A Visit from Gram and Grandpa (June 3-13, 2014)

My Dad and Marilyn made their second trip to Germany and we all had a fantastic time! Connor already “knows” his Gram and Grandpa thanks to talking on Skype about once a week and visiting them last summer, but I still thought it would take him a little time to warm up to them in person. He sure proved me wrong! Within about thirty seconds of greeting them at the airport, I was chopped liver! Connor requested that Grandpa read to him before his nap when we got home, and even crawled into bed with them for some pre-nap cuddle time. After a nap for everyone, we ventured out for an errand, then back home to relax. Gram and Grandpa took Connor to the playground while I had the rare opportunity to cook dinner without my sous-chef. The following day, we enjoyed a beautiful morning at the Volkspark. I squeezed in a run while the little man played with Gram and Grandpa, then we all fed the ducks, followed by a quiet afternoon at home.

Reading with Grandpa before a nap
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On Thursday morning I had to drop off the car for service. It was nice that I could leave Connor at home with his “babysitters” and not worry about moving his car seat. Oh, that reminds me…I didn’t mention that Charlie isn’t in town. He left for France the same morning that Marilyn and my Dad arrived. He played for several D-Day ceremonies in Normandy, and had an absolutely incredible time. (He says he will write a blog about it…) We miss him, but it’s nice to have company while he is away. My friend Amy drove me back to pick up the car in the afternoon, and Connor talked for days about me getting into the “red car with Amy and Reilly!” We ended the day with a fun dinner for my final German class. The restaurant had a playground, so Connor got to play with Gram and Grandpa (plus his friends Asher and Audrey) while my class did a little bit of work, then we all enjoyed a nice dinner together.

On Friday, we drove to Heidelberg for the day. We took the train up the hill to the castle and wandered around the grounds, taking in the beautiful views of the city and river below. Connor took a snooze while we transferred to the funicular rail and went all the way to the top of the hill for an even more incredible view. Lucky for him, he woke up just in time for the ride down. He enjoyed watching the conductor “drive” the train. We were all hot, tired, and starving, so we stopped for an afternoon meal. I usually just share my meal with Connor at restaurants, but thanks to eating with his friend Audrey the night before, he specifically requested schnitzel. Raising our German boy right, I suppose :). We all enjoyed a fantastic meal, and then set out to walk along the Hauptstrasse. Connor, having only managed a thirty-minute nap, was in no mood to walk where we wanted to walk, so we quickly decided to go ahead and see the famous bridge before calling it a day. Once we found the bridge, we had a great view looking up at the castle. Marilyn bought a few souvenirs, and we were on our way back home. My dad was proud that I successfully navigated us into and out of Heidelberg!

Saturday was another hot day. We went to the farmer’s market in Kaiserslautern in the morning, marveling at all of the fresh meat, cheese, eggs, bread, and produce. After strolling around and eating some lunch, we headed home to rest for a while. Later in the afternoon, we went to the Bremerhof Biergarten with a few of my friends and their kids for dinner. We had tables right on the playground, so the kids had a great time! Marilyn and my dad enjoyed their first true Biergarten experience.

We relaxed on Sunday and did some laundry and packing for our trip the next day. After Connor’s marathon nap, we went to the Bazaar on one of the Army bases and Marilyn enjoyed picking out some souvenirs and gifts to take home. I told Connor he could go in the bouncy house after we were done inside, but when we came back outside they had already folded it up…even though it was still ten minutes before closing time! Thankfully he wasn’t too bothered by that, and we had to stop by the commissary anyway, so I dropped off Connor, Gram, and Grandpa at the nearby playground while I made a quick run into the store. We picked up Greek food from a restaurant near our house and called it a night.

On Monday morning, we drove to Hirrlingen to spend a few days with our German relatives. Once we arrived, we spent the day with the Zugs. Elisabeth and Matthias hosted us for a delicious lunch (where Connor ate his weight in dumplings and spätzle), then Alex, Annette, and Nina took us to the town of Haigerloch. We walked through a unique museum, relaxed in the shade for a while, and then walked through the castle grounds. (Meanwhile, Charlie arrived home from France and we were able to finally talk on the phone. Connor was so excited to hear daddy’s voice!) After picking up Döner for dinner with the Zugs and hearing performances by Nina on violin and Alex on bagpipes, we made our way to Annette’s house to settle in for the night.

Connor loved hearing Nina and Alex play some music!
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Tuesday morning brought a sudden rainstorm and some (very brief) relief from the heat. After breakfast, we piled back into the car under sunny skies to head towards the Bodensee (Lake Constance), which is along the southern border of Germany and Switzerland. Annette was our fearless tour guide, and her son Julian and nephew Samuel (both 14) were with us as well. After driving for a little over an hour, we arrived at our hotel and dropped off our bags, then ventured out for the day. I think the highlight of the trip for Connor was all the forms of transportation we used! After a train ride and a short bus ride, we arrived in the beautiful town of Konstanz.

Konstanz
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We strolled through Konstanz, then took a one-hour catamaran ride to the town of Friedrichshafen on the other side of the lake. Connor napped for most of the boat ride while I enjoyed my first view of the Swiss Alps…amazing! In Friedrichshafen, we toured a Zeppelin museum (blimps, not Led!), then found a table at a Biergarten for dinner. After our leisurely dinner, we took the catamaran back to Konstanz. Connor entertained himself by climbing in and out of the seats as he pretended to be the captain of the boat. Lucky for him, the excitement continued as we boarded the bus and then the train to get back to our hotel!

Connor wanted to do everything with Julian and Samuel!
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Watching our catamaran pull up to the dock
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Enjoying his first gelato
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We were all hot, sweaty, and exhausted. Everything in the diaper bag came in handy that day as we encountered the hot sun, leaky diapers, scraped knees, hungry bellies, wet clothes, and a bump on the head. Connor and I shut ourselves in the bathroom as soon as we got back to our hotel room so we could shower before getting everything in the room dirty! After a decent night’s sleep (which would have been a little better if I had figured out how to open the window for some cool air), we enjoyed a nice breakfast at the hotel and checked out. We boarded the train once again, then had a leisurely walk with time to stop on the shore for Connor to throw rocks into the lake. Next, we boarded a small boat for a short trip to the island of Reichenau. The island was so picturesque! We walked a little ways, then took a bus to the other side of the island. Connor napped while Julian and Samuel took a paddle boat out for a while. We took the bus back to the other side of the island again, then found a place to eat. We enjoyed an incredible lunch of fresh fish (caught that morning) and salad that was all grown on the island. With full bellies (well, except for Connor, because he was more interested in looking at the lawn mower than eating), we hopped on the bus again to get back to our boat. After one final train ride, we were back to our cars, hot and sweaty and ready to drive back to Hirrlingen.

The picturesque island of Reichenau…Annette loved the flowers!
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Trying on Annette’s hat
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We went straight to Friedrich and Carmen’s house for dinner. After two days exploring the Bodensee, Connor was thrilled to be able to just sit on the floor and play with cars and trucks! We had a delicious dinner of salad, Maultaschen soup, potato salad, and dessert. Marilyn and my dad stayed awhile after dinner to enjoy everyone’s company while I brought Connor back to Annette’s for bath and bedtime.

On Thursday morning, Connor and I were surprisingly the last ones down for breakfast! Normally he is up around 6:30 or even earlier, but he finally slept until after 7:00am. After eating, Connor and I played outside while Marilyn and my dad went for a walk with Annette. Connor had fun playing with trucks and watching Elias (Annette’s oldest son) mow the grass. The highlight of the morning was riding on the forklift with Benjamin! Bernhard’s house is directly behind Annette’s, and Benjamin (the youngest of Bernhard’s three children) is doing a lot of renovations on the house now that Bernhard has passed. Connor loved seeing a “jobsite” up close and personal, including a big crane and forklift! After Annette, Marilyn, and my dad returned from their walk, Annette took us into Bernhard’s house to let us pick out a few special items to keep in remembrance of Bernhard.

Working hard with Benjamin!
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It was time to start our drive home, and it’s always sad to leave Hirrlingen. Our German relatives always make us feel so special and loved. We are taken care of as if we are close family members, even though there is some distance between us on the family tree. Connor was exhausted after our trip to Hirrlingen and the Bodensee, and he practically fell asleep mid-sentence in the car and slept the rest of the way home.

We arrived home mid-afternoon, and Connor was excited to be reunited with all of his toys! And to make things even more exciting, Charlie came home from work shortly after we got home! Since our trip to Hirrlingen overlapped with his trip to France, Connor and I hadn’t seen him for 10 days! Marilyn and my dad were glad to finally catch up with Charlie, too. We all enjoyed a relaxing evening at home, complete with takeout from our favorite local Italian restaurant.

The next morning, Charlie drove my dad and Marilyn to the airport :(. Connor still yells around the house for Gram and Grandpa! We had such a great time while they were here, and it’s always hard to see them leave. We look forward to one more possible visit from them at Christmastime, otherwise, we will see them next summer when we move back to the states!

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