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Twenty years ago a young couple lived in Germany. They had no kids and very little responsibilities. The US Army paid for their housing, bought their groceries and gave them time off around Christmas. Over the past two weeks that young couple and their two very young kids 8 and 3 tried to relive that simpler time, and failed miserably.
The story begins with me finally getting my new car a BMW 323se, I was trying for a BMW 5 series but after I put all of my toys in it, it was too expensive. I put in leather seats, a 6 CD stereo with changer and of course a Navigation system. For those of you that know me well, know that I have the worst sense of direction on the planet. I was pretty good in the Army because I was so terrified of becoming lost that I never walked to the latrine without a compass and a map, but in civilian life it took me ten trips to the office to figure out how to get there.
Why would you want to drive from England to Switzerland?
I, and only I, decided it would be good to drive the trip instead of flying. I choose the destinations; France via the Channel Tunnel, Luxemburg, Nürnberg for the Christmas Market, Rothenburg, a medieval town that always reminds me of Christmas, Bad Windsheim, the town we lived in, then Switzerland for some skiing and finally France again. Very long sentence, every long trip. It didn’t work out that way though, the travel agent, what would be the best way to describe the travel agent? Oh yes, they sucked. We ended up in France the first night at a hotel that was not every nice. Then onto a hotel in Nürnberg that was as far away from the Christmas Market as you can be in still be in Nürnberg, in fact we where in Furth a town that is connected to Nürnberg sort of like how Long Beach is connected to Los Angeles. The hotel was not in our Navigation system in fact Furth did not show up in the navigation system.
Since we stayed in France instead of Luxemburg it was very late when we arrived at the wrong hotel. We stayed in Novotel Hotels on the whole trip, except Switzerland, since I think the travel agent got a better commission on Novotel Hotels. The Navigation system got us to the Novotel Hotel what was pretty close to the Christmas Market only to find out that our hotel was of course on the far side town. The navigation system didn’t have it in it so I had to put in a road close to it. Without boring you anymore, we struggled our way through the town and when we finally arrived I program the nav system to find the hotels nearest our current position it happily reported that I was 0.0km from the Novotel Furth hotel. We had a nice buffet meal at the hotel and got some sleep.
I packed everyone in the car and we headed off to Bad Windsheim. It was nice, but cold. We saw everything we remembered, but after twenty years things change and memories fade. We did remember buying a Christmas tree on Christmas Eve and dragging it back to the house through the snow. We put lit candles on it and sat around the tree on Christmas Eve drinking wine. I walked past my favourite restaurant in the world and we ate at a pizza place, I was pushing the kids pretty hard already and I knew a smoky Gasthaus that served only traditional German meals would have put everyone over the edge. We walked around town some more and I took photos of the things I remembered. The kids threw snowballs until Katie’s hands started to hurt and then we packed back up in the dreaded car and drove over to Illesheim the town I was stationed. My wife and I use to walk to it but it was too far to drive for the kids.
We then went on to Rothenburg and spent the rest of the day there. We got back to the hotel late, had dinner and then went to sleep in very small beds with the worst pillows my wife has ever slept on. The next day we checked with the hotel and found out that the Christmas Market closed last night, but I still drove everyone over to the old town and we walked around until all the shops closed down.
The Smell of Christmas
Back at the hotel we found out that Christmas Eve dinner would consisted of potato soup, French fries, and sausages. I suspect it was the Chefs night off. We decided to pass, and the asked the front desk to recommend a restaurant for us. They sent us off in to the cold dark night to find “Restaurant Row.” Only two places where open the first looked like a place you would go to sell arms to a middle east terrorist group, plus Matthew thought it was too smoky. The second was an American bar that served Chilli and looked worst than the terrorist hangout. I decided I didn’t want to have the kids’ memory of Christmas in Germany to be mixed up with how to say automatic weapon in Arabic. We headed back to the hotel, but just before we got back into the car, Church let out. The Church bells were ringing and smiling happy people were walking past us on they way home for Christmas Eve dinner. The snow crunched beneath out feet. You could smell Christmas in the air. I was very happy and I turned to Matthew and said, “Take a deep breath, this is what Christmas smells like.” He looked up at me and a swear with a tear in this eye said, “Can we go to back to the car? I am freezing.”
The kids had French fries and peanut butter sandwiches for dinner. The other two families kept looking at the jar of peanut butter that my wife had packed for the trip, and I couldn’t figure out if they thought we where crazy Americans are smart parents. The kids were happy, three cokes, French fries, and peanut butter sandwiches and they got to play in the hotel’s play area while running back to the table to eat more fries, peanut butter sandwiches, and cokes. My wife and I had French fries and potato soup and for some reason didn’t get any sausages due to our poor German language skills, or maybe for bringing a jar of peanut butter to the restaurant and asking for more free bread.
Cookies for Santa
We went to bed after leaving Santa a liebkuchen cookie and a bottle of Pepsi. He visited us during the dark hours of the Christmas Eve but I am not sure if he enjoyed eating a very rich cookie and a warm Pepsi at one in the morning after the kids had fallen asleep. Matthew woke us up at five in the morning wanting to opened the presents Santa brought. Santa left most of the presents in Windsor but it wouldn’t be Christmas without Santa dropping a little something in the Hotel. The kids where great about not getting all of their presents, and when things got too bad in the car it had a calming effect to remind them that it was a short trip for Santa to fly back down to Windsor and take back the presents he left there.
Everything was closed on Christmas day so we hung out at the hotel and visited the Nürnberg castle. You can not really close a Castle. We went to bed early and headed out to Switzerland the next day.
I have CD’s for the Navigation system for Great Britain, Germany and France so we where a bit nervous about Switzerland, but it did give us directions to the city just north of the town we where staying at in Switzerland. My wife drove and it got a bit windy. We ended up stopped in a traffic jam and were a bit concerned when the traffic on our side of the road started to come back our way on the shoulder of the road.
We worked our way up the road filling in where the other cars driving the wrong way back toward us had left space until we where at the front of the line and saw a power line hanging across the highway. People where driving over it until a police officer came and directed us all to turn around. It really wasn’t possible since you cannot turn three lanes of cars around, so we waited.
One of the other drivers got out kicked the wire. I guess, since he wasn’t killed instantly, he decided that he could stand on the wire. With him standing on the wire it would lie flat on the highway. He directed his wife to drive across the wire. She refused and I was just waiting to see the wind pull the wire taut again and launch him into space, but with his wife shaking her head NO, and the police officer coming back he decided to return to his car. With the cars behind us finally clearing we got our car turned around and then drove the wrong way back to the last exit off the highway.
We ended up having to take the back roads which was a bit scary, no map, high wind, and driving a British car in France. We crossed a couple of borders, which impressed me a lot more than it impressed Matthew. We got to the bottom of the mountain that our hotel was on, but got stuck in another traffic jam. A local policeman was directed traffic and was a bit surprised when we rolled down the window and he noticed that the steering wheel was on the wrong side. He said, "You have come along way haven't you." He explained that it would take at least a couple of hours to clear the road.
We were in Switzerland only a couple of miles from the hotel but we had to stop at a very busy Gasthaus to wait. The storm had knocked out their power so the only food they could serve us was cold sandwiches.
They opened the road a couple of hours later but we had to be escorted up the hill since they only opened one lane. I was driving on all weather tires which don't do all that well on ice. We got up the mountain to the town we were staying at but the street leading up to hotel was very icy.
I got half way up the road and then started to slip back down the hill. Matthew was not impressed. We finally ended up walking up the hill, Matthew was not impressed.
The next morning I wanted to go skiing, since this is Switzerland, the wind was still very strong so we only got one run in, Matthew was not impressed.
I really didn't care since I figured that when Matthew explained that he didn't like the skiing in Switzerland people might not believe him but they would be impressed that he had skied Switzerland.
Later that day Matthew was finally impressed, the hotel had a Nintendo N64. That turned him around, so he likes Switzerland just not the skiing in Switzerland.
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