Sunday, May 31, 2009
Repeated field exercises, trips to Ireland, rumors of deployments and crazy cats have been a bit of a hindrance to our regular blogging. With that said, we are now going to catch you all up on the goings on of the Millers. Firstly, Aaron Burr and Tom asked us to thank Helen for her great gift to them. They have been having a ball! Who knew that a remotely controlled mouse could entertain two cats for so long (For a super cute video, click here)! With that said, we should explain our forays into foreign lands, namely Ireland, and the Czech Republic. Both locations share great beer and a high unemployment rate, other than that , the two places have absolutely nothing in common!
Ireland: Well, it all starts with a four hour drive to the world's most ghetto airport to catch our Ryan Air flight. Keep in mind, Ryan Air is CHEAP, like 15 Euro tickets to Italy (our next adventure) cheap. Although it is no frills, and you all rush the plane, as there is no assigned seating, and the pilots fly in a manner that makes you believe that this is their first time in the cockpit, we had no complaints! We flew from a converted US Air Force base that the Germans now own, and use as a hub for Ryan Air. All in all, a bit sketchy, but it did the job. We arrived in Dublin with our friend, Katie, all in one piece. After meeting her Irish friend and conversing a bit, she volunteered to drive us to our hotel. She was undoubtedly the worst driver I have ever ridden with. In addition to almost dying under the wheels of numerous double decker buses we got a native Dubliner's (yes, like the James Joyce collection of stories) tour of the city before dropping us off near our hotel. We stumbled with our ruck sacks into our modest hotel to discover that it was merely a modest number of rooms (picture the Leaky Cauldron) above the most wonderful Irish Pub. Now I am not talking about an Irish pub in the sense of tourist ridden eatery, but a legit pub with live music and beautiful Irish beers and ciders on tap that you could have with breakfast if you wanted to (which the Irish apparently partake in quite regularly). We spent the remainder of the day exploring the lovely parks and eating fish and chips chased by pints of Guiness and Bulmer's. As much as we love Germany, you can only stand so much Schnitzel and purity law enforced bland beer varieties. We turned in early to the sounds of a great traditional irish band playing in the pub below. Waking early, we went to see the National Gallery of Ireland which houses one of my favorite Vermeer's. Miller enjoyed seeing some of the nativie Irish art, and we both detested every bit of Italian Renaissance painting that the gallery had to offer. Altogether, quite a nice place, thankfully devoid of hordes of people. Following the gallery, we walked around the city a bit more, and read in St. Stephen's Green. Following our taxing day, we went back to our home pub and had some lovely Irish cheeses with copious amounts of Guiness....what a day. Our third day, being country folk, we decided to escape the city to do a bit of hiking along the coast. After taking a half hour train ride out to Howth (pronounced like both) we found a great hiking trail around a peninsula and spent the better part of the day exploring some truly striking scenery. We walked along cliff faces and spotted seals in the Atlantic. After a truly disappointing lunch in the seaside town, we boarded a train back to Dublin to sample some of Dublin's own microbrews. Sadly, we were disappointed again in our meal selection, as the brewery we were at tried far too hard to try to distinguish themselves from commercialism, that their beers were quite lackluster, and the service poor. Oh well...so we walked back to our own pub to read and sip irish coffee. Our last day was uneventful. We declined a ride from Katie's friend, fearing for our lives, and rode on the top of a double-decker bus to the airport where we meet up with Katie and caught our flight back to Germany. It took us far too long to get home thanks to construction and a truly confused GPS. And that was the end of our Irish adventure!
Ever since we have arrived in Bavaria, it has been on our Czechlist to Czech out the Czech Republic. Sorry, I had to get that out of my system. We live not quite 45 minutes from the border with the Czech Republic and so a couple of weeks ago Jak and I decided to hop the fence and head to Plzen, home of the origional Pilsner beer. Crossing the border is a shock. We are used to New England, where it isn't so much a delineated border as a zone of confusion. The border with Czech is quite different. One moment you are in Bavaria, where everything is so neat and prosperous that I swear they sweap the forrests. With only a stop to pay a toll in the form of buying a bright reflective sticker for your window, you change from that ordered exsistance into a world where a black market liver is just around the corner. In reality it isnt nearly that bad, but it is quite a contrast nonetheless. Jak and I drove to Plzen, only 90 minutes away, to take the brewery tour we had heard so much about.
Reading this it may seem that we are alcholics, or more properly drunks as we do not go to meetings, but in reality it is a combination of our curiosity with only a little of our love of libations that drive us to tour brewerys the world over. The Pilsner Urquel brewery is reminiscent of Wonka's factory. In the midst of drab Plzen rise towering wrought iron gates that hold a massive cobbled court yard that is the home of Pilsner. We signed up for the English language tour, and paid our several hundred crowns to get that and a photo pass. (An aside, it is really cool to hold a 1000 crown bill in your hand, until you realize it is about 25 bucks) We were unsure what to expect, but the tour was awesome. An elderly gentleman who spoke perfect english with a Mensa vocabulary escourted our group through the new brewery and bottling line that have been recently built. It was really neat, but it was even cooler when we hopped on the largest elevator in the Czech Republic only to find it doesnt work. Following attempts to revive the elevator, we broke down and walked the 1 flight of stairs to the actual brewing room. From there we went down on the coolest (and coldest) part of the tour, part of the 19 kilometers of man made tunnels where the beer has been traditionally aged. They still brew it the old way to ensure that the modern batches match up, and we ended the tour with glasses of beer right from barrels the size of our Volkswagen.
The drive back to Deutschland was uneventful, and it ended up being an awesome forray into a totally different world that is right across our doorstep.
Sunday, May 17, 2009
Okay, mountain biking anywhere tends to be pretty awesome, and back home we have seen some amazing things. On the other hand, I have never ridden to the ruins of a castle. Jak and I went riding today with some fellow officers at an amazing nature park. We rode for a few hours, climbed to the top of a very high fire tower, stopped at a shrine, and even explored an ancient ruined castle. It was awesome! A less than awesome event was the impressive crash of one of our fellow riders. The only way the man could have flown through the air better, would have been with wings. Although Chris caught a stump with his face, he was fine....well, close to fine! After his near death experience, we finished our great ride with some really technical descents.
Yesterday wasn't as exciting, as we spent the day reading, with a short interruption of Jak's softball practice. Her team is tied for first place now in the league. Hopefully they will win their game on Wednesday. With that win, they will officially be hired by the Yankees as coaches....Just kidding.....kind of...we also took some time out of our reading day to play a bit of tennis. Just a good day all around. Although this weekend was a bit dull to the outside observer, we had quite a bit of fun. next weekend though will prove to be more interesting, as we are heading off to Ireland....Yay to Guinness! Yay to Leprechauns! Yay to Bono! But more on this next week!
Sunday, May 10, 2009
There is much to write about, and as such we may have more than one post here. I will start with the most recent. As with many impressive things like Nessie or Sasquatch (who will appear herein later), there is no true photographic records of today's adventures. After a morning that involved Nathan sitting around reading and Jak going to softball practice, we met up with one of Nathan's NCO's to go mountain biking. Deciding to go outside the immediate area we followed SGT Davis' directions to Pottenstein, where the three of us went on what can only be described as an epic ride. We should have known today would be something to write about when the trail that we selected to start the ride on had a picture of a soaring eagle on it. And in the future, lack of practical German knowledge or not, I am staying the hell away from things marked with soaring eagles, because they describe not the sights to be seen but instead the only practical method of going up said trail. Alternatley ropes, hammers and pitons would have worked, and may I take a moment to point out to my bride and her sister that this is in fact the proper use of the word piton, as an implement of scaling great heights, not as a descriptor of any small object whose name is not properly known. We finally did ascend the soaring heights, I am sure with SGT Davis cursing LT's under his breath, and were treated to the sight of, you guessed it, more climbing. Eventually we did summit the ridge and took the endless trails that wind through all of the hills and dales of Pottenstein. It was possibly the most amazing ride I have ever had. We found amazing stream crossings, hidden stations of the cross, and an entire field of stinging nettles. The last took some identification as they look different from their American cousins. They also appear to have something to prove, as their is no practical reason that anything needs to sting that bad. Once our legs stopped burning, (kinda. . .Jak's are still burning) we continued our trek and found what is undoubtedly the most epic singletrack to end all singletracks. Now epic can't really describe this trail. When a trail starts between stations 9 and 10 of the cross, you know if Jesus cant keep it rubber side down you may be up for a challenge. Admittidly I would have a hard time riding anything in a loincloth, sandals and a crown of thorns carrying a great honking piece of wood. I prefer styrafoam for my headgear. I digress, and risk smiteing, so back to the trail. It was barely the width of our handlebars, and followed the contour line. While following the contour line is a good thing in terms of vertical challenges, it exposes the rider to an entirely exciting new twist of vertical drop off to the side. I really cant describe it, and have no pictures of it, but I can say that it is something that any devotee of two knobby tires should ride before they die. Beacause riding it may cause dabbing, elevated heart rate, sweatyness, and death. SGT Davis and Miller almost got to expierence the latter, while Jak was only wondering how to rescue them with her spare tube while laughing. Because no pain is too great to not laugh at. Especially other peoples. It was amazing, and we only got a little lost on the way back. And we saw gnomes in the forrest, not cool "I can sell my story to National Enquirer" but the more, shall we say, garden variety. We also ran over what had to be Sasquatch poop. We would have seen him if the horses riding in front of us hadnt scared him away. We also managed to barely avoid killing a weiner dog, but that would have been okay, because the dog violated the German Cool Dog rule. It was amazing, and we will have to ride it again, with a camera and a bit more life insurance.
PS: HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!
Saturday, May 2, 2009
If it ain't broke, don't fix it, or at least that is what we are hoping will happen. While walking through the old part of Graf, we have often wondered at a really cool old pillar that is right near the town hall. Now, in a particularly ironic bit of timing, we have finally figured out what the column is there for. I know columns don't always need to have a purpose, I mean come on, who doesn't like a bit of random column action in their own town, but this one does. It was erected by the grateful villagers of Graf back in 1496 (shortly after Columbus didn't listen to his wife's advice to stop and ask for directions) in monument to their having survived the plague. Considering there are two plagues facing us, we can only hope it still works. Obviously the first plague is of the swine variety, which happens to have made its appearance not just in Germany but only 45 minutes drive away at that. We aren't that worried, but a bit of luck cant hurt anything. The second plague is much more fun, and only has two cases so far. The plague is one of kittens, and while that may not be the best description of our furry companions, it does tie in at only a slightly monumental stretch with the swine flu and column thing. The cats continue to amaze us, not only with their adorable antics and quick growth, but also with the amazingly foul array of odors that they can produce from their litter box. Tom has grown quite a bit and is beginning to show the promise of his adult characteritcs, while Aaron Burr has learned to vocalize his opinions as well as Tom does. Aaron Burr has also picked up some serious martial arts moves from his political compatriot, which should stand him in good stead (as we all know) should he encounter a feline Alexander Hamilton. It is wonderful to come home to the pounding of kitten paws as they charge us, hoping for some renewed excitement. We have continued our exploration, mountain biking and hiking the sorrounding hills and dales, and visited our first European Brewery, but that is something for another entry. Love to you all.