Sunday, May 17, 2009

Europe 2009: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, May 17 - 19, Paris

When it was time to drive from Chenonceaux to Paris we were nervous that the local gas station wouldn't accept our American Express card, but the Total station near the inn did accept it and we were on our way. During the drive we ran totally out of money and had to get off the toll road and use side roads the final leg of the journey.

This was my third visit to Paris and each visit I love it more. After much deliberation we had opted for the Hotel Muguet in the 7th arrondissment. It was a modest accomodation within our price range. Extremely small rooms, as is the norm, but adequate. Scratchy blanket and lumpy, tiny pillows I did not appreciate. But the rest of the hotel was OK. The location was good, as Rue Cler was a five minute walk and the Eiffel Tower a 15 minute walk.
After arrival and check-in we began our quest for a restaurant that would accept American Express: not an easy task. I canvassed almost all the restaurants on Rue Cler and only found one: Cafe Central. So that is where we had an al fresco dinner. It was surprisingly good. My husband loves creme brulee and they made an excellent one. I wanted to walk to the Eiffel Tower to see it lit up at night and dragged my companions with me. They were tired, but the fatigue vanished when we stood under the brilliantly lit tower. Then suddenly all the lights started flashing. At that very moment I noticed a couple nearby. The young man was on bended knee in front of his girlfriend. He extended a small box to her and the next moment she flew into his arms and they kissed and hugged for a long time. Later I observed what looked to be his or her parents photographing them with the tower in the background.

The next day Mary and I took the Metro to Notre Dame and just happened to be there in time for their evensong service, so we took our seats near the front and participated in the service, trying to sing the hymns in French. The incense produced an otherworldly fog around us. A wonderful young cantor's tenor voice echoed to the rafters. Mary translated some of the liturgy for me and it was very beautiful and worshipful. It was such a different experience from just walking around looking at the statues. We seem to be very lucky at falling into the right place at the right times!

We had lunch that day at Le Florimond, a restaurant that had been highly recommended to me on a travel forum. This may have turned out to be my favorite place to eat in the entire world! They were completely full when we got there but a table soon opened up and we were seated. The menu was fresh and inventive and every bite was sublime. Better yet, the price was extremely reasonable for the quality of the food. Even better was the owner Laurent, who bustled about making sure everything was perfect. I had introduced myself to him at the beginning of our meal and he remembered our names and used them frequently, calling me "Mar - ga - ret!" He was so genuinely warm that you had the feeling of being a guest in someone's home and you wanted to hang around all afternoon. I've been married for 39 years and this was the first time I heard my husband say, "let's come back again for dinner". He is easy going but not easily impressed. We asked Laurent, who was pleased we wanted to come back the same day, but initially I could see he was thinking how he could fit us in. He smiled and said "of course!" When we got there that night I just knew he squeezed in one more small table because the place was packed.

The atmosphere was warm and convivial. I have learned from my own party giving that the more crowded it is, the more fun people have. There is no room for shyness when you are elbow to elbow. Everyone in the room was friendly with one another. Laurent was bustling about making sure everyone was taken care of, with the help of his one waitstaff, Benedette. Pascal, the co-owner and chef was in the kitchen. Laurent said he would be out later to meet us.

Once again the fixed price menu was sublime. We relaxed, took our time and savored every bite. At 10:30 Pascal came out of the kitchen and came to every table to greet the guests. He was so pleased to hear we had been there twice in one day. Later, when we rose to leave, Laurent called to Benedette and Pascal to come over and say goodbye to us. We received hugs and two-cheek kisses from each of them along with their well wishes for our journey home. I've never experience that in a restaurant before. What an extraordinary experience!

Our last day was on a Tuesday. This was my third trip to Paris and I had never had the chance to visit the Louvre. It was my intention to go today. Alas, they were closed on Tuesdays! Instead, we went to the Rodin gardens and museums. What a happy choice that was. It was so nice to be outside in the gorgeous gardens which were filled with Rodin's sculptures, not the least of which is the famous "Thinker" with the Eiffel Tower and Invalides in the background. The museum was good too, but I'd be content to spend one euro and just go to the gardens every day.

That evening we did some last minute souvenir shopping on Ile Saint Louis. We found out that there were more shops here that accepted American Express than in the Rue Cler area. I was told not too many places took that credit card because they charged more fees. We were considering two places for dinner: Le Caveau de L'Isle, which looked very charming with its open windows to the street, and a place which had been recommended to us by friends, Nos Ancetres le Galois. We checked out Nos Ancetres but in the end chose Le Caveau. The food was just OK. The decor and setting was nice however. Nothing could compare to our experience at Le Florimond.

After dinner, again our timing was perfect as we strolled over the bridge and the sun was just setting behind Notre Dame. We took the stairs down to the Seine and strolled at the water's edge. We were not alone in appreciating the ambiance. Students, lovers, old couples were sitting at the water's edge with drinks and picnic dinners while the strains of a lone saxophone wafted through the air. Bateaux Mouches drifted by, some packed with crowds of people, others were more elegant with individual dining tables and flickering candles. As the color of the sky turned pink and then purple and the silhouette of Notre Dame darkened I wished we could spend another week in Paris. Alas, we had to leave in the morning. I know there is another trip to Paris in my future. Maybe next time I will make it to the Louvre!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Europe 2009: Saturday, May 16th, Chenonceaux

We were checking out the next day and had one night to fill before our reservations in Paris. I am a copious advance planner, but we had deliberately left this one day open for a last minute decision. We wanted something to break up the long drive to Paris. We decided we were in the mood for a castle and started researching on the computer which castles were on our way to Paris. We finally decided on Chenonceaux and started looking for accomodations in the area. We found the most picturesque and delightful inn, called Le Bon Laboureur, which was a ten minute walk from the castle. It even had a one Michelin star restaurant on the premises. Luckily they took American Express, which was the one credit card we had left that had not been stolen. It was in my husbands name only and I didn't have to cancel that one.

We drove about three and a half hours to get there. The Loire Valley enchanted us. Every turn in the road produced picture worthy vistas. Le Bon Laboureur did not disappoint. The service was impeccable the premises were charming. That evening we dined in the restaurant. Our second best dining experience of the trip. They two different prix fixe menus. We chose the cheaper of the two: 48Euros for four courses (which was really 6 courses, including the amuse bouche and palate cleanser). Each dish as it came was perfect and sublime. It was the perfect antidote to our horrible experience of the last few days. As my girlfriend said: "We suffer well."

The next morning we walked over to Chenonceaux. They did't take American Express. (This was a foreshadowing of the problem we were to encounter in the next days. Very few places accepted American Express.) We needed to conserve the few euros we had left for tolls and incidentals in the next days. But we just couldn't leave without seeing the castle, so we paid the 10 euros each in cash. What a gorgeous place it was! I couldn't stop taking photos. The fresh flower arrangements in each of the rooms were breathtaking. It made me want to do a castle tour of France.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Europe 2009: Thursday, May 14th, Dune Du Pilat and a Robbery

Friday we visited the Dune du Pilat, the biggest sand dune in Europe at 100 to 117 meters high. This is where we made a fatal mistake that would color the rest of our trip. There is a gated parking lot at this popular tourist attraction where we parked, locked the car and started for the dune. We took the steep stairway all the way to the top for a fabulous view of the ocean and surrounding area. It was windy and we got a free facial in the process. It is definitely worth the visit.

When we got back to the car, we were standing there chatting and as I glanced at our vehicle I noted, incredulously, that our back window was smashed. I could hardly believe my eyes. First I thought we were at the wrong car, and slowly it began to sink in that we had been robbed. I can't describe the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I remembered the conversation we had when we left the car, whether we should take our backpacks and purses on the climb. We had opted to leave them stashed under the seats. The realization sunk in that we had stupidly left all our money, passports, credit cards and cell phones in the car and now all were gone. We only had what my husband had in his wallet. I am so embarrassed to write this and I am only doing it so that others might not make the same mistake.

Our next stop was NOT a tourist attraction: the police station. I was so grateful to have my French speaking friend along! It took hours and hours to fill out police reports and call credit card companies to cancel the cards and try to make arrangements for more money. Thank God we were in an apartment with internet and free phone calls! I can't imagine trying to use public pay phones during this process. But what an eye-opener. Each of the credit card companies were so "sorry" about what had happened to us. My Mastercard company promised to wire me money to the local Western Union. They also took the address of our next location, a hotel in Paris, so they could send me an emergency card. That was lovely, EXCEPT the money did not arrive at Western Union, nor did the card arrive at the hotel in Paris. When I called back, they were very apologetic again, but could not tell me when or where the card had been sent or why I couldn't get the money at Western Union. I can't tell you how frustrating this all was. Then I called the US Consulate in Bordeaux and in Paris to find out what to do about our passports. I got only recordings, even when you push the option for emergencies. I realize now in retrospect that a stolen passport is not an emergency for them, but it certainly was for us at the time. I did finally get a call back from the Bordeaux consulate. We had to go to Paris to get replacement passports. Luckily we were headed there anyway the next day.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Europe 2009: Monday, May 11th, Arcachon, France

On Sunday, after a celebration breakfast with Mogens and Jane Ellen's friends and family, we took the train from Nykobing to Kopenhagen. Then Mary, Georg and I flew to Paris, arrived about 8:30pm and picked up our rental car. Instead of paying for a hotel for the night we opted to drive straight through to Arcachon: about a 6 hour drive. We were lucky to get a roomy VW station wagon, which gave Mary plenty of room in the back seat and room for our luggage as well. Georg was a machine; he drove the whole way, while Mary and I took turns falling asleep. We arrived at our apartment in the dark, about 5:30 in the morning. It took us awhile to find the right building. A man was walking his little dog and let me in his building. We searched for awhile before realizing it wasn't our building. Eventually we figured out it was next door. We looked everything over quickly before collapsing into our beds.

We are in the south of France on the Atlantic in a beautiful resort town called Arcachon. There are miles of beaches, bike paths and walking paths. The region is known for its oyster farming and wood manufacturing. We are renting an apartment three blocks from the beach and within walking distance of lots of great shopping and eating. We have two bedrooms, Mary in one and Georg and I in the other, a living room, dining area, kitchen and two bathrooms. The best part is the wrap-around balcony from which we have a birdseye view of the neighborhood, since we are on the top floor.

Pictures of our apartment in Arcachon:

This casino is just two blocks away, right on the beach:

We arrived in Paris from Copenhagen later that night. I had booked a cheap inter-Europe flight on SAS. It was about $120 one way. That was cheaper and much faster than if we had tried to do the train. We were proceeding on to Arcachon in the south of France where we had rented an apartment for a week. I had agonized over how to get to Arcachon: there was no train that late. Should we pay for a hotel for one night only to leave in the morning, or should we rent a car and drive through the night to get to our destination where our accomodations were already paid for? We opted to drive through the night. We picked up our rental car at the airport through Europcar. We got a Volkswagen Passat, which was like a station wagon. Yay! There were three of us with LOTS of luggage, so we had plenty of room. We had brought a GPS from home, which proved to be a huge help getting around.

Once we got out of the city (which took awhile) we were thirsty and famished, so I'm ashamed to say our first meal in France - the land of the best food on the planet - was at McDonalds. The route down to Arcachon was on toll roads but very easy to drive. Kudos to my husband, who was our chauffeur, for staying awake. My girlfriend and I kept falling asleep out of exhaustion. We arrived at our apartment at 4:30 in the morning and slept well into the day.

I had found the apartment through VRBO (Vacation Rentals by Owner). It was a two bedroom unit on the top floor of the building. The balconies provided us with a view of the surrounding area and we enjoyed our first breakfast there. The apartment owner (an American who lives in Toledo, Ohio) also supplied free internet, a laptop, free calling anywhere in the world and bikes for us to ride. The rental was only $700 for the week.

We loved Arcachon! It's a resort town right on the Atlantic ocean. There is a boardwalk where you can ride your bike along the water for miles and miles. There are fabulous restaurants and shops. And the architecture is some of the most interesting I've seen. Each home has a name plaque on the front. We all fell in love with the area and purposed to return in the future for a longer vacation. We visited the grocery store to stock up on food for the week. I brought home speckled quail eggs (quail eggs at the supermarket!), lovely cheeses, chocolate croissants, beautiful lunch meats. I was in heaven. Later in the week we visited the farmer's market next to the train station, which was foodie heaven.

The area is known for its oyster farms, so we headed to the port for a visit. The water's edge is lined with the colorful shacks of different commercial oyster purveyors. There are several shacks where you can sit down and taste the oysters, which we did. The owner served us a dozen freshly shucked oysters, bread and glasses of wine for a grand total of about $12. What a great experience! Later that evening we had dinner at Le Cabestan. Wow. One of the highlights of our dining experiences on this trip. It was just around the corner from our apartment. If I lived there this would be a weekly visit. Fresh food, great service and reasonably priced.

This is more information on the region:
The Arcachon Bassin
The Bassin d'Arcachon is like an inland sea and is Europe's largest beach with sunbathers drawn to the peaceful shores and calm seas. All round the bay are beautiful beaches, little fishing and holiday villages, campsites, dunes and pine forests. Watersports enthusiasts can enjoy diving, sea-kayaking, windsurfing and boating and on land there are quality walking and cycle trails for exploring the woodland areas. This region is a centre for oyster farming and each summer it celebrates the Oyster Festival, with tasting sessions, fêtes, music, dinner dances and firework displays to light up the bay in true Gironde festive tradition.
The bay is also a natural home for birds, especially L'île aux oiseau - a fragile, protected island in the bay which is a refuge for dozens of species of sea birds and home to oyster farms and the picturesque cabanes tchanquées (huts perched on stilts).

A beach resort located about 60 kilometres southwest of Bordeaux on the southern shore of the Bassin d’Arcachon, Arcachon is one of Gironde’s oldest seaside towns. The Ville d’Ete, or “Summer Town” has wonderful beaches for swimming, sunbathing and watersports, a pretty seafront promenade, playgrounds, boutique shopping and plenty of seafood restaurants. Arcachon’s exclusive Ville d’Hiver or “Winter Town” just south of the “Summer Town” offers a totally different vista. Set on a wooded hillside, the Second Empire holiday villas built at the end of the nineteenth century, are delightful with their wealth of elaborate brickwork, flamboyant balconies and stained glass. Today, the attractions of Arcachon are seafood (especially oysters), beautiful long sandy beaches, pleasure boating, excellent golf courses, great weather and the amazing Dune du Pyla.
Dune du Pyla
Europe’s highest sand dune at 117 metres, the Dune du Pyla begins 8 kilometres south of Arcachon and stretches for almost 3 kilometres. It is thought to have started forming some 8000 years ago reaching its present size in the 17th. century. It is constantly moving and every year it moves a little more inland. The steep climb to the top is well worth the magnificent view and a favourite launch point for sand-boarders and paragliders. To the west are the shoals at the mouth of the Bassin d'Arcachon and Cap Ferret. Eastwards stretches the magnificent dense pine forests of the Landes.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Europe 2009: Saturday, May 9th, Nykobing

The next day we traveled by train to Nykobing for a 25th anniversary party: the real reason we were in Denmark in the first place. What a privilege to be let in on such a special event. The Danes take their life milestones very seriously. They are steeped in tradition. The friends of the couple construct and decorate an archway with their names on it and spray paint their shoes silver (for the 25th) and put them at the base. At the formal dinner friends and family take turns standing and speaking to the couple directly, followed by a toast. People might share a song (their little granddaughter sang) or recite a poem for them. It was a long evening that began with dinner followed by dancing and a midnight buffet. I was impressed by how courteous everyone was. As the evening began each person that entered the room made the rounds and greeted and/or introduced themselves to everyone else already there. They made sure to say goodbye to everyone as they left as well. Also, we learned when toasting with people it is important to make eye contact with them as you lift your glass (you don't "clink").

We fell exhausted into our beds. The next morning everyone met again for a breakfast. Later that day, we caught the train for the Copenhagen airport.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Europe 2009: Thursday, May 7th, Copenhagen

We took the train from Kassel to Copenhagen. It was fascinating to see the train pull onto the ferry. We had to disembark and wait upstairs in the ferry during the crossing. It was huge! Several restaurants, a smoking lounge and a duty free shop. When we arrived at our Copenhagen hotel we had dinner with friends and strolled around Tivoli, a 160 year old amusement park beautifully lit and awash in gorgeous tulip gardens.

Our hotel was the Best Western Hebron. Our friends chose it for us because it was within walking distance from the train station and close to Tivoli. The rooms were miniscule and the decor very dated, but on the positive side they had a very nice breakfast and a comfortable sitting lounge with free coffee/espresso machine where my girlfriend and I played Scrabble. It was next to a strip club, but it wasn't a "bad" neighborhood, imo. The hotel was expensive, compared to the beautiful Novotel in Munich. I did enjoy walking each morning in the area. I would walk to a series of lakes/ponds near the planetarium. Lots of people were out jogging, walking and biking. You could rent a bike by putting coins in the bike stand and then drop the bike at another bike stand to get your coin back, kind of like the shopping carts here at home at Aldi.

We ate at A Hereford Beefstouw, close to Tivoli. They specialize in beef, as you can see from the name. And it was very good indeed. It is served on extremely hot plates with your choice of potato. The salad bar was a hit with some of our friends. You would fill out your order on a list and hand it to the waitstaff. I was fascinated by our tables which were made of butcher block and had a pen attached by a string and a hook with a kitchen towel as a napkin. Afterward, we walked from the restaurant right into Tivoli, awash with gorgeous tulips and spring flowers. A concert band played in the bandshell. The park was lit up like a Christmas tree. We stopped for drinks in one of the many bars and restaurants.

The next day we watched the changing of the guard at the Queen's palace and took a canal boat tour. This was the best way to see all the fascinating architecture if you only have a short time in Copenhagen. It takes you past all the sights, including the Little Mermaid and the former residence of Hans Christian Anderson. The Danish stock exchange building was the most interesting. The spire was made up of the intertwined tails of dragons.

We lunched at Cafe Sorgenfrei. This place is always packed, but our Danish friend managed to make reservations for all of us. Traditional Danish fare consisting of herring, a kind of meatloaf, cabbage, shrimp and a lot of other things which I can't remember anymore. They bring platters of many types of food to the table and there are stands which elevate the platter so everyone can reach it. And, of course, aquavit (water of life), made from potatoes and flavored with caraway

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Europe 2009: Wednesday, May 6th, Kassel

The next step in our journey was to visit Georg's cousins in Kassel. Julia and Florian have three delightful children. They are both music teachers and opera singers and have passed on the music gene to their kids. The oldest, who is 8 years old, attends a special music school and is learning harp, violin and guitar. They live in her parents three story house, inherited by the family from the grandparents. The home is 500 years old, used to be a schoolhouse and was moved at one time from another city. They left the original hand hewn beams when they renovated the inside of the house. The whole extended family gathered to visit when we arrived and we had a great time catching up on old times.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Europe 2009: Monday, May 4th, Marburg

More photos at:

Our third city was Marburg, the old university city where my sister Rosi resides. I was again greeted by birthday cake and drinks! My niece Gabi and her boyfriend Andreas were there as well. He played guitar and they all sang Happy Birthday in English.

We enjoyed a relaxing evening together and the next morning Gabi and I took a long vigorous walk in the forest. Later we rented paddle boats on the Lahn River and did some shopping in town. In the evening they both played the guitar and we sang German songs. Then Andreas sang in English to us. Andreas suffered a brain injury when he was riding his bike across the United States and got hit by a car. He was in an induced coma for 10 days. When he came out of the coma, the first thing he did was sing "Country Road, Take Me Home" by John Denver, all three verses. He sang that for us tonight.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Europe 2009: Sunday, May 3rd, Willsbach

Georg's family all lived in Willsbach. I remember visiting them when I was 20 before we were married and Georg's whole family was there on vacation. We were all crammed together in Oma and Opa's (grandma and grandpa's) tiny house. The village is known for its vineyards and a rare wine called "Schwarzer Riesling", a light red wine. Today his cousins all still live here within walking distance of each other. They surprised me with a birthday party at Regina and Timo's house. Regina had prepared a special punch made with woodruff that she picked and marinated in wine, which turned it a delightful light green color. She then added champagne to the mixture and it was served in huge wine glasses. She had set the table beautifully with a purple covering and green napkins, with a huge bunch of tulips and two homemade tortes.

The whole family was there: Timo, Regina, Valentin and Elisa; Heino, Ursula, Nina and her friend Dennis; Peter, Ellie, Lea, Holger and Tanya. It was great to see them all again. Afterward we all went to a local Gasthaus for dinner where we were served fresh picked white asparagus and a wonderful buffet. In the morning we picked up little Lea from school and were able to see Holger and Tanya's new home that they are building with their own hands.

Next: Marburg

Friday, May 01, 2009

Europe 2009: Friday, May 1st

We have been planning this trip for a long time. Three years ago our friends Mogens and Jane Ellen told us they wanted to celebrate their 25th anniversary in Denmark, where he is from. They invited us to the party. At the time it seemed like a pipe dream, and here it is, three years later, and we were really doing it! We decided to incorporate visits to family and friends in Germany and a mini vacation in France into the whole package. I did exhaustive research, planning and booking of hotels and air and train travel at home in preparation. We were lucky to be able to get frequent flyer tickets flying into Munich and back home out of Paris.

We landed in Munich to beautiful, warm, sunny weather and were picked up at the airport by my niece Lydia and her husband Ralf. We got our rental car and checked into our hotel, The Novotel Muenchen City. I love modern boutique hotels and we hit the jackpot on this one. (I'm patting myself on the back as I type.) At the moment I'm using one of their huge Macs in the lobby. It's 3am and a bride and groom, in full wedding regalia, are just checking in. The free breakfast this past morning was an embarassment of riches: omelet station, fresh squeezed juice station, platters of lunch meats, cheeses, every variety of that fabulous German bread I love so much, hot sausages of every kind, yoghurts and fruits and much more. You wouldn't have to eat again all day if you didn't want to. The room is modern and comfortable with a separate toilet stall and shower/bathtub room. There's a flat screen TV of course. Best of all it's within walking distance of city center and the Isar River, which helps me keep my bearings in the city.

After we checked in Lydia and Ralf took us to that unique German institution: the beer garden. Beer gardens are large outdoor areas with rows upon rows of picnic tables filled with people enjoying huge pitcher sized glasses of beer and enormous pretzels. You are allowed to bring your own food, or they also have food you can purchase. The beer gardens are traditionally shaded by huge chestnut trees which just happen to be in bloom right now with white cone shaped blooms. It was May 1st, a holiday in Europe, and the tables are filled with all types of people: enamoured couples, parents and their kids (there is a playground nearby), men out to drink and have a good time. A live band is playing somewhere. It is a lively, comfortable atmosphere. Something the Germans call "gemutlichkeit". No one is in a hurry to go anywhere. This is one of the most striking differences between Europeans and the States. We are always in a hurry. Here people just linger. Lingering is good. I need to learn to linger more. My resolution for this trip is to be "in the moment", enjoy each day's experiences to the fullest and not think about tomorrow or what is to come next.

After the beer garden Lydia and Ralf took us to their flat. Many of my relatives live in flats, either privately owned or rented. The cost of living in Munich is exhorbitant, like in any major city in the world. Their flat is modern, decorated in Bauhaus style colors. Primary colors of red, blue and yellow alternate on walls and rooms with modern art everywhere, much of it painted by Lydia's mom, my sister Rosi. One entire wall are bookcases filled with books. They have a balcony and we sat outside and had wine and appetisers, accompanied by a lively political discussion. They are interested in what we think of our new president. This is a question we will be asked by everyone I am sure. Ralf prepared a fabulous simple dinner of fat freshly picked white asparagus (this is asparagus season) and ham. After having been awake for the past 36 hours we found we were nodding off in mid-sentence and called it a night.

We find that's the best way to beat jet lag. Get on the local time schedule as soon as you arrive. Don't nap when you get in, just force yourself to stay awake until a normal bedtime. We woke this morning refreshed and ready to go. The day began with a two hour stroll along the Isar River. It was so inspiring and refreshing to see so many people out jogging, biking, walking. Even little tots had their bikes and helmuts accompanying their parents. Last weekend I was in California and was impressed by the same thing: how many people were outside getting fit. I love going on vacation because you see a whole different way of life and you bring home all kinds of resolutions to better your life. Although I have learned to make exercise part of my daily routine, this inspires me to do even more. This city is so bike friendly. Like California, there are dedicated bike lanes and walking lanes which make it so much easier to commute safely: something I can't do at home in Michigan.

Today we spent the day with our other Munich relatives, Johannes and Maria and their four children, the oldest almost twelve and the youngest nine months. What a delightful time we had connecting with each of the kids on their own level. It didn't take long for three year old Emma to be jumping all over Georg and mussing his hair. The girls, young and old, always take to Georg. As for me, I held the baby as much as possible. They live near a huge park called "Englisher Garten", much like Central Park in New York City and we packed up the kids and a freshly baked chocolate cake and ice cream and went over to the beer garden (again!) in this park. For the second day in a row we were drinking beer and eating those ubiquitous pretzels, followed by that yummy chocolate cake. Part of this park is reserved for nudists. If you are not careful you are likely to stumble upon a businessman on his lunch hour serenely lying on his back in the sunshine, his business suit, ties, polished shoes and underwear neatly folded on the grass beside him.

Back at their flat, Maria prepared a Korean dinner of Bulgolgi and rice and the little kids were put to bed one by one. What an enjoyable day! Georg and I walked back to our hotel along the Isar River in the dark, which at times was a little scary because we weren't exactly sure of where we were going. We had probably walked five miles today without even knowing it and it felt great. Wish we could continue that at home.