Category Archives: Deutschland

This Adventure Made Possible By…


Anna Maria Esposita for finding us on the side of the road in Salerno, putting up with our feeble attempts at Italian, and magically making our luggage appear out of nowhere.  Maya, for introducing us to AirBnB in the first place…our travels will never be the same.  Our barista in Vietri Sul Mare (thank you for the doughnuts, we hope you made it to Australia!), and our wildly flirtatious maitre d’ (that wine was impressively strong!).  Fernando, for the ride to the Tiber (we’re sorry if we gave the impression that we wanted to boat back to Rome).  Pope Francis for instilling humanity into our visit to the Vatican.  University of Manitoba College of Medicine for changing the direction of our lives while sitting in a Roman burlap tent!  Jamie Pierce, for pointing us in the direction of Cinque Terre in the first place.  Kaya and Aeden for being the best roommates we could have asked for, and Sarah, Alicia, and Stacey for getting lost with us in one of the most beautiful places on earth.  And for the calamari cones.  Genius.  The Lemon Man, for delicious homemade wine with a side of really disgusting jokes, and the Pizza Man for abusing/believing in your employees (either way, you made a pizza in record time, well done!).  Pak Kashmir Doner Kebab for starting a 3-month-long love affair with kebab…and for not judging us when we came back twice in one day.  The Sprachcaffe receptionist for helping two confused travelers find a place to sleep in a language school.  Pietro for being a (very charming) walking encyclopedia of Florentine espionage.  All’antico Vinaio for your legendary sandwiches and free wine refills (no, seriously, it’s for real!).  The lovely couple who shared coffee with us on the train to Venice.  Archie & sons…your front hall will forever evoke in us a sense of oriental mystery.  The kiosco girl (and all of Vienna, for that matter) for your patience as we realized we knew literally NO Deutsch (“Card!…48?”).  The Musikverien Usher for engaging us in a Viennese musical intrigue and, therefore, much better seats!  Our Bulgarian/Brazillian (Bulgrillian?) cellist hostel roommate.  We tried to find you on iTunes but alas we were…so far…but…so close.  The Heinrich and Kress families for welcoming us so generously into your homes (and travel snacks that nearly broke the bus tables!).  Artur & Irina, we feel like we have a real home in Germany thanks to you.  Robert, Christian, and Erwin, we hope we can jam and play Dutch Blitz again one day!  Johannes for an unexpected evening of German tango (we’ll bring our dancing shoes next time).  Julia & your roommate for making us feel so at home in Köln.  Viel Glück to both of you in your new jobs!  Oma for always talking about your home country and inspiring us to retrace your Sunday walks down the Rhine.  Maybe one day we can go back with you!  Linda, dankjewel for your bikes, your lovely attic, and taking a chance on us as your first AirBnBers!  Edwin and Farah, for taking the time to hang out with us even with your wedding being a week away.  Once a WOOFer, always a WOOFer (ps come to Manitoba, we’ll take you to the snake pits!)  The stars, for aligning so perfectly as to allow us to have a lovely lunch with Dorien.  The Alma Dixons for getting us to and from Europe in the first place (Mom, your axiom of ‘would you rather have stuff or memories?’ has successfully stuck with me into adulthood) and for showing us all the places you always talk about.  The Farnham Dixons for a lovely afternoon and some authentically British fish’n’chips (sans mushy peas, thank-you!).  Wendy for taking this whole motley crew into your home and showing us around Glastonbury. Elly for introducing us to your family (I cannot imagine a more adorable kid to blow bubbles with than your granddaughter) and an evening of reminiscing about icebergs and penguins.  Pete & Patricia for the most incredible Welsh hospitality, and for driving us all over the country at all hours of the night.  Mark Hanford for keeping us simultaneously amused and not dead as we threw ourselves off cliffs into the sea (still waiting for those carpets!).  The disembodied Welsh couple whose voices helped us find our way out of the mist and back to the path somewhere on Mount Snowdon.  Jack Johnson, for being you, and for entirely coincidentally being in Paris at the same time as us.  Andréanne, for showing us around your beautiful new Swiss home.  Irene and Martin for sharing so many things with us: your inspiring work and outlook on life and faith, the truly breathtaking landscapes, and yes, the little bears :P.  Andreas and Simone, also for sharing so many things with us (like mother like son, eh?): your friends, your family, your food, your car, your bike…. That night with the giant map (and the many road trips that ensued) is still a memory that we talk about regularly!  Aric and Gabriel, for being as excited about the high-ropes garden as we were and never judging us on our (lack of) Swiss German. Joël for sharing your beautiful pays et famille. Yannick for the best duck I’ve ever tasted, and Hélène for showing us the work you’re doing to help new immigrants become self-sufficient in Toulouse.  Ron, Nicole, Aimée, Sean (and yes, Cougar) for making us recognize the name Carcassonne, even if we’ll never pronounce it properly.  Les Cabys des Taillades (et oui, de Paris aussi!) for sharing your passion for history, many hours of games (we now have our own Möllky set!), French puns, and more wine and cheese than any North American could comprehend.  Mami Caby, for a beautiful afternoon in St. Jean du Gard, and the silk scarf that’s currently on display in our living room.  Isaac and Sylvia of JUCUM Barcelona for the generous hospitality, the 2AM tour of your majestic city, and showing us what we truly believe is the best beach in Europe.  Hind, Nour, and Adam for helping us finish off the bag of snails and confirming everything we’d heard about the welcoming nature of Moroccans.  Nour, of Sahara Desert Crew, for an unforgettable few days of sights and culture unlike anything else we’ve ever seen (also, your mad photography skills. ‘Nuff said.).  Cafe Restaurant Nora, for providing a literal oasis in the desert (Nothing tastes as good as Berber pizza and Berber whiskey at +50C!) The Samnoun family for taking us in when our hostel was suddenly infested with bedbugs, and Bousha for introducing us to the madness of the Medina (and many, many friends ;)…)

And of course, contributions from VIEWERS LIKE YOU!

The right place at the right time


Throughout our travels, Sara and I have often thought about how great it would be to arrive in a new city just as some big significant event is beginning, to witness the locals celebrating something they are legitimately passionate about. Alas, this has never happened (save for an incident involving prom queens hurling watermelons at crowds and shirtless men with tridents) …until now.

As plans with our incredible Swiss cousins took shape, we realized that we were taking a very serendipitous detour. Instead of heading south to the French Riviera (where hostels and train tickets had already been scooped up by throngs of tourists), we were very nicely positioned to rent a car and hit not one but THREE events of extreme national importance.

We bid a fond farewell to Andreas, Simone, and their boys at the Basel airport, since we’d have to pick the car up in France in order to avoid border-crossing fees. Fortunately we didn’t actually have to fly anywhere:


Our faithful steed

After enjoying a glass of local Alsacian wine with our lovely airbnb hosts, we headed to our first stop: Germany. No particular destination, just anywhere with a screen, some Deutsch brew, and some patriotic football fans. In the town of Kehl, just across the Rhine, we found exactly what we were looking for:



The crowd thinned a bit after halftime, when the torrential downpour started growing increasingly cold. Fortunately it left only the most hardcore fans (and us, but I suppose that makes us hardcore).


It was pretty tearing to see the country we were IN (and had grown to love) going up against the country we’d long adopted as our second home. Ultimately I’m glad Germany won, not only because the chorus of horns honking echoed behind us the whole way back into France, but let’s face it, the winning goal was REALLY impressive.

Our second stop was an hour drive south, to the small city of Mulhouse (pronounced muh-LOOZ), where stage 10 of the Tour de France was departing. Despite the banner-waving crowds and adorable tweens running around with notepads hoping for autographs, we were able to get right up to the makeshift fence as the cyclists took their place at the starting line.

The starting line. Full disclosure, the in-town starting lines are purely for show…the cyclists will bike a few kilometres out of town, where they will legitimately start the race with a little less pomp and ceremony. If you’ve ever wondered how the race works (when most of the images we see on TV involve cyclists packed together like sardines, unable to pass each other), check it out here, it’s pretty much the most complicated thing on earth!

Locals appreciating the scene from the comfort of their own balconies.

The yellow jersey, the race’s most prestigious symbol, worn here by the current first place contestant, Tony Gallopin (alas, he would be forced to give it up at the end of the day!)

The day happened to be the 14th of July, known throughout the world as Bastille Day, but in France simply as fête national. We were told that Strasbourg had some of the best fireworks around, but some less-than-accurate directions steered us the wrong way. As we finally found the right exit off the freeway, however, the sky exploded in front of us. A convenient construction barrier on the side of the exit ramp provided the perfect place to watch the celebration.

Strasbourg’s fireworks display, celebrating the victory of reason over monarchical insanity.

The closed exit ramp was a pain to most, but it afforded an excellent view for us!

In sum, Glückwünsch, Deutschland; bonne voyage, cyclistes; and heureuse Fête Nationale, France. Thanks for a ridiculously eventful 48 hours!

Swiss Bliss (zwöi)


Continued from some previous bliss with other Swiss…

From Bern, we took the train to Chur, the closest train station to the hamlet of Ober-Says where my cousin Andreas and his wife Simone lived. Andreas had come to visit his (and my) Uncle Jeff over two different summers, so we had gotten to know each other then. However, while I knew hypothetically that Jeff and his family were Swiss, my only interactions with both Jeff and Andreas had only ever been in Manitoba, so I couldn’t actually imagine seeing Andreas at home in Switzerland. Furthermore, the last time I had seen Andreas was not only the summer of my & Josh’s wedding (so we were already a bit preoccupied), but it was also during their holiday to Canada that summer that Simone, only six months pregnant, had gone into labour and ended up giving birth to their second son in the backseat of my aunt’s car in the middle of rural Manitoba and had to spend the next three months caring for her son in hospital. Therefore, the last time I had seen Andreas and Simone, there hadn’t really been a lot of time for hanging out together!

As a result, we really had no idea what to expect when we stepped off the train. What we got was two blonde tow-headed Swiss boys hurtling towards us with fistfuls of waving Canada flags, and hugely welcoming hugs from Andreas and Simone.


They asked us how long we planned to stay, and we proposed three days, but when they hesitated, we hastily assured them we could leave earlier if three days was too much. “Well, we have this whole week off and then we were going to take you to Simone’s family’s place this weekend as well, but if you have to leave earlier than we don’t want to keep you…”

Hosts that want you to stay longer? We would never say no to that!

With our week-long stay confirmed, they got down to business. Spreading out a map of Switzerland on the table between us, our hosts extraordinaires proceeded to plot out all possible destinations and activities for our “programme” together.

Hang on to your hats… It was a packed week, and we have the pictures to prove it! 🙂

The “4 Countries Before Lunch” Roadtrip (Lichtenstein, Austria, Germany, & Switzerland!)

A little (okay, a lot) of rain couldn’t dampen Lichtenstein’s mysterious beauty
Lich horse

The Bodensee (finally seeing it for ourselves after hearing about it from so many Bodenseehof alum!)

Mid-roadtrip power-nap

Dinner with Simone’s sister Andrea in quaint Appenzell (ps. Andreas – where is my beer?! :P)
App dinner

High-Ropes Climbing Garden

Choo-choo… Loading our car onto a train to pass through the mountain on the way there

Ropes kids
J ropes
S ropes

Snowball fights in July as we passed over the mountain on the way back!

The Great Canadian Breakfast (where our hosts proceeded to write down every single Canadian breakfast food they could think of, then looked at the list and mused, “Maybe we will need to invite another family to help eat.”)
Cdn breaky

Roadtrip to Italian Switzerland in search of sunshine!
J jump
Italy side

Josh’s Alpine driving lessons in a standard proved that Simone has the patience of a saint (apparently my terror was palpable from the backseat)
J car

Weekend with Simone’s family

Ruk-Shuk (thanks to Simone for introducing us to this truly awesome Canadian game!)

Schwingen/Hoselupf aka Swiss German wrestling pants (apparently it’s a thing… I plan to ask Uncle Jeff for a demonstration! :P)

A beautiful little walk turned deluge! (Josh & I seem to attract flash floods on this trip…)
Ps. Dankeschön to Elizabeth for the towels and clothes dryer!!

The best way to learn a language: hang out with 3-year olds (they are always excited to name farm animals and colours, and only judge you a little bit when you can’t count to 10)

Andreas, Simone, Aric, & Gabriel: You have redefined the meaning of “hospitality” for us.


for an incredibly fun, beautiful, relaxing, and entertaining week. We cannot wait to host you in Winnipeg next time! 🙂


The Wall


As pictured in the previous post, we left Nuremburg laden with heaps of homemade vittles that made us the envy of the bus. That bus took us onward, both geographically and historically, to Berlin. Having seen the rise and fall of Nazism in Nuremburg, we would now see the regime that came to dominate the region next. The Berlin Wall was a very different kind of history, as its fall occurred within our own lifetime. And unlike every other piece of history we’ve seen so far, it is most famous not because of any emperor or army, but because of the ordinary, jeans-and-tshirt folks that brought it down.

The west side, with its twenty-some years of accumulated graffiti. Needless to say, the spraypaint industry is still booming.


The east side, which was perfectly clean until 1989 as it was guarded by guns, dogs, and barbed wire. Since then, internationally renowned street artists have redeemed this stretch of wall, known as the East Side Gallery.


A stretch of wall at the Memorial. The vast empty space between the fence and the wall made it easy for the guards in the tower to shoot escapees. As a result, both Easterners and Westerners dug tunnels under the wall, helping hundreds of East Berliners to escape the Soviet regime.


Just one of the stories of ridiculous courage told at the Berlin Wall Memorial.


The Brandenburg Gate. Anti- and pro-Soviet rallies would occur simultaneously for decades, separated by only this and a few feet of brick.


On our last evening here, we visited Checkpoint Charlie, the former crossing point between the Soviet and American sectors of Cold War Berlin. As a jaded Bush-era youth, it was a real paradigm shift to see America as a true hero, yet here that is undoubtedly the case. Thousands of men, women, and children risked their lives to escape into the American sector where they would be guaranteed a flight to the West. The West Berlin Fire Brigade, funded largely by the U.S., was on hand 24/7 with nets to catch refugees jumping from border apartment windows to freedom. Standing at Checkpoint Charlie, I would not have been offended if someone had mistaken me for an American.

As we left this place, we wondered what had happened during our short lifetimes to change America’s image so drastically. Perhaps part of it is the difference between invitation and invasion: in Germany, the U.S. stayed within its agreed-upon boundaries, offering liberty to all who entered. Today that liberty is a matter of foreign policy, enforced by bombs and economic austerity measures. As much as I love the idea of a borderless world, it was respect for international boundaries that made America a hero in this case, rather than a destructive force. Every new conflict is an opportunity for the West (not just America) to return to this earlier version of heroism, allowing people to choose for themselves whether they want what is being offered.

The gateway to the Free World (with the Golden Arches of capitalism welcoming you into their open arms!)


Wandering Canadians adopted by German family


There may not be a formal border crossing anymore (God bless the EU), but it’s impossible not to notice the world changing as you pass from Italy into the Germanic world (first Austria, then Germany itself). Pizzerias are rapidly replaced by metzgerei (butcher shops), portion sizes increase threefold (a very welcome change!), and the feeble linguistic assistance provided by French and Spanish disappears completely.

Yet a mere week in Germany has made us feel more at home here than three weeks in Italy. And much of that has to do with these folks:


Two years ago, meine Oma (hereafter referred to as Erna) travelled to Germany to reconnect with the many relatives that, for many decades, were living on the other side of the Iron Curtain. Though we knew nobody in Germany personally, Erna’s stories prompted us to send her an email a few months back, asking about these German connections.

She put us in touch with her cousin’s daughter, Irina, who lives with her husband and three sons in Nuremburg, a city rich with history both medieval and modern. We exchanged a few emails and received a very generous invitation to spend a long weekend with them. The only note of apprehension was found at the end of the last email: “I don’t speak any English. I’ve been using a translation program this whole time”.

With three hours left til our arrival, therefore, Sara and I cozied around the iPad on the train and frantically tried to learn as much Deutsch as we could. We got through lessons 1-8 of 85, and got really good at talking about the weather, when suddenly we were in Nuremburg.

We were overcome once again by what we’ve come to call ‘blind date jitters,’ but we were comforted by our Argentine experiences. Family is family, and language barriers are nothing compared to sincere smiles and non-verbal appreciation of good food.

We stepped off the train, disoriented as usual upon entering a new country, only to be immediately greeted by a very friendly couple, who turned out to be Irina and her husband Artur. They walked us to their Volkswagen van and drove us to their beautiful home in the nearby town of Burgfarrnbach, serendipitously speaking in perfectly understandable English (I guess their definition of ‘no English’ was a little less literal than our definition of ‘no Deutsch’).

For the next few days, we no longer felt like backpackers, but like family. We exchanged family histories since our ancestors had parted ways in the interwar years (Artur was born in Uzbekistan, and both of them grew up speaking Russian before finally being allowed back into Germany in the early ’90s!), ate every German delicacy imaginable (Attention mennonite family back home: they put mincemeat in their rollküchen, and it’s AWESOME!), and met more wonderful relatives. The rest of them did not speak as much English, but between their Russian, Sara’s Ukrainian, and sampling of many local brews, we were able to communicate just fine.

Family dinners cooked by Oma need no translation!


Another lovely family lunch, this time with Irina’s brother, sister-in-law, and their two kids.


They also took it upon themselves to acquaint us with the historical significance of the area. Nuremburg is known worldwide as the site of the Nuremburg trials, in which Hitler’s inner circle was tried and convicted. What we didn’t know was that this site was chosen because Nuremburg had been the capital of Hitler’s rise to power before the war. Holding the trials here in this city, therefore, was not only a final slap in the face to the Nazi regime, but also a form of healing for Nuremburgers seeking to move on.

Originally a landing pad for zeppelins, this massive square became the site of Hitler’s rallies, immortalized in black & white videos of goose-stepping soldiers. Today the power of evil has been replaced with something more wholesome: skateboarders and a hockey arena.

Hitler's podium

Posted at the former rally grounds, this image dramatically captures fascism’s failure.


Courtroom 600, in which many Nazi leaders were tried and convicted.


The concept of trying world leaders for crimes of global scale was born at Nuremburg, and now continues here in The Hague, Netherlands, at the International Peace Palace. Though we’ve jumped forward a few days now in our travels, this picture belongs here with the theme of ‘power paying tribute to justice’, as Chief Attorney Robert Jackson put it at the Nuremburg trials.


And finally, to lighten the mood, an earlier bit of history from when people were slightly less destructive and a lot more ridiculous:

The medieval town of Rotenburg, one of our day trips with the Heinrich family, showcases a piece of their history in their central clock tower. Every day at noon, these mannequins remind us of the legendary mayor of this German town, who agreed to humiliate himself by drinking three liters of French wine in exchange for his town NOT being burned down by the French army. On a potentially related note, this region of Germany now has a booming local wine industry. Way to take one for the team, buddy.

Heinrich & Kress family, vielen dank for an incredible long weekend. You made us feel so at home. Our apartment is pretty small, but we’ll fit all of you in if you ever have a chance to come to Winnipeg! And ps. There are lots of eichhörnchen in Winnipeg too!! 😉

20140613-011507-4507274.jpg20140613-011510-4510236.jpgRoad trip snacks packed by Irina and Oma Lillia: yes, that is a panful of homemade perogies and a tub of sour cream (and two bags of beljaschi and a massive bag of Russian chocolates and apples and tomatoes and cookies and…) These people must be family!!!