I mean, really, how do you possibly describe such an incredible experience so that it captures--in even the slightest way--how fantastic it all was?!? I still can't believe we pulled it off...we must be absolutely crazy. What were we thinking, taking nine (and meeting two more) members of our families to Europe?!? In retrospect--heck, even at the time--it was wacky idea, but I'm so glad we did it. It goes without saying that Jon and I had a great time...and I think I can confidently speak for everyone who was there that it was a trip to remember for a lifetime.
Okay, enough gushing. Time to get down to business...
Day One: Lufthansa is genius. Not only do they have a great bi-lingual flight crew and free drinks, but they wisely seated all of us together...in the very back of the plane. (I'm not being sarcastic--this was great because we could be the noisy, excited group we were and disturb a minimal amount of people.) We were somehow able to coordinate flights so that the Seattle crew could rendezvous with the Kansas City crew in Denver before flying on to Munich, Germany. Talk about a potentially awkward first meeting between two families who are basically stuck together for life. But everyone got along (or faked it really well) and the flight was pretty uneventful.
[Side note: Jon graciously put together notes and itinerary for everyone, complete with alternate activities. Day One's alternate activity was, and I quote, "swim to Germany."]
Day Two, Munich: Despite being ridiculously tired, we forced the group to stay awake in order to acclimate to the time change (7 hours earlier for those in the Central Time Zone, 9 for those in the Pacific Time Zone). I must say, they were troopers. After depositing luggage at the pension, we dragged them to see the Glockenspiel (carillon bells), a couple of churches, and a food market in the old town. How wonderful it was to taste bratwurst in Germany again! Next, we hopped a train to see a BMW exhibit near the museum (I don't really know a lot about cars, so that's all I'm going to say about that). We started to lose momentum as we walked to the 1972 Olympic Stadium and had to take a little break before dinner...at the famous Hofbrauhaus! If you're thinking oompa music, busty waitresses carrying six giant beers at a time, and meaty German food, then you have the appropriate image in mind. It was all going great...until we realized we were sitting at the table reserved for the regulars (called the "stammtisch"). When they arrived, they were none too happy, so we moved our party elsewhere.
Our group split up at this point, but Jon and I valiantly led a few die-hards to a Starkbierfest, or Strong Beer Fest. When we walked in and saw hundreds of drunken Germans (in lederhosen, no less) standing on benches singing along to cheesy '80s music and swinging one-liter krugs, I was so happy, I nearly cried. I'm pretty sure that my brothers could have left the next day and been 100% satisfied with their German experience.
Day Three, Munich/Dachau Concentration Camp/Nuremberg/Bamberg: Okay, so not everyone visited all of those places--we were following Jon's alternate activity suggestions. The boys procured a 9-passenger van and promptly got stuck in traffic on the autobahn, my brother and his wife toured the original concentration camp, and the girls took the train to Nuremberg. The weather was rainy and sort of gross (just like Seattle...kidding, but only kind of), so we just walked through the square and a couple of shops before getting back on the train to Bamberg. Even though I only lived there for 5 months, when I walked out of the train station, I instantly felt like I was home. After settling into the hotel, we did what anyone who's ever lived in Germany would do: eat doner kebab. (My mouth is watering just thinking about it.) If you've never had one, the closest comparison would be to a gyro or schwarma. All you really need to know is that it's a giant slab of meat rotating on a stick...delicious.
The next thing to do in Bamberg, of course, is go to one of the town's 10 breweries. Jon, his friend, and I were enjoying a beer, waiting to meet a friend who still lives in Bamberg. Right before closing time, he strolled in...followed by another friend who I thought was currently in Virginia! Holy crap balls! He traveled all the way to Germany for our wedding (and because Bamberg is so awesome); I still can't believe it. Our now sizable group ended the evening at the infamous Irish Pub. There were cardboard Guiness glasses involved...let's leave it at that.
Day Four, Bamberg: The entire group (the ones we brought with us, not our unexpected guest) reconvened in the morning and piled in the van for a trip to the Nutcracker Store and a whirlwind (literally--it was crazy-windy) tour of Bamberg. We went up to the Castle before breaking for lunch...more doner kebab for some, at the very best doner place in Bamberg. After feasting on doner and/or crepes, some of us went on a walking tour of downtown. We went to the nearly 1000 year-old cathedral and another of the major churches, as well as the town hall which is in the middle of the canal. Another major tourist destination was Jon's old apartment. It really is no wonder that Bamberg is a World Heritage site (I'm not totally sure what that means, but Bamberg's pretty cool, so it must be a good thing).
It was then time to head to another of Bamberg's illustrious breweries. We met the rest of our official group who had flown in--despite the wild weather conditions--for dinner and a raucous card game. Jon was acting kind of weird, as he and a friend kept excusing themselves to talk on the phone. I didn't really think too much of it, and when he informed me that he had to go pick up another friend whose car had broken down, I was having too much fun to even suggest going with him. When he finally returned a couple of hours later, he walked into the room (they put the noisy Americans in a separate room) by himself. But before I could ask where the other guy was, four more friends who I thought were still in the States strolled in. Imagine my shock to see them, especially after they had told me the previous week on the phone how much they wished they could come but it just didn't work out. And then, to everyone's surprise, another former roommate walked in (after a harrowing traveling experience that involved having a flight cancelled in Amsterdam and an 8-hour train ride). Apparently, they all thought it would be fun to surprise me...and they were right. I still cannot thank them enough for being there. Amazing.
Day Five, Bamberg: We began the morning early by having a quick wedding rehearsal at the chapel with our delightful Polish priest. Okay, so maybe I wasn't all that organized...but in my defense, we (Jon) had a lot of other stuff to plan. At any rate, everything went fine and we were set for the wedding in two days. We then rallied most of the troops to go "dorfing." For the uninitiated (basically anyone beside Jon, who I'm pretty sure invented the term), dorfing entails driving through small towns throughout Bavaria, many of which end in -dorf. We had everyone psyched to eat lunch at a little brewery that specializes in half-a-chicken, literally a small chicken cut in half. But alas, it was closed! Tragic. So we compensated by eating at a castle (rough, huh?) and exploring the grounds, as well as a couple pilgrimage churches.
Since the trip was essentially all about food, the next notable event was dinner. We split up by family; the most memorable thing by far for me was the pizza my brother ordered covered in sardines. As second-in-command on this trip, I really had to step up my German game, especially when I was sans Jon. I did my best to translate menus and train schedules, but that sardine-covered pizza slipped past me. Regardless, the evening ended at yet another brewery. Big surprise.
Day Six, Cheb/Bamberg: The majority of the group piled in the van and an additional rental car in order to venture across the border into the Czech Republic. Cheb is a little town just inside Czech that is often frequented by Germans searching for Bohemian crystal. I went for lunch. Dumplings and sauerkraut remind me of being at Grandma's...except at a restaurant in a foreign country. We did some shopping and sightseeing, as well as kolache hunting. Kolaches can sort of be described as open-faced jelly donuts (although that's not really accurate). This also reminded me of being at Grandma's...except not as tasty. I guess I'm biased.
As it was the night before the wedding, we met at (all together now)...a brewery! Our "rehearsal dinner," if you will, was held at the home of the world's second best beer (at the time). Surrounded by family and friends, the night was full of merriment...and cards. It was great seeing so many people we love mingling together, laughing and joking, in a town so dear to our hearts.
The only thing left to do was get married...