that’s where they make those little sausages, right?

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I organized the digital shoebox and found some more shots from our visit to Vienna last year.

That was a really nice trip-within-a-trip. I want to go there again, with a little more time and a less busy schedule.

at least we didn’t fit naugahyde upholstery to the thing.

So Voyager 1 is the first man-made object to officially leave the solar system and travel into interstellar space.

Anyone else bothered by the fact that we sent a thing into space that contains a map to its origin planet and an open invitation?

“Hi, we’re a barely space-faring civilization that you could probably conquer and subjugate with your equivalent of a Boy Scout troop! Here’s a map to our home planet. Stop by anytime!”

Of course, the biggest issue is that we sent out Voyager 1 with an LP on board. We are intergalactic hipster scum.

“These are humpback whale sounds. You’ve probably never heard of them.” <derisive snort by Kurt Waldheim>

travel report, part the third.

When we scheduled the Europe trip, I intentionally scheduled the busy stuff toward the beginning of the vacation, especially the trip to Vienna. That meant we had the second half of the trip free for family business and shopping in the local area.

My family is from the Muenster area, and that’s where I grew up. Of all the cities I’ve lived in, I have the greatest affection for Muenster because I spent a great deal of my formative years there. Muenster is where I went to kindergarten and first grade, it’s where my grandparents lived, and it’s the city that kept drawing me back to it over the years.

A lot of things have changed there in the last sixteen years, but they’re all relatively minor changes—a parking garage where there used to be a huge parking lot in the middle of the city, new stores popping up and old ones closed or renamed, a clothing store in the old and now defunct movie theater where I watched Return of the Jedi when it came out. Overall, though, Muenster is the same city it was when I left, with the same distinctive character and culture.

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The Prinzipalmarkt in the heart of the city. Here’s where the oldest and most established shops have always had their spots. The facades all along the Prinzipalmarkt were reconstructed after World War II to look like they did before the war and all the way back to medieval times. The shop rents here are quite high.

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A view looking up the Prinzipalmarkt toward St. Lambert’s church.

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Looking upstreet from the north end of the Prinzipalmarkt. Note the red and white shutters on the windows of the Cafe. on the left. Most of the houses have lovely detail work on the facades.

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The old Rathaus (city hall) on the Prinzipalmarkt. The Peace of Westphalia was signed here in 1648. The original ornate façade from the 14th century was destroyed in World War II by the extensive allied bombing that turned 80% of the city to rubble. After WWII, the Rathaus and its façade were rebuilt true to the original.

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The ornate façade of the old Rathaus.

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Some detail on a gasthaus.

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Muenster Cathedral (St. Paulus-Dom) as seen from near the Prinzipalmarkt. It was built in the 13th century and houses a 16th century astronomical clock. Damaged in WWII, but restored completely in the years after the war.

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The fountain in front of St. Lambert’s Church on the Prinzipalmarkt.

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Jewelry store on the Prinzipalmarkt. It has been there for as long as I’ve been alive at least.

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Another view of the Prinzipalmarkt’s north end.

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Not everything in the old city looks medieval. This is the main branch of the Muenster Public Library.

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The Glockenspiel above the porcelain & housewares store has been chiming its little tune on the hour every hour since well before I was born.

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Muenster is the most bicycle-friendly city in Germany. Westphalia is pretty flat, and ideal country for bikes.

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“Gee, I just don’t understand why we get no walk-in business at all!”

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The cages on the steeple of St. Lambert’s church in which the bodies of the leaders of the Anabaptist Muenster Rebellion were displayed in 1535.

On this trip, I had both a good camera and enough time, so I went into Muenster on several occasions to do shopping and shoot lots of pictures. I have a lot of personal history there, so I’m obviously biased, but it really is a lovely city with a very friendly atmosphere. If you’re ever in Germany and your travels take you to or near Westphalia, you should definitely pay Muenster a visit.

(Part Four to follow, in which we take a little side trip to the state of Hessen to visit Robin’s relatives.)

travel report, part the second.

When last we checked in with our intrepid correspondent, Team Munchkin Wrangler had returned from their excellent little side trip to Vienna.

Back at my brother’s place, we spent the next few days with Family Stuff™. One thing that really worked out well on this trip was the way in which we were able to spread ourselves around evenly among the family so everyone could spend time with us and nobody felt like they got the short end of the stick. Robin and I went gift-shopping in Muenster and used the opportunity to leave Lyra and Quinn with my mother, who was more than happy to ply them with toys and treats all day long.

(When we came to pick them up, I asked my mom if they’d had nothing but candy all day long. She shook her head and asserted that OF COURSE they’d had real food. At McDonald’s.)

The kids had no problem at all being the center of attention and consuming their own body weights in German candy all day long at Oma’s place, and we got to stroll around Muenster without any complaints about hurting feet or boredom.

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Quinn, Lyra, and their Oma.

Lyra even got to spend a day at a German kindergarten with her cousin Janne, who is also five years old. You’d figure the language barrier would have been a problem, but at that age, it doesn’t seem to hold them back much when they can’t really understand the words coming out of the other’s mouth. When I came to pick her up, she asked to go again the next day. (“It’s a school just for playing!”) In Germany, kindergarten starts at age 3, so they don’t do all that much educational stuff in the mixed classes and mostly let the kids engage in free play.

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The sight that greeted me when I walked into the Kindergarten to pick up Lyra.

I took a little bit of time on this trip to visit some landmarks of my childhood. This time I had a DSLR in tow, thanks to my friend Oleg. For example, I went to see my old kindergarten in the center of Muenster:

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St. Ludgeri kindergarten in Muenster. I went there as a wee lad, back in 1976-77.

I also drove out to a small village called Ladbergen, where we used to live in the late 1970s. I’ve always had fond memories of that quaint little place, unlike some of the places we lived in subsequent years.

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Moeller’s Hof gasthaus in Ladbergen. My father ran the place in the late 1970s/early 1980s. My sister Nadine was born while we lived here.

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The village bookstore, still in the same spot where it stood in 1978/79. I used it as my unofficial library quite a bit.

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Another gasthaus on what is Main Street in town. Also another family landmark: my little brother got hit by a car right in front of the place. (He was fine.)

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My old elementary school. I spent second and third grades here.

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The church and main cemetery, right in the town center. I played there a lot as a kid with my local friends.

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A closer look at the church and that ancient cemetery wall all around the place.

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Detail above the church door. It’s been in that spot for a while. The words are “Come; for all things are now ready”, from Luke 14:15-24, the parable of the Great Supper.

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Memorial in the cemetery, commemorating “our brothers fallen for king and fatherland” of the Franco-Prussian and Austro-Prussian Wars. Before the German Empire’s establishment in 1871, Westphalia was part of the Kingdom of Prussia.

I appreciated that the trip was unhurried enough for me to indulge in a bit of personal history sleuthing, going back to places I hadn’t seen in thirty years or more. If you don’t know where you came from, you can’t know where you’re headed.

(Part Three to follow, in which I will show you around Muenster, my favorite city.)

travel report, part the first.

First off—our trip was pretty stellar. All the flights and trains were on schedule, all our luggage came along with us, and even though our schedule was packed from front to back, it was actually a pretty relaxing vacation as such things go.

We left on February 13th, the day before Quinn’s birthday. Our flights were booked on Icelandair, so we had a stop and plane change in Keflavik, Iceland both on the way to Europe and back from there. I have no complaints about the Viking long-planes or their crews. Food was optional, but reasonably priced, and the kids got lunch & dinner boxes for free (or rather, included in the fare). The Viking long-planes had personal touch-screen entertainment centers in the headrests from which one can stream any of the 50+ movies in the on-board catalog at any time. They also had a ton of kid flicks and TV shows, which did a lot to keep the sprogs occupied for the duration of the flights. (It was 4h 45m from Boston to Keflavik, and another 2h 30m from KEF to Amsterdam, which is the closest big airport to my brother’s place.)

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A Viking long-plane, the scourge of the European skies.

We were hosted by my brother and sister-in-law for the duration of the trip. Having a home base for recharging and keeping our stuff made this trip a lot more relaxing than the last one seven years ago, where we had kind of a wandering circus thing going on. In 2005, we stayed with various relatives and basically had to pack and unpack our stuff pretty much every other day to set up somewhere else. My brother has three kids, we brought our two, and their place isn’t all that big, so it was pretty….lively.

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Five cousins demolishing Quinn’s birthday cake. He turned eight on the day of our arrival.

We got in on Thursday, did the family thing Thursday and Friday, and then headed down to Vienna, Austria on the first weekend of our stay. Robin had wanted to check the item “Spanish Riding School” off her bucket list, and there was one performance scheduled in the time span of our stay, so off we went. Rather than driving a car for 600 miles in German winter weather, we opted to take the train, and it turned out to be a wise decision. We left Westphalia for Hannover on Saturday morning, got onto the ICE high-speed train to Vienna around lunchtime, and stepped off the train in Vienna’s Westbahnhof at dinnertime. Those things will move.

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A nap at 150MPH.

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Zippy train is zippy.

Vienna was all-around spectacular. Beautiful city, shiny new hotel (with the best breakfast buffet I’ve ever had in any hotel anywhere), agreeable weather, and easy getting around via subway. Alas, we were there mostly on Sunday, which means that we couldn’t do much shopping. We missed out on being able to buy fashionable shoes like these:

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Or these:

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So we limited our spending to Austrian restaurant food and the gift shop at the Spanish Riding School.

Ah, yes, the Spanish Riding School. One of the highlights of our trip. It’s located in a purpose-built baroque building that has housed the school in the center of Vienna for over three hundred years now. And it is flippin’ gorgeous, sitting as it does on Michaelerplatz, surrounded by all that old architecture.

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The Spanish Riding School on the Michaelerplatz (St. Michael’s Square).

If you’re a horse nut, you’ll know why the performances of the Spanish Riding School are so special. They represent the apex of horsemanship, and the venue in which they perform is known as the most beautiful riding hall in the world. Even for someone like me who knows roughly as much about horses as horses do about configuring WiFi network security, it’s a pretty impressive event.

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Before the show. Photography during the show is not allowed because the flashes irritate the horses.

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Lovely wife in the lovely Imperial Box, where we had our seats. Shitty iPhone photo because Genius Husband forgot the DSLR in Germany.

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The Imperial Box from a distance. Taken during the tour we booked afterward, which was well worth the money.

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And this is where the horses dance.

After the Hofreitschule performance, we did the touristy thing and took a Fiaker carriage ride through the Old City.

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After the ride, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around Vienna and finding a local restaurant to have dinner. That too went really well except for the lapful of hot chocolate my daughter bestowed upon me, but even that couldn’t make a dent in my day.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel for a glass of wine or two at the excellent hotel bar before we made our way back to the nearby Westbahnhof for the train ride back to Germany.

(Just in case you’re ever in Vienna and in need of affordable high-quality accomodations, I can wholeheartedly recommend Fleming’s at the Westbahnhof. Brand new interior, friendly and helpful staff, a killer breakfast buffet, and a lovely bar with a great wine selection.)

For the ride on the night train back to Germany, we reserved a sleeper car compartment. The kids got the top bunks, we got the bottom ones, and everybody was able to sleep through the eight-hour ride back to Hannover.

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That was the main tourist-y part of the trip. The rest of the week we spent with the family and on various outings in the area around Muenster. I got to squeeze in some research for a YA novel I’m writing, and my mother got to spend a bit of time with her grandkids while we went off to buy gifts to bring back to the U.S.

(Part Two to follow…)

achievement unlocked: european vacation complete.

Annnnnnd we’re back.

Taking a DSLR to Germany turned out to be a wise decision. I took 1,174 pictures while I was there. Taking an extra suitcase to Germany turned out to be a wise decision as well, because that suitcase came back chock-full of German chocolate and candy.

The travel gods smiled upon Team Munchkin Wrangler—all the flights were on time, no luggage was lost, and a jolly good time was had by all. I’ll post some of those 1,174 pictures in the next few days. Right now we’re still busy getting Castle Frostbite and our schedules back to normal. It was a fantastic trip–Robin got to see the Spanish Riding School, the kids got to know their cousins, I got to see my family and friends again—but it’s nice to be home again.

More later…

travel update.

Team Munchkin Wrangler is still in Germany, and the trip is going swimmingly so far. If you’ve sent me an email or TwitFace message, I’ll probably won’t get around to replying until the middle of next week. They do have the Internets here in Germany, but we’ve been too busy seeing people and doing stuff to spend much time online.

(Also, our Verizon iPhones don’t work on the European GSM network, which makes it hard to just check mail and dash off a quick update on the run.)

And now we’re off to see some more relatives down in Hessen. Later, imaginary Intertubes pals!

team munchkin wrangler’s 2013 european tour dates.

My brother’s 40th birthday is in February, and we’ve been waiting for an opportunity to visit the family again, so we decided to roll two birthday parties and a family get-together into one and go over there, kids and all.

I just booked the tickets, and boy howdy, does it cost a chunk of change to fly two adults and two kids to another continent. We’re flying from Boston to Amsterdam (the most convenient large airport from my brother’s place), with a stopover in Iceland because we’re going by Icelandair, and their 757s don’t quite have the legs for a transatlantic hop. I was hoping for a longer layover so we could maybe do some looking around in Reykjavik on the way, but it’s just an hour-long pit stop to refuel that Viking long-plane, and I’m sure we won’t be able to see more than the inside of the terminal at Keflavik International.

This will be interesting. We haven’t been back to Germany since 2005, when Quinn was ten months old and Lyra was still in the planning stages. Now the kids are seven and five, and they’re old enough to a.) not be a nuisance on the plane, and b.) be aware of the trip and able to remember the event. Quinn is actually turning eight on the day of our arrival, so he’ll get a little birthday party in Germany.

We’ll be in Germany for just a little under two weeks, which should be plenty of time for family business and some sightseeing. I’m planning to take the wife and kids on day trips around the area, and there’s a lot to see within just a few hours of my brother’s place. Amsterdam is only two hours away, so I suspect we’ll go there for a day—I haven’t been to A’dam since at least 1995, and I’m really looking forward to going back there.

My brother has three kids in the five-to-ten bracket. We’re bringing our two. That’s five children of kindergarten-to-fifth-grade age under the same roof for almost two weeks, and a birthday bash thrown into the mix. I’m sure we’ll be just fine, and I know it will be a lot of fun, but you can also bet your caboose that I’ll be taking the maximum allowable quantity of New Hampshire-bought hooch I can get into Europe duty-free.

funday morning.

Back from Readercon. I got to meet friends again I hadn’t seen since last year, meet new unsavory writer and editor types, attend awesome readings and panels, drink fine liquor and interesting new beers, and eat grown-up restaurant fare with other grown-ups while talking shop and making bad jokes for three days. Thanks to my lovely wife for minding the shop in my absence and letting me run off for a few days to hang out with like-minded miscreants.

Now I have to dive back into work—got some stories to write, some more to finish, and a bunch to submit for possible Fame & Glory™.

gifts from your neck of the woods.

When we went on our trip to visit the Southern relatives a few weeks ago, we brought with us a large plastic tub full of gifts for the in-laws and all the nieces and nephews. Because we didn’t want to bring stuff that’s readily available in the South, I shopped around for some local things.

The adults all got half-gallon bottles of pure New Hampshire maple syrup and Vermont maple candy. The kids all got some New Hampshire gourmet “granite” chocolate in rock-colored shells. I suppose we could have brought a cooler full of lobsters too, but it would have been a bit of a challenge to keep them alive that long.

If you had to do the same sort of family visit to relatives in Far Off Other Region of the Country, what kind of uniquely local gifts from your area would you bring along?