Nothing about music here this time - just a short report on our trip to Germany for my friends, with some pictures that I haven't posted elsewhere on the interwebs. Karen's nephew is studying computer engineering at the University of Saarland, so the idea was that we would visit during the Christmas season, and meet up with Karen's sister, brother-in-law, and niece, who would stay in Germany for Christmas, while we returned home Christmas Eve.
Flying across the Atlantic is always brutal, even if it is kind of miraculous. We took one of those awful overnight flights and arrived in Frankfurt at 7:00 AM on December 17. I knew that it would be cold in Europe at that time of year, but for some reason snow didn't occur to me; I guess I just don't think about it much here in Atlanta. We arrived just as Europe was experiencing unusual amounts of snow, which played havoc with plane and train schedules. Anyway, we found our nice little hotel, walked around Frankfurt a little, and had a nice dinner at a good restaurant.
The next morning we took the train to Saarbrücken, where our nephew and niece, along with their two kids (2 1/2 and six months) met us at the station. Saarbrücken is a nice little city, about the size of Savannah, Georgia, I guess. It's on the Saar river, near the French border, and has bounced back and forth between Germany and France a few times. Although the guidebooks say there's not a whole lot to do or see there, it was interesting enough to this American; there are several centuries-old churches and a 17th-century palace. We did some sightseeing, but since this was a family trip, we spent a lot of time just hanging out in our nephew's tiny student apartment, drying out and warming up from walking through the snow.
Speaking of the snow, it delayed Karen's sister's arrival for days. Their flight was cancelled, and they couldn't get another for four days. So the several days we were planning on spending together turned into about 45 minutes - they arrived at the Saarbrücken train station as we were leaving on the 23rd.
The plan for the 22nd was to catch an early morning train to Paris, spend the day there, and return on the 7:00 PM train. Well, our train was canceled due to the weather; the next one was scheduled for 11:00 AM. After some debate about whether it would be worth it, we bought tickets for the 11:00 o'clock train, which actually left about 12:30. So we only had a few hours to walk around Paris, but I'm glad we did. We had a simple, but excellent meal, with the best pommes frites (French fries) I have ever had - I guess that's not surprising. In our few hours in Paris, we visited Notre Dame Cathedral, and I got to kiss my wife in the rain on a bridge over the Seine. Notre was awesome, with incredible artwork. There was a mass service going on when we visited, and the polyphonic choral music seemed suspended in the air. A handful of hours is not enough time in Paris, but I'm glad we had that.
Other impressions: All of the airports and train stations had policemen carrying assault rifles. I never quite got used to that.
Europe is more advanced than the U.S. in some ways, but not in bedding. Sheets and blankets are much superior to duvets, which make temperature regulation almost impossible.
I never had a bad beer in Germany. Even the cheap stuff was good.
Speaking of alcohol, gluhwein is good stuff. It's hot spiced wine, popular around Christmas. The first sip was a little bit of a shock, but I took to it pretty quickly.
The weather played one last trick on us as we tried to get home. Our flight out of Frankfurt was cancelled. We scheduled a flight the next day, and the airline put us up in a hotel near the airport. It was a brand new hotel - functional rather than elegant - and the airline had apparently booked the entire place. So all of the "guests" were stranded passengers like us; we all shared a strange, Purgatory-like existence. We had shelter and meals - always pasta and sauce, served buffet-style. And no refills on the Coke, please.
So we didn't make it home for Christmas with my family; we spent twelve hours on a plane, instead. But we made it home that night. It was a low-key trip to Europe, but we got to do lots of baby-holding.