Thursday, June 30, 2011

The Highlight of our Trip

When we originally were throwing ideas around for our Fund For Teachers proposal, fairy tales and folktales was one of our first ideas, but we really lucked out once I contacted some random storytellers in Dublin, and one of them referred us to Liz Weir.

From Liz Weir is a storyteller and writer from Northern Ireland, with an international reputation. Formerly children’s librarian for the city of Belfast, she now travels the world telling stories to adults and children. She organizes workshops, appears at major international festivals (including the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee and the Australian National Storytelling Festival) and has performed in Israel, Germany, Australia, Canada and the United States. Liz is the author of two collections of stories for children, Boom Chicka Boom and Here There and Everywhere (The O’Brien Press) . Having worked extensively in prisons has written When Dad was Away a picture book about a child whose father is in jail to be published by Frances Lincoln in January 2012. She has presented The Gift of the Gab, a storytelling series for BBC Radio Ulster, and has written scripts for five television animations aimed at young children in Northern Ireland. The latter project was created by the Media Initiative for Children, a joint effort by the Early Years Organisation in Northern Ireland, and the Peace Initiatives Institute in Colorado. These adverts use mass media and classroom experience to teach young children the value of respecting – and including – others who are different.
Liz Weir firmly believes in the power of storytelling to promote understanding and aid conflict resolution.

Liz picked us up at the Belfast airport, with a a warm hug and lots of energy. We were off right away to watch her in action at Lurgan Model Primary School, a school that is almost 150 years old. We received a warm welcome from the school where we had a tea break with the teachers and chatted about the differences between schools in Northern Ireland and the US. We sat behind Liz so we could see the young children in the first group (Kindergarten age, i think). We were just as spell-bound as the young students, though they were a group that was full of energy. It was a a great opportunity to see how a storyteller handles young students who have a hard time sitting still. She was with them for about 30 minutes and in that period of time told too many stories to recount. Liz does not use visuals or props, but does keep the students engaged and talks to them throughout. As she told the different stories, she took great care to ask the children about their families and their cultures, and encouraged them to tell their own families the stories in their own languages. Some of the students spoke Polish or German or other various languages. We learned at some point in the day from Liz that Northern Ireland had not been very diverse for a long time during the "troubles," but since there had been peace, many people from other countries had started to move there. We traveled to the next classroom with her that had older students, and tried to absorb all the stories she shared with the next class. She also wanted them to ask her questions about being a writer, and since I have always aspired to be a writer myself, her answers were very interesting to me. The children were very interested in what Liz had to say, and we all sat hanging on to her every word. We jetted off for a quick lunch with Liz at a sandwich shop close by. After a quick lunch we rushed back to the school for Liz to do one more session with an older group of students.

While she told the students stories, Eva and I were called into the principal's office....LOL. The school had recently had an after school program where students created their own digital stories, and he had been kind enough to get the cd with the different stories for us to view. It was very helpful to see what the children had created using their own pictures and narration to tell a story, and we felt very inspired after see them. One student made a story about his guitar and the history of Fendor and another student created one about their baby sister. I had a great idea afterwards about our Star Students in our classrooms having the opportunity to share about themselves and their family by bringing different objects and pictures to school, which we can then put together with their narration to create their own digital story. I think it may be complicated at first, but after we get the hang of it, I think it will be easier week after week
As soon as Liz finished at the school, we jumped in the car and headed for the bus station in Belfast to pick up one of her friend's daughters who is 14 years old named Una. She is a breath of fresh air and just a beautiful spirit. As we drove out of the bus station, Liz drove all of us on a quick tour of Belfast to tell us about the history of the troubles and what she had experienced as a librarian in Belfast. We also went to the murals and were struck by their messages. We learned so much from Liz on that car ride through Belfast, and it was a wonderful history lesson. While Belfast had been very peaceful in recent years, unfortunately riots began in part of the city later that evening. It is hard for me to understand all the fighting between the Catholics and the Protestants because this is not something we are used to in Texas, USA, but Liz did her best to explain it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Digital Storytelling

The time in London was very brief, and was originally just supposed to be a layover on the way from Germany to Northern Ireland, but when our digital storytelling workshop in Dublin fell through, we were very thankful for finding someone to do some one on one training in London for a very nice price (FREE!) thanks to some connections. We learned about some different programs, and wished we had had more time to actually put one together for you while we were there. I think our favorite program that we learned how to use is animoto, and the best part is that because we are teachers, we can create as many as we want for free using that website. We cannot wait to take the 5000 pictures (and no, I am not exaggerating) and create our first digital story for everyone to see. We plan on taking some more classes in Houston and practicing our new skills over the summer. Stay tuned....

Monday, June 27, 2011

Rats, a Pied Piper, and some Musicians, Oh My!

As we enjoyed our last breakfast at the Trendelburg castle, we received a phone call on the hotel's phone. I took the phone, feeling completely baffled as to who would be calling us in Germany, and found myself talking to the Tourist Information office down the street. After meeting us the day before, he thought that our Fund For Teachers project would make for a good news article for the local tourism newspaper. After we finished our coffee, we bounded down the hill for a short interview and some photographs featuring Rapunzel's hair. We are looking forward to seeing the article in the upcoming months, but it will be very difficult for us to read, as it will be in German!

We hurried back to the castle, grabbed our suitcases, and headed out as today would consist of hours on the road. First stop--Hamelin, or Hameln in German. Hamelin is known for the folktale of the Pied Piper. As copied from Wikipedia: The Pied Piper of Hamelin is the subject of a legend concerning the departure or death of a great many children from the town of Hamelin (Hameln), Germany, in the Middle Ages. The earliest references describe a piper, dressed in pied (multicolored) clothing, leading the children away from the town never to return. In the 16th century the story was expanded into a full narrative, in which the piper is a rat-catcher hired by the town to lure rats away with his magic pipe. When the citizenry refuses to pay for this service, he retaliates by turning his magic on their children, leading them away as he had the rats. This version of the story spread as a fairy tale. This version has also appeared in the writings of, among others, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, theBrothers Grimm and Robert Browning.

We set out in search of rats and the Pied Piper, and did not have to wait very long to find what we were looking for. There were rats everywhere! Although many of the rats that had been painted on the sidewalk have faded, we followed them through a tunnel and up some stairs into the picturesque town. But first things first--it was lunch time. As we passed a McDondalds in a half-timbered house, I noticed a sign for a Pannekoeken Huis. Mmmmm....Dutch pancakes--my favorite. Eva followed me willingly even though she had no idea what they were, but once I muttered something under my breath about them being pancakes, just like crepes are kind of like pancakes, I think she was game. Eva ordered one with ham, a special kind of cheese, and raspberry preserves. I, of course, ordered Nutella. They were fantastic, and we left on a mission to find this Pied Piper we were seeing in statues and posters all over the city. We stopped in a few shops that were selling rat perfume, rat drinks, rat suckers, rat candy. I saw the sign for the TI, and we followed the rats on the roads to the front door of the TI. We perused the souvenirs, when all of a sudden I saw something brightly colored out of the corner of my eye. It was him! I nudged Eva, and we chased him down before he went into his office, and were able to snap a few pics with him. YAY! Mission accomplished. We took our time walking along the quaint shops on the way back to the car, and we wished we had arranged to stay atleast one night in the town of Hameln, but our day was far from over. We had an hour and a half drive ahead of us to get to our final destination on Fairy Tale Road, the town of Bremen.

The drive went pretty fast, and we finally filled up the gas tank for the first time. I think it was about $90 US dollars if I remember correctly. We found our hotel, and were very happy with it. It opened a year ago, very modern and comfortable, and a stone's thrown from the Alstadt. We dropped our bags and had to run one errand before we could search for those Bremen Town Musicians. It was time to say good-bye to the car. We had to drive downtown, and take a trolley back to our hotel. After we made it back into the Alstadt, we walked only a block or so before we found our first statue outside of a Starbucks. We snapped pictures as the rain started. We seemed to bring the rain with us where ever we went on this trip, so we weren't surprised in the least. We pulled our hoods up, and walked some more until we found ourselves outside of the Ratskeller. This is Germany's oldest wine cellar, and Bremen's most famous restaurant. We were happy to get out of the rain and walked down the stairs to find ourselves in the most beautiful restaurant. WOW! The menu was full of German cuisine, just perfect for our last dinner on fairy tale road.

The next morning, we packed our bags up again, and headed out to the post office. We had to ship a box back to the US with all of the things we had been purchasing for our classrooms. There was simply no more room in our bags. I held my breath as I waited to find out how much it was going to cost, and couldn't complain too much with the $80 or so. We still had over a week to go, and this would lighten our load quite a bit. Next we dropped our bags off with our hotel. We had the entire day to explore Bremen, but needed to check out of the hotel, as we had a late night flight to London. We wandered the streets, sipped on cappuccino, ate crepes and bratwurst, visited the Rapunzel shop in the Schnoor shopping area, went inside the cathedral, and took some pictures with the very popular Bremen Town Musicians. We walked until we could not walk anymore, then it was off to the airport, the smallest airport I have ever been to. I think there were 3 gates, and our flight was the only one scheduled for the next four hours. We couldn't wait for the next country and what we would learn there about digital storytelling. Auf Wiedersehen, Germany and Fairy Tale Road!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Rapunzel, Rapunzel...Let Down Your Golden Hair

After leaving castle Romrod, we drove to the next town over. It is a cute little town called Alsfeld, supposed to be known for Little Red Riding Hood, or Little Red Cap as she is known there. We parked the car and trekked into the Alstadt area (old town) to find a market going on. We meandered through the stands and little shops and came upon the Toursist Information office. Once inside we found a few souvenirs for our classroom and inquired about the Fairy Tale House, although we suspected it was closed. Unfortunately we were right, but we still walked down the narrow cobblestone lane to take some pictures. On the weekends the Fairy Tale House is open and they have fairy tale characters dressed up telling stories. We searched everywhere for references to Little Red Cap cut could not find one picture or sign. We had a bit of a drive ahead of us, so we headed back to the car.

We drove through the beautiful lush countryside on back one-lane roads for over an hour to Trendelburg, Germany. There we would find our castle where we would be spending the next two nights. Trendelburg is a definite stop on Fairy Tale Road because it is where Rapunzel's tower is, and when we arrived we could see Rapunzel's long yellow braid dangling from the top of the tower. We were awestruck by how gorgeous the castle was, and wheeled our luggage across the narrow bridge and under the tunnel to the front door. We could not figure out how to get in, so we walked around the side of the castle and what we saw took our breath away. On the other side of the caslte was a terrace with little tables overlooking the hillside of the valley. We could not wait to drop our bags off, and head back out to enjoy this spectacular view. We sipped our drinks and ate dessert while birds circled over our heads. My imagination was definitely working overtime... The castle itself was the exact opposite of the castle we had stayed in the night before. While that one had been modern, this one is exactly what you would picture from long ago, complete with armored knights in each hallway and a cellar lit by candlelight. The days we spent in Trendelburg were just the chance we needed to not rush everywhere and take it easy after the frantic pace we had been going at the entire time. The next day we visited the Tourist Office in Trendelburg, just down the hill from Rapunzel's Tower. The man who worked there was beyond helpful and loved his job. He gave us a lot of information, and we told him we would return the next day. Next we drove to.........

Another castle. This is the castle where a sleeping princess waits for the kiss of her prince after she pricks her finger. Sleeping Beauty's caslte, also known as Sababurg. It is surrounded by forests, where they even have a zoo of sorts. We walked around the grounds a bit, and ended up at a table on the terrace overlooking the acres surrounding the castle. We spent most of the day there just absorbing the beauty of the castle.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

We stayed in a castle, but not in Kassel

Sorry we are so behind on the blog. We have only been able to get on for a few minutes at a time. But we will try to catch everyone up as fast as possible.

After leaving Steinau, we drove a leisurely hour absorbing the beautiful German countryside towards our castle hotel, Schloss Romrod. We were very pleasantly surprised by how medievel yet modern it was. What a beautiful place to rest our head for the night! We enjoyed a light dinner in the courtyard of the Cuban restaurant at the castle. Oddly enough, we ate Cuban food two nights in a row in Germany. I cannot say that I have ever eaten Cuban food before, either. We wish we could have stayed longer, but we woke up the next morning, and the road was beckoning (after a breakfast buffet which luckily included croissants and nutella).

Our French mid-sized car hugged the narrow winding roads for a leisurely hour until we reached the town of Kassel. Once we reached Kassel the easy going driving was over, and there were trolley trackes, buses, motorcycles, bicycles, people, and more people everywhere! Driving there was not fun. Kassel is the town in which the Brothers Grimm compiled and edited their fairy tales and where they spent a good portion of their lives. It is the home of the Brothers Grimm Museum, which we had found out was closed online. We decided we would still stop by, take some pictures, and maybe convince someone to let us in since we did travel thousands of miles to see it.... We were pleasantly surprised to find a sign (in English!) directing us to a temporary Brothers Grimm exhibit, four blocks down the road. We trodded back up the street and were happy to find an excellent museum space, that had been set up with wonderful samples and information, and much of it was in English. We spent over an hour walking from one artifact to another. There were first editions of their fairy tale books in German and English, photographs and pictures, notes written by the brothers, and articles about them. One of my favorite parts though were big blow ups of recently taken photographs of fairy tales. There was a picture for Rumplestiltskin, Princess and the Frog, Sleeping Beauty, etc, but they were very modern and aritistic. We were able to purchase some excellent postcards and books from the museum, and the woman who worked there even gave us postcards of the modern fairy tale art pieces for free! Next we headed out to take pictures of the small Brothers Grimm statue outside of the exhibit.

I was ready to leave Kassel, but Eva convinced me that we needed to see Hercules. The thing to do in Kassel is to climb Hercules, which is a statue on top of a monument which is at the very top of a hill (or was it a mountain because that is what it felt like). We stopped at a restaurant and ordered some lunch to get the energy we would need for this strenuous task. We walked two minutes past the restaurant, and standing below it and gazing upwards at the small statue of Hercules all the way up that mountain, I got a crick in my neck, and I thought, "No way." I told Eva to have fun, and she could find me back at the restaurant when she was was done, but the next thing I know, I am huffing and puffing up the 49 flights (estimate) of stairs right along side her. We stopped after every two or three flights to take pictures (and catch our breath). Eva made it to the top, and I stopped right before the top once I looked at all the stairs I was going to be climbing DOWN for every step I went up.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

We wish we knew German

Today we said good-bye to Fulda, and drove to a town we had passed yesterday-Steinau. Luckily the places we wanted to go were both open because it was a German holiday. We had reservations to see The Bremen Town Musicians at the Marionette Theatre, so we pulled into the itty bitty town in the early afternoon and were very much charmed by what we saw. Small little streets, lined in timbered houses, punctuated with little cafes. Our first stop was the marionette theatre to pick up our tickets. The theatre was tiny, filled with lots of children and their parents. The performance began, and it has been awhile since I had heard the story, but I am not remembering any of what I am seeing, and it doesn't help that it is in German. Eva has never heard this Brothers Grimm story, so I am trying my best to translate some of the scenes, but know I am forgetting parts of the story. After the show is over, we purchase some postcards and finger puppets for our classrooms, and headed back to the streets to find the Brothers Grimm House.

It is a short block away, and we are super happy when we find it because it has 14 rooms FILLED with Brothers Grimm and fairy tale pictures, books, videos, artifacts, etc. Everything is labeled in German, so we are not 100 percent sure what everything is, but we do our best to figure it out. There was a lot of history about their family, many portraits that were sketched of their family, the kitchen was recreated with different tools, and several of the first and other editions of The Brothers Grimm fairy tales were on display in a case. There was a room for children to put on crowns that had headphones built into them, and they could listen to different fairy tales. There was a video montage of different versions of fairy tales, many of them Disney versions. They even had a display with Burger King toys that were fairy tale characters. We spent over an hour walking in and out of the rooms of the old house, where once the Brothers Grimm had lived, imagining them walking through the house themselves. When we were finished, we took some pictures outside (none were allowed inside unfortunately). They had a little garden with a couple fairy tale sculptures--the Princess and the Frog and the Seven Dwarfs. We really enjoyed learning about the Brothers Grimm, but wished we could have understood what was written so we could have learned even more. We walked back towards our car, but were stopped in our tracks by a cute ice cream parlor, where many people were lazily enjoying enormous sundaes and ice cream cones. When in Germany.... :)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Vroom, Vroom!

After a long train ride, we arrived in Frankfurt's train station. We grabbed some street food, and walked to the AVIS rental car desk where I was told that they had given our automatic car away because we were late. Just as I was about to burst into tears, the very nice representative said she had a bigger car that was an automatic that she would give me for the same price. Relief washed over me, since I haven't driven a stick shift in over 12 years, and definitely didn't want a refresher in Germany! We opted to pay extra for the GPS, and followed a man who worked for AVIS to our car, where he humored us with asking us questions about America such as, "Is America really different than here, or is really the same?" "Everything is bigger in American, no?" "You can be like a GI Joe Texas cowboy, right?" "Houston, we have a problem." Eva and I probably would have laughed, but we were both a little anxious about the car and driving. We reached our car, where he luckily changed the GPS language to English for us. It is a Laguna, very sleek. We put our bags in and then it was time to put the car into drive. I think Eva was saying a few prayers.

We drove out of the train station, and had about a 30 minute drive to Hanau, the beginning of the Fairy Tale Road. That part of the drive wasn't too bad, and I tried to stay out of all the race car driver's way. We found the castle where the Fairy Tale Festival was being held, parked the car, and walked the 20 minutes to the castle. The grounds were beautiful, filled with fountains and flowers everywhere. We took a tour of the castle hoping to see some artifacts from the Brothers Grimm, but were disappointed that most of it was artwork, with just a small room holding a few Brothers Grimm items. At the end of the tour, there is a lovely cafe that opens onto a terrace on the second floor that overlooks the gates and front of the castle. We enjoyed a coke and shared a slice of apple pie. But still did not see a festival anywhere in sight. We walked back towards the car and heard the music and clapping, but as soon as we got to the pavillion, hundreds of people were pouring out of it. Apparently we got there just in time for it to be over. The festival really just consisted of a performance (in German) of the Princess Frog and some food stands. We were disappointed that we missed it, but headed off in search of the next landmark to see in Hanau--the Brothers Grimm statue. After getting lost for about 30 minutes, we finally found someone who could help us, and we walked our exhausted selves over to the statue, which was really quite enormous. We took some pictures, then headed out, deciding to go to the hotel which was located in Fulda, only 45 minutes away or so.

The drive was spectacular, very green, lots of trees. When we arrived in Fulda, we were reenergized by what we saw. The town had a very medieval feel, with cute little cafes and churches, and yes--a castle. :) Our hotel was gorgeous, but we wasted no time walking back to town for a nice dinner at a Cuban cafe that played Salsa music and served pina coladas. In Germany. We ate a tortadillo, a wrap filled with all sorts of things, followed with a nighttime stroll through town. We ended the night watching a movie in German.

Stepping into the world of fairy tales

On Friday, we took a bus tour to visit two of King Ludwig's castles. It was a wonderful, but exhausting tour. We were up at 5:30 in the morning, ate a quick breakfast at Hotel Blauer Bock (highly reccomend them), and made a mad dash downtown to get on the bus. After a beautiful 2 hour drive through the Bavarian countryside, we arrived at Linderhof Palace--the only palace that was ever completed in Mad King Ludwig's time. The ground's were beautiful, and we had an excellent but short 30 minute tour of the upstairs of his palace. My favorite room was the Hall of Mirrors. Next we made a short stop at Oberammergau to do some shopping and found a few fairy tale souvenirs for our classrooms. Oberammergau is known for their woodworking, and it had some beautiful cuckoo clocks, none of which we could afford. :) One of our favorite parts of the drive was a road we drove down that had hundreds of painted houses, and there was a cluster of them that were painted with fairy tales. Wish we could have stopped to take some pictures and examine them some more! But we were on our way to the highlight of the tour--Neuschwanstein Castle! (We will try to upload pictures to this blog later today). We ate a quick lunch at Hotel Muller on the terrace, then raced to the bus that could drive you up to the top where Mary's Bridge was. After the bus dropped us off, we huffed and puffed our way up the rest of the way to the bridge. Stepping onto the creaky bridge was one of the most terrifying things I have done in my life! At first I walked only a few steps, and was perfectly happy staying right there, but once the bridge emptied out quite a bit, I finally had the courage to walk the whole length of the bridge, and I am glad I did. Eva was not afraid at all. We got some excellent photographs and what a spectacular view!!!
We hiked 20 minutes downhill to the castle and waited for our tour time. To me, the inside of the castle was pretty lackluster compared to the beauty and majesty of the outside. The tour lasted only 30 minutes, and then it was time for the 45 minute hike back down hill to the bus. Ouch--our calves! After we all piled in the bus it was time for an hour and a half nap on the way back to Munich. We ran back to our hotel to drop off our souvenirs, and then headed out for a wonderful dinner at an authentic Italian restaurant. We topped off our last night in Munich with a coffee sitting at a cafe in the shadows of the glockenspiel in the Marienplatz. What a day!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Today was not a fairy tale...(Thursday's post)

We left Houston at 3:45 pm, and after a 9 hour flight, arrived in London at 6:45 am. After going transfering terminals and clearing security again, we had a nice breakfast at the airport. Mmmm....italian coffee how I missed you! We had a 2 hour layover, then boarded the next plane for Munich. Did I mention that even though I had requested our seats months ago, we ended up not sitting beside eachother for both flights? It was probably better that way because I think we ended up getting more rest on the plane. We headed right for the ATM at the Munich airport, took out 300 euros and marched to the nearest taxi stand. We were heading for Dachau--luggage and all. This was the only opportunity we would have to get there. After the taxi driver loaded our luggage into the trunk and we had fastened our seatbelts, he asks us the address for Dachau. Address? No where in my guide book was there an address listed, and this taxi driver did not know where to go. So out we went, unloaded our luggage, as I frantically searched the guidebook again. Finally someone passed by, and the taxi driver asked him. He told him where to go, and we got back in the taxi. Dachau was approximately a 30 minute ride away, but I wasn't sure we were going to make it one piece with the taxi driver zigzagging and racing like he was trying to win a trophy at Indy 500. 57 euros later, we were there. Dachau was a very sombering experience, and definitely not a fairy tale way to begin our journey, but we are so glad we went. It is hard to describe what you see and experience when you walk where so many were tortured and killed. We are glad we went, but it was exhausting in every sense of the word, especially since we had just gotten off the plane.

Next we were on our way to tackle the subway and train system of Munich. We ran into a very nice family from California who helped us figure it out. An hour after we left Dachau, we were standing in Marienplatz, gazing up at the glockenspiel. Then we rolled our suitcases and backpacks (hmmm.....what happened to us traveling light?) through the streets about 4 blocks away to our hotel. We dumped our bags and headed out to Hofbrauhaus, a German beerhall. The weather was a bit chilly and damp, but we sat out on the balcony anyways and ate pretzels and bratwurst with sauerkraut. Then it was back to our hotel for 5 hours of sleep before out next day began.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Tomorrow, tomorrow--we leave tomorrow!

Well our bags are almost packed, and we are busily taking care of last minute things. We are limiting ourselves to one carry on sized suitcase on wheels, not because of baggage fees since we are allowed to check luggage for international flights, but because of ease of travel. Most of our travel advice and info comes from a man named Rick Steves. Do you know him? :) We will be purchasing things while we are there, but we will either ship things back or buy a backpack/suitcase while we are there and fill it with our treasures.

Many of the hotels we will be staying in will have wifi, so we are going to try our best to blog and update our facebook page every day. Many thanks go out to my niece, Katelyn, for lending us her mini netbook so we can skype to keep in touch with our friends and family back home and blog. Don't worry, I won't forget to bring back a little something for you in my suitcase. :o)

After our overnight flight tomorrow, we will arrive in Munich Thursday afternoon and rush as fast as we can to the nearest taxi stand. The taxi will be taking us to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Germany. We have to go right there because if we stop at our hotel first, we won't make it in time before it closes. It will be a strange and sobering way to begin our fairy tale journey, but we are both fascinated with World War II, and this will be a great learning experience for us.

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