The kindness of strangers (with a helping of technology)

Today’s public service announcement is a simple one, kids: Don’t leave your backpack on the train.

It was a beautiful day, so we decided to ride our bikes to the train station one town over, take our bikes onto the train, explore new areas of Nuremburg, and then train-and-bike back home. And for the most part, it was great. But as we were wrestling our bikes/trailer/kid off the train, I forgot my backpack lying on the seat next to me. And I realized it juuuuuust as the train was pulling out of a station.

But this isn’t just any “forgotten bag” story. We had a few wrinkles, of course. This particular day was a holiday in Bavaria, so everything was closed, including the help desk at the train station. And the backpack didn’t just include hats and sunscreen, it included my wallet, phone and two family passports. Passports we would need in 10 days for a trip back to the U.S.

Huh.

So we biked home as fast as we could and logged on to the lost and found page for the train system. Filled out form. Prayed to St. Anthony. Started researching how to get a new passport issued. Prayed to St. Anthony a little more. Realized I have an iPhone, so I could log into FindMyPhone!

And thanks to the wonder of technology, I could see my phone traveling (presumably still in the backpack) on the train back toward us. I gave the husband instructions and had him drive off to the train station to intercept the phone. But before it got to the station, the phone started moving down a country road. My phone was off the train! I activated the Lost Mode for the phone which displays instructions on the lock screen and activates an alert beep. The phone kept moving. I kept activating the beep. Husband kept driving. I was trying my best to give him directions to the phone, but it was taking a circuitous route through a semi-rural area.

Finally the phone rested at what looked like a residential neighborhood at the edge of a large field. I kept activating the beep and hoping it would annoy the phone finder so much that he or she would hurry up and call me. More prayers to St. Anthony.

The next day, I checked in on the phone and saw that it was still in the same place. Armed with markers, paper, tape and Google Translate, I made signs to blanket the area, offering a reward for the return of the backpack. As I was driving away, I got a call. With some very broken English and very, very broken German, I figured out that a nice lady in the area had found my backpack.

When I arrived at Liane’s apartment, I expected that she would simply hand me the backpack. But Liane had more to say. In her stern grandmotherly way, she scolded me for having my passports in my backpack. “A copy! You need copy only!” she explained when I sheepishly told her (and her neighbor and daughter, who had both come over to help facilitate and translate, apparently) that as expats we are technically supposed to have them with us at all times.

Then she showed me how she had to bury the backpack in pillows in a corner behind the sofa because of the “beep beep beep” of the phone. I apologized and gave her a reward. We laughed and smiled and hugged. She showed me pictures of her children and pictures of her favorite movie stars. She told me that she collects stamps and could I send her some postcards from America, preferably with stamps of movie stars. And she told me that her birthday and Elvis’s birthday were the same day, so maybe I could send her a birthday card too?

Sure thing, Liane. It’s the least I can do.

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Stumbling into Toon Town

One of the best parts of living in new place is the Stumble. It’s when you happen upon something so unexpected, so foreign and so memorable, you couldn’t have planned it, even if you tried. Last Saturday, we did an epic Stumble, right into the middle of Toon Walk.

Just chillin' with our Homies.

Just chillin’ with our Homies.

Part dream-state, part furry convention, part kids’ fest, the Toon Walk features more than 200 mascots, dozens of costumed fans, a few marching bands and hundreds of kids in various states of glee and/or terror. We arrived as they were lining up for the grand march through the streets of Old Town, but hunger got the best of us, so we decided to seek out some Nuremberg Bratwurst and then circle back.

I'm not sure what they were discussing, but it's clear that the walrus was nervous about it.

I’m not sure what they were discussing, but it’s clear that the walrus was nervous about it.

When we caught up with the gaggle of toons, they were hosting a dance party on a stage in the middle of the street. We camped out near the stage, allowing us an up-close view as the mascots (led by neon-vested handlers) made their way right past us—and handing out swag as they went by. While the biggies like Mickey Mouse, Snoopy, The Chipmunks, Super Mario and Homer Simpson were represented, this was clearly a very inclusive Toon Walk. We also saw a lion wearing a t-shirt for the local pharmacy, a lighthouse (?) and a fire hydrant.

This is the musical group Four Lucky Charms. They must be somewhat of a big deal, since the people with big cameras were following them around. But not too big of a deal, since the crowd didn't seem to really notice.

According to a quick Google search, this is the musical group Four Lucky Charms. They must be somewhat of a big deal, since the people with big cameras were following them around. But not too big of a deal, since the crowd didn’t seem to really notice.

I think this is the I Love Germany mascot? I was hoping he/she would hand out beer or pretzels to the crowd, but sadly, no.

I think this is the I Love Germany mascot? I was hoping he/she would hand out beer or pretzels to the crowd, but sadly, no.

A sample of the free stuff handed out by the mascots. Playmobil figures, cookies area maps and beef jerky!

A sample of the free stuff handed out by the mascots. Playmobil figures, chocolates, cookies, area maps and beef jerky. Score!

Weird, wonderful and wacky. Just another day in Germany.

A grey day in Zurich

Zurich clock tower

There is no excuse for being late in Switzerland!

When the weather won’t cooperate for another hiking day, that just means it’s time to take in the city sights. Ken has a former colleague who is living in Zurich, so we jumped on the train and headed over to meet him for the afternoon. Though we visited Switzerland last year, we never made it to Zurich, since we spent the majority of our time in the French-speaking western section of the country. In my mind, Zurich was a bit intimidating and imposing. As the epicenter of so much international business and finance, I imagined the entire city like a large bank: cold, shiny and austere. I was completely wrong.

boys in Zurich park

Don’t let the sweet faces fool you. Those boys are filling up the city-provided dog-poo bags with water and whipping them at each other in a make-shift water balloon fight.

Of course, in one afternoon, we only saw a small glimpse of the city, but what we were able to take in was full of charm, history and friendly faces. Our friend David met us at the train station and took us on a short walk through an older section of the city toward one of his favorite restaurants. walking through Zurich The pizza place seemed like a hub of expats, full of young families and groups of friends. Everyone was chatting in various languages, but the wait staff addressed each table in English first, then switched to any number of languages, depending on the response. The pizza was amazing. A crust that was almost phyllo-dough like, topped with all sorts of ingredients, but without a tomato sauce base. Mine was feta, ricotta, honey and rosemary. So delicious! We finished our meal with cafe creme, just right for a drizzly day.

pizza in Zurich

Honey, rosemary and feta pizza. Accompanied by croissants, of course.

But no afternoon out is complete without ice cream, so we walked over to a fro-yo shop. Tangy frozen yogurt with your choice of toppings and a sofa to sit on to watch the world go by–a great way to spend the day. Big thanks to David for being a wonderful Zurich host!

frozen yogurt from I Love Leo in Zurich

Some people like candied nuts, some people like chocolate cookies, and some people like fresh berries.

 

Running commentary

City Running Tours

From City Running Tours

I’ve recently been doing my best to re-up my fitness level. I’ve signed up for a few 5K races around town and been jogging around the neighborhood (Yup, that person on the sidewalk flailing like Phoebe on “Friends”? That’s me.) Going down the Internet rabbit hole looking for running routes, I found this company: City Running Tours. They give tours of great U.S. cities by creating a 5K route that showcases the historic and off-the-beaten path landmarks.

They have tours in many major cities, including New York, San Francisco, Portland, Austin, Chicago, Boston, Seattle, Washington, D.C. and Minneapolis. (I would like to proudly point out that the photo for the Minneapolis route is the only city that uses a brewery.)

City Running Tours at Fulton Brewery, Minneapolis

From City Running Tours

Prices start at about $25 and go up to around $40 for beer tasting runs.

 This seems like the perfect thing when traveling when you might not want to run alone for fear of getting lost and the guides carry all your stuff so you don’t need to worry about having your phone/wallet/keys/water with you.

I think the next time I travel for work I might just do a little urban exploration at a slightly faster pace.

From City Running Tours

From City Running Tours