Saturday, August 04, 2007

Fun in Europe: Germany

Stuffed with croissants and tired of crowds, we left Paris just as our love for the city was starting to be tempered by the realities of young children on the road. We then took the train from to Heidelberg, where we were again fortunate to have Opa’s hospitality. We loved the college atmosphere of Heidelberg and yes, Starbucks and English language books stores were welcome too. With Phil’s Dad showing us the way, we hit the zoo, parks, boat rides and of course the castle.

Perched a bit up a hill and overlooking the Neckar River, the Heidelberg Castle was exactly what we wanted to see. Built around 1200, and then destroyed by lightning in 1537, by fighting during the 30 years war, and then by the French in the 1688, the castle has been restored to partial glory ever since the 17th century. With its commanding view of green hills and the river, and then hill rising behind it, the castle has inspired many besides us, including famously Mark Twain in The Tramp Abroad. We climbed around the castle and then stared down into the castle’s moat and were surprised to learn that due to mosquitos, it was drained. Domesticated animals, as well as animals brought back live from the hunt, were kept there. Stunned silence as our kids thought this one through. You could almost see the revisionism wheels turning in their heads. But then we came upon the head of a unicorn on the wall and things tipped back into the world as they knew it.

But we needed an urban escape, even from a great city like Heidelberg and thus headed for the hills. While we told the kids it was the Black Forest, it actually was a bit south of there with rolling hills and villages, all surrounding the Neckar River. We rented a small cabin within a small permanent camping area. As summer vacations started up in Europe, we would watch the cars loaded with families and luggage roll into our campground. License plates were mainly Germany and Swiss and we figured we were sure to be the only Americans there. Except of course for our American friends, who kindly joined us in this out of the way spot for a couple days of catching up. The setting was perfect for catching up and for kids; grass, wild flowers, space and nightly BBQ’s, not to mention plenty of slugs and bugs, which were also big hits.

Back in Heidelberg, we ended up back in play grounds again, frequently the one across the street from Opa’s apartment. The playground was the proverbial melting pot, with kids of all languages trying to play with our kids. Lots and lots of Russian spoken there, which was amusing for some of us. Tree climbing, one of Tori’s special skills, was greatly admired among all nationalities and languages and proved the great ice breaker. On our last night there, a man sat down on a playground bench and started playing the electric guitar. The kids were instantly drawn to him. The whole thing seemed slight off until a second man arrived and all of a sudden it was a bon a fide jam session. Playing for the crowd, the men started playing songs in English. Our grubby bare foot girls were serenaded with Stevie Wonder’s "isn’t she lovely, isn’t she wonderful.."A fitting quirky moment to make our European departure, the likes of which one rarely finds in much more staid Hong Kong.


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