Catching Up, Part 1: Forests and Fairytales

I’ve been paralyzed.  I feel I must write something astonishing, or so dazzlingly brilliant you won’t notice I haven’t written in months.  I stare at the blank screen, desperately wanting to write a chatty– perhaps even amusing– update on our family, but my mind is a complete blank.  Kind of like Ralphie when he is on Santa’s lap in A Christmas Story.  Eyes vacant, I nod, “uh-hunh, a football would be nice.”  Let’s see, what have we been doing?  Christmas?  Yes, we had Christmas, I nod.  I’m pretty sure about that.  And we’ve had visitors– yeah, that’s right, I know we had visitors, because I have pictures.  The kids have been going to school…

Right about here is where department-store Santa loses patience and gives me a little nudge down the slide with a gentle boot toe to my forehead.  “WAIT!” I grab the side of the slide and claw my way back to the top, ready to spill out a whole laundry list of amazing family happenings in one breathless, probably unintelligible, gush.

(See how much mileage you can get out of describing a scene from a movie?  That, my friends, just goes to show that I did get something concrete out of those Novembers I spent trying to write 50,000 words!)

We are, indeed, alive and well in the city of Dickens, Shakespeare and Keats (never really thought much about him, but as his house is up the street, I thought he could have a mention).  It’s strange, my relationship to this city.  I am back and forth across a slice of London twice a day every day, and we do try to get out to other parts of the city as well.  I’m quite comfortable getting around on foot, by bus or tube, or hailing a taxi.  I feel like we really do live here– we’re not just visitors.  But sometimes I’m startled by a moment with fresh eyes– like looking up and catching a view while I’m on the bus, or even gazing out the kitchen door absentmindedly enough to catch a different perspective– and I realize that it’s all so strange and new still.

So catching you up completely on the last few months would be kind of like telling two completely different stories.  There’s the one where I talk about traveling and hosting (both wonderful!) and Christmas and birthdays and New Years and school and crew and etc.  That’s the one I’m going to tell here.

(The other story tells how I’m feeling about everything, and how we’re settling in.  I tried to acknowledge and dispatch all that in a few brief sentences, but that was too much to ask of my long-winded self—so I’ll put it in a separate blog sometime).

So, recognizing that I’m missing October, and lots of good stuff must have happened in October… I’ll skip ahead to November and say a word or two hundred about my parents’ visit.  Even though it hadn’t been that long since I’d said goodbye to them in August, I was really excited about their arrival– like, the get-choked-up-in-anticipation kind of excited.  When their cab pulled up from Heathrow late at night, I was so happy (and relieved)!  My Mom and Dad!  Here, at my house in London!

Now, let me interject something at this point… if you come visit me, it is likely you will have to either take a cab from the airport (this is the best option if you arrive in the late evening) or take the airport express train to Paddington Station, where I will meet you if I possibly can.  (Or if you arrive during the day, the tube is an option with only one change– it just takes a long time and there is one confusing bit).  We don’t have a car, you see… and though it kills me to have to ask visitors to make the last extra miles of the journey, there’s just no other way to do it.  It’s kind of the norm here.  But don’t let that keep you away, please! I will make sure you know what you are doing!

Anyway.  With Ken and Cathy, we did a little touring their first days, then hopped a plane to Frankfurt to watch Chloe run in the Independent School league championships.  We spent the afternoon wandering around Frankfurt– past the ‘occupy’ protestors in front of the giant Euro sign (this coming exactly when the Euro crisis initially hit), and on to shopping districts, some flamenkugen (cracker-flat German pizza-type meal), giant beers, and fresh pretzels from a street vendor.  That night we found a very picturesque old tavern, where we enjoyed more gigantic beers and lots of meat (plus cabbage and spaetzle).  Hearty.  German.  Fare.  Then a walk to the Main river, and back to our perfect little hotel rooms.

Next day, up early, and off to the cross-country meet at Frankfurt International School, in the far Northwest suburbs of the city– at the edge of a large forest.  Mom and Dad were such good sports about all the travel, and were very patient with us figuring out our transfers and trains and everything.  My selective memory allowed me to forget until this very moment how long we had to spend figuring out the train/trams and how to get to where we needed to go from our hotel to Chloe’s meet.  We’ve been on trains in many cities– Clay has, especially– and I still don’t understand why this one felt so complicated!

Chloe traveled to the meet with her team, and enjoyed staying with a host family (not American– Scandinavian, I think) in a suburban town near the Frankfurt International School.  She ran a hilly course through the German forest, finishing 5th overall at the meet (and first among any of the English schools at the meet– the top finishers were German and Swiss).  After the meet and a really lengthy awards ceremony, our family group– including Chloe– caught a train to Fairytale-worthy Heidelberg, negotiated a bumpy transfer to the hotel (a long walk– and it was my fault!), and then made it to dinner at a really neat place Clay had found on a previous visit to the city.  After dinner, we walked back to the hotel through a long, cobblestoned pedestrian way lined with shops.  These are some of the best times on a trip like this– laughing and looking and feeling content and in no particular hurry.

Pretty early the next morning, we made our way up to the famous Heidelberg Castle ruin, waaay at the top of a hill, overlooking the city (thank goodness we were in cabs!).  It was cold, and a mist hung over the almost deserted castle when we began our exploration.  Beautiful.  Perhaps that was also what inspired Quinn and Clay to pose for the action photo I’ve included– you do have to be ready for anything if you find yourself in a misty, deserted castle ruin!  When we were done exploring, we started through the gardens down steep paths to the city below.  It really is like an old fairytale city, with its medieval buildings– unlike its northern neighbor, Frankfurt, Heidelberg escaped bombing during WWII.  As the town began to come to life, we walked through the cobbled streets, heard music from one of the grand old churches, walked onto the bridge, did a very little shopping, and finished up with a coffee/cocoa near the hotel before the train/train/plane/train/tube trip home all afternoon and evening.

I’m so glad we did it– thanks, Mom and Dad, for being game.  Even though the logistics were tricky, I feel so lucky to have been able to combine these things– Chloe’s running, my parents’ visit, and a trip to the continent.  We came back pretty tired, but we still had several days to spend with Mom and Dad in London, so we had the luxury of pacing ourselves the rest of the time.

Next blog I’ll tell you about our Thanksgiving in Budapest and Christmas in London (with WILL!).  Hope this finds you all well and happy in the New Year.  Lots of love from all of us!

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