Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Bike riding

We are constantly amazed by how much bike riding is going on in our little part of Germany. In addition to lots of sport cyclists, there are also a large number of other bike riders out on any given day. People ride bikes to school and work. They ride their bikes to do their shopping. All grocery stores, drug stores and bakeries have bike racks set up to accommodate bike riders. We often ride to our local gelato shop, offsetting the exercise with a scoop of mango.
Once our kids outgrew the bikes we took to Hong Kong, we did not replace them. There just was not an easy place to ride. Instead, we had bikes at Grandma’s house for summer break and rented bikes on all vacations. Now with bike venues all around us, we just needed the actual bikes. Shopping for us is difficult here as most stores close mid-day on Saturday and stayed closed until Monday morning. Stores also take a sizeable lunch break in the middle of the day. Once we finally got to a bike store that was open, we walked out quickly. Bikes are crazy expensive here! Phil and I now say things like “there goes $5,000 worth of bikes” when we see a family of three ride by. We eventually tapped into the used bike market, buying bikes at prices that we would pay in the states for a new bike. A little paint, a little cleaning and everyone was happy.
Recently we extended our usual bike tour. We rode past the gelato store and kept going for ten kilometers until we reached Starnberg, the nearest town and where we lived when we first arrived in Germany. Our route was all off the main road, on paved and dirt paths through a forest. We rode alongside a stream for awhile. We ended up at the Starnberg Lake, a clear lake rimmed on the far side with the Alps. Revived by all that clean air, we all turned around and rode back home. We thought the kdis might need to put the bikes on the S-bhan and train it back to Gauting but that was not the case. We did, however, need to stop for gelato once back home. And it was definitely a two scoop stop.
A huge boost to biking here are the bike paths themselves. In addition to separate bike paths, bike lanes are marked on all sidewalks. When we first moved here, the sidewalks were covered in snow. And yes, folks were out biking in the snow!We were often scolded by passing riders for walking in the bike section of the sidewalk that to us was invisible. After a few months, the kids all now know where the bike section is and are not above ringing the bell on their bikes if someone strays in front of them. With both bike manners and the ability to order gelato in German, they are well on their way to settling into their new country.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Boy Scout Camp

Here in Germany, we’ve found boy scouts (overseas American version) for Adam and girl guides (overseas British version) for Tori. Unfortunately, no Brownie girl scouts for Royce though. Apparently, there was a much larger American military presence in our area (based out of Garmisch to the south of us). Since the US military has downsized, American girl scouts have as well. British girl guides has picked up any girl scouts. Tori was nonplussed by this change reminding me that all girl scouts started in Great Britain over 100 years ago. It was a little funny though to see her carrying the British flag in a recent scout flag ceremony.

Though we have had a lot of transitions this year, we’ve tried to hit the major boy scout events this year: Pinewood Derby and of course boy scout camp! In Hong Kong, girl scout camp was girls only and boy scout camp was boys only and that worked well for us. In Germany, boy scout camp was a family camp this year and that worked well for us too. We all went along with Adam to learn a little about camping in our new locale.

The kids were super excited and ready to go. Tori took her survival tips book, Royce took a regular reading book and Adam took a little plastic case for collecting bugs. The camp was about an hour drive to the north of Munich, very lush and green. Located in a small village, the camp site is a youth hostel rented out to different groups. On the site was also a church with Sunday service and Sunday bells calling the villagers to services. The entire area was the local castle, high on the hill some 300 years ago. Surrounded by farm fields and connected to the forest by a foot path, the site was lovely. I was particularly happy to see a wooden main building with a kitchen and bathrooms and even showers.
We had a great time. We hiked and did crafts. We ate Mexican food prepared by the Webelos. We had a camp fire and flag ceremony. Though the planned activities were all great, the down time of kids just running around on the green grass was wonderful. We all felt very warm and fuzzy towards the boy scouts.
Like in Hong Kong, our boy scout troop here is made up of kids from all over the world, with Americans in the minority. When we arrived at the camp site, we parked our cars near the church and then walked a short distance into the camping area. We noticed one of the cars had an Obama 2008 sticker on it. We spent some time trying to figure out who’s car that was. Of the four Americans there, the actual Democrats Abroad organizer was the last person we guessed. It might be hard to recognize the Democrat overseas but rest assured it is pretty easy to recognize the boy scout. Some things looks the same no matter where you are.