Fire and Water

Passau is an old city, with local history dating back to the second century BC. A monastery was founded here in the late 5th century, and, for many years, the diocese of Passau was the largest diocese in the Holy Roman Empire.

In 1662, a fire swept through Passau, destroying the city. It was rebuilt in the Baroque style, full of narrow, meandering cobblestone lanes.

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Some people call it the “northernomst Italian city.”

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Sometimes the most direct route takes you through an unexpected tunnel or flight of stairs.

The benefits of this are that there is almost no vehicle traffic, so it is very safe for walking wherever you want to go. It’s easy to get lost, though, in the labyrinth of streets. If you don’t know where you are, just head to a river to get your bearings.

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You’ll always know you’re on the Artists’ Walk by the rainbow painted cobblestones

Besides the fire in the 17th century, Passau has known it’s fair share of natural disasters.

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In Rathausplatz, beside the Danube, you can find this flood gauge. It shows the high water marks of many of the floods in Passau’s history. This highest was in 1501, shortly followed by 2013. (Hugo for scale)

It’s been raining on and off for our entire stay in Passau, with the rivers running high. They’re not threatening to overflow their banks, but the water moves swiftly, and it is visibly higher each day.

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If you have a sharp eye, you’ll start to notice flood marks on exterior walls. From bottom to top: 1862, 1786, 1899, 1787, and, high above, 2013.

I’ve started snapping a photo each time I see one.

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Bottom to top: 1786, 1899, 1787, 1954, 2013

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1862, 1954

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1954

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1899

I’ll keep looking for high water marks and hoping for sunshine as we enter our last week in Passau.

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Sea Life Berlin (or, Berlin, you are no Bangkok)

If you know my son, you know he loves sea creatures. He may be in an insect phase at the moment, but the underwater world is his first and deepest love.

As luck would have it, Sea Life Berlin is within walking distance of my brother-in-law’s house. I’m familiar with the Sea Life aquarium brand from our breathtaking trip to Bangkok Sea Life Ocean World last year, which was the most spectacular aquarium I’ve ever visited. Seriously, click through and look at our photos from last year. That place is amazing.

Compared to Bangkok, Berlin was just kind of…meh.

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Sure, there were some weird things…

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and some close encounters…

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and some things lurking in the deep…

…but none of the drama and majesty of the Bangkok experience.

The highlight, though, was the AquaDom, the largest freestanding cylindrical aquarium in the world. It holds a million liters of water, 1,500 fish, and is 25 meters tall.

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Photo credit: By Dellex – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7511724

More than just a huge fish tank, there is a built-in transparent elevator in the middle.

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The ride up and down takes about eight minutes and was the highlight of our visit to SeaLife Berlin

I’ll just close with this gorgeous photo from Bangkok. Perhaps if my expectations were a tad high.

Bangkok sharks

Don’t feed the wildlife

A Few Days in Berlin

My brother-in-law lives in Berlin with his family, so we headed north for a long weekend. It was Hugo’s first time to meet his cousins in person and to say he was thrilled to have another child to play with would be an understatement. He would disappear into his cousin’s room for hours at a time, the two of them playing with Lego or dinosaurs or Star Wars ships or whatever it is little boys do, while we adults happily sipped our coffee in peace. This is why people have more than one child, right? They play happily together all the time, right??

We did a little sightseeing, too.

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We wandered through the Brandenburg Gate

And in and out of the concrete monoliths of the Holocaust Memorial.

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There were a lot of other visitors on such a bright, sunny weekend

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It doesn’t take long before you are alone in the narrow canyons

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Known formally as the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, it consists of 2,711 concrete slabs arranged in a grid pattern. They are designed “to produce an uneasy, confusing atmosphere, and the whole sculpture aims to represent a supposedly ordered system that has lost touch with human reason.”

Not everything in Berlin was a somber reminder of turbulent history. We had a chance to visit the farmer’s market at Kolwitzplatz and eat food from food trucks.

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I think Hugo will eat pretty much any kind of food from a truck

But mostly the weekend was a chance to reconnect with family we don’t get to see in person very often.

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Plus lots of shoulder rides, Lego space ships, and trips to the playground.

 

Veste Oberhaus

Veste Oberhaus, founded in 1219, is a fortress and castle which sits atop St Georgsberg mountain on the left bank of the Danube overlooking Passau. It is a popular tourist site, with free access to the grounds, panoramic views, and a large museum full of interesting displays about local history (5€ for adults, children under 6 are free).

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Photo credit: By Aconcagua – Own work, CC BY – SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2185858

Getting there is part of the fun: there are stairs that climb that tree-covered hill you see in the photo above.

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Just getting started on the climb, looking back at over the Danube

The stairs hug the side of the hill (don’t worry, there’s a railing), and take you inside the walls of the fortress.

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Stopping halfway to take in the view of Passau and the Danube

Once you’re inside the walls it becomes more of a trail than stairs, with lots of little places to stop and rest or admire the view.

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Hugo grows tired of the panoramic views…

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and would rather stop to smell the buttercups.

The climb is actually pretty short, only about 1.5 km from Dom St Stephen. It took us about half an hour with Hugo, who is a reluctant hiker on good days.

When we reached the top we were surprised to discover some historical reenactments going on:

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Pretty much exactly like Skyrim

We visited the museum:

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Lots of interesting displays, even without any English captions

It had been raining lightly but cleared briefly for us to get a good shot from the viewpoint.

Passau from Veste Oberhaus

In the sunshine you can see the different colors of the two rivers

And an obligatory selfie:

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A rare picture of the grown-ups

At last, time to head down.

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A Morning at the Market

One of our favorite things to do at home on Saturdays is to go to the farmer’s market. Here, we can do the same thing, except the setting is a little more dramatic.

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Dom St. Stephen

Although there are other outdoor markets throughout the week, the one in the plaza in front of St. Stephen’s Cathedral is the closest to our apartment. It’s the usual fruits and vegetables you’d expect from a farmer’s market, plus some bread, meats, and cheeses, and several vendors selling potted plants.

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Produce stands in the plaza

What’s for sale these days? Well, it’s strawberry and asparagus season!

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These strawberries were so good that I may never eat an American strawberry again.

A local regional specialty is the white asparagus you can see in the top part of the above photo. It has a thicker stalk than the green asparagus, has a milder flavor, and a softer texture. It is grown the same as green asparagus, but as the shoots come up they are covered with soil. Without being exposed to sunlight, no photosynthesis occurs, and they remain white. I had some the other night for dinner, slathered in a butter sauce. Delicious!

There was also a stand selling wooden toys and kitchen utensils.

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Hugo keeps insisting that there is a zoo in Passau, but I’m pretty sure these little wooden creatures are as close as he’s going to get

After a lunch of bread, cheese, and strawberries, the cathedral bells started ringing and the crowds of tourists from the Danube cruise boats started pouring in to the square.

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Time to head home.

Hunger ist der beste Koch

It’s 5am and everyone is starving. I gave Hugo a piece of chocolate, the only food we had in the apartment, about an hour ago.The bakery on the corner opens at 7. Jet lag can be hard.

There’s a little mural on the wall of our kitchen, drawn in a squishy, doughy font, telling us that Hunger ist der beste Koch. Well, if hunger is the best cook, then this morning’s breakfast, when we finally get it, is going to be amazing.

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Flying space ships in the living room, waiting for breakfast

We arrived at our final destination, Passau, Germany, late yesterday afternoon. Our train was delayed, and by the time we checked in to our new apartment and went out to take a look around, most of the shops were closed. It’s a small town, and, except for restaurants, almost everything closes by 6pm. Leaving us with nothing in the house for breakfast when our jet lagged brains woke us up at 4:30am. Except for that chocolate.

Passau is situated on the Austrian border at the confluence of three rivers: the Danube, the Inn, and the Ilz, which has earned it the nickname Dreiflüssestadt, or the “City of Three Rivers.”

Passau Overhead

Photo credit: passauer-land.de

I’m looking forward to getting to know Passau and the surrounding area! But first, breakfast.

Sunshine and Apfelwein

Our first day of travel brought us to an overnight layover in Frankfurt where we were greeted by dazzling sunshine. They say sunshine helps with jet lag, so we met up with an old friend of Gareth’s and set off for a walk along the Main, a wide river bisecting the city.

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Taking a closer look at the river after playing in the playground and sandbox

There are wide pedestrian paths and greenbelts along both sides of the river. Apparently this was the first sunny day after a long, dreary winter, and just like in the Pacific Northwest, the sunshine brought everyone outside. There were picnickers, bikers, runners, and ice cream trucks in every direction.

After checking out the playground, we took a break on a shady bench to enjoy the local specialty, apfelwein.

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Apfelwein, a kind of cider, is made from apples, then mixed with juice from the fruit of the speierling tree

I also learned that it is traditionally served in these textured glasses to improve grip, a holdover from a time before people regularly ate with utensils.

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Hugo had a lemonade

Lest you think we were all bright eyed and happily frolicking along the river after eleven hours on an airplane, here is Gareth carrying a sleeping Hugo back to the hotel:

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He weighs about 40 pounds now, so this is much harder than it used to be

Tomorrow is another travel day before reach our final destination.

A Year Goes By

Exactly one year ago today, we returned to the US from our PacRim journey.

What has happened in the last year? Too much to chronicle here right now. But it’s time to revive this little piece of the web because tonight I sit here surrounded by packed suitcases, ready for the next chapter of our family travels.

Stay tuned for more to come!