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Archive for June 2013

My Mom & I Invade Paris

Thursday, June 20, 2013

I have to admit, it's pretty cool living close enough to Paris to go to the city just for the day. A 2 hour train ride and we're there. TWO HOURS! That's it. It's almost perfect. Perfection would be living in Paris. No, perfection would be living in Paris with good hair that never frizzes. How do French women do it?!

Eiffel Tower, Paris
I love Paris when it sizzles....
Of course, we needed to go while my mom was here. I swear every woman needs to visit the Eiffel Tower at least once in her life. (Warning: once you see it, it's not such a big deal the second or third or tenth time, so really enjoy that first trip.) Mike couldn't get any more time off and he's already been to Paris so this is the trip he decided to skip.

We arrived on the 2100 train, so it was already dark, thus the midnight picture of the Eiffel Tower. And even though she was tired, I made us take a convoluted metro route to our apartment so that we came over the river on Line 6. If you're watching out of the left side of the train as it pops over the bridge (this line goes above and below ground), you get a magnificent view of the Eiffel Tower. It was even more magical all lit up at night. It's my favorite way to see the Tower for the first time. If you're planning a trip to Paris and are interested in doing that, make your way onto Line 6 from Trocadero towards Bir Hakeim. Don't forget to stand near a window!

Paris, France
From around the neighborhood we stayed in... except for the Opera House, bottom right. That was near the Starbucks we went to.

Every time I go to Paris I fall in love with it more. Every time I find some little nook somewhere that feels good. I just like the vibe of the city. It was great getting to share that with my mom. This time my favorite spot was the Jardin du Luxembourg. I could have spent all day there.

Paris, France, Notre Dame, Jardin du Luxembourg
The Jardin du Luxembourg and Notre Dame
We stayed for 2 nights in an apartment I rented online. I love this way to travel! While the apartment we had in Paris wasn't the greatest (it really did not match up to the pictures I saw), it is so nice to have a real place to come "home" to while traveling. I love having a kitchen to make a quick bite to eat and I like being in a residential area versus a touristy district. I'm a super nerd and I just love seeing how other people live and experiencing that by "living" in a real Parisian apartment was a total geek out moment for me.

 I think I could happily spend a week or so in Paris, but honestly if you're mainly interested in the highlights 3 days is more than enough. My mom was not very interested in the museums, so we skipped The Louvre except for taking pictures of the pyramids. I've heard mixed reviews of The Louvre, but I'd still like to see it and decide for myself if it's earned all the hype. I also want to visit the Musee d'Orsay next time I go. And maybe see a show.

Paris, France, Arch de Triomphe, Champs Elysees
The Champs Elysees & The Louvre
Unfortunately, we had more crappy weather on this trip - welcome to Europe in the Springtime! I think after a few days my mom just gave in to frizzy hair and wet feet. It's all you can do, really. This was also the first glimpse she got into how much walking a trip to Europe entails! For what it's worth, I did feel really, really terribly about the blisters! Love you, Mom!

Paris, France Palace of Versailles
Palace of Versailles
The weather turned even worse on our last day there. On top of the drizzly rain, it turned cold. Being soaked to the bone is one thing, being soaked and cold is another. That was also the day we took the train out to Versailles. That was also the day we found out everything is closed because it was a French holiday. Yeah. Score.

This is another prime example of where a little bit of research and planning could have made a huge difference. I have a bad habit of just booking train or plane tickets and a place to sleep and not really doing any other planning. I don't research cool places to go or fun things to see. Mostly, we just go and walk around and hope to see something worth seeing. We haven't been too disappointed yet, but I frequently have moments like this where, in retrospect, I wish I'd put a little more thought into it. I feel really badly that I "wasted" one of mom's days in Paris on a train and all we could see on the other end was a little bit of the Palace grounds. Le sigh. One day I'll learn.

My Mom Visits Europe, pt. 1

Monday, June 17, 2013

I'm still more than a little surprised that my mom actually came to Europe. I knew she wanted to, but I really didn't think she would. I am thrilled she did, though! It was nice having some time with her without having to drive all over Memphis visiting family and friends as well. (Next time we're in Memphis, I'll try to remember to document a normal day for us- it's exhausting!)

I wish I could say it was a nice relaxing trip for her and that I was a thoughtful hostess who didn't stress her out at all, but let's be honest here: I'm a nutcase and I love to do things! ALL.THE.TIME. I'm not sure she was quite prepared for all the walking I made her do (so much to see! let's go there! NOW! what's over there? SQUIRREL!) and I know the culture shock was a little overwhelming. I had forgotten how scary it can be  in a new country where no one speaks your language (this isn't entirely true around here, but it certainly feels that way at times) and where you feel intimidated because the people give you dirty looks a lot (also, not entirely true, but that's another post for another day). I wish I had found a better way to help her deal with that, but the truth is- sometimes you just have to jump in, especially if you're only visiting for a short time. And, unfortunately, I'm not an overly sympathetic person. That's something I should work on. It's on the list.

I feel pretty fortunate that not only do I have a mom willing and able to travel but also that we had the opportunity to see some new places together. I wish we could have done more, but we had truly awful weather most of the time she was here. I really wanted to take a day trip down to Karlsruhe and over to Triberg to see the waterfalls, but between the mini-monsoon season we had and a nasty spring cold I caught, that didn't happen. I also planned a 4 castle hike for one day- 4 gorgeous castles all along the Rhein River but when I told mom & Mike my plan, I got The Look. You know - the one that says, "have you lost your friggin mind?! We do NOT want to be in a car all day and we do NOT want to walk up 4 mountains and around 4 castle grounds IN.ONE.DAY." So, um, yeah... I mentioned that I'm an over-hyper nutcase, right? In retrospect, that was probably a lot to try to accomplish in one day. 

Despite my crazy ways and my nasty cold and my crappy weather, we were able to take several day trips to some of our favorite spots, though. We saw Mannheim, Heidelberg, Strasbourg, and Cochem, all of which are within a couple of hours of here. Here are some of the highlights:
Day trips from Rheinland Pfalz: Strasbourg, France

Strasbourg is a gorgeous little town in the Alsace region in France, about an hour and a half from where I live. It's one of my favorite places to visit and we took my sister, Jessica and her fiance, Kevin, there at Christmas time, too. Every time I've been it's been raining (I think I'm just used to it by now), but one day I really do want to go back when the weather is nice and get some good shots of this city.

The main attraction of Strasbourg, for me, is the cathedral. It's one of my favorite churches to visit. It's not as big or overwhelming as some of the others, but I love it. It's magnificent to me to think how long these monstrous structures have been standing and how long they took to build. Talk about dedication. Other than the cathedral there are cute little shops and restaurants. They have a whole little section with tons of chocolate shops that's pretty awesome! If you're able to visit in the wintertime, they make some really fantastic hot chocolate.

Day trips from Rheinland Pfalz: Mannheim, Germany

A lot of people overlook Mannheim for a day trip, but I gotta tell ya, folks, Mannheim is pretty fun!  The city center near the train station has some great shopping (blocks and blocks of it!), several nice parks, and a REAL Starbucks. Yup. I said it. The secret is out. In less than 45 minutes I can hold in my hand a real Caramel Frappuccino. Mannheim also boasts at least 2 American style shopping malls and a movie kino (theater) with movies in English. And that's just the stuff I've found. One of the best parts? It's a short train ride away if we don't feel like driving.

Day trips from Rheinland Pfalz: Heidelberg, Germany
Heidelberg. Oh, Heidelberg. How I wish we could live there! If you ever get the chance to come to this part of Germany, consider visiting this city. I can't think of anything truly spectacular about it, but we always enjoy visiting. It's just pretty. Heidelberg is one of the few cities that wasn't hit too hard during the World Wars. Understandably, a lot of this area was obliterated and has been rebuilt, but Heidelberg wasn't a main target and a lot of the city is original. This was our first time to go up to the castle and I'm so glad we did. Even though it's under renovation, it was still phenomenal. It's HUGE! I wasn't expecting that. That picture of my mom above? That's probably my favorite one of her from this trip. I think it might be the only one I got with a "real smile." Usually she gave me the cheesy grin or made a goofy face or hid from the camera. In case you're wondering about my goofball tendencies, I come by them honestly!

Day trips from Rheinland Pfalz: Cochem, Germany

Remember those 4 castles I wanted to visit? Cochem was one of them. We got a bit of a late start this day because we were relaxing on a lovely Sunday arguing over where to go and by the time we finally got there, things were closing up. We couldn't figure out how to get to the castle- the GPS kept taking us up the world's tiniest road that went in a circle. It didn't go near the castle, so I don't know what the GPS was trying to do. In any case, we saw it from a distance and from the neighboring hill and I think Mom was happy with that. I was thankful to just have a day of nice weather to be outside in.

So that's it for our day trips with my mom. We also took some pretty cool over-nighters. Next up: Paris!

Flashback Friday: Ausfahrt is Not a City

Friday, June 14, 2013

Or: I Can Read A Lot More German Now!

The process of moving content from our old website to this blog is stirring up some memories. I had a column called "Misadventures of a Flame-Haired Frau" and this is what I wrote about my first day in Germany:

"Ausfahrt is not a city. Driving thru Frankfurt after getting off the plane, I kept seeing 
signs for "Ausfahrt" off the main highway. I finally asked Mike how big a city
 Ausfahrt is and if they have good shopping. He laughed. A LOT. 
An ausfahrt is an exit from a main road."


"Parking on Einbahnstrasse. My first day here I was struggling to stay awake until at least 8 pm so I could better adjust to the new time. Mike, ever obliging, took me to Kaiserslautern to look at the shopping district. If you've never been to Europe, you should know that you usually have to park a goodly way off and walk. No problem, except that I didn't really know where we were and Mike gets lost in a shopping mall in The States (yes, they get capitals now). Knowing this, I take a good look around as we get out, noting sites and road signs in case we get lost. Smart, yes?

On our way back - SURPRISE! - Mike doesn't remember where we parked, only a 
general direction. ("Near that church steeple, sort of.") I tell him, with immense smugness, that we parked on Einbahnstrasse. He doubled over laughing at me, 
though I couldn't figure out why. 

Einbahnstrasse means "one way street." There are einbahnstrasses everywhere."
I still giggle to myself every time I see or say "Ausfahrt." Yes, I'm a big child.

Ok, so here's the story behind that day: I arrived on the 0600 (that's 6 a.m. for you non-military time tellers) flight after having been separated from my husband / best friend / love of my life for nearly 8 months. It was my first time flying internationally. It was easily the biggest, scariest move of my life. To say that I didn't sleep for several days beforehand would be an understatement. I was nervous and excited and sad and scared and hopeful and overwhelmed. I knew I would miss my family, but I also knew my place is - forevermore - by Mike's side. 

And did I mention the weight limits placed on me? I feel personally attacked by the airlines every time I fly. Why do they hate me and my shoes? What have we done to deserve this sort of discrimination?

Packing was a logistical nightmare. Mike moved about 4 months before I finished nursing school and about 7 months before I graduated. So I had school clothes, winter clothes, spring clothes, shoes, and books - SO.MANY.BOOKS. Oh, and the dog. Lola's a bit of a princess; the ladies of this house do not know the meaning of "low maintenance." So there I am making my way through the airport with 3 HUGE suitcases packed full of pretty much every piece of clothing I own shoved and shrunk into Space Bags to try to make it all fit (failed- Mom still had to mail a huge box of underwear to me), carrying Lola in an over-the-shoulder dog carrier since she was my carry-on (nobody puts Baby in cargo!), and chugging coffee like there's no tomorrow. No surprise that I didn't sleep much on the plane, huh?

The following morning Mike is driving home from the airport and pointing things out as we go (because I am obviously cataloging everything he tells me about how to find my way around) and I keep seeing these yellow arrow signs that say "Ausfahrt" at every exit from the Autobahn. It didn't occur to me that I had been seeing the same signs for over an hour. So I asked. And he laughed. 

Fast forward to today: I now know that most people who first arrive in Germany think Ausfahrt must be a city. They even have t-shirts and glasses and the like that say "I finally found Ausfahrt!" or "Went to Germany, but never found Ausfahrt!" so I'm not the only one. Also, the government here deemed me minimally safe to drive so I can read traffic signs at least passably. It used to give me a headache trying to read each one and make it all make sense in time to respond, but now it's just second nature. I ignore most of the signs, actually. Funny how we adjust to things.

Signs, signs everywhere there's signs... Love me some Tesla!

As for the Einbahnstrasse mishap... well, perhaps I shouldn't have been so smug. I still don't venture down to that shopping area without my GPS because I WILL get lost. And I can only park in one parking lot - partly because it's the only one I can reliably find and partly because it's the only one I sort of know my way home from. Unfortunately for me (and fortunately for Mike), that lot is currently under construction, so no shopping for me at the moment.

I also know now that parking tickets in that parking lot will cost me 5 euro and that I will get one each time I'm 10 minutes late coming back to my car. Parking is a whole other issue around here. 

Hello, My Name Is...

Finally! I've worked up the courage to move the Shutterfly page to a proper blog... and then worked through many nights bought a fancy template to actually make it happen (major thanks to 17thAvenueDesigns on Etsy). This is a big step and it's pretty scary. There is so much going on here on Blogger that I just don't know what to do with so please bear with me. There is a definite learning curve but I'm interested to see how it will all work out and grow.

While you're being patient with me going on about your normal days and I'm learning new things, here's what we  I have to look forward to:

  • More ways to share with you! From day trips to vacations to festivals, from random-Katrina-ness to hippie stuff to weird stuff I try- it'll all be here in a format that will be easier for us to talk about.
  • Bigger, brighter, bolder pictures- because the more I shoot the more in love with my shutter I fall. 
  • Silly stories of my everyday {mis}adventures no matter what mess I'm getting into that day. The good, the bad, the ugly- if you know me, you know I have no shame. (My name is Katrina and I'm an over-sharer.)
  • Easier ways to reach out and let you know what's happening with us. Facebook links are going to be so much easier!

So that's that. I hope you'll check back soon to see what new stuff I'll have up!