Europe’s most content city

When our trusted Cheese Man (That’s right, we had our own Cheese Man!) suggested Jen and I visit Maastricht, Netherlands because it’s the supposedly the most content city in Europe, we knew it would be delightful. Was it ever!

The town, which we quickly dubbed Happy Land, is situated on the River Maas.
Maastricht, Netherlands

We were treated to a tiny parade while we had breakfast. Or I guess more accurately: a single band played and marched by us.
A one band parade

We spent the day exploring the pedestrian area, shopping at a church rummage sale, and touring the North Caves at Fort St. Pieter.
Jen at the North Caves entrance
Jen at the North Caves Entrance

Caves of St. Pietersberg map

The caves formed over many centuries by the quarrying of the local marlstone. Originally there were some 20,000 passages with a total length of 200km/125mi. During the Second World War some of the passages were enlarged, a well was dug and storerooms, a bakery and even a chapel were constructed, providing accommodation in which most of the town’s population could take refuge. (According to our tour guide, treasures were hidden in the caves during WWII, including Rembrandt’s The Night Watch.)

I enjoyed our day trip so much that when Big D returned from deployment a few days later, he and I went for the weekend.

Our first stop was the Netherlands American Cemetery & Memorial.
Netherlands American Cemetery & Memorial

And then we strolled through the town:
Maastricht, Netherlands

Basilica of the Virgin Mary
Basilica of the Virgin Mary

We were thrilled to find a very nice hotel situated on the river that honors the US Government rate. Its affordability made us frequent guests.
River Maas

Big D & me at dinner
Dinner at our Dutch home away from home

view at dinner
View during dinner

We soon learned that Tongeren, supposedly the oldest town in Belgium and home to the biggest antique flea market in the Belgium-Netherlands-Luxembourg region, is only nine miles from Maastricht. Since flea market shopping is an early morning venture, we’d drive to Maastricht to explore on Saturday, shop in Tongeren on Sunday morning, and be back at our home in Germany in time for dinner. I’ve lost track of how many times we visited, but I have lots of treasures from each trip.

view from sports store window
It’s Christmastime in the city…

carnival in Maastricht

Carnival decorations

our hotel was decked out
Carnival colors lit the night

Florida school bus!
You have to agree that it is CRAZY that city tours are conducted on an old Florida school bus!

fun statues in Maastricht

And in all honesty, this is how we spent a lot of time in Maastricht:
Carnival in Maastricht is tasty!

Maastricht, Netherlands

City of Sekt and Roses

Hello from yet another hotel room, this one in the Toronto, Canada suburb of Vaughn. Big D, Fletcher, and I made the trip from Germany to the US, spent 10 days in Virginia, and signed a lease on a townhouse in Old Town, Alexandria. Since our move in date isn’t until the first week of May, Fletcher and I are here in The Great White North with Big D while he takes a class to master yet another aircraft. Stay tuned for details on what will be our new hometown…

But while I’m here, I am really going to try to finish up posting about European adventures.

Etville is one of the first little towns we explored in the Rheingau and it quickly became a favorite. We included stops there whenever we hosted out of towners, we attended plenty of fests hosted by the town, and when I needed a pick-me-up because one of Big D’s deployments was extended, Tricia knew a stroll there was just what I needed.

Eltville celebrates 22,000 examples of 350 different species during its Rose Festival each June.

Rosenstadt Eltville

Rosenstadt Eltville


In 2010, we celebrated Tricia’s birthday at Piccolo Mondo – a restaurant frequented by Sean Connery when he stayed in the town while filming in In the Name of the Rose.

Tricia & Big D


Later in 2010, I was lucky enough to pick grapes during the harvest at Weingut Eberbacher Hof:
Weingut Eberbacher Hof

Team Virginia-Straße

a small part of our harvest

Even when the roses are gone, Eltville is beautiful:

In spring 2011, we enjoyed a guided walking tour of the town:
oldest cobblestones in Eltville, Germany

Eltville, Germany

Crooked little house in Eltville, Germany

We were back again that fall with Big D’s mom:
the Rhine in Eltville

And in the spring of last year? You guessed it: more roses!

I’m not going to say things at the Eltville Sekt Fest got a little wacky, but….
me & Grayson Barbara

Michael me & Grayson

I think its fitting that I took this photo in the Hattenheim neighborhood on my last visit to the area:

Mosty, Poland – orphanage visit

I’ve been procrastinating re: this post because I just don’t know how to document my experience. The description on my photo set says, “Thirty five people from various US Military installations in Germany brought Christmas to 77 kids at an orphanage in Mosty, Poland.”

The highlights:

Ready for adventure

After a long bus ride, we arrived, settled in, and explored Szczecin the first day:

Basilica of St. James the Apostle, Szczecin, Poland
Basilica of St. James the Apostle, Szczecin, Poland

I was intrigued by the variety of architecture – Eastern bloc, old, and modern all mixed together:

Szczecin, Poland

Szczecin, Poland

our hotel in Szczecin, Poland

We trekked across the frozen countryside to Dom Dziecka:
Polish countryside

Dom Dziecka Mosty
The building was much nicer than I expected.

Dom Dziecka Mosty
In addition to regular firewood, they used old furniture to keep the common room warm. Here’s something to think about: We all took turns standing near the fire at different parts of the day. But the kids were used to the chill.

We didn’t have a common language with the kids, but we communicated well. I just noticed that in this photo, snapped just as we arrived, the Americans  are standing around with their hands in their pockets, not sure quite sure what to do. The picture of Heather and her new friend below really shows how far we all came in just one day.

this guy loved using our cameras
Almost every child wanted to use our cameras.

The chaplain held the chords and the kids strummed
The chaplain held the chords and the kids strummed.

Singing songs
The kids formed small groups and sang for us. Later, someone handed out carol lyrics, and we sang for them. I will never again hear Silent Night without thinking of that day.

Opening gifts from Santa
Each kid received a backpack with items they requested and school supplies. We also brought personal care items, soccer balls, and clothing, along with gifts for the staff members.

Santa Alex was very popular

You don't need delicate ornaments

the kids took lots of pictures (like this one) with my camera
The kids took lots of pictures (like this one) with my camera.

This little guy loved Heather
Heather and a new friend.

And then…our trip was extended:
meanwhile, vandals broke into our bus

You can guess how a bunch of Americans passed a snowy day:
Szczecin, Poland

Eventually, a replacement bus arrived (which was easier to acquire than a replacement window) and we trekked home.
long, slow, snowy road home

I stole this from someone in the group and just found it in an e-mail I sent to Kara:

  • 24 hours on a bus, crappy.
  • 24 hours on a bus in a 65 hour time frame, crappier.
  • 24 hours on a bus in a 65 hour time frame with 35 other people invading your personal bubble, crappier still.
  • 24 hours on a bus in a 65 hour time frame with 35 other people invading your personal bubble, in order to deliver Christmas presents to children who would normally do without, priceless.

More photos from the trip are on Flickr.

A turkey-free Thanksgiving

Angie was back for her second visit in November 2010, and this time our friends Mike and Steve joined in on the fun, too.

During the first few days of their visit we toured around Wiesbaden, watched The Sound of Music to get ready for upcoming adventures, spent a fun afternoon at Kloster Eberbach tasting wine and cheese, and had a great time at the first night of Wiesbaden’s Christmas Market:

Grieschische Kapelle
Wiebaden’s Grieschische Kapelle

Mike & Steve
Mike & Steve at Kloster Eberbach

Twinkling Star Market

The next day we took a train to Munich, where we rented a nice little townhouse.

dining car on the train
me & Angie in the dining car

And on Thanksgiving, Mike & Steve toured around Munich while Angie, Big D and I spent the day at BMW World. We all met up for dinner and later checked out Munich’s Christmas Market.

BMW HQ and Museum
BMW World

BMW World
Big D, Angie and I had so much fun at BMW that we went again the next day. We took a factory tour (in German, not English…) But thanks to all of the things to see (and eat. and drink!) we never did make it into the museum there. Next time?

Snowy night at the Marienplatz

Steve, Mike, Damon, me & Angie
Steve, Mike, Big D, me & Angie – hot cocoa for everyone!

The next morning we were up and out the door early so we could head to Salzburg, Austria for our Sound of Music Tour. Too bad we walked right by this sign, announcing the train we planned to take was cancelled.
Please note...

But we made it there eventually, and it was worth the hassle:

Leopoldskron Palace
Remember that scene in the Sound of Music when Maria and the children are on the row boat?

How about the scene with Liesel and Rolf dancing in the gazebo:

Sound of Music gazebo

Sound of Music gazebo

The whole day was amazing:

Frohnburg Palace
Frohnburg Palace

Salzkammergut Lake District
Salzkammergut Lake District

Salzkammergut Lake District
Salzkammergut Lake – it was as cold as it looks.

Mondsee Cathedral
Mondsee Cathedral

And who could resist another Christmas Market?
Salzburg Christmas Market

The boys headed to Amsterdam the next day while Angie, Big D and I drove home via Rothenburg ob der Tauber for yet another market:
Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Rothenburg ob der Tauber

Back in Wiesbaden, Angie and I relaxed at my favorite spa and were surprised with beautiful snow when we walked out a the end of the day:
Hotel Nassauer Hof

Wiesbaden Kurhaus

I’m excited for Thanksgiving this week and so anxious for the Christmas Market season to kick off soon!

More photos from our Thanksgiving 2010 adventures are on Flickr.

Three stops in The Netherlands

Big D and I set out on our first trip alone together (just two of us) on Veterans Day weekend 2010. He selected our destination: The Netherlands.

Our first stop was Rotterdam. It’s funny how little things cause us to either like or dislike a city. We had a small, smelly hotel room. And it didn’t just rain, it poured. We weren’t so impressed with Rotterdam… but we did hide out for the afternoon in a funky bar sipping wine and snacking on french fries.

hiding from the rain and wind in a cozy place

And then we wandered into the into a place called The Cinema. I am so disappointed (and surprised!) that I didn’t write in my journal about this fantastic dining adventure. We were early enough to be seated without reservations – in fact, we practically had the place to ourselves. The waitress struggled with her English and eventually we understood that we could either order off the menu, or just let them know what we liked and have the five course Chef’s Surprise. Who could say no to that!? I said I preferred meat and didn’t want seafood. And I wish D was here so I could rack his brain for the details of his meal… I know our first course was soup in a shotglass,  my meal featured a seared beef appetizer, and my main dish was venison with pears.

dinner at a great place called Cinema

The chef came out to our table, sat down and asked us what we thought, and spent what felt like a long time chatting with us before sending out our amazing, complicated chocolate desserts.

I specifically remembering asking the waitress if our check could possibly be wrong, because the total was too low. She laughed and asked where we’re from…It was the first (but not the last time) this happened. I’m always shocked when cocktails, a bottle of wine and a giant gourmet meal are affordable. By the time we left, the place was packed. And we eventually figured out that the first floor is fine dining while the other level is an exclusive nightclub with a red velvet rope to keep out the riff raff!

Suddenly, we were really starting to like Rotterdam! But we were underdressed and tired so there was no clubbing for us.

And not to make this a foodie blog, but breakfast the next morning at one of the world’s biggest ports was tasty and picturesque (and sorting through pictures for this post is really showing me how much my photography has improved in the last year or two – this snapshot does not do Rotterdam justice.)


Next, we drove to Delft, an adorable little town where parallel parking is tricky.


You have to be really careful when parallel parking on a canal!

After shopping and lunch we were continued to Amsterdam where we spent a few days touring. We visited the Anne Frank House, quickly strolled through the Red Light District (truly something for everyone – ewwww), took a fun canal hop on / hop off boat ride, shopped at a flea market, ate a lot of tapas, bought a lot of cheese, spent quality time at the Van Gogh Museum, and much more.



Cheese, glorious cheese
I loved this cheese shop. Meanwhile, Big D said it smelled like feet and had to wait for me outside.


A few more pictures from our first (but not nearly the last) trip to The Netherlands are on Flickr.

So we are not doomed to repeat it

Big D and I took a weekend trip to Würzburg and Nürnberg in November 2010. They’re beautiful cities and we had a nice time strolling through both.

Würzburg Residenz
Würzburg Residenz

Alte Mainbrücke
Würzburg Altebrücke

St. Lawrence
St. Lawrence, Nürnberg

Hauptmarkt and Frauenkirche
Market at Nürnberg Frauenkirche

And then we spent time at the Documentation Center and the Nazi Party Rally Grounds.

Nürnberg Trial Jury Decision
Nürnberg Trial Jury Decision

Finding the rally grounds was difficult – the remaining section is at the back of a football arena parking area.

Zeppelin Field

Zeppelin Field
Big D at the Rally Grounds.

Here’s a link to a photo of how this exact spot looked in the 1940s. It really felt creepy being there, but I’m so glad we went.

And a side note:
I think it’s fitting I’m writing this post on the day of the United States presidential election. In my opinion, while flawed, ours is by far the best government. Citizens like me have the right to chose (and in our household, to disagree.) And once the results are final, we will not protest, there will not be violence, and we’ll get back to the business of trying to make tomorrow better for everyone.

but it’s brightening up?

I spent hours searching, searching, searching for something that I know exists online – I just can’t find it.

What I was hoping to link to in this post are the Tweets in which my now good friend Lauren and I met each other – its a fun story. Sadly, Twitter only archives a user’s most recent 3,800 tweets. And I guess I’ve delighted the interwebs with more than 4,100 thoughts (which is just crazy.)

Here’s the backstory: Lauren and I were both early Twitter users back when she moved to Jacksonville to start a job with the PGA Tour and I was hard at work with the Corps of Engineers there. We followed each other online for a few months and thanks to simultaneous tweets, when I realized we were both at the same concert I sent her a message describing myself and suggested we walk to the middle of the arena so we could finally meet in person. We did, and the rest is history. Searching for those tweets led down an internet rabbit hole – I looked at a ton of old photos and realized we spent time together three times the week we met. We are quite different people (I am a million years older than her) but we clicked.

I was so psyched in early 2010 when I got this message from her:
Check out the email I got from THE Ryder Cup…I repeat, THE Ryder Cup! Whooo! Then guess who’s fiancé absolutely doesn’t want to go to Wales for the honeymoon?? Crap! But then he said “You should still go. It’s a once in a lifetime chance.” But who do I know that is in the proximity of Wales who would be able to join me for a few days frolicking around Celtic Manor to cheer on the Americans?? (hint hint hint!!)

So, mere days after she got married, she kissed her sweet husband good-bye, jetted over the pond, and together, we flew to London.

Lauren on the Tower Bridge

London Calling?

And then we took the train to Wales where we had a few days of golfing adventure that I’ll never forget.

Celtic Manor Twenty Ten Course

Lauren & me in the tented village

Tiger Woods

go Team USA!

Ian Poulter
Ian Poulter signed my badge earlier that day!

me on the Twenty Ten Course 18th fairway
It was windy! We had to move fast before they closed this path for play, thus the crazy hair.

just after the pairings were announced

moonlighting as a camera crew
A random camera guy had us pose for this. Fun!

Photography was only permitted during the practice rounds, so we did not have our cameras or phones with us for official play. And oh, what pictures they would have been! Because after just two hours of golf? There was a seven hour, fifteen minute rain delay.

We waited out the rain delay beer tent. For more than SEVEN hours.

The Daily Telegraph said this:
Conditions in the Usk Valley on Friday were quite splendid for ducks, but brought the soggiest of frustration for all those trying to negotiate the mud without webbed feet. As horns sounded to suspend play at 9.42am, the official advice was for poor punters to find shelter in the bars and brasseries of the sprawling tented village. Few hospitality areas, though, can cope with 40,000 bedraggled souls at one sitting.  It was estimated by Celtic Manor that 20,000 portions of fish and chips, plus 132,000 pints of beer, would be sold in the three days of play but almost as many of these  have disappeared in just one morning.

And my journal entry about the day says this:
Friday at the Ryder Cup – Rain. Golf. Rain. Mud. Rain. Beer. Beer. Beer. Rain. Mud. Beer. Beer. Beer. Golf.

Technically, we didn’t see much golf. But what an adventure we had… And at least we got to see the final (delayed) round on television when we were each back at our homes – me in Germany and Lauren in the States.

me & Lauren early Thursday morning

More photos from our adventures in London and Wales are on Flickr.