The picture above is the village of Lupburg, our home away from home while in Bavaria. Our house is on the right, below the onion dome church . The people are friendly, helpful and best of all, love to keep things "in order."

I know, I know So off to school I go..

Will-6th grade; Lilly-2nd grade

Parents and students wait in anticipation of the ribbon cutting ceremony opening Hohenfels Elmentary School
for a new year of learning
August 2011 The school year started off in spurts with 2 kids beginning class on Monday and 1 kid getting a bonus day before diving into a new routine.  Before leaving the States, we bought backpacks and lunchboxes for the younger kids to slide right into cool school style here in Europe.  First correction made: 6th grade boys don't really take lunch boxes to school anymore.  They use brown paper sacks.  Second correction: Although I attempted to make sure they had "proper" school supplies, we were shocked that DODS (department of defense schools) in Europe doesn't make families provide classroom supplies.  So, the numerous 3 ring binders, looseleaf paper and Crayola water colors are tucked into a bedroom upstairs waiting for art projects on rainy days at home.  
We'll get it right next year; apparently, first day of school photos are conducted on the rock with the castle in the background.  Silly newcomers!

Will and his 6th grade buddy, Reese

The neighborhood gang waiting for the bus
(no high schoolers...they got to sleep in for one more day)

The kids leave the house at 7:10am and head for the bus stop, a short 1 block walk from the front door. The bus that picked them up on the first day was a ratty affair...seats were torn and windows had been etched by disgruntled kids from years gone by.  But, they load the same they have for eons: little kids get on first and sit in front (by the driver=SAFETY from big kids) and then middle schoolers get on and try to score a seat as close to the back without infecting the high schools and finally...the scary high school kids get on...ear buds conveniently tucked into their ears to block out the noise of bothersome little kids who want to high five each one as they walk down the aisle.
I greeted the kids with rice krispie treats following the second day of school.  I thought i'd pretty much outdone myself and told them, "Hey! I made you a surprise!"  And Will looks at me and says with a roll of his eyes, "I'll bet it's rice krispie treats."  I guess I'm as predictable as starting school in Fall.

Taking a peak behind the curtain

The Postma Family in the backyard of the Winter Palace, St Petersburg, Russia

August 11 St Petersburg, Russia
Of all the stops on our cruise, perhaps the crown jewel was St Petersburg.  Partly due to the fact that few have ever seen this city and partly because it was the end of our week-long cruise, we were eager to get off the boat and take in as much of Russia as possible.  I was able to secure a tour through Red October Tours prior to leaving the States and our tour guide, Svetlana, was waiting for us when we got off the ship. We were among the first passengers to clear customs in Russia and we kept thinking we were going to be stopped for some reason.  But, it was an easy process and we made our way to the private coach hired to take us around town.
Catherine the Great's Winter Palace
 Our first stop was the Winter Palace, a 30 minute ride from the ship.  The palace was built in the small village of Pushkin and it was interesting to see the combination of small private homes, large apartment buildings and government monuments along the drive.  Probably the first thing your eye takes in is the fabulous blue the palace is painted. No where else in Europe is this color used so predominantly.  We were struck by the sheer grandeur of the building, which was built not as a residence but as a show piece to prove how rich and powerful the Russian nobility was.  The rooms were filled with gold, mirrors and lots of decorative touches.  The palace grounds are immaculately groomed and offer sweeping views of the property.
Kristen and Tim in the "backyard" of the Winter Palace

Bill ensures his headphones are working properly
There's a chapel inside the Winter Palace
Instead of living in the Winter Palace, Catherine had this little addition added and spent the
remainder of her life living "simply"

Troy was Lilly's guardian during the tour

Following our stop at the Winter Palace, we took the opportunity to eat at the original stroganoff restaurant. Legend says that a soldier, who lost his arm in a battle, was served this beef main dish because he could eat it without using a knife.  It was absolutely delicious.  My personal recipe doesn't even come close.  Accompanied by a cream of mushroom soup and a drink called kvass (like root beer but has some fermentation process) it was the perfect break to reenergize for the afternoon.

Our next stop was the Hermitage.  Like all great cities, a good art museum shows off how powerful you really are.  The Hermitage was originally a residential palace and many rooms are open to tour.  In the 1800s, the decision was made to allow commoners the opportunity to stroll through the building and admire the collections.  It is a "must see" for anyone visiting St Petersburg and the crowds were intense.  Our tour guide led us through the main highlights and then gave us some time to browse on our own.  We enjoyed gazing at the Impressionist collection and saw some artists' work up close and personal.  Very little of the Hermitage is kept in climate-controlled environments so you can really see the brush strokes and shading the artists employed.

To round out our tour of the city, we stopped at the Church of Spilled Blood, an impressive onion-domed church which is more colorful than St Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.  We also visited the sphinx from Egypt and gazed at Peter and Paul Fortress on the water.  It was a grand view of a truly remarkable city.

Tallinn Estonia

August 10  It was a competition to see who could get back to the cruise ship on time following our excursion into Stockholm.  Steph, Bryan and a handful of kids elected to take the water taxi from Gamla Stan to the boat; Tim, Kristen, Bill, Eva and Lindsey tried hoofing it back to the ship.  It didn't seem too far but when you're under the clock, every minute counts.  Both groups made it back before the ship sounded its horn.
Old town, Tallinn Estonia

Alexander Nevsky Cathedral, Estonia  Russian-Orthodox

We took the opportunity to walk on the old city wall

Tim and Lilly on a tandem bike ride

I couldn't resist the chance to be a "qualified back-seat driver."

The girls try on fur hats, Estonia

Sunset from the ship

New development in Tallinn Estonia

Following another filling dinner meal and night at sea, we pulled into Tallinn Estonia at 7:30am.  From the ship, we could see tall spires and red roofs dotting the coastline. We were eager to embark on our city walk.   We left the ship and walked through a little market village set up expressly for the purposes of hawking goods to desperate souvenir shoppers.  We browsed quickly through the wooden shacks on our way to old town, about a 10 minute walk.  Estonia's history is a constant tug of war for domination of its ports by both Sweden and Russia. The people, however, demanded independence and currently enjoy a vibrant economy and tourists to Tallinn are not disappointed.  The town reminded me of the Medieval Times Restaurant, with old town walls, wooden market stalls and vendors dressed in Renaissance garb.  The smell of sweet-roasted almonds wafted around the town square and quartets entertained us with lively folk music.  Several of us took the walking tour of the city and another group rented tandem bikes for an exhilarating tour of the streets.  Cobblestones make for a bumpy ride but the weather was pleasant and everyone was in a good mood.
We returned to the ship back through the market stalls and managed to satisfy our souvenir craving as well with painted tiles and hand-made jewelry.


August 9 Our view from the ship's cabin was dotted with little cottages and small boats as we docked in Stockholm.  Another city based on water trade, Stockholm is home to many fishermen and the downtown doesn't disappoint.

The Vasa ship, restored to its original glory

Tall ships, frigates and numerous cruise lines all make a stop in Stockholm.  We disembarked and bought a ticket on a water ferry over to see the VASA ship, a Swedish fighting ship that sank just a mile from shore on its maiden voyage.  As our guide said, "it was a very important sinking. Much learning about ship building came about from the failure." I like to think that statement can be applied to all of life.

Following the museum tour, we headed to old town, Gamla Stan, where we queued up for the Royal Changing of the Guards.  This was a long show but we got to hear a marching band and watch soldiers exchange duties in perfect formation.
Baby it's cold inside

Ice cups make cold drinks even better

The highlight for several in our group was the excursion to the Absolut Ice Bar in downtown Stockholm.  Imagine drinking delicious cocktails in ice glasses while you're surrounded by carved ice sculptures not to mention the mittens, heavy cloaks and hoods that we wore to keep us toasty while sitting in the ice bar. Everything in the bar is made from ice, including the stools to sit on. Lindsey and Lauren wore flip flops and they instantly felt the cold.  The kids were served non-alcoholic drinks and the adults had the opportunity to try unusual concoctions with names like Sleigh Ride.