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Life in the cabin at the lake

written by Birgit, pictures mostly by Sam

semi-overcast 15 °C
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It was a great feeling to know that we had made it all the way to Carol and Pete’s place on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Even though all of us had enjoyed the last months of living in the camper van, none of us was sad to move into a room and sleep in a proper bed. Rather the opposite: We were all really looking forward to some time without any driving and just being in one and the same place.

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And what should I say: it is a really nice place. Once we arrived, Pete and Carol showed us around their cabin and the surroundings. Admittedly, the cabin could probably be also called a house and it is situated very nicely in the woods right above Hagerman Lake. Before even looking around the house, our first destination was the pier with the motorboat, the kayaks, the stand-up paddleboard and the water bike.

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We really enjoyed our days at Carol and Pete’s. There was so much to see and to do that there was no way for getting bored.
Whenever the weather was nice enough to do so, we headed out on the lake. After a short round alone in the kayak, Max decided to rather opt for the motorboat. Even though he clearly wanted to go out alone with the motorboat, he was not allowed to do so. But he really enjoyed going out with Pete and was thrilled to being allowed to even steer the boat himself. Sam preferred the water bike, and I mostly used the kayak.

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Whenever we were not out on the water, we took long hikes through the woods and into the nearby Ottawa National Forest. With Max using his bike, we were able to cover quite some distances. Along the way we found lots of mushrooms - not edible, but very pretty!

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The first couple of days, we enjoyed very nice and sunny fall weather. And with the leaves turning colors, this was a marvelous sight. Not to forget about the fabulous sunsets!

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But there was much more as well to keep us busy: Sam decided to get an appointment with a local dentist. The good news was that he confirmed after an x-ray scan that there only seems to be an irritated nerve and no real major issue.
And we had long expected visitors coming in: Janis arrived on Friday evening with her son Charles and my parents. It was so good to have them around. After all, it had been five months since we last met. Max had been already excited for the last couple of days that his Opa and Oma would be coming. And Sam and I were glad to see how much fun Max had when Pete or his grandparents spent time with him.
But even when the weather turned to be a bit more unpleasant with rainy cool days, there were lots of options to keep us entertained. While Max and Sam built LEGO castles, trucks and star ships, I got started with some puzzles eventually culminating in a 1000-piece puzzle of Yosemite. And once almost everyone had helped to finally get the puzzle completed, we started playing Farkle and Herzeln.

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Had I mentioned already the hot tub and the sauna or the open chimney? The cooler weather was the perfect excuse for our almost daily dip in the hot tub.

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And let me also mention the food: There was also no possible way of ever staying hungry. After breakfast, we did not have to wait too long for lunch. In the afternoons, there was classical German ‘Kaffee und Kuchen’ (even though we stuck to tea vs. coffee) and in the evening there was once dinner. And no matter what Carol prepared or Pete put onto the BBQ, it was excellent: steaks, shish kebabs, taco salad, sloppy joes, local pasties, bratwurst… And as soon as we thought, we’re just absolutely stuffed, there was some kind of dessert coming our way, such that we ate as if we had been starved for weeks: lots of varieties of cookies, plum cake, brownies, icecream, chocolate fondue – you name it.
The food we had in town one day was ok, but there was no way whatsoever to live up to the cooking of Carol. Still, it was the perfect opportunity to combine the trip into Iron River with a trip to the car wash to vacuum our van. And we spent quite a lot of time in the garage trying to get the insides of the van as clean as possible. To make sure that the van is also well maintained, we had one last oil change done and eventually were happy that we were done.
As if all of that would not have been enough, one evening we got a heads up that there was a chance of seeing Northern Lights as south as Michigan. So we checked it out and in fact saw a slight glow towards the north. Nothing absolutely spectacular, but still quite cool. And as it was a nice and clear night, we even got to see the Milky Way as well.

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We could have spent lots more time at the cabin and it felt great to take a break from traveling. We had not done so few miles for ages – probably not even during the last couple of months back in Germany. Still, after ten days it was time to go back to Chicago respectively Glenview.

Posted by dreiumdiewelt 21:38 Archived in USA Tagged food lake sauna kayak hike forest cabin puzzle tub lego waterbike Comments (0)

Exploring Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh

sunny 34 °C
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Our first full day in Phnom Penh started already as good as it gets. The hotel featured a fabulous breakfast buffet – a treat we’ve not experienced since the start of our journey almost one year ago.
Despite the excellent food at breakfast, it did not take long to get hungry again (thanks to still being internally tuned to New Zealand time) and we ventured out to explore. Even though we had been exposed to the Cambodian traffic already the day before, it took a bit of courage to walk along the street. The sidewalks were so busy with street vendors, parked cars, construction sites or other obstructions that we could use them only for very limited stretches. For most of the walk, we had to walk on the street, together with the mayhem of tuk tuks, scooters, cars and trucks. Being in a one-way street meant that more than 80% of traffic came from behind us. That made us turn around constantly to check what is coming our way. Still, for short distances tuk tuks, scooters and occasionally even cars don’t seem to mind going against the traffic flow.
In all of that chaos, our attention was regularly diverted to other things. There were sudden holes (big ones!) in the ground that we had to watch out for. There were thousands of unfamiliar smells around, many of them not necessarily very pleasant. And last but not least, every single tuk tuk driver who spotted us along the road was certain that we’d prefer using his services and made sure we understood that he’s available to take us anywhere we want.
After having survived the walk for about three blocks, we retreated to a small restaurant along the road and sat down for lunch. Even though the menu was also available in English, we did not really know what to expect. Our lucky orders were better than we had expected. While every dish tasted very different from what our taste buds are used to, the food was really good.
With some food in our stomachs, it was already easier to walk the last couple of blocks to the Central Market. The impressive art deco building housed a huge maze of different stalls and we strolled aimlessly around to get an impression. There was much to be seen and even though we did not need anything, we had fun just having a look.

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The section with the jewellery and cloths did not smell like anything specific - apart from the occasional whiff of incense to appease the gods that are responsible to send many shoppers to the stalls. Once we got into the detergents and beauty area, this changed already and we were exposed to multiple fragrances overlying each other. Well, the fruit and vegetable section took a bit more of getting used to and even though we barely saw the butchers’ area, we were able to distinguish its signature smell immediately.

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Eventually we had seen enough for our first day and headed home. The cool waters of the pool were simply too tempting – specifically in light of the warm and humid temperatures that we were simply not yet used too.
On the other hand, there also was a concept that we had gotten used to very quickly and we made sure not to miss out on the happy hour in our hotel.
The next day, we headed to a restaurant for lunch that we had spotted while driving by in a tuk tuk on our way back from the central market. What had looked nice while driving by, did turn out to be rather icky. Only once we were seated and had ordered our food, we realized the rather odd clientele consisting of elderly white men and young Cambodian ladies. We just did not like what we saw. It seemed like most people knew each other already. And it did not help the atmosphere, that some people had drunk a bit too much and lots of them were approaching Max, touching his face and asking all kinds of questions. He was not amused. And neither was Sam when a lady tried to rub his back. We had our lunch, paid and tried to get away from there. It was just not nice. And while it might be simply a part of real life in South East Asian towns, I prefer just knowing about it vs. seeing its protagonists interact.
We walked away from that place being sure not to return again, found a tuk tuk driver and asked him to take us to the Royal Palace, the key attraction of Phnom Penh. Incredibly enough, he had issues understanding where we wanted to go. Initially I had assumed that we were simply not having luck with our drivers: already the taxi driver who took us from the airport to our hotel had gotten lost. When going to the Russian embassy and back to the hotel, our tuk tuk drivers had to first confer with colleagues for a couple of minutes and to consult a map before heading off… But not knowing where a tourist wants to be taken when he says ‘Royal Palace, please’ that was beyond our understanding.
With the help of our navigation system on the mobile phone, we made it successfully to the Royal Palace. We found the ticket booth and were pleasantly surprised by the nice and quiet atmosphere inside – far away from the bustling streets just outside its walls. The architecture of the palace reminded us very much of Bangkok’s Royal Palace.

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But while the buildings were nice to see, the real attraction were the people: the tour groups following their tour leaders which were equipped with colorful umbrellas, the monk taking selfies of himself in front of one of the buildings, the uniformed guards idling and the locals who came to the temples to pray.

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From the Royal Palace, it was just a short stroll to the river. Seeing where the Tonle Sap River joins the mighty Mekong was nice as it was two completely different colors coming together. But it was even more fun to see the multitude of ferries and boats crossing the river.

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We took a short walk, but eventually headed home, as we had already a great plan for the evening. Sopharath, one of the kind employees working at the reception of our hotel, had offered to take Max to the playground together with her six-year old son Pong Pong. We were excited about the idea and enjoyed a great evening.
Equipped with a cup of sugarcane juice each, we headed off in a tuk tuk to the playground. There were lots of people there. Despite the crowd, it was fairly easy to spot Max. Seemingly he was the only blond kid around. It was a very nice atmosphere in town at night time.

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Eventually we treated ourselves to some food at a street stall – an interesting experience as we had never tried some of it before, e.g. bitter melong. To fill our stomachs, we then headed to a burger restaurant filed with locals before heading back home to the hotel.

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After these first days, we had gotten used to our surroundings already. Navigating in the dense chaotic traffic became normal and we stopped turning hectically around every couple of seconds. We went with the flow and enjoyed what we noticed while walking along.

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We had also found a couple of nice places in the vicinity: we were daily guests at the juice bar at the corner facing the tough decision which of the delicious smoothies or fresh fruit juices to choose from. In addition, there was an excellent Malay restaurant just a bit further down the road that we really liked. So we started feeling more at home.
Still, it felt like a big adventure getting some small chores done. When trying to get our laundry done locally, we were directed by the staff in our hotel, to a small alley across the street. We would have probably never ventured in there. In the maze of small alleys, we eventually found a small laundry to take our stuff. And in the process, we discovered a different world: there were tiny restaurants, many street stalls, youths playing at pool tables, kids playing marbles and many small businesses.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 11:06 Archived in Cambodia Tagged traffic food market palace pagoda tuktuk playground alley stall Comments (0)

Closing the circle - reunited with friends and family

a bit delayed - the blogging frequency reflects that we've been quite busy since our return :-) Allerheiligen im Mürztal, Kirchanschöring

sunny 24 °C
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In the arrivals hall of Vienna Airport, we were welcomed by Sam’s parents. They were holding a large banner for us and had even brought wreaths for us to wear. We were delighted about the special welcome, but what counted more was seeing each other again after such a long time.
Once we had loaded all of our stuff into the car and were on the way home, we were chatting away like always, just as if we had never left. That’s just how it feels being back home and with people we dearly love and know inside out. And that’s how from a minute to the other, mentally our world travel was over even though we have not reached our own house.

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We had intentionally planned to stay in Austria for 10 days. After all, there were many people we wanted to meet and see again after such a long time. And there were many things we planned to do.
Already on our first day we were greeted with one of our favorite foods that we did not have for a very long time: Bavarian ‘Weißwürste’ with sweet Händlmaier mustard. But also the next couple of days held lots of delicious foods in store for us. Despite several tours to stop at ‘Tödtling’s Icecream Parlor’ we are still not able to tell which of his many flavors we like best. We had Polenta, Buchteln, several variations of casseroles and used the nice weather for barbecues.

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And even though we thought this covered already most of our cravings, those ‘normal’ days were topped by the birthday parties. We celebrated Sam’s birthday with a huge pan of paella and enjoyed Sam’s favorite cakes. And upon Max’ request we celebrated a delayed birthday party for him as well.
We also got to see many members of Sam’s extended family who were invited at our welcome party and for Sam’s birthday. Max spent lots of time with his uncles and seeing how they played together, it felt like they had just seen each other the week before. We visited friends and got to catch up on what happened during the last year.

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And to our great delight we also managed to meet one of our new friends. As agreed with Davina already seven weeks earlier in Nepal, we tackled the 2277m Hochschwab, Sam’s ‘home mountain’ and a favorite hiking destination in the region. It took us over four hours to make it to the top via the ‘G’hacktes’ – a small section of via ferrata through the steepest part of the hike.

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After a lunch break at the top, we got to see several chamois, marmots and a group of twelve sizable alpine ibex on our hike down. At Häuselalm we deserved a break and enjoyed Kaspressknödel- and Strudel-soup before heading down the remaining altitude difference to the Bodenbauer, where our car was parked.

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While Davina, Irmi, Sam and I were hiking, Max was out with his great-grandmother. They had a great outing taking the train and bus into Bruck an der Mur. Not surprisingly, his highlight was the visit in a toy shop where he was allowed to pick a toy to take home.
From Otmar and Davina we also got back our belongings that we had asked them to take home for us from New Zealand and Nepal respectively. It was surprising to see what we had given them and indeed there’s hardly anything we had missed in the meantime. And we also found some dear items we had left in Austria before heading off: Sam was happy to see his trial bike and the trailer. Unfortunately, my car is not around anymore. Some guy had totalled it while trying to park (or was it drift?!?) his own car. While it’s good to know that his insurance company paid for the time value, we would have certainly preferred to get the car back instead of the money.
We also got to do some things we had not done for a while: Sam and Max had fun chopping wood, all of us went biking, Sam went trial biking, we walked down to the Mürz to skip and throw stones in the water, read the local newspaper, spent time relaxing in the hanging chair, etc.
We also headed to the mountains once more – this time together with Max and Otmar. After making it to the Fölz at 1472m, we treated ourselves to Fritattensuppe and Schweinsbraten at the Herzer Hütte. And on the way down, Max and Sam had to build a small dam in the river – after all, that’s what they did in almost all countries we visited.

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We truly enjoyed our time in Austria. It was already a very different rhythm vs. the time we spent on the road. In other words: We mastered already phase one of the process of re-entry into our ‘normal’ life. Still, we consider ourselves lucky to have eight more weeks until we’ll start working again. That should hopefully be sufficient to be fully immersed in our home culture and lifestyle again.
After ten days in Austria, we headed off towards Bavaria to my family. Irmi took us all the way to Stein an der Enns, where we spent some time with friends. It was a hot day and the kids had fun playing in the pool and on the water slide.

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That's also where my parents picked us up and took us to Kirchanschöring. And that’s where we closed our circle. It had been 412 days ago (on April 27, 2016) when we had left Kirchanschöring for Munich and now we were back.
Not much had changed in the mean-time. Well, at 25 °C it was considerably warmer than the snowy days back in April. But Max and his cousins started playing with each other as if they had just seen each other the week before. It surely helped that we had talked in regular intervals via Skype or WhatsApp and that we exchanged lots of pictures. Contrary to the adults which seemed to be exactly like a year ago with their usual peculiarities and characteristics, at least the kids had clearly grown. The smaller the kid, the more pronounced the development they made in the past year. What a relief: at least there’s something that has changed.
We did not spend every day in Kirchanschöring though. It was such nice weather that we spent most of our time at lakes (Höglwörther See, Seehauser See, Waginger See), in the mountains (Harbach Alm, Teisenberg) or in the garden.

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Most of our time we spent with my immediate family, but we also made sure to say hello to my grandma and uncles and aunts. And I even got to catch up with one of my best friends from high school days.
There were lots of small and big things that make home ‘home’. There’s the food, the house, the view, the local customs, the card games and the peculiarities of everyone including ourselves. What a luxury being able to come back home after having seen so many other parts of the world.

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Posted by dreiumdiewelt 10:30 Archived in Austria Tagged food home mountain lake friends family party bike Comments (0)

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