Monday, August 26, 2013

Hello Erbendorf - a tour of our new home

As you have heard me mention in several posts over the past couple months, this latest move was particularly taxing on all of us. BUT, we can now finally say that it is all behind us.  We are officially moved, unpacked, and settled.  Big R is mostly in-processed at our new duty station, and our ties are all but severed at our prior post (except for the friends that remain there, of course).

We were so anxious about what would await us in this move.  I think we had grown a little too attached to our life in Bamberg to imagine moving somewhere else.  It appeared as if things could never get better.  I suppose that's a fun way to look at your life, like things could never get better?

One of the reasons we were so nervous about this move is because our initial move to Germany was wrought with challenges.  This is par for the course moving to a foreign country, especially when you have to find housing off-post with pets including a large dog.  We also wanted to live somewhere close so we wouldn't have to buy another car.  We knew it would be tough, but I'm not sure the reality of how tough that would be really sunk in until Big R got here and tried to find a place to live.

So, needless to say, we were anxious.  Anxious that we'd have to spend a bunch of our own money hiring a realtor again, nervous that we'd have to live on post and forego the experience of living in a German town, and scared that all the things we loved about our life would vanish.  Why in the world do we do this to ourselves?

Turns out, we had nothing to worry about.  Everything worked out for the best.  We had some struggles with the transition, but honestly, very little of it had to do with our new assignment - most of the issues were trying to get things taken care of on the other end.  Housing put us into a government-leased home.  Sounds crazy, right?  It's actually a pretty terrific deal especially since we are only going to be here for another year.  Our government leased land and signed contracts to place a small neighborhood in a town just 20 km north of the post.  They have apparently done something similar to this all around the area, so the housing situation is vastly different here than it is in Bamberg.  Pretty cool.

We have a German-built home that takes into consideration all of the things we Americans might need to feel comfortable. Things like 110 voltage in each room, cable hook ups, American appliances (I can do a load of laundry in under an hour now - crazy!), closets - so many closets!, and tons of storage space.  There are things left less to be desired like linoleum flooring in the main area of the house and industrial carpet in all our bedrooms, but honestly, that does make it easier to avoid damages and to handle the high traffic of families constantly moving in and out.  My absolute favorite arrangement of our new place though is that they pre-contracted with the city to provide internet to the neighborhood to avoid the need for Soldiers to set up and sign difficult term contracts to have access to the world wide web.  It's broadband instead of the amazing internet we had before, but you can't argue with the ease of how everything was provided to us.  (As a reminder, it took us two months to get it hooked up at our house near Bamberg, and getting out of the contract has been an interesting mess.)

The town we live in is called Erbendorf, and it really is a beautiful and adorable German town.  It functions as the gateway to Naturpark Steinwald, which means we live in a place where Germans like to vacation.  Pretty darn cool.  I seriously lose my breath every time I descend the hill into our town because it's so beautiful.  We better eat this place up before we have to move next summer.  The folks that live here are incredibly friendly, and we have everything we need a ten minute walk from our house.

Sun setting near our home in Erbendorf

A peek into Erbendorf from the fields near our house

Several people have asked to see pictures of our new place and for us to describe what our new place is like.  I took some pictures hoping to give you a good feel of how things are laid out.  I'm somewhat of a ferocious unpacker - something I undoubtedly learned from my mom watching her move our family year after year - so I had our boxes unpacked, all our furniture set up, everything put away, and pictures on the walls in just two days.  I'm actually proud of this accomplishment, which is the only reason I'm mentioning it.  I hope to remind myself it can be done if I'm feeling overwhelmed by it in the future.  It definitely helped that we have a lot more space in this house than we did in our last.  Things are easy to put away when you have a place for them.

The general layout of our new place is a three story, four bedroom, three bath house.  The garden level has a master bedroom and bath with walk-out to the "front yard," a laundry room, and a storage keller.  The main level has a fairly large family room, entry way with a half bath, a small dining room, and a decent sized kitchen (it feels huge to me after living with the tiny kitchen we had before).  And the top floor has the boys' rooms, my office/yoga room, and a full bath.  We also have an attic, but I doubt seriously that we'll ever open the door or store anything up there (except maybe to hide Christmas presents).  There is also a single car garage and a separate storage room where we keep our bikes and the stroller.  

^^^Here is a view of our entryway and a peek into the small bathroom.^^^

We left all of our antique and "grown up" furniture in storage, so our current set up is fairly modern and pretty "clean." I think quite literally over 90 percent of our furnishings were purchased at Ikea either here or stateside. (I wish I were joking, but I so clearly am not!)  I struggled a bit with how we were going to set up our living room.  We had to buy a new couch because sweet Lando destroyed what was left of our leather couch (it was on its way out, but he expedited the process a wee bit).  Somehow we found a relatively affordable couch (from Ikea, of course) that fits well with our other furniture (maybe because it all came from Ikea as well????).  I'm a big fan of how the room came together.  I love how much light we get in this room...

^^^This is a photo of the tv viewing area of our living room.  The entry way and stairwell sits off to the right of this picture.^^^

^^^The other half of the room is a "library" and sitting area."^^^

^^^Another view of the sitting area.  A bookshelf with our "library" sits on the wall to the left.^^^

^^^A view of the room from the entry way looking toward the porch.^^^  

^^^My simple little kitchen.  Not a dream space, but I actually really like it.^^^

^^^Our small dining room. The kitchen sits off to the right in this picture.^^^

^^^View of the staircase - it's a lot of stairs to climb when the boys need me in the middle of the night, but the exercise is probably good for me.^^^

^^^The master bedroom (and where we will have guests sleep while they are visiting). To the left of the picture are the glass doors leading to the front yard.^^^

^^^Our spacious master bath. We have just a shower, but the boys have a full bath upstairs include a bathtub, shower, and two sinks.^^^

^^^Baby C's room - I love all the light.^^^

^^^Another view of Baby C's room. I miss the beautiful brown walls from his first nursery, but his room still feels pretty cozy.^^^

^^^Little r's awesome and super fun room - having the closet space in here is so great!  Didn't realize how much I missed closet space.^^^

^^^My office and yoga space.  We put our old couch up here.  My mom made cushion covers for us that fit perfectly. We decided to let this be the one piece of furniture Lando could continue to sit on.^^^

^^^Probably my favorite space, the porch.  We were able to use much of what we bought for that amazing porch at our place in Bischberg to create an equally tranquil place to enjoy the outdoors.  I sit out here often to enjoy my coffee, and breakfast happens out here nearly every weekend while it is still warm.^^^

^^^This is the view from our porch.  You can see the church steeple in Erbendorf above the rooftops.  I feel lucky that we get to live here.^^^

It's tough to capture your home in pictures, but hopefully this will give you an idea of what our new place is like.  Somehow we managed to have a government-leased house in a very cute German town.  Kind of the best of both worlds.  Not exactly a dream house or anything, but it's easily the biggest house we have ever lived in. I forgot how much I missed all this closet space.  Having lived in mostly older buildings and houses since college, this is the most closet space I've had in over a decade, and it's pretty awesome.  

I hope many of you can come visit us in this very special place.  You are all welcome anytime - we'd love to have you :)

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Girls' weekend in Tuscany

This post is way overdue, but it's definitely one that must be shared.  Last fall when I was enjoying my second trimester, I decided that having a nice and relaxing weekend with my girlfriends somewhere fun was a must.  Lucky for me, I have an incredible husband that couldn't agree more, so he made sure it could happen.  I initially thought I wanted to put my feet in the sand and go somewhere warm. Honestly, the Greek Isles were really high on my list.  But with my due date being early May, I really couldn't do the trip much later than the first part of March.

And to keep it affordable and easy to do in a long weekend, we needed the destination to be somewhere in Europe. Most of Europe is pretty darn cold until the end of April, and the Greek Isles were promising nothing but a mess of rain and nasty weather that time of year.  I decided Italy would be our best bet.  Let's face it folks, when can you ever go wrong with a trip to Tuscany with seven of your closest girlfriends?  Come March, I was pretty relieved we didn't have plans that included me wearing a swimsuit anyhow.

I was blown away that everyone I asked to join me on the trip said, "yes"!  A couple of my friends had to cancel at the last minute, but it was still pretty incredible that six of us were able to go.  It truly was a memorable weekend in so many ways.  I researched endlessly until I found the perfect Villa in Tuscany for our group.  It was called, Villa Poggio di Gaville, and it was an amazing place.

The Villa was located near Figline Valdarno, which sits just to the southeast of Florence.  We were able to catch a train from Figline to Florence in just 20 minutes where we were going to spend the morning with a special tour guide.  Our tour guide is also a good friend I met when I took my German class at Treffpunkt back in December.   Stefania did a beautiful tour.  It was great fun to be guided around the city. This is the third time I had been to Florence and I learned so much on this visit.

Here is most of the crew as we started our tour
Our beautiful tour guide, Stefania, as we overlook Florence
Wanna drive?  Only 150 EUR for 10 minutes!
Kimberly and Jessie enjoying sights on our tour

Stefania taught us much about the buildings and sculptures throughout Florence.  ^^^Here the artist included a replica of his face in the back of the head on this sculpture.^^^  

^^^And in this picture you can see the bridge adjoining the buildings.  The Royal family had a pathway built from the palace across the river into the parliament so that they would never have to be in the elements or mix with the common folk.^^^

Small details that are easy to miss when you visit historical cities without a tour guide. Stefania was amazing.  If you are ever in Florence and want a great and very personal guide, let me know and I'll get you in touch with her.

After our tour ended, some of us stayed behind and enjoyed the afternoon in Florence, and some headed off to drive the hills of Chianti.  I was in the latter group, and volunteered to drive our tiny rental car, which was great for navigating small roads in Florence and fantastic for parking in all of the small towns.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day.  The weather wasn't summer-like as it had been just weeks before, and there was a strong and cold wind, but the sun shined for us all day.

We drove into Greve in Chianti, which was a characteristic Tuscan town.  We just did a quick walk through to get a feel for its charm.

beautiful vineyards lined the countryside
charming character of the buildings
tunnels under buildings revealed picturesque landscapes
We had little luck finding any vineyards open that afternoon for wine tasting, but we were able to locate a shop in Greve that sold olive oil and some of the local chianti wines.  We couldn't leave without each buying a bottle of the rich olive oil.

you refill your own wine bottles from barrels in the store
Vats of olive oil - amazing!

We continued our drive and headed out to Radda.  Greve sits somewhat in a valley, and Radda is a town on top of a hill.  We timed it so that we would be in Radda for sunset in the hopes to catch some amazing photographs.  Even in early March, the Tuscan countryside is a sight to be scene.

Amy, Meg and Me on our drive through the Chianti region
Radda is an ancient town on top of a hill
Buildings were typical of architecture throughout Tuscany

^^^One of my favorite pictures from that weekend is Meg standing on a ledge to capture the perfect photograph as the sun was setting.  It was a sheer drop on the other side of the ledge.  Her biggest fear? That she would drop her camera!^^^

One of the things that made this trip special was all of the food.  I picked this villa because it was owned and run by a well-known international chef.  We opted for the full-board option, which was a perfect way to go for a larger group traveling together because dinner was always scheduled and planned.  After doing our own thing, we would all come together for dinner each evening and enjoy each other's company.  It also took the stress out of trying to find a place to eat for a large group that met everyone's eating preferences.  I have to admit, too, that having a four course meal every night that was chosen for us, was a fantastic way to try things I never would have ordered (and that you would probably never find on a menu!).

The food was amazing and creative.  It had a tuscan flare, of course, but our chef, Jamal Amin, added parts of his local culture to the meals as well.  As a fun activity, Jamal offered cooking course where we create a four course meal with him.  We had such a great time and each learned something amazing to cook.  Kimberly finally learned how to make pasta from scratch, Meg still makes the focacia bread nearly every week, and I got creative and tried to make the pasta sauce and other side dishes at home (one in particular was a concoction of avacado, pear, and pecorino cheese - AMAZING!).

Our cooking session was in the afternoon that Sunday.  Part of our group spent the day at the outlet shops about twenty minutes away, and Amy and I stayed back to do some more driving throughout Chianti.  It was a bitter sweet day for me that holds memories I love to remember and wish I could forget.  At the time we took our trip to Tuscany, my Dad had already been in the hospital for two months.  My Dad had a particularly bad night, and I got a frightening message that morning.  Amy stayed close and provided support as I sat in the dining room where wifi was available and awaited updates.  I also decided to walk around the beautiful grounds at the villa to get lost in my thoughts and take photographs.  Here are a few of my favorites from that morning.  I felt as if I were surrounded by art everywhere I looked...

Once my family told me that there would not be any updates for quite awhile and that Dad was otherwise stable, Amy convinced me to get away and enjoy a drive through Chianti.  It was a fabulous afternoon.  Again, the weather was amazing, and although most things were closed because it was a Sunday in early spring, we truly enjoyed the quiet drive.

We stopped at a few vineyards that surround castles.  They were all closed for the season, unfortunately, but when we arrived at Castello da Verrazano, they allowed us to take a walk around the grounds.  So beautiful.  I would love to come back here to see the inside and taste the wines they grow along the hillsides.

Castello de Verranzo from afar
Winery at Castello de Verranzo
Inside the grounds of Castello de Verranzo
Our next stop before heading back to the Villa was completely by accident. Nestled in the hills just a couple kilometers above Greve is a small fortified village.  Beautiful Montifioralle was such a pleasant surprise, and it's where we ended up spending most of the afternoon. (And I was so relieved I had a tiny rental car or a visit to this town would not have been possible that day!)

Pathway into Montefioralle
More beauty in Montefioralle
We stopped at a little hole in the wall - literally - for wine tasting.  The chianti wines were personally grown by the owner of the shop on the hillside adjacent to the town.  I let Amy do the drinking, while I tasted and enjoyed the meats and cheeses that came with the wines.  It was such a quaint, behind the scenes shop with no frills that we sat on plastic chairs at a plastic table and listened to the locals enjoy an exciting football game.  It was too much fun, and the food (and wine) was delectable!

The wines we tasted - so good we brought some home
The little hole in the wall shop where we stopped for our wine
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Montefioralle enjoying priceless scenes like this artist drawing the streetscape. Such a beautiful town...

The streets of Montefioralle
Amy and me
Our last day came too quickly.  We took our time eating breakfast and chatting with Jamal.  Somehow we remembered to have our photos taken with him.  I truly hope we can return to his villa again some day.  If you are heading to Tuscany, I can't recommend it enough!

Me and Jamal - such a beautiful morning!

Meg, Amy, me, Jamal, and Jessie at Poggio di Gaville
Such an incredible weekend with my friends right before my father passed away.  It was nice to be able to ride on the memories we shared to get me through such a difficult time.  

Turns out, Big R and I are kind of huge fans of Italy, and we decided that Tuscany was a region worth visiting during a season when grasses were green and flowers were in bloom.  So, we are heading back for a long weekend in Tuscany with our family for Labor Day.  My pictures will pail in comparison to the magic he'll create on he's camera.  We will be staying in a villa on the other side of Tuscany, and we plan on seeing some other parts of the region including Siena and San Gimignano.  

Stay tuned