An American In Frankfurt

The ups and downs of relocating my family of five from the suburbs of Chicago to Frankfurt Germany.

Monday, October 13, 2008


Well, we've been back in Elmhurst for 2 1/2 months now and a lot has happened during that time. We moved back into our house, I spent a weekend in the hospital with a kidney stone, DD#3 turned 13, DD#1 moved to college at the University of Pennsylvania, and everyone's trying to get back into the swing of being "home."

It's great to be back in Elmhurst, seeing friends and neighbors again. It's also a little strange for me, as if the previous 2 years in Germany were more like a dream than a reality. It's hard to describe, given that we are back in our own house, with our own furniture and stuff, and the younger two girls are both back in Elmhurst schools. DD#2 is a sophomore at York High School. Although she didn't go to York before we moved, DD#1 did, so it's not unfamiliar to us. DD#3 is in 8th grade at Churchville Middle School. Again, although she hasn't gone to Churchville before, both of her sisters did. So, while things are familiar, it's not exactly the same.

Of course, the adjustment is difficult, both socially and scholastically, for both girls. DD#2 is finding new friends and making her way, but it's hard, especially when former friends appear to be less than friendly sometimes. For DD#3, she moved back to a large group of great girls, all of whom are friends and appear to have accepted her back, but things have changed enough in 2 years that DD#3 is still having to find her way within the group. Scholastically, the schools are much more demanding, with more homework, which is part of the reason we wanted to move back when we did. But, as much as that's a good thing in the long run, it's taking some adjustment for both girls.

DD#3 recently made the 8th grade basketball team, so she's very excited. Her year on the team in Frankfurt, working with her coach there, really helped and prepared her to make the team here, which has been a great boost for her self-confidence and social interactions. She's also in Girl Scouts, on student council, and planning to re-join the DI team she was part of before moving. DD#2 has joined both Empower and PRIDE, which meet before school, as well as trying out for the play. While she got a general cast member part, she decided it was too much of a time commitment given her school work and her plans to try out for the bowling team. She's also involved in Girl Scouts and has joined the Youth Group at a local church. We've all rejoined our church here and are hoping both girls can get confirmed this year.

As for me, I've slowly started revising my resume and have even applied for a half-dozen jobs that I've seen listed online. While I'm in no rush and am therefore being very picky about what I apply for, I wouldn't mind finding a part-time job both to help out with DD#1's tuition payments and to find some social interactions and meet people. Right now, it gets pretty lonely during the day. I've had lunch or breakfast with 4-5 friends at different times in the 6 weeks since school started again, but it appears that if I don't call and initiate the invitation, I'll spend all of my time alone. I'm helping co-lead DD#3's Girl Scout troop again, am doing all the new leader orientations for our service unit, am part of the product sales team for the service unit and have volunteered to take the required training to become a trainer for our council, as well as being the secretary for the York PTSA. But beyond that, I have a lot of time on my hands. Again, while my friends are mostly still here and it's great to see them again, life has gone on without me for the past 2 years and it's difficult for people to remember to include us in their lives again.

We all miss having DD#1 at home. I think it's a little easier because 1) she's so happy at school, 2) we can talk, email and text her all the time with our cell phone family package, and 3) we haven't lived with her in this house much for 2 years. DH just flew to Philadelphia and spent the weekend with her, which was nice even though I wasn't able to go with him. And we know we're all going for Thanksgiving, to see her and tour Philadelphia. But, it's hard to have her gone and there's definitely a hole in our home.

Everything I've heard and read about repatriation has said that it's harder than becoming an expat in the first place. I think, so far, that's basically true in that when we moved to Frankfurt, we met a lot of other expats who were anxious to get to know people and had time on their hands, given that they didn't have a lot else going on in their lives. We made friends, as did the kids. The move was hard in the long run in part because, when we weren't traveling to all the wonderful places we visited, we really missed our family and friends back in the U.S. and, at least for me, felt disconnected from reality. The girls made friends and did well in school, but they weren't being challenged academically, which has made it all the harder coming back.

I think it was even harder for us to repatriate when we did because we arrived in Elmhurst about a week before DD#3's 13th birthday. A birthday party was very important to her and it was a challenge to get it organized before we even arrived in town and be able to arrange it so enough of her friends were able to attend. Unfortuantely, I spent the actual day of her birthday in the hospital, so our family plans were significantly altered. Next was DH's birthday and it was lost a bit in the chaos of the move. Mine came in mid-September and I spent the entire day alone at home, with a quick dinner at Panera with the family before having to go alone to DD#3's Open House at school. Fortunately, DH did plan a fun night at an Eagles concert for the following week. Now we're facing DD#2's sweet 16 in another month. This is a big milestone, especially for a girl, and she's feeling a little paniced about whom she can even invite to whatever it is she wants to do, as she's still in the early stages of new friendships. All of these milestones just go to emphasize how far we have yet to go in our social repatriation.

It's good to be back in the U.S., even with the intense pressure at DH's job and the faultering US economy. It's great to be only 1 hour time zone different from the rest of our family. It's great to see familiar faces when we're at the movies, shopping, or at sporting events. It's great to be able to go to the movies and sporting events with the ease that we have here in Elmhurst and never developed in Frankfurt. I miss some of my friends from Frankfurt for sure. I miss the amount of vacation time both the girls and DH had in their calendars there and the low cost and unending options of places to visit in Europe. But, I don't miss much else about our lives there. It was a good experience, but I'm glad to be home. I just have to find a new life for myself here at home, and it's definitely still a work in progress.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Saalburg & München

After graduation and the party, we were ready for a quiet, peaceful day trip on the last day before dd#1's boyfriend, Joe, and his mother, Jane, returned to the U.S. With my sister Kate, we all went to the Saalburg Roman Fort, which is about 1/2 hour outside of Frankfurt and once stood at the northern end of the Roman Empire in continental Europe (obviously, the Roman Empire extended further north in England).

We had a beautiful day to explore the ruins and reconstructed fort, as well as the museum and fortress walls and the Lime, the earthen barrier wall of Roman times. It was a lovely afternoon, with a delicious lunch in the Taverna, and just enough of an excursion to give us some nice memories of the last day before Joe & Jane had to fly home.

After putting dh on one plane to IL, and Joe & Jane on another plane to IL on Monday morning, Kate, the girls and I headed off to Munich for a last-minute trip before the move. Although the girls & I had been to Munich before, we had not visited Dachau Concentration Camp and dd#1 really wanted to visit a concentration camp before leaving Germany. Plus, Kate hadn't been to Munich, or many places in Germany, before, so we wanted to get in some quick sightseeing.

We arrived in Munich Monday afternoon and checked into our hotel, which was right next to the Haupbahnhof. After dropping off our stuff and parking the car, we headed down to Marienplatz to stroll through the center of Munich, see the clock chime at 5 p.m., and head over to the Hofbräuhaus for dinner.

Munich was hot, hot, hot and our hotel was not air conditioned. With the windows open, it was a noisy spot, opposite the train station, even with a fan going all night, so I don't think any of us got a lot of sleep. Tuesday was a long hot day, but full of interesting sights and information.

We started the day with a tour to the Dachau Concentration camp memorial. Many of the original buildings remain or have been reconstructed for the purpose of the memorial. We had a great tour guide who helped keep us in the shade as much as possible, as it was very hot and sunny and the tour was long. As no food or drink is available on site, we bought our Subway lunches before we left and carried them around to eat at free moments and on the train back to Munich.

After that tour, we had about 1/2 hour to get rehydrated before we began a walking tour of the Third Reich in Munich with the same guide. We saw the places where the beginning of Hitler's reign of terror began and covered a great deal of the city. Again, our guide thankfully kept us out of the sun as much as possible, but some of us did get sunburned. By the end of that tour, we found a quiet, cool Italian restaurant in a courtyard and had a relaxing dinner and rest for our tired feet. We were all so worn out, it was an early night for everyone.

On Wednesday morning, we were up and out of the hotel early to get to the Deutsches Museum at opening. We knew that Kate would love the exhibits of musical instruments as much as dd#1 loves the chemistry section and dd#2 loves the ships. It's a great museum and we had a nice visit, including a chemistry demonstration (all in German, of course), before hitting the road back to Frankfurt. While there was some rain and a lot of traffic on the way home, we got home in plenty of time to get everything packed and read to go.

Thursday morning found us making 2 trips to the airport to get Kate and dds #2&3 there with all their luggage for their 11 a.m. flight. Once they walked through security, dd#1 and I returned home to our nearly empty house to prepare for the move and dd#1's trip to Taiwan. On to the next phase....

Escape to Heidelberg

While all chaos was about to errupt at home, in preparation for dd#1's graduation, a party at our home, dh's flight to Elmhurst and then our impending move to the U.S., Jane, Kate & I were able to escape for one lovely day to Heidelberg. While I've been there several times, it never fails to impress me as a beautiful, traditional German town and Kate & Jane really loved it.

We started with the castle, so we could look out over the river valley and see the beautiful town nestled below. Although we didn't take a tour, we bought guidebooks and were even allowed into some of the exhibits normally reserved for those on the guided tour by a couple of very sweet German gentlemen. We saw some great weapons (too bad dd#2 wasn't with us), learned some of the history of the castle and it's ruins, and saw a great model of the castle itself. We went in more rooms than I'd even been before and even explored the apothecary museum. Of course, we had to visit the largest wine cask, but it was a little early in the morning for wine-tasting.

Instead, we finished our tour of the castle and then headed down into town for lunch. We stopped to eat a lovely little place in the shadow of the cathedral and had some wonderful food, including a great Greek salad, soup, bread and, of course, some good German spatzel. While we could have easily relaxed for some time at our cozy table and watched the people go by, we decided to keep moving and see more of the town. We did some shopping along the main street, including some souvenirs and even Christmas gifts. Of course, we had to sample some of the great Italian gelato before finding our way back to the car for the drive home.
Waiting for us when we returned to Frankfurt were dd#1 and her boyfriend, Joe, having just returned from the 12th grade trip to Barcelona. Since dd#1 didn't know that her aunt Kate was coming for graduation, or at least she was very confused by all my slips in the preceeding weeks, it was a nice surprise for her when we got back. But, our escape from the mania was over and it was back to preparations for graduation, the party, dh, Jane & Joe flying back to IL on Monday, a quick trip to Munich, Kate and dds #2&3 flying back to NY on Thursday, and then the movers, packers, and all the other fun waiting for us in preparation for the move back to the U.S. What a nice chance to escape reality for a day in a medieval German castle town.

Two Wild Women in Berlin

Jane and I had 2 days in Berlin, not nearly enough, but still were able to fit in many of the sights we'd been hoping to see. This picture is Jane in front of Checkpoint Charlie and the museum, which was fascinating. We were expecting a quick stop there, but spent at least 2 hours learnig a lot about the wall and the attempts made to get over, under and through it during the nearly 30 years it was in place. We happened to be in Berlin on the 60th anniversary of the start of the Berlin Airlift, which made it all the more real.

We were both mesmerized by the Holocaust Memorial as well, both the interesting series of concrete blocks above-ground and the fascinating museum below-ground. We also enjoyed the Deutches Museum, although the waitress at the cafe there left a lot to be desired. It was very hot our first day in Berlin, but luckily a breeze kicked in the next 2 days and, even more luckily, our hotel had air conditioning - definitely not the norm in Germany. We were somewhat unimpressed by the Jewish Museum, but enjoyed walking the streets of Berlin from the Hauptbahnhof all the way to the Jewish Museum and from the Bradenburg gate to the Deutches Museum. There was a huge TV screen in place at the Bradenburg gate in preparation for the finals of the European soccer tournament, but we were able to negotiate our way around it to to get to the Reichstag, Postsdamer Platz, and back to the Topography of Terror, another interesting exhibit.

We had some great currywurst, a fun visit to a German beerhall restaurant on the night of the Italy/Spain soccer match, and teriffic pasta at a great little Italian restaurant. We saw a lot of police in Berlin on Tuesday, parked in front of the Russian embassy and also in motorcades at different times during the day, but never figured out what was going on. We walked miles and miles, and even took a half-day tour on the hop-on/hop-off bus, which gave us a nice overview of what we'd seen. We bought a lot of souvenirs and were thoroughly exhausted by the time we dragged ourselves to the train on Tuesday evening for the 4-hour trip back to Frankfurt. But, it was a great, quick visit and we had a great time!

Prom and Graduation #2

As June spun quickly to the end, and the date of our move back to the U.S. drew closer and closer, life became more hectic but also more exciting. On June 20th, DD#1's boyfriend Joe and his mom Jane arrived for a 10-day visit. They are just the nicest family and we truly enjoy spending time with them all. The next day was the ISF Prom, what DD#1 had been planning, organizing, and raising money for all year long as her Girl Scout Gold Award project. We took her to the Intercontinental Hotel early in the morning to decorate the room with the other members of her Senior Class Council - and it looked great. Very classy, with a black & white theme. Although Joe slept through that, due to jet lag, we woke him to meet for lunch at the Chicago Meatpackers restaurant afterwords. Then it was home to prepare for prom.

ISF had never held a prom before, so it was great fun watching all the kids arrive at the hotel that night - Jane, DH & I hung out in the lobby and took pictures. It sounds like they had a great time, although not a lot of dancing was going on. Early the next morning, Jane & I caught a train to Berlin for 3 days of sightseeing while DD#1 and Joe caught a plane with many of the 12th graders to Barcelona for a 4-day class trip. We had a wonderful time in Berlin and came home on Tuesday, just in time to pick up my sister Kate at the airport on Wednesday morning for her surprise visit for graduation. DD#1 and Joe returned on Thursday, while Kate, Jane & I were visiting Heidelberg.

Friday morning was graduation practice and then, at 5 p.m. on Friday evening, was the graduation ceremony itself. It went very nicely, with 35 graduates in the class and speeches by 2 of the students, one parent, the school director, and an invited speaker from the board of the school. After the ceremony was a short champagne reception at the school followed by a banquet at the Radisson hotel. Everyone was pretty fancy for the banquet and we sat at a table with two of the teachers leaving the school. Although the banquet went late for me - with us not getting home until after midnight - it was nothing compared to the hour (4:30 a.m.) that dd#1 and Joe got home.

The next day was our family's graduation and going away party, with about 40 people, including many of the recent graduates as well as friends of our other two girls and some of our friends as well. It was a great chance to say good-bye to many of the people who have been so important to us while we've lived here in Frankfurt and the last chance to see many of them before we move back to the U.S. I think the girls really enjoyed themselves, as well as the adults.

It will be hard for us all to leave behind our friends here in Germany, even though we are anxious to get back home and see again the friends we left behind when we moved here. Overall, I think our two years in Frankfurt was a great experience for us all. We all loved the ability to travel inexpensively, often and to so many varied locations. Our favorites, as a family, seem to have been Italy and Spain - for the food, the people, and all the beautiful sights. There are many places I wanted to visit but didn't have time to, but hopefully we'll be back someday. Although I was unhappy with the academics at ISF, and am anxious to get dds #2&3 back to Elmhurst to get back on the REACH and honors track, I think it was great for dd#1 academically to have a chance to be here for her last 2 years - especially in terms of her college acceptance rate. She was able to do an incredible Girl Scout Gold Award project here that she might not have had time to even think about back in the U.S., and I think it really helped her get into the program she's entering at Penn. While she missed her friends and the atmosphere at York, she made great friends here - all of the girls did. Career-wise, these past 2 years have been good for dh, though we're glad that he's been transfered back to the U.S. now, so we'll still all be living together. For me, it's been a mixed bag. I've made some good friends, although I found it hard to have so many of them leave at the end of last year. I wasn't able to work and spent a great deal of time home alone, especially in our first year. This year, I was very busy with Girl Scouts and Parents Network, which helped me a lot, but didn't bring in any money toward that Ivy League tuition payment due this month. With all the positives and negatives we've encountered, it was definitely still a great experience and one I'm glad we took on. That being said, I'm really looking forward to going home.

Trip Home for Graduation #1

This has been a very busy spring for DD#1, with 5 AP exams, finals in all 5 classes, planning and preparing for the Prom, which was her Girl Scout Gold Award project, getting info. from Penn about her dorm room, roommates, food plans, classes, and everything else she'll need for college in the fall and preparing to say good-bye to friends in both the U.S. and Europe.

Between AP exams and finals, she and I were able to sneak away back to Elmhurst for nearly a week to attend the graduation of her boyfriend and all her good friends back at York High School. It was a great trip for both of us, although a little crazy, with jet lag in addition to all the things we wanted to accomplish in 5 days.

We were able to tour our Elmhurst house in preparation for our move home, which gave me a chance to see what needed painting, repairs, etc. We also got DD#3 registered for middle school and visited the high school to get DD#2 enrolled, signed up for her classes next year and even buy her some York-wear and some light summer (geometry) reading. DD#1 got to visit with her former counselor, who will be DD#2's counselor as well, as well as her two favorite math teachers. I had a chance to visit with a couple of my good friends during our trip and it was great to reconnect and catch up.

We got a lot of shopping done, getting DD#1 two new bathing suits, some books for me and lots of graduation cards and presents. We even had a fun dinner with one of DD#1's best friends and her family and attend a graduation party at another best friend's house. Over the weekend, we were able to attend DD#1's boyfriend's graduation party, which was a lot of fun. Then, on Sunday, was York's graduation, which was certainly bittersweet - all of her friends, many of whom I'd known for many years, but not DD#1, who would have loved to have been graduating from York that day. Although there were many great things about moving to Europe, DD#1 would have given them up at any moment to move back to Elmhurst and return to York, so it was hard to see what she'd been missing.

We ended the visit on a sweet note by spending much of the last day with Harmony, our former babysitter and pseudo-sister to all of my girls. She was in her last two weeks of pregnancy and feeling fat and uncomfortable, but she looked great. We took her to lunch at our favorite restaurant, Maggiano's, along with DD#1's boyfriend and best friend, and had a great time and wonderful food. It was wonderful to be back in Elmhurst and made me anxious to get back for good - it won't be long now!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Harry Potter - Girl Scouts style

DD#3 just completed her Girl Scout Silver Award, the highest award Cadette Girl Scouts can earn, by organizing, planning and running a Harry Potter-themed campout for 90 people in the middle of May. She worked with 2 other girls on the organization and planning, although only 1 other girl earned the award with her, due to illness. Fortunately, the other members of their troop helped with the actual running of the camp as House Prefects, with the additional help of many adult volunteers.
The girls attending the camp had a wonderful time and really enjoyed the activities, including such Harry Potter favorites as Quidditch, Potions, Wizard's Chess, Honey Dukes, and Madam Malkin's. Each person, girl and adult, was sorted into one of the four Houses, all of whom competed for the House Cup. The winner of the weekend's campout was Ravenclaw.
This was the largest troop campout in memory for the Taunus Girl Scouts Overseas Committee, part of USA Girl Scouts Overseas. There were 7 troops attending, from kindergarten-aged Daisies all the way to high school aged Seniors - and everyone had a great time! At the end of the weekend, the Taunus O.C. awards ceremony included the bridging of girls to each new level of Girl Scouting for next year, adult awards for leaders and volunteers, and the awarding of 3 Bronze Awards (the highest award for Junior Girl Scouts), these two Silver Awards, and the recognition of the Gold Award - the highest award available to Senior Girl Scouts and the recognized equivalent of a Boy Scout Eagle Scout award. The Gold Award is going to DD#1 for her project at the international school where she created a Senior Class Council, held spirit projects, parties, bake sales, sold t-shirts, raised nearly $10,000 and organized the first ever Senior Prom, which will be held next weekend.
The campout was a big success with many of the girls attending raving about the fun and especially about the Cadettes who planned and ran the events and activities. I think it was a great learning experience for everyone and introduced these junior-high-school-aged girls to a new level of leadership experience. Although it was exhausting and required a great deal of recovery time for this middle-aged Overseas Committee Chair, all-in-all it was an unqualified success! Congrats to the girls and especially to DD#3!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008


DD#1 finished her last AP exam last week, so we decided to take advantage of some of her free time before her finals begin in a month to do a quick trip to Amsterdam. Neither of us had been there before, so we took the 4-hour train ride from Frankfurt on Monday morning and returned late Tuesday night. Although we could have used another day (or half-day) to see the flower gardens, we saw pretty much everything we wanted to see.
We arrived at 11:30 in the morning, so we checked into our hotel, had lunch and immediately bought sweatshirts - it was a lot colder than predicted. Of course, nearly every shop had a huge collection of rolling papers and bongs, unless it was a sex shop, but we were able to locate some warm clothes. Then we headed off to the Anne Frank House, which was very impressive. We climbed the steep, steep stairs to the Annex and saw the rooms Anne and the others hid in for so long. Very sobering.
We wondered the pedestrian mall, did some sightseeing and headed back to our hotel to change for dinner at the Boom Chicago improvisation comedy show. Although it was very smoky - as is everywhere in Amsterdam - it was a fun show and a good meal.
Tuesday morning, we got up and headed out looking for one of the many pancake shops we'd seen the day before, not realizing that Dutch pancakes are really more like crepes and are not a breakfast food (and also not that great). Then we walked up to the Central train station, where we caught a 1 1/2 hour cruise along the canals. This was warm and beautiful and the perfect way to see the "dancing" (leaning) houses and the real character of Amsterdam. After the cruise, we walked through the pedestrian area to the Irish pub for lunch, then on the tram to the Van Gogh museum, which we enjoyed. The Rijksmuseum is under so much construction that we decided it wasn't worth stopping there.
After a stroll through the red light district - in the middle of the afternoon - and then Chinatown, we picked up souveniers for our friends & family and headed back to the hotel to pick up our luggage before the train ride back to Frankfurt. A quick but fun trip and probably enough of Amsterdam for me, as I'm not a big nightlife person and am not particularly tolerant of smoking, drug use and prostitution. But, the old buildings, the canals, and the artworks are all lovely, and spending time with dd#1 before she heads off to college in the fall was priceless, so it was definitely worth the trip!

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Visit from my niece

We were lucky enough to have a visit from my niece Lauren and her college roommate Camilla this past weekend. They arrived on Saturday and we toured a bit of Frankfurt, even taking a boat ride on the river Main. Saturday night, after dinner at a local Greek restaurant and some premature birthday cake for Lauren, Lauren & Camilla went out on the town dds #1&2, and tried to get our 15-year-old from getting picked up by an older German man.

On Sunday, we had a fun day that started with a drive to Rüdesheim and then along the Rhine river as far as Köln (Cologne). In Köln, we visited the Dom and walked along a river front park to the chocolate museum. We got to see how chocolate is grown, see it made and even taste some samples. We left Köln and drove back toward Bonn to attend a medieval festival at Burg Satzvey, which was wonderful. Very authentic feel, lots of cool tents, costumes and weapons - dd#2's favorite part! We watched a bit of the jousting tournament and enjoyed performances of period music, as well as some good German sausage. By the time we got home and opened Mother's day gift, everyone was pretty tired.

Monday was a national holiday, but dd#1 had an AP exam and dd#2 had play practice from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., so Lauren & Camilla took themselves to Heidelberg on the train. They came home to a fun dinner of Raclette and some board games at home. Tuesday was back to school & meetings for us, while the girls explored the museums of Frankfurt before their flight back to London. It was a short visit, but very fun, especially since we were the only members of the extended family not to have met Camilla before. All-in-all, a wonderful holiday weekend.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Prague highlights

While my nephew & his wife were visiting us from the U.S., we decided to use our 4-day Labour and Ascension Day holiday weekend to travel to Prague with them. DD#1 didn't come with us, as she stayed home to study for the upcoming AP exams. The rest of us had a great time, however, on this weekend excursion.
We started the trip early on Thursday morning, driving the northern route to Czech so we could stop at the concentration camp Terezin on the way. As Americans, we knew nothing about Terezin before researching it for this trip. It was fascinating to see how the Nazis used this entire ancient town as a work camp, although Terezin was not a death camp. After lunch in a traditional Czech sidewalk cafe, we toured the museum in the center of town, learning more about the numbers of Jews who were relocated to Terezin, but then sent by train from Terezin to Auschwitz and many other death camps. After the museum, we drove to the Small Fortress, visited the cemetery and the prison. Our guide showed us the horrid conditions in which suffered the resistance fighters, Czech military, and other political prisoners of the time. Most outrageous for me was the way in which Terezin was use as a propoganda machine by the Nazis, pretending that the town was more a summer camp than a work camp and that the prison was decent and humane, in an effort to hide their atrocities.
We got into our hotel in Prague in time for dinner in a fun local pub on Thursday night, after dh & my nephew had a ridiculous time parking the car at our hotel. Friday morning, we met our guide and another family of friends from Frankfurt, for a 4-hour walking tour of Prague. We definitely recommend hiring a guide, as it's a beautiful city and has many fascinating sights, but would be tough to cover in a short time on your own. We saw the Dancing House, walked the incredibly crowded Charles Bridge (we don't recommend it while it's still under construction), saw the astronomical clock and ended up in a traditional Czech restaurant in Old Town for lunch. Dh really enjoyed the Czech food - lots of goulash, meat, sauces, potatoes, dumplings, and beer - but there wasn't as much for dd#2, the vegetarian. During the afternoon, we strolled the streets of the Old Town area, visited a street market and did some shopping, winding our way back to the river, a stop at a pub and then back to the hotel. We were tired from all our walking, so we ordered in pizza and played a hotly contested game of Charades late into the evening.
Saturday morning, our tour guide met the 6 of us back at the hotel for another 4-hour tour. We started the day on the street car, going directly to the top of Castle Town. The Prague Castle is enormous and is really a series of huge buildings, rather than one large one. The crowds were incredible, but so was the weather, so we didn't mind a bit. We went in the treasurey but not the cathedral and ended up in the Senate and the beautiful gardens there. Our tour guide made sure to get us to our chosen lunch spot - TGIFridays - where we all thoroughly enjoyed a welcome taste of home. I don't know why we don't have TGIFridays in Frankfurt. After lunch, we did some more shopping and made our way to Wenceslas Square. From there, we walked back to our hotel, did a little food shopping, and then headed out later for dinner in a Mexican restaurant. We had an early night, as Sunday was an early morning for the drive back to Frankfurt and then delivering Steve & Alissa at the airport for their flight to the U.S.
Prague is a beautiful city with incredible building and a long history. It's also an incredibly affordable city, even though hotel rooms are sparce and not inexpensive. When you're outside of the most expensive, tourist places, shopping and dining is incredibly cheap. It was fascinating for me to see how so much of our tour guide's commentary was colored by her feelings of and reflections on the communist rule, the legacy of the Nazis, and, as with so many Europeans, the current politics. We both felt that Prague would be a comfortable city for an American expat, as the people were very friendly, everything is so inexpensive, and English was everywhere, at least in the center of the city. The countryside in and around Prague is lovely, with rolling hills and fields. All-in-all, it was a great trip and a very different kind of place than we've seen in our other travels, so definitely a good choice for our long weekend travels.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Spring Break in Italy

March 21, 2008 – We left the house early to meet the bus for our 8 day trip through Italy– only 18 people in total, so there was lots of room. Even before the first stop to change drivers, we passed through some heavy snow, both falling and on the ground. It was beautiful on the trees along the road, but not at all what I had in mind for our spring break vacation. The girls slept through the first pit stop, which was a good way to start a very long travel day.

Because of the bad weather and holiday traffic, our progress was slow so we had to stop for lunch in a small town where we ate in a restaurant similar to Munich’s hofbrauhaus. Then it was back on the bus to Innsbruck. We did a quick tour of the old town in Innsbruck, going to the cathedral, the Dom and around the pedestrian zone, giving us about 10 mins. of free time before meeting in front of the golden roof to head back to the bus. We grabbed some fries and McFlurries at McDonalds, a good toilet stop, and then got back in the bus for the trip through Brenner pass into Italy.

We got to the hotel in Rivea del Garda, had dinner and then went out for good gelato and walked around the town in a light rain. Saturday morning, we climbed on the bus for a trip down the east side of the lake on our way to Verona. It was sunny and beautiful for the drive along the lake and we saw lots of sailboats and windsurfers. In Verona, we had a quick walk through the old section of the city and then went off on our own to a store that sold embroidered aprons and the guy running a sewing machine in front quickly sewed the girls names onto slips of paper as a gift. We bought aprons for all of the girls and then wandered into the open market area, where the girls picked up a few more gifts for friends. Although the group had gone on to tour elsewhere, we wandered back to the area around the ampitheatre and had a wonderful lunch at a nice sidewalk café in front of the ampitheatre. On the bus ride back from Verona, we stopped in the town off Malcesne, where we had over an hour to shop before taking a boat from Malcesne to Limone, and then back to Riva del Garda.

Up very early on Easter Sunday to head across the country to Rome. The Easter bunny even hid a few candies on the bus. On the drive, dh began to feel really bad, and by the time we got to our hotel in Rome, he was really sick. He stayed in bed while we set out for our guided walking tour. While it was raining during the beginning of our tour outside the Colisseum, it was nothing compared to the mini-hurricane that hit while we huddled along side the Coliseum, hiding behind a porta-john. Huge trees feel, countless umbrella broke, an empty stroller flew by – it felt a bit like the Wizard of Oz. Once we were completely soaked, the storm stopped and the temperature dropped. We went into a café for coffee and hot cocoa, and then continued on our walking tour around the Colisseum and Roman forum. We returned to the hotel just in time for our 7 p.m. dinner, but everyone decided not to do the late night walking tour because we were all too cold and tired from the storm.

Monday morning, we were on the bus early for the three hour drive to Pompeii. It was fairly sunny and nice when we arrived in Pompeii, but shortly after we did a little souvenir shopping and bought our entrance tickets, a big storm blew in again, just like the day before in Rome. Pompeii is amazing, and was a great tour. It’s incredible how elaborate their buildings, bathrooms, baths, theatres, restaurants, and shops were for a society that was destroyed in 79 A.D.

When we arrived in back Rome, the bus let us off right near the Colusseum with the idea that we had free time until a 6 p.m. dinner and then evening walking tour. We made it just minutes too late to get into the Colusseum though, so we walked to the Pantheon, stopping at the Church of St. Ignazio and another small church on the way and then going into Navona Square, where we had dinner at a great restaurant.

Tuesday morning, we hit the road by 7:30 a.m. and began our trip via subway to the Vatican. We stood outside the Vatican in the long line for entrance for over an hour, finally making it inside the Vatican museum with our tour guide Emma. We went through the museum, starting outside with a description of the frescos in the Sistine Chapel. We saw a lot of lovely paintings, including the Raphael room, on our way to the Sistine Chapel, which was smaller than I expected. It was a small rectangular room, no pews, a few benches on the wall and wall-to-wall people. After leaving the Sistine Chapel, we walked outside and then into St. Peter’s Bascillica. It was incredibly large and very beautiful. We left Rome and stopped in Orvieto for a quick trip to the Duomo and then continued on to Florence.
Before breakfast Wednesday morning, dd#2 called our room to say she’d been up all night vomiting and had gotten the stomach bug that dh had. So, I sent dh, dd#1 and dd#3 on to Florence and stayed with dd#2 in the hotel all day. Everyone else went to Florence for a tour of the city and then a lot of free time for shopping. By 8 a.m. on Thursday, we were on our way to Lucca, also in Tuscany. We stopped in Lucca, walked the city wall, did some shopping and had pizza and then headed off to Pisa. After our stop in Pisa, we were back on the bus and headed to the Italian Riviera for our visit to St. Margherita. Friday morning, we had a beautiful day to walk around the town and then we had to be ready to load the bus by 10 a.m. to head back to Frankfurt, via Switzerland. It was a long day on Friday and we didn’t get home until quite late, all tired and sick of being on the bus, but it was a great trip.

Expat Women—Helping Women Living Overseas expatriate