Thanks, Italy – for being you!

Aaah! What a great day. After a hectic and restless morning of juggling two kids and the organization of luggage in our van, we set off this morning for better conditions. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not that I don’t like being at home. I like where we live. It’s just that this summer pretends to be something between a bad autumn and a wet winter. It just won’t stop raining. Our garden literally is a puddle of mud. Being outside is generally no fun in this weather, and well, being locked up inside a 70 sqm apartment with two kids is not too much fun either.

In the hope of finding better weather and more possibilities to be outside with the little muppets, we just drove off, direction South. From Freising we drove through Munich, then towards Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the Zugspitze, Germany’s highest peak, where we crossed the border into Austria. From Austria, we crossed the border to Switzerland. We didn’t really have much of a plan. I just put a no toll roads route to the French Mediterranean coast, which happened to I usually don’t know where we will sleep the next night. That’s how we always have traveled and camped. I (well, we) like it that way. And with our camper van it is even easier than before. After driving a while in Switzerland, the weather was still pretty miserable. Not much luck on that end. Luckily Heike was smart enough to check the weather on the Italian side of the Alps. It was good! That’s worth another 1.5 hour behind the wheel! And indeed, sooner rather than later, we saw light at the end of the valley from the Swiss St Moritz towards the Italian border. More or less where we crossed the border to Italy, the skies were blue. The sun however was already hiding behind the peaks. The view of blue skies after a very grey couple of weeks was more than worth the longer ride for the day.

The weather around Garmisch-Partenkirchen was actually alright.

In Switzerland, we had considered spending the nightbut noticed that this country is not too fond of campers. It’s pretty evident from the signs that forbid you to park, but the overall lack of campers on the road was a clear sign. This was another reason to push through to Italy. In one of the first towns in Italy, we found a wonderful parking lot, where several other fellow campers are spending the night. All welcome for campers. All for free. A huge difference. I guess the Swiss want their posh tourist clientele to drive a Porsche and stay in one of the enormous mountain hotels that must cost a fortune. Not for me. I’m a poor postdoc that needs free parking lots.

Cooking pasta in a Swiss parking lot. The views are probably splendid, if there’s no rain or fog.

Tomorrow, we’ll continue our way along Lago Como, which is supposedly very beautiful. If it is to our liking, we may stay a few days. I don’t mind at all spending time in Italy. I love good coffee, I love ice cream, and I love Italian food. I could live here.

And if we will ever reach the French coast, only time will tell. We might as well take a left turn.

The battle

Some days parenting is easy. On others, it’s a freaking battle that seems not to end. Today was one of the latter.

God, I’m so tired.

It already started early, before I could even make breakfast. In fact, I wasn’t even allowed to make breakfast. All my son would accept was me sitting on the floor next to him. “Papa, play. Duplo.” Hurray, building things until he was so hungry that it turned into anger. (He definitely got that from his mom…) When I finally managed to escape to make breakfast, he didn’t want to eat breakfast. The morning was a horror show, until my wife took them outside. I quickly used the time to dot it’s and cross t’s on a revision of a manuscript, which I resubmitted just before they returned. At least I managed to do something today… A big win.

Lunch was another struggle, with the kids taking turns. We decide to go shopping for groceries, in the hope that at least one would fall asleep. To our surprise, they both did. Another win.

When we returned, the neighbors invited us for a coffee. Rafa loves to play with their son. He played, but was oddly quiet. Lara, on the other hand slept the entire time (small win). Rafa’s mood turned when we went home. Everything was bad. And no, he did not want dinner. What were we thinking. All he wanted was to cry. And sit with mom. Or no, on the floor. Or no, in a corner. Oh no, he wanted to play… I decided to read him a book and bring him to bed, even after just two spoons full of chili sin carne.

Obviously, sleeping was out of question. What was I thinking? It was rather a mixture, or rather, an alternation of wiggling and shouting. About an hour in, monsieur casually mentions that he would like dinner. I have never shoveled a meal into his mouth that fast… Maybe he would sleep after?

Nope.

The wiggling continues. But hey, at least the shouting stopped. I consider that a win at this point.

It took only half an hour of fighting and telling him (begging?) to go to sleep this time, before he mentioned that he’d like to sleep on my chest. That’s a first, but fuck it, the request was kind of cute. Sure. Sleep on my chest.

He wraps his arms around my neck and hugs me tightly. My heart expands and fills up with love. It takes three breaths before his breathing turns to a soft snore.

I win!

They lost my birthday present!

It may not look like much, but this is it. My belated birthday present! I’m a bit of a plant nerd, and although I have lost many plants after moving to Germany, I am now finally at a point where I can say that my plants are not only stable, but firmly on the way up. Although we only have roof windows, as we live in an attic apartment, it seems that our home office room – which now doubles as the mom and baby room – has perfect light to grow my aroids.

I’ve always been a big fan of aroids, and my big favorite at home is my good old Monstera deliciosa. It always makes me feel like I’m in a jungle, without having to make significant air miles.

Now the plant pictured above, is also a Monstera deliciosa, but then one of the variegated kind. It’s still rather rare, and you are unlikely to find it in the average garden center or flower shop, although cuttings are now offered quite regularly on the internet. I had been drooling over pictures of these plants for a while, and I guess my wife had had enough of it. She decided to give me one. Needless to say, that made me quite happy.

It always feels tricky sending living things via DHL, but there was no realistic way to get this plant here otherwise. And so we just had it shipped here in a box. Of course DHL had arrived to our house yesterday before we came back from our trip, leaving only a note, but no box. (My neighbor refuses to open the door for other people’s packages.) And so it was that I had to pick it up at a DHL center this morning. Guess what… They had lost the package. Or well, they couldn’t find it the first time around, this morning, and told me to come back at a later time point. Interestingly, a second parcel by the same driver had been dropped off already. The second time I went to the DHL shop – late afternoon – they again told me it wasn’t there. I insisted that it should be there, and they allowed me to help search for it. I found it quite quickly. It was on a pile of unsorted boxes, next to the sorted rack. I guess sorting and reading is not their favorite aspect of the job. I don’t know. I’m just happy I got my plant. A sigh of relief.

For now, I’ll let it be where it is, in it’s sphagnum-filled pot, so that it can overcome the first shock of transportation. Soon, I will plant it in a bigger container, so it can grow some new leaves, and get nice and big, just like its new roommate. I’m curious to see what it will look like in a year or two…

A change of plans

It almost feels weird being home. I’m lying in my own bed as I’m writing this. The first night at home in almost two weeks away with the camper van. It’s dark early and it’s cold in our home – it feels like late autumn in Germany, but it’s bloody August. I can hear the sound of my son’s soft breathing somewhere next to me. He refuses to sleep alone, and since the recent birth of our daughter, mom is sleeping in the other room with the young baby. We have the same division of space in our camper van, and the kids seem to have gotten used to it. It works for now. We’re gonna have to somehow figure out how to best sleep together in one room without a lot of restlessness in all the sleepers. I digress. I said it felt weird to be home, and it’s true. It’s probably because we’re only here for one reason, a d a short one at that. We arrived in Freising today, about one hour before Heike got her second shot of Pfizer, so she – too – is all vaccinated now. All it took was 2 seconds. Other than that, we have no business being here. But they were of course important seconds! (Get vaccinated people!)

I will only start to work again in October, and our camper van is still ready and packed. We all loved being on the road together. There is hardly any reason to stay here very long…

Initially, we planned to travel from the Netherlands, through Belgium, down the French coast, to enjoy all that la France has to offer. That itinerary got screwed by Heike’s jab, which came up rather spontaneously after the baby was born (they don’t vaccinate pregnant women in Germany). Well. So be it. It’s worth a detour. Or well. A complete change of plans… Currently, we no longer have a plan. We were just checking the weather forecasts, and driving to the Northwest of France will basically be the same dreadful weather experience as here in Freising, so we might opt for something warmer, and a shorter drive. I never gave it much thought, but it’s actually a relatively short trip to get from the Munich area – through Austria and Italy – to the French Mediterranean coast. Life in the Mediterranean tends to be more comfortable in terms of precipitation and temperatures. Oh, and food, I guess.

So we’ll use our quick stop here at home to drop off tons of baby gifts we got on our NL trip. We might as well do some laundry. Maybe some shopping. We’re expecting several package deliveries (including my birthday gift, which should be here tomorrow, and I might write about then). I will certainly also submit a revised manuscript that has been ready for a while but that I didn’t want to resubmit in holiday time. Anyway it’s not so bad to have a couple of days at home. We might depart again on Sunday, maybe.

Who cares? As long as we can sleep!

Da sind wir wieder!

This morning, we ended our Netherlands trip, waving goodbye to in-laws suppressing their tears. It’s not fun saying goodbye to kids and grandkids, not knowing when will be the next time you see them. We made a lunch stop with Heike’s grandparents just across the German side of the border. Not having any grandparents myself, I find it quite special to see that Heike does, and that my kids have great-grandparents.

At about 4pm we drove off, direction Bavaria. Obviously we were immediately welcomed by a traffic jam near Cologne. I don’t mind traffic jams per se, but it brings out the nastiest driving behavior in Germans. What a mess. Anyway. Roughly five hours and a dinner stop later, we have parked our Nugget somewhere for the night. We at least made it to Bavaria, albeit we’re still three hours from home. Heike found a place near an air strip that has a huge parking lot. We are now parked there for the night, the kids are asleep, we’re tired, I have 4G internet, and we’re accompanied by the deep rumble of trucks and cars on the A3 highway in the not-so-far distance. I’m curious to find out what we will wake up to tomorrow morning. It always feels somewhat dodgy to arrive in darkness in a deserted spot. But we’re alone, and I guess no one will bother us tonight.

And now it’s time to sleep…

Enjoy it while it lasts…

On our rest day in the South of Limburg, the final day in the Netherlands before we make our way back to Germany, we decided to go for a walk. The area is characterized by several calcareous grasslands that are quite rich in (plant) diversity.

I texted a friend that knows the area better than me, asking for advice. My parents-in-law live literally next to Bemelerberg, an old chalk quarry, which is one of the better areas when it comes to plants and butterflies. However, the quarry is closed for public, and well, I respect those things. Sometimes – maybe more often than not – nature is best left untouched. My friend suggested another place close to another quarry that closed up shop a couple of years ago. The huge mines are now left for a new destiny. Given that this particular also harbors a good dose of diversity, it makes total sense to leave it for nature to do its thing. Perhaps given the centuries of resource depletion, it is anyway the ethical way to pay back the damage done.

The old quarry has many artificial and crystal-clear ponds that pose breeding grounds to several rarer amphibians.
The old mining tunnels are pretty obvious and give an interesting touch to the area. I love that these silent witnesses represent the cultural and economical history of this area of the Netherlands. They do not exactly blend in, but are no eye sores either.

Over the years there have been many different plans to give the area back to mother nature. However, the Netherlands would not be the Netherlands, if it would be given away for free. Money somehow needs to be made. Aside from the two small-scale coffee/bistro bars – which I appreciate, there apparently are more invasive plans to give the area back, not to mother nature, but to mother nature’s most stubborn and obnoxious inhabitants – us humans. The paths were lined with architectural drawings showing what would become wellness centers, recreational living areas and other rubbish. Another sign indicated that the ponds are planned to be open for recreational use. Let the drunk youth and sunscreen-covered others come and destroy whatever is nice about this place. The nesting eagle owls will be a cool story to out on future signs for later generations, I guess. Not only will this sort of development quickly result in an ecological degradation of the area, it also completely erodes any of the cultural history of centuries. God what a bunch of stupid plans. If this is what they call ecotourism, then fuck that!

Imagine, sitting here in your bath robe, still steaming from your last sauna round. In the back you hear the buzzing vibes of partying twenty year-olds, that bring back life to this deserted quarry. What better ways to give purpose to this otherwise tranquil place?

It’s because of things like this that I am not very hopeful that we will ever make great strides towards biodiversity conservation or climate action. We are simply not made to give back. We only take, take, take. Even when we pretend to give, we still take.

Polygonia c-album on Buddleja davidii
Vanessa atalanta on Buddleja davidii, one of the invasives that does very well in the disturbed quarry grounds…

It’s a pretty place though, for as long as it lasts…

Last (Dutch) stop

We have arrived at our final Dutch destination today. We started the day from Zeeland province, from where we drove through Brabant province towards Limburg province. The Netherlands is a tiny enough country to see half of it in a couple of days.

This morning we made a short stop in Eindhoven, to have lunch with good friends, after which we continued our path to end up in Maastricht, where my parents-in-law live. Tomorrow, we have a full day here. This means I will have a day with some time to potentially go outside and nerd for a bit in the species-rich (ish) grasslands in the area. You never know what you may find here. It’s one of the prettier areas in my home country.

On Wednesday, we will cross the border, where we will do a stopover in Aachen, to visit in-law uncles and grandparents, before we drive, hopefully all the way, to Freising.

I couldn’t resist…

Our trip to and through the Netherlands continues. We have now reached the country’s West. We’re parked for the night in the middle of nowhere, yet we’re only a stone’s throw away from Rotterdam, one of the country’s biggest cities.

Today was supposed to be a rest day – no plans. However, my mind could not resist the urge to do something about it this. A long time Dutch reptile friend of mine was posting some of this year’s corn snake offspring on his Instagram. Let’s say that they were very pretty. I have a 25+ year history of keeping reptiles, ranging from a single lizard at its lowest, to literally hundreds of snakes when I was at my peak (or lowest – I guess it all depends on perspective). My last snake died a couple of years ago, and during my PhD, I had other things on my mind. I still do, but I couldn’t resist. I love snakes. So I used my trip to the Netherlands as an excuse to pick up snakes from one of the highest quality breeders I know. Once I had made the decision, some other snakes crossed my path that had some very cool genes. I couldn’t resist those either. (C’mon, the breeder lived about 20 km from my mother, if that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is).

So our rest day turned into a ‘pick up snakes day’, and because a good buddy of mine lives in the area, I needed to visit, and I’m glad I did.

From tomorrow we will start the eastbound leg of the journey, and we will still have a couple of (mostly family-in-law) stops on the way. By Thursday we should be back in Freising die my wife’s second jab and the arrival of my belated birthday present (it’s not snakes, I promise). I will write a post on that one when the time is right!

Male 1
Female 1
Male 2
Female 2

The pictures above are of the snakes I picked up a couple of days ago. Admit it. They’re stunning! Just wait until you see the ones I picked up today. Don’t worry, there will be updates on these. I have lost most of not all pictures of my former snake collection. I have some catching up to do with the current one.

Rascals

We spent a couple of days in the East, visiting my mother and two younger brothers. It was a bit of a lastminute decision for us to drive to the Netherlands, and I’m happy we managed to get the family together.

I convinced my son to try a sand pie. My big win of the day!

It was a lot of fun seeing my two year-old and my brother’s three year-old son play together, as if they have never done anything else. They haven’t seen each other in a year, and even then, it was just for a couple of hours. They both suck at hide and seek, but it was a lot of fun pretending not to be able to find these two rascals. On days like this, I hate living on the other side of Germany. I can’t help but feel guilty for ‘taking’ the potential experiences from them. My mother’s excessive confirmation that we do indeed live much too far away, and that because of that she doesn’t know her grandchildren, doesn’t help much either. I guess I understand. I also guess she doesn’t. And that’s fine.

Tomorrow, next stop near Rotterdam, where I will pick up some fun stuff (potentially more on this later), and then visit an old friend I haven’t seen in almost two years, before we will park our van somewhere near the Biesbosch, which is usually quite a lovely location.

Goodnight!

Abandon all regulations!

We arrived in a country that seemingly abandoned all COVID-19 regulations. What a stark contrast with Germany, where life without distance and a mask, even months after having been vaccinated is nowhere in sight. I’m happy to oblige. Here in the Netherlands, I have not seen a masked face yet. The lady at a local food outlet – to her defense – wore a splatterscreen (or whatever these things are called). Literally everyone else was maskless. Shops were full of people, terraces were teeming with life.

I already noticed the surprised faces in the first gas station I stopped at yesterday. The customers looked at me as if I were the disease itself. Interesting. Voluntary masking – apparently – is not a thing.

I also happen to be born into a family of people that have never taken a self-test. In Germany, these things have become the norm whenever you decide to have many people together, especially indoors. Maybe it’s just my family, or maybe it’s the Dutch, but I was somewhat surprised that my youngest brother never took one (and I have since learnt that the same is true for all other family members).

And so we walked into a more or less empty store today, without a mask. Mostly because I didn’t have one with me, and we needed some stuff from the local HEMA – a very Dutch store that sadly doesn’t have a Freising location (although locations exist in Germany). Sure, I’m vaccinated, we all were, but still, I haven’t felt this uncomfortable in a very long time. I was happy to be outside again. Maybe, I’m some kind of doomsday prepper, but I think I will be wearing my masks for a very long time to come.

(It was good to see my family again after more than a year)