Monday, August 18, 2008

Black Forest: Mummelsee

This weekend we loaded up the car and drove down to the Black Forest. We didn't really have a destination, per se. Since the Black Forest is so large (120 miles long and 40 miles wide) we plugged into our GPS Baden-Baden (a large city, closest to us, on the northern tip of the Black Forest). As we approached Dawn plugged in Mumelsee: a glacier lake that thaws in the summer, with a surrounding area of trails and overlook points.

It just so happened that the route the GPS plotted for us was the Schwarzwaldhochstraße (Black Forest High Street): the oldest and one of the best known drives in all of Germany. It began with hilly villages and vineyards, then developed into curved roads along cliffs up the side of the mountain range: the kind you see in those German sports car commercials. One of the small villages we drove through at the base of the mountain had banners announcing the Main Festival the following day--so we were pleased to have missed the crowds. For such a beautiful and historical place, we felt fortunate to virtually have the place to ourselves.

We jumped out of the car and took off for the trails. Dawn reluctantly followed our strait-through-the-bush-I-think-I-see-a-trail lead. We found wild raspberries which were small, and every other one was sweet. The boys had fun with my instruction to pick only the berries above waste level; they got a lot of mileage out of my explanation of pee-berries! We found a dark shaded wood and had lunch; Dawn had prepared a picnic for us, which she was carrying around in her back pack. We had turkey and cheese on sourdough sandwiches, fresh vegetables, trail mix-spiked with chocolate chips, and spicy chips. She also brought treats along for Ginger.

The lake itself is pure snowmelt. Local legend tells of water sprites (which we translated as Mermaid for Jared; for him "Sprite" means only one thing) and the enchanted forest. The family twisted my arm and we rented a paddle boat and took it out on the lake. Ginger wasn't too sure of the water, but as always, she was a good sport. Benjamin pretended to help me paddle; he was too busy eating ice cream and looking for water sprites. In addition to our pictures of the lake, I'm posting one I found of what it looks like in the winter.

It took us less than two hours to get there, and we only traveled a small part of the Schwarzwaldhochstraße. I imagine we'll return a few more times before it gets too cold to enjoy the outdoors. (Dawn was born in Hawaii and spent most of her youth and young adulthood--she's still a young adult, mind you--in Florida, so the whole cold thing is going to be an adjustment for her.)

Friday, August 15, 2008

Wilhelma Zoo & Botanical Gardens

As I live and work at different installations (a 10-12 minute drive), transportation alone gets me off post everyday. We've especially been making an effort to get out during the weekends. Dawn bought a public transportation pass for 7 consecutive Saturdays (coinciding with the German school holidays) that allows our family of 5 (Ginger the dog can join us) to travel by bus, streetcar, or subway anywhere within the greater Stuttgart area. We went downtown a few weeks ago, and that was a bit draining. Last weekend we drove to the zoo and botanical gardens in Stuttgart (see: ). In addition to having some really cool animals in some very nice and open facilities, the grounds are covered in flowers, plants and trees. More than once it made me wonder if the Garden of Eden could be as beautiful. Peacocks and Peahens stroll around the grounds looking for scraps from picnicers. Dawn shot the picture up top of me and the boys watching the Orangutans swinging playfully, yet lazily, in the cage. It was really quite humorous: something revealed more clearly by Ben's facial expression than ours. Also cool were the monkeys that lived with mountain goats. Their behviours contrasted--the goats rather careful and serious and the moneys chaotic and rambunctious. It was a fascinating to watch them together.
Each of the boys got to ride a pony. Jared rode the Shetland, which pleases Dawn that he's still a little boy and not growing up too quickly. Dawn bought us an annual family pass; it's a high quality attraction, so we'll get our money's worth. Both Dawn and I have a German driver's license. (Driving in Germany can be intense, but the scenery is captivating. We got a GPS that makes navigation fun; they're so cool!) When we got home the boys were toast. Jared missed his nap, but quickly made up for it.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Permanent Change of Station

After being assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia for four years, our family has been reassigned to Germany for three years. We are living in the Stuttgart area, and I am serving as a community chaplain at one of its four U.S. Army installations. My two combat tours to Iraq gave me little opportunity to enjoy the Savannah area with my family. We are looking forward to living together and traveling throughout Europe. Some of you may remember that I served a two-year enlistment in Germany 20 years ago. Germany is even more beautiful than I remember.

We prepared to down-size when we learned that living on-post in stairwell units was mandatory. We were pleasantly surprised when we saw the appartments were modern, newly renovated, and quite spacious (even larger than our home in Georgia). We live on the 3rd (top) floor, which is ideal for Dawn's need for sunshine. We have a gym, tennis courts, and running track next door, and the commisary (grocery store), movie theater, gas station, dental and health clinics, arts and crafts shop, thrift shop, and skate park are all within a few blocks. We also have a nice playground in our backyard. The on-post experience is VERY American (we live on Texasstrasse: Texas Street!), so we make it a point to get out as often as possible.

We've decided to continue homeschooling; a very common decision by many parents in the area. Benjamin participated in Vacation Bible School a couple of weeks ago. This week he is taking intermediate swim lessons as one of the village swimbads. (His interest level is boosted by the the big news story of the week: Michael Phelps making Olympic History.) He is also involved in a Cub Scout day camp where he is practicing archery, rifle skills, knot tying, etc. Dawn has him registered to play football (that's soccer to you and me), and she has made plans for piano lessons to continue as well. If it sounds like a lot, it's because it is--but you won't hear Benjamin complaining. These are just a few broad brush strokes that illustrate we're making ourselves at home in Stuttgart.