding in the snow, and we have had quite a dry winter so far. But Friday night it snowed just a few inches- enough for a sledding adventure. My first trip down the hill was rather scary- having never been much of a thrill seeker. But by my third trip down I think I had the hang of it! Mark and I even picked up a larger sled (with tracks underneath to help with direction) at Toys-R-Us that afternoon... now we just need some more snow.

For the week, we made Mexican Beef Casserole yesterday (trying some minor variations) and Mark made Caribbean pork (which I surprisingly liked more than he did- pineapples and all). Now with work, game nights and weekly meal planning, it really feels like we are back in Madison.

Posted by Laura @ 11:24 AM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Relaxing and cooking

December 27

While at our local Hastings, we found the Firefly series and Serenity. Mark and I rank this as one of our favorite series, and were happy to watch it with my parents. With Dad's love of westerns and Mom's love of adventure movies, it seemed like a good match.

After a day of cooking sweet treats- fudge, sugar cookies, oatmeal cookies and chocolate chip cookies we also headed out to the only digital cinema that I know of and watched the Chronicals of Narnia- oh the detail. It is getting so hard to tell the real from the computer generated- what an adventure. Afterwards we visited Antonios for true tex-mex fajitas!

Posted by Laura @ 11:15 AM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Christmas in TX

December 26

Christmas in TX is always special. On Christmas eve we headed to St. Williams church to sing some favorite hymns. Then we headed out around the neighborhoods to look at Christmas lights. There was an especially nice selection this year- it seems that the inflatable creatures were especially decorating the night- there was even a gigantic snow globe.

When we got home, we all opened one present and headed off to sleep. Christmas morning is always exciting with the beautifully twinkling tree with all its decorations. Since I always seem to be the first up, I started making crepes for breakfast- my favorite breakfast in the entire world! You see these crepes are folded around creamy vanilla ice cream and scrumptious strawberries- ohhhh yeahhhh. I also made pigs in a flaky croissant blankets.

This morning I was especially excited to give my parents some special treats that we found in Germany. We found a pub glass for Dad, a bell to add to Mom's collection and a special selection of delicate ornaments. In one of the last places we visited, Rotenburg, we found a wonderful shop with all types of German ornaments. My parents had brought back an amazing selection when they went. The thing about wooden German ornaments, is that they are extremely delicate. Several of my parents ornaments had broken over the years and I was so happy to find replacement snowflakes and to add to their beautiful collection.

After the mornings festivities we ate our traditional Christmas dinner with cornish hens, veggies, gravy and pie- delicious cherry pie. I love holiday food!! We also spied a woodpecker with Mark's new binoculars.

Resting after our meal, my parents put in Condorman- Mark had never seen, but in my youth I was very fond of it (use to sing it while on the potty I am told). We also opened up Mark's Ricochet Robots (a game he was pining for) and stretched our minds. What a wonderful Christmas!!

Posted by Laura @ 11:09 AM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Adventures in TX with Armadillos

December 23

It is always fun to come home. The last time we visited was in May (we usually would have re-visited in August, but we were in Germany), and it was especially nice to be able to spend a whole week with family. One unforgettable part is the delicious food! Dad always makes the best smoked meats and this time his smoked turkey was exceptionally amazing! Along with guacamole and TX beans we also enjoyed mouth-watering steaks and a fork tender roast.

Between the delicious food, we adventured to Calahans to find a prized potato masher- just like the one I grew up with, this masher will leave smaller lumps and will last a life-time. We also saw the cutest chicks (I thought it was too early for them) all clucking away happily. It is always a treat to visit this truly western store.

We also headed out to Goldwaite to visit a supply store. My parents had found this jewel of a western store on their road-trip adventures. It was amazing. The entire store was packed to the gills with every type of modern cookware, camp stove cookware, clothing, tackle, gear and too much more to mention. Mark and I picked up a snowflake cake pan (no icing required), a small book on making bunt cakes and a book on dice games. After looking at so many goodies, we headed across the street to a Buffet restaurant- and I got a delicious chicken fried steak (with real cream gravy), delicious french fries and ranch-style beans (with a healthy salad too). After we were all sufficiently stuffed, we headed around the block (of the very small town) and saw one family had decorated their driveway with old glass power line connectors- it was really beautiful. On the way home, we stopped for a treat at Dairy Queen and stumbled across a truly unforeseen event- armadillos- note the plural. I usually only see armadillos after some quickly moving vehicle has ended their life, but we saw at least a dozen. They were on the side of the road, little smooth grey hotdogs with pointy noses. Within just a minute we saw at least 6. I am not sure if it was mating season, but that was an event few ever see!

Posted by Laura @ 10:51 AM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Traveling by train to Texas

Dec 19th

Yesterday we headed out of Madison on the Van Guilder bus to the Chicago Amtrak train station. Arriving a bit early at the station, we played a two person version of Settlers and snacked on our lunchables. After lugging our luggage up to the upper deck of the train for our roomy coach seats, we snuggled into our home for the next day.

Overall it took 29 hours to reach Texas, leaving a bit late from the station (Sat at 4pm) and arriving hours late to Austin, TX (Sun at 9pm). While riding trains in America is incomparable to riding in Europe, we were happy not to have to spend 20 hours driving on the road. In our roomy seats I finished 2 novels, ate two impressively good microwaved pizzas, played Razzia and had a delicious hot sandwich. The bathrooms were a bit more roomy than those on an airplane, but not by much.

As we were pulling into Austin, we went through Round Rock and under the bat bridge. We were very happy to stand up and get off the train once we arrived and happily ate the delicious sandwiches Mom and Dad brought. While we didn't sleep well with the rocking of the train, we weren't exhausted when we arrived and sure slept well that night!

Posted by Laura @ 11:52 AM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Finals week

December 17th

Today I had my final riding lesson. It was exciting to ride a new horse (I have been riding Shadow- an adorable paint most of this session) called Grande. Grande is a young half-blanket appolossa with quite a spirit. After he decided to suddenly stop during two speedy turns, we came to a understanding and the rest of the lesson went very smoothly. In fact, my instructor says that I could take the senior rider test (so I could take out horses on my own). I know that I still have a lot to learn, but feel that I have made great progress riding this year- starting in E1 and moving up to E3 now.

This weekend, I also met with Kelly, a research associate and friend working under Dr. Meyer. She is preparing a paper for an upcoming conference in TX over material that I worked with. It was nice to help out a friend and talk about the work I have spent so much of the last 3 years working on.

This week also marked the last class days at MATC. I quickly finished my grades Saturday and turned everything in so that we will be ready to head out on our train trip to TX soon. I found that I really enjoy working as a college instuctor- where I can keep learning everyday and helping eager students learn new and challenging concepts. It is nice to know that the career path I have worked toward (my whole life it seems) is exactly where I want to be.

Posted by Laura @ 11:47 AM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Back in the routine

December 4th

It has been a very busy week. I am tutoring two students for cs302 at UW-Madison and really enjoying learning all the tweaks for Java 7.0. This years final project is especially challenging with creating a drum machine (a GUI that combines different drum sounds). With work and tutoring becoming so demanding at the end of the semester, it was nice to break up the week with a great game night and the start of horseback riding again at Hoofers.

Posted by Laura @ 11:41 AM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Adventures in Chicago and Prototypes

Netflix is coming through for us really well these days. I like being able to find just about any movie you can think of, as well as keeping a record of what we want to see next. We've managed to get 10 DVDs in the past month. This week, it was some more PBS specials and some popular movies from our list. First up was from the Empires series - Medici: Godfathers of the Rennisance. I'd known about the Medici family briefly through high school history classes and other passing mentions, but Laura was unfamiliar with their power and influence, so it was a good refresher for both of us. It covered the rise of the Medici, their sponsorship of many artists like Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Botticceli and Galileo, and the disasterous Medici popes, another classic tale of power going to their heads, where things seemed to start well with one generation or two, it quickly fell into excess and the continual uprising of enemies. There was also a good portion on the Bonfire of the Vanities with Savonarola, and it was fun to see the history behind Brett's game unfold on the screen, however, one thing about the special I found weird was that the actors never spoke, they just walked around looking menacing or sad, as if in a moving picture. Also from the PBS genre were some more episodes of Blue Planet, first an overview episode of the whole series, covering all the different zones of the ocean, along with the tragic story of a mother grey whale losing her cub to killer whales (we hates them, we do). The second episode focused on the arctic and antarctic seas, from polar bears and whales surviviing through very small holes in the ice up north, to leaping penguins and seals at the south pole. Laura's favorite were the Beluga whales, while I loved seeing the penguins skyrocket out of the water to avoid the waiting leopard seals. On the pop movie front, we watched Sleepy Hollow, a Jonny Depp/Tim Burton movie with way too many beheadings for my taste, and Batman Begins, a thoughtful and sometimes ponderous introduction to the legend of Batman. We both enjoyed the story setup and how things were more believable than your usual comic book movie.

We also tried out a few episodes of Farscape, and while the premise was interesting, of someone from Earth travelling through a wormhole to another far part of the galaxy and joining up with escaped prisoners to fight for freedom, the execution seemed to fall a little flat, there was something missing, more along the lines of a Twilight Zone episode as opposed to Outer Limits. We might pick up the next few episodes in the series, but it's not a huge draw for us. Instead, we're still hooked on Lost and Invasion, both spooky shows with interesting characters. It was very cool to see the history of the other survivors on the last episode of Lost and it's good they're finally moving them all together, looks like there might be some progress toward solving the secrets soon (or so we hope).

Games for game night this week included a few rounds of Coda, a light deduction game, the brain-twisting Amazeing Labyrinth, a round of the Queen's Necklace auctioning off gemstones, and a new game of Goldland. It's a new game of searching for gold and treasure in the west, and has some interesting planning elements for resource development, as well as majority control of certain types of adventures. As usual, I got one or two rules wrong in the explanation, but things went pretty smoothly in spite of this, and we look forward to playing it again.

It was also a good few weeks for playing prototypes. Brett and I made some friends from Protospiel who lived in Chicago, and they had their bi-monthly meeting last weekend, so we road-tripped down to play some games and get some feedback. It was a lot of fun and great to get some new perspectives on the games, there were three election games brought out over the course of the afternoon and evening, all with different core mechanics and ideas, it's still surprizing all the variety there is to be seen even within a narrow field. While we played games, Laura also came along and toured a few local Elmhurst museum. First she saw the Lapidary museum and learned all about carving rocks from ancient to modern times, with some interesting exhibits on how to carve spheres inside spheres. Next she headed to the Graue Mill, for a few lessons on weaving, spinning, and a very impressive demonstration of the mill at work, pushing cornmeal through the grooves of the large imported millstones; this mill had been in operation since the 1800's and was very scenic. There was also a used bookstore in town, which always holds treasures for cooking and hobby delights. A large number of interesting sights to explore, all within a 5 mile radius, and found thanks to

That evening, we also visited the Chicago Medieval Times for dinner and the show. We'd passed the castle every time we drive through Chicago, and finally found a time to go. While the acting was a little corny, the horse-riding was very authentic; Laura was particulary impressed by the Andelusians on display, walking sideways and high-kicking their back legs. It was cool for me to see all the tricks and styles of riding that Laura has been practicing in her horse-ridding lessons. For the meal, we had to eat with our hands in medieval style, and were served a delicious beef stew, half of a chicken, a spare rib, some garlic toast and an apple pastry. We'd love to go back, it might be a fun activity for our nephews.

I received a great email from Germany this week, the Hippodice Game Club has accepted Die Wichtelmanner for testing in their annual Game Design Competition, we're one of 50 games that made it through the initial screening, yay! The prototype is shipped off, and now we wait until mid-March to hear back on the results and get some good playtesting feedback reports. To celebrate, Laura and I went out to eat at our favorite celebratory spot, the Olive Garden, where I had a garlicy chicken breast and she ordered the eggplant parmesean, both very good meals, supplemented by the everlasting breadsticks, salad, and some calamari and toasted ravioli squares for an appetizer. Friday night we saw Mirrormask with Brett, Laura and friends, a very weird dream-like movie with some cool special effects but also some large plot holes, and for Sunday brunch we headed to El Dorado Grill on Willy Street for some tasty blue corn-meal pancakes for me and some ham and potatoes for Laura, so enough celebrating, now it's back to saving money.

Laura's teaching continues to go well at MATC, and she's picked up three students for tutoring Algebra at UW, as well as a few lost CS 302 students. We both like the new Introduction to Java book they're using now, and as my research progresses, I can't wait to get back to teaching someday and explore my own methods and examples. It was also an adventure for Laura to try and fix our errant printer. For a week or two now, the cartridge carrige has been slamming into the walls and giving us errors and in general not being very happy. She discovered the HP online chat, and had two lengthy conversations with tech people, first cycling the power of the printer, and then being told to replace the print cartridges (since we're using remanufactured cartridges), but neither of these turned out to fix the problem, so after a phone call, we're having another printer shipped to us and this one is going back to the factory. Laura also was able to have lunch with Irene at Lulu's this week, sampling a gyro from their lunch menu, very tasty!

And there are sure signs that winter is approaching. We visited the first Winter Farmer's Market at the Westgate mall on Saturday, it was right there in one of the store fronts (of what used to be a halloween store), and we picked up some cheese, a beef log, fresh brown eggs and a cookie for a treat. We also saw the first snow of the season on Tuesday night and woke up to a wonderful winter scene covered in a slight dusting of snow. It's supposed to get really cold this next week, time to pull out the mittens and warm fuzzy hats.

Posted by Mark @ 12:47 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Halloween and The World of Nova

It has been a fun two weeks exploring food. We started out trying some new pasta dishes from Fine Cooking. The first dish combined shitake, orzo, spinach, soy sauce and rice wine vinegar to make an interesting Chinese-like dish- very yummy warm. The used sun dried tomatoes, wagon wheel pasta, olive oil, basil, feta, and spinach leaves for a flavorful light meal. Our third pasta dish was an attempt to duplicate Whole Foods smoked mozzarella dish; it has cubes of smoked mozzarella (can only get it from the deli section at whole foods), light mayonnaise, smoked bell peppers (the more the better), chiffon spinach, shredded parmesan, wagon wheel pasta, a dash of cayenne- still our favorite. This time I found out it is better to mix the mayonnaise with the pasta before adding any of the ingredients.

We also enjoyed some bean burritos with a bit of Spanish rice (Mark’s fav). But the highlight of our food had to be the quick and delicious Peperonata Shrimp. A recipe from Cuisine that turned out like sweet and sour shrimp. First you coat the 2 lb of shrimp with flour and cook them for 3 minutes in a sate pan with a bit of olive oil. Putting the shrimp aside, put 1.5 cup diced leeks and 2 cloves minced garlic in the pan till brown. Add .5 cup chicken broth, 1/3 c. white vinegar, 2 T sugar, 2T lemon juice to the pan and simmer down for 5 minutes. After adding some salt, add 2 cups of thinly sliced roasted bells and the shrimp- after a quick warm-up you have an amazing meal (we served over rice).

I also learned the benefit of keeping mushrooms in a paper bag in the fridge instead of the original plastic wrap that they come in. This way they stay good for 2+ weeks, just shrinking a bit in size.

On Oct 26 there was a convocation for instructors at MATC. After an introduction by the president of the college and faculty awards (It was wonderful to see the Administrative Assistants from Arts and Sciences win an award- they are always so helpful.), I headed to my first Math faculty meeting. After a brief lunch with my mentor, Pam, I headed to a meeting about how to handle/prevent academic misconduct and then my final meeting of the day about the attempt to add a class about nanotechnology- I just found it odd that the only prerec for the nanotech class was chemistry when it seems that the class would be aimed at engineers. Overall it was an exciting day of discussion and I earned a higher respect for technical colleges.

On Oct 29th we started early with digging up bulbs that won’t over winter from our garden. Then we headed out to pick up pumpkins from a local pumpkin patch with Burr and Natalie. Following them back to their place we met up with Matt Lavine and made some new friends while we sliced and diced our new pumpkin friends.

On the gaming side of things, Mark submitted a game with his prototype partner, Brett, in to Hippodice. The name of the game is in German, but I call it the Elves and Shoemaker game. Mark has brought it out a couple of times for our Tuesday game nights and it plays very well. We will know in 2 weeks if it makes it through the first round of the competition!

We also went through some great movies this week. We watched our first of the Blue planet series- An amazing production by the BBC about the Ocean desert and the Deep- we are hooked. I have always been fascinated by the creatures found in the deep, they are unlike any creature we know and live in such a harsh environment- amazing. We also watched 4400, a current series on TV about abducties coming back years later with “changes” After only watching the first 4 episodes, we can’t wait until the next set come out. Our last show from netflix was a NOVA special “The magnetic storm” I had watched this one ages ago and was again fascinated with the information. I also enjoyed the roll that supercomputers are playing in our ability to see what is happening in the world around us.

On the side I have been updating our scrapbook. I have finished Oct 2003-Aug 2004 and look forward to working my way up to Germany. While scrapbooking is a long process, it is nice to reflect on all of the trips and adventures that we have had- we definitely keep busy.

Lastly we had a wonderful evening on Nov 5th. Initially we headed to the East side of town to attend Nick’s party. When we arrived, we were told that we were actually one week early… To salvage the evening we head to a bowling alley where Mark showed off his impressive bowling skills. After sore fingers and feeling some hunger pains, we headed to Perkins for a nice desert of vanilla shake (for Mark) and mixed berry pie (for me). A very fun and inspirational date night!

Posted by Laura @ 12:46 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Finally Fall Leaves (or Arrives)

Last Sunday I had a wonderful time riding. Currently I am in E3 classes with a new instructor that I like very much. It is awesome to watch her ride. Right now I am working on cantering with Copper (colored just like his name) and usually end up with a sore tush for several days after, but I am definitely improving. I must say that I like the control that English riding gives, but I miss the relaxed style of Western.

This week we tried a new Dry cleaners here in town. I had a coupon and decided to give them a try- Middleton Cleaners. They did a nice job, but it has been about a year since the last time I had any clothes dry cleaned and the price has definitely gone up since then. I am definitely looking at the tags of any new outfits to make sure they are washing machine safe from now on.

Unfortunately I couldn't play games at this week, since I was preparing for my Wednesday observation. Mark, Kathleen and Matt Lavine played Through the Desert, Turn the Tide, For Sale, and Arbos. From the sounds I could hear working in the back room, it sounded like everyone was having a wonderful time.

Fortunately my observation Wednesday went well. Preparing for the lecture took much longer than usual since I didn't like the format of the notes. Usually the prepared notes just need some additional examples and minor tweaks for lecture, but for the measurement system, metric and English systems were tossed in together. Well I decided to separate them, and Mark had a good idea to add some history of measurement mistakes (such as the 1999 Mars satellite). I also made good use of wikipedia to find the background of the more archaic Furlong, rod, etc. It was nice to find out the reasons behind using some of the tools that I take for granted everyday.

I was also fortunate to get my first tutee for the semester in Algebra. Meeting at the Memorial Library was perfect and it was really exciting to work through more challenging material than I am currently teaching. I could almost feel my brain cogs working to remember the problems I worked back in middle school. With the money I earned, I purchased the instructor's edition of the text used here at UW-Madison so I will be ready for my next tutee appointment.

Mark and I are still hooked on Lost, Invasion and Alias (thank goodness it is getting better). After sampling the Papa Johns new perfect pan leftovers from Mark and Brett’s Monday night meeting, we picked one up for ourselves as a Friday treat. While it was getting ready we headed out to Netherworld (the second game store in Madison) and were impressed with the selection of such a small store. While we enjoyed our delicious pizza (why does it taste so much better than the regular?) we watched Threshold and were impressed with the decent plot line- it wasn't too hard to pick up the facts even though this was our first show.

This week we also enjoyed our first NetFlix via mail. Our first treat was 4400, a cable tv show that our local video store doesn't stock. It was really captivating and we can't wait to get the next one. We also watched Magnetic Storm, a fun Nova pick. We can't wait to get the next movie in our queue!

To round out the week we headed out to the Arboretum to take some pictures of the changing fall colors. It still amazes me how biology can create such wonderful changes. Mark found a great site that discussed how some trees will have red leaves on the outside layer of leaves to protect the chlorophyll from the sun- in the Arboretum we saw several cases, mainly in Ash and Maples, where the side hit by the sun had a red layer of leaves protecting the yellow leaves underneath- Amazing!

Posted by Laura @ 12:44 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Preparing for the Cold

This week we went from record highs of 85 to below normal of 50. All in one night! We could hear the rain coming and the wind picking up as the shift came Wednesday night. Looks like we're in for another cold winter in Wisconsin. Laura and I visited the new Joann's Fabric on Odana to pick up 4 pounders of yarn, two in red and two in white, to make a wonderfuly warm Wisconsin-themed afghan. We'll see if we can work Bucky into the design somehow. ;)

Last Saturday we said farewell to the summer weather by going on a mushroom foray at Devil's Lake with the local mycological society. Our friend Natalie went with us, as she is also a mushroom hound, and was interested in the hope of also learning about lichens. We started the foray around 10:15 am and heard a little introduction from some of the members, mostly professors and grad students here at the UW, and from there went off exploring into the woods (off the path!) to find what mushrooms and lichen that we could. At first it was hard but then we started seeing mushrooms everywhere! We discovered we are really good at finding poisionous mushrooms, so we'll never eat what we find in the woods, much to our future selves liking. They found a very large white amanita gemmata, some honey mushrooms, puffballs, dead man's fingers, orange peels, jelly, wood ear, shelf mushrooms and many colors of lichens (an important barometer for air quality, like crustose), which they were happy to identify for us and detail what they ate, how they worked, and their role in the local environment. There were even mushrooms that fed on other mushrooms, and the lichen was a master/slave relationship between a fungus and algae. At the end, all the mushrooms collected by everyone were laid out on a picnic table, and it was filled to the brim.

Following a picnic lunch, we stopped on the way back to Madison at a very large Delaney's surplus store, with an outdoor exhibit in the back with sculptures of metal. Most were fashioned to look like animals, or some weird amusement park rides, for robots. There was a symphony of animal instruments, and some weird bug shaped animals, all rusting away with their old farm equipment skeletons. It was a sight to see. Inside, we found some decks of cards and dice, and a Coke pub glass, all very cheap, which made our travel experience complete.

Friday night, it was a trip to see Serenity with Matt, Burr and Natalie. You didn't need to see all the episodes to understand what happened in the movie, but since we had and loved them, the movie was excellent and funny and scary and sad and hopeful all in one. Two hours of action, with the crowd being very into everything, laughing, gasping, it was like we were in a living room with 300 other people watching our favorite show. We'll definitely have to get this when it comes out on DVD, along with the original series.

On Sunday, Laura returned to the saddle for horseriding lessons. She finally got to ride Shadow intstead of Copper, a very nice change of pace. Shadow had a very nice canter, and the lesson went very well with minimal ankle soreness. Tuesday night, we had the first Game Night on Tuesdays for the fall, with 6 people (including us) ready for some games. After last week's Zepter excursion for 3 hours, this week we packed in 6 games in 2 and a half. We started with two games of Liar's Dice, rolling and bluffing our way around the table, followed by For Sale, a quick but tricky double auction game, first around the table bidding, followed by some blind bidding, all about buying properties only to sell them for more money. Hick Hack in Gackelwack was up next, with some foxy playing for the juciest poultry mostly going afowl of it's intented target. Laura was able to rack up lots of corn for the win. We finished off the night with two games of Diamant, pushing our luck as we explored some dangerous mines in the hopes of returing with rubies and diamonds; fortune and glory, kid, fortune and glory.. We'll miss Matt Anderson as he heads off to Nebraska to find his own fortune and glory. Wednesday night I was able to join up with the Madison Board Gamers, and played a few games with Brett, Todd and the gang. Santiago is cool with all the decisions going on, and Big City was a light but interesting tactical game, whereas Turbo Taxi was a speedy brain melter, and Poison was a trick-taking version of cribbage and 6 nimmt. Todd is off to Essen, and can hopefully pick me up a booster pack for 6 nimmt while he's there salivating over all the new game releases.

We had a good rolling week in the kitchen, starting of with an improvised stromboli dish. I remember Mrs. Hamm bringing a stromboli to the church potlucks sometimes (and Mrs. Oxley's crab dip, yum!) and I always wanted to make some, so we found a few recipes online. They consisted of making a pizza then rolling it up, so I gave it a shot with our traditional recipe, adding hard salami to one and smoked turkey to another. They didn't turn out too bad, but were missing something, maybe the dough was different or there was more meat, but I'll keep on exploring how to find a good stromboli recipe. Our second recipe was planned to be turkey medallions wrapped in Bacon, but we couldn't find the right turkey at the store, so we subsitute rib-eye steak. Neither of us was very sad to see the turkey go. After making the dish, we made a creamy bacon gravy to go on top of the mashed potatoes, and Laura was inadvertently burned by the pith of a super-hot pepper. Solarcaine and Bactine are your friends if you get a similar burn, and will be in our cabinet if you need them. The medalions, after a little bit of extra cooking than the recipe called for, were amazing, melt in your mouth wonderful, the bacon and steak flavors mixed perfectly, and we felt like we were at a super-fancy restaurant. It will be a meal we don't make very often but enjoy whenever we can.

The TV for the week was highlighted by Lost, Invasion, Alias, and a PBS special on Leonardo DaVinci's Amazing Inventions. Lost was captivating and while a few secrets were revealed, as usual we now have even more questions, but we're still hooked. 4 8 15 16 23 42. Invasion was a little less creepy, but still mysterious of how things fit together (we pretty much know there's aliens or something not human stealing bodies). Alias wasn't as good as previous years, too much focus on the baby storyline and not enough about the spy activity. It's weird that the cast is changing and the show seems to be losing focus. But the DaVinci show was facinating. They tried to construct two of his early machines, one a huge crossbow cataput, and the other a flying machine, to see if his sketches could come to life with minimal changes and influence from our advanced technology. In some ways they succeeded, but it's hard to erase our knowledge and influence, and they selected the one flying drawing that looked like it had the most promise, from thousands of unlikely candidates. It was amazing to see the flying machine work like a glider and see the catapult toss the cannonball about 60 yards before they broke it. I still think the chances of these succeeding back then were very slim, but it was more interesting to hear about his life as an artist/engineer, experimenting on the human body and trying to discover how the heart and other organs and bones worked together.

Posted by Mark @ 8:37 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Since Germany

Sept 29, Thursday

Quite a bit has happened since Germany. The Friday we got back, Mark learned he had a cavity at the dentist and on the following Monday he got his first filling. On Saturday I got horribly sick (well it started Friday, but only a minor fever at that point). So Saturday, the weekend before I start my new job, when I needed to be preparing more lecture plans, I was bundled up in most of our blankets watching some old favorites while my temperature slowly reached 103.9F. Somewhere right after this point, my fever must have broke because by the time I got to GHC I was back down to 100.9- the point where you get the sympathy looks but no pills. The next morning I had to come in for a blood test because the doctor wanted to make sure that I wasn't diabetic- high blood sugar due to all the fruit juices I was drinking- by the way I'm not.

I started teaching on Sept 29th at MATC, despite a nasty cough- but the lessons went smoothly. On the food side of things, we have made several batches of butternut squash curry- one of Mark's favorites at our local Sa-Bai Thong. We also had an amazing 40 clove garlic chicken I plucked out of a Williams-Sonoma catalogue- It was amazing with Yukon gold mashed potatoes... ohhh, so good! From the garden we have been gathering loads of tomatoes, which we turned into several gallons of tomato sauce- this time we boiled it down and added the seasonings we like (the sugar really made a difference). We also picked okra, bell peppers and some more butternut squash. We also had a lovely dinner at Matt Lavine's where he dished up a delicious stew from the Moosewood Cookbook and made some of the thickest and berry rich smoothies we have had in ages!

With all of our 17 games from Germany, we have had the chance to play a few, Odin's Raven was a gem for 2 players, Diamant is a nice quick one and Die Fuger which we played with Anderson and a game night. Arbos is a nice starter game we played at a game night, and Ta Yu was a fun 2 player with beautiful tiles. Mark has kept up his gaming hobby with play testing at Brett's and trying out the Madison Boardgamers on Wed night.

I am continuing my horse riding at Hoofers. I am up to E3 now, I think I will probably stay at this level for a couple of seasons- I am definitely challenged. We also celebrated Mark's birthday with a trip out to the Essen Haus to reminds about Germany and travels with friends. It was a wonderful gathering and Mark got a German Chocolate cake for free that he couldn't eat (due to the pecans in the frosting- so we passed it around and everyone got a spoonful) and we all got to embarrass him by singing in our quiet back room. Heading home that night, we played some light games with friends and bit into Mark's cake, a delicious cathedral shaped lemon and blueberry pound cake (we made that morning together) with a side of vanilla bean ice cream and blueberries.

As far as TV, we have relaxed with Bones (not for us), Supernatural (too scary), Lost (can never get enough), Invasion (creepy and good), My Name is Earl (hilarious), and West Wing (shockingly good again). For Movies, we have seen Wedding Date (not so good), Strings (I loved the way it made me think), Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (so good the second time- especially the bloopers), Winn Dixie (as wonderful as Despero) and the first bit of Undeclared (an old tv show by the same producers as Freaks and Geeks, but it just didn't capture us.

Well that is about it for our updates- see ya'.

Posted by Laura @ 2:27 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Things to Remember about Germany

Just some notes of things that we want to remember about our trip to Germany:

1. Blackberry bushes were everywhere.

2. You could never get water (unless it was from a sink in the bathroom) but you can always get beer.

3. Everyone seems to walk everywhere.

4. It always seems busy (people everywhere you go).

5. Someone else has always been there (in the steps carved for paths, cultivated forest).

6. Everyone smokes (except the tourists).

7. There are plants in every window of every building (and most have window boxes of petunias or begonias).

8. The public transportation is wonderful!

9. Sandwiches on short buns taste better.

10. Everyone has time to just relax (share and ice cream at the cafe or walk down the street).

Posted by Laura @ 1:45 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

I just wanna go home...

Well at this point we were both exhausted, even after a good nights sleep. But we were up at 7 and headed down stairs to eat standard hostel breakfast cafeteria style in a quiet back room. After we had picked up our stuff, returned our locks and checked out, we were more than happy to get a taxi to the airport- it was only 25 euros and better than the hassle of the bus at this point.

While Mark got his ticket, and I watched from afar (some rules about passengers only which was probably in German somewhere). He got ready to go through the gate at 9:30am. Unfortunately, Air India doesn't even start boarding until noon. So I read my book (the one Mark finished by A.C. Clark), then moved closer to the Gate for Air India... and waited some more. A woman sat next to me with a large amount of luggage who was taking Air India as well and we chatted a bit. She travels to Europe to watch operas, she is a big Wagner fan and just bought a life-size plastic duplicate of Wagner’s hound- it looked like a black lab to me. I also learned that she attended the first opera at Madison's new Overture Center- they purchased a German organ built by organ makers just down the street from the Beethoven house in Bonn- we probably walked right by their shop. The amazing thing about this organ is that if folds up so that when plays or things that don't need the organ are going on, the organ won't take up as much room. Mark would be fascinated.

Just before noon, we both got into line where a curious Air India employee asked us the standard airport questions. Going through security was a bit more complicated, everyone gets the full pat down and then you have to get a stamp in your passport from customs (one line for euro and another for non euro passengers). Next I tackled the maze of terminals to get to mine. Now the trick was that I actually didn't know which terminal I was suppose to go to. When I got my ticket, the clerk said that the actual location was still unknown, but above him, the digital readout said C13, so that is where I headed.

Now by this time it was about one and I really had to use the restroom, I hadn't passed any along the way, or at least I didn't recognize them. So after I located C13 I kept walking and found a security guard who pointed to a restroom on the other side of the security point. Which meant that to use the restroom I would have to leave the airport and then check back in through security. Since it is an international flight, I can't check in just anywhere... grrr. He also mentioned that there was a restroom inside of C13- Now I couldn't get inside of C13 since there were glass doors- it was like another ticket desk. And when I tried to go past, the women there started talking very loudly in German... So I had to wait an hour. At this point I was really missing the American airports with water fountains and restrooms everywhere!

Sitting right outside of C13, I was watching the departure schedule that was only posted an hour in advance- but when my flight was posted, I was in the right spot. After waiting to be let into C13, I got through, did my business, and found a nice seat in the second row next to the door- now there were about 20 rows of seats total, which should have prepared me for what was next. Slowly every seat was filled. Then all the passengers who were on the plane (coming from India) had to deplane and half of those had kids that were tired and hungry at this point- needless to say there were not enough seats and it was very noisy...

Unfortunately there was a problem with the EU computers, so we waited an hour longer in that cramped little room before we could get on. On the plus side, the sky was perfect for flying and I got some good shots of little fluffy clouds before the batteries ran out on the camera. It was an excellent camera for the trip. With two batteries, we always had enough power and the 4 CD's could hold all of our 750+ pictures that we took this trip.

The food was again delicious, curry chicken with curried veggies inside of a pastry, yummy spinach balls, strawberry yogurt, a cup of mixed fruit, water (the best part!), roll slathered with butter, a little wrapped Swiss chocolate with almonds and honey (perfect), and a yellow cake with little red currents and light white icing topped with chocolate shavings. I ate every bite!!

So Mark mentioned that I should try and stay awake the entire trip- so I watched the Hitchhikers guide to the galaxy- but the earphones were not meant for such complicated sound, and so I only caught about half of the movie. Then I watched Tool Time (fortunately an episode I haven't seen) and a very long and sad Indian movie with English subtitles- I think the jist of it was that the king wanted a son and so he went on a pilgrimage. As a result, he did get a son, but his son only liked women and drink. So he sent him off to war for 14 years and when the sad prince came back he fell in love with a dancer maid. Of course, the king forbade the prince from marrying her and put the girl in prison to be executed. Well the prince couldn't have that, so he decides to fight the king. In the end the prince is to be executed by a cannon which the girl saves him from. As her punishment, she walled into a tower of stone to die, but the girl's mother can ask one favor of the king (due to her bringing good news of his son in the past) and so the girl is saved, but everyone thinks her dead... such a sad story, but the plot was always in flux, so it kept my attention.

Throughout the whole trip it was perpetual sunlight. I was so happy to land in Chicago 8 hours later (it took a half hour longer to come back). While I had about another inch of legroom this trip, my whole body was knotted up. After going through customs- a lot less painless than I thought- and getting the stamps for refunds that I needed, I headed to the domestic flights where Mark will be. Unfortunately that meant I had to get to the other terminal. After a shuttle ride, I couldn't go through to the gate and meet Mark when he arrive like we planned (since I had to go back through security), so I talked with someone for his carrier- who directed me to talk to someone down in baggage claim. All I wanted to do was give Mark a page or message that I would not be able to meet him at the gate and he shouldn’t wait an hour for me. After I told the baggage attendant my story, was nice enough to give me a pass to get past security (I didn’t know you could do that)- with only 30minutes before Mark landed, I ran to get into line. There I met a nice man who told me about what he enjoyed in Germany- manly he likes France- lived there for 5 years- and so we ended up talking about that for 20 minutes or so till I could get through the gate- it helped me to stay awake.

On the up side, I arrived about 5 minutes before Mark’s plane arrived at the gate. Which was great, any more time and I probably would have fallen asleep- we had been up about 24 hours by now. Heading down to the Van Guilder, we purchased a small pizza and Sprite to split and found the right bus. After a nap that was way to short, we arrived in Madison and trucked to the bus stop on University Ave. and headed home!!! It was so nice to use our own shower and to sleep under our own sheets. Germany was nice, but it was great to be back home!

Posted by Laura @ 1:38 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Heading to Frankfurt

We got up early (6:30am) to walk the wall and to avoid the tourist traffic. Fortunately, we were able to walk the wall starting from the eastern edge (since our hotel was so close by). We were at roof top level with the houses, up about the third story of a typical house. The wall itself was not the smoothest surface, it felt like the creators had hurridly put everything together to get the structure up- level surfaces not a requirement. Needless to say we had to watch where we put our feet. Looking out away from the walled city, there were many holes for defense (arrow holes) pretty evenly spaced.

Overally I found the walk on the wall a wonderful experience, it really gave you a feel for the town. As a note, I am scared of heights, can't remember a time when I wasn't. But when I know about a task ahead of time- like walking along a 3 story tall wall- I can usually control my fear. Unfortunately there are two terrifying experiences that I won't forget. At one point, we scared two pigeons which about gave me a heart attack. The second point is where they didn't finish the wall (portions were destroyed during a devistating seige and WWII), For this section, they put in planks that creaked and shifted as you walked along them- about lost my nurve there. For Mark, he will probably never forge that he bumped his head at one of the intersections of the wall and a turret. In fact, all of the castles and ruins were built for much smaller individuals than Mark's 6'3".

We walked the wall one way, and since it is the long way around and we were getting hungry for breakfast, we headed strainght through town on our way back (after we purchased our German glass). Breakfast at the hotel was refreshing. We had our own table filled with fruity yogurt, a basket full of bread, a meat and cheese tray, apple juice, and slices of watermellon. (As a note I don't like mellons and neither does Mark, but that I ate half of that watermellon and enjoyed every bite- I seem to not be very picky about food when I am starving.) After gathering our things, we checked out and bought a turned wooden mushroom, the lady of the house gifted us another small matching mushroom too! What a wonderful hotel!

Heading back to the bus depot, we loaded up with other fellow tourists heading to the trainstation. After 2 trains and the amazing ICE (Germany's fastest train, with chairs of comfort, glass doors, digital displays of where you are headed and very little shaking as you move) we arrived in Frankfurt. After Mark talked with a train station attendant about how to get to the airport, we looked at a map in the train station and found our last German hostel. Before we headed out, we picked up lunch at the train station. Mark chose his trusty ham and cheese, but I was adventurous and selected a beautiful rasberry pastry with a creamy pudding in the center- it was gooy and wonderfully sweet!

Fortunately our hostel was really close to the train station and we made it there by 2pm. Unfortunately this was the first time that we would be in a room with roommates- we were a bit apprehensive. We put our stuff in two of the cabnet doors and rented locks from the front desk to keep everything safe. Then we were back on the street.

Our options for the day were either the Architectural museum next door or the botanical gardens. Well since we missed the gardens in Bonn (due to the short and odd times that they were open) and the gardens in Munich were mainly beer gardens, we headed down across the river to the gardens. Unfortuantely we couldn't figure out how to take the subway, so in condolences we purchased some grapes from a vender above the subway station and munched as we walked along a nice tree covered pedestrian walkway to the gardens- we arrived around 3pm.

Here again, our student IDs came in handy and we entered! Dead ahead was the palm house, all enclosed with beatiful orchids on display. I was facinated by the baby's tears that covered the ground- if only we could have a lawn full of lush baby's tears- wow. There was an impressive walkway across one of the ponds too, stepping on square pillars of roughened dark cement just an inch above the water, it made you feel like you were right on the surface. In a room next to the conservatory, there was a bright yellow banana exhibit- all in German, but it was a large show that seemed to talk about how bananas are grown, harvested and distributed around the world- we also happened across a game Junta about banana republics...

Heading outside, we walked through a happily blooming rose garden. After collecting some great pictures we headed back to the right and saw the oddest birds next to one of the garden's large ponds. They didn't even look like they could fly and they were definately not a species that I knew. Rather shy little things with black feathers flecked with white dots. Next we saw a school which has classes- could you imagine going to a school in a garden- I would never want to leave- a library and a garden- what more could you want?

We sat for a bit, encased in a juniper headge, to admire some malards and the pond before the school, then we headed to the cactus house which was actually two enclosed buildings in one. Each house had a climate slightly different. The first was very arid, hot and dry with hills of sand and rocks with many pointy species sprawling all over. Another was hot but steamy almost like a tropical greenhouse, but contained only wicked looking cacti. While I was excited to identify the species that I knew, I could not learn any new ones since all of the labels were in German and I am not familiar with many of the latin names.

Connected to the cactus house was the tropical house, where beautiful orchids hung and in one we heard a mima-bird calling soulfully. Stepping out from the humidity we encountered ponds of lotus and lilies. The lotus standing so tall were the perfect background to the flat lilies. Along with the typical tropical lilies, there were also some impressive giant water lilies- these had edges on the lily pads that stood above the water, like a lily pad boarder- although I couldn't think of a reason, perhaps some future frog family? On the oposite side of the pond were a row of colorful dalyas standing as tall as mark and in full bloom of rainbow colors.

Walking toward the sub antartic house, we past a prairie garden full of many familiar wildflowers and a happy peacock crying sadly- it reminded me of my gradma's house in south Texas when she kept peacocks- I would hear them cry so every morning. After sitting for a moment to contemplate a metal sculpture with white pebble like rocks all around it, we headed into the subantartic house. Unfortunately the subantartic house was not what we expected- just mainly lower growing veggitation, but the environment was rather like the tropical house, so we didn't hang out too long.

Past a large green lawn we saw a kiddy train stopping at its nearby station and the childrens playground hidden by tall bushes. But drawing our eyes were the beautiful dalyas of every color and spotted/stripped type imaginable. They were taller than Mark in some places and a really impressive sight- I wish I knew what they fed those monsters, mine only grow up to my knees at home.

As of now, we had just gone down one side of the Gardens and were now turning around to head back. This side of the garden was all outdoors with winding paths amongs the trees and plants. we headed into a small house full of blooming flowers- mainly begonias- and a loud waterfall. Back outside we admired the ferns under the trees and happened to notice an ice cream stand! I had a delicious peach and Mark a vanilla both in crunchy waffle cones. Sitting across from the rock garden we happily ate our treats.

Unfortunately the beauty of the garden was being dimmed at this point by our sore feet, so we headed back down the pedestrian walkway. On the way Mark noticed someone using a bong- out in broad daylight. I don't know the laws, but we had already assumed that bongs were accepted because every large trainstation that we went to had them for sale in pretty displays. Well now we saw one in action. Along the way, we stopped into a large game store and Mark picked up a little card game about trains while I sat and massaged my feet. Once back outside, we found a vendor selling gyros- he even had the big haunch of meat rotating behind him. While we were enjoying our meal, we watched a young girl feed the pegions- and then a toddling boy run through them. Fortunately city pegions just get out of your way when you stampeed through them, so the girl didn't loose many, but now the boy had other thoughts, mainly to catch a pigeon- which his coordination would not allow him to do at his young age, but it was rather comical for onlookers.

Heading back to our hostel we packed up for tomorrow's travels home and happily took some advil. Fortunately our roommates didn't arrive until rather late, so Mark and I were already ready for bed at that time. They were rather shocked that we weren't going to stay up all night with them- but then again they probably weren't up at 6:30am walking a wall in a town 3 train stops away. They were both very nice girls, one from Tiwan and the other, from a small town in Germany looking for an apprenticeship in town.

Posted by Laura @ 12:39 PM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Christmas in Rotenburg

After the standard breakfast at the hostel (I am still not use to the soured milk taste), we headed across from Obletter to a discount luggage store. Not seeing any times posted for the store, we got there when it was still closed. After waiting for 1/2 an hour and watching the foot traffic get wet, and some construction workers talk about the building-to-be next door, we headed indoors. Unfortunately the sales that we saw in the windows were "to good to be true" but we got a cute lime green and black rolling suitcase for all of our clothes for 20 euro.

On the way back to the hostel, Mark wanted to check out the Galaria, and what a good idea that was. Although most of the games he wanted, we already got at Obletter, we picked up Odins Ravin's for only 5 euros. At the hostel we checked out, which involved just giving them our key, and headed back to the train station. We went back to the help desk and were given a little pamphlet with all the train schedules for Rotenburg. Unfortunately, the lady told us to follow the schedule for Saturday (note this is Monday). After boarding what we thought was the right train- the trains don't have numbers, they just line up on the platforms- we sat by ourselves for a bit. Now the digital display in the train said that we would not be going to the right location, and that seemed odd. While pondering this, we were approached by two girls who were also interested in going to Rotenburg, and since they could read more German than us, they mentioned that it looked like this train only goes to Rotenburg on Saturdays. After they headed off, we pondered what to do for a bit when a ticket agent approached us talking in German. After a bit, we learned that this train would take us 1/2 a day to get to Rotenburg if we took this train, we were following the Saturday schedule and that this train doesn't leave for another hour.

Well enough was enough. We headed to the ticket window. The nice thing about the ticket agents at the ticket windows is that you can ask them to print you an itinerary for you, which is what we did. We got a printed schedule from the reservation desk and boarded the right train at 11:45. Three transfers later (three trains and a scary fast bus from Steinach to Rotenburg where someone’s pears kept rolling around on the floor with every quick turn) we got Rotenburg. Being good tourists by now, we headed straight for the information station, right next to the bus station. A very helpful lady helped direct us to our new abode for the night, which was a 1/2 hour walk from where we were currently.

So we headed up hill, around the outer wall of Rotenburg, over several apples dropped from apple trees and what appeared to be red plums dropped from their trees. As we were walking along, we couldn't help but notice how fast everyone was driving. I will admit that I enjoy the speedy drive, but I think some of the locals our crazy- in these little cars, about half the size of an American car and taking turns that seemed to break the laws of physics. It was a bit nerve racking to watch.

At 3pm we were ecstatic to arrive at our lovely hotel "Klingintor." This was another pick from our guidebook, and it was only 15 euro more than a hostel and worth every penny. We were on the second floor with a room to ourselves, a double bed with room to stretch and our own bathtub and shower. After refreshing ourselves we hit the road and walked into town. The roads were all cobblestone, which announced every approaching car clearly to us. Oddly the sidewalks had barely enough room for one person to stand, rather awkward. Following our map from the info station, we headed toward one of two city church's, Stadtpfarrkirche St. Jakob and used our student IDs to get in for 1/2 price. This particular church was rather cathedral-like with the tall arched ceiling with stone saints on each pillar. We weaved through the pews in the larger part of the church and headed toward the altar. The altar was recessed in a narrow section at the front of the church, lined on both sides with wooden chairs for the choir above which there are 14th and 15th century stained-glass windows. We sat for a bit in two of the many chairs in this smaller section, before the altar- it was so peaceful.

Getting up, we headed to the left side of the narrow alter alcove to see an older alter with its beautiful hand carvings. Heading toward the back of the church, we walked up behind the organ. There was the altar containing the Heiliges Blut (holy Blood). The carving was amazingly detailed and beautifully carved, it felt like the artist used the grain of the wood when creating his masterpiece- it was so seamless. Nestled in the upper center part of the altar was a crystal capsule which is suppose to contain drops of Christ's blood. After sitting and staring at the masterpiece, we headed back outside and toward the center of town to visit the Christmas museum. We had talked about visiting the Medieval Criminal Museum, but due to our timing, we only had time for one tour. So Christmas it was and we headed to Kathe Wohlfahrt. Just walking in the door was an experience. Walking in we took a right and walked past mechanical toys in a mechanical village getting ready for Christmas time (putting up decorations, slipping on the ice).

Purchasing two tokens, we headed upstairs for the museum. There we discovered the history of Christmas trees (originally one per immediate and extended family where today it is one per household) and learned that small trees were shipped to soldiers during WWI to brighten their spirits. We also learned about the history of Santa Claus which originally started with Saint Nickolas in Germany. I also found the development of ornaments very interesting- they were originally made at home, out of dough. With mechanization, more ornaments became possible including glass and molded shapes. Mark also learned about the German Christmas pickle, a tradition where the first child to find the pickle on the tree Christmas morning would receive a special gift. We also learned about cards and the addition of first candlelight and then strings of light bulbs.

After our tour, we were definitely thinking about Christmas and the store did not disappoint. We headed down stairs and into Christmas shopping land. There were bedecked Christmas trees everywhere we looked. Lining every corner of every wall were ornaments to buy. Well we just wandered around and eventually covered the whole store. With the help of sales ladies we picked up a Mushroom smoker (a wooden mushroom home to burn incense in, although I probably never will- I just loved the look), lovely ornaments of wood, wood shavings and straw, and lots of gifts for family and friends back home. We briefly looked at the glass ornaments (too breakable) and table toppings in the back and headed out happily with our purchases.

For dinner we ate at a hotel right next to the church we visited earlier. I was happy to see all the chanterelles on the menu. In the spirit of the season, I ordered a chunky chanterelle soup topped with lovely butter croutons followed by 3 sausages (brat, breakfast sausage and one that was hot dog like) on sauerkraut which was served on a heart shaped plate with some hearty dark german bread on the side. Mark started with a stayed Chanterelle mushroom salad followed by Weinersnitzel with those delicious french fries.

With our tummies full, we paid our bill just as it started to rain. When we got back to our hotel to put our purchases away, we were rather soaked. After a quick change, we headed back out to see the watchman at 8pm in the town square. Unfortunately, it rained the entire tour, but remarkably, our tour guide was really good spirited (we have discovered that it rains often in Germany) we haven't laughed so hard in days. Since it was hard to see most of the tour, as we were dodging the rain drops under one umbrella, we ended up purchasing his video tour to watch when we get back home. We did see the wealthiest house in Rotenburg which housed a king, a door within the gate to let in those who stayed out after the gates closed, that each house was responsible for keeping one years supply of flour in case of siege and the richer houses must also save salt in their attics (too bad they didn't save gunpowder, which would have come in handy- instead they kept all the barrels of gunpowder in one location- part of their downfall), we walked the oldest remaining cobblestone street from the 15th century, saw the oldest house (Hell's Kitchen) which still has its original basement, and learned about how the town survived the destruction of WWII. A great night and after the tour, it stopped raining :)

Walking around the town, there were still a large number of stores open, across from Kathe Wohlfahrt we found another ornament store and got a present for Irene, who is watching our garden. Heading down to the pub, we got some fruit desert with strawberry and chocolate ice cream. The waitress also gave us advice on where we could buy a nice pub glass and we found the store, closed now, but we will visit tomorrow. Heading back to the hotel I took a wonderful shower and Mark watched some Germany TV- mainly music videos- but impossible for us to understand.

Posted by Laura @ 10:20 AM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]

Fussen and King Ludwig's Newschwanstein Castle

Today our goal is to see the famous fairy-tale castles in Fussen. Fussen is a small city near the border of Germany and Austria, and lies in the foothills of the Alps, so we're hoping for some beautiful scenery surrounding our last day of touring Castles.

Laura and I woke up refreshed and ready to get out of Munich; we've discovered we like the smaller towns over big cities, so much less noise and hustle and bustle, especially when you're in a foreign country, slower is better. Breakfast was once again a traditional cheese and ham hard-roll sandwich for me, and some bread with jam and butter for Laura. As we were up early, it was relatively uncrowded, and we made a quick get-away back to the train station. Another quick stop at the reservation desk, and we had two tickets to Fussen and were ready to go. We picked up sandwiches at the train station baekeri and found our way to the right platform (with this being the biggest train station we'd seen yet, there were about 40 platforms, so this was a little more challenging than before). We were one of the first ones there, so we found a nice seat pointed the right direction, and read our books while the train slowly filled. Wave after wave of people showed up, until there were no seats left, and we were off. I wonder how they ever know if there will be seats for everyone on the train, since there's not much in the way of making a reservation.

The two-hour train ride was a little rainy, but filled with some great scenery. The hills gradually became larger, more and more cows were spotted grazing, the houses took a turn for the classical look, and then we saw the Alps, slowly creeping up until you couldn't help but call them mountains. Even for the next half hour, they just slowly grew, and by the time we reached Fussen, we were at their base. Besides looking at the scenery, I finished "Rendevous with Rama" and Laura made more progress in her Cat adventure book.

We acted like tourists and followed everyone else off the train when it reached Fussen, and they thankfully led us to the tour buses, headed up the hill toward the castles. We couldn't see the castles yet, but we just knew we were at the right place. A cramed bus and 10 minutes later, we were at the base of another hill, and when we got off the bus, we spotted a fog-shrounded Castle Newschwanstein.
I've always wanted to see this castle, first because it is the castle you see everywhere, on jigsaw puzzles, posters, etc, and second, because when my grandparents visited Germany in their retirement, one of their travel pictures was a perfectly-framed Newschwanstein castle. The quality was good enough that they could blow it up to a 2 feet or so framed picture on their wall, which then hung in my room once they passed away and is now in our bedroom. My mission for today was to find the spot where they took their picture and see how well I can replicate it.

A short walk of following tourists took us to the ticket booth, where we picked up the Royal Tour tickets, first for Hohenschwangau, where King Ludwig was born and grew up, and Newschwanstein, his fantastic unfinished castle just across the valley. As this was a main tourist spot, both of our tours would be in English, for better or for worse. The rain had picked up, so we donned our ponchos from previous castle explorations, and headed up a short walk to the waiting gate area. The system was very orderly, with numbers on your ticket telling you exactly when to head in, and as we had about half an hour before our tour, we hid under a tree and our umbrella to eat our lunch, a nice meal of breaded chicken sandwich for Laura and a ham and cheese sandwich for me. Try as it might, the rain could not dampen our spirits for castling today, and when our number was called, we shook off our rain and headed inside.

Our tour took us through the Queen's rooms on the 1st floor and the King's rooms on the 2nd floor. The third floor where the children lived (with almost no interaction from their parents it seemed, only caretakers and nannies) was not restored and could not be seen on the tour. The most memorable thing was the very detailed and colorful wall paintings. They had been painted directly on to the plaster, and detailed many historical knights of the family as well as local fairy tales involving swans, thus the Schwan name in the castle. There were many symbolic figures of swans, lions (for Bavaria) and eagles (for Prussia) also hidden among the paintings.

As with the other castles we saw, this had been destroyed by the French and been rebuilt within the last two hundred years, but with a mind to preserving the historical feel. Both floors had a very large dining room area with ornametal plates and table-settings, makes you wonder if they ever ate together as a family and played board games, probably not. Many of the ceilings were painted blue with white stars, and the ceiling in the King's bedroom had been altered to allow the simulation of stars, by drilling holes to the third floor, putting in colored glass pieces at the bottom, and having servents stand on the third floor with lights, waving them until the King went to sleep. We also noticed that one of the perks of being King is getting fantastic birthday presents, like an ivory carved chest, a gold goblet, engraved shields, and 100 year old bread and salt (well it wasn't 100 years old when he got it, only now, and it looks very well preserved..) The tour ended with a short walk outside to visit the gardens and view the valley down below, and we looked at our watches and started headed for the next castle, following some Italian smokers down the hill.

Now we had three options, either take a horse carrige up the hill, take the bus shuttle, or walk along the horse trail. We noticed the horses were going rather slow, and since the rain pretty much stopped and we were starting to get used to all this excersize, we choose to hoof it on our own. It turned out to be a pretty direct route, with only a couple of detours made to avoid the horse droppings on the way. We exited the tree-covered road to see the huge white walls of the castle with a large circular staircase on one side. There seemed to be a very long line to get in, but it was once again an orderly procession of people waiting to have their tour number called. Finally it was time for #475 at 2:15, and we headed in.

The castle was huge, probably the biggest one we'd seen all trip. And since it was never finished and never lived in, we were able to see more rooms than any other castle too. It's surprizing how much money was put in to this castle, and for someone to have that much money at their disposal, even at the time when it was built. There were many beautiful ceilings with their gothic arches all painted. We moved through a huge hallway with views on either side, one of the valley, the other of the servant's quarters, which looked bigger than our apartment. As in Hoenschwangau, the walls were all painted with huge plaster paintings, many of them featuring scenes from Wagner operas, as the castle was dedicated to Wagner since he and Ludwig were friends. I was particularly impressed with the size and brightness of the throne room (minus one throne-to be added later) with a huge mosaic under our feet and wall paintings of knight/saints in the place of the usual chappel/12 disciples spot. This was also the favorite spot for the other tourists in our group to take illegal pictures. The bedroom included some of the most intricate wood carvings we'd seen, it looked like a miniature copy of the Koln cathedral was made into his bed canopy and light fixtures for his sink, and everywhere we went there were large white swans. Laura's favorite room was the Music Hall, our last stop, where the ceiling was constructed for perfect acoustics, and the walls were painted green like we were in a forest, right up to the door we used to exit, which was perfectly hidden. We ended our tour by visiting Ludwig's childhood gift shop (obligatory Simpson's reference) and picking up some postcards.

But as yet, we had not found where my grandparent's took their picture, although we did see some very similar pictures in the gift shop, so we searched our map some more and found a pathway to Mary's Bridge, which looked like just the spot we needed. Turns out this was a very uphill hike, just what we needed, more hills. It was worth it, though, as we crested one hill, we found an opening to take pictures of Hoenschwangau down in the valley, Laura thinks it will be perfect for her Mom to remember the Alps. Another small hike upwards, and we found the famous bridge, rickety and metal, with very bouncy wooden planks under our feet. Laura was very brave and walked out on the bridge with me, and we turned to see Newschwanstein in perfect position for a picture, and I'd finally found the spot where my grandparents had walked in Germany. I snapped some large and small pictures, and we headed off (much to Laura's relief) to find a bus back to the train station. We squeezed our way onto the next bus and careened our way down the hillside, to another bus station, where we managed to catch the last bus back, and hopped on the last train back to Munich 4 minutes before it took off. Phew!

Laura found many opportunities for pictures on the way back, with the rolling hills and receeding mountains being the home to many cows and picturesque German houses. I slept what I could (I'm not a good train/bus/moving vehicle sleeper) and Laura read some more while the two hours back to Munich flew by. And by now, after a day of exercise, we were starving for dinner. We returned to the pedestrian mall we found yesterday and found the Spatenhauf for another good German meal, with the compelling reasons being that it had English translations of thier menu options, we could sit outside and avoid the smoke, and it was close. I tried out the Jagerschnitzle, which was Wienerschnitzle covered in a creamy mushroom and onion sauce, with some pan-fried spatzle on the side. Laura ordered the Oxenhau, a pot roast slicked and coated in a mustard sauce, with skillet-fried potatoes with bacon and oregano. We split a green salad, and amazingly (although not by now) we finished everything we ordered. Best meal yet! :)

Still in search of gardens in Munich, we wandered down to a green spot on the map marked Promenade, with 3 large statues (maybe Maximillian and other Bavarian kings?) amongst two rows of marigolds and tall white flowers. By now, our energy was exhausted, so we headed back to the hostel and fell into bed, with plans tomorrow to see the famous Deutches Museum.

Posted by Mark @ 11:26 AM CDT [Permanent URL] [No Comments]