Euro furlough? Take it SLO

Last weekend, we experienced the first of what will be 11 furlough Fridays from July through the end of September.

Although I don’t agree with the process (which is basically a tax on DoD civilians because Congress couldn’t figure out a budget), Molly and I have been hard at work trying to figure out ways to make the most of these forced days off without pay.

We had months to prepare but it came down to a game-time decision: we chose to soak up the summer in Slovenia, near Lake Bled, which is only a 5-hour drive from us.

So we packed into our friend Steve’s Passat, paddleboard and all, without anything really planned except for lodging. (Ok, Molly scoped this place out and had several solid ideas; it was Steve, Eric & I who didn’t do any real legwork).

Riding on Molly’s excellent planning, we hiked the pristine Vintgar Gorge and lounged the entire next day on the shores of Lake Bled, which reminded me of an unspoiled Lake Tahoe, but without motorboats or overpriced vacation rentals.

Oh, but with crystal clear water and a 17th century church perched atop an island in the middle of the lake.

So pretty much Lake Tahoe.

We had a surprise visit from our friends Mike and Sonya - fresh off a 10-day Alpine motorcycle excursion, who joined in on the fun in the sun.

We took excursions around the lake, sipped cold beers on the island and savored ice cream in the sun. It felt like the first day of summer – in the past four years.

Rounding out the weekend, we stopped in Ljubljana (pronounced “loob-li-ah-na”) for a city stroll and some lunch.

This weekend we took to the road again, this time to the Bavarian Forest National Park, which, when combined with the Bohemian Forest on the other side of the Czech border, is the largest protected forested area in Europe.

After a quick climb to the top of the Baumwipfelpfad, an egg-shaped, wooden dome that surrounds a few 90-foot trees and offers panoramic views, we hiked through the surrounding area, making friends with a moose or two and some birds of prey in what seemed like a part-zoo, part-wildlife reserve area.

Although we’re still nailing down plans for the next 9 furlough weekends, we have decided on one thing: If they're going to force us to take Fridays off, we’ll just travel like it’s our job.


If you can’t beat ‘em, paddle ‘em

When I surfed in Hawaii there was only one species of vermin more despicable than the fin-toting *spongers: those pricks on stand up paddleboards.

They steal perfectly good waves and clog up the line-up – not to mention the panic they inspire when they come barreling toward you on those behemoth boards and you have nowhere to go.

However, after having spent the last four years without easy access to the ocean, I began searching for a new water-based hobby.

I missed that light, watermelon sea breeze you get as you paddle out, the effortless joy of gliding across the water … and I also missed being in shape.

Though we’re more than 8 hours from the nearest ocean, we do have plenty of lakes and rivers, so the stand up paddleboard (SUP) seemed like the best option.

So last week on July 4 (‘merica!), Molly and I tested a few different SUPs on the Rednitz River near Nuremberg. After about 15 minutes we were smitten.

So smitten that we took one home that weekend, and that’s where the real testing began -- on a float trip down the Danube.

Initially, I was nervous about how fast the river was running, but when my co-worker Andreas and his girlfriend, Nikola, piled into a grocery store inflatable kayak with barely any freeboard, my fears seemed frivolous.

We bopped downstream with most of the oar-power being devoted to building a super floating island so we could properly prost “ausleben” (to the good life).

Several kilometers later we stopped at the Weltenburg Monastery, which is widely considered to be the oldest monastery in the world. Its beer regularly wins international competitions and the Asam Bock is just like it sounds (wait for it).

After a quick stop for bier and kuchen, we were back on the water. 

However, getting into the river proved much easier than getting out.

As we approached the disembarkation point, the river’s speed picked up. Andreas’ and Nikola’s kayak flipped, sending a floating yard sale of shoes, bags, a cooler and their three-pound dog, Mila, downstream.

Andreas caught Mila, and with the help of a Good Samaritan, we collected almost everything else. By now though, the rest of our possessions are probably floating somewhere in the Black Sea.

I left the trip with a newfound respect for the Danube, and an appreciation for the stand up paddleboard, but you’ll still never see me paddling out to the line-up on one.

*Spongers = boogey boarders. 


Traveling served up family-style

The family strikes a pose at the John Lennon Wall in Prague. 
My neighbor’s annoying dog has been barking for 45 minutes straight, and it will only continue as the day does. This barking annoyance has happened daily for the past three and a half years (and Jeremy and I have contemplated buying a super soaker numerous times). Last week, however, I learned the only thing to drown him out is a house full of Haydens.

Last Sunday my mom and sisters, along with their immediate families, flew from St. Louis to Germany to experience the lifestyle Jeremy and I have swooned over for the past four years.

It was a week of bonding, beer and Boggle. And like her last visit to Europe, my mom, Linda, stepped up to the blog mic to share her experiences, which I will relay below, despite the fact she calls me a hippie. (smile).

Dancing around the May Pole.
I never thought of my own mortality until the death of my mom two years ago. I don’t have a bucket list, and I prefer to say “life experiences” anyway.

What I did want was for two sisters to experience the life of their hippie vagabond younger sister. As I watched this unfold, flashbacks of their childhood filled my mind.

The minute the ‘seesters’ (as they call each other) were reunited they were hugging and squealing – my mind drifted back to three little girls squealing (and fighting) over toys, then clothes, then cars.

Prost from the Hofbrauhaus. 
Arriving at the Buddemeier-Hayden residence, we found bedrooms earmarked with a picture of the occupant, fresh linens and pillows donned with chocolate. My mind immediately flashed to messy bedrooms of yesteryear strewn with toys and clothes. 

Joel screams Munich City. 
Jet lag passed over the weary group as family sightseeing through Prague, rivalry during a bocce tournament and a competitive game of catch phrase – complete with warred heckling – took over the visit.

Hannah masters the Rodelbahn. 
Unique opportunities such as running in the Munich Color Run, riding the Rodelbahn, bathing in beer at a spa and touring a concentration camp effortlessly presented themselves.

Color run fun.
Family dinners became a free-for-all as everyone - fork in hand - reached across the table to sample everyone else’s food, without asking, of course.

Paige - 1, Pork Knuckle - 0
Sitting back and watching this weeklong family-packed vacation unfold was a heartwarming experience for me.

Owl face. 
I can’t say this was a dream come true because I believe dreams are planned. This trip was not planned – it was a gift from my mom, as unexpected as it were. She played an important part in this event; her spirit traveled with us in the sound of laughter as three generations reconnected. She showed herself when we found pennies on the ground.

Making new friends. 
I don’t think the younger kids (Paige, Hannah and Joel) will appreciate this trip until they are older, though I saw them soaking up the culture and food like the warm sun – which finally came out the last day of our visit.

Three ducks and a quack ride the U-bahn. 
And even though we all managed to cram numerous souvenirs in already jammed suitcases, the experience and exposure is what we will hold onto the most.