Wednesday, December 26, 2007

frohe Weihnachten!

Merry Christmas! After our traditional Christmas morning breakfast we got made some turkey sandwiches and hit the road again. First we drove to the Saarschleife, the bend in the Saar River. There is an outlook some 500 meters up the cliff with an amazing view.

Then we drove to Luxembourg, a country with 999 square miles and just under half a million people, one of the smallest countries in Europe. We drove to the city of Luxembourg, which has huge walls left over from when the city was enclosed in a huge fortification.

This is Luxemburgish for "Happy Holidays".

Monday, December 24, 2007

Heilig Abend (Christmas Eve)

Frohe Weihnachten!

This morning we got up and went grocery shopping for the next few days (when everything is closed in Germany), which turned out to be as much of an adventure as exploring a new city. Since it's a Monday, the stores have been closed for a day and will be closed for the next two and a half, so EVERYONE was grocery shopping.

After discussing which ham looked the most like *ham*, we decided to get turkey for our Christmas feast, as the Germans were not lined up for turkeys. :) And our feast sure did end up being good! This church (above) is the Ludwigskirche, where my oh-so-patient family attended Christmas service with me--in German. It was a little over an hour of foreign droning to their ears. Although I must say that the music was good, so I hope that made it worth it for them. No "Stille Nacht" at the end of the service, but a famous German carol: "O du fröhliche".

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Trier and the Saar-Mosel River Valleys

This morning we drove to Trier, the oldest city in Germany. There are many traces of the city's Roman past, not to mention Gothic and Renaissance architecture as well. We enjoyed the sunny day, a hot soup and some local wine, and a gorgeous scenic drive along the Mosel and then along the Saar River back to Saarbrücken. (Amazing photos courtesy of my father, who stepped out along the highway and took a picture from the riverbank.)
Above: the marketplace in Trier
Above: The marketplace
Above: the oldest surviving Roman city gate

Above: the throne room and the electoral palace
Above: ruins of the Roman thermal baths

Saturday, December 22, 2007

over the river and through the France

This morning we left Saarbrücken and headed south, over the Saar River and into France. After leaving Germany we drove into a thick fog, and could barely see the landscape other than the frosty trees along the road. We first went to the Haut Koenigsbourg castle, south of Strasbourg nestled into the mountains. We had lunch at a little restaurant in the village at the foot of the mountain, which was heated by a little wood stove! We had some Alsatian wine, of course, and tarte flambée and coq au riesling. As soon as we started up the mountainside we got out of the fog and the sun had melted the frost off the trees. We had a gorgeous view from up by the castle, as the surrounding mountains were just barely visible through the fog.
The castle itself is really fascinating. It was built in the 12th century, was at its height in the middle ages when the German empire stretched from this area in the west and into Poland and Austria in the east, and was finally destroyed by the Swedes in the Thirty Years War in the 1600s. Then it just kinda fell into ruins, became overgrown with trees....until the Germans fought a war against France in 1870 and annexed this region. They then restored it in the early 1900s as a symbol of German power, and to strengthen German ties to this area. So what is there today was rebuilt by the Germans and then kept as a national monument by the French after the war.
Above: Frosty Alsatian grapevines

We then traveled north to the city of Strasbourg, which was fully decorated for the Christmas season. Lots and lots of lights hanging above the streets! We walked around, through Petite France (the German-looking buildings), visited the Cathedral, and had some vin chaud and crepes to warm up.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Fairy Tale Winter Wonderland

This morning we (we being those of us who were up) went for a walk to see my school and the Saar river, then we all (all) hopped in the VW van driven expertly by my father. We left the sunny clear skies of Saarbrücken and entered a misty, icy winter wonderland. We drove northeast, over the Rhine and into Baden Württemberg. It was freezing cold, but really, really beautiful. All the trees and rooftops were frosted over, which may be as close to snow as we are going to get. :)

We had Wurst and crepes at the Weihnachtsmarkt for lunch (and some cocoa and Glühwein to warm up!) My friend Simon met us and walked with us through the narrow Altstadt (old city) of Heidelberg, to the old bridge and then up the many stairs to the castle ruins.

Then we walked through the pedestrian streets filling up with Christmas shoppers and mom got a few German children's books (and some for me).

We got out of the cold and into our gemütlich little restaurant for some Schnitzel for dinner, and some local wine. Then we hit the Autobahn for the drive back home, got cozy at the hotel and played a few rounds of Apples to Apples.

Best moment of the day:

Anna going in to use the bathroom, and then coming out to say, "Wait, which one should I go into?" I guess she hadn't yet learned German for "MEN" and "WOMEN" and there were no pictures. :)

Above: On the old bridge, in front of the city gate