Luebeck, Germany: Queen of the Hanse

I’d been wanting to go to Lübeck for a long time, ever since I read that it’s the former capital of the Hanseatic League, a city-state trade alliance existing during the 13th-17th centuries. More about the Hanseatic League here. I’d love to read more about the league, so if you know any good books about it, give me a shout.

Lübeck is such a quiet, relaxed place now, it’s hard to imagine it as the center of trade in this part of Europe. One of our favorite parts about the city is its canal encircling the Altstadt (old town). Hannover used to have one of these, too, but it’s long since been filled in.

Above is a photo of the Holstentor, which is the city gate and a famous German landmark. Below you see the entrance to the puppet museum, which, sadly, we didn’t have the chance to visit. Love the little guy, though.

Below is a glimpse of Lübeck’s “crown.” When you see all the city’s lovely pointy towers and steeples together, they look like a crown. The white building is the Rathaus or city hall.

My favorite feature is the round holes.

In addition to its history and the distinctive brickwork, Lübeck is known for its Gänge (walkways) and Höfe (courtyards). According to Lonely Planet, during the Middle Ages there was a lack of housing for the many artisans and craftspeople in Lübeck. So rows of smaller homes were built for them behind existing homes. Walkways were built to connect them to the street. People still live in these areas, and you can peek in to get a glimpse.

Here’s one of the courtyards:

And one of the walkways from the street:

You can easily miss the entrances if you don’t look carefully.

Lastly, a yellow building I loved—-I guess they couldn’t agree on which yellow to use.

Lübeck is also known for its marzipan, which comes in every shape imaginable. Unfortunately I don’t have any pictures to show you of it, but do be sure to try some if you go.

I’m quickly getting sucked into the vortex that is the overseas move. Hopefully I can make some more posts in our last weeks, but we’ll have to see. I have so much to share if I can just find the time. Have a great weekend!

Sunday Stroll in Bologna

The weather was great on a recent Sunday in Bologna. I had a great time poking in and out of corners and taking it all in.

A gorgeous flower shop… and some of the towers Bologna is famous for

and some famous Bolognese foods!

One of the city’s lovely porticoes

Sorry I’ve been scarce lately. Between travel and working on my novel, it’s been tough to make time to post, but I have lots to share. See you back here soon.

The Drunken Bricks of Lueneburg

At first glance, you may think the bricklayers of Lüneburg knocked back a few too many lagers before work. Many of the multi-colored brick buildings lean and sway, and some turrets are bent like trees in a hurricane.

It’s not the fault of the bricklayers but of the shifting ground in this former salt-mining town. The mining caused the ground to sink in different areas, resulting in the kooky dips in the streets and buildings. The buildings of Lüneburg are stunning examples of Hanseatic architecture, known for its intricate brickwork.

Over the course of my two-day visit there, I was so enthralled with the town that I must’ve taken 200 photos. I never knew bricks could have this much personality.

As usual these days, I’ve got patchwork on the brain when I look at anything. Like this:

Fodder for a quilt?

The contraption below seems to be for lifting items to the top floor. Note the curled brick on the right.

There were a lot of aqua doors, which I loved against the red brick. I’m into any variation of blue-ish with orange-ish.

Here below you can really see the bending. Note the rounded brick used in the little columns and arches.

I loved this sign: 

And a special surprise: I stumbled upon a church sign (St. Michaelis) saying J.S. Bach had sung here for two years as a boy. Bach is my favorite composer, so this totally made my day.

Lüneburg is not far from Hannover—about an hour by car or by train. I can’t believe it took me this long to check it out, but I hope to go again soon.

For another great short trip from Hannover, check out Celle.

*Information for this post was gathered from wikipedia.

Danish and German Flea Market Finds

I could just about feel the flea market in Copenhagen pulling me across the street. Come look! Cool bargains you won’t find anywhere else! Luckily, the family obliged for a few minutes, while I gasped over the budget prices for vintage Danish ceramics.

If you’ve ever been in Copenhagen, you know it’s not really a place for bargain shopping. So I was excited to find the blue Mother’s Day and the black/ white Bjørn Wiinblad plates. Just a few euros a piece for perfect souvenirs.

I’ve been interested in Bjørn Wiinblad since discovering his work in the pages of Holly Becker’s new book, Decorate. Jonathan Adler, whose home is featured in the book, collects Wiinblad, and I just love the zany, humorous figures. BTW, if you want some totally awesome inspiration for your home, get Holly’s book. I’m thinking about just setting up camp in its pages.

The Wiinblad plates are from a 12-month series. I got October and December.

The blue Mother’s Day plates, which are about dessert size but designed for hanging, are Royal Copenhagen from the 70’s. They made one of these plates for each year between 1971 and 1982.

The other two plates (playing children/ animals) I bought at a charity shop here in Hannover. They’re children’s china, something you find a lot more of here because children are expected to use “real” plates, not plastic, as well as real silverware and glass glasses. I just couldn’t resist the one with the children playing. So cute.

The animal plate cracks me up because the wolf is smoking a pipe—-such a taboo nowadays, especially on a product for children. This plate was made in East Germany. I’m not too worried about it turning my son into a delinquent.

The kids love their plates, and I’ve planned a spot on the wall for the Bjørn Wiinblad ones. I’m still looking for a home on the wall for the Mother’s Day plates.

The SCBWI (Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators) Summer Solstice Scrawl Crawl was a lot of fun. This was an event blog where SCBWI members across Europe sketched and wrote all day on Tuesday and shared their creations on the same blog. Here’s my entry here, but make sure to check out the others. It’s really interesting to see where people were all across the continent.

I’ve been missing NPR lately and listening to a bunch of old Fresh Air interviews over the web. Favorites: Jason Schwartzman, Chloe Sevigny, Jason Segel, and Ted Danson. I guess I’m feeling like listening to actors. We’ve been watching HBO’s Bored to Death on DVD (with Schwartzman and Danson). It’s always surprising to hear about an actor’s real life—-like, not the tabloid stuff but the nitty gritty, their insecurities. A lot of those in my list have other legit creative pursuits besides acting, too (writing, fashion, music), which I find fascinating.

Hope to see you again soon. School is almost out for us, which means posts may be a bit more scattered, but I’ll be here as much as I can.

If you enjoyed this post, you may want to check out this other one about thrifting here in Germany.

Eat Me I’m a Danish


Funny fact: the food most of us know as the “Danish” is called “Viennese bread” (wienerbrød) in Danish. Supposedly an 18th Danish baker went down to Austria and learned to make the flaky pastries there.

I was never much one for Danishes, but after our trip to Denmark, I’m a convert. The real McCoy tastes like a smashed croissant with jam and shaved almonds on top. This one was still warm from the oven.

It was really lucky our hotel wasn’t serving breakfast on our last morning, or we never would’ve discovered this bakery. It had so many exotic, amazing-looking treats we were flummoxed over what to order. The bakery line was long, though, so there was no time to spend drooling over each delicacy.

The food in general in Denmark was…..interesting. I understand there are some world-renowned restaurants in Copenhagen. These we didn’t get to and probably didn’t get a very broad experience of Danish food. We did have a nice cafe lunch with traditional open-faced sandwiches called smørrebrød. Don’t you love the slashed Ø’s? I do.

We also had some truly stellar burgers at a little cafe near the beach. Then there was the meal at the Greek/ Spanish/ Italian restaurant that also offered an Asian buffet. I know! I know! We should’ve known better, right? But there were very few restaurants in the area, and it had been recommended by a local. Sure enough, it was quite busy with locals. Let’s just say we were really bummed we hadn’t gone for a second burger instead.

However, we ended on a high note with these breakfast treats.

I’m thinking this is where Cinnabon must’ve gotten the idea. Like, let’s recreate this, but on steroids. 

I managed to learn about three words/ phrases in Danish, but every attempt to use them was met with amused smiles. Not the “you poor tone-deaf idiot” smile but the “why on earth would you bother learning that?” smile. Everyone  seemed equally amused when we asked if they spoke English. Of course! came the reply.

It was interesting, though, to try to figure connections between Danish and  German and English. I could make out a few.

And I’ll take smiles for my three words of Danish, thanks very much. So far anyway, it’s never hurt to try.

More on our trip to come, and soon, a guest post from my friend and fellow children’s author, Joyce Moyer Hostetter.

8 Tips for Traveling with Little Ones in Europe

Tip Number 1: Leave them at home!

For real. Unless you have a few weeks on your hands, think about it. Do you really want to drag a jet-lagged toddler to the hours-long line at the museum you’ve always dreamed of visiting? 

But you have your reasons, you say, and so do we. Since we’re living here in Europe for awhile, when we go on vacation, it’s usually on this continent. And it’s been great fun to explore  as a family, although a bit different from how we’d do it as a couple.

On to the real tips. These are a few things we’ve learned to help maximize the fun and minimize the stress. Maybe these ideas will help you.

1) Consider the countryside or small towns over big cities

Don’t get me wrong, we’re not avoiding the biggest cities altogether, but in general we find it’s much easier to navigate smaller towns with small kids. The pace of life is a bit slower, and people seem more understanding of children. It’s easier to find your way around, which makes everything else a little less stressful. And of course, there are fewer crowds.

2) Rent an apartment, or look ahead for family rooms or suites

Can you sleep in the same room with your darlings? Well, lucky you. We can’t. Luckily, there are options for light sleepers like us. We’ve done a lot of house/ cottage/ apartment rentals. These allow more space for sleeping as well as cooking facilities and often laundry facilities, too. This is usually more affordable than staying in hotels, too.

It does take more work to find a rental than to find a well-known hotel. For me, the benefits are worth it. We have had success with the following websites:

Home Away

This by far my favorite website when it comes to finding rentals because it’s well-designed, easy to use, and infinitely searchable. Covers every country all across the globe. In most cases, you rent directly from the owner.

National Gite Registry

This site used to have an English version, but currently I can’t find it to save my life—maybe it was removed? If you’re looking to rent in France, especially on a farm or vineyard, this site has everything. Google translate, if not completely fluent, is your friend.

Rent-a-Villa in Tuscany

This site/ agency is easy to use and designed for the English-speaking traveler in mind. An added bonus: you can order meals to be cooked in your villa—-so convenient with the kids.

I also hear good things about interchalet.co.uk. It’s another well-designed site, but I haven’t rented through it personally.

Rental options are often but not always limited to rental by the week. If you can’t find an option for a shorter stay, or you don’t need separate rooms, or you want a more full-service experience, look for “family rooms.” Hotels usually have limited numbers of these, so it helps to think ahead.

3) Book a fun place to hang out

Traveling with small children usually means you’ll spend some time sitting around while your kids sleep, whether for naps or at bedtime. We’ve found we feel a lot less trapped if we book a place that isn’t just a crash pad. If we can enjoy a view or sit on a pretty porch or balcony, we don’t mind (so much) having to settle in early for the night. Add a glass of wine and good book and you’re all set.

4) Plan ahead

We’ve found in general here that you’re expected to book anything (hotels, restaurants, museums) well in advance, and you might miss out if you don’t. This is not the land of the last minute. We recently booked a place two months in advance and were told it was a “last-minute” reservation. You’ll have a LOT better luck with restaurants if you make reservations a day or more ahead. Also, many popular attractions have a book-ahead option. You can reserve a time slot and save hours of line-waiting. Totally worth it.

While you’re thinking ahead, try getting the kids interested in the history or artwork of a place before your travel. It goes a long way in keeping their attention. Look for children’s books related to the city or country you’re visiting.

5) Beware safety issues

As an American, I was used to having lots of rules telling me where I could and couldn’t take my kids. You don’t find that much here. Often it’s nice, because you can make up your own mind. However, there have been times when we took our littlest one on an adventure that, in retrospect, probably wasn’t the best idea for him (i.e. high places with little in the way of railing). So, check things out before you climb because chances are, no one is going to stop you from doing something risky.

6) Research the local restaurant culture

Every country seems to be different on the whole restaurant scene, and it helps to know what to expect. In our year in Europe, we’ve found only one restaurant that provides crayons and a coloring page. Definitely bring your own. Some restaurants will have a children’s menu, but many don’t. We’ve gotten good at figuring out how to adapt a menu for children. Most restaurants will work with you on that.

While we’ve found establishments to be pretty tolerant of children, many just aren’t adapted for the under five set. In France and Italy, for instance, we found no restaurants that opened for dinner before 7:30 p.m., and a lot opened even later.

Also in France, you are expected, almost required (by the way the menu is set up) to order four or more courses. It’s fabulous, but it’s a long time to entertain your little ones while you try to enjoy the food. On our vacations we’ve done a lot of eating out for lunch and then making a light supper at our apartment.

Always make reservations. The best places get filled up quickly, so it’s unlikely you’ll be able to stroll in and find a table. Unlike American restaurants, European ones often only take one seating per table per night, so once they’re all reserved, that’s the end of them. The nice part is that once you have a table, you can take as long as you like.

In addition to restaurants, make sure to visit the produce markets, which are a wonderful way to enjoy the local food with the kids along.

7) Together, learn (at least) the politeness words in the language of your host country

Not only is it fun, and, you know, polite, but words like “thank you,” “I’m sorry,” and “please” go a long way when your kids are laughing too loudly or diving under the table at a nice restaurant.

8 ) Think outside the tourist attraction

That museum you’ve always wanted to see? It may be a little hard to do with your little ones. Maybe you’ll want to swap off kid-duty with your spouse. Or maybe you’ll want to try what we do, which is to look for attractions that have an interesting outside component. This doesn’t mean limiting yourself to playgrounds and amusement parks, though those can be fun, too.

Many historic sights and even museums have outside grounds that are just as fabulous as the inside, if not more. Having a little space to run around can make all the difference between a great time or a stressful day.

Have fun planning your trip! If you enjoyed this post, you may want to read other posts about places we’ve enjoyed as a family in Europe:

Germany:

Hamburg, Celle, Mosel Valley, North Sea, Bueckeburg Castle

The Netherlands:

In and Around Amsterdam

Italy:  Siena, Pisa, Volterra

Silk + Easter Egg Dye

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I did these pieces right before we left for Germany. It’s really easy to dye animal fibers with food coloring, kool-aid, or easter egg dye. These dyes don’t work on cottons or linens but are very colorfast in wool and also work for silk, though in silk they’re a smidge less colorfast. Cashmere also works.

I figure a good frau can never have too many scarves. And now I know why (or at least I think I do) they’re such a big thing here in Europe. Part of it has to be the fact that during most of the year it may be the only item of clothing people see, other than your coat and hat. Now that it’s late May I’m finally emerging from my heavy wool coat and into my trench coat. And I’m proud to announce I’ve even ventured out a few times with no coat at all! Amazing!

Anyway, these are a few scarves I dyed using Easter egg dye. They were blanks from dharmatrading.com, which is a great resource for clothing blanks of all kinds. I started with the instructions here for dyeing playsilks (which I did last fall with kool-aid) and improvised a little. I wanted to create patterns on the scarves but wasn’t sure how to go about it. The good thing about dharma trading is the scarves are so inexpensive I didn’t have much to lose. I want to keep experimenting, but thought I’d share what I’ve come up with so far.

With the orange scarf, I tried a dip-dyeing technique where you fold fabric and, yes, dip it into the dye. First I folded, then wet with clear water, squeezed gently, then dip-dyed the edges of the triangle. I would make the dye a little stronger next time. It doesn’t look finished to me, so I think I’ll do something else to it but don’t know what yet.

With this bluish-greenish scarf, I think I just dyed it straight but of course it always has folds and all so the color never is perfectly even. Part of the charm of hand-dyeing. I forgot to heat-set the blue and over-dyed it with green later, ending up with a tie-dye-type effect. Then I heat-set so the design would stay.

I can’t decide if it’s cool or if it looks like something Ruth Fisher (from Six Feet Under) would wear. The kids definitely like it. They are always stealing this one, and it’s only fair since sometimes I steal a playsilk and wear it 🙂

In case you’re wondering, the scarves can be hand washed. The color washes out a tiny tiny bit but not enough to matter.