Monday, August 27, 2012

Summer lakes

With the double move of last year, we needed to stay put this summer. And the kids’ new school schedule supported that decision. Typically, our kids have gotten out of school in early June. Here in Munich, they were in class until June 29! We had a shorter summer in terms of days (and in terms of hot weather!) but we made the best of it and had plenty of fun along the way.
While the kids still swim on swim teams, we don’t have a pool or ocean in our backyard anymore. What we do have our lakes and lots of them. We found a few swimming areas around the Starnberg See, the lake closest to our school and the 5th largest fresh water body in Germany.  The lake was formed by glaciers from the Alps and has wonderful views of the Alps to the south. The lake is 21 kilometers, north to south, and it is possible to ride your bike all the way around the lake on bike paths. At Berg, a little village on the lake and the closest village to our school, King Ludwig II of Bavaria was found dead in the lake in 1886.
We found a lovely place to swim on the lake, a public pier on the opposite side of the lake from our school.The first time we went there the kids ran around on the grass and jumped off the pier into the clear blue water. Behind them were rolling green hills dotted with onion towered churches and farther back were the Alps. With the sun shining, this spot was ideal. We brought Phil back over the weekend and found it gray and overcast. We stood on the pier shivering, though of course the kids jumped in. Someone here told me to keep our swim things in the back of the car and be ready to swim as soon as the sun comes out. (And of course local folks here change on the beach, on the grass- anywhere but not in a locker room).We have mastered that technique and got in as many summer swim days as anyone.
We heard about another swimming spot from a family with older kids on the Ammer sea, the 6th largest fresh water lake in Germany. There they have a tower for jumping off with platforms at 5 meters, 7 meters and 9 meters. The tower looked very tall to us and the kids slowed a little in their mad dash towards it. But eventually, Tori and Adam went off all levels while Royce wisely stuck to the 5 meter platform. I have to mention that Adam was the first kid in our family off the 9 meter platform, beating his dare devil sister for the first time ever. While appalled at the escalation of kids’ stunts, I am secretly pleased that Adam beat his sister at something!
After all that jumping, we just swam out in the lake. The Ammer see is smaller than the Starnberger See and it really felt as if we could make it across. Instead we floated in the middle of the lake while sailboats drifted past us. We did have to stay out of the way of a historic paddle steamer taking folks from one end of the lake to the other. A far cry from the water traffic we had in Hong Kong but nonetheless a reminder that we live again in a tourist area. It is harder to tell who the tourist is here. No big tourist buses pulling up beside the lake but lots and lots of bicycles and plenty of camper vans too.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Italy Break

It’s hard to believe the kids are back in school. We had a whirlwind summer, starting on the last day of school. The kids got out of school at noon and we immediately went to the nearby lake. Continuing our long standing tradition of jumping a body of water in our school clothes (we miss you HKIS friends!), we jumped in the Starnberg See to celebrate the end of school. Then we got in the car and started driving. On one of our first long car drives with the kids, we headed for Italy.

Surprisingly to those of us who don’t use maps and really on our car navigation device, we were in Austria within one hour and then in Italy after only two. Somehow knowing that Italian food/coffee/life are only two hours away improved all of our moods. We drove through the Alps with the kids pointing out castles on either side. After that we hit the rock slab Dolomites and then the flat agricultural part. We stopped in Modena, marveling at its Central California familiarity; a hotel easily reached off the major highway, harvest festivals advertised here and there, olive trees. Modena is known for balsamic vinegar, which has been made there since the Middle Ages. Now the EU recognizes Modena vinegar as a “product of origin,” meaning it must come from there. Needless to say, balsamic vinegar was featured prominently on our dinner restaurant’s menu. The kids even order- and loved!- balsamic vinegar over vanilla ice cream.
We travelled on to the sea, reaching Ancona, a port city in the Marche Region. With our good friend, we rented a villa in the tiny town of Cupramontana. We had a pool, we had sun and we had the beach a short drive away. For folks coming from cold London and Munich respectively, Cupramontana was a welcome change. We took a tour of a local winery, learning a bit about the local bubbling wine they produce there. (Never fear, the kind winery manager kindly brought the kids bubbly grape juice.) We read about but did not find Holy Grail, possibly hidden there. And we ate lots of pasta and pizza. Even Tori, the one with the smallest appetite, repeatedly said she was hungry in Cupramontana.
On the return trip to Munich, we stopped in Verona (about half way home). After our time in the countryside, it was odd to be back in a city but what a lovely city. We walked around looking at the old churches and plazas, following the summer time crowds but happy. We wandered down to the Arena (built in 30 AD and the third largest coliseum in Italy) and saw an opera series was underway. We read Shakespeare and stopped by Juliet’s balcony. Her last name, Capulet, obviously I suppose, comes from the word cap/hat. Seeing  the family's cap symbol in the stone above the archway, not to mention a wedding taking place on site, really made the history come alive. Even our kids, who usually hum over any romantic parts in books we read or close their eyes at an onscreen kiss, were impressed.