Author Archives: Lauren

Captivating Keswick and Its Countryside

Raul and Lauren arrived in the village of Keswick (KEZ-ick) following their Ingleton Falls hike. A centuries-old town of only 4,800 inhabitants but popularized by 19th-century Romantics and nature lovers, Keswick borders Derwentwater, a picturesque lake. The travellers first headed to Dunsford Guest House, run by Deb and Keith, which turned out to be one of the best bed and breakfasts they’ve ever known. The rest of the evening was spent down by the lake, admiring the water, and enjoying the sight of an intelligent Collie rounding up herds of sheep as his master walked through the pasture.

On Thursday, under beautiful, sunny skies with no hint of feared English rain, Raul and Lauren took a ferry across Derwentwater and began a ridge walk to Catbells peak (1,480 feet). The tree-less landscape offered panoramic views of distant, time-worn mountains as well as the beautiful Derwentwater.

Climbing Catbells

Climbing Catbells

From the Peak

From the Peak

The walk back down to the lakeshore was spotted with sheep, a common sight in England, and a couple even followed them down the path a ways. An unforgettable highlight on the ferry back to Keswick was the largest German Shepherd Raul and Lauren have ever seen. He must have been of mixed ancestry, for he measured at least six feet from nose to tail.

"Who, us?"

“Who, us?”

That evening, they visited the Castlerigg Stone Circle, a late-Neolithic structure which testifies to the sheer antiquity of the region. Lauren in particular was fascinated by this remote place and felt the magnitude of history and ancient peoples hanging over it. While still shrouded in some mystery, it is known that this circle, and others like it all over the British Isles, served as a meeting point for ritual celebrations, especially those concerning the solstices. The site was almost deserted, so they enjoyed a beautiful sunset in absolutely peaceful surroundings, the silence broken only by the ever-present sheep.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Castlerigg Stone Circle

Friday held more fine weather and refreshing hiking. They circled Buttermere in a four-mile loop. With no wind to disturb it, at least part of the time, this lake’s still waters perfectly reflected the green, neighboring hills and rugged countryside. Lauren could believe she was finally Miss Elizabeth Bennet.



Raul attempted to corral sheep, as is his wont, but he did not succeed in getting close enough for a pet. They found a small restaurant toward the end of their walk and tried the highly recommended cream tea, which consists of tea served with scones, clotted cream, and jam. It was unbelievably delicious.

Cream Tea

Cream Tea

Leaving Buttermere, the pair drove back in the direction of Keswick toward Latrigg Peak. They experienced their first flat tire together, and Raul changed it very well. Not wanting to let the mishap interrupt their afternoon, they continued on to Latrigg. They climbed to the top of the 1,200-foot hill to revel in complete solitude (excepting the sheep, of course) and views of Keswick, Derwentwater, and the valley below.

Relaxed Sheep

Relaxed Sheep

Truly, the weather could not have been better with blue skies, puffy white clouds, and abundant sunshine. This was not the England the travellers expected. Back at the car, Lauren persuaded Raul to stop once more by the Castlerigg Stone Circle, since she was so captivated by it. Having returned to Keswick, the always-helpful Deb from their B&B recommended an auto repair shop, and they got a new tire without incident. Raul and Lauren ended the evening down at the sheep pasture by Derwentwater again. Raul, ever hopeful, tried to approach more sheep but did not gain their trust. Meanwhile, Lauren enjoyed a fiery sunset. This far north, the sky stayed light till 11pm, even though the moon was already rising high.

Raul inches closer

Raul inches closer

Saturday morning, Raul and Lauren wandered through Keswick’s local market and bought a wool blanket made in England colored in red, white, and blue. (Patriotism for both countries?) Leaving Keswick, they headed to the South Lake District, their final destination being Manchester as they were to fly back to Munich the next day. On the way, they stopped in the town of Grasmere, where lots of Beatrix Potter (creator of Peter Rabbit) merchandise is sold. They avoided the tourist traps but had a lovely walk along the lake and enjoyed another cream tea. Well, only Raul enjoys the actual tea. They drove into Manchester, and Lauren needed to stop by a shopping mall. There, they had British Taco Bell for fun, which of course did not taste the same as the American version. And as if on cue, it finally started to rain just as Lauren and Raul reached their lodging for the night.

Together in München – Week Three

Raul and Lauren’s third weekend together in Germany held a visit to a medieval town called Rothenburg ob der Tauber (“Red fortress above the Tauber [River]). The town, now of about 11,000 inhabitants, has been around since the tenth century, and its medieval buildings and city wall remain well-preserved, having mostly escaped WWII bombing. On Saturday morning, the 20th of July, they bought a special Bavaria train ticket which gave them a discount for travel within the state. After a couple station changes, they arrived in Rothenburg and walked underneath the city wall to the old town. Lauren had reserved them a room in Gästehaus Raidel, a quirky and immensely charming 600-year-old house run by a very dear old man. The layout of their room was unlike anything they had seen before, with a low-ceilinged ante-chamber that housed a sink, mirror, chair, and wardrobe. The main room with a double bed had small windows looking out onto neighboring rooftops and featured a desk which they used for their laptop. A narrow study off the bedroom held a tiny window, chair, and tabletop running between the two walls. The toilet was in a little room behind the study, and the shower and a second sink were in a separate bathroom. It was all a little dusty and sported a few cobwebs on the ceilings, but it was quite cozy and the ambiance added to its medieval charm.

After dropping their backpacks, the travellers sauntered up a shop-lined street toward the main square, stopping to sample some sweets from a pastry shop. There were many tourists about, a majority of whom were Americans, for an American high school band was performing in the square that day. Rothenburg has become a popular tourist destination, but many are day-trippers, so the evenings are less crowded. They walked around the city and admired the centuries-old buildings, enjoying especially the trip around the city’s ramparts which encircle it for over a mile. They had a great Italian meal which served as another confirmation of the superiority of immigrant cooking for ethnic food. Saturday evening held a tour with the famous Rothenburg Night Watchman. He dresses up in medieval costume for his role and leads groups of tourists on a semi-historical circuit of the town, highlighting the city’s developments and declines. It was a thoroughly unique and enjoyable tour, and Raul and Lauren hope to repeat it in the future with their families and friends.

The next day, the expatriates hiked down through a forest and along a river to a small town where they had brunch at a beer garden (yes, they’re even open early Sunday mornings!). Raul had some kind of coffee cake and picked out a delicious cheesecake for Lauren. The hike back up to Rothenburg was steep but shady. After catching a train back to Munich, they ended up in Münchner Freiheit for dinner at an Italian place, also staffed by Italian immigrants. They took their meal at a sidewalk table and enjoyed the pleasant evening and slow pace of life in Munich.

The third week together was full of activities. Both Lauren and Raul viewed separate apartments on Monday evening in an attempt to find a permanent place to live. They have their current apartment only till mid-September. Tuesday evening was much more enjoyable, for Raul’s colleague Ross invited them to a beer garden with him, his girlfriend, and four of their friends. Raul and Lauren greatly enjoyed their company. They purchased a pretzel and Obazda, but Ross’s friends brought their own picnic fare. Thursday evening saw a stroll around Münchner Freiheit once again, with the particular reason of visiting the delicious ice cream shop there.

Together in München – Week Two

The second weekend of July held a visit to a nearby municipality of southern Bavaria called Berchtesgaden. The area is just a few miles from Austria and is also home to the mountain peak where Hitler’s Eagle Nest rests. Lauren and Raul’s destination was the Berchtesgaden National Park, where they took a ferry across an immense glacial lake, Königssee, and disembarked at St. Bartholomä pilgrimage church. The crystal-clear lake, surrounded by sheer rock walls and forest, is a stunning image of beauty. On the ferry ride across, the captain of the boat played a trumpet to demonstrate the echo that those tall cliffs produce. At St. Bartholomä, Raul and Lauren put their camera to good use and then followed a hiking path along the lake-front. Later turning their backs on the water, they delved into the forested hillside for a steep scramble up rocks and the dirt path. They were eager to continue exploring the many hiking possibilities here, but they had to return to the dock before the last ferry of the day left. They had just enough time to visit the beer garden and order fries, spritzer drinks, and dessert before departing. Since it is an easy trip from Munich, they are sure to come back in the future.

The next day, Raul and Lauren acted as tourists of their city and followed Rick Steves’ walking guide to learn about München and its most celebrated sights. They ended up in Hofbräuhaus, the most famous beer hall in the world, according to Rick Steves. Although frequented by plenty of tourists, the food and live oompah music made for an enjoyable break, and they followed the sausage, pretzel, and cheese snack with some delicious ice cream from a nearby shop.

On Tuesday, July 16th, Lauren gathered up materials for Mexican-American tacos, and prepared lunch for Raul and his colleagues at Agrista. The eight employees generally eat lunch together and take turns cooking, so Lauren took the opportunity to cook for them and become acquainted. She had done a test-run of the tacos at home a few days earlier and found that German beef is quite unappetizing. According to what she read, Germany primarily raises dairy cows, not beef cows, and then just slaughters the old, tough dairy cows for the beef that is in the supermarkets. To avoid that tasteless beef, Lauren turned to the more common 60% beef, 40% pork mixture that seems commonly to replace the 100% ground beef that is called for in recipes. Thankfully, she found Old El Paso soft taco shells and cheddar cheese in an unusually large grocery store and had brought a container of taco seasoning all the way from the United States. She thinks the tacos at Agrista turned out well, since she made a large amount, and it was completely gone at the end. In the future, she plans to make her own corn tortillas, and then they will certainly have a taste of home in Munich.

After lunch, Lauren stayed at Agrista, and she and Raul accompanied his colleagues after work to Tollwood once more and spent a pleasant evening outside in very “mixed” company. The eight employees of Agrista are from a variety of countries: Germany, South Africa, Britain, China, Romania, and the United States, so it has been fascinating to get to know each of these people and their stories.

Raul’s colleague Diane and her husband Tai came over for an American dinner of chicken fajitas on Thursday. After enjoying nice dinner conversation with them, they took the subway one stop down the line to the square known as Münchner Freiheit (Freedom of Munich). Lauren was in heaven when they found the darkest chocolate ice cream she’s ever had – it was even called black chocolate. She knew she would never love another dark chocolate ice cream after that moment. After purchasing the treat, the four of them strolled around Münchner Freiheit and became acquainted with the area, which houses many enticing restaurants and two large, public chessboards on the pavement like those that Raul and Lauren saw in Switzerland last year.

On Friday, the expatriates once again sought out German garage sales, which are called “Flohmärkte.” The previous week, they had bought a wooden chair to be used at the desk in their apartment, and this week, Raul found a British Harry Potter book. German and American garage sales seem to be not very different. Raul and Lauren found used clothing, dishware, children’s toys, and a lot of mediocre novels.

Getting Closer

I left Thursday morning for Madrid, and after a few little hiccups, I arrived around 9 o’clock this morning. Unfortunately, when our flight was delayed in Chicago and then we were put on a different flight to Madrid, skipping what would have been my second lay-over city, Boston, the luggage was separated from its owners and is still in Boston. Supposedly it will be delivered tomorrow afternoon to the place I’m staying, and I really hope it is. I packed two large suitcases full (right to the limit of 50 lbs. each) of things to leave behind permanently in Munich. I had only my essential documents and papers for getting a library card to the Biblioteca Nacional on my person, so I have no toothbrush, clean clothes, or the like. Happily, as I was taking my documents out of my small backpack, I found an old t-shirt that was supposed to be in the donation box a few weeks ago. I guess it was left behind for just the occasion of sleeping tonight. At least I can take this dirty shirt off for a while.

I am spending two weeks in Madrid now for researching books pertaining to my dissertation. The excellent thing about this situation is that it got my flight to Europe paid for, so I will be able to see Raul very soon!

Raul and I came to Spain in 2005, so this is my second time here. Madrid is pretty much like I remember it – not too enticing from the approach by air (it’s pretty arid), many people, and kind of dirty. I guess those last two describe most all capital cities, which is why I don’t care for them too much. Already today I’ve had my fill of people for many days. I took several Metro rides between the airport, the apartment I’m staying at, and the National Library. It seems like those stations generally smell filthy. It looks like there’s a more direct route by bus to the Library, so I will try that on Monday.

I’m staying in a room in an apartment rented by a Peruvian couple, for the really excellent price of $28/night, whereas most hotels and other apartment rooms in the same area were 70, 80, 90 euros a night. I have my own bath and access to their kitchen and WiFi (Wee-Fee). It was a great deal, and it’s very clean. As to be expected, it’s quite small, which isn’t a problem except for the shower. I literally could not turn around without either banging the shower door with my elbows or accidentally turning off the water. First world problems – at least the water was hot.

I wanted to make sure I went by the Library today, so after I stopped by the apartment, I just took a quick shower, put my dirty clothes back on, and headed out. It was pretty easy to navigate the Metro system and find it. The grandiose building sticks out from the ones around it. Spain has an old reputation of bureaucracy and “come back tomorrow” mentality, so I was thrilled when it took less than ten minutes total to get my researcher card. Armed with a gas bill to establish my residence, a letter of introduction signed by my thesis director, and my passport, I entered to find out what I needed to do. A colleague of mine had said it took her about 30 minutes when she did it last year. I had to stop at four desks and security before I could get it, but it turned out without a hitch. I requested the book I wanted, they assigned me a desk number, and then a red light flashed on my desk when I could pick up my book. I started reading one of the primary sources I’ll be working with.

I tried to stay as long as possible, but I was so sleepy from not having slept much on the plane that I had to leave. I went by a grocery store on the way home and purchased the requisite Taranu foods : yogurt, granola, salami, cheese, water, baguette, and a red bell pepper. I did not have success finding apples. I had a late lunch and then caught up on some emails. I’m trying to make myself stay awake in order to adjust to the time, but I’m having a hard time fighting it. That’s why I am bumbling through this entry. Good night!

Time with Friends…On Both Continents

Tonight was a special evening spent with my closest friends, and in a happy coincidence, Raul will be meeting the missing members of our St. Louis gang in just a couple hours in Florence, Italy. It’s just a shame that we couldn’t all be in Italy for this reunion.

2013-06-11 19.21.16

After enjoying a truly beautiful and mild May and first week of June, typical St. Louis summer weather is back with a vengeance. It was in the 90s till late in the evening with high humidity. Nevertheless, we convened at Forest Park, the expansive and verdant gem of St. Louis and rented paddle boats as if we were young couples on first dates. It’s a good thing Betsy wasn’t on a date though, or one may have raised one’s eyebrows at the coquettish manner in which she “tried” to cover herself as she paddled in a dress. A grand time was had by all even though we were sticky with sweat by the end of our lake tour.

2013-06-11 19.24.51

2013-06-11 19.42.45

2013-06-11 19.46.15

After boating, we returned to the Boat House for dinner where we were able to review our impressions of the season finale of our beloved Game of Thrones, which we had all watched in time for our meet-up. The King is tired.

2013-06-11 20.33.03

Sung looked a little tired too, as he took the liberty of unbuttoning his shirt at dinner to take better advantage of the air conditioning.

Soon Sung was back to himself, and he dutifully returned to his task of picking out our own sigils. Trent’s is a river, after the River Trent as I understand it, and Kari’s is a moose because that’s all there is in Canada. (Confirm or deny, Kari?) We imagined theirs together with the moose peacefully lapping up water from the river. I told Sung Raul’s name is from a word for Wolf, but Sung said Raul’s sigil is a beaver. Betsy kindly thought it was because of his industriousness, but Sung explained that it’s due to a physical resemblance. I must disagree; Raul doesn’t even have the teeth for a beaver, the most obvious characteristic! Sung deemed me a phoenix because he rises from the ashes of a fire like my red hair. Betsy is a horse with a flowing mane, and Sung is a sloth who never comes down from his tree. All in all, we make a formidable group.

As for the events on the European continent, I will let Raul pick up the story.

St. Louis Checking In

While Raul has been truly hard at work and getting settled in Germany, I am staying busy here at home, especially working on my dissertation, which I want to finish as quickly as possible. But now that I have more time for myself, I have done some things for pleasure as well. I took two Continuing Education classes through the local community college which were about Forest Ecology and Agronomy, subjects that interest me. I also visited one of our state parks south of Saint Louis, Mastodon Historical Site. They have a few trails that I traversed. I normally like to be in nature alone and in the peace and quiet, but on the last trail the morning of my visit, a middle-aged woman intercepted me, warning that there was a large snake across the path. Once she realized that I was not fazed by snakes (only spiders) and was going to begin the trail, she attached herself to me, and thus we walked the mile together. No snake was sighted. I tried to be an attentive listener, so I was unable to pay attention to any of the scenery around me, but I did learn all about the lady’s children, her workout routine, and her plastic surgery plans.

Another morning, I went to Forest Park on a whim, something that I probably would not have done if Raul were here. Now, the time in the mornings that I used to spend packing his lunch or making his breakfast I can employ for whatever I want. It is one of the benefits that have arisen from our situation, but I cannot say that I would trade Raul permanently for the time to myself.

An additional delight that has lifted my mood since Raul has been gone is sighting animals. That same morning at Forest Park, I saw a turtle (my third-favorite animal) hustling toward a tree. I went over to him, but he felt me approaching and drew up his little legs and head into his shell so that I couldn’t see him. I left him alone and watched him from a distance as he cautiously exposed himself again. I also watch for rabbits (my second-favorite animal) around our house, which gives me great pleasure. They are very energetic in the morning and are not too hard to find. Finally, I have also spotted the resident fox who lives in a wooded area a short distance behind my house. He is very beautiful and graceful. I watched him bound over a tall fence with ease. And of course, his red hair, like mine, is a beauteous sight to behold indeed.

The upcoming weekend will bring my move into the house of my gracious parents-in-law, and then the cleaning, preparation, and selling of the house will commence.

Since it is already May 23rd in Germany, Happy Anniversary, Raul!

The Rapture Hasn’t Occurred, but I Am Left Behind (for now)

As Raul commences his adventure in Germany, life still goes on back in Saint Louis but with an acute emptiness that was not present before.

We both have had to take responsibility for tasks that were the other’s before. In our marriage, it has generally been more efficient to divide up the labor. I do the cooking, for example, and Raul is in charge of our investments. Now we both have to do some things that we either did not desire to do in the past or that we are not accustomed to. Raul is now forced to cook for himself, and I had to retrieve some items from deep in the closet, a place I’m scared to go! We are both making sacrifices.

In the end though, despite the utter sorrow and profound pain of separation, in addition to those more trivial matters, we believe it will be worth it, in order to take advantage of this opportunity that will help us to effect our long-held dream of living abroad.

Munich will not make a perfect home, nor do I believe such a place exists, but it is one part of a fascinating world that we are eager to know.

Day 24 – Delicious Luxemburgerli

Raul and Lauren left Basel in the morning for Zürich…and arrived to yet more rain. They stowed their bags in the convenient lockers and went across the street to the Swiss National Museum, a good rainy day activity. They saw many artifacts that used to decorate the Catholic churches and cathedrals before the Reformation swept them away. It really is a shame to see the grand buildings sit so starkly devoid of artistic distractions.

By the time they left the museum, the rain had let up, and the travellers began the town walk, roughly following the Limmat River to Lake Zürich. Near the end, they stopped to purchase some Luxemburgerli: one-inch cream-filled, macaron-meringue hamburgers in a variety of delicious flavors.

By this time, it was of course raining again, so they took a handy tram back to the train station, picked up their bags, and went to the dumpy hostel to check in.

They had fondue and rösti for dinner one last time and went to a tiny little room for a dessert of hot chocolate. The interior of the cafe was comfortable and rich, unlike the hot chocolate. After the drink, it was raining again, so they decided to turn in for the night. Lauren is reading an adventure book about rabbits, Watership Down, and Raul is getting a new high score in Bejeweled. The hostel is cheap (in an expensive city), and that’s the only good thing one can say about it.

Day 23 – No Cowbells

With so many activities they had planned being rained out at some point during the trip, Raul and Lauren acquired a free day to use. They thought about visiting France but ended up choosing Basel, Switzerland.

Before going to Basel, though, they took a train to a small town near Bern in an attempt to procure some cow bells. They wanted the same that a farmer would buy and not the touristic kind, so they sought out a hardware store. Since no tourist would ever have cause to be in this area, nobody spoke English, but they managed to convey their intent to one of the employees, and she dutifully started them on a wild goose chase which they had the good sense to ignore. As the young lady made some calls to try to help them, another employee and several customers got involved, each trying to aid Raul and Lauren and throwing in the few English words they knew to boot.

Their failed mission complete, they travelled back to Bern and on to Basel. They brought with them only their daypack, for in Bern, they had taken advantage of a useful railway service that allowed them, for a small fee, to ship their large backpack on to Zürich, where it would be waiting for them the following day.

Since Basel does not figure among the cities in their guidebook, Raul and Lauren stopped at the very helpful Tourist Information in the train station and there, made a hotel reservaion and got information on various city walks. When they arrived at their hotel to check in, they found it was a “proper” hotel, lacking the charms of a family-run pension. That said, it was one of the most comfortable places they had stayed in during the whole trip.

When they left the hotel to explore the city, it was sunny and warmer than anywhere else they had been. They followed two of the well-signed city walks. The most enjoyable portions were the ferry crossing of the Rhine and the promenade along the river.

It was just beginning to rain as they neared their hotel, so they decided to stay inside for the rest of the evening. Raul napped, and Lauren waited for the rain to let up to visit Coop and buy their standard picnic fare for dinner.

Day 22 – Save the Best Bite for Last

More clouds and rain prevented further cycling. The day was thus spent running errands, shopping, shipping, and resting. After visiting the only place of Internet access in town, Raul and Lauren took the train to Bern. Here, they took shelter from the rain under the arcades while they shopped. The only shopping they did, though, was at a giant Coop. Their intent was to stock up on their favorite Swiss products and ship them home to be enjoyed later. They purchased soaps, syrups for juices, large jars of Nutella, and several kinds of chocolates. They looked for a hardware store in which to purchase a cowbell, but the tourist information person sent them to a “software” store instead–Apple. They spent a while at the post office packing their purchases into two large boxes and wrapping everything carefully in newspaper. They hope the boxes make it home.

Before returning to Murten, Raul got the location of a real hardware store 20 minutes from Bern by train. They plan to go there tomorrow. While they waited for the train to Murten, Lauren bought a chocolate muffin, and Raul said he did not want any of it. As she normally does, Lauren ate all around the muffin, saving the icing on top and the chocolate cream in the middle for one last, delicious bite. Then Raul greedily snatched it away and swallowed it whole. Stinking Raul!

In Murten, they strolled on the ramparts some more before finishing the night with dinner at an Italian place. It was a bit of a challenge with the drink orders. Lauren asked for tap water, and Raul wanted a bottle of carbonated water, as well as a glass of water with mint syrup. They were given a glass of still water with mint syrup for Lauren, and a glass of carbonated water with mint syrup for Raul.

A final note: Raul and Lauren are the only English-speaking tourists they have encountered in Murten. It’s nice to be away from the popular places for a few days.