Thursday, October 31, 2013

Jet engines in my basement...

Not sure if you remember that about a month ago I told you we had water issues in our bottom floor that needed a little fixin.  My hope was to share some of the experiences with you, but October has been absolutely bananas for us, so I honestly haven't had a lot of time to write about it.  That said, what started as a potential nightmare has resulted in a not-too-terrible renovation project.  It's funny how quickly you can get used to listening to jet engines running all day long in your house. You think I'm exaggerating, and I might be just a tad, but these machines were incredibly loud!  

The crew came in and handled the whole ordeal like true professionals. It was clear they knew exactly what they were doing.  The carpet came up, closets and furniture was removed, tile was cut out, and holes were drilled.  They hung plastic on the walls to trap the moisture and heat downstairs.  Our house seriously felt like that final scene from ET, and I hope you know what I mean or I might really be dating myself here.

I was going to take pictures.  Can you believe that we had that set up for nearly a month and I didn't take a single photo?  Holy cow am I becoming a slacker or what?!  Luckily our house is pretty big for us, so moving everything upstairs just made things cozy.  A tad disorganized, but definitely cozy.  Dare I say that we might kind of like sleeping upstairs a little?  The bottom floor has become more of a basement - a loud space that seemed like it was containing a biological experiment - but avoidable nonetheless.  Upstairs the drone of the engines came across more like a sound machine, so sleeping wasn't as difficult as we expected (although I needed a baby monitor to hear Baby C in the room right next door).  TV watching, however, was an interesting task because the volume had to be blasting for us to hear anything at all.  

The jet engines are finally gone, and it is unreal how quiet it is in our house.  Despite the cozy arrangement upstairs, I'm anxious to get things put back to normal.  Most of our clothes are in boxes in the attic, and all of the efforts to have my house completely organized have been turned upside down for the past month.  Not the end of the world, obviously, but it'll still be nice to put this behind us as a faint memory.  

Housing has been somewhat aloof on the whole deal.  Until yesterday we were concerned they would take their time getting things put back into place.  The walls and floors are dry, but we need contractors to make the space livable again.  This is all scheduled to take place on Monday, so I'll spend the rest of the week making things feel cozy in our house again.  

Thanks for all your support. My neighbors ended up having to go through the same thing kind of unexpectedly, so we've been leaning on each other a tad through this whole ordeal.  It really could have been so much worse.  Guess you could say we are pretty thankful, and mostly we are super relieved we pushed through this instead of caving in and moving to a whole different unit.  The thought continues to make me want to faint - seriously... 

Here's to hoping my next post about our house will be to tell you that all systems are back in place and life continues as normal.  Think positively, right?  This is Germany... I have no doubt the contractors will have things done in less than a day.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The remarkable beauty found in Slovenia and Croatia

I finally finished my first LLM class and had a week off before my next class would start up again. So, Big R took a week of leave so that we could go exploring. We'd been planning a trip to the former Yugoslavia for awhile, but it kept trying not to happen. I was so excited we were able to make this trip come together because it was such an amazing part of the world to see.

We did the adventure by car, so I tried to plan our visits to break up the drive for the kiddos. Our first stop was Lake Bled in Slovenia. Then it was off to Plitvice Lakes in Croatia, and back up north again for a final evening in Ljubljana. The theme of our trip was to enjoy the outdoors by visiting national parks. I had my fingers crossed the weather would cooperate for us, and we definitely had luck on our side this time.

The 6 hour drive from home to Lake Bled was relatively uneventful and painless. Well, as uneventful and painless as a long car ride can be with a 4 year old and a baby. There was a warm front passing through our part of Europe, so the drive was incredible.

Lake Bled is a beautiful place. We weren't sure what exactly to expect other than a church on an island in the middle of a serene lake. It was off-season, so things were quiet, and it took a bit for us to figure out exactly where to park the car, so we could enjoy the view. Before we knew it we were on a small boat heading across the lake to an island.

Beautiful church waiting for us on the island
Baby C is learning to love these boat rides
Another incredible view of the island on Lake Bled
The wind was whipping at the top of the observation tower
The rare family photo taken by new friends we met on the boat ride to the island
just so pretty...
little r taking it all in...
We wrapped up our visit to Lake Bled and headed to Radovljica, which is a small medieval town just 5 kilometers from the lake. Our hotel was Pension Lectar, and it was darling all the way down to the gingerbread museum in the basement. We found a place to park the car outside of the town center and waltzed right into a commercial. Literally, we landed smack dab in the middle of a commercial. Italians were filming a 30 second commercial bit set around Christmas time, so all of the buildings were lined with Christmas lights and a huge fake tree was set up in the square. Too funny...

We had an authentic Slovenian dinner at our hotel, explored the town a bit including purchasing some local wines, and then got the boys into bed while we stayed up and enjoyed a fabulous Cabernet Sauvignon together.

Radovljica was all decked out for Christmas in October for the Italian commercial
Crazy road and rickety bridge we had to cross to get to Radovljica - I had to hold my breath to cross it!
Before we headed to Croatia, we took a little jaunt to a place recommended by the tourist information office called Vintgar Gorge. We really wanted to get some hiking in before another long car ride, and the pictures of the place looked amazing. Let me just say, the pictures hardly did the place justice. It was absolutely gorgeous!!! I think we were there right at peak foliage. Somehow we managed to arrive before anyone else, so we practically had the trail to ourselves until our walk back. The gorge was quiet except for the roar of water, you could feel mist on your cheeks, the foliage lining the trail was breathtaking, and the water was crystal clear. It was absolutely incredible.

rushing water was the only sound as we hiked through the gorge
My boys and I in the middle of Vintgar Gorge
a wooden bridge crossing over the crystal blue waters
seriously beautiful
one of the water falls at an old dam structure
looking down a waterfall
large falls at the end of the hike in Vintgar Gorge
best hiking buddy ever!
seriously?! the beauty was neverending
i actually took this shot - so proud :)
classic little r look
Peek-a-boo, little man!
We hit the road after our exhilarating hike through Vintgar Gorge and headed for Croatia. Our final destination was Plitvice Lakes. A few of our friends had made the trip to this amazing place, and after seeing pictures and hearing about it, we knew we had to find a way to visit this magical location. The drive was less than 4 hours from Lake Bled. Although Croatia joined the European Union this past July, they still have a passport check at the border. We were so excited to get a stamp on our passports! All the travel that we have done since living in Europe, and this is only our second adventure where we received a stamp to enter a new country. It was pretty cool.

We stayed at a hotel super close to the park. Nothing spectacular about our hotel except that our host was terrific. The town we stayed in was kind of bizarre. It climbed up a hill and at the top the buildings seemed as if they were old barracks to house workers during the communist regime that had been turned into apartment buildings. Not exactly quintessential by any means... But that didn't matter because the location was ideal for hiking into the park first thing in the morning.

Our morning started early, and after finishing breakfast we found parking and started our hike. There is an upper and lower portion of the park with a network of trails, "train" buses, and boats to help you navigate through the beautiful falls. The neatest part of how it was setup were the wooden boardwalks that were built to allow visitors to hike literally on top of the waterways and wetlands. It was an incredible and ingenious way to allow people to witness the beauty of the park without destroying it.

Our timing was a little behind peak foliage, so it wasn't quite as colorful as we had hoped, but the weather cooperated and the temperature that day was pretty much perfect. Ironically, the prettiest time to see the park is also the hottest. The sun wasn't shining much for us that day, but when it did, it heated things up quick. With the kids, that would have been pretty tough, so I was happy with our overcast skies and 70 degree weather.

Our first peak of the falls in the upper portion of the park
sights like this one were prevalent all throughout Plitvice Falls
Fall sees less water flow, but it's still a stunning sight!
Dramatic side view of a waterfall
This was my favorite waterfall in the park
Isn't this unreal?!
Me and little r on the wooden boardwalk
more of nature's splendor
kisses from daddy while we wait for the boat
beauty of the lower falls
The views were almost more stunning from above
The turquoise waters - just gorgeous
To get to Plitvice, you drive through a rather depressed part of northern Croatia. We essentially drove along what was once the frontline of battle between the Croats and Yugoslav National Army forces barely 20 years ago. Bullet holes still line many buildings. Big R took photographs of some of these buildings on our way back to Slovenia. It almost seemed as if many of the bullet holes were left as a sign of pride.

Many towns along the route to Plitvice had buildings like this one
The bullet holes almost seemed like a badge of honor
Our final stop was Ljubljana back up in Slovenia. I have to say, we kind of fell in love with Slovenia on our drive. The foliage was fantastic and the country is downright beautiful. One of my favorite observations was that all of the churches in Slovenia were built at the top of a hill. Of course, we didn't think to take any photographs of these hilltop churches, which is a huge bummer. Slovenia is also wine country, and this was the first time I have witnessed vineyards in a climate where the foliage changes in the fall. Many of the vineyards made the hillsides burst with color as the leaves on the vines were changing.

So, Ljubljana is a really neat city. I didn't expect to fall in love with it so much. If I had, I definitely would have planned for a longer stay there. Everything you read about the city, or if you talk to others about it, says that there is nothing there. It's just a city in Europe with pretty buildings - blah, blah. This could not be further from the truth, and it's a bummer the city thinks it has this reputation (although, I wonder if this is the city's way of protecting itself from the demise of too much tourism). It's a university town that is alive with friendly people. The buildings are colorful and the architecture is fabulous. We enjoyed one of our best meals in Europe at Julija Restaurant in downtown Ljubljana, and we stayed at a "hostel" just around the corner from the square for a mere 50 EUR a night. There is so much more there - we barely scratched the surface. I'm still puzzled why it has the reputation it does. Beautiful architecture, fabulous hotels and restaurants, a vibrant aire with friendly people, a zoo, five large museums, network of caves, and home to the Lipizzaner Stallions. What is it missing, the Eifel Tower or perhaps the Colosseum? I'm clueless, and I'm already trying to figure out how to fit a trip back in our crazy schedule.

Scene in the town square at night on the way to dinner
Triple bridges across the river in Ljubljana at night
a happy stroll back to our hotel after a fabulous dinner
The morning greeted us with a thick fog
but the colors at the market were vibrant and inviting!
peeking into the fog from within the walls of the Castle
Another shot of the market
A building made colorful from fall foliage
watching the fog lift
a mid-morning cafe scene in Ljubljana
and the fog is finally gone...
artistic photo of a fountain in the square
the city is lined with alleyways such as this one
Town hall building with the cathedral in the distance
blue skies providing a perfect backdrop to typical city buildings in Ljubljana

This last trip was one of a different flare. We went by car to discover former Yugoslavia, and in doing so we fell in love with Slovenia and were in awe of the nature in northern Croatia. I personally love the wine from this region, and we managed to come back with a healthy sampling from both countries. It was a great adventure from start to finish...