After a couple days of getting Jack situated in his new digs in Wiener Neustadt, we had some time for sightseeing. We’d contacted Hanna, a former exchange student who lives with her family in nearby Baden bei Wien, a spa town famous for its hot springs. Baden is a short train ride from Wr. Neustadt, and Hanna met us at the station to take us to her home for lunch with her mother, Monika.
Afterwards we took a walking tour through town, and Monika pointed out the sights. It had been really warm in Austria since we arrived. It was a relief to have some cloud cover and cooler temperatures.
Baden is the premier resort town of Austria, surrounded by forested hills. It’s historically known for being the favored retreat of Austrian emperors and famous composers. During the summer it hosts Europe’s largest outdoor photography exhibit. The theme this year is “I love Africa,” and we strolled through photos displays of wildlife and people from a different continent.
The town has a very upscale but relaxed vibe. It felt a lot to me like our own Sun Valley, only less cowboy and more Mozart.
I don’t ever remember being that little girl who envisions her wedding. I don’t remember setting any particular expectations of parenthood, or thinking about what my first house might look like.
There is one little daydream I have long entertained, though, without really ever thinking about it: that of our kids going to the same university their dad and I were attending when we started dating.
Since the boys were little, we’ve been taking the six-hour drive North to Moscow, Idaho, for a football game every fall as often as possible. There were years we couldn’t make the time, or waited too long to get a hotel room, but there was a while when we made it a regular habit.
We joked about indoctrinating our kids as future Vandals. We bought all the swag, we took tours through living groups, we showed them where we’d lived and hung out. They dug it. And who wouldn’t? The Palouse is ridiculously gorgeous in the fall when we would visit, and the 130 year-old campus is the picture of time-honored tradition, with cobblestone lanes weaving through stately brick buildings. I’m sure most of it doesn’t look much different from when my grandparents attended in the 1920s.
“I’m a weed detector,” Jack said as a distinctive acrid aroma filled the foyer. From the living room we heard the front door open and then close not one second later, followed by a chorus of giggles.
Apparently our Weed Detector had been successful in locating the enjoyer of said aromatic herb, standing in her own little fog on the front porch about five feet away from our entry.
I don’t know if most towns would appreciate a travel blog starting out with an anecdote about pot, but if you’re planning a trip to Seattle with adolescents, it’s probably helpful to come to grips from the outset with the fact that that Seattle is one of the most weed friendly towns in the US. If you happen to hail from a conservative state like ours, and you’re traveling with a small gaggle of teens, you can probably expect a little fascination with the topic, as well as someone pointing out the head shop on just about every single corner.
If nothing else, we established right off the bat this weekend that our sophisticated older kid is quite the bloodhound, able to suss out cannabis smoke within a radius of little more than arms length. Nothing gets by that guy.
This weekend we welcomed our latest Rotary exchange student into our family. Eighteen year-old Marine is from Belgium, and I can’t pronounce her name right (that darn French r), but she says I’m in the ballpark.
We’ve shown Marine the basement bedroom we’ve tried to make as comfy as possible, and introduced her to the dog and to Colin’s various and assorted fish and flora. She hasn’t asked about bus routes back to her previous host family just yet, which I’m going to take as a promising sign.
In fact, when Colin was introducing Marine to his lizard, Speedy (which at 10 has lived way longer than the pet store told me when we bought her for the kids back when I didn’t realize handling lizards is a good way to contract salmonella, which is how Speedy has since led a life of sad confinement, making me feel guilty and horrible, but that’s another story), Marine asked about her diet, so Colin revealed the stash of mealworms we keep in the refrigerator.
This is, of course, the same refrigerator in which we keep the people food, which prompted me to assure Marine that the worms are kept separate from the people food and neither is in any danger of coming into contact with the other.
Around here, autumn means a welcome return of the back to school routine, and maybe a little chill in the morning air. For our family, it also means a couple of weeks of repeated trips to the airport to welcome foreign exchange students.
Participating in the Rotary Youth Exchange program is one of the most rewarding aspects of being a Rotarian. It gives us an opportunity to get to know students from across the globe, inviting them into our homes and clubs, learning about their cultures and traditions.
The Rotary program is a true one-on-one exchange: for every student we welcome here, we send a student on exchange. With their service, our host families and clubs, counselors, committee members, and other volunteers make life-changing opportunities available to local students every year.
By staying involved with the program, our returning students (we call them rebounds) enhance the exchange program. Their involvement is critical. They know first-hand what it means to be an exchange student, and provide insight into our interview, training, and orientation processes.
Mike wasn’t super excited about renting a car for part of our trip to Denmark, and for a quick jaunt into Germany, but there were places we wanted to go where buying train tickets for the whole family was going to be super expensive, or our destination was out of the way enough, the train wouldn’t quite get us where we wanted to be.
By this point in our journey to visit the place our son had been living for a year and attend the wedding of a former exchange student, we’d experienced no real problems. None. No missed connections or lost luggage or screw ups with our Airbnb hosts.
Which made it the PERFECT time to put all marital and familial relationships to the test by having one us navigate while another drove (possibly illegally, we never really looked that up), and the rest rode in nervous silence in the back.
Or if not total silence, at least everyone tried to keep their startled screams and audible gasps to a minimum.
Saara gave Mike a quick and helpful tutorial about driving in her part of the world. It was basically pretty much the same as driving in the United States, she said, except with regard to stop signs.
“We actually stop at them,” she said. Which made us wonder what she thought we were actually doing at stop signs in our home country.
A couple of weeks into our trip, we had another opportunity to explore Copenhagen, when we returned from Finland with the honeymooners, en route to Sønderborg. The flat we rented this time was more centrally located than the one in Nørrebro, and if the weather cooperated, we’d easily be able to walk to a few attractions.
The weather did cooperate (which in Denmark means temps in the low to mid 60s, intermittent rain and some sun. As with our last trip to northern Europe, I made the mistake of packing sundresses. Sigh.), so we came up with a plan to do way more than would be physically possible for mere mortals in one day (if you know us, you know that’s kind of our MO).
We returned from Germany on Sunday and dropped Jack off at his host family home in Sønderborg (he’ll finish out the last week of his exchange and then travel home from Billund. Our tickets are outbound from Copenhagen), and continued on to see a couple of other points of interest in Denmark.
One of those was the town of Haderslev, not too far north of Sønderborg. Mike picked this place out because he thought it would be a quiet stopover on our way north, and also because at least one of my ancestors is from here: my grandmother Betty’s great grandfather Nis Jensen Krough, to be exact. Nis was born in 1849 in Haderslev, and died in 1908 in Des Moines, Iowa. He married Gertrude Marie Christiansen, also of Denmark (although her birth city is unknown to us).
It has happened before: regardless of what Einstein said about the definition of insanity, we’ve done the exact same thing we’ve always done and had something totally unexpected happen. Take this trip, for example. We’ve had such good luck finding lodging with minimal knowledge about where we were going or extra wads of cash to spend. Even when we were in Copenhagen, and I’d made our airbnb reservations after reading exactly one article on how cool the Nørrebro neighborhood is, we ended up getting a hip, little flat in what turned out to be the neighborhood about which everyone we’ve talked to since has made that sucking-air-through-your-teeth-sound at, even then we had good luck.
That luck-with-the-lodging thing kind of went pfhht in Hamburg.
Our oldest son is a young man of many talents, but I must say, he’s got a ways to go if he wants a future in the travel industry. When we’ve talked about the town he’s called home this past year, he totally undersold it. The impression he left us with was: safe, small, and rainy. There’s a rocky beach and a harbor, a decent mall, and a great kebab shop within walking distance.
We weren’t really prepared to be blown away by Sønderborg, a seaside town of around 30,000 that straddles the narrow straight of Alsslund in southern Denmark.