When my sister-in-law got engaged this past winter, we were all very excited. We've never seen her so happy, and we adore her fiance. The news got an added element of fun when we found out that we would get to go to Karlsruhe, Germany for the wedding. Due to the timing (the end of the school year), the plans (lots of "adult stuff"), and the expense, it was decided that it would be a trip for just Dan and I, while the boys stayed home with my amazing parents.
Aside from buying plane tickets, Dan and I didn't do a lot of planning for our time until just a couple of days before we left town. We wanted to be available if Carrie and Zouhair needed a hand with anything, so we didn't want to be to tied to other plans. But on arrival we realized we had about 4 days to spend playing tourist, and 3 days of wedding/family stuff. It was great.
Except for the weather. This May/June, southern Germany has been experiencing a highly unusual amount of rain and cold temperatures, leading to lots of flooding. As we arrived on Sunday in a torrential downpour, it looked like all of our possible ideas for sightseeing would need to be revamped for lots of museum-going. We were both a little bummed, but wanted to still take advantage of our time there. We decided to wait and see what the morning would bring and make plans then.
Well, someone was looking out for us, because Monday morning dawned with just some overcast skies, and potential for clearing later. After meeting up with Carrie and Zouhair to say hello (and borrow a phone with a data plan), we went and rented a car for two days. Our cute little Ford Fiesta and a GPS all of a sudden make things seem much brighter. At Zouhair's recommendation we headed off to Strasbourg, France, just across the border from Karlsruhe. There we got to visit the Notre Dame de Strasbourg, am amazing cathedral with the types of windows and architectural features I had just spent a month teaching my students about. It was incredible. We also enjoyed crepes and wine, and wandering around the old city. It didn't rain a bit, and we spend several hours just checking out shops and oohing and ahhing over everything.
We left Strasbourg early enough to hit another destination recommended to us by both a waiter and our hotel desk clerk as a cute little German town in the Black Forest - Freudenstadt. We got there about 5:00, and began our search for dinner. After some sightseeing/restaurant checking-out, we ended up at a beer hall where I had the most amazing kasespaetzle of my life. But perhaps the best thing about Freudenstadt was the drive there and back. Winding through the hills and forests and tiny towns that look like all the pictures in the storybooks was a perfect way to spend the evening.
Despite the potential for rain, we used our second day with the rental car to go to Rothenburg. Rothenburg is a Medieval walled city about 2 hours away from Karlsruhe. Everything about the old city is quaint and perfect. One expected a character from a fairytale to come skipping down the lane at any moment. The old castle gardens were blooming and the window displays of schneeballen (basically pie dough wadded up and covered in a variety of sweet coatings) and sausages were very alluring. Perhaps my favorite thing there was the Medieval Crime and Punishment museum. I loved learning about all the amazing/terrifying/humiliating ways that people could be punished. We even got lucky enough that despite the weather reports, it was a beautiful sunny day. Again.
Day three brought the return of the rain and the arrival of Dan's parents. We stayed in Karlsruhe and went to the ZKM Museums of contemporary and media art. There was so much to see - from very heavy and serious documentaries and photo collages to contemporary pieces I'm not sure I could explain if I tried. We left feeling exhausted by it all, but found it really fascinating and well done. For dinner, Carrie and Zouhair took us all to a flammenkuchen restaurant, for which I will now hate them forever. It was so very delicious - and so hard to get in Portland. We were glad that Dan's parents had arrived safely, and were thrilled to be all together.
The whole family took the train to Heidelberg (yes, our third burg/berg/bourg) on day four. Heidelberg is a short 45 minutes away and a very popular tourist town with a beautiful castle and gorgeous red-roofed city. We all took the funicular up to the castle and wandered around, then rode back down into the city for lunch. It felt great to all be joking and talking and spending time together in this beautiful city. It felt strange without the boys there, but it was also nice to have adult time. We split up for a little after-lunch sightseeing, and Dan and I made sure to enjoy some ice cream (which Dan had been making sure to sample in every city). We met back up, took the train back home, and enjoyed picnic dinner at the hotel.
Friday began the wedding preparations - and in typical fashion, it rained like crazy all day. (Take note - every day trip brought sun, all the in-town days brought rain. We were so very lucky!) We went to the flat where Carrie and Zouhair were staying to help with a seating chart/map that they had created to show where all the guests were from. It was amazing to see just how international this wedding was - and lovely to see just how much the bride and groom were loved. Friday also brought the arrival of Uncle John, Aunt Linda, and Madhavi (Dan and Carrie's stepsister). Friday night also brought dinner with Zouhair's parents, sister, and brother-in-law. The food was incredible, and the company was warm and kind. The Belkoura family was so welcoming and genuine that it was easy to see how our Carrie had fallen in love with them also.
Saturday brought some much-needed souvenir shopping for the boys and a trip to the nail salon for pedicures and manicures for several of us. While it took much longer than expected, the time to sit and talk was always appreciated. We were then invited out to Zouhair's family home to help celebrate his
So imagine our surprise when Sunday (the day of the wedding) dawned with the most beautiful blue skies we had seen all week. It just fit. The wedding would be outdoors, it would all go according to plan, and the day would be the perfect day that my amazing sister-in-law deserved. She kindly invited me over to the flat to get ready with her, her mom, and her good friend, and we spent the time talking and joking and being entertained by the hair/makeup people and the photographers. She was a radiant bride, and it all went so smoothly. At the appointed time we all headed over to the schloss (like a palace), finished getting her ready, and the wedding began. I could recount a million of the perfect details of it all, but suffice it to say that it was an event that I will never forget. And the best part of all was how blissful both the bride and groom looked. The party went on into the wee hours, and when we all began the walk back to the hotel, we were giddily exhausted.
Monday brought our return home. While we were sad to be leaving the magic and beauty (and chocolate croissants) around every corner, I couldn't wait to get home to my boys. I missed them terribly, and realized that 9 days away from them is simply too many for me. Our travels home (by tram, then train, then plane, then car) all went very smoothly, and Monday night we arrived home to great greetings of love and hugs. My mother was amazing, and we were so very thankful for the caretaking she did - and all of hte cleaning we found she had done when we arrived home.
It was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime trip. Fabulous food, amazing sights, wonderful people, and a magical wedding. I got to share it all with my favorite person in the world. What more can I say?!