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Ravensbruck Concentration Camp

September 9, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

I read the book Lilac Girls with my book club a couple of months before leaving on our European adventure. It was a well-written book, but tough to get through because of the subject matter. It is historical fiction based on what went on at the the “re-education camp” in Ravensbruck, Germany. This camp was for Jewish women and children, and also the site where 74 young Polish women were subjected to horrific surgical atrocities in the name of research for the SS.

When we got back to Germany after spending almost two weeks in Denmark, I knew we’d be heading south toward Berlin and thought I’d just see how far away Ravensbruck was off our path. It was basically on the way, and situated near a series of lakes that were worth exploring in their own right. I mentioned it to Greg in passing, but he was non-committal.

I ended up working the entire day while Greg drove (which means eyes on my computer, not paying attention to road signs), so when he said, “We’re here,” I wasn’t exactly sure what he was talking about. And then I saw the large building that is the headquarters for the memorial that has been set up at the concentration camp.

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There was an audio tour available, but we got there as the grounds were closing. That in itself made it even more somber and impressive/oppressive. We were the only ones there on an overcast day. A few raindrops fell here and there as we walked around.
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An artist was commissioned to create a few sculptures for the memorial site, all of which are amazing and heartbreaking. The main statue, titled “Burdened Woman,” stands alone in a courtyard and is really stunning. As we walked out to it, the sun broke through the clouds and shone on the statue. It was really moving.
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The building with the cells (“the bunker”) is under construction, which is probably for the best. I don’t know that I would have handled that well.
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The setting reminded me largely of Alcatraz, with this beautiful view of the lake visible from the windows, if only you could have access to it all. The only difference, of course, is that these people were being held prisoner through no fault of their own.
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The below images are of the crematorium. Just let that sink in for a moment.

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The cobbled courtyard outside of that building was purposely cleared and placed there with the stones covering the ashes that they found in that area, indicating it had been a burial ground.
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The back wall of the property has the names of each country affected, and there are many plaques/memorials to individual groups. We have toured a couple of other memorial sites since then and have been surprised that some of the memorials have been made as recently as 2012.IMG_2792
It was an honor to visit this site, having read that book twice through (I was out of something to read when we got here and read that one over again — picking up many more details the second time). None of the information kiosks we saw said anything specific about “the Rabbits,” the girls that were subjected to these horrific experiments. I looked for a hospital or some other such building, finding nothing.If you’re interested in more information about the story of the Ravensbruck Rabbits, click here (with the warning to brace yourself for what you’ll find).
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Finding Favorites

August 28, 2017 Food, Freewheeling No Comments

Greg’s sister kindly asked if there’s anything she could send from the States, a care package of favorites we were missing. I thought about it, and the answer is no.

It’s funny how you learn to adapt. I’m not going to lie — I reeeaalllly miss “real” Huy Fong Sriracha, but have made do with what they sell here; one brand is better than the other. I’ve even found legit Tabasco (and carry it in my purse for when we eat at restaurants).

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As for the other things I favored at home, I haven’t found dark chocolate peanut butter cups here, but have reacquainted myself with Riesen dark chocolate caramels (my grandma used to buy them) and found a delicious treat called Cocos Flocken, which are dark chocolate covered coconut stars. It’s basically a small Mounds candy. Sadly, I’ve only found these in one store and now I’m rationing them because I’ll be sad when the last one is eaten.

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We like to keep mixed nuts on-hand for a quick snack. These are easy enough to find everywhere, and the price seems lower than in the US. We were served a small dish of “crunch nuts” with our beer at watering hole in Ophoven, Belgium and we took a shine to those. They are basically peanuts covered in some crunchy coating and then dusted with spicy paprika (pepper) powder. Yum!

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Malibu rum is expensive here and we already have space constraints as it relates to storing beverages, so I am not able to enjoy my Malibu/La Croix cocktails. Instead, I buy the super cheap frizzante wines (literally $1.50 to $3 for 750ml) as a refreshing “day drinker.” They’re like a flavored sparkling wine with a low alcohol content. I miss my faithful Cocobon red wine, and I have taken to buying red wine by the box. It’s a much better value that way, it stores easily, and the selection is quite good.

G had a hard time finding beer to his liking in Germany, but has had better luck through Belgium, the Netherlands, and Denmark. He generally likes a darker beer, but enjoys a light shandy or radler as a day drinker. It seems that no two grocery stores carry the same things, so we get to try a lot of new things every time we shop.

All the different grocery chains we have shopped at have a varied selection of pre-made salad kits. These are a go-to for us (supplemented with extra greens) because we don’t have enough room to store all the ingredients it would take to make just one big salad (greens, chopped veggies, beans, protein, etc.) on top of the other meals we are planning for. These have been great for driving days when we don’t want to spend additional money, not to mention prep time and cleanup. The Asian Chicken Lunch Salad turns into a tasty stir fry dinner by adding a bag of pre-cut stir fry vegetables and cooked chicken left over from another meal.

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The rest of what we eat is pretty basic and not unlike what we’d have at home: sandwiches for lunch, a protein and a vegetable for dinner, pita pizzas, lentil tacos, soup or pasta when we’re lazy or out of fresh food. We miss our favorite local restaurants, but have enjoyed some delicious food with the help of friends’ recommendations (and Google, of course).

I really appreciate Rhonda’s gestures, but I am enjoying finding new favorites — and will look forward to those peanut butter cups upon our return to the States.

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Holland Haikus

August 17, 2017 Fun No Comments

The Netherlands has been good to us and we were sad to leave its beautiful countryside, its lovely people, and our unlimited wi-fi.

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One thing I am not sad to say goodbye to is the wind! I thought I had been on windy rides during Ironman training on the Pacific coast, during races, riding across Iowa. The Netherlands wins the wind war. To pass the time while riding into these punishing winds, I took to writing haikus.

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The wind in Holland
Relentless in its blowing
Makes cycling harder

One must love cycling
Enduring the Holland wind
How many more miles?

The hills are calling
At least there will be less wind
Suffer differently

Wide open spaces
Remind me of Iowa
With far more windmills

Windy Holland ride
A big help on the way out
A bitch coming back

Flat landscape seems nice
Windmills and canals and dikes
Motherfucking wind

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Even Greg got in on the action:

Equipment matters
The wind is nothing to me
Aerobars are friends

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Expenses: A Month Without Basecamp

August 14, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

July was an expensive month, to say the least. We’ll never come up with an official number; we paid cash for so many things and didn’t bother to get the “ticket” (receipt). We didn’t do any extracurricular activities like go to museums or rent boats and we need to eat regardless of whether we’re in our van or in paid lodging, so we were less worried about tracking that. Just for the sake of documentation, we ate all breakfasts in (other than one croissant and one coffee that Greg bought while walking the dog through town), we ate ~85% of our lunches in, and I’d say about 50% of our dinners in (we usually ate dinner at home 5 nights a week in San Mateo).

Our biggest expense by far was lodging. Without the van, we had to pay for a place to sleep since we left Greg’s sister’s house in North Carolina on July 6. The grand total for lodging was $2,305.46. We spent an additional $1028.31 in rental cars.

* pause while I collect myself to get over those numbers *

Ironically, the total is $3,333.77. The total number of miles driven across the United States was 3,333. Maybe 3 should be my new favorite number!

We expected to have from July 6 to July 22 without our rolling home, but the added expense for those nine days was really expensive. It is what it is: a sunk cost. Get over it.

July in Europe

Out of 11 different hotels/apartments, the average cost was $88.79. The most expensive place was a Sleep Inn hotel in the Inner Harbor area of Baltimore (the night we dropped the van off) at $154.76. The least expensive was a small family-run Airbnb in Bad Breisig, Germany at $65.

As a friend on Facebook commented, it was something of a “sampler package” of different accommodations. All in all, it was quite enjoyable. We went from urban walk-up apartments to rural farmsteads, each time immersing ourselves in the environment that surrounded us. Miles was a trouper all along, going with the flow and adapting easily.

To try and cut down on costs, we rented the smallest vehicle possible to get all of our stuff in (Greg giving me the caveat that Miles might need to ride on my lap everywhere we go). We got this Kia Sportage to get from Frankfurt to Cologne, and not only did we fit it all in, there was ample room for Miles so that he didn’t have to ride on my lap. In all honesty, his preference is to ride on my lap, so he was a bit disappointed in Greg’s packing skills.

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Included:

  • XL dog crate
  • XL suitcase
  • L backpack
  • 2 M backpacks
  • M duffel bag
  • 2 road bikes
  • box of extra shit that we stuffed our bike boxes with for the plane ride
  • Booze & snacks

Needless to say, we are thrilled to be living in Basecamp. Even though we have much less overall space, there is a spot for everything we have and we’re really quite comfortable.

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Back with Basecamp

August 10, 2017 Freewheeling No Comments

Greg found these decals that cover the Ford emblem, so now our van is called Basecamp. It works!

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After spending a full month apart, we were nervous and excited to see what awaited us when we were finally reunited at the Port of Antwerp. To recap: we had to drop the van at the Port of Baltimore on June 30 to be compliant with having it there five business days from the shipping date. It was supposed to take two weeks to cross the Atlantic, but we got word that our ship got bumped from the shipping order and it would be three weeks. A lot of rushing for no reason — BOOOO! In the end, we were able to pick the van up on July 31. Not ideal, but also nothing we could do.

So we kept paying for lodging, riding our bikes, and enjoying our time in Belgium.

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In addition to working with (and paying) a shipping company (and a TWIC), we worked with (and paid) a receiving company to take care of all the paperwork and whatnot, and our contact was wonderful. Thank you, Rita! It took almost three hours of waiting/worrying/driving/waiting/worrying, but Greg was finally able to go into the huge parking lot and drive Basecamp out of there.

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While G was getting the van, I took the opportunity to let Miles out of the car and walk him around the parking lot. When he heard/saw the van coming down the driveway, he jumped off the ground and pulled at his leash to chase it. He recognized his home!

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One of the things they make you do when you drop it off on the shipping end is remove the license plates. While Greg went to work re-attaching our California plates, I went to work looking things over. We were more than a little bit surprised and utterly delighted that everything was as we had left it. We had packed that thing to the gills and nothing was missing or damaged — most importantly G’s mountain bike.

We still had the rental car that needed to be returned to Cologne the next morning, so we caravanned from Antwerp back to Ophoven, Belgium, which is a waterfront locale that was near where we had stayed at one of our stops along the way. It got us closer to Cologne to drop the rental car the following morning, and gave us the perfect backdrop for our first night of wild camping in Europe.

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Let #vanlifeeurope begin!

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Daily sMiles

July 27, 2017 Fido, Freewheeling, Fun No Comments

Miles often comes along when I take care of little ones, which means he’s no stranger to a children’s park. It’s true that he doesn’t enjoy those parks as much as he enjoys a dog park, but it’s also true that children are known to drop food and he is happy to clean up after them.

One thing he has always struggled with is the swings. He has a love/hate relationship with them because it’s so fun to chase a kid on a swing, but then the swing comes right back and hits him. He’s finally learned to stay out of the way, but he can’t help but bark in protest.

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I found a short zip line at a children’s park in Bad Hoenningen last week and just had to try it out. Miles and I were out for a run early that morning and there was no one in the park. I zipped down that cable, giggling the whole way! It was so much fun that I made Greg go back with me to capture it on video.

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There were definitely more people in the park at noon than there were at 7 AM. Particularly, there were two women sitting on the park bench right next to the zip line feature; one woman was visibly crying. I felt bad having so much fun (and that there was so much commotion with Miles’ barking) while she was clearly not having an enjoyable time.

This video captures it all perfectly:

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I’ve decided that Miles is frustrated with the swings because he wants to join in on the fun! A few days prior to this zip line incident, we were at a park alongside the Rhine River in Cologne. There was a swing contraption there that was conducive for dogs (obviously). It wasn’t hard to lure Miles into the swing with me and I think his smile says it all:

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Oh Darling, Let’s Be Adventurers!

May 27, 2017 Fear, Freewheeling, Fun 1 Comment

We are nothing if not adventurous, Greg and I. Booze and snacks aside, I’d say that adventure is somewhat of a defining quality in our relationship. From running and kayaking (and faulty spray tans!) on our first date, to SCUBA diving the day before our wedding in Belize, to our triathlon escapades, to pretty much every trip in the van. Who am I kidding? Relaxing in our backyard hot tub turns into an adventure around here.

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10 years of adventure: 2003 – 2013

It’s something I really like about us. Greg has brought out the adventure in me, and I like myself more because of it. It requires one to have the “I’m up for anything” mentality, which is sometimes hard to come by. Finding happiness in being up for anything requires that you not let yourself attach too much expectation to the outcome. I think that’s where people get hung up.

Remember how fun this was? Me either.

Remember how fun this was? Me either.

I was feeling stale with things at the end of 2015. Everything seemed to be the same-old without any big prospects on the horizon. Don’t get me wrong; I wasn’t looking to sign up for another Ironman or have kids or anything crazy like that. I was considering volunteer opportunities. I was considering learning a foreign language. I was considering looking for a new job.

I mentioned my feelings to Greg and he confessed to feeling the same way. I shared my ideas and he introduced another: taking a year off to travel. I paused and spent about 23 seconds to consider all of the possibilities before yelling, “AREYOUFUCKINGKIDDINGME?!?!? YESSSSSS!”

And then I remembered who I was dealing with. So I reined it in, like, “I mean, that would be fun. If you think so. I’d be game. I don’t know. I mean…”
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His first idea was to buy a boat and sail the Mediterranean, but we quickly abandoned that plan and opted for traveling around Europe in a new, custom-built (by him) campervan. He said it was something he’d been giving some thought to for a while. He was about to celebrate a milestone birthday and it might be a fun way to shake things up.  It would take a lot of work, a lot of planning, but could really be fun. I think I cried happy tears, then I started making lists.

The adventure has begun, as you have seen with the new van being built. We’re also riding the documentation roller coaster with having our birth certificates and marriage license apostilled, trying to finagle a long-term visa without a residence/address, getting all of our adventure gear over there (four bikes, four sets of skis, kayaks, necessary clothing/helmets for these sports, etc.), and making sure Miles has the appropriate authorization. We’ve said from the very beginning: If Miles doesn’t go, we don’t go.

And then there’s the adventure of what to do with the house while we’re gone — to rent or to sell? We’ve decided to rent and are working to find renters within our network (rather than the scary Craigslist universe). Things look promising after calling upon my Facebook network for help.

Everything is falling into place, as it tends to do when you research and plan like crazy. After more than a year of scheming, it feels surreal that it’s actually happening. We bought three one-way tickets to Germany today.

Here we go!
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