Sunday, August 19, 2012

Germany and France

Late Friday night we returned from a 12 day vacation that took us to Germany and France.  Lucky for us, Samantha was able to join us.  Unlucky for us, Jake was not.  The idea of the trip originated when we received a wedding invitation from Claus, our first exchange student from 1998.   We interpreted Claus' wedding invitation as an opportunity to also visit some of Helen's German family, including Jonas who we had not seen in over a year, and then travel on to France to see Phil, who we had not seen in almost 2 years and who was finishing an internship at the OECD in Paris.  

Our trip began in Hamburg where we were met by Cowboy Jonas and Samantha, whose flight had arrived before ours.
Hamburg is wonderful.  We took tons of pictures and explored all over.  More importantly, we got to meet/see Jonas' mother Ulrike and meet her partner, Christian.
We were also able to meet up with Helen's cousin David who took me to Berlin for a wonderful and educational tour of Berlin and Postdam.  I remain very impressed with the tour as evidenced by the gobs of photos and videos ... too numerous to post here.  I especially enjoyed my time with David and Annette 
and touring their wonderful home and gardens
 located in Spandau ... a wonderful borough of Berlin

While I was in Berlin, Helen and Samantha got to have dinner with Ulrike and Christian, tour Jonas' school and visit Jonas' house and meet his father, Robert.  Samantha took some great photos ...

Jonas took time off from school so he could join us in our travels.  He made the trip extra fun.  Here we are as we trek through Hamburg on our way to the train station.

We arrive in Cologne (Koln) greeted by the smiling faces of Like and Insa.
After a brief tour of the magnificent Cologne Cathedral, we enjoy savory refreshments in the company of our hosts under the Cathedral's glorious spires.

That evening brought together some of Helen's German family for a beautiful dinner and social gathering at the Seepavillon.  It was wonderful to finally meet these fun, interesting and loving members of Helen's family. 
  We are all still smiling.

The next morning we visited Like at her beautiful and artistic home where we savored a delicious brunch while Helen and Like chatted  
before waving goodbye ...
and meeting up with Frank who drove us to the Hotel Fit at Much, Germany in preparation for Claus' wedding.  We loved the Hotel Fit with all its outdoor activities, open fields, goats, cows and scenic views.  We got to see Claus ...
and meet the beautiful and joyous Steffi whose brilliant smile lights up the room when she walks in.  The wedding ceremony was held in a beautiful 16th Century Church in the charming village of Marienberg.
A short video of the processional is embedded below:
It was a picture-book perfect wedding.

The reception was at the Hotel Fit where Champagne toasts were made after which Steffi and Claus followed the German custom of sawing a log in two (Baumstamm Sagen) which is symbolic of a married couple accomplishing difficult tasks together.
The afternoon activities included archery lessons, oil painting, jewelry making and a form of lawn bowling (not bocce ball) that Claus called Viking Chess. The wedding dinner was attended by 100 people ... all of whom got a Kansas Sunflower pin.  Friends of the couple created games to embarrass the Bride and Groom.  It worked for Claus.  Steffi was unscathed. 

A wall climbing exhibition (staged by Claus' and Steffi's mountain climbing friends) followed dinner.   Dancing began and continued until 3:30 AM ... or so we were told.

The next day, Frank and Christa took us to their home in Moers where they showed us German hospitality at its finest.  Lunch in the old town square and dinner on the Rhine will never be forgotten.  They are the dearest people and displayed graceful patience as they endured the boisterous nature of the 4 of us.  

After a lovely breakfast with Frank and Christa, we headed back to Cologne to meet Claus and Steffi at the train station for a quick lunch and hug goodbye. 

We took the Thalys high speed train from Cologne to Paris. It was amazing. Smooth and clean and fast ... 186 miles per hour.  At the Paris train station, we were greeted by Phil and the wonderful and charming Hania. 

The next several days were filled with more adventure than I can describe.  Hania knows the heart and soul of Paris and was eager to share it.  Phil knows us and was astute in knowing what would please us.   Here is a small sample of our Paris adventures:
We also got a Phil tour of the OECD
and were inspired by the art and beauty of the Louvre Museum.

Oh yes ... the group hug at the Eiffel Tower will be forever special.

Thanks to all who made this trip possible.
Love to all.