Author Archives: Raul

Yorkshire Monasteries

In the second part of our series on our trip to England, we recount Raul’s independent excursions in beautiful Yorkshire.

While Lauren attended presentations and events at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, Raul sought his own lessons in medieval history with a visit to the ruins of a Cistercian abbey and the scenic water gardens on the surrounding estate: Fountains Abbey.

Fountains Abbey

Fountains Abbey

Raul’s chief difficulty of the excursion was driving (a right-hand drive vehicle once again) and navigating the approximately fifty-five miles on his own. Along the way, he stopped for picnic victuals from a massive ASDA supermarket, the most interesting of these purchases being a flavorful and mature English cheese.

The estate that Fountains Abbey resides on is one of twenty-eight UNESCO World Heritage sites in England. At the site, Raul walked a short while from the entrance to the ruins. In the shade of the tower, he attended to his picnic lunch while observing the other visitors. There was at least one school group, with students all dressed in monk’s garb.

As luck would have it, there was scheduled to begin a free guided tour just as Raul finished lunch. The tour guide was a knowledgeable elderly woman, and there were no questions she could not answer satisfactorily. She skillfully depicted to the visitors what daily life would have been like for the residents of the abbey all those centuries ago. The social hierarchy of the residents and visitors, the functions of the various buildings, some of which only have small traces left which tell us a great deal, the problems and solutions of sanitation, medicine and food, the economic challenges and success that the abbey achieved, and the rituals and roles that the monks performed are some of the numerous topics that were discussed.

Unfortunately, the day was wearing on and Raul needed to make haste in order to visit the rest of the estate before making his way back to Leeds in time to pick up Lauren. The water gardens were added hundreds of years after the monasteries were closed by Henry VIII, so in a way the estate and gardens are a second attraction next to the ruins. Raul quickly walked the length of the park and eventually made his way back to the car.

On the second day of the conference, Raul visited another estate containing a monastic ruin, Bolton Abbey. The ruins of Bolton Priory lie on the estate, and there are a number of other attractions throughout the park. A hole in the wall grants visitors access to a trail leading into the estate:

Hole in the wall

Hole in the wall

The priory lies on the banks of the River Wharfe, adjacent to a shapely bend in the river.

Bolton Priory

Bolton Priory

Raul hiked within the picturesque grounds to a café, where he conveniently took shelter while a thunderstorm rolled through. Once the sun was shining again, he found a picnic table and ate lunch with greedy ducks eyeing every crumb and waddling around his feet. Only an approaching dog was able to scare them away.

He hiked back along the other bank of the river and observed the priory more closely.

Bolton Priory Door

Bolton Priory Door

On the third day, Lauren planned only to spend half of the day attending a few presentations that she did not want to miss. Raul spent the morning reading in a park, and then they left Leeds together in the direction of the Lake District. Along the way, they stopped to hike the Ingleton Falls Trail. Along the trail were five different waterfalls and several crossings of the rivers. The terrain is quite varied, from very wooded to wide open vistas. This photo was taken approximately halfway through the five-mile loop.

Ingleton Falls Trail

Ingleton Falls Trail

In our final installment in this series, we will visit the Lake District.

England Makes Good Weather for Us

Recently, Raul and Lauren spent one week in England. Lauren was engaged to present at the venerable 2014 International Medieval Congress in Leeds, so Raul decided to tag along and make a short excursion of it.

On Saturday, they arrived at Manchester Airport, greeted by grey, gravid clouds, just as the weather forecast predicted. By the time they picked up the rental car and dropped their belongings at the lovely home of Emily and Luke (and their dog Lola), their Airbnb hosts, it seemed that Yorkshire was determined to make fools of weather forecasters. The sunshine and blue sky roused the weary travelers from the temptation of a quiet nap and they made their way to lovely York with its impressive walls and Minster.

York 005

York Minster

Besides her own exalted forum, Lauren would also attend numerous other presentations on Monday and Tuesday. Therefore, Raul was named the official driver for their hired car. Although he had previously driven on the left side of the road on Eleuthera, this would be his first experience driving a right-hand-drive vehicle. The drives on Saturday and Sunday, with Lauren navigating, engendered the vital comfort and confidence necessary for Raul to go adventuring alone on Monday and Tuesday.

By unhappy coincidence, the Tour de France started the very weekend of their arrival, in Leeds itself. Raul and Lauren were delighted by Yorkshire’s enthusiasm for “The Tour,” but the purpose of their visit was orthogonal to the Tour de France, and they faced a few inconveniences such as road blocks and the extra expense associated with lodging in such circumstances. On the other hand, they were within a mere couple of miles of the future king and queen, who were seeing the competitors off at Harrogate, so maybe that counts for something.

Sunday morning, they visited their first of several abbey ruins, the Kirkstall Abbey, a testament to the tyranny of Henry VIII and his destructive rejection of the Catholic Church.

Kirkstall Abbey 012

Kirkstall Abbey ruins

After taking in the ruins, Raul and Lauren strolled around the abbey grounds. Raul found an easy tree to climb, though not easy enough for Lauren to conquer.

Kirkstall Abbey 019

An easy tree

The rest of the day was spent exploring the estate of Lotherton Hall. The grounds were peaceful, with wooded lanes, an impressive tennis court constructed of impeccably laid bricks, fountains and rose gardens, a bird garden, and of course the country house itself.

Lotherton Hall 006

Lotherton Hall grounds

Their lodging near Leeds was a pleasure. Emily and Luke treated Raul and Lauren to a home cooked dinner of Spaghetti Bolognese, with portions maybe too large even for Trent Terwelp. The following night, all four of them sat together to watch the semi-final World Cup game between Brazil and Germany, which will not soon be forgotten.

Raul fancies the classic taps in the bathroom, with hot and cold water having independent spouts.

Taps 001

Traditional taps

In the next post, Raul visits two more ruins, and Lauren joins him for a hike through the Yorkshire Dales.

The Ink is Dry

Hello dear readers, it is long overdue, but I am finally here to fill you in on the last few months of life in Munich. The most exciting time was Lauren’s visit from the 5th of July to the 4th of August. It was a feeling somewhat reminiscent of seeing her for the first time on our wedding day, at the moment that I first saw her in the airport when she arrived. More details of our short time together can be read in previously published posts from Lauren.

At the time of Lauren’s arrival, I was still living in the spare bedroom at the office. I had only barely gotten an apartment from a lovely Romanian girl named Ramona, to move in on July 7th. This was to be a short term arrangement, meaning I had to move out sometime in September. Well, September has arrived, and Ramona and I have agreed to end the lease on October 1st.

Since Lauren left, I’ve been working longer hours at work, and also spending a lot of time on trying to find a new apartment. There have been a few promising leads, but in the end, I ended up taking a charming flat in a dull town north-west of Munich called Kissing. The downsides include having to take a long-distance train to work, not living close enough to cycle to work in less than an hour, living far from most of my friends and work colleagues, and living in a very bland town. The advantages are that the rent is very affordable, there is no commission to a real estate agent, the owners are very nice, a brand new kitchen is included, there is floor heating throughout the flat, and it is an attractive space. Overall I’m pleased, and just having a place to live for the foreseeable future is an enormous weight off my mind. After work today, I met with the owner to sign the lease. It is an open ended contract, with no end date. We just have to give three months notice when we want to move out.

A few weeks ago, I bought a good quality used bicycle from someone on Toytown. It is a commuter bicycle with eight speeds, which is more than enough for the flat city of Munich. I really enjoy riding it, and I’ve ridden to work a couple of times once I fitted it with reflectors, lights, and a bell, which are legally required in Germany. Tomorrow morning, I plan on riding south for a couple of hours to Wolfratshausen, a town which lies at the end of the suburban train line. From there, if the weather holds and I still have energy, I’ll keep riding, or take the train back into town.

Coincidentally, another document important to my future livelihood was signed and sent to South Africa by courier on this same day as my lease signing. My company’s five year agreement was finalized and signed today, after many months (years?) of being wrangled through a corporate maze of compliance, committees, legal reviews, and the like.

I’ve really enjoyed living in the Schwabing area of Munich these last two months. Some days after work, I like to wind down with dinner from the Mexican cantina which is located just to the south of my flat. Their tacos al pastor are delicious, and just around the corner I like to go watch the old timers duel on a field of 8ft by 8ft of alternating alabaster and onyx colored squares. It is always the same guys, and the action can get testy at times.

I will miss these pleasures in Kissing, but I know it is not permanent. Now that the pressure is off, Lauren and I can properly search for a an affordable place in or closer to Munich, at least close enough to cycle to work.

On Tuesday, Lauren booked her tickets for her next visit to Munich. She’ll be here for another month, to do research at the Bavarian state library, from October 13th to November 13th. Hopefully on the weekends, the weather will allow for some hiking in the alpine foothills to the south of Munich.

As for me, yesterday, I booked passage to America for the winter holidays. I’m using what will be left of my 2013 leave from work, as well as four public holidays, to visit from December 17th to the 11th of January. To all my friends from St Louis, I hope we can see each other then.

Lauren’s Arrival

Lauren arrived in München late in the evening on July 5th, sorry to have missed her family’s traditional 4th of July cheesecake but unspeakably happy to finally see Raul after nine long weeks of separation! The next day, they woke up early to go to the Viktualienmarkt in Pasing, the neighborhood where Raul’s work is located. They purchased a baguette, some fruit, and delicious cheese from a cheese shop and headed back to the train station. From there, they travelled southwest to the town of Herrsching, whence they began a three-mile pilgrimage up a large hill to Andechs Monastery. When Raul went by himself to this church, some weeks ago, he did not keep up with the group that arrived on the train with him. This time, he made sure they did in order to see the route the Germans would take. Lauren enjoyed seeing many men in Lederhosen on the hike up. Some even wore the traditional shoes and wool socks.

At the monastery church, Lauren climbed almost 200 steps up a narrow tower to view the surrounding countryside, but Raul stayed below since he had already made that climb. One highlight from the rest of the trip was a lovely meal at the nearby beer garden which included fries, Bratwurst, Apfelschörle (carbonated apple juice) and Johannesbeerschörle (carbonated currant juice). Another highlight was seeing a young lady walking in front of them as she flipped up the back of her dirndl, likely to cool off the back of her legs, and revealed a nice pair of underwear partially covering a nice derrière. Just as the scenery is beautiful, so are the girls.

After hiking down from the monastery, Raul and Lauren walked along the Ammersee and rested on a bench as they enjoyed a well-deserved ice cream. From there, it was back to Munich and to the home of Diane, a colleague of Raul’s, and Tai, her husband. Raul and Lauren enjoyed a game of Settlers of Catan with them.

Next day, Sunday, was moving day. After sleeping in late, Raul and Lauren made two trips with their luggage to their new apartment in Schwabing, a verdant neighborhood north of the city center. They met their roommate Mona, a nice Romanian girl about their age, and her Swiss boyfriend “Jorge.”

They spent the evening enjoying the nearby English Garden. It is a large park, about two-thirds the size of St. Louis’ Forest Park, whose southern half is popular with tourists who visit the Chinese Tower and the beer garden. Raul and Lauren entered in the northern half, near to their apartment. The air pregnant with the heavy smell of linden flowers, they wandered down shady paths until they too reached the Chinese Tower. Lauren could not resist ordering an enormous salted pretzel. Unfortunately, her meek voice was misunderstood, and the attendant presented her with a large radish cut in a spiral style. “Kein radi,” she protested, “no radish,” and pointed to the pretzel instead. They moved on to another shop where they bought a traditional cheese spread called Obazda which is perfect for being scooped up by a pretzel. Delicious fries accompanied the snack.

They sauntered out of the garden at the south end and ended up on the edge of Odeonsplatz. They tried to enter the plaza, but a ticketed event was occurring inside. After walking around the plaza to the opposite side, they picked out a spot on the sidewalk near several others without tickets and waited in anticipation for the orchestral concert to begin. Lauren was especially excitable and even more so when they heard Dvořák’s New World Symphony begin to play. She had never heard it live before. They were just going to listen for a few minutes…which turned into “Five more minutes, please” and then into the first movement, the second movement, and part of the third. It was quite late by that time, and Raul had to work in the morning, so they tore themselves away.

The weekdays came long and uncomfortable for Lauren since Raul had to work and she was anxious to spend as much time with him as possible. On Thursday evening, they accompanied some of Raul’s colleagues to Tollwood, a summer music festival where many tents and booths of food were also set up. Lauren enjoyed her first döner, served in pita bread. This Turkish food is quite popular as a kind of fast-food in Germany. After the festival, they looked forward to their free time on the weekend, and thus ended the first week of Lauren’s visit.


Having coffee in the shadow of Il Duomo.

Having coffee in the shadow of Il Duomo.

This past week, I took two days of leave from work to meet up with my friends Chris and Thea in Florence, Italy. They moved to Florida from St Louis, so it has been a while since I’ve seen them. Lauren visited them when she took a trip to Florida with her family earlier this year. I think I got the better end of that deal.

The Kelces are on a Mediterranean cruise, and they stopped for one day in the port of Livorno, Italy. From there, they met me in Florence for about six hours, before returning to their ship. I had intended to take an overnight train from Munich, but that was sold out. Instead, I flew and spent two nights at a friendly guy’s house I found on Airbnb. Overall, I think that was cheaper than the train would have been, but I still look forward to taking an overnight train ride someday.

On the morning of Chris and Thea’s arrival, I rode the clunky bicycle that my host provided me to meet them at the train station. I got my bearings and determined that they could be arriving at one of two possible platforms. My first guess was correct, and soon we were on our way. Thea led us into the heart of the old city, and as we took a break at the foot of the massive cathedral, we all decided that we wanted to climb to the top of Il Duomo. It was a hot and long climb, but we were indeed rewarded with an impressive vista.

View from Il Duomo

View from Il Duomo

At the top of the Duomo

At the top of Il Duomo

We replenished our energy reserves with a lunch of pizza (of course) at a restaurant near the Palazzo Vecchio in Piazza della Signoria. At the entrance of the Palazzo Vecchio stands a replica of Michelangelo’s David. The original was moved to an indoor location in order to preserve it.

After lunch, it took just a couple minutes to reach Ponte Vecchio, an old Medieval bridge that still houses shops. Today, all the shops are gold and silver smiths, but in centuries past, it also had other types of businesses, such as butcher shops.

Ponte Vecchio

Ponte Vecchio

We tried to find some shade in a park, away from the bustling crowds of tourists, but there was nothing open to us, so we decided to cool off under an umbrella at a café with misters. I hydrated, while the Kelces had a cold beer, and then I saw them off to their train with only a minute to spare.

I left the train station on the bike, heading back into the old city. I finally did find a park to read in for a time, though it was rather small and the din of traffic was ever present. At least the people around me were all Italians, as the park was somewhat away from the main sights. I felt glad to have seen my friends, but by this time I was starting to acutely feel the loneliness of being so far from home, from friends and family, and most of all from Lauren.

Relaxing at the Giardino Bardini

Relaxing at the Giardino Bardini

The following day, my flight was not until 5pm, so I had a good bit of time left to fill with more of Florence. I debated going to the Uffizi Gallery, but in the end I was driven to find the green places of the world once more. I decided to visit the Boboli Gardens, behind the Palazzo Pitti. I had been led to believe that I’d have a nice view of Florence from these hilly gardens, but the best view appeared to be from a fortress above the gardens, which was closed. Nonetheless, I was pleased, and my ticket also included entry to another garden, the Giardino Bardini. This garden was a fantastic treat. I was rewarded with woody lanes, fantastic views of the city, the lovely scents of flowers, and all of this with virtually no tourists. Evidently it has only recently been opened to the public and it isn’t well known yet.

Terrace at the Giardino Bardini

Terrace at the Giardino Bardini

Overall, it was a good trip, and it is a good illustration of one of the reasons Lauren and I want to live in Europe. Here, we’ll have easy access to a multitude of countries and cultures. Munich itself is well placed, being relatively centrally located. I look forward to the next rendezvous with old friends.

Andechs Monastery


Biergarten victuals

I’ve been here two weeks now, and today was my first trip to a Bavarian Biergarten. I don’t actually like beer, but I hiked three miles uphill to get to the Andechs Monastery and I was quite famished. So I decided to brave the line and have one of everything, even a beer. The food consisted of fries, bratwurst, bread, and grilled corn. Upon the recommendation of the young barkeep, I ordered a Weißbier which is wheat beer.

The beer is in the tall glass in the photo, and the mug contains Apfelschorle, a concoction of apple juice and sparkling water which I have come to appreciate. Later I also got a Johannisbeerschorle, which is the same thing, only made from currants instead of apples. All of the potions are locally brewed at the monastery.

I had low expectations for the beer, but it was actually not terrible. I probably wouldn’t drink it again.

Monastery Grounds

The grounds at the Andechs Monastery

The monastery I visited on this gorgeous day is located in a small town called Andechs, and sits atop a hill several miles from the neighboring town of Herrsching. Herrsching is the south-western terminus on the S8 suburban train line from Munich. Here is another view of the church:

The church exterior

Andechs church exterior

The interior was magnificently ornate:

Andechs church altar

Andechs church altar

For 1€, one can climb the church tower, which I did at a relaxed pace, having just hiked up the hill to the town itself. The tower does not have large windows, but there was a cool breeze at just the right interval, and the views at the top were worth the climb.

Ammersee from the top of the church tower

Ammersee from the top of the church tower

Ammersee is one of the numerous lakes in the region. This was the view of the lake from the tower. After eating, I hiked down toward the lake. I meandered along the shore back to Herrsching, where I barely missed the train to Munich. Good thing there are three per hour.

Monday is another public holiday, my second one so far. However, I will be working, along with part of the team. We want to finish an important part of our project before William, the other developer, leaves for vacation to China on Friday. We will receive an extra day of leave in exchange for working on the holiday.

I have set up my mobile phone with a German prepaid plan. The data part isn’t working yet, but I am working on getting that to work as well. I am also working on getting a local bank account, though this depends on some government bureaucracy, so it may take another week or two. I also need to start obtaining materials for the driver’s license test, and study them so I can get my German license. I’ve heard I need to do that within three months.

Right now, though, my priority is finding a place to live. Last week I had my first apartment viewing, for a potential place to live. I did not end up liking it, so at this point, I am still looking for a place. Lauren is helping me with that, so I am optimistic.

The Perfect Season to Move


Church next to the office

My new job is quite demanding. I never would have imagined that I’d be productive on day two, but I was already getting stuff done on even the first day. Our CEO Helmut wants to get stuff done quickly, so I’m thrown in the deep end and expected to sink or swim. That leaves me with no downtime during work, and my evenings are spent fending for myself, trying to get all my affairs settled.

Without a car or bicycle, I’m left with walking around the city, searching for essentials like grocery stores, house goods, and other such mundane necessities which no one needs to think about when one is settled. The area around my office is a joy to stroll around. With temperatures in the 60s and 70s, and plenty of sunshine, I am fortunate that I don’t have to contend with the freezing temperatures and copious snowfall Munich receives in winter, during this time of transition.

There is a lovely path next to a river which flows parallel to the main road leading to the Pasing train station:

Walk between train station and office

Walk between train station and office

The tracks coming from the station, which is roughly 200m to the left, pass above the river on the bridge in the photograph above. Most of the architecture I have seen around Munich so far is bland, other than the major buildings and churches. The homes and apartments look quite plain from the outside, compared to cities such as Vienna and Budapest. However, there are some pleasant surprises, such as this one, also from Pasing, the area where I work:

Stately home in Pasing

Stately home in Pasing

After work today, I scouted a laundromat in the area. It is 1.6km away on foot, which may explain why my predecessor in the office guest room just did his laundry in the sink here at the office. Or maybe he just wanted to save money.

Every day I try to get one essential settlement task done. Today, my goal is to research banking options and hopefully open an account on Friday, or early next week. Not tomorrow, because tomorrow is my first public holiday, and everything will be closed. I work three days, and I already have a day off.

Park and ride

Park and ride

I am looking forward to getting a bicycle. Munich is relatively flat, and it will make grocery shopping a lot easier. There are cyclists everywhere you look, on paths as well as on the roads, where drivers are courteous and pay attention to them.

Day One

My first day at the office was exciting. I met Radu, Diane, and William. I met Helmut yesterday after his wife Erika picked me up from the airport. Björn was also in the office today, and he cooked lunch for everyone. It was sausage with bread and a sauce/topping of diced tomatoes and maybe curry?

The office

The office

Tomorrow morning, Björn and I are going to the Kreisverwaltungsreferat to register my residence (Abmeldung), and get a work permit.

Here are my temporary accommodations, in the room adjacent to the workstations:

Guest room

Guest room

Guest room - desk

Guest room – desk

One Way Ticket

Today, I depart my home in St Louis, Missouri, United States, to settle in Munich, Bavaria, Germany. The last fortnight has been been a hustle of packing, moving, and goodbyes with friends and family.

My cubicle at my former job is cleaned out and ready to welcome its next vassal. No personal traces remain, other than the two portrait-oriented monitors I let stay turned.

I will arrive in Munich on Sunday morning, to be welcomed by the wife of one of my future coworkers, and I will be taken to my temporary guest room to get settled in. I start work the next day.

There are countless final, irrevocable crossroads. Even though I plan to visit the US at least yearly, I can scarcely imagine when I will see all of my wonderful friends again. Their lives will continue, just as mine, only now we will be separated by an ocean. I will miss my dear parents, brother, sisters-in-law, and mother- and father-in-law.

Most precious to me are the last days, hours, moments with my wife, until we see each other again in July. She will travel to Madrid, Spain in June, to do research for two weeks, then spend a month in Munich with me. I can’t wait!