Bags packed? Will travel...

So, this is where my love of travel really becomes apparent...I jumped at the chance to be the secondary chaperone on my school's German Exchange Program...three weeks in Germany? Ja, danke!! As with all student trips, the focus wasn't so much on sightseeing as interacting with the kiddos and helping them navigate their (often) first experience abroad. In spite of my pathetic German, I hope that I was able to contribute to those aspects of the trip in a positive way.

Home sweet home Merkendorf
The first week of a multi-week trip is often one of idyllic interaction with the host families, exploring new foods, recognizing cultural differences, and in spite of a few episodes of uncertainty or discomfort, congratulating oneself on the successes. This trip was no exception...we teachers were staying with a kind and generous couple in Merkendorf, a village about 10 miles from the school we were exchanging with. We lived right next door to the village church where our host is a pastor and were awakened each morning (and periodically throughout those first couple nights) by the church bells.
Würzburg Residenz
Within the first week, we spent a couple days attending classes at Simon Marius Gymnasium in Gunzenhausen...and, no, fellow non-German-speakers, "gymnasium" doesn't mean it's a sports school. We also visited three lovely towns: Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, aka. Christmastown (home of a famous Christmas ornament maker); Nuremberg, the capital of Franconia and the site of the infamous Nuremberg trials; and Würzburg, where we had an amazing tour of the Residenz (castle).

We also had PLENTY of opportunities to sample local goodies! Lots of giant pretzels, TONS of würst (sausage), enough different
types of cheese to put France to shame, and cakes...yum, yum! We had a few REALLY hot days, which made it kind of hard to even have much of an appetite...but we managed to sample plenty of types of ice cream!

 My favorite thing that I discovered in the first week was that storks actually do build nests on the roofs of houses in southern Germany!! When I was little, we had a children's book whose title I don't recall that was about people installing wheels on top of their houses to encourage storks to come and build their nests. I hadn't thought of this book in years, so imagine my surprise when I spotted a HUGE nest on top of the Rathaus of Merkendorf within a day or two of our arrival. Sure enough, it was a stork...I really enjoyed keeping an eye on the storks of Merkendorf and watching out for nests in other towns. If anyone knows which book I'm thinking of, please let me know!! I'd love to reread it in light of my Franconian stork discoveries!

More on weeks two and three to come!

Trip to Nowhere (Farm, that is...)

So, I hate writing retrospective blog posts...I much prefer to write them during the trip, but, better late than never, I guess!! This is turning out to be a spring and summer chock full of travel, so I figured I'd better get caught up before it's time for my next adventure!

Over Memorial Day weekend, I was fortunate enough to road trip with some of this year's new friends to meet up with a dear old friend, all in the name of good tunes, Cincinnati chili and grocery store safaris. Katherine introduced me to the band Over the Rhine (OtR)years ago and we have maintained our mutual fandom over the years...so when the opportunity to attend a special concert ON THEIR FARM came along, we couldn't possibly pass up the opportunity! Fast forward a bit to meeting new(er) friends James and Roger who share our enthusiasm for the band and the plan was made!

Our departure for Cincinnati was delayed a little bit when my new nephew decided to arrive when we should have been hitting the road, but once we finally got going, we made great
time and got to Cincinnati just in time to get settled in our townhouse rental before scooping Katherine up at the airport.

Anyone who has heard of the band, knows that their name comes from the Over the Rhine neighborhood in downtown Cincinnati, so we, of course, had to make a pilgrimage. Gentrification seemed to be a bit uneven...pricey boutiques perched next to chic wine bars and check cashing places while gorgeous rehabbed buildings neighbored run-down broken-windowed beauties. After a bit of browsing through the stores and the sights, we settled in for wine flights and a delicious dinner at some atmospheric local spots.

We also had to make a pilgrimage to Jungle Jim's International Market...aka. the BEST grocery store in the world! It is something like a food-themed amusement park with animatronic soup cans and corn cobs, an Elvis impersonating bear and much, much more...everywhere you look there is something wacky to catch your eye! We loaded up on supplies for our picnic at the OtR concert and managed to squeeze in a trip to Skyline Chili before the night was over!

FINALLY, it was concert day!! We drove out to the pre-Civil War era farmhouse to enjoy a picnic in the band's backyard with other fans before settling in for a very, very special concert in a cozy open-sided circus tent. We got to hear music
inspired by the setting that we were able to take in from every angle; sign a guestbook to thank our gracious hosts for honoring us with such an incredible experience; and snack from a homemade cookie exchange...everyone brought cookies to share :) Best of all, they closed with my favorite OtR song, reminding me of all my favorite people and all the grace that they've showered on me this year. So, I can't say it better than OtR: "To those I've wronged / Please forgive me / The random gifts of joy and pain / Were more than we could quite contain / We let it spill and flood the plain / All of it was music"