Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Update on Spring and Flowers (or Lack Thereof)

So, I recently posted about the rose vines (here) in front of our house that needed a trim and a little TLC.  Well, the good news is that the trimming did not turn out to be my responsibility.  The bad news is that the guy to maintains our building decided the vines were overgrown and that it was time to get rid of them, even as there were buds on the vines about to bloom.  Sadly, they are now gone.

Here's the updated appearance, sans roses.

View from the house looking across the street. The big blue bag holds the remains of the roses.

A lovely tree down the street from our house. And a familiar little blond boy under the street sign!

I love the yellow flowers visible from our bedroom window. So cheerful! Also visible is the grill that came with our house. We intend to inspect the grill soon and grill some burgers once we clean it up.

Bonn is also famous for having beautiful cherry blossom trees. So far, the smaller trees are blooming but the bigger ones still have a few weeks.  More pictures to come!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

A Happy Extended Birthday Celebration

This past Sunday was Matthew's birthday, but he was working.  If you have to be working on your birthday, at least it got to be somewhere cool like Tel Aviv, right?

He got home late Monday night, so we celebrated on Tuesday with a few gifts and a homemade gluten free apple pie. 

The gift I was most excited to give included tickets to a studio concert of Bach's Goldberg Variations performed on a handmade, double manual harpsichord, dinner reservations at a tiny cafe a few blocks from our house, and a babysitter for the kids.  There was nothing to "give" since the tickets were just by reservation and not printed, so Jackson helped me out by making a ticket for "Goldberg + Dinner". 
We clearly need to give him more exposure to piano keyboards

The performance was in a private studio, so it was a very intimate setting with maybe 20 audience members.  We love the Goldberg, but had only ever heard it performed on piano, so this was a real treat. We both marveled at how hearing the piece performed on the instrument it was originally written for allowed it to shine in a way not possible on the piano and brought out an entirely different experience.   Sadly, the majority of us today have never heard Bach's keyboard works as they were intended.

The best part is that all of this was within walking distance of our house.  The experience (sans babysitter) reminded me of the opportunities we had in college as music students to hear amazing music performed live just steps from where we live. We both left with a desire to attend events like this more frequently. Hopefully here we will have that opportunity!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Spring is HERE!

The past five days have been gloriously beautiful! Until last Friday, it was still freezing and raining every day.  I don't think we had seen the sun in a few weeks.  I had mentally prepared myself for a long winter until at least April, so when the sun came out at the end of last week and the temperatures rose to nearly 60 degrees F, it was the best surprise!

I think the entire city has spent every minute of daylight outside, including us, just soaking up the sunlight and warmth. The ice cream shops which are on every corner (sometimes 2 per corner!) have all opened and the cafes have filled the sidewalks and plazas with tables.  It's lovely.

Brandtley found this spot on our front patio railing in direct sunlight

The kids and I took advantage of the weather this weekend with a picnic on Saturday along with a long afternoon at the playground then a walk along the Rhine. Sunday was spent wandering through an outdoor antique/flea market then they rode scooters around the park-like area in front of our house while I watched from a bench.

Picnicking with chocolate mousse

The playgrounds were packed

People grilling out in the green spaces in front of the university, overlooking the Rhine (behind me)

We found this little biergarten overlooking the Rhine and there's a gravel/dirt yard for playing a game that looked similar to bocce ball. You may not be able to see the silver balls on the ground in this picture, but there were at least 4 games being held on Saturday, one of which Brandtley excitedly ruined when he ran into their game to pick up a ball!

On our walk along the Rhine

 Metal swords at the flea market. These did not come home with us!

Yesterday, we went to OBI (the German equivalent of Home Depot) and purchased some window boxes to hang on our balcony and scoped out some patio furniture.  I also may have impulse-purchased two citrus fruit trees....with my brown thumb and the fact that we live in northern Europe, I'm not optimistic that they will live until next year, but we can enjoy kumquats and lemons from our backyard for the next few weeks at least!  Can citrus trees survive in Germany???

Our little balcony off of the kitchen. I plan to put a few chairs & a cafe table out here soon. And the kumquat tree will be moved to a sunnier area of the yard.

Now I need to figure out what to do with the rest of the yard...It definitely needs a little TLC but I've found that someone previously planted a number of great plants including rosemary, sage, several other herbs and a number of flowering plants. I might put a larger table down there too for outdoor dining.  
Our backyard. Everything here except the swing was left by the prior tenants. 

It might also be nice to have some sort of seating in the front garden too.  Our landlord mentioned that it's ours to do with what we want, and that we could put a table out front if we wanted, but I'm not sure yet what we will put there.

Our front loggia overlooking the front garden. Also known as Brandtley's spot in the sun. 
 I feel like it might look weird to leave chairs out here, but it would be a really nice place to sit in the evenings with a view of the green space in front of the house where kids & dogs play in the afternoons.

Our front garden. The vines over the front gate are roses and are just starting to turn green. Do I need to prune these????

Also the front garden, where we could put a table. Our front loggia is on the left and the bikes are usually stored underneath.

Please tell me what to do with this space! If this is my responsibility to keep up with, then it might be overgrown within a few months... 

Saturday, March 11, 2017

7 Random Things I Love About Europe. And a few things I don't.

1. Street Performers.  I've never actually lived in a city known for street performers, so maybe the likes of this guy are more common in the US than I'm aware of.... but really. How often do you see a antique square grand being played with mallets on the street??

2. You can get some awesome chocolate mousse with brandy in it from the grocery store. So yummy.

Also discovered today that there is a white wine mousse too!

3. Sidewalk cafes. Everywhere.  Enough said. 

The architecture isn't too bad either... :) 

4. Hats. Ok, this really is not exclusive to Europe, but just a result of living in a cold climate with pedestrian culture.  However! I love the hat! Not only does it keep my head warm, it hides my hair....especially convenient for morning bicycle rides to school.  Did I wash it today? Did I even brush it yet?  Who knows!

5. Saffron is cheap! It's still sold in very small quantities (like in the US) due to drug use, but I bought some for paella recently and instead of $14, it was 2 EUR!

6. The umbrellas. Again, probably nothing to do with Europe, but since it rains here, a lot of people carry very cheerful, colorful umbrellas. Reds, yellows, lots of pinks, flowers, pictures. It helps brighten endlessly rainy days. I need some colorful umbrellas in my life. 

7. The flowers.  Even in winter, you can find flower vendors all throughout the city and they're unbelievably inexpensive.  Another cheerful burst of color for dreary days. These are currently on our table:

And the things not loved
I wanted to put this in for a balanced perspective, but it's really not a very long list. We're loving where we live! Also, I couldn't bring myself to say that I dislike or hate - Those words are too strong.  So, here are the things I don't love...

1. Lack of Mexican food. Is it good or bad that this tops the list?? ;) Even though I can cook, I'm struggling with tortillas due to the gluten limitation.  Our homemade flour tortillas just aren't the same with GF flour, and I haven't found corn tortillas.

2. Driving. Really it's not the actual driving, it's the parking. The car is just a hassle and I far prefer to walk. Plus, our upcoming driver's license requirements are terrifying me. 

3. The endless rain and general lack of sunshine. I'm hoping this is a seasonal issue that is about to improve.  The past two days have been GORGEOUS, which has been lifesaving since Matthew's on a long trip. But until yesterday, it's been miserably rainy. It feels like we moved to Seattle. Perhaps colder. Thank goodness for cheerful umbrellas and flowers and cozy candles!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Bonn Alaaf! Our First Karneval

Wow!  Where to start on Karneval?  This is the biggest event since Christmas here and I've been working on this post on & off for a week. So. Many. Pictures. The Karneval season starts on November 11th at 11:11am and culminates on the day prior to Ash Wednesday.

Karneval costumes appeared in stores immediately after Christmas and replaced entire sections of stores that had previously sold Christmas decorations.

In the weeks leading up to Ash Wednesday, parades are held in most towns and costumes begin appearing on the street. It can be a little weird several weeks ahead of time to see adults dressed as animals or in bathrobes (!) on the street, but as we approached the weekend, there were more costumes than normally dressed people.

My very poor picture of the guy in costume in a bathrobe. He was also carrying  a 6 pack of beer. The dude abides?? 

Two kids - the girl was a pirate and the boy was hamburger & french fries

Adults in animal costumes

The Thursday prior to Ash Wednesday is the real kick-off to the party.  Jackson's school celebrated by a full-school-day party (no class at all!) that started at 8:11am and school let out early at 11:11am for a long weekend. They sang songs, played games, and got candy.  The adults were all dressed up too! His school then participated in a parade in Poppelsdorf, which we skipped due to leaving town for the long weekend.
Jackson's teacher is this tall man. He dressed up as a church!  Complete with a church tower on his head and bricks on his clothes. 

Our family dressed & ready for the school party

Throughout the weekend parties and parades continue throughout the city and region.  Unlike the Mardi Gras celebrations, Monday (Rosenmontag) is the primary day of celebration with the biggest parades.  We got back in town just in time to attend Bonn's parade, which according to the newspapers was one of Bonn's largest with more than 250,000 spectators and lasted most of the afternoon. This is big by Bonn's standards but is dwarfed by Cologne's event which drew over a million.

During the parade, all of the 5200 parade participants throw candy and other treats to the crowd who yell "Kamelle! Kamelle!" to ask for "Treats! Treats!" and hold out bags for candy.  You can hear it in the video below:

Each town also has their own Karneval "fool's cry" and Bonn's is "Alaaf!" You can hear it chanted as a call & response when the speaker calls out "Bonn!" and the crowd says "Alaaf!" I looked up "Alaaf" online and it doesn't seem to have an exact translation but is sort of a nonsense word that originally comes from an old drinking word on beer containers meaning "to life!" or possibly "the best!"

The parade in Cologne can be very politically satirical, but for the most part, Bonn's was not.  However, there were a few crazy floats in the mix!

 I want to know who she was supposed to be!!

Our favorite part were the Venetian Society's beautiful costumes:

These guys were dressed in fur with fake blood dripping down their faces. But their music was just so, um, incongruous with their costumes:

Music was played, cannons were fired, candy was thrown, cheers were yelled, and a good time was had by all of the costumed crowd!

The kids came home with a HUGE bag of candy which also included 3 sets of chopsticks, 2 yellow roses, 2 packs of flower seeds (to be planted in our backyard), a small pack of tissues, a cosmetic product sample, 2 toys, and a lot of popcorn.

In contrast to Mardi Gras, Tuesday (or Violet Tuesday) was very quiet.  The kids all returned to school and not a costume was seen.  Supposedly, the burning of the "Nubbel" (straw men) happens at midnight to atone for the sins committed during Karneval celebrations, but we didn't see any.  Disclaimer: I went to bed at 11 but Matthew went into town to see if he could find some Nubble-Burning, and I asked him to take pictures.  Sadly he found nothing.

On Wednesday, I asked Jackson if he went to Mass that day since his school is Catholic & they attend Mass every other week.  I remain amused at his impressions of Mass as he relates them to me since he has been raised in Protestant churches and also speaks so little German, so he usually has no idea what's going on or why. He said oh no, it was not the right day, Mommy, but that they talked about the Bible and a man put something on his forehead, which he immediately wiped off!  Apparently, he didn't understand what was discussed and thought it was gross! Which then led to a discussion that I should have considered having with him the day before. :/ We will be more prepared next year!

Our parade costumes

I had a hard time getting a picture of the kids at the parade...the crowd was too thick and they didn't want to turn around for the camera! Jackson was Batman and Brandtley was the bat from Wildkrats. Both former Halloween costumes.