Germany

This page will serve to journal the experiences of me and Germany.
1/21/2013
I went to a free concert in my town over the weekend. It was great.
It was actually an Art Festival, the second of it's kind in Ansbach. There was (is) an exhibit up in the mall; but most importantly there was almost 12 hours of free music. The music was at The Kammerspiele. Up until Saturday I thought the Kammerspiele was just a concert venue, but it is so much more. It is more like four venues, or hang outs. One spot is a club, one is a lounge, one is a theater, and one is a gallery. There is a spot to chill for people of any kind. 
In one night I saw a Brazilian drum band, a string quartet, some acoustic pop, and accordian ensemble, a blues band, and a DJ. 
I was most excited about the drum band. Batukeros; they were awesome. I can't explain why, but every time I see a German hippie (like with dreads and tye-dye) it cracks me up. I guess, in my head, this is a behavior I deem reserved for Americans. (I probably need to get over that) At any rate, Batukeros had a great sound; and they were fun to watch. They were a stage full of people banging on all sorts of drums, joined by a clapping audience, led by a man with a whistle. As a spectator you couldn't stand still. 
What I found most interesting about the evening was that the entertainment didn't discriminate. The line-up didn't follow, or over emphasize, one particular musical genre. The diversiry of the sounds also brought out quite a diverse crowd...and that's always good company. Typically German, there was plenty of beer, and a large grill outside full of delicious bratwurst and fresh rolls. Untypically German, I witnessed an entire night of musical performance and not once did I hear Country Roads...
thank goodness.
(No offense to John Denver.)

1/17/2013
It's been a year and a few days since we moved to Germany. It's true; time flies. It's amazing to reflect on how far I've come, how much I've learned, and how much I've adapted in only 369 days.
See those XC skis? I'm pretty sure we bought them this exact time last year. Upon our arrival to Ansbach it was snowing. Phil and I decided we wanted to be able to enjoy the snow in town; so the next day we went to the mall and bought two pairs of XC skis. Then, we never used them. It either didn't snow again, or we went snowboarding instead.
Luckily, we've seen some snow here as of late and I was able to christen the sticks on the anniversary of their purchase.
At first, I felt really dorky. I like snowboarding (as you know) and I like running; but I've never actually XC skied. When I put them on I didn't know what to do. Needless to say; I fell on my butt within the first two minutes of motion. I felt so uncoordinated...I am a bit uncoordinated. I couldn't get my legs and arms to sync. I had to think about my Jillian Michael's videotape segment; where we do an interval of XC ski motions. I also thought of a Nordictrack. I tried not to focus on the jogger or walker coming towards me down the path...probably staring...probably laughing.
Eventually I got the hang of it. It's fun touring around on the skis. You, obviously, go faster than you would just walking; and you have free rein to go on whose ever lawn (or field) you like. A year ago I would have called it trespassing (and would have been afraid of getting a citation or shot by a farmer) but now I don't think twice about it. Other than falling on my butt a couple of more times; I pulled a few additional rookie maneuvers. I forgot protective eye wear and something to cover my neck. I was acting like it was my first time in the snow. Really self? You're propelling yourself forward through falling snow and you don't even have sunglasses covering your eyes? Real smooth. And yes, you work up quite a sweat XC skiing, but it's still cold outside and your neck is still exposed. 
After I returned from my outdoor activity I shoveled my driveway for the second time. Then my landlord came over and we went to the hardware store together. He is building me a closet organizer. We spent a total of 2.5 hours together today. This is an incredible amount of time considering Hans doesn't speak any English. That means I spoke enough German this afternoon to pat myself on the back for. Talking to Hans is different than talking to Katharina and Ludwig. Sometimes I feel like Katharina can understand more English than I can German. But with Hans, it's just me and him...German or bust. When we first moved here, last February, I couldn't communicate with Hans at all; with the exception of smiles and hand gestures. It was, really, tripping me out to be discussing details of a closet, measuring, and shopping together. I'm actually going to say it was fun. I think if I had tried to do this a year ago it would have been agonizing. I think for the most part (since we arrived in Germany) I've been telling myself that I don't know enough about the culture, my town, or the language. I just keep charging ahead; trying to learn more and more. I quit that, for today at least. Sometimes you just have to stop, turn around, and acknowledge how far you've come.

12/26/2012
My Christmas is slowly coming to a close. It's three days long in Germany. Isn't that fabulous? I asked Katharina and Ludwig for their interpretation of the holiday. The 24th is for gift giving and celebrating. The three of us enjoyed Katharina's mulled wine, opened presents, and had dinner. The television was playing cozy Christmas tunes and scenes of a  roasting fireplace. I had never seen this channel before. I guess I never clicked the up-button on my remote that many times. My admitting this prompted my friends to give me a tour of our cable offerings. I'm glad they did. I have four news channels in English and never knew. Finding that out was a Christmas gift in itself. In addition I received another fur pelt from Ludwig. As you know I am always happy when gifts for me can double as supplies for my company and my hobbies. Their cat liked my gift box. Typical.
It is Katharina and Ludwig's tradition to eat sausage and sauerkraut on Christmas Eve. That is my kind of meal. I love sauerkraut. They bought everything we had that night from the butcher; house made. I was happy because I've been wanting to find homemade kraut. The sausages we had were a new kind of sausage for me. Of course I forget their German names. One was Weiswurst, but the other began with an S. Ludwig said it is a popular meat from East Germany. (Well, what was eastern Germany but is now Poland. So maybe now it is a popular Polish sausage) It was traditional any rate; the sausages, (they made me eat two because they said my waist could afford it) sauerkraut, fresh rolls with caraway, pretzels, and condiments. The assortment of condiments was as you would expect; horseradish, mayo, mustard, and Katharina's homemade cranberry jelly. It was made, of course, from berries Ludwig had picked in the woods. We drank some beer; special beer. Salvatore; it's made in Munich. There is a bit more alcohol in it. I guess you could call it a bock beer. I found it a bit on the sweet side. I told Ludwig it smelled like molasses. (I like molasses) I think he took it more as an insult to the beer. I didn't press the issue.
The Germans reserve the 25th for relaxing. Early in the day I saw many groups of people on long walks together. It was nice to see; a little exercise and fresh air before Christmas dinner #2. This is the day most people cook a bird. Katharina cooked a Goose. I didn't eat with them however. I spent the 25th with one of my American family friends. We had homemade pizza and watched Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I loved it because it reminded me of home. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is one of my family's favorite movies. Normally we reserve it for Easter, but Christmas and Easter have candy in common so I welcomed the entertainment. I would also like to add that pizza for Christmas dinner is a great idea. It is very green, white, and red; and nothing says party like pizza.
In Germany everything is still closed on the 26th. The exception to this are the restaurants that open for Christmas dinner #3. Keeping with our dining trend; Katharina, Ludwig, and I had Christmas lunch. The restaurant was packed and everyone was wearing their holiday best. I, myself, was even wearing a touch of velvet. Eating out for a holiday meal is a time of indulgence for many; we were no different. We traded our pork for beef; actually I traded it in for crispy duck. And once our main courses disappeared we ordered dessert. We never order dessert. I had vanilla ice cream with figs and honey over an orange fruit salad. Delightful. Equally as delightful was our wine. Yes, we traded our beers in for wine today; German wine. I gave our toast today. It's a family favorite that I, very pathetically, translated into German for Katharina and Ludwig. Smile if you've hung out with me, and my family, and have heard this one before...
May the best of your past be the worst of your future.”
I'll probably repeat this on New Year's.

12/20/2012

Today I visited my sixth Christmas market. The holiday spirit is alive and well inside of me; and today I fed it some Rothenberg. Before we left Ludwig said, “Why do you want to go to the Rothenberg Christmas market? It's always Christmas there. You don't have to go now.”
He's right. It does always look like Christmas in Rothenberg. You may remember from earlier photos and posts; Rothenberg is a beautiful medieval town not far from my house. The entire city is surrounded with a wall and towers. There is a beautiful church, plenty of cozy restaurants and cafes, and stores to buy Christmas decorations. Their market wasn't huge, but it was nice. Most importantly, they were serving up a flavor of Gluhwein that I have not tasted. It is made from a fruit called Quitten. I don't think we have anything similar in America. I get the feeling this Quitten is a German Winter fruit. Like in the US, the Orange and Grapefruit are popular in Winter here also. In addition, the Germans tend to enjoy Asian fruits during Christmas. On their coffee table Ludwig and Katharina keep a bowl of lichees; and I've seen a lot of pomegranites in the supermarket. Wanna know something cute? If you translated the German word for pomegranite, Grenadeapfel, into English it would be Grenade Apple. I think that word paints a funny mental picture.
Anyway, back to the market, the Quitten Gluhwein was good. I found it to be a bit less sweet than others (which I like) and maybe to have a bit more alchohal. (which I like) Also at this Christmas market you can purchase an American style hamburger to snack on. We didn't. Instead I bought a 6-pack. No, I didn't drink 6 beers there; I brought them home. At the Rothenberg Christmas market you can purchase 6's or singles of the local breweries Winter brew. I got excited and bought six. It was 10 euros; which is a bit more than one normally spends on beer in Germany. I didn't think about it until afterwards; 10 euros is about 13 dollars. $13 for a 6-pack? It better be good. I'll let you know.
There was also a gentleman there selling handmade combs and hair accessories from wood. They were beautiful; very chic. (or cool if you're a man) Katharina bought one for Ludwig. I think he'll like it.
As I mentioned yesterday. It's cold here. Today I had Hot Hands in my gloves again. Once they were nice and toasty I showed them to Katharina. She was surprised. I guess Germany does not have a similar product. She mentioned how Ludwig could really use them while hunting. I feel a bit silly that I never thought about it earlier. I gave her a few pairs to put in his Christmas stocking. If he gets addicted I may need to find him a state-side supplier.  

12/18/2012
Hoh man. Have you ever been to a finance office in a foreign country? No?
I have...I almost came to tears. I will admit to being slightly dramatic about the situation, but I got frustrated and I cry when I'm frustrated.
I've had Florida Scarf since 2007. It has moved over five times in its existence. When I found out we were moving to Germany I refused to let that be a catalyst for the termination of the business. I was confident that I could make it work, legitimately, no matter where we lived and no matter how hard I had to work. I knew I could keep Florida Scarf alive in the Army community; only selling to soldiers and their families. And while I appreciate this outlet of support; I have also always wanted to sell in Germany. I wanted to learn German, be in German stores, have sales online to other parts of the country and Europe, and maybe even attend a few German bazaars. As you have read some of these goals are in the process of turning up.
Either way; I had to register my business with the city of Ansbach, where I live. Registering the business was easy. The gentleman in the office that helps with that speaks a bit of English; which pairs nicely with my bit of German. I paid a nominal fee and filled out one form. The form was in English. The kind gentleman (who spoke a bit of English) informed me of the rest of the process. I would get a receipt in the mail. I would also be contacted, via post, by the finance office. He assured me that there wouldn't be much else I needed to do because my business didn't earn enough money to actually pay taxes. He had me believing I wouldn't be dealing with the tax office at all. I should have known that that was too easy.
The letters I received from the tax office were thicker than I had expected. They were forms and questionnaires needing to be filled out and returned. I tried for a couple of days to slowly pick away at the forms with the help of Google Translate. Google does surprisingly well with legal terms, but I was in the weeds. I went to the finance office's website to see if I could score the documents in English. No such luck. I decided I would need to visit the office.
I get to the finance building and I see the woman who is my tax officer. She is nice enough, but speaks no English. I attempt to convey my issue to her in German. She is very eager to reply, and help me; but she is speaking German and it is going right over my head. We're in her office. She is asking me the same question over again. I don't just want to shake my head yes (like I do in other places like the post office) because I don't want to agree to a false statement. I apologize. I tell her I don't understand. I really am sorry for wasting her time. I wish I knew more German; but legal...tax... finance...German terms? Am I ever going to learn these? At this point I was getting hot. I could feel the water welling up in my eyes. Why did I think this was going to work? I never should have registered my business. I should just forget it. Selling the scarves in Germany is going to be too hard. I'm upset. I feel dumb. And I'm double upset because I think it is supposed to snow this weekend and I really want to go snowboarding but I have resolved to wait for my husband to come home...you know...the one who moved us here in the first place. I should calm down. I like it here. I'm smart. I'm able......
My tax officer is looking at me and has stopped talking. I think she realized I was potentially getting upset. She asked me to hold on for a moment and she made a call. I think she was calling someone who spoke English that could help us. The funny thing is that her phone dropped the phone call twice while she was trying to get us help. She apologized for that too. I told her I didn't mind because I know my phone at home does the same thing. (I was actually relieved to see that that happens to Germans and not just Americans with phones in Germany.) Finally she brought me to the woman that spoke a bit of English and she helped me fill out my paperwork. I was so relieved. It was over. I had successfully filled out my tax forms. Not by myself of course; but I prefer my German form filling out to be with a touch of assistance.
When it was all over I was exhausted and apologetic. The woman assured me it was fine. Three great things happened; I survived, I gave out a business card, and I suggested that they have their forms and website translated into English. The last part, my suggestion, the woman agreed with. She wrote it out on a comment card and said she would pass it along; as they try to make improvements every new year. Maybe she was just fluffing me; but it made me feel important and I appreciated that.
When I got home I painted the ornaments I bought for Katharina and Ludwig, and Hans and Monica. It took me so much longer than I thought it would. They turned out quite lovely and I was excited to gift them. So, I put Katharina and Ludwig's Christmas basket together tonight and brought it up to them. They were happy to see me. They offered me a beer. I should have known, and not turned my oven on to warm up dinner. No matter what the time of day, they always offer me a beer. I can never say no. They were delightfully surprised by my gift. Also in the basket with the ornament were a few candy canes, and gourmet chocolate bar from Nuremberg, some vanilla extract I had made myself, and one bottle of Rogue Dead Guy. The beer was for Ludwig because he thinks all American beer is crap, but all he knows is Bud and Miller. I bought a case of the Dead Guy recently at the Class Six and have been excited to share it with him. Before gifting the bottle I made sure I went to the website and translated the beer style and its ingredients into German so that Ludwig would understand the kind of beer it is...and why I love it. The funny thing is Dead Guy is crafted in a German Maibock style and half of the hops used are from Munich. It's now obvious to me why it was allowed to be sold at our beer store...and obvious that Ludwig is going to enjoy it. 

12/11/2012
I was decorating the DFAC today for Christmas. Not alone; I was with the girls from the Ansbach Spouse's and Civilian's Club. As we separated dry beans by color and filled jars with ornaments that sparkle; we chatted about life. As Army wives we can be very busy working, decorating, event planning, fundraising, taking care of our kids, our pets, husbands, husband's coworkers, and fellow wives. The list is long and life is busy. When you are a single girl, while life remains busy, the list is not so long. In Europe that leaves more time for vacation. The girls asked me where I've been traveling. I started to talk about the regular (tourist) places I've been. My list isn't terribly long. As I continued to talk I found myself realizing something I've already known. Yes, I am here to see new things; but I am also here to do the same things I've always done, but in a new country and a new way. That is more the exploration for me...how close can I get to real life in a new life. Currently it is less about how many sights I've seen, and more about how many things I have done that I typically do. This explains the journaling about crossing the street, going to the post office, the dentist, craft bazaars, and making mistakes while trying to be normal.
Last night I went to a small film festival. It certainly wasn't my first film festival. I enjoy them for the variety of subject matter, artistic expression, and supporting projects with small budgets. I have tended to frequent the sports industry's film showings. (I think you all know I love outdoor sports.) When a friend invited me to a Mammut and Gore Tex hosted event, I couldn't resist.
Yesterday it was a series of short films from American, Australian, and European filmmakers, with outdoor themes. I was excited to see the films and partake in a familiar activity, far from home. I was relieved that many of the movies were in English. I may have shorted a fuse on three hours of movies in German. Most of the movies were fun to watch; some had more somber themes. My favorite was about a couple of Australian brothers and their attempts at crossing Victoria Island. Another that I really enjoyed was about Andy Lewis. I didn't know him before last night, but he is some hippie-climber-slack liner-psycho. I guarantee you can YouTube him, if you are interested. Another film was about a French girl who hiked her band to the top of a mountain to play a concert thousands, and thousands, of feet in the sky. The thread that bound all of these films together was exploration, and the thirst for challenge and adventure. All of the characters (athletes) in the movies were so different; and yet had so many things in common. I felt like I even had things in common with them. I'm sure many people in the audience did. Who we saw up on the screen though; they are the lucky ones. They are the 5% of society that dreams...dreams big...decides to go for it...doesn't let anything stop them...let their dreams turn into nightmares...and then turn into reality.

12/09/2012
After the bazaar I met up with a new friend that I haven't seen in 3 months. It was fun. Thanks to her, on Saturday I rode the German subway for the first time, ate Flammkuchen (German flatbread pizza with no sauce, light on the cheese, heavy on the chorizo) for the first time, and visited the Nürnberg Christmas market for the first time. I can see why people say this, Nürnberg market, is the best. It is huge. The entire city glows at night, under its lights. The entire city also smells of mulled wine, gingerbread, and roasting nuts. (Oh, and grilled sausage too.) It is amazing how much time I (and all Germans) have been spending outside. It's freezing! But it is so beautiful, and the markets provide such a splendid atmosphere; that one can't help but visit (and stay for a Glühwein) over and over again. Saturday night it was 12 degrees Fahrenheit! It does not need to go without say that I was wearing two pairs of pants, two shirts, a tie, a jacket, a hat, a hood, gloves, and boots. And; I had hand warmers in my gloves and boots. It has become painfully obvious to me that I will refuse to let cold, or an aversion to the cold, prevent me from getting out and around.
My friend and I left the market at a reasonable hour. I rode the U-bahn (subway) back to my car in a parking garage at Fürth. I found the garage again, no problem...but it was locked down! I was immediately having flashbacks to my night in Wiesbaden when I was trapped in the garage. Despite my panic, the cold, the dark, me on the street, and my car behind a locked gate in a cement building; I stayed calm. The sign upon driving in had clearly stated that it was a 24 hour parking garage. Now, there were many (other) signs near the closed garage door...none of them simple to read. I also notice something that looked like a credit card swipe, a button for an attendant, and a door for a person to fit through. I paid for my parking at the machine, then I approached the (people) door and tried to walk through. It was locked. I stared at the door, and the garage door, for what felt like ten minutes. I'm sure it couldn't have been that long as it was too cold for all of that. At a loss for a good idea, I turned toward the verbose German signs and tried to figure them out. It appeared to me that the sign was telling me to swipe the paid ticket through the credit card looking slot. I did. Nothing happened. I did it again, two more times, and tried the door. It was still locked. I thought of pushing the attendant's button, but I didn't want to be an idiot. There were people walking to the garage. “Thank goodness” I thought to myself. I was able to explain to them that I couldn't figure out how to get in. They explained to me that in order to get in you have to pay, then press the attendant button, tell the attendant you paid, then the attendant unlocks the door (from their office) and then you can get in. After you get in your car, as you drive toward the garage door sensors will open it, then you put your ticket in the slot to open the arm guard, then you can drive out. Gheesh. It wasn't too traumatizing, but it was another first for me. It got my blood pumping at least; which was good because it was cold.
It continues to amaze me how different the little (and simple) things can be from country to country; and it requires a lot of brain power (maybe common sense) to negotiate all of these situations.
My drive home was fine. I sailed down and around the windy back roads from Fürth to Ansbach. When I say sailed, I mean sailboat speed as opposed to speed boat speed. The German roads are pitch black at night. No kidding, you can only see up to the fourth road hash in front of you. The speed limit changes almost every 50 feet; depending on whether you are entering a turn, exiting a turn, or driving through a town. I, of course, go one speed...slow.


12/07/12
It's snowing again. I'm inside my warm kitchen baking gingerbread cookies. I just got back from a Christmas piano recital. Isn't that classic?
I had sausage and spaghetti tonight for dinner. A friend of Ludwig's is a butcher. He made the sausage. I'm fortunate that Katharina and Ludwig think to share things (like that) with me. I also saw their Christmas decorations today. They have a nativity scene that Ludwig made himself with wood. They bought the figurines, but he built the house. It is adorable. Every year he gets fresh moss and stones from the woods to redecorate the roof and parts of the ground. It's got a big shooting star on the front painted gold. He is very proud of it. Ludwig also made all of the ornaments for the Christmas tree out of wood and painted them. There are stars, hearts, candles, and sleds. They are precious. I think it's inspiring to see people put such effort and labor into the enjoyment of their lives.
I rode the train to Bamberg yesterday. I finally went to some German breweries. The beer was the best I've had yet in Germany. The first brewery we stopped at was called Schlenkerla. It's the most famous one in Bamberg. It's building is from 1405, but the brewery dates back to 1678. The beer they are most known for is their smoked beer. It is very dark and earthy. It tastes a lot like a campfire. I absolutely loved it. If you ask around you'll find that this beer gets mixed reviews. One person told me it tastes like bacon. Another person said it tastes like there is a burnt log in it. Both of these opinions are not far from what I found to be true. The drinking rooms at Schlenkerla have a wonderfully traditional ambiance. I could have sat snugly in the corner of this brewery sipping beer and snacking on German bread with onions and Camembert for a long while. I only had one beer however; there was more to see. Next we stopped at the Brewery Fässla. This brewery dates back to 1649. Their logo is a dwarf. I think it is a pretty goofy logo for a beer, but it was endearing. This brewery wasn't as cozy as the first, but it was still fun. We drank a lager and something else that was darker. I can't remember the name of my second beer. This brewery had three or four options for beers to drink. It was a refreshing change; all of the restaurants around me normally only offer Pils or Heffeweisen.
After the breweries we ate at Bamberg's original Vegetarian restaurant since 2000. I find this conception date to be pretty impressive considering the amount of meat that is consumed in Germany. Our dinner was lovely and the service was excellent. Again, I'm pretty sure it was the owner who served the guests. He was incredibly gracious. He took a lot of time to suggest items for dinner and get to know us. He introduced us to a group of people sitting at a table next to us. They were Bamberg's Vegetarian Club. They meet monthly at The Kurbiskorn. This is the name of the restaurant. It means pumpkin seed. Lucky for us, last night was their night.
It snowed intermittently throughout the day in Bamberg yesterday too. The magic created by snow makes Germany even more lovable.

12/05/2012
I tried Glühbier this evening. It's fabulous! If you're in my area go to the Ansbach Christmas Market and get it. You won't believe this, but it's actually made with Belgian beer; not German! It's the first time I've been served beer in Germany that wasn't made in Germany. The beer is Liefman; I think. It's mulled with cherries and served hot. I believe I prefer it to the wine.
After my happy hour (third trip to the Christmas Market) I had dinner at the Balkan restaurant in town. The restaurant is just out of town; not in the middle of things. I guess by that I mean, it is behind the mall. It's called Dubrovnik. Here's the website
The restaurant is incredibly cute and cozy. The owner/host/waiter is cute and cozy too. He smiles a lot, is very attentive, and tells you what to order. To start he handed my friend and I menus in German. He heard us speaking English and offered us English menus. We declined. Then as I tried to figure out what the offerings were I realised it would be impossible for me to read a mixture of German and Balkan food terms. (or Russian, or whatever language the menu was written in) I didn't want to order something I wouldn't eat. So, with my tail between my legs, I asked for the English menu.....but when I asked I asked in German. (at least I felt better about that)
I ordered wine too. I like dry wine. When I ordered the driest wine on the menu the waiter advised me against it. He thought maybe it would be too dry for me. He said people order it and don't like it. So I went with his, less dry, suggestion. I liked it so I was happy, but when I go back I will get the really dry one. I think I'm ready to make that leap...into dry.dry.dry. Balkan wine. For dinner I had pork and beans. It was great. It was the big white beans (that I don't know the name of) and pork medallions on a kebab. On the menu it said assorted meat kebabs, but all I got was swine. It was good, so I'm OK with it. It was a change from the normal pork and potatoes at least. When I go back I will be a bit more brave with my order; maybe beef and beans...Look Out!
After dinner, as we were leaving, the owner had a tray of gold wrapped chocolates on a tray for us to choose from. He was so sweet. He let us take two. I told him my dental hygienist is going to yell at me next week. He told me to brush harder.

12/04/2012

Today I took down the wreath (that I love) that hangs on my door. I have a new, seasonal, ornament on my front door. It is a pine tree branch. Ludwig went hunting and brought some branches back for me and Katharina. I decorated mine with a few balls I had lying in the craft bin and proudly hung it on my door. Adding my own personal touches to the branch really gives the traditional decoration some zing. (and by zing I mean thrift store appeal) A fresh tree branch hung on your door for Christmas must be a German (or European) thing. I think in the States we normally just stick to the wreath. I wonder if there is a difference.
Tomorrow night is the night St. Niklaus comes around. All of the kids will leave their shoes just outside their front doors. In the middle of the night St. Niklaus will fill them with lots of chocolate and candy. I think it is a great kick-off to the holiday season. Katharina and Ludwig always leave their mud shoes outside their front door. I have toyed with the idea of dropping candy in them....but they may not get the joke.
Ludwig has been hunting up a storm. Snow is good for that he says. A hunter can just follow the tracks. I have a little statue rabbit outside. She is standing on two legs and is dressed in human clothing. I'm glad for this. While she may get punked by the cat, Ludwig won't try and shoot her. Phil thinks it is creepy, but I love it. The rabbit is casted in ceramic and hand painted. My grandmother made it when she (and my grandfather) were stationed in Japan. There's nothing Asian about the statue, or military for that matter. It's just a bit of a back story that I find connection with. My rabbit girl has a new friend. It's a mushroom statue. It reads “Gluk Pilz.” It means “lucky mushroom.” I bought it on sale at the supermarket. You can get tons of junk like that at our supermarkets. At home I preffered my supermarkets to only sell groceries. I was never a fan of large stores that sold clothes, groceries, eyeglasses, and haircuts. I found it creepy. In Germany all of the grocery stores are like that. Now I am used to it. This is not the first time Germany has rid me of one of my preferences. You just can't be critical if you are going to enjoy your environment. I hope to one day have a yard full of tchotchky I bought at the grocery store. Doesn't it sound delightfully tacky?
I hope my yard tchotchky is enjoying the weather just as much as I am. It snowed again today. Most of the rabbit's face was covered by snow. On the parts that weren't I could see a hint of enjoyment in her freeze. I feel like there are endless possibilities to Winter. It's a secret world open only to those who open their hearts and minds to the idea of a frozen wonderland.
I haven't put up a Christmas tree. I'm waiting until Phil gets home. I have made some new Winter decorations though. If you've been to my Etsy shop lately you may have noticed them in the background of some of my photos. I (like everyone else) was inspired by some things I saw on Pinterest. The idea was to go into the woods, pick up sticks, dry them, then glue sparkles all over the branches so they appear to be covered in glittery snow. Here's the idea. 
In the directions it actually tells you to buy a particular kind of glitter. It is similar to tiny pieces of broken glass; it is tiny pieces of broken glass. It looks pretty in the container but I think it could be pretty deadly. 
I'm not so sure mine turned out as intended. I'm hoping I don't step on any loose shards of glass that didn't glue to my branches. I think mine is uglier than the example photo.  I jammed the sticks into empty wine bottles and jars anyway, and hung what ornaments I had on them. Now I rather like them. They are cute, in that hideous, pathetic, Charlie Brown tree way. Now all I need is one of those Yankee Candles that smell exactly like a real pine tree and I'll be set. 


12/02/2012
Every town in Germany has a Christmas market; even if for only one weekend. There are beautiful lights, Christmas Pyramids, caroling, pine trees, bonfires, mulled wine, and gingerbread. It's a fairy tale. The Winter holidays bring out the very best in craftsmanship and decorating. I love that people dress up their houses and shops, and make them smell wonderful. It's a huge effort; this dedication to celebrating. There are parties, festivals, and shopping events calling us all out of our cozy homes. We dress up (or dress like Eskimos) to partake in the merriment.
I have taken three trips to two different Christmas markets. If I had enough time, and ambition, I could probably go to a new Christmas market everyday of December. While I do have plans to visit a few more, I don't think I'll go too crazy. I have tasted three different kinds of Glühwein (mulled wine) and one Lumumba. Lumumba is hot chocolate with rum. My favorite wine has been from sour cherries. I have yet to try the Glühbier. I'm a bit skeptical about hot beer, but it's more about the adventure. These markets transform our normal towns and cities into something magical. Without living here, and experiencing it, I think it would be hard to imagine how fabulous a site it actually is. There are stands set up down every street. They are little wooden cabins where visitors can purchase gifts galore. Vendors sell everything from furs and skins, to wine, liquor, honey, and candles. If you can avoid the temptation of shopping, it will have weakened you just enough that you will not be able to resist a drink and a warm cookie...or a bratwurst...or a fresh roasted chestnut. The fresh roasted chestnuts were new for me. I had high hopes; as I do thoroughly enjoy other versions of roasted nuts. The chestnut however, is of special taste and texture. I have satisfied my curiosity and will not be "festing" on roasted chestnuts any near future. I'll stick to Glühwein and crepes.
11/27/2012
I went to the German dentist today. I was anxious, so I left 30 minutes early even though the office was 2km from my house. I'm lucky I did. It took me five minutes to get there and 20 minutes to park. The office is in a medical complex.... I mean a madhouse.
The actual dentist office, itself, was the most impressive I've ever seen. I snuck a picture of the space-age waiting room. I walked up, for check in, to a receptionist counter covered in metallic snakeskin vinyl. Hello! I wanted to compliment them on it, but I felt dorky. Unlike in America, you see the German dentist first, then the hygienist. As I laid back in the chair I couldn't help but be impressed by the flat screen over my head. Unfortunately it was not turned on for me. I was daydreaming during my x-rays that it played Little Shop of Horror on a loop.
The dentist was so nice, I'd even say he was cool; the hygienist is a different story. I don't want to say she was mean, because I would sound like a crybaby. I'm going to say she was insensitive and unfriendly. That way I only sound like a spoiled brat. (I think being a brat is better than being a baby.) She said things like, “This is the best your teeth have ever been cleaned.” and “It is obvious you do not floss regularly or brush correctly.” As I was receiving these (what I deemed to be) insults I was getting self conscious. I felt like, for the first time, I was being attacked in the dentist office. Then I remembered that I forgot to brush before I went to the appointment. Don't get me wrong. I brushed my teeth when I woke up, but I didn't brush again before I left; which is after I had a bowl of cereal. Would that make a big difference? I don't know. Then I almost laughed because I remembered how I forgot to buy soap last week. Maybe this girl was a mind reader and she knew how gross the single me can be.
To make the situation more frustrating I have sensitive teeth. She would hit them, or squirt them in the wrong place and I would flinch. She got exasperated and said,”Look. If you had problems you should have told me before I started. This is serious. This (as she shakes the tool in her hand) is a tool. I could injure you with it.”
I wanted to say, “Are you threatening me, Bungholio?” But I didn't.
I apologized politely and stopped flinching like a sissy. When this, the best teeth cleaning of my life had ceased I wanted to thank her for her service and unthank her for her attitude. I didn't do either. I just left and scheduled myself for my next visit...two weeks from now when they will replace three fillings I have that are apparently cracked and inappropriate. I should either be relieved to be in good hands, or apprehensive about my dental reconstruction I am about to undergo. I'm exaggerating. I'm sure everything will be fine. The next time a situation like that happens I am going to think to myself, "What would Ludwig do?"

11/24/2012
This needs no reporting, but I had a splendid time with Katharina today. It's amazing where conversations go between two people that seemingly have not much in common. She was pretty bummed about Larry Hagman dying. It took me a solid ten minutes to figure out who he was. Katharina could not remember the name of the television show he was on ...Dynasty. I finally figured it out. We also have another couple of favorite shows in common; I Dream of Genie is one of them. Who doesn't love the Classics? From her, I learned a couple of new German words and phrases...addiction...shut your mouth. And, in turn, I taught her some new words in English...elevator (which she loves because it sounds like alligator)...and exhausting. Sounds random, right? It wasn't at the time. I packed lunch for us today. She ate it, but I don't think it would have been her first first choice. Our sandwich was lettuce, cheese, and mustard. She prefers ham, pickle, cheese, egg and butter. I also served up carrot sticks and grapes. The only redeeming quality to our lunch was that I got the sparkling water part correct.
I'm only sad that Ludwig did not hang with us today. He's been on an all day, rabbit hunting fest. I'm not sure I quite understand, but it sounds like some traditional (antiquated) activity; where all of the hunters go out on the same fields and hunt together. By then end of the day there are hundreds of dead rabbits to be cleaned. The women are at home with this situation and the men are sitting, drinking, and recapping the day's hard work. I can't wait to hear all about it soon.


11/21/2012
My husband really likes the car to be washed. I hate it; but since I miss him I decided to clean the car for him. I was not about to do it myself. I took it to the drive-thru. While I Was waiting I realized that I was one of five cars owned by Americans in line. There were no cars with German owners. I laughed. What is it with Americans and our cars? I'll never know, but I will add this...The day that I remembered to wash the car was the same day I forgot to buy myself more soap. For the first time, in my whole life, I let my shower run out of soap with no back up. How gross is that? I know why it happened; because I'm single. No married woman lets that happen in her house. I've been realizing that the single me is much dirtier than the married me.
Speaking of soap, I had an amusing episode in the coffee shop recently. I used their bathroom. There was no handsoap. When I reported this to the worker I said it in German. I messed up one word and ended up saying, “There is no mustard in your bathroom.” She politely repeated what I said back to me but inserted the correct word for soap, Seife. After that she only spoke English to me. It took me all day to realize what Senf meant. Mustard. Of course there was no mustard in the bathroom. Who keeps mustard in a bathroom?

11/18/2012
I went to a Jazz concert Saturday night in my city, Ansbach. It was at R3, the art gallery in the Reitbahn. Great news; I wasn't the only American there. For once in my life black and white had made gray. Two things that have nothing to do with one another had blended a bit. We all gathered to hear Dieter Köhnlein's piano solo. I didn't know anything about the musician before going, and still don't really now. Unfortunately, my German just isn't that good. I can tell you he wears glasses in real life, unlike in his poster. I also now know that he is quite a comedian. In between each song he would say a few words. He scored laughs and smiles every time. The laughs came from the people who understood what he was saying. The smiles came from me. I had no business laughing. His piano playing was awesome. I have to say I think this was the first time I have heard Jazz piano played live. It is astounding the sounds that can be produced by one person on the instrument. The musician would absolutely pound on the keys. The sound coming out made it seem like he had more than ten fingers. A couple of times I thought he was going to bring the house down. I later came to learn that there is actually volume on a piano, and you can adjust it. This explains the moments of intensity. He would hit his keys so rapidly, and for so long. I'm surprised his arms didn't fall off. Once a particular piece would culminate he'd push down on the keys for the last time and the momentum would force the rest of his body into the air. He would be flung back from the instrument and have to turn his back to us quickly and face the wall to catch his breath and wipe the sweat off his brow. It was impressive. He was like a rock star...like a bald rock star...with glasses...his shirt buttoned all the way up...and a sport coat. Come to think of it, maybe he was just a dramatic pianist...and Dick Dale is like a dramatic pianist with a pony tale...jeans...a snarled expression...and a fringe vest...'know what I mean?
I think Dieter mostly played his own music, but my favorite song was a cover of a Chick Corea song, White as a Feather. It was beautiful. I found it a bit more melodic than some of his other numbers. The manner in which the notes of this song flowed from the piano made me think of Christmas. I'm not sure why, but I could see behind him to the window of the gallery and I was wishing that it was snowing. Do you ever get that feeling? You are so relaxed, and things just seem so precious, that you feel like if it were snowing it would just really seal the deal. Imagine, you're in an art gallery with 150 other people, all seated quite intimately around a black grand piano, the lights above your head are illuminated and all of the surrounding lights are off, you're all tuned in together to a passionate musician with his head and his hands slung over the piano, but you are all also out traveling around in your own imaginations as you listen and dream. It's warm inside, freezing cold outside, and it's almost Thanksgiving. There's frost on the windows...and it's snowing.
Now picture it all again but without the snow. It just doesn't seem right, does it?

11/8/2012
I got an early start this morning. So did Ludwig. We had a “howdy neighbor” chat before we got in our cars. Ludwig went fishing today; it was the perfect weather. I was doing Army work. “But you are not a soldier”, Ludwig said.
I know, but when you are married to a soldier you're in the Army”, I said. Ludwig chuckled and told me I'd make a great soldier. He showed me his new fishing pole. It's a craft pole in German. I guess craft means power. He said his car was a craftwagon. I said,"I know wagon. I have one too, but mine is a sportwagon." 
He said, "In that case I have a hunterwagon." We laughed, wished one another a good day, and got into our respective cars.
Normally I wouldn't think a conversation like this is very noteworthy, but considering it all went down in German, I do.
My life is becoming more, and more, a blend of German life and Army life. When your husband is a soldier there are many opportunities for you to join in the Army community. It is also quite appealing when you live in another country. Being around other Americans makes you feel (a bit) at home. It is also great to have friends, and acquaintances going through the same issues and emotions that you are. At this point in my life, and my husbands career, I find myself donating lots of time and energy to the success of 2-3 Army programs designed to support and assist people like me. It's fun, and I get to meet so many wonderful people. The problem is that participation is like quicksand. Once you step in it, you are liable to get stuck, get sucked down, and never return. I don't want to sound like I don't enjoy the things I do; because I always have fun. I tease because it is a common joke among us volunteers.
In order to maintain balance in my life, and not lose my identity, I always make time in my schedule for the activities that are mine; like learning German, traveling, painting, and sewing. My father-in-law taught me that you have to “pay yourself first.” Of course, he was talking about money and saving some before you spend some, but I think it relates perfectly to this.
I now live by a calendar. In every new month, I “pay myself first” to make sure I schedule enough time for the activities I adore. I think if I can be schedule savvy, then I should always find time for enough of the other (volunteering) stuff.
In addition to my new Army project I have a new Florida Scarf project; well maybe two Florida Scarf projects. For the first project I am a bit hands-off. My good buddy, Laura Ferioli, is helping me with a new website. I hope to be able to have my writing more organized, in separate blogs but under one website. This website will also connect to my Etsy shops and contain a pictoral history of my work. I hope Laura knows what she got herself into. I think it's going to be a lot of work. I'll keep you posted on the process.
Who's Laura? She's my friend and she does a bunch of her own creative work. She did my postcards, business cards, and stickers. You can find her at www.lauraferioli.com and www.feriolifoto.com
My second Florida Scarf project is selling in Germany! I'm excited and terrified. I didn't think this day would come so quickly. I got an invitation yesterday to participate in a bazaar in a city 45 minutes from here, Fürth. It's just outside of Nürmberg. I immediately said yes, and then started contemplating all the details. Since then I have been applying for registration, researching, and working out issues like paying taxes...and to whom. Then there is the ever-present issue of a language barrier. I got that covered already though, Katharina is coming with me. I hope she likes my scarves, because that what she'll get for her time and trouble. She promised me that she is happy to help. She thinks sales are fun and people are interesting...Thank God!
It may be a bumpy road, but I think it's going to take me on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. I will also keep you posted on how this goes.


11/04/2012

Somehow I constantly find myself traveling back to Würzburg, Germany. I must love that city. Rightfully so; there's a lot to love. This past Friday, a few friends, and friends of friends, and I hopped on the train to Würzburg in search of history, maybe hidden treasure, wine, and a good time. I'm pretty sure we found it.
There were 13 girls that went; and how we ended up together was pretty serendipitous. While I hosted the trip; I don't think I even knew half of them. I invited some friends and they invited their friends. Whoever ended up on the train was who's company we would enjoy. The stars aligned. Our group got along well. The wine tasting was a ten minute walk from the train station. We turned it into a 30 minute walk to do a little sight-seeing on the way. The wine tour and tasting was at the Juliusspital. It is a hospital (of sorts) that was begun in the 16th century by whoever was King at the time. His first name was (obviously) Julius. The hospital was designed to benefit the sick, the elderly, and the orphaned. No matter what a person's background (or situation) the King wanted his people to have a place to go if they needed help. The funding for his institution would come from agriculture and wine. The Juliusspital owns the second largest winery in Germany. The hospital, and the winery, and the farms, have never stopped since their beginning. I find that quite impressive. It must have been run by some hard working, savvy, people.
We toured the hospital grounds; and glimpsed a few of the hospital's 35 buildings. Then we went underground...to the cellar. It was amazing down there...and surprisingly warm. The cellar was basically a long (250 meters long) stone walkway lined with gigantic, hand carved oak barrels full of wine. It was Gothic, but elegant, not creepy. Our tour guide was quite informative and we tasted two wines. The first was a Rotling (Rosé). I always think they are going to be sweet, but the German ones (at least) never are. I liked it. The second wine was very dry; a Silvana I think. It only had 1% sugar. It was nice, but not as easy-drinking as the first. We discussed the differences of the two; in production, taste, and quality. Mr Karl, our guide, also schooled us on cork v. screw cap, bottle shapes, and cuveés. It's fun to see how things are made and learn their history.
We left the tour feeling a bit lighter than when we had entered and headed for a bit of lunch. If 13 people can decide where to eat they're in luck. If those 13 people can actually find a place to fit at lunchtime on a Friday it's a miracle. It was about this time that, I guess, our luck would start to dwindle. We ended up going a few separate ways. The group that I stuck with grabbed a quick bratwurst sandwich at the market and ran back to the station to get the 13:41 train. We didn't make it. Missing trains is starting to be standard issue for me in Germany. Luckily, you can kill an hour pretty quickly by going to the bathroom and getting a cup of coffee. The ride home was just as fun as the ride there. We all became friends on Facebook and promised to Wine-Tour again soon in the future. I hope it happens.
On Saturday my neighbor had an art opening at her gallery downtown. I went and checked it out. She always has an interesting array of work on display. The gallery is big too, so there is a lot to look at. The opening was complete with wine and appetizers. There was also live music. It was cool; just a guitarist, his voice, and his harmonica. I thought he was a bit Neil Young-ish...as Neil Youngish as a German could be. Surprisingly, to me, my favorite pieces in this show were small cartoon drawings in India Ink. It was a series depicting a man, a tree, and sometimes another man. There was something funny and lonely (but lonely in a good way) about them.
Oh! I almost forgot. There was an awesome painting there by a girl from Fürth. She had three glass panels on which she painted with acrylic. They had this weird, mixed scene of helicopters, trekking, a cute gasthaus, and chairlifts from a ski resort. The chairlifts looked a lot like the gondolas at Sölden (in Austria) to me. I can say that because I, myself, have taken lots of photos of the gondolas at Sölden. (and everywhere else I have skied) As you all may know, I paint chairlifts too. I was excited to see her version of our shared inspiration.
When I got home Ludwig was just returning from Hunting. It's nice for him now that it gets darker earlier. He can come home at a decent time. He was hoping for a deer Saturday night, but only came home with an empty hand. He and Katharina invited me to lunch again on Sunday and I gladly accepted. I don't want to bust their Sunday groove, but I enjoy the routine.
Oh! Did I mention Katharina came on the wine tasting trip? How cool is that? Of course, all of my other girlfriends loved her. What's not to love? Before we went to lunch I showed her our pictures from Friday. She and Ludwig both really enjoyed them.
We ate lunch at another new restaurant, for me. It's called the Neue Post, and it's in Leutershausen. It got its name because it used to be a popular hotel for postal workers, back when the mail was delivered via horse and carriage. It's been newly renovated so Katharina & Ludwig wanted to check it out. Upon inspection, they said the restaurant wasn't much different than it used to be, maybe just a new coat of paint, but the food was just as good as ever. I thought the menu was impressive. There were a lot of dishes I have never tried. For instance, instead of regular swine you can order Wild Swine; hand caught and local. They also have Damhirsch, which is meat from a large deer. Normally we are used to restaurants serving Reh, which is the small deer; smaller than a rabbit almost. This afternoon I skipped the game and went straight to the fowl. I found Fasanen on the menu. When I asked what it was Ludwig looked at me like, “duh, it's pheasant.” I would never have known. We don't really eat pheasant in Jersey. I decided to give it a whirl. I hate to be cliché, but I thought it tasted like chicken. Actually I thought it tasted like over cooked chicken. I was honest when Ludwig asked how I liked it. The plum sauce and the seasonings were nice, but I would have liked a bit more moisture to the meat. Katharina said maybe it was an old bird. The old ones can be tougher. We laughed. I also read something on the menu called Shülze. K&L explained that it was a gelatinous spread for bread and you eat it with cold cuts; like an appetizer. I didn't order it. I'm just not ready for savory jello yet. That got us on a conversation about eating pig's feet, snout, and ears. I said I never had. Katharina admitted to eating it, when she lived on a farm as a little girl. (If you remember, one little girl of 15 siblings! They probably had to eat every part of whatever they had. Gheesh.) Ludwig said, “What's the big deal? Americans eat worse than that. They eat squirrel and chicken feet.” I said, “Maybe, but not regularly. I bet just as many Germans would eat chicken feet as Americans.” That ended that discussion. We went back to discussing a topic we could agree on; not eating, hunting. Hare season has started. Ludwig will hunt them as Christmas gets closer. It's what he and Katharina do for Christmas dinner. Honestly, I hope I'm invited. Not to hunt but to eat; I like Hare.

10/27/2012
This is the first time I have ever lived somewhere and had snow before Halloween. I can't tell you how excited I am. I hope this is a good sign for a snowy Winter. I am looking forward to massive amounts of snowboarding. I also like to use Winter as a good excuse to get out and get to some Museums. I have been refraining the entire Summer from indoor activities, for the most part. I think it will soon pay off.
This is also the first time I have lived somewhere with such an awful Internet connection. I am coming to you, again, live from the library on Post because my connection doesn't work at home. It's a bummer; and I need to fix the situation.
In actuality, I've had a lot of firsts this week. I went to my first art supply store and my first (real) fabric store. They were both in Nuremberg. While in Nuremberg I also visited my first German vegetarian-organic bakery, big-city second hand shops, and parking garage.
Parking in Nuremberg costs 1 euro per hour. Who do they think they are? New York?
The fabric store was pretty trippy too. It was a small corner shop. When I stepped in I thought I had time traveled back to the late seventies (maybe early eighties) based on the owner's style and the architecture. The fabric and buttons were awesome though. I didn't buy anything. I was too intimidated by the prices. I think I'll go bakc, but I had to go home and crunch some numbers. The best part of the store was that they had sweater material by the bolt. This is appealing to me because it would mean that I don't always have to cut up old sweaters for Flo Sca. The bummer is that the sweater fabric ranged between 25 and 35 Euro per yard. How intense is that? The store also had some great wool fabrics I may take advantage of for next year.
The art store was pretty disappointing. I wanted them to have fabulous, thick, wooden stretcher bars and a range of thick canvas for sale by the bolt; for my paintings. They didn't; all they had were thin frames and student-quality canvas. I'm past that. If that is all I'm going to be able to find in-land for supplies I may be forced back to Internet shopping. I'm glad I went to Idee though. I had to, at least, see it; and I was lucky enough to find carbon paper. (which has been an impossibility for me thus far)
While I was walking home I also saw a new bar/restaurant I want to go back to; when i have company. It's called "The Cotton." In German the sign reads, "Der Baumwolle." Don't you love that name? (And it's Irishie inside) 
I've got to go because my Internet time is about to run out. Thanks for checking in. I'll be back with you soon.

10/20/2012
Last night I went to the Döbler Brewery in Bad Windsheim. What a blast I had! During this time of year, the Döbler brews a double bock beer in addition to its Helles, Weisse, and Dunkel. Friday night was the party in celebration of the Doppelbock at a whopping 18% alcohol. The brewery had a basement where the party was held. It had (about)15 tables and benches. You had to go down the stairs, find a seat, buy a beer, and finish it. After that you could get in line to get beer from the fresh keg. Since it was a party, the keg beer was free. Needless to say, by the time we successfully completed steps 1-3, the keg was kicked. No doppelbock for me. I didn't really mind. I was having a great time sipping my dunkel and attempting small talk with the locals. I really enjoy the long tables at bars and restaurants in Germany. It affords one the unique opportunity to meet strangers and make friends. You get real close, real quick. This is especially true when you're in the corner and have to ask assistance from your neighbor for everything; like catching the waitress and getting up to go to the bathroom.
So there I was in a brewery basement bar, in a small town in Germany, drinking fresh beer, speaking a little German, and taking in the sweet smells of bratwurst, cheese, and fresh pretzels. The party even had a band. One guy played the accordion, one guy had a guitar, and the other played an instrument strapped to his chest that was comprised of a tambourine, two drums, and a washboard. They all sang. Heck, the whole room sang. There's a ton of traditional German songs, and everyone knows the words. I love singing along with songs, so I tried to pick the lyrics up quickly and chime in now and again. It wasn't easy and I felt a bit silly. What I am really good at though, is linking arms with my neighbor and swaying back-and-forth. Oh, and I'm pretty good at prosting. (Prost is the German word for Cheers.) I got up to go to the bathroom while the band was in between sets. On my way back down to the basement, one of the musicians stopped me. He thought maybe I was a relative of an older woman, whom he knows, that I'm a dead-ringer for. I obviously am not related to anyone in Germany, but I took it as a gateway to a conversation in German. One thing led to another and I asked why the band didn't have a tip cup. I said I was having a great time and I'd tip them for their entertainment if I had the opportunity. I was also sure others in the room would do the same. This guy convinced me it would be a good idea for me to, not only tip them, but to also collect tips for them from others. He said it's an old tradition to go around with a hat and ask listeners to spare change for the band. What a hoot! I said OK. He told me exactly what to say, I practiced it a couple of times, and then I went in search of a hat. I had a bit of trouble locating a hat, so I finally asked the brew master to help me out. He went upstairs and got his own hat for me. He was delighted by my reinstatement of the lost tradition. Before the band went back on, my friends told me I was crazy. They said that Germans don't like tipping and that no one would give money to an American for the band. They made me doubt myself slightly and I started to lose confidence. But I had no time to indulge those feelings much, because the band went back on and they were looking to me for the side-show entertainment. 
The hat and I went to the first table. I said, “Eine kleine spende fur die Band?” People definitely looked at me like I was crazy. They confirmed that the money would in fact be for the band, and proceeded to open their wallets. I went to each and every table after that. I was not always met with such approval, but most of the patrons were in high spirits and I ended up collecting over 50 Euros in the hat! It was pretty funny, and I was really excited to do something, so bold, in a foreign language, and in a foreign place. When the hat was full, a gentlemen from the crowd (I don't know who he was) made a speech and presented the band with the hat. I have no clue what he said, but he made me stand up in front with him. I, again, felt a little silly. The band played me a tribute song and we partied on. The brew master came up to me and congratulated me on my success. He asked if my night was complete. I replied enthusiastically, but managed to add (as a side note) that I had never gotten a chance to try the doppelbock. This was a clever maneuver on my part. The guy went upstairs and poured me one out of his private stock! Woo-hoo! Good deeds were being delivered all around. The beer was great, but don't worry. I didn't drink it all by myself. I shared it with my friends who also hadn't yet tried it that night.
I'm sure I don't need to add that the evening ended later than I would have liked. So tonight I took it easy. I'm staying in. I steamed some brussel sprouts, broiled some potatoes, and I'm watching a documentary about Thelonius Monk.

10/01/12
I feel like this can't possibly be the most appropriate amusement for someone who has been drinking...


It was a non-stop, heart and soul of Germany, weekend for me. On Saturday I went to Munich. I'd like to say that I went to Oktoberfest, but it is more like I went to Munich during Oktoberfest and did some other cool stuff. On Sunday I went to a pumpkin festival in the lovely Ludwigsburg. Feeling inspired; today I went to the Metzgerei (the butcher) and accidentally purchased six pounds of freshly ground beef. I guess, that while I've got some things sorted out, I still need to perfect weights and measures.
I went to Munich on a tour bus with the Army's Outdoor Recreation Club. It's a dorky way to do it; I know. The intent was to go and take part in Oktoberfest without having to mess with public transportation. It was a very good idea. The subways and trains have been, and still are, a mad house. Unfortunately, a tour bus can't just be parked anywhere. So we ended up 3 km from the festival fields at 11:00 am. This is not the best time and location to score a seat inside the fest tents.
Let me step aside for a moment and describe to you what we're working with. Oktoberfest started as a royal wedding celebration in 1810. It was so awesome, they decided to celebrate the event every year since. The following year, horse racing and an agricultural show were introduced into the festivities. The first carousel and two swings were set up in 1818 and visitors were able to quench their thirst at small beer stands. In 1896 the beer stands were replaced by beer tents and halls; set up by enterprising landlords with the backing of breweries. Eventually it grew into the Oktoberfest we know today; much like the old one and much more populated. This year marked the 179th Oktoberfest and it is officially the largest festival in the world with six million visitors from around the globe.
While the festival contains many distractions, like the largest pretzels in the world, the objective is to get into the main brewery halls and sip the freshest beer on earth. The halls open at 10:00 am, and unless you are lined up outside the tent by 7:00 am, there is a good chance you aren't getting inside. People crowd around the entrances all day, as there is a one-out/one-in policy. If you wait long enough you could get lucky. Whoa.
Once I finally made the hike to the festival grounds I walked around and enjoyed the sites without taking part in anything in particular. I got some fun photos though. Since it was clear that I wasn't going to get into a main tent, and I didn't love the idea of drinking alone in a side tent from noon until evening, I decided to see what else Munich had to offer.

I went to the Pinakothek Modern Museum of Art. It was great. I couldn't have stumbled upon a better way to spend my afternoon. And while walking to the Pinakothek I found a coffee shop with fresh made bagels. I can't describe how ecstatic I was to find bagels in Germany. I know it wasn't the most traditional thing to do; but neither is going to an art museum during Oktoberfest. I'll admit that I initially went into the coffee shop just to use their bathroom; but since it was almost lunchtime I figured I should indulge. 
I got a warm, soft, sesame bagel with cream cheese and a coffee. I sat down in the cafe next to two other girls. They were just about finished with their lattes, heads down in their phones; which is standard procedure these days. Anyway, I was about halfway through my bagel when they got up and left. I looked at their table, making note of the fact that they didn't clean up after themselves. (In Germany there is always a bus-your-own-table section in a cafe) As I spied their dirty table I noticed that they also left their change next to their receipt. Mind you; it was only 3 cents, but money is money. Munich has more beggars on the street than I have ever seen in Germany. It really struck me as sad that there were ten homeless people, sitting just beyond the door of Coffee Fellows, that would have loved that 3 cents. These girls abandoned it; insinuating the money was as worthless as the effort it would have been to clean up after themselves. I was appalled. When I had finished my coffee and bagel, I cleaned their table and took their money. I am not ashamed. I find it universally immoral to disrespect money by ignoring it.
Now that you think I am even more of a dork, I will elaborate on how much I loved the art museum. For me, I think it is like church, and the history of art is my scriptures. I've heard people say “surfing is my church” or “playing music is my church.” When I go to a museum my mind automatically becomes calm and focused, like I believe it should be in spirituality. I love that you can't hear anything, and you can't smell anything. You have wide open spaces that are never cold, and they are full of wondrous illusions that have been born from someones creative soul. The Pinakothek has an “old museum” and a “new” museum. I chose to go to the modern building. I like modern art because you never know what you're going to get. Little (crazy) surprises lurk around every corner, and they are supported by recent traditional works that are beautiful too. On Saturday I saw a show on architecture. It was quite colorful in it's content; from Egyptian and Greek drawings to small scale models of current European projects. This exhibit contained architects' notebooks from the 18th century. It's crazy to look at a piece of paper that is so old and think about how young the idea on it is, while the concrete form that it became is so old. (there goes time playing tricks on me again) My favorite piece in this show was The Architect's Dream by Thomes Cole...an American!!
The rest of the museum was filled with treats like beautiful carved art deco furniture, photographs of the Jersey shore, hideous sculptures involving dead cats, and my personal favorite.... a 24 ft. long video screen hanging overhead with a 30 second loop of a totally naked man walking on a beam and carrying heavy items. (Yes, at this installation you are looking directly up and seeing everything of the man from this view) And that is modern art at its finest. Other wings of the museum were filled with crazy, brilliant paintings from classical modernism. The Pinakothek is a great place to see Klee, Picasso, Baselitz, deKooning, and the artists of the Blauer Reiter period. The Pinakothek also has a print of a 1st Century Drunk Hercules, by an Italian artist, that I rather enjoyed.
After the museum I trotted back to Oktoberfest. It was later in the afternoon; a more appropriate time to drink a beer. Oktoberfest, unfortunately, was an absolute madmadmad house by that time. I hung around one of the bigger fest tents to test the water in the Sea of Likelihood that I would get inside in a reasonable amount of time. Fat chance. I ended up getting stuck in a mob of people doing the same thing. We got shoved around by security guards, and we apparently felt the need to shove back. I say “we” because I was in the middle. I did none of the shoving. Lots of crowds, and shoving, sweat, rain, and broken bottles everywhere inspired me to take a few more photos of Oktoberfest and leave it for good. By this time it was about 4:00, I needed to get back to the bus by 6:30, and I saw an Indian Restaurant on my walk in that I wanted to get dinner at. The restaurant didn't open until 5:30 so I killed time at a local bar around the corner. It was much less crowded than the festival, they were playing Johnny Cash, and they served dark beer. I cozied up in the corner with my beer and read an art newspaper I picked up at the museum.
Wow. I am really working on those nerd points in this journal entry.
I finished out my trip to Munich with Tika Masala and a fresh cup of chai.
One field trip per weekend just isn't enough for me anymore. On Sunday I attended the Pumpkin Festival of Ludwigsburg with some friends. It is about a 1.5 hour drive to this festival, but it is totally worth it. You pay a chunk of change to get into the festival park, but it is totally worth it. Ludwigsburg has a beautiful Residenze Palace with gorgeous gardens. The park extends far and wide past the palace. They have an amazing trail over hills, and through woods, that contain life size houses. We walked around (almost) twenty houses, each filled with scenes from famous children's fairy tales. In one section of the park is an old tower that features Rapunzel's braid. This storybook wonderland brings new meaning to the term amusement park for me. Walking through the park brought us right up to lunchtime. The food at the festival was amazing. 
I ate a large pumpkin ravioli in pumpkin sauce, pumpkin quiche, pumpkin soup with pumpkin seeds and pumpkin bread, pumpkin fries with green curry quark dip, a pumpkin burger, and pumpkin pesto/chutney pinwheels. It was a lot of food. I was glad we had pumpkin prosseco to wash it down. I was really thankful that our means of transportation was not 3km from this festival. (like it had been the day before) If the car were any farther away I don't know if I would have made the walk back. On the car ride home my full belly wanted me to pass out; but I stayed awake with the amusement of trying to figure out the meanings of the pumpkin sculptures we had seen throughout the day. I took pictures of all of those sculptures too. They were all really creative, but my favorite was a Swiss army knife. 
This year's theme was Switzerland. Some of the other sculptures included an Edelweiss, the Matterhorn, and Swiss cheese and mice. With every Saturday and Sunday that pass, and sometimes Mondays, Wednesdays, or Fridays, I am becoming ever more knowledgeable on the countless reasons for Germans to throw festivals. I must say that this Sunday's festival has had the most impressive food, by far. None of my opinions are set in stone though. I think I'd like to find an apple festival maybe, or a sauerkraut festival, in order to further explore food-festing in Deutschland. 

9/27/2012 


I got a new pin today. No, it's not a new pin from a new city I recently visited in Germany. It's a pin of appreciation. It goes on my Army handbag. This is where I put all of my Army pins. For clarification; yes, I switch purses every time I'm going to an Army event. I have a real life purse too.
Despite the fact that I used to be a cheerleader, I haven't always had the most team spirit for the Army. It is something, however, that seems to grow the longer you are a part of this organization. As much as I would love for the Army to just be my husband's job; it isn't. It's our life. The more I embrace it as our life and our job, the more we both seem to benefit. I have yet to meet a spouse that has successfully separated themselves from the Soldier's job. It strikes me that, in order to do so one will inevitably sacrifice knowledge, understanding, opportunities, sanity, and (potentially) happiness.
I am driven to write about the Army today because I have just attended another Commander's briefing. I haven't been to many briefings, but this one was great. It was about an hour long, but I left feeling much more knowledgeable (and confident and proud) about my husband's situation. It's unfortunate that more people did not attend, because I'm sure they all could have benefited too. They hold the briefings in our movie theater. Today it was only about a quarter filled, and you could count the number of spouses in attendance on two hands. I can think of many great reasons why spouses wouldn't attend meetings like this. A few reasons could be that they work, they are shy about coming with their kids, they think the information doesn't pertain to them, or maybe they don't read emails and didn't know about it. And in all actuality, they might sincerely just not want to go. Whatever the case; I'm not chastising anyone. Do your thing.
I used to think that the Army lifestyle wasn't for me. I don't have kids, or pets, or a big truck. (Pardon my Army stereotypes) But that absolutely doesn't mean that I can't be friends with someone who does. What I've learned is the more I become involved with this community, the more support I receive and the more comforted I am. I have also come to discover so many people that I do have things in common with. Recently, I have had the pleasure of becoming more acquainted with some really incredible people; people who are such champions in their own right. These people show me that, as clever and hip as I think I am, there's a lot more I could learn. For me it's been awesome to remain who I am (an artist, a traveler, a gourmet food seeker, a world music lover) and not lose sight of any of it by venturing deeper within the Army depths.
What I learned in the briefing today is that my husband, off in a land I know nothing about, is making the best of his situation and excelling in every way possible. To try to summarize all that I learned today would be difficult. What I most enjoyed hearing was the Commander use the word family. It's comforting to know that, while away from their families, these guys and girls can support one another in a similar fashion. The unit that he is working under has guys in lots of different locations. Likewise, there are guys from all over at his location. Everyone is doing an excellent job, under the conditions, and working together like they were never strangers. They work hard and keep great attitudes. They get their jobs done and do little (extra) things to maintain (and keep pride) in where they are living.
The Commander told us some great stories, showed us interesting pictures, and relayed some compliments our guys have been receiving from other units and other Armies. I think it must be a difficult task for him to have to host a meeting like the one today. How do you explain to (basically) civilians what is going on in a war zone? First of all, there is information that is definitely too sensitive to tell. Also, whatever you explain has to be told in words (not acronyms) that we can understand. Another hurdle is that whatever information he gives has to be absolute. In the Army things (and situations) change all the time. If he says something that (in the future) turns out not to be true, there will be a lot of angry spouses lining up to put him on the chopping block. I think that as a soldier, this guy did a great job at figuring what the information is we (as spouses) were even seeking. He knew more than I did. I loved seeing a photo of the mail room full of packages, and the newly crafted theater. (That, mind you, is only ply wood painted white.)
Most of all I really appreciated that in his 19 years of service, he appreciates working with this unit the most. He says that he has never worked with such a competent group of soldiers with such strong, supportive families at home. Phil, and his friends, have been able to stay focused, and positive, and do a great job because they are confident in their families' lives here. Before now, four months into a deployment, I could never have appreciated how important that actually is.


9/22/2012
Friday afternoon I had coffee with my neighbors. It was a great experience. My landlord's wife, Monica hosted. There were ten of us (from her old neighborhood) that gathered at her new apartment. Maybe I shouldn't call it coffee; is open house more appropriate? Needless to say they have a lovely apartment; full of sheepskins, painted pottery, and books. I haven't seen a house with so many books in a long time. It's cozy. They actually still have multiple sets of encyclopedias, and Monica has the entire Harry Potter set in German.
We had coffee in a common room on the ground floor of the building. Upon entering the room I was a bit nervous. It was quite formal. The table was set with linens, plates, greenery, candles, and fresh flowers. The center was lined with mineral water, small sandwiches, candies, and cakes. Everyone brought Monica a gift. I wouldn't even have thought to bring a gift, but Catarina mentioned it. So I baked cookies; they were coconut, banana, and chocolate chip.
There isn't much parking around the apartment complex, so Ludwig drove Catarina and I both. It's a wonder however, that the neighbors didn't all just drive together. Anyway, I was glad to go with someone else. It was intimidating enough walking in the room accompanied. I can only imagine if I were alone. Catarina told me that none of the ladies spoke English. I knew I was going to need any (and all) German skills I currently possess. But when I am nervous it is hard for me to concentrate. Monica greeted us and introduced me to everyone, one by one. Catarina, of course, knew them all. As I greeted each individual woman, the rest of the women watched. I was simultaneously trying to listen and understand, reply politely, and trying to quiet the voice in my head that was freaking out about making a mistake and insulting someone. Thank goodness my default face in this situation is a big, dumb smile. I'll be honest. I didn't catch any one's name. I did figure out, however, that one of the ladies is the mother of another woman I have previously met. Frau Heider; she and her husband run the gallery downtown that had the graffiti exhibit. The mother was ecstatic to meet me. She kissed me multiple times and kept telling me she loved me. I think it was because it was the only English phrase she knew. She was quite a character; the life of the party. She kept telling stories; shouting stories really. She was unbelievably animated, which is fabulous considering she is 84. She doesn't wear glasses or hearing aids, but when she isn't speaking she cups her hand around her ear, “the better to hear you with my dear.”
Also in the group was the wife of the man on the street that makes the honey I buy, and a couple of Army landlords. I have caught wind that there may be some other lonely ladies on my street. I will go introduce myself soon.
The afternoon was a whopping three hours. I was exhausted by the end of it. All of the women liked me I think. Each one asked me simple questions to which I could reply. And in turn, I thought of my own basic questions to ask them. It was a lot of work, but by the end they all complimented me on my German. The toughest part was remembering to use the formal verb endings and pronouns. I am used to speaking more casually with Ludwig and Catarina. The experience of this afternoon proved to me that I can sit in front of the computer with Rosetta Stone (it's a great program to build a confident foundation) but nothing is going to teach me German like speaking to Germans. Interacting trains your brain to think automatically and I just can't get that from a computer session.


9/18/2012
Exactly two months ago there was a celebration in my city. It was called Green Night. As part of the celebration our resident graffiti artists did a performance installation. I saw the start of the painting, but I couldn't stay for all of it. (it was past my bedtime) I recently met a friend downtown for coffee and found the installations. I was so glad they were still up. As you can see, my favorite local guy was there, UPAL. Here's some highlights of the rest:






9/13/2012
All I need is a rifle, and a moon instead of a sun, and I'd be all set for wild boar hunting.
I had lunch today with Ludwig and Catarina. That's how I ended up as shown. They were really excited to have me back. Ludwig thinks he needs to show me all of the great restaurants in the neighboring towns before Phil comes home, so we can go on romantic luncheons. (Doesn't Ludwig know only "friends" go to lunch? Romance only happens during dinner.) Sundays are apparently the only day that we can accomplish this task of my introduction to these spots. I think it also has to do with the walks that accompany lunch, and Sundays are definitely for walking.
For as many restaurants as he and Catarina enjoy; this tour is going to take us a while. It's gonna be a lot of pork, but I think I am up for the challenge. Today we ate at Gasthaus Schmied. It's near a small lake named the Sonnensee. The restaurant was packed when we arrived, so Ludwig suggested we tour the lake first, then eat. As we drove past the parking lot Ludwig pointed out all the license plates that were from towns far away. He felt that they validated his claims of the restaurant's excellence. So we toured the lake and the surrounding campsites, and pointed out all the cats to one another along the way, and headed back to the restaurant.
When we sat down at our table they were still pretty busy. It took a while for the waiter to come over. While waiting my friends had a conversation about what they were going to drink...dark beer or light beer?...draught or bottle? That's it. That's Germany. There was a sign on the table for a local wine. They asked if I wanted to try it. I said no. I guess that meant that I wanted beer. (which was spot on) But what I thought was funny was, next the waiter came over and Ludwig ordered three draught beers. I didn't remember him asking me if I wanted beer, not that I mind, but I guess he has me figured out. I actually felt flattered. We cheered, and sipped, and looked at the menu, and discussed lunch. I divulged that I had not yet tasted Schäufele. Ludiwg and Catarina decided that I needed to eat that or the roasted young deer meat. I didn't feel strong enough to try the deer today so I went with the Schäufele. It is pork shoulder, and it is normally served with the bread dumplings and sauce. It looks like this:
(I didn't take this photo. It came from www.blog-ums-bier.de)
It was fabulous. If you've never seen this you are looking at a bone, with a thick layer of meat, with a thick layer of crispy fat on top. It was juicy, and crunchy, and the gravy was delicious. Apparently this is a local dish not to be found many places other than southern Germany.
As you can see, lunch was a success. I think this motivated Ludwig because he decided to take Catarina and I on a serious tour of his hunting spots. As you may remember me stating weeks ago, I've been on drive-by's to the hunting spots. This time, however, Ludwig took us directly in the hunting spots, made us get out of the car, hike through thorns and bush, showed us the feed, made us smell the trees, get in the stands, and nibble on berries along the way. It was awesome. The whole time we were walking I was trying to picture a day in the life of Ludwig. We'd be walking and he'd stop to point out an oak tree that he thought was beautiful; or he'd stop to point out tracks from a boar snout.
We walked in the woods for over an hour. The funny thing was when we left the house I specifically asked (in German) if it was OK for me to wear my white leather loafers. I said if we were going to walk far, or in dirt, I'd put on my sneakers. They assured me I was fine with the loafers. Catarina herself, had on open-toed shoes. I guess no one could for see the adventure we'd be on. 
The end of the tour was definitely the most interesting. 
(And pardon me here because I did not understand the whole story in German. I think I missed an important detail or two.)
**And if you have a particular love for animals you might not want to read further, although now you are going to have to.**
Ludwig went hunting last night. He was hunting pig. It was dark. The brush was high. He saw something move. He shot it. Just as he shot it he saw a small white stripe on a tail. Awe man. He shot a fox. And as fabulous a catch as a fox is right now; you don't want to shoot a fox in Summer because the pelt is no good. The fur isn't thick enough. Also, no one wants a fox fur with a bullet hole in it. You have to dig a hole and catch the fox to sell the pelt. And no; you can't eat fox meat. It stinks. (Unless you are Ludwig's dad; because one time he had to. But he skinned it and then let the meat sit in the river for two days to moisten. Then he cooked it and ate it. But it still stunk.) There was nothing Ludwig could do with the fox. So he left it. Until today; he took the ladies on the Dead Fox Tour. He got the animal square in the shoulder. He held it up so I could take a picture. I chose not to post it. I'm sorry if anyone is finding this horrific, but it was incredibly interesting for me, who doesn't know a thing about hunting, to see all this. I don't think I'm yet hip to the game, but I have a better understanding. And it is really wonderful to see how much Ludwig loves to be in the woods. He gets so excited. I think he would live in a tree if he wasn't married.
On our tour Ludwig also pointed out his blueberry picking, flower picking, and mushroom (!!) picking spots. I teased him that I was going to beat him to all the good mushrooms next year. With my knowledge however, I probably pick all the poisonous ones.

9/12/2012
When life gives you lemons you make lemonade.
What do you do when life gives you apples?
I say you make apple butter.
On top of the massive amounts (for one person) of fruit I recently received from my landlord a friend of mine also gave me around 5 pounds of apples from her backyard. Feeling a bit overwhelmed with all of this delicious, and seriously ripe, fruit I decided to turn to the oldest solution in the book. The only problem was that I didn't know the first thing about jarring. I thought it would be a long, arduous process that required special tools and ingredients. Thank goodness for life's most useful tool, the Internet. After a bit of research I realized I was half right and half wrong, but jars were my only option for making good use of all this fruit. I'm not much for jams or jellies, but I have always loved apple butter. (especially when I lived in St. Augustine and worked brunch at The Gypsy Cab) 
I made apple butter yesterday, and it took me a greater part of the afternoon. Peeling and cutting 5 lbs. of apples is no joke. These apples were all different sizes and colors. As I mentioned they were ripe as could be, which meant I was doing a lot of trimming. I'll even admit to throwing a couple out that may have been past their prime. Also, since these fruits grew "organically" some of them were inhabited. Discovering, and ditching, the inhabited fruits was new to me. 
Once past that initial adventure I got to the cooking. As complete as I thought my recipe was, as I got into my step-by-step process it became clear to me that I would face some uncertainties. For instance, If I need 2 lbs. of apples, and I think I started with about 5 pounds, but I cut away and threw away some stuff, how much do I have? Do I double the seasoning or not? Exactly how do you measure one pound of sugar without a scale? When the recipe says cook until there is no liquid, what does that mean? And when it says cook until thick, how long is that? If I added rum in the end, but then cooked it more, do I add more rum? (Of course. Everything is better with more rum.) Despite these mysteries I managed to power through the afternoon. 
When all was cooked, and cleaned, and cooling, I began the second part of the process called jarring. I didn't buy jars. I had some ball jars I stole from my grandma in my cabinet I decided to use. I sanitized them, filled them, and got out the air bubbles. By this point I was amazed I had gotten so far in the process without catastrophe, and was sure I was going to make a mistake in the last step. There was something about submerging these full jars in water and then boiling them that seemed destined for disaster to me. I am happy to report, however, even that went smooth. And when I took them out of the pot and they cooled, the lids even snapped sealed. I still can't believe it. Apparently I bumbled my way through making jarred apple butter. Of course I plan on sharing apple butter with Hans, and Ludwig, and Catharina. (Whose name I have been misspelling this entire time. Good thing she doesn't read my blog.) 
Truthfully, that whole apple butter situation technically didn't wrap itself up until this morning. Thank goodness I didn't have any other plans today. That doesn't mean I put my feet up for the rest of the day. I have a festival coming up this Saturday and I did some work on the scarves to prepare. But around 4:00 pm I got an email forward from our Army Community Service. It was severely last minute, but it was announcing a guided tour of a neighboring town this evening at 5:30. The tour was in English, and that doesn't happen very often.
And you know what they say, "When life gives you free guided tours…become a tourist!"
Since I had no major plans this evening I decided to go to Lichtenau to see about this tour of the town. They have a castle, and a church, and a brewery, and some shops, and what did I have to lose? 
Well let me tell you. I was the only darn person to show up for this tour. Can you believe it? Initially I was slightly embarrassed by my oneness. But I decided to squash that insecure feeling and replace it with, "Lucky me." (and maybe lucky them) I got to meet the Mayor of Lichtenau, Uwe. He gave the tour. The mayor of Wolframs-Eschenbach was there too; Michael. He translated the tour in English. I also met Inga, she a Web Professional, but she is active in bringing together the American and German communities in our area. We had a nice time, and an hour and a half later I was chock-full-o'-knowledge and had three new friends. They invited me, and anyone else interested, to join the German-American Society. It's different than the German-American Club, I gather. And it's run by Michael. I laugh because I lived in America for 30 years and never met a mayor. I'm in Germany for eight months and I meet two in one day. I told Michael I was from New Jersey. He's a big Bruce Springsteen fan.
Lemonade.


9/10/2012
You know you're back in Germany when a flock of sheep are preventing you from completing your bike ride home. It's my second full day back in Ansbach. The more I settle in, the more I realize how much I missed this place. I've been riding my bike everywhere. Today I rode my bike to the theater on post. The commander held a meeting to update everyone on the unit's status. I rode my bike because I didn't want trouble finding parking or battling traffic. Little did I know that on my way home I'd battle a different kind of traffic. I figured since I was on a bike, and not in a car, I could shimmy my way through the crowd of sheep. Little did I know that crowd is constantly dropping poo. For the first time in their life, my bike tires rolled over steamy pellets. And I'm also going to admit a tap (or two) by my own flip flop in the pellets as I was not riding fast enough to keep my feet on the peddles. Did I learn a lesson? No. Next time I'll still push right on through. It's pretty fun to "run" with the herd. There was even one of those herding dogs running next to us. Luckily, I didn't give him the impression that I wanted his job. We might have brawled.
When I got home Hans, my landlord, was in the backyard. I have been dreading a conversation with him because I have been out of the German-language-game for many weeks. I didn't want to keep avoiding him so I threw myself head first into a chat session. I've remembered a lot of quintessential backyard terms like, "tree", "leaf", and "fruit." 
so here would have been as good a place as any. Our conversation went great. The only word we got stuck on was the German word for dangerous. I told him I'd look it up and get back to him. Anyway, I returned home 20 minutes later loaded with grapes, apples, plums, and apple juice. I love his apple juice. And since there is no added sugar, and it isn't watered down, it's good for my urinary tract! Hans also took me in his garage and I got to see the early stages of his schnapps making. I apologize that I did not have my camera on hand in the garage. Currently, he's got four big plastic barrels full of fruit. He has mashed it all by hand and it is fermenting? I think. The barrels are sealed tight and will remain so until January. Then he cooks it? I think. This is where he'll get the liquid from? I think. Getting an explanation of the process is practically impossible given the language barrier. I think I am better off researching the process on my own. I look forward to seeing the next stages, and obviously sharing them here.

7/24/2012
Here's the long end of the short. I'm exhausted and I'm still in Germany. Space-A in the Summer is rough. I just bought a ticket from Frankfurt to Philadelphia. The good news is that I can take a free shuttle there, still leave my car here, and try to Space-A back in September. I just hope that round two of Space-A won't be doubling my punishment for trying to fly for free.
If you are interested in a few more details, I'll start by saying I have only slept four hours out of the past 63. I'm so numb I don't even feel tired. Also, in this time I have had a flight home ripped from my embrace twice. I had no idea what it was going to feel like; to wait so patiently, to have a boarding pass, to have gone through security, and be told it no longer means anything. I have had to start from scratch over, and over, again. They say that single travelers have great luck. I almost feel like it would be easier if I wasn't alone. There'd be someone to watch my bags, and another ear to listen for roll call. It's little details that making the waiting seem longer. Although, I must say that my fellow travelers have been great. I have met a bunch of really great people everyday. They were always category III though. This meant they would get called for flights sooner than me, at category IV. I was left behind every time.
As I am a bit delirious right now, I fear this post might be sounding a bit mopey. So I will cut it here. I'm not sad. Initially I felt like I let myself down by not getting a flight, but I only left four days in my schedule to get to NJ. And the show must go on! I will spare you the details of brushing my teeth in the bathroom and having a Coke for breakfast at 5:30 in the morning out of desperation. Did I mention my eyes are on fire? Anyway, back to the point. Adventuro numero uno is coming to a close. It is still a long time travel to my flight tomorrow. If I think about it I get so excited; like a kid on Christmas. I don't care how much I just paid for the ticket. I am looking forward to an actual seat, on a plane with a bathroom and other amenities, in flight movies, and a direct line of flight straight to Philly. One of my (scary) options earlier today was Ramstein to Riverside, CA, to LAX, to buy a commercial flight into PHL, and probably a hotel room for the night. Yikes! In hind sight I feel almost relieved it is working out this way. OK. I feel a nap coming on. Thanks for checking back in with me. I appreciate your concern. I'll check in next time from the other side of the ocean, hopefully.

7/23/2012
I woke up at 3:30 Sunday morning. This was after having woken up at 3:30 on Saturday morning to find that my one Space-A chance to NJ had been cancelled. I took Saturday as a free day to work on some art and wait for flights at home. Saturday night there was another festival in Ansbach, Gruener Nacht. For a final hoora I indulged in the festivities. The weather wasn't awesome, but there was some live graffiti, new art exhibitions, and live music. There was also artificial green lighting everywhere. It looked really cool, like the Emerald City.
I made it to Ramstein by 7:30 on Sunday. Finding the base, and the passenger terminal, and the parking garage was easy; so was getting a parking pass and signing in for the day. I had mucho time to kill before the flight roll call, so I went to the car to take my (first) nap. When I got back to the terminal, two hours later, it was eight times more packed than before. I waited from 10:30-13:30, for my name to get called for (at least) three different flights. It never did. What I did though, was learn that everyone is very nice. The people that work the terminal are great and will answer any stupid question. The other passengers are friendly as can be, despite the fact that everyone is grungy and sleep deprived. I had one last hope for the day, and that was a 19:10 flight to Delaware.
I had way too much time to sit at the airport; so I decided to go sightseeing for the afternoon. I found a Starbucks on post and got some nice, strong coffee. It was fabulous. I also went and scoped out the Ramstein gym. I was not prepared for how jealous I was going to be of this facility. It is amazing. I found out that they were open from 5:00-23:00. This was perfect information to store for later use. I restocked my snack supplies at the Commissary and headed to a Japanese Garden I found in Kaiserslautern. I relaxed there until 17:00 and returned to the airport.
When I got back to the terminal I found the flight had been pushed from 19:10 to 3:55 (this) Monday morning. Holy cow. As luck would have it, there was a lovely, single, young lady in line in front of me. She was in the same predicament, of needing to kill a lot of tme. The difference between us being that she had no car. So, like any smart Space-A'ers, we teamed up. I took us back to downtown Kaiserslautern where I had previously been. I parked my car in the same spot and we walked to have dinner. Luckily for us, my new friend and I hit it off. Dinner was a blast, and terribly delicious. We ate at Spinnraedl, a delightful little German restaurant. This was perfect because my new friend would not be returning to Germany. We got her a good last meal.
I'm forced to share one amazing fact about my Space-A sister. She plays water hockey. You think I'm kidding. It's not a joke. It's also way more legitimate than you'd think. This chick has played it in more than one country now, and plans on, potentially, making a tour out of playing it around the world. If you're still wondering what I'm talking about allow me to go into deeper detail. There are two teams, playing hockey, with a puck on the bottom of a pool. You wear a bathing suit, a snorkel with a lip gaurd, a glove covered in caulk (to protect your hand from the pool floor) and you have a tiny hocky stick in your hand. That's it. The games last either ten or twenty mintues. Interested? Youtube it.
We got back from dinner at 10:30, checked back into the terminal, and the flight was still the same. So we went to my car and napped, she in the front and me in the back, for three hours. This would be all the sleep we would have for the rest of the night. We were back in the terminal and signed in by 1:30 this morning. I thought I was a shoe-in for this 3:55 flight. How many people would really get up at this awkward hour to try to get on the flight too? A lot. I didn't get on, but my friend did. It wasn't easy though. The flight's departure time changed three times and the number of available seats went from 19 to 5. To boot, they added an extra stop for refueling. This means there's a chance she could be stuck in Bangor, Maine, right now instead of her ultimate destination. You never know.
My next potential was a 6:10 flight to BWI with 56 seats. I did not get called. They posted an 8:30 flight to Dover with 73 seats. This lasted a matter of twenty minutes. The number of seats dropped to zero because of weight issues. There was a 9:00 and 9:40 flight that got nixed and a 10:30 that had no chance for seats. The next flight posted wasn't until 16:20. Delerious and disappointed, at 8:30, I decided to go back to the car and try to nap. At 9:30 I woke up and went to check the terminal. Nothing; no change. I decided to take the time to go to the gym. I wanted to burn some energy (angst) and take a shower. It was wonderful. I emerged from the gym a new woman. I was starving too, but before I went to get lunch I thought I should check in on the flight status.
No change again; but I saw a family I had been chatting with earlier. I went over to say hello. They informed me that my name had been called and I missed it. I was in shock. I proceeded to punch myself in the face, break my nose, and be rushed to the nearest medical facility. Not really, but I wanted to.
Here is the first rule of Space-A. Never leave the terminal; under any circumstances. Period. You have no idea when something will change. The seas will part and a seat will miraculously manifest itself with your name on it. I have never experienced emotion like this while traveling before. Space-A is preparation, luck, repitition, and instability. It requires massive amounts of stamina. It's hard to stay focused and not loose hope. I have a problem of always wanting to make the most of a situation. But I have now learned, making the most of a situation can mean sitting tight and waiting.
Today's 16:20 flight has recently been pushed to 17:45, but I am not going anywhere but the terminal waiting area. I shame myself only once. With so much time to kill, here in the terminal, I find myself blogging in the USO. I also find myself contemplating a few things. First, how many naps can you successfully take in a 72 hour period? Second, how many times can you take a suitcase out of the car, and put it back in, in a 72 hour period? And lastly, how many times can you listen to the same dinging sound proceeded by the same anouncements, before you go crazy?

7/20/2012


Normally I don't like to write in this space unless it is about something I've already done. Today is an exception. Tomorrow I start an adventure; and I need to let you know because it is not a German adventure. I will not return to my German antics until the middle of September, so it will be a while before I type on this page. I will however, be sharing some stories on the blog's main page…if there are any to be had. 

7/18/2012

As you know, yesterday was Ludwig's birthday. To celebrate, I went upstairs and had a couple of drinks and appetizers.

In addition to the food and beverage I got a weapons showcasing. He showed me his entire gun and knife collection, pretty impressive. I held two versions of a 9mm that I was not previously familiar with and six rifles. I can't even say how many knives. Of course this show bored the crap out of Katharina so we kept it to a minimum. In the weapons room where all of these items are kept, along with his trophies, Ludwig also has a bunch of antique snuff containers. They were made from all kinds of materials; and some were beautiful. The funniest ones (to me) were the jars that had boars hair tops. I thought it was just decoration, but Ludwig explained that you use the boar's hair to wipe your nose. He tapped a few jars and some residue came out. We laughed. It was probably a bit too stale to be enjoyed. Ludwig hasn't used tabak since his Army days.

7/15/2012


I toured Bamberg yesterday. It began with a desire to go to the Bamberg Flower Show. The Flower Show is an extravaganza in Bamberg, that lasts approximately six months. There is more than one flower "show" and many other events that coincide with its happenings. 

I didn't go alone; I went with a friend. She still appreciates her privacy and doesn't plaster herself all over the Internet. Out of respect; for this story we will call her "Julie."

Julie and I had been planning our trip (for weeks) to be Saturday the 14th. Guess what was happening on the morning of the 14th when I woke up? Rain. Obviously. I called Julie because who wants to go to a flower show in the rain? It wasn't raining where Julie lives, so we thought there would be a sporting chance that it wasn't raining in Bamberg. (Not that Julie's town has anything to do with Bamberg.) With high hopes we set out to accomplish our goal. Our back up plan was to tour the city in general if the flower show didn't work out. When you are traveling it is smart to always have a contingency plan.

7/9/2012
This Sunday I went to my first parade in Germany. I captured some of the highlights for you.  A parade here is the same as a parade anywhere; people lined up on the street watching other people walk down the street. The Ansbach parade (I think) is in it's fourth year. I gathered this from Ludwig, but mind you I haven't had much Deutsch in over a week. (It was good to get back in the saddle.) All of the city's clubs, car dealers, bands, and law enforcement were on display. Most of the groups just walked down the street together, but others built floats. Of course everyone was throwing candy at the children.
But the German Parades do have a few other defining features.
In addition to candy for the kids they have candy for adults. Free Beer!
Free Wine!
Free Sausage!
And Free Bread.
If only there was free Sauerkraut. Then my stereotype could have been complete.
We wrapped up the afternoon with a beer and a snack in the fest tent. It was fun. All of the bands ended up in there too. I drank the large beer. It's been a while since I manned up on one of those. But you can't drink and not eat...that's how you get sick...Katharina says. So I indulged in my new favorite German treat, the schnitzel sandwich. Ludwig had his grilled Mackerel, but I didn't have the taste buds to try it.

7/7/2012
I went to sleep to the sound of rain last night. What a calming melody it was; I fell right asleep. I woke up to the sound of rain this morning. Normally this is the perfect invitation to stay in bed, but I had plans. Mind you, these plans did not include rain. I had a canoe trip, planned with Outdoor Recreation, that I had been looking forward to all Summer. Every single time I've tried to go boating it's gotten rained out. This morning I couldn't believe that the same (un)luck was following me still. I decided to get up and get ready anyway. As I prepared my morning oats I waited for my phone to ring; with the news that I'd not be canoeing. It never happened. I was a bit confused by this, but I drove over to the office anyway. Sure enough, everyone else was there too. We were all prepared to brave the rain for a day on the river. For me the motivation was not knowing if we'd ever actually get a sunny day; and I'd rather have a rainy day than no day.
It was a two hour drive to the drop-in point. It was near Bamberg. Surprisingly, we didn't have to stop once on the way there. (My good buddy Mark was not the driver.) I am happy to report that the rain stopped by 10:30 and we were boats-in by 11:00. It was a delightful paddle from Unterleiterbach to Ebing where we stopped for lunch. Our driver served us up some grilled hot dogs and veggie burgers with a side of sliced peppers and chips. I was pretty stoked to see some fresh food on our plates instead of the usual processed matter. The sun actually came out for the rest of the afternoon and it was another two hour paddle to Kemmern, where we got out. I love going on trips hosted by other people. I didn't have to take the canoe off the rack or put it back. And once we returned to home base I didn't have to worry about cleaning and storing equipment either. I also stole a nap on the ride back.
When I got home Hans was in the driveway. We chatted for a second and he asked me if I wanted some cherries. He opened the back door of his car and cherries were practically falling out, he had so many. I noticed they were really dark; darker than the ones in our yard. He said they were from one of his bird-racing buddies; a guy that lives on the Altmuehlsee. I laughed at him. Why would you get cherries from someone else when you have five cherry trees in your own backyard? "I hope you traded some of yours for these," I told him.
I had nothing to put the cherries in, so he loaded up my dirty tea mug from earlier this morning, and then put a few in my pockets. I was overloaded with cherries so he had to open my door for me. What a gentleman. He said if I wake up before eleven o'clock I should be able to catch the birds coming in tomorrow morning. I think I can manage.
7/4/2012

I forgot how much I love hoagies. I had a few recently. Not here. I went home for a bit. I had some Jersey pizza too; and fresh Jersey shore donuts. For a brief moment I was able to get sand between my toes and salt water in my hair. Nothing says family reunion like a junk food fest (accompanied by the occasional alcoholic beverage) at grandma's beach house rental in Sea Isle City, NJ. Did I forget to mention scrapple? That too.

My grandfather's funeral was the reason for my travels. While it was sad to put him to rest; it was wonderful to see the entire family again. I am rejuvenated by my visit and glad to be back in Germany. I am eager to get back to exploring and learning a new language.

My grandfather's passing does not remind me of the shortness of life and time, but rather the longevity. It's a long road we travel; with many experiences, people, choices, crossroads, scenery, and varying speeds. I like to pay attention to small details of life. I think it helps to enjoy it more. I also think it helps slow it down. In this type of celebration you free yourself and help those around you enjoy it too. I have realized that this is why I write about my life so often now. I can lock in the minor details I may forget; if I didn't go through each of my days twice. So I apologize (to both you and I) for not commenting on last week until now. I am bringing my focus back.

I got the call on Monday and I was on a train, to a plane, by Tuesday. Traveling is nerve-wracking wether or not it is planned. This past trip I realized what a spot-on analogy (the comparison of travel to life) is. If you choose to indulge in them; they will both bring every emotion from anxiety and fear, to excitement and love, to exhaustion and unrest.

This particular trip was smooth sailing for me. Although, I didn't actually sail. It would have taken too long. I flew. I enjoy airports. They're all the same. People do weird things in an airport. I do weird things in an airport. It's the only public place I can think of where you make yourself at home. You have to; you are going to be there a while. The strangest thing I'll do in an airport is brush my teeth. If I think about it, it seems creepy. I wouldn't brush my teeth in the bathroom at the mall. But after an overnight flight, one gets desperate. And the relief I feel afterwards is priceless. Like in life, you should always travel with a toothbrush.

You're gonna make mistakes. You may even miss your connecting flight. Be kind to yourself. Don't be in such a rush to get off the plane. Practice sleeping sitting up. And don't eat food cooked in plastic.

6/25/2012

This past weekend I went and took care of a few touristy things in Austria. You know, to cross them off my list. I didn't go alone. I went on a bus trip with the Army Outdoor Recreation Club. I wonder if reading the phrase bus trip gives you the same chills as it does me to type the phrase bus trip. You probably picture lots of old people and/or screaming, misbehaving children on a hot crowded bus. You picture a scarcity of food and fresh air. Surprisingly, with ODR this is not the case. Our weekend rendezvous was not without its share of ups and downs, but now that it is Monday I can say I had a great time. And since I only paid $99 for the trip I can't complain.
Had I blogged on Saturday though, my story might not be the same. With the bus finally loaded we left Katterbach at 9:30. Our super-super-friendly driver, we'll call him Mark, turned a four hour drive to Ehrwald, Austria, into a seven hour drive. If this sounds familiar to you, you have traveled with Mark before or you read my blog post about our ODR trip to Switzerland. There is something in Mark's brain that tricks him (every trip) into thinking his passengers want to "take the long way" to "sightsee" from the bus and make as many pit stops as humanly possible. ODR just got a new, very glamorous Mercedes Bus, complete with a bathroom on board. I thought this would have inspired Mark to stop less on the journey, but it hasn't. Luckily for Mark we all know he is well intended; and he delivers his service with such a great smile that you can't hate the guy (even for a second) for his short comings. That being said we finally arrived at our gasthaus at 5:00 pm. It was just enough time to enjoy a mini happy hour, in a lovely garden, by a majestic mountain side river, before we got back on the bus to drive to dinner. While it wouldn't have been my first choice, we had dinner at an American-style diner. The menu was not my favorite (but you can't please everyone) but the scene was great. The "diner" was on the side of the road, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, and had a ton of trashy-kitschy-Americana cars and crap everywhere. It was pretty unique. I think I took the most pictures here.
After dinner we "toured" some more before heading into town for the "Fires on the Mountain." These fires are set way-up on the faces of the mountains to celebrate the Summer Solstice. (which was Thursday) It was pretty trippie. The people of the area actually hike up the mountain and set a series of fires that come together to form images on the mountain side. This event bears similarities to a fire-works display I'd say; except it's way different. (Obviously it's different…it's Austrian.) There isn't as much movement, color, smoke, and loud bangs, as in a fireworks display. Actually, I am probably a dork for trying to compare the two at all; except for that facts that they are both at night in the summer.
Sunday was my favorite; and this is contrary to what I initially assumed my feelings on the trip would be. We went to the Swarovski factory. I thought there would be no way I would enjoy a crystal factory more than fires on mountains. I was wrong. The factory was cool. It started with a walking tour of their gallery. It was about 14-15 rooms; each with a different art installation. The art was a delightful mix of famous artists in history, like Andy Warhol and Salvador Dali, and musicians like Brian Eno and opera singer Jessye Norman. The focus of the displays was to highlight both the artistic and scientific qualities of crystal in general. It was not just a display of the history Swarovsky design. That is what came next. They had a large room that showcased examples of the more popular (and experimental) designs over the years. This room led into the gift shop of course; where many of us were so inspired by the last hour and a half that we couldn't resist making purchase. I bought buttons for Florida Scarf. I will use them on some scarves in the near future. I am very excited. 
The tour of the factory was followed by another (seriously long) trip home. Luckily, when driving the European countryside, one is never at a loss for gorgeous scenery. My eyes, and mind, just get lost in the rolling hills spotted with trees, quaint towns of adobe red, gold and blue, the tall, slender church steeples, and the lush fields of hops. You just can't get these views anywhere else. Since driving always takes longer than you think, I'm glad it lends itself to making great new friends and chatting the whole way home.



6/22/2012


I finally broke down and got cable on Wednesday. No, not Army Network TV, Deutsch TV! I have been listening to the radio in conjunction with my language learning and I was getting sick of news. I thought watching German television would be more effective. Plus, I wanted to watch the soccer game tonight without bothering Ludwig and Katarina. 
I've always had a cable box here and some cords sticking out of a few walls, but I never knew how to handle the situation. My landlord is really great about doing anything I need. He came right over to hook it up for me. Unfortunately, this setup was not without issues. That's to be expected with cross-culture electronic systems. He came in and out three different times before he called the cable guy, who came right over.  The cable guy had to trouble shoot the setup three times before it worked. In the end I could get color and sound at the same time. It required a more modern box. (one that liked my TV) I obviously couldn't have done it without them. To celebrate I watched Don't Mess with the Zohan that night. Adam Sandler is even funnier dubbed in German.

My downstairs neighbor came home just as Hans and the cable guy were finishing up with my new installation. When she inquired as to what I was doing, my explanation brought a strange look to her face. "Why would you do that?", she inquired.

 "So I can watch soccer on Friday", I said.

 She rolled her eyes and stated, "I hate when people only watch soccer during the championships."

 "Well then you hate me," I said in jest. I didn't take it personal; maybe she was feeling grumpy. Who cares when or why someone chooses to like something? Isn't it more important that they like it and are happy about something? Maybe I'm wrong, but she might as well have said, "I hate when people go to Rio de Janeiro and come back dancing the Samba." Or, "I hate when people travel to France and all they want to do is drink wine and eat cheese." Isn't she familiar with the expression, "When in Rome…" 

I am. I am even more amused by this encounter because sentiments were supported (coincidentally) in an email I got today. The email was from The Local. It's German news in English. Here's what they had to say:
Being German is a many-splendored thing - happily it rubs off on those who chose to make the country their home.
This week we looked at the integration process with a guide tospotting signs that you may be turning native.
Rushing to the shops early on Saturdays may be the start. Once you're stripping off on the beach in front of your family, it may be too late to reverse the process.
And it's a two-way thing - as migrants we also contribute much to German life. A new book sketched a gloomy image of what the country would be like without us.
Apart from the loss of cultural and social assets, "Germany without Foreigners" would suffer a huge economic shock which could lead to civil unrest.
The football team would be rubbish too - Germans of migrant heritage will be crucial on Friday evening when they take on Greece in a match heavy with political overtones. 

(I left their links in here in case you want to check them out.)


In continued enthusiasm for Deutsch Fussball I made my first "Ich liebe Deutschland" Florida Scarf. What do you think?
It'll be available on Etsy any second now.



6/21/2012

The past two days were supposed to be filled with more Army events. I am sad to report, however, I am one short. My sunset paddle got canceled for the second week in a row on account of rain. Where am I, the Amazon? Why so much rain all of a sudden? At least the endless floral abundance in my yard makes up for it. 

An event not canceled was the Job Fair. I know what your thinking…I have a job. It's called Florida Scarf, and I also paint. And while this is true; it is also true that I have been feeling selfish with my creative talents and I want to use them to inspire others as well. I went to the Job Fair to inquire about helping (somehow) in an art department. (somewhere)

The first woman I talked to said I was in the wrong place. So I asked her where else I would go to find a job other than a job fair. Maybe it would be more appropriate to just drop into any old office and start asking if anyone knows about job opportunities. As is pretty standard for getting the correct answer to a question (in the Army) I waited to speak to someone else. And of course; I got a completely different answer from Lady #2. She was delighted at the pursuance of a position for use of my talents. The way she explained it, these Army programs assume someone with acute talents would present themselves to departments which they deam in need of their skills. I was thinking the situation should be the complete opposite however. If the after school program would like to offer art classes, but needs an instructor; why wouldn't they advertise for one? Who knows?

In the end I'm just glad I checked it out. I may get a mini job out of it or I may just find some quality volunteering. Either way; I went, I saw, I conquered, and I ran into a few gals I knew and chatted it up for a minute. Then it was off the the Commissary.

Normally I like to do my grocery shopping in Deutschland, but since I was already on post I figured it was better to patronize the "local" spot. Here is where I made a mistake that I'm turning into my tip-of-the-day….

TIP OF THE DAY:

Don't put your keys down on the shelf while you are trying to shake the wet lettuce into the produce bag. You'll forget them. Then the universe will steer you into the frozen section where you will notice Haagen Dazs on sale so you will buy the double pint size; as well as a bag of frozen shrimp for that shrimp with mint-basil pesto recipe you wanted to try. You'll get out to the car 20 minutes later and be unable to open the door. You will pat yourself down, go through your purse twice, empty the contents of the grocery bag, and then put it back together before you retrace your steps. You will run into the Gym (because that is where the DVD drop off is) to see if you dropped your keys into the locked metal bin with your return DVD's. Then you will go back into the Commissary to retrace your steps there. Luckily (and this is the only lucky part) you won't have to go any further than the produce section before you find your keys. When you get back out to the car the nice old man (who stocks the shelves) will let you know that he was keeping an eye on your groceries while he was taking his break. You'll thank him and explain to him what a space-case you are and he'll congratulate you on a lesson learned. Unlike me, you may not feel the need to go home and blog about it.



6/19/2012
The amazing garden in my backyard is poppin' off, like crazy! How gorgeous is this flower?
I took advantage of the cherries in my backyard today too. I suggest you try this flavor packed recipe whether or not you have your own cherry tree. All you have to do is mix cherries with melon, lime juice, mint, and a touch of sugar. It's delicious and it goes great with coffee.


In a break from always doing Germany stuff; I did some Army stuff today. So in a break from always writing about Germany stuff I'm writing about Army stuff today. I think I am inspired because it has been a long time since I've spent so much time on post, and I had a blast.

I attended on MWR Forum today. If you don't know, MWR is (basically) all the fun and entertaining programs the Army has to offer. And in summation of today's event; it was a group discussion (of people with varied Army interests) to come up with new ideas for the department and to address issues we have here at Ansbach. It wasn't because I got a personal invitation that I attended the forum. I just got an announcement of the event in an email. A lot of people got it I'm sure, but only about 20 people showed up. I would have thought there would have been more since the base is full of a bunch of single females right now. But maybe it was better that our numbers were moderate.

In a meeting like this, great idea are always born. (And great criticism is always given) If the ideas and solutions survive and grow is another matter all together. It takes a lot of participation and commitment from the Army organizations, but also that of the community. And to see great ideas grow we will need more than 20 people.

I wasn't sure what I'd have to contribute to the discussion since I've only been in the Army for two years. It was a comfortable sharing environment though so I decided to give a few of my concerns. They were things like, support for spouses with small business, support for those of us here who would like to learn German, free beer for your first six months in Germany…just kidding.

MWR plans on following up with us on today's discussion. It would be great if they could take our information and put it to work. Things will never be perfect, but at least we could cater them more to the needs of the community members here now,

The other great thing about this forum was meeting new people and making friends. And I don't mean friends that I'd call on a Saturday night, but acquaintances that I could have lunch with, go on trips with, or be delighted to bump into at the Commissary. There are so many great, energetic, smart, friendly, creative personalities in the Army community. I want to know and learn from them all. 

Everyone at my table was really social. Of most interest to me, we talked a bit about our Spouse's Club here at Ansbach. It's nothing like the Club at Ft Rucker, which is where I was introduced to the organization. The girls at my table talked about the exciting changes (for the better) that may be coming to the club. I am excited for them. I would love to see the Spouse's Club develop more into a cohesive community of active "significant others" sharing this interesting lifestyle.

Being at this event today made me realize I have been neglecting my "Army side" and need to find more of a balance between the Army me and the Germany Tourist me.

After the meeting, which I rode my bike to, I rode to the library and picked up a new batch of goodies. (and also bumped into a few familiar faces) After the library I rode to the post office, and the phone shop. (and bumped into more cheerful, familiar faces) It was nice greeting people and making small talk in the summer sun. It felt so... neighborly.



6/18/2012

Germany has really been kicking some butt in the European Soccer Championships. It's amusing to me that I even know, but I've watched all the games so far. No, I don't have German cable but I'm considering it for the future. I can't always go upstairs and mooch off of my neighbors' T.V. screen, but I am terribly interested in the outcome of this tournament. I may be a fan now of a sport that I once found boring in my old life; a sport I gladly would have turned down to watch football or hockey instead. Heck, I'd even watch Jeopardy instead. 

When I first moved here I took notice of things that were similar to home; and things that weren't. The first thing I noticed that was much different was bacon. The German word for bacon is speck, but speck is nothing like bacon. With all the pork around here I can honestly say I've not had Americanesque bacon at all. (Speaking of breakfast meat, they also don't have pork roll or scrapple. I think I should talk to someone, maybe start a campaign for these pork products here. Germany may need a bit of Jersey or Pennsylvania Dutch influence.)

Anyway, the other thing I noticed a terrible difference in is soccer. I know, that we all know, that Europeans love their soccer. But I wasn't ready for how much they love soccer. Let me take a second here and narrow down my scope. (Just because I live in Germany doesn't mean I can speak for Europe) Allow me to sum up this love in one sentence. Germans are more intense than Steelers' fans. No kidding. I find their enthusiasm for their team so wonderful that I can't help but love the German soccer team too. Soccer Fever is more contagious than the Flu. If Germany wins, and I hope they do, I may have to get myself an official jersey. And I think it's going to be the white one. I don't know what the deal is with the green one.

This is amusing to me because when I moved here I had an old warm-up jacket from the Italian soccer team. Pardon me, but it was a cool color. When I got it I didn't give a hoot about soccer. When I wore it a couple of times (when I first got to Germany) I still didn't give a hoot about soccer. But after one too many comments and inquiries I gave it up. ( Americans never even noticed) I felt like a dork telling the Germans I didn't even like the sport, just the color of the jacket. So I mailed the jacket home and my sister wears it now.

The games come on T.V. late here. So, in anticipation of the event, I killed Sunday afternoon by festing with my neighbors. The town next to us was having a soiree and we walked there. Really the only reason I decided to go was because they were having traditional Bavarian musicians there. (and beer, and bratwurst, and sauerkraut) I also considered it another fabulous opportunity to work on my German; and it was. The most amusing part of my afternoon was translating Beefeater in German. Apparently Germans don't drink Beefeater, or at least not those at my table. I love how words and phrases become so amusing as they hop from language to language. It makes you realize just how amusing the insignificant can be.

My plan of making the most of my day before the game sort of back fired. After two beers, two brats, and too much sun I needed a nap. It's a good thing the sun was still up when the game started, otherwise I might have slept through the whole thing.



6/16/2012
In search of something to do today I opened one of my guide books on Germany. I came across a hike called The Trail of The Twelve Apostles. I couldn't resist checking this spot out on account of its title, and the fact that it wasn't too far from my house. To be exact, the Twelve Apostles is in Solnhofen, Germany.
I couldn't have picked a better day for a hike. The sky was blue and the sun was shining....a good time to spend some time in the woods I figure. This trail is located in a nature park and is actually part of a much larger trail. I believe the larger trail is known as the E8.The E8   (European Long Distance Path) goes 4700km (2920 miles) across Europe, from Cork in Ireland to Istanbul inTurkey. This portion of the E8 was called Main Danua Weg. The Twelve Apostles is only 4 miles long.
I hiked today for about 4 hours, so I followed the route in the guide book, but I went for a little extra credit too. This trail was awesome. Here, at it's beginning, I think the mountains are refered to as the foot hills of the Dolomites. I hiked along a mountain ridge with interesting rock formations, followed the Altmuel River for a ways, popped in and out of a few towns, and I even went through a natural rock factory. The factory portion was a bit strange. The nice thing about hiking in Germany is that you never have to worry about going hungry or thirsty. In my walk, I passed by four restaurants. There were a ton of other people out too; hiking and biking. (God bless them for biking on these trails. Some parts were really steep.)
The other aspect of this hike that was great for me is that it is impossible to get lost. There are trail markings every 50 ft. (give or take) There are many parking spots along this path and each has a large area map. I really enjoy how convenient the Germans make it to enjoy nature. 
The one bummer on the trip is that there is no place to go to the bathroom, unless you go to a restaurant. I suggest you do not drink a glass of water and a huge cup of coffee before you leave, without using the bathroom. For me, let's just say that I am glad for deep woods and packing extra napkins with my lunch.
I wasn't sure what to expect with this hike in the wildlife department. In the back of my mind I was picturing myself getting attacked by a large wild boar; his enormous teeth ripping my arms off, destroying my camera, and crushing my fruit and peanut butter sandwich in my backpack. On the contrary, all I saw were a bunch of slugs and snails. I am amazed at how many huge snails there are all over the woods. I was wondering if they were the kind of snails you could collect up and cook at home with garlic butter. I was too chicken to try it though. Oh, and I did see one deer and one mouse. 
After my huge morning hike I went home and chilled out in my backyard. Since I didn't bring anything home from the woods to eat (like Ludwig would have) I, instead, picked some cherries off the trees in the yard and had them for a snack with some tea containing honey from my neighbor and mint from my porch.

6/13/2012

I hung out with Hans this afternoon. I know I'm getting better with my conversational German because I don't hide when I see my landlord outside. Now I stroll up and have a chat with him. He's doing really well, in case you are wondering. This will be the 8th weekend he has flown the birds. His birds have come in first place five out of the last seven weekends. He is a bit worried about this weekend though. It's going to be hot; and when it's hot the birds like to stop to get a drink. He can't feel confident about another win knowing his birds will stop to rest and drink. I don't think you can blame the birds though, it's a 5/6 hour flight to return from Paris. I'd stop for a drink too. It's too bad the pigeons don't have Camelbacks. Hans should invent bird water bottles. His birds already wear GPS tracking devices; what's one more accessory? 
I know I have said this before, but Hans makes his own schnapps from the fruit in our backyard. I asked him if I could have a small sample to give to someone as a gift. He said sure and proceeded to lead me into the cellar. I didn't just walk out of there with one small bottle of liquor of course. I had two extra; but one was jarred sour cherries and the other was apple juice. How cool. The man (and his wife) make their own apple juice. He made me taste it on the spot. It was awesome. He said it's nothing but mashed apples. I can't possibly imagine how many apples it takes to get a whole liter of juice. He proceeded to explain to me how much better fresh apple juice is than the stuff you buy in the store that contains water and sugar. (but this we already know) I think I'm going to have to get a good recipe for black forest cake (or something) to use these cherries. Any ideas?
Yes, those are two new license plates for my collection behind the bottles. thank you, Melanie. (It's funny that I'd get some American license plates from a German. Those things are everywhere.)
Earlier in the day I went thrift shopping. I am excited to report that I haggled in German, at the store, over the price of a dresser. I was pretty proud of myself. In retrospect though, I'm thinking maybe I didn't do such a hot job. I was so proud of my haggle that I didn't check all the drawers. When I got home I realized that one drawer was a bit busted. Oh well. Lesson learned.
In my last bit of news, I entered the Army art contest. I won in the painting category last year. This year I entered my new paintings and a couple of scarves. We'll see how it goes. I'm glad they have the contest. It's a great way to promote the Arts in the Army. If you are interested you can check it out at 
http://www.armymwr.com/recleisure/artsandcrafts/default.aspx



6/10/2012

Yea! Germany Beat Portugal!
And thank goodness, or I may have had way less fun at the Wine Festival.
The food and beverage tent was behind me, and the giant screen featuring the soccer game was in front of me.
Surprisingly, in this photo I am not with Katarina and Ludwig. These two young bucks are my other German friends.
Not surprisingly, everyone there was dressed appropriately for the event. I almost was not dressed correctly, but at the last minute Melanie let me borrow a hat. I should have known better, but this was the first time I have gone to watch a soccer game. I still think I like football or hockey better (don't let the Germans hear me say that), but soccer is great too.
It was neck-and-neck game until the end; that's when Germany finally scored. What a lovely goal it was. The place went nuts and the celebration began.
Before I get on with the description of the party I would like to comment on something. I was surprised (and you might be too) by the amount of space between each person as we were viewing the game. I would have thought that everyone would be more squished together in their attempts to score the best place from which to see the screen. It was the same way when I went to the concert a couple of weeks ago. Everyone in the crowd was great about giving those around them some personal space. This is in stark contrast to waiting in line in Germany. At the supermarket or post office, the person behind you is breathing on your neck in anticipation of their turn. And don't even get me started (again) on the lift lines at the ski resorts. Germans will impail one another with their skis trying to get on the lift first. Being quite familiar with this dog-eat-dog behavior in lines, I was surprised at how enjoyable other German crowds can be. 
We drank wine, and wine cocktails, and sang, and danced, until the lights came on. These German festivals are really a blast. What could be better than an open air tent filled with picnic tables and friendly people in traditional clothing and soccer jerseys? Throw in a festive cover band and you're going to need an extra day to recuperate. Everyone in the place, literally, stood on the benches and tables all night singing and dancing. It's a site that will challenge your definition of a table and a bench. Come to think of it, these folding festival tables and benches are a true testament to German craftsmanship. They can hold the weight of eight adults, dancing and jumping, and not break. Amazing. I don't know if I'd try that with some of the rentals I've seen in America.
I'd also like to take a moment to recognize the band. I forget their name, but they are champions. (Yes, they played that Queen song.) They played from 10:00 until 2:00 am, without stopping. I will applaud the audience as well, since they sang every word of every song along with the band. I had wished I knew the words to the German songs, because you stick out like a sore thumb when you are the only one not singing and just clapping. It was no matter though, since I could chime in to the American songs. My favorite part was when the entire band (7 people) put on cowboy hats and held up signs that said Yee Haw. Somehow they (cleverly) managed to combine this Yee Haw song with the Word Up song. (You know, it's that funk song...what's the word...a word up)
And this, my friends, was my dinner.
It's not the best picture, but I had to photograph it anyway. No, it isn't a McChicken sandwich. It's a schnitzel sandwich. What a fabulous idea...that I would only consider consuming after a couple of wine cocktails. I know you can plainly see what it is but I will describe it anyway. It was a hot, juicy pork chop fried crisp, and served with lettuce, tomato, and fabulous spicy mustard on one of those fresh, dense German rolls that we all love. I will dream about that sandwich in the future.

6/9/2012
How HUGE are these strawberries?
I went strawberry picking today with you-know-who.
I had plans to go to church to hear the organ play this afternoon, but while I was going through my junk mail I found a neat recipe I wanted to try. It's called strawberry and basil parfait. Weird, right? (I've been into that lately; like beets, walnuts, pineapple, prunes, lemon, and garlic. Try it. It's amazing.) As I am scoping this recipe in German I bump into Ludwig. I showed it to him. He said he and Katarina were going strawberry picking this afternoon. She had plans to make strawberry cake. What a coincidence. How could I pass up the chance for fresh strawberries? They'll be a much more appropriate companion to my fresh basil. 
As it turns out, the field is about one mile from our house. The berry patches are in their prime right now, so getting a bunch of this bright, juicy, fresh summer treat was no problem. I've got more strawberries than I can shake a stick at; and so do my neighbors. In a few days I'll make my parfait. First I've got a recipe to decode and a bunch of supplies to purchase. I might have to get Katarina to help me in the market; I don't know what half the list is.
Meanwhile she got right to work when she got home.
And I was eating dessert by 4:30.
Now it's off to the public viewing of the soccer game at the Wine Fest.
We'll let you know how it goes.

6/7/2012
Yesterday I went to opening night of the Ansbach Altstadt Fest. It is a celebration for the city all throughout the streets. This festival is particularly fun because its setup invites you to walk around all the tiny streets throughout the city and discover pop up shops, games, bars, and restaurants. There were so many vendors in really interesting locations.  Music stages set up here-and-there were an added bonus too. 
I went with my neighbors, or course. We battled the rain in the late afternoon to tour the festival and get a good seat to see the opening ceremony. The Burgermeister (City Mayor) came out, made a speech, and tapped the first keg. I've never seen this before. She puts on a big apron because it is messy. Then she hammers a spout into a wooden keg and proceeds to fill beer mugs (for free) for all the people standing in front of the stage. It was a great scene; there was free beer flowing, music playing, jugglers and clowns on stilts causing a ruckus, children on carnival rides, the air smelled of grilled bratwurst, and Katarina, Ludwig, and I were taking it all in while seated on a festival bench. We had our umbrellas in one hand and our beers in the other.
Of course you must eat while you drink; and multiple beers calls for multiple eating pit stops. For our first course we had the traditional Brats' and 'Kraut. While enjoying this treat my neighbors told me all about how they used to make sauerkraut at home as children. Ludwig said they used to shred the cabbage, mix it in a large tub with seasoning, and then he (as a toddler) would get in the tub and stomp the living daylights out of the cabbage. Then the family would jar it and let it age over the winter. It would finally be ready to eat months later. I've never had homemade sauerkraut, and may never, because it is something of a lost art now. Everyone can afford to buy it.
When we finished eating we proceeded to meander through the streets discovering new vendors and music stages. Throughout the day we saw tradition German music, a swing band, acoustic guitar, and New Orleans style Jazz. At one point we found the Weber grill tent. They were grilling flattened potato dumplings. I wanted to try one, but we couldn't. There were no seats there and Ludwig said this food was for the Mayor and her people. So we moved on.
In another corner of the city was the Blue Cross tent. Blue Cross in Germany is nothing like the Blue Cross in America. It is a division of the Red Cross and it is for people recovering from alcohol addiction. They had their own music stage and bar. The bar sold really fun, nonalcoholic beverages. I think that is a refreshing idea. You don't see too many festivals carving out such a grand production for people who don't drink.
Further down the street we stopped because Ludwig saw one of his old friends, and it was just about time for us to eat again. We were in front of Tali's Kebab Haus. Tali and his family are Turkish. Ludwig says they have been here thirty years, and he makes the best Kebab in Ansbach. The reason it's the best is that Tali makes the meat himself. He doesn't just buy the huge hunk of meat on a stick from a factory. I was pretty impressed that Ludwig even knows the deal with the Doener, as I consider it to be fast food for a more youthful patron. But if Ludwig claims Tali's downers are the best; I believe it. For my second dinner I had Tali's Doener Wrap. I can honestly say it is the best doener I have had here so far. I will, from now own, only get my Turkish food there. (And if you live here I suggest you do the same) Everything was great. I even sampled the lamb. The prices at this restaurant are unbeatable as well. The restaurant is located at Neustadt 23.
We took a taxi to the fest, but we wanted to ride the bus home. Apparently the newspaper said that bus 755 would take us there. At 9:30 a bunch of buses came and went but we never saw the 755. We were forced to call a taxi. I'm glad when snags, such as this, happen to locals. I normally assume that only a tourist like me would have that problem. I think Ludwig said sheisse (shit) about twenty times he was so mad. (I found it rather humorous since this behavior is a stereotype of Germans) I am happy to report though, that we got home kein problem in the end.

6/3/2012


As previously mentioned, I got an invitation to an opening for a painting exhibit from an artist I don't know. I thought checking out some artwork in a greenhouse gallery (in the middle of a blooming garden) was going to be the only cool, new thing I was going to do today. 
Wrong!
I took a bike ride this morning before the rain came. I ended up in a neighboring town called Lichtenau. I knew that the Hauff beer brewery was there, but I had no idea it also had as much historic splendor as anything I've seen lately. What a nice surprise. I had to stop for a bit. I cruised around this new town on my two wheels exploring, but I had to get back home to get ready. I didn't want to be late for the art opening. And secretly I wanted to get in the building before it rained.
No such luck. It started pouring as soon as I got in the car. It was a good thing I had packed my umbrella and wore my sneakers. Honestly when you think about it; where better to go in the rain than a garden? Nothing appreciates rain more than the flowers. I love going to see new artwork. Making this artwork more appealing was the natural beauty it was set amongst. 
The paintings in this exhibit were just as colorful as I was hoping. The invitation I received featured a painting of bulls. I was hoping to see more bulls in the show, but there was only one.  Basically this artist painted a lot of familiar themes; women, wine, and flowers.Despite seeing these timeless themes recreated I did walk away with two new ideas about art. The first is that magenta is awesome and should be used more often, especially by me. And the second is that gold is even more awesome. I love gold when it is paired with blue. Gold should be blue's compliment on the color wheel, not orange. On my own personal color wheel orange is the compliment to turquoise.
My favorite painting in the show was titled The King and the Lion. I wish I could have shown it to you. There was also a lovely band playing at the exhibit. It did a lot to boost the atmosphere. (as if the location wasn't working hard enough at this) And, of course there were refreshments. I snagged a delicious piece of artisan bread, and while there was wine I refrained as it was 11:00 on a Sunday. I didn't stay too long. I was inspired and wanted to get home to paint my own painting. 

I got so much work done. There is nothing more torturous than painting white paint on white gesso. (which is what I spent the afternoon doing) Your mind just can't grasp the purpose. It needed to get done though, so I buckled down for four hours and did it. You can't tell the difference yet, but you will once it gets more layers. 

I took a break for lunch and looked through my local paper. I can't understand much of it, but I can comprehend the events page. I noticed that there was a ceramic artist's market in a town nearby this weekend. I tried to ignore what I had just read, but the thought of a festival of German artists was burning a hole in my brain. I tried to go back to painting but by I couldn't stand it, so I went. It was in a town called Sommersdorf. Thanks to my driving recently with Ludwig I was able to get there and back with no GPS! Woo-hoo! I'm starting to know my way around. The town of Sommersdorf was historically delicious also. What a bonus, three adorable towns in one day. (my own town of Ansbach is included in that count) 

The pottery market was smaller in comparison to some that I have been to, but that is good. If I see too much I get overwhelmed and can't buy anything. I got some supplies for my mother and I to work with. (in our respective crafts) They are made by a woman who makes her own clay herself, from the ground up. How cool? She didn't speak any English. I introduced myself to her in German and tried to inquire about her process. I feel like I was pretty successful at communicating and understanding her answer. By the end of the conversation we exchanged business cards. Mission accomplished. Further into the market I found a cute couple that makes garden accessories from clay. I got a present for a family friend. It's a bird on a stick. Actually 12 years ago when I was in Germany I bought another bird on a stick. I'm glad it's still a running theme. I think it's a nice, understated theme that makes a great gift. (Not like the overplayed koo-koo clock or beer stein. 

I got home just in time to stay out of the second bout of rain and went back to my own work. I was rejuvenated by more great energy from local artists. I can't wait to see how it influences my brush strokes. I am also excited to see how the new buttons influence my scarves!



6/1/2012

There is a saying...if you can't be with the ones you love, love the ones you're with. Ain't that that truth! 
 As I am half way around the world from my own family, and grandparents in particular, I think I may be lovin' a new pair...Katarina and Ludwig. 
(please don't take offense to this, Gram)
Our little company of three had another outing today. We went to Dinklesbuhl; a wonderfully preserved historic town that's close to home. It is perfectly portioned for an early afternoon walk, and it is fixed with all the appropriate trimmings; a church, a river, a wall with towers, art galleries, shops, bakeries, cafes, another church, and tourists. Today I forced Katarina and Ludwig to be tourists with me, but they didn't mind. Apparently it's been a while since they've gone to Dinklesbuhl. They even let me take a picture of them lounging on a building side.
For this field trip I drove. My gas is cheaper than Ludwig's. I also thought he might want a turn to have a beer with lunch. It was a nice drive. We could have taken Autobahn, but Ludwig is a backroads kinda guy. Two things were funny about this. The roads were kinda-curvey and there were many speed limit changes, so Ludwig kept telling me to slow down every ten seconds. (Good thing I know the German word for slow) I felt like I was in the car with my own grandfather. ( Both my grandfather and Ludwig are aware of speeding traps and places where they've known accidents to take place.) Ludwig also loves to point out all the sites. So I'm trying to drive (slowly) and look at what he's pointing at, and try to figure out what he's saying about it in German. By the time we got to Dinklesbuhl I was exhausted. Just kidding. 
Walking around the town was great. It is absolutely adorable. St. George's Church was worth the trip. It has amazing carvings, beautiful alters, ornate metal work, and a red organ. What was most fascinating though was that it housed a bishop in a glass tomb. ( I think it was a bishop in a tomb, but I have not verified that yet.) You could see everything. He had one leg decorated in a stocking and he even still had his gloves on. Ludwig pointed out the fact that the bones were inside.
 After the church we walked around the city wall. We checked out all the towers. In doing this we found multiple art shops, ateliers, and pottery workshops. Wood and clay are very big in Dinklesbuhl. It was fun looking at art. Looking at it with other people was most of the fun. 
For lunch I pointed out a restaurant that my guide book recommended. Ludwig shot it down because even he knows you don't eat where the guide book tells you, unless you want to pay twice the price. I said, "OK. You are the hunter. Hunt us a restaurant." And he did. He picked Restaurant Zur Glocke. The reason he chose it was because it was connected to it's own butcher. He says if the restaurant has a butcher it's going to have the best meat. How can you not agree with that? Ludwig recommended our lunch dish. I ate like a local. I totally forget what the dish was called but it was baby pig. They roll the meat up together to make it big enough and then they wrap it in skin and bake it. It was served with a light gravy and potato dumpling. No, I did not eat the skin. It wasn't crunchy. Ludwig says when it's grilled the skin gets crunchy, but baked it is soft. My friends didn't mind that I didn't eat the skin. 

Our drive home was cool. Ludwig made me drive a different way home so he could show me mores sites. We went through a million little towns. Of particular note, we went through Herreiden and stopped and parked by a tower. It was the same tower Ludwig had pointed out to me last week; the one with the Stork nest on top. I was stoked for the opportunity to photograph it. All over the ground below the nest was so much tiny bird feathers. (down?) It looked like it was snowing.

Once we got home they invited me up for a beer. I declined because I wanted to go back to my new painting, but it was tempting. 

Another great day.

(The rest of the photos are on the FB)



5/31/2012
Unless you know Hans, you probably don't know what this is.
I live on the ground floor of our house. This means that whenever someone comes to the house and rings the bell, they always ring my bell knowing that I'll answer. The other two tenants must go up or down stairs to answer the bell. And unless they are expecting someone, good luck getting them to the front door. Usually the rings that I get are from people selling things; apples from the Red Sea, faster internet - you know, the usual crap. ( I can't wait for the day someone comes to the door with a vacuum.)
This morning the doorbell rang. I had just wet my hair and had it wrapped in a towel, but I was decent so I answered. Immediately upon opening the door I am greeted by a man with a box, who doesn't speak English and needs a signature. Mind you, the box is a recycled Pampers box with lots of tape around it. I was skeptical, but I saw my landlord's name and address so I figured there could be little harm. I signed and as the man handed me the box I noticed there were air holes carved on each side. When I asked the man what was in it (because fearing the worst, I thought it might be a snake) he told me they were pigeons. I had to laugh. Why am I signing for a package of pigeons early in the morning with no shoes on and my hair wrapped in a big yellow towel in the middle of Germany? Because it is the neighborly thing to do.
I think most of you know this, but my landlord raises Carrier Pigeons. He is a champion racer, second generation; so I wasn't too surprised to learn the contents of the package. What is slightly perplexing however, is why? I know he breeds the birds. I have blogged about the babies and the eggs. I'm wondering if, in the last race, these couple of pigeons got off-course and once found, they had to be mailed back to him. I wonder if I know enough German to find out. 

5/29/2012

I woke up to a mellow thunder shower this morning. Out the window the sky was dark lavender. It made my yard appear electric green. You could almost see the energy in the air. I actually think that is what woke me up. Even though it was too early I decided to stay awake. It was good. I got a bunch of chores done that I have been neglecting. I even had time to finish a couple of scarves before my friend called me to go to lunch. Despite the early morning precipitation it turned out to be a gorgeous day. I think the weather here can be as unpredictable as it can be in Colorado. 

We went for a walk in the city park before lunch. It is called the Orangerie. It was much bigger than I thought. Most of it is lawns, trees, and wildflowers. In strolling on the paths I found an abundance of slugs and snails. One snail had an interesting shell. It looked like something straight out of the ocean. 

There is another part of the garden, on the northern side near the city's Residenze (old house of royalty) that is manicured to perfection. There were so many interesting and exotic plants there, I wished I knew more about them. Close to the home there were three rows of potted trees. Lemons, limes, oranges, and a few citrus plants I had never even seen were all represented. One fruit in particular looked like an orange, but was smaller than a kumquat. We tasted it. The flavor was unbelievably sour, considering how cute it looked. 

There were also olive trees, fig trees, cherry trees, and apple. It was enchanting. Further down in the gardens I found a new favorite flower. The magenta and purple colors were inspiring. I have featured it above. I want an outfit that makes me look like that.

The Orangerie gardens even have an agave cactus. As my friend and I were admiring it and trying to guess how old it is a man approached us. He started to say something in German. I thought he was asking us for directions. (as if we don't look like tourists) When he realized we didn't speak German he spoke to us in English. He invited us to the opening of a painting exhibit this weekend. Awesome. He handed us an invitation in an envelope and everything. Of course I'm going. I'm pretty delighted actually. Two art exhibits in two weekends…I'm on a roll. 

After our stroll we ate at a Greek restaurant, Korfu. I didn't find the wait staff to be as warm and welcoming as in the other Greek restaurant in town, but they sure made up for it with their delicious bean soup. I had a plate of mixed appetizers for my entree. On it was something called red caviar. I thought it would have been better than it was, or at least have had a more outstanding flavor. I mean, come on, it's caviar. Right? It was creamy and thick. It didn't taste anything like tahini, but that is the closest texture comparison I could make. I'm glad I gave this red caviar a whirl, but it's not going to make my "favorite flavors" list. 

I am happy to report, on a side note, that I got through the entire lunch speaking only German. (Not to my friend of course, we spoke English)



Here is me going on a bit of a tangent:

Seeing all the tiny slimy creatures on the ground reminded me of a brief conversation I had with Ludwig a day ago. We were speaking of words that are similar in German and English; like house and Haus. Ludwig's next example is the word schnecke, which we apparently have many of in the garden. I almost freaked out. I hate snakes. I was happy to leave them all in Alabama. I didn't think a snake problem was going to follow me to Germany and end up in my backyard. I expressed this to him and he said, "not snake, schnecke, with the house on their back." 

"Oh snail!" I realized my misinterpretation of what he said and was quite relieved. He then proceeded to tell me a story about how his father worked (for a brief time) in the sugar cane fields in Luisiana. One day his dad found a huge rattle snake crawling up the cane stalk. Ludwig's dad chopped the head of the snake off with a machete. ( I can see where Ludwig gets it from) When he brought the snake to his boss the man was delighted. (Dem's good eaten' ...Of course) Ludwig described with a discussed look on his face how the boss skinned the snake and grilled it up, right there, and all the Americans ate it. Inside myself I found the humor in Ludwigs disgust at eating a snake, considering I wouldn't eat half the things that Ludwig would….blood sausage anyone?…or maybe some stuffed cow stomach?…I mean, Hello!



5/28/2012
I was out and about this weekend. No doubt.


Friday night some new friends showed me around Nuremberg. We ate at an awesome restaurant called Mount Lavinia. It is the first Ceylon restaurant of Nuremberg; not that I even know what Ceylon is. The menu was Ceylon, Ayurveda, Thai, and Indo cuisine. I'm in love. I had the lentils of my life; red lentils in a coconut sauce. And the Lion Beer will knock your socks off. I also found out what schnittlauch is. It's chives. (I'm not sure why my neighbors think it is in the garlic category.) After dinner we checked out the Beach Festival in the Old City. I've never seen anything like it. For about two months in the summer they dump a ton of sand right in the middle of the city. They build it up with tiki bars, huts, cabanas, palm trees, bamboo...the works. They even have a man made wading pool with tables in the middle of it. If I didn't know better, I'd think I was at Martel's Tiki Bar in NJ!
I spent Saturday resting up for my big day, Sunday, and the African Music Festival in Wurzburg. It was awesome. Music Festivals in Europe are extremely similar to those in the US. (in case you thought they were wildly different, they aren't) There is a huge mix of people from young to old, but mostly hippies. There are more people running around with no shoes and dreadlocks than should be allowed by law. (But they are super nice so I cut them a break)
The festival grounds were mostly dirt from so many people everywhere. (standard) I was glad I wore my old sneakers. I haven't had so much dirt up my nose since summer camp. I forgot what that felt like.  
A large part of the festival was an African Shopping Market. I could have shopped all day. I wanted a dress, a hammock, a print from the photo exhibit, a t-shirt for Phil, a zebra skin rug, some lanterns, some spices, and a hat. I settled for a Necklace. It was made by a fashion designer that was a featured seller. Her name is Rama Diaw N'Deye. All of her materials are directly from Senegal, Mali, and Mauritania. She is accredited with founding an association of craftswomen, and you know I think that is just awesome. I bought one of her pieces just because I wanted to meet her so badly. She was obviously too busy to chat. Here is a link to some of her stuff.


Another highlight for me, aside from the music which I will get to in a minute, was the food. There was an awesome array of international food, especially African. I had a simple cous cous, vegetable, and bean dish, but it was wonderful. I could have just gotten full from all the amazing smells coming from all the tents mixing together, but I am glad I decided on eating something. I actually wish I could have brought food home with me. I also had the most amazing mint ice tea. I can't stop thinking about it.
 Now I get to the part of the Festival that I found most German...the language everyone was speaking. I am joking of course. Yes, everyone was speaking German. Despite the fact that the fair grounds was transformed to make you think you were somewhere exotic, we were still in Germany. 
What was incredibly German about the event was the waste management. Unbelievable. There was not much trash, anywhere. Every time I bought a drink I had to pay an extra 2 Euros for it. When I was finished with the drink I had to bring the bottle (or glass) back to be disposed of. This is when I was refunded the extra money. Also, all of the food tents were setup with dishwashers. I ate out of a real bowl with silverware. I had to bring it back to the tent I got it from when I was done eating. Isn't that amazing? Can you imagine all the extra work that is for the food people? I bet it's worth it though, for the amount of trash that is nonexistent after the festival. 
Oh, before I get to the music, there was a beautiful Photography exhibit. This man traveled through some of the remotest areas in Africa doing portraits of the people. They were the most striking portraits I have ever seen. The people were so graceful and serious in his capturings. There was something that he did with their eyes in the picture (or they do with their own eyes) that was mesmerizing. You can see some of the photographs on the link above.
OK, so the music was the mission. Mission accomplished. The first band I saw was Mamadou Diabate. It was a really fun percussion band. Next up on stage was Fantcha. She has wild hair. I loved it. Her voice was beautiful too. Her sound was a soothing mix of Africa, Cuba, and Portugal. It went perfectly with my mint tea in the middle of the day. Next was this guy named Bebey Prince Bissongo. He, like Mamadou Diabate, was from Burkina Faso. He was funk and Jazz and African mixed. His sound was really fun and creative. One of his band members actually did a beat box duet with a percussion guy. I've never seen that before. 
These afternoon performances got me warmed up for the main event, Sona Jobarteh and Afrocubism. Sona is from Gambia and she is the first woman to play the Kora. She explained that the only people to play the Kora before her are men, but also you must be born into the family. Not just anyone can decide to play the Kora. (So she is in the family and that's why she has had the opportunity to learn.) I thought that was amazing. This woman really blew me away because not only could she sing beautifully and play this traditional instrument, but she ripped on the guitar too. And I am going to put the icing on this cake, right now, and add that she played the concert last night pregnant! (seeing a pregnant bandleader was another a first for me yesterday) Towards the end of her show, she had a song that she wrote for the women of West Africa. She felt like they deserve a song for their courage, strength in keeping families together, and their ability to keep traditions and stories alive. In order to add her personal story to the song she had her young son (about 6) come on stage. He sat in a chair and played a drum for, not only that song, but the rest of the concert too. It was gorgeous.
It was easy to get a good position in front of the stages all day. At night it got a bit trickier. The show was in a huge circus tent. It had a semi circle of seats and clear standing room in front of the stage. I wasn't sure if I was going to make it standing the entire time, so I was sitting for Sona. It had been a long day and it was going to be a long night. When her show was over though and they were setting up for Afrocubism,  something in my heart (and my feet) told me I should go down to the floor. I am so glad I did. Afrocubism was amazing! I got to stand two people back from the stage, so I saw and heard it all. They had 12-15 musicians on stage at all times. What a party! Half of the guys were from Cuba and the other half were stars from West Africa. It was such a great mix of instruments and voices. This band has an amazing story too. They are a project that has been in the works for 15 years. Toumani Diabate explained some of the history of the band. (he is actually Sona Jobarteh's cousin and he plays the Kora also.) In short, West African musicians and Cuban musicians have always had a strong relationship. The West African guys would go to school in Cuba to learn how to write and read music. They have always known how to play it, but never knew how to write it. From these lessons the musicians became close and now some of them are in this band together. I think it's a great story. I rounded out the night by dancing for the next two hours. I'm telling you; you can not hear this music live and stand still.  I highly encourage you to check out Afrocubism and The Buena Vista Social Club, if you don't already know who they are.

5/25/2012


Initially Julie and I were going to take the train. But just a few days ago I got to talking to a fellow spouse, who was Bamberg-savvy, and she suggested we just drive (gas is cheaper than a train ticket) and park (for free) at the Army base there. What a great idea. I looked it up on a map, without paying close attention to details like distance, and assumed that the base was within walking distance to downtown. (and technically it is)
Julie arrived at my house by 8:30. The drive to Bamberg was easy and we didn't come across any rain. Our day was unfolding nicely. It was easy to find the Army base and parking wasn't a problem. (What we didn't realize at the time was that we were parked on the farthest side of base from downtown) We popped into the Shoppette to use the ladies' room before we started walking and got to chatting with the clerk. She gave us a map (thank God) and suggested the walk may be a bit long and we may want to take the bus. Being as fit as we are, Julie and I did not heed this advice and began walking. Two minutes into our walk the clouds rolled in and it began to drizzle. At this point, 10:45, we decide to can the Flower Show as we assumed it would rain (on and off) all day. And it did; so that was the smartest decision we made all day. For the next while our day started to go downhill. We made our first wrong turn at 11:00, corrected it, decided to use the map on Julie's iPhone, and realized the walk would be longer than we expected but still felt we could manage. At 11:05, we came to a point where our road was strictly for cars only. There was a walking path next to it that went into the woods. This walking path was not marked on the GPS, nor was it on the map the clerk had given us. We assumed (second mistake of the day) it would run along the road and take us to our first bridge in route to downtown. Wrong. This is where my story gets a bit Hansel & Gretle-ish. We proceeded to walk and talk down this wooded path, in the rain and wind, for the next hour. Finally we came up to a sign that had directions on it. It said that Bamberg was 4 kilometers behind us! Holy Cow! We had been aimlessly walking in inclement weather and not paying attention for an hour! "How?" is the first question. Julie had been checking in with the GPS periodically. What I didn't know was that she had been misreading it the whole time. Every time she opened the program she would see the last screen she had been on. It wasn't updating and she didn't realize. She saw the blue line, with a blue dot on it, and figured it was us. It wasn't. What a nightmare. With no other option, we turned around and started walking in the direction we had just come from. We retraced our steps back to the nearest bus stop we could find. At this point I had given up on walking for a while. We were wet and hot; kind of an icky combination. We caught the 12:25 bus to the City Center.
For 2 bucks we saved ourselves quite a long walk. And for what it's worth, the buses in Bamberg are awesome. We stepped off the bus rejuvenated and laughing at our former selves who had gotten lost in the woods. We were back in the city, ready to see some attractions. This is now where my story will smooth out.

As luck would have it, and by no surprise, there was a Fest in Bamberg this weekend. The streets were packed with people (enjoying in-between-rain-minutes-of-sun) and street performers. Apparently this may have been some kind of street performer festival, because they were everywhere. It was a good thing I had a change purse stocked with 50 cent pieces. I've never heard so many accordions in one city before.
Bamberg is gorgeous. I enjoyed it immensely and would go back in a heart beat. (There are a couple of breweries I didn't get to sample.) The two main points of interest that we visited were Michaelsberg Abbey and the Bamberg Cathedral.
Our walk from the bus brought us to the Cathedral first, known as the Bamberg Dom St Peter und St. Georg. It is a Roman Catholic church originally founded in 1002. It wasn't really completed until the 13th Century. This place was huge! And it had a ton of amazing artwork.
 One of the most impressive sculptures was the marble tomb for the founder and his wife. Coincidentally it was carved by the same guy who did the alter I really liked in St. Jakob's Church in Rothenberg. Small world. The church was consecrated in 1012. This means that the church is having its millennium birthday party this year. We picked a great time to visit. Many parts of the church, that are normally closed, were open. We got to go down into the crypt. The church is also hosting many exhibits to celebrate the 1000 year birthday. Currently they are having a modern art exhibition; which I just loved. To see current art displayed amongst historical treasures in a place of spiritual celebration was awesome. 
After our (insanely rewarding) tour of this church we braved the maps again to navigate our way to the Abbey. We had to walk quite a bit out of town…and up a steep slope. It was well worth it. The view from the top is breathtaking. Also on the top, in the Abbey Gardens, was a fabulous lunch stop. By this time it was 2:30. We were starving. The cafe had a local special that I was excited the try. This lunch dish was seasonal, mountain mushrooms, in a homemade cream sauce, over dumplings, with fresh chives. It was (absolutely) to die for. I have to thank Ludwig (who had told me about the pfifferlinge mushrooms prior) for my knowledge of how great this dish was going to be. It turned out to be the perfect reward for all of my sufferings earlier on in the day. And since Julie couldn't go without reward; I had to share it with her. I didn't mind. Amazing food only tastes more amazing when you get to share it. As we reveled in our lunchly delights we laughed about how much we had walked already by this time. Our rough calculations led us to believe we had been on our feet for almost four hours. If we were walking a good pace we had gotten in over 15 miles already. Could that really be possible?
We finished up with lunch and toured the Abbey. It was founded as a private monastery in 1015. The church dates back to the same year. Of course after suffering an earthquake, fire, and war, much of the church and abbey have been rebuilt. There are many beautiful features here. One of my favorites was the painting on the ceiling. It is painted to represent a garden. This mural garden features 49 plants mentioned in the bible. Cute idea for a painting in a church, right?

After Kloster Michelsberg we trekked back into the city center. We tooled around some more, saw some street performers, and popped in and out of a few shops before deciding it was probably time to head home. We felt the need to close our day with one more stop to rest and enjoy a beverage. On our way back to the bus we found a Portuguese Coffee Shop. It could not have been more adorable. There was vintage tchotchky in every nook and cranny; every cafe table was different; each antique chair sat on by the patrons as different; the menu was in Portuguese; the baristas were also the bakers; they were playing the music of The Gypsy Kings; and there was a total of ten chandeliers in a 400 sq. ft. space. I was in heaven. We ordered coffee and (definitely) chilled for a second. I was so stimulated by the ambiance that I was very tempted to buy something gin the shop. After more consideration I figured it would be the type of purchase I would regret. While all the kooky items looked great in the shop together; singling one out and taking it home wouldn't have the same affect on my living room. Together is the operative word in this decor.
As all good things must come to an end, so did our rest. We walked back to the bus stop by six in the evening, road the bus all the way back to the Army post, (which is where we should have gotten on the bus!) and drove home. In discussing our walking, during the drive home, we figured we could add another (solid) two hours of travel-by-foot in the afternoon to the three we had accumulated earlier in the day.
What a blast.


The amusing part of the evening was when we discussed language. I picked up a funny German saying. For your information, Schlange means line, but it is means snake. The saying goes, "A Schlange has an asshole in the back, but an auto schlange has the asshole in the front."  In English it doesn't make any sense at all. I (obviously) think this is what makes it funnier. "A snake has an asshole in the back, but a traffic jam has an asshole in the front." 
I gave Ludwig a birthday gift, a bottle of whiskey. In German gift is geshenk. In German poisonous is gifting. This made my gift giving quite humorous. I think you understand why.  We didn't drink it. Ludwig thinks ladies don't really drink whiskey. This was fine with me.  
Also last night I learned a new open faced sandwich trick…use tomato paste. In a small amount it sticks things together like glue and tastes great. It's also got great color, so Katharina's appetizer display was wonderful. I apologize for not taking a picture. Also, if you live in Germany, the salami made from chicken is delicious.
To make my evening perfect, I heard three or four new stories about how Ludiwg narrowly escaped death. Nothing like talking about dying (or not dying) on your birthday. His stories make me wish I was a real author, so I could write a book and do him justice.
To further prove Ludwig's genius. I told him about the man that found the 57 lb mushroom in British Columbia. Without blinking Ludwig said the man should be careful. A mushroom that big is too old and probably poison (gifting) by now. He should't eat it. He should have left it where he found it. Sure enough, if you read the article that's exactly what it said.


What ever stars (that have my name on them) have aligned so that I may be elsewhere in the world; namely, Vermont, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Illinois, California, and Bali. Yes. I will be rounding out my stateside jaunt with a trip to Bali. Eventually I will end up back in Deutschland to my life I have grown to love.
Preparing for this six week tour has definitely brought it's share of anxiety and excitement. I have done my best to ensure I do not even have one dull moment. (With the exception of a lot of waiting in airports.) To prove to myself that I can handle any challenge; I am starting out my trip with no guaranteed seat on any flight……
Say What?! In the military this is known as Space-A. The military has a bunch of flights around the world daily. The aircraft are full of soldiers and families that actually MUST be somewhere; but the government does their best to fill up the empty seats. In a valiant attempt to not waste money; people like me are allowed to show up at a military airport and try to get a spot on these flights. Here goes nothing. I could get out on my first try, or wait a week. At the very least I will have gotten a new travel experience under my belt. It will probably help me appreciate the commercial airlines more. At any rate, I hope that it is such an uneventful flight I won't know what to write about it. ( I hope that you are hoping the same.)
Knowing that I am leaving has made think about all the things I wanted to do, in Deutschland, by the end of the Summer. I will (partially) admit to attempting to squeeze some of them in, in my last few days. I didn't get to a few biggies. With them I have developed a List of Three Lamentations. If you are in Germany I suggest you check them out for me….
1. Go to Berlin. I bet it's killer in Summer.
2. Go to the Museum in Nuremberg and see the Albrecht Durer exhibit.
3. Go back and eat at Mount Lavinia, in Nuremberg, again. I am still dreaming about their    coconut lentils.
4. Get back to R3, the art gallery in town. They have a new art opening on the 29th.


I actually tried to go to the gallery today. It was closed and the previous show had been taken down. It is so frustrating when it takes you so long to do something that you miss out on it completely.
So that my late morning wasn't a total bust I remembered that there was a darling coffee shop I always wanted to check out. They were open so I went in and enjoyed a cup of their fine brew. The Cafe am Schloss is situated adjacent to the Orangerie Gardens and across the street from our Residenze. The shop is cozy, they have home made treats, and they also sell cool trinkets. I sat there by myself, eavesdropping on my last morsels of live German, and attempted to decode a German news article. I felt pretty awesome. It was a fine farewell.
I closed the evening by showing Katharina how to use my phone in case she needs to call me in the US. I also confirmed with Ludwig that he's got my house under surveillance and is ready (and willing) to use any of his eight guns or 30 knives on an intruder.
Good to go.

I took some pictures of my backyard today. It's like I have a park…in my yard. All of the trees and bushes are so lush, and there are many different types of flowers. Of course, most of the flowers are here thanks to Ludwig's hunting excursions. He brings plants back home and replants them. Yesterday Katarina had me upstairs and was showing me the birds out her kitchen window. I think they are called Star Birds, or something similar. They migrate every season from Africa. Right now they are nesting eggs and babies. She told me we have 12 bird houses in our yard. I sat in the sun today for a bit and just listened to all the different bird sounds. If you focus your attention to it, it becomes so dominating. I have been told many of the German names for the plants and animals in our yard, but I can't remember most of them. It's funny, every time Ludwig wants to teach me something he goes into his library, grabs a book, and comes back to show me the page with the name and picture. I can't help but think if he was 40 years younger he would just look it up on his iPhone. I wonder if he even understands that that is a possibility. They don't have a computer.

It's also amusing to me how people tend their yards here. For example, the people across the street just mowed their lawn. They had a couple of daisy patches here and there. When they mowed they chose to mow around every flower, no matter how insignificant. So their grass is cut, but there are all these random flowers sticking out everywhere. I think it looks cool. If it were me I would have been so focused on getting the job done I would have gone straight over those flowers. I also think I would have preferred a yard of uniform grass at the expense of a few minor flowers. I'll think differently the next time I mow a lawn. A new perspective always helps.

In other news, the Bake-Off happened again. I baked Carrot Cake Muffins for my landlord since he did all that work for me hanging pictures. Then, his wife came right back at me with Rhubarb Cake. I am no match for these Fabulous German Bakers. And of course tonight was going to be the one night I was going to skip dessert….there's always tomorrow :)



5/22/2012

I think my 75 year old neighbors are my new best friends. They take such good care of me, it is unbelievable. We just had lunch today. It's only been two weeks, but it is becoming a weekly event. Yes, they made me drink beer in the middle of the day again. It was Bockbier this time. They said it is good for napping in the sun :) Katarina is a good cook, although she claims to not like it. Today she made rollantini, but German rollantini. It was thin beef rolled up with pickles and bacon…sehr gut! She is the best German cook I know. She served the roulade with a gravy sauce she made with wild mushrooms. I know what you are thinking. And yes, these are wild mushrooms that Ludwig picked while hunting, and Katarina dried in the sun. Unbelievable, right? Ludwig is so manly. I can just picture him in the woods hunting in lederhosen. (although he doesn't actually wear lederhosen) He's got a rifle in one hand, flowers in the other, binoculars around his neck, and a pocket full of mushrooms. 
I wish you could see all the dried wild mushrooms in their house. Ludwig has pictures of himself, in years past with bushel upon bushel of these mushrooms. He used to pick them and sell them to the nearby hotels. Now he just picks them for himself. I asked him if he would take me to pick mushrooms this August and he said no. Apparently he thinks it is too dangerous and dirty a hike for a lady. But he promises to bring me some. I probably get bored waiting for him to finish hunting anyway.
This lunch was another lesson in the German language and German nature. I learned some new Deutsch words, as well as some new Flora and Fauna. I am now able to decipher between the three different types of deer and the three different types of garlic. 
I don't know if I have previously mentioned this before, but Ludwig has a trophy room. All of the walls display the antler from the deer he has hunted, except one. It is antlers that still have the fuzz on them. I asked about those, because I know you can't hunt deer so young that they still have this fuzz. He said the deer was killed by an automobile accident and the Jaegermeister (?) gave them to him because he makes nice mounts. (He carves them out of wood by hand.)
With Katarina and Ludwig I have also learned the difference between the three types of garlic in Germany. One, knoblauch, is what we know in the US. Another, bearlauch, is a long big leaf. It tastes exactly like garlic but milder. There is a third, schnittlauch, but I don't know anything about that one. Bearlauch is awesome. I wish we had it in America. You can cook with it, put it in a salad, or in a sandwich. Katarina served her fish last week with a pesto-like sauce made from it. This inspired me to puree some up with garbonzos and make a bearlauch hummus. It was, obviously, delicious. I apologize, here I am, rattling on about food again. (It does make the world go 'round. Does it not?)
I taught them a new English word today too, thimble. Apparently, in the woods there is a plant called fingerhut which literally translates to "finger hat." This is what Germans call a thimble. I also confirmed the name of the bird I mentioned yesterday. It is a Birkhuhn. It looks a heck of a lot like a turkey, only fancier. They used to be prominent in Bavaria, but all of the farmers and farming have forced them into the mountains. You can still hunt them, but only close to the border in Austria.
Another huge topic of conversation around the house is me trying to sell Ludwig's furs online. I get so many questions from potential buyers. I can not express how difficult it is to effectively answer these questions when I don't know anything about hunting, furs, and German. It's pretty entertaining actually. I will be happy, one day, when (and if) any of the fur sells, and the buyer is happy.


5/20/2012

I received a grand tour of my surrounding lands today, thanks again to my neighbors. To start, we had lunch in a super gasthaus, in Muhr am See. On the way we saw a stork and Ludwig pointed out a huge bird's nest on the steeple of a church. It had a stork baby in it. It was amazing to see this nest balanced on the side of this steeple, with a baby in it!
At the restaurant, Zur Jaegerluck. I had the seasonal vegetable, white asparagus with those delicious golden German potatoes and a hollandaise. We ate out on the veranda. It was lovely…and crowded. There was a large group of people there, all in one of those traditional bands. They were dressed in costume, singing, playing instruments, and joking together. Part of their costume reminded me of a hat my mother in law owns. The hats had these curly black feathers on them. They were cool. Ludwig said they must be plucked from a bird that lives in the mountains. (I think he called it a Berkhan, but I'm not sure. And I couldn't find it online) 
The band had one member blindfolded and he was trying to guess whose beers he was drinking. It was pretty funny.
After lunch Ludwig and Katarina showed me around the lakes, of which there are quite few. They are great places, similar to state parks in the US. They have beaches with swimming, fishing and boating. They have picnic tables and grills, and of course they have restaurants that serve beer. Also, around these lakes is a wonderful amount of trails for hiking and biking. You can even rent the bikes (or rickshaws for families) there. The three of us went for a big walk around the Muhr Am See. It has a bird island in the middle, so Ludwig let me take his binoculars on our walk. Of course we saw geese and ducks, but we also heard a cuckoo. Ludwig says every time you hear a cuckoo you are supposed to take your wallet out and shake it. It will help your money to multiply. Since I had no money I took out my empty pocket and shook it. Ludwig also thinks it's a good idea to wear traditional garments whenever possible, so he put a goose feather in his hat. (I'm just being silly, but seriously, he did)
He and Katarina also pointed out many trees and flowers along the way. We picked a lot of flowers and greens that were edible. In one instance, however, Ludwig was a bit mistaken as to what a particular green was. We all put the leaves in our mouths and began to chew. It tasted awful. The three of us spit the leaves out at the same time. It was really funny. I hope someone was watching us and got a kick out of it. Ludwig said we were all going to die. I said, "Shoot and I didn't write my death note." And they laughed! (a small victory) 
After a loop around this lake we got back in the car and drove to see the other lakes. And then we took a different loop home. When we drive, Ludwig points out everything, multiple times. I find it so helpful, especially since it is in German. It's enabling me to recognize, not only places, but so many words also. I saw new towns with great cafes and restaurants, breweries, potato fields, strawberry fields, fields of hops. I also saw some of the spots where Ludwig fishes, for fish and eel. Yikes!
If you don't mind I am going to list some of the places now so I don't forget. And if you are in my area you should think about checking them out too. They come highly reccommended :)
Gasthaus GrunenBaum
Gasthaus Blummenthal
The second cafe on the road in Ottmannsberg, overlooking the GrosserBrombachsee.
Strandhotel at Kleiner Brombachsee
The town of Spalt has a couple of nice eateries, and a brewery.
Oh, and he also showed me this sweet outdoor pool-lake-thing in Windsbach. It was made by Hitler. (for his Army to PT in I think) I'd swim there. It way cheaper than the Aquella :)

I am really lucky. All of this stuff is located about 30 minutes from my house. It's gonna be a great Summer.

5/17/2012
I already know what you're going to be thinking...only three days went by and I was back at it again. But in my defense, Spring is the season of the Festival in Germany, and there seems to be one holiday after another. How can one not participate and expect to fully immerse themselves in the culture? Today is Ascension Day, and I think unofficially Father's Day, but a day to drink beer nonetheless. My friend invited me to the picnic in her town. It was great. The lunch was hosted by the Bayern-Munchen Fan Club. (soccer) And since I am not yet partial to any one soccer team I bought lunch and a beer to support the cause. There's a brewery in the town, Landwehr Braeu. So I had the local keller beer, and even met the poster girl. One of the highlights of the afternoon was learning a new saying..."Du hast einen Aufgewaermten." The non literal translation would be drinking the hair of the dog that bit you. Only the Germans prefer to say that you are reheating your drunkenness leftovers. I think I like the German version better. There was (finally) a traditional band at this event, so I also got a taste of something other than German cover bands. There were also some cute activities like a horse drawn carriage doing loops around town, mostly for the kiddies. (I did not get a ride, although it was offered :) 
I would have loved to have taken a photo or two to share this experience visually, but it may have been pretty awkward. I would definitely have been the only one with a camera. It was definitely not a tourist event. I preferred blending in as much as I could when everyone knows everyone but me....and I'm the only one not speaking German...and I'm wearing a neck tie...come to think of it I should have just brought my camera :) Next time.

5/15/2012

I had my first 1 liter beer yesterday. It's because I went to my first Fruhlingsfest, here in Ansbach. My neighbors took me. And thank goodness because who wants to drink an XXL beer by themselves?
The festival was exactly like a carnival back home, or like the boardwalk at the beach, but with a German twist. There is no funnel cake, but there are crepes and chocolate covered fruit. There aren't any cheesesteaks, but there is plenty of bratwurst and grilled herring! Of course there are also oversized pretzels and more cheese than you can shake a stick at.
We walked to the festival so we could take a taxi home. Once we got there we did one loop around the event before we settled in to our table. Ludwig is good at giving tours. He pointed everything out to me and explained what it was in German. I don't know if he realised it, but it was great for me that he did that. I already knew what everything was, so I learned a few German words because I understood what he was talking about. (pretty clever) 
It was still sunny out, so Ludwig decided we should sit outside first. I ordered my XXL from a man in lederhosen. Awesome. The beer was quite refreshing after the long walk we had. One of Ludwig's fishing buddies joined us for a bit. But he doesn't drink beer, only cappucino. He just bought a computer, and is learning how to use it so he can make more money at work for the newspaper. He likes computers more than he thought he would. (I picked all this up on my own from what little German I actually understand.) 
You can't drink a huge beer like that without eating something too. So we all got brats on a small roll. I ordered my bratwurst like Katarina, dark with mustard. Too bad for me, on my second to last bite I lost a bunch of mustard out of my roll and onto my jeans. What a rookie!
By this time the band was starting so we went in the tent. To our dismay it wasn't traditional music. It was an American music cover band. I tell you what, it is hard enough trying to speak with my neighbors with our language barrier. It was impossible to have a conversation with a language barrier and loud music. We had another beer anyway. And of course you have to eat something, so Ludwig got us a huge pretzel and Swiss cheese to share. It was delicious. When the pretzel was all gone, he tried to convince me that we needed a fish. Unfortunately, I had no room left. I told him I'll have to save that adventure for the next festival. I think I'm gonna need to mentally prepare for eating a wholefish (head, bones, and all) off the grill. At least I'll have lots of beer to drown it in if it doesn't go down easily.
 We ended he night at a reasonable hour and scored a taxi home. For the record, it takes Ludwig and Katarina just as long to get a cab as it would take Phil and I. (I felt good about this.) It was a really interesting night. It is amazing to me, the things we find to speak about. Our conversations last night consisted of food, fishing, shellfish, beer, cheese, art, and of course, the Army.
My neighbors enjoy my company so much that I got invited to lunch today. They want to make sure I don't get too thin. It's also a priority of theirs that I try every single food offered in Germany that isn't offered in America. And yes, this does mean that I had half a beer with lunch.

5/11/2012


I'm really starting to feel Spring in the air. The weather this week has been gorgeous; thanks to all the rain that we got out of our system last weekend. It won't last long however. The newscasters are calling for near freezing temperatures by Sunday night, but such is modern life. Gone are the days when the seasons could make up their mind.

5/7/2012
We were forced back to real life this week. I got my first speeding ticket in the mail. This is a bummer, but not uncommon. It's almost a German driver's right of passage. Although, my ticket isn't German. It's from one of our ski trips in Austria. The roads here have cameras set up. They snap your picture as you speed by. Then, two months later the ticket shows up in the mail. I am lucky. My ticket is pretty small in comparison to some others I've heard about. But I don't really drive too fast. (I was going 70 km/hr in a 60 km/hr)
Also, our car broke. The timing was annoying. Luckily, I knew where to take it. A while back I got the car's oil changed at a dealership off post. Because of this I had a preexisting relationship with the shop. It was easy to call them, tell them what was wrong, and get them fixing it. As you may remember from my previous post, the oil change cost an arm and a leg. Being faced with a larger issue we thought we were looking at another seriously pricey job. The problem our car was having is the same problem we had with it a year ago. In the states we paid $525.00 to fix it. Now we assumed it would be doubled. To our surprise, it wasn't. We only paid, in Euros, 225.00. I'm giving this specific information to encourage anyone that lives around here to explore alternative options to bringing their car on post.
Of course, getting the vehicle fixed wasn't all simple. When I initially brought the car to the dealership they didn't want me to drive it after they inspected it. They were concerned I could lose the tire and have a larger problem to deal with. I agreed, but was wondering how to get home. They asked if I had a ride. My brain worked through the issue quickly. I lied and said I lived really close, I didn't want them to feel troubled or have to give me a ride. Phil was at work, so I didn't want to bother him either. (I live 4 miles from the dealership.) I resolved to walk, and it was one of the most pleasant things I did last week. It took me over an hour, but it was a beautiful day. And here, there are nice paths to walk everywhere. It's not like I was walking down the shoulder of a major highway like a bum. I realized on my walk why we don't walk as often anymore. Simply put, it takes too darn long. And if you are trying to get a million things accomplished in one day, you don't have time to walk. That day, I sacrificed my time to prove to myself that I could "waste" that hour and not be any worse off than I was prior. Mission accomplished.
As you may have seen, Phil got a raise last week too. His promotion was fun. He is officially a W2. To celebrate we rode bikes to the next town over for dinner. It's funny you can ride to and from dinner and it is still light out when you get home. We used as much German as we could during dinner. It scored us complimentary after dinner drinks from the waitress. Even cooler, the next day we saw the waitress in the German supermarket. She recognized us and said hello. Phil and I felt triumphant.

5/1/2012
I've been enjoying it while I can though. Yesterday I took a huge bike ride through the country. The air was thick with a refreshing sweetness coming from the budding bushes. Even in my own backyard, I have a natural wonderland. I don't know how the landlord keeps up with it. 
Today I took another trip to Rothenburg. That town is bursting at the seams with Spring Flora. I walked around the town on its outer trails and stopped to dip my feet in a Wassertertranlage. (If I spelled that correctly, it's a little public pool to dip your feet in.) It was delightfully refreshing…and peaceful. It's practically hidden amongst a few overgrown bushes. I had dinner in Rothenburg, followed by ice cream, and of course a schnee ball for breakfast tomorrow. On the way home I stopped at a tiny flower stand. It's my neighbors' 50th Wedding Anniversary tomorrow. I thought I'd give them some flowers. While I was paying I got totally confused as to how much I owed (because I can't think fast enough in German) and I wanted too much change back. The man and his son were patient with me, and ended up giving me a single rose. That bonus flower really brightened my evening and I was quite glad I stopped.
Oh, I almost forgot. In walking back through the city I went through some of the other parts of the walls. The places I saw today were much wider, with doors and a high roof. Around one turn there were even a couple of cannons lined up out the windows. It was really neat. And while I was having dinner a wedding party drove down the street. The bride and groom were in a horse drawn carriage followed by an entourage of honking cars. It was so sweet. The couple was delighted to draw such attention to themselves in the streets. They looked terribly happy. They were waving at each and everyone of us spectators, happy to share in their joy. It was a good day.


We went to France! No, not Paris…France. Eventually we will get to Paris. And when that time comes; I am excited to see what this other side of France has to offer. For now I’ll paint a picture of the France that I saw.





4/17/2012

Sorry if this grosses anyone out, but I thought it was too cool.

4/15/2012
They say if you dream in a different language that you have finally learned that language. Does that mean that if I have a dream about living in Germany that I‘m an official resident? I bring this up because last night I had a dream I was driving downtown and I got pulled over while exiting a parking lot. In my dream I thought I was getting pulled over because I forgot to close the passenger door. But the Polizei wrote me a ticket for speeding at 120 km/h. I immediately started crying because I was defenseless. How can you drive 120km/h out of a parking lot? That’s ridiculous. I was obviously getting scammed. The bummer about the dream is that, while crying, I pleaded my case in English, not German. I was really crying hard too. It was pretty pathetic and the German Polizei had no sympathy. I’ve still got a lot of time int his country. These dreams better start improving.
We got our first German house warming gift yesterday. Coffee mugs. We’re drinking out of them right now. We had the neighbors over for dinner last night. It was fun. We spoke a bunch of English that they (probably) only half understood. And, in turn, we had the same experience with their German. Phil made his famous chicken parmesan and poured the beers. Katarina baked again. This time it was a rhubarb peach merengue, I think. It was delicious. Her husband brought the old photos for us to look at. It’s so cool, he’s got a bunch of pictures from the 50’s when he was in the German Army. I researched and practiced some German before they came over. (So in this relationship I bring the entertainment with my horrible Germish)
I also showed them the painting I’m working on. I told them all about how I make the canvas and evrything. They were excited to see the progress from the day I was outside spray painting. This also prompted Lug to give me a bunch of paint brushes. Apparently there is a brush factory and museum not too far from here. (I’m definitely going to go.) They hand make all sorts of brushes, including paint brushes. Some of their brushes have nice, expensive hairs. I’m excited to see it. I’m really stoked on all my new brushes too. As you know painting supplies in Germany, especially Ansbach, are hard to come by and quite expensive. We also had a conversation about artists. I named a abunch of German artists that I enjoy. And for the first time, Lug named great artists form other countries. Normally he is very good at focusing on Germany. His favorite artists are from Holland though.
I find Ludwig’s pride and knowledge about Germany fascinating. The paint brushes for example. It’s cool to know someone “in the know.” And because he is hunting and fishing all the time, he knows so much about German nature also. Sometimes it’s funny though. Like, we told them we are going to France to surf next week. Lug said, “Why France? We have great surfing here in Germany.” And then he named a bunch of rivers or lakes where you can water ski and wind surf. Not knowing German and trying to explain how it isn’t the same, while trying not to be offense can be a bit rough. But any time my neighbors are up for teaching me about Germany, the land, the people, and the language, I’m game. 


4/12/2012
This is a risky attempt on my part to keep you entertained and informed, if only slightly. I am on a computer at the library. I am here after being kicked off a computer at the help center on a different kaserne. I've been using our installation's free internet spots. It isn't easy. I mean, it's great that they are here, but it's slower than mine at home, almost. I'm like, "1998 called, they want their internet service back." Geez!
When you are at these internet stations you can only stay for so long, thus the bouncing from one to another. Obviously, at home the issue isn't resolved. I'm working on it though. I'm interested to see how long it will take and if I can uncover someone in tech-support that actually speaks English. Or, if it takes long enough, I may learn Deutsch in the mean time.
I've been having fun with German food lately. When you go to the supermarket there is a large dairy section. Obviously, I'd expect nothingless from Europe. But the different kinds of butter you can buy are seriously impressive. I wish I knew which one was the best. I have found that a lot of them are unsalted. I don't love it, but I think it will grow on me and ultimately be a good thing. Recently I bought yogurt butter. I'm a fan. It's always spreadable, even out of the fridge. I have balked with it and it is good. And tastewise, we don't really notice a difference. As far as I can tell, it doesn't have any creepy ingredients either.
Speaking of yogurt, we've been eating lots of different kinds. I think the Swiss really have this situation on lockdown. We've also been eating Kefir. I don't know if I've mentioned it before, but it's great. And the process it goes through is a bit different than yogurt or "johgurt." It's a fermented milk drink made with kefir grains that originated with some shepherds. They discovered that fresh milk carried in leather pouches would occasionally ferment into a carbonated beverage. The Kefir is prepared by inoculating milk with kefir grains. Traditional kefir was made in bags that were hung near a doorway; the bag would be knocked by anyone passing through the doorway to help keep the milk and kefir grains well mixed. You hippies might know what I'm talking about. I bought it because I thought it was yogurt and now I like it. Funny how that happens.
As I am about to get kicked off this computer. I will end there. Hopefully I'll get back at you again soon.

4/9/2012
I couldn’t leave you hanging. I had to come right back at you with a good day.

I went for a run early this morning. I ran through a neighboring town just as their church bells were ringing. And I could even smell the incense from the church. It was peaceful. I felt like I was getting a rejuvenating workout and a spiritual cleansing. In Germany it is Easter Monday, so I am guessing they have church services today too. I’m glad I got to, indirectly, be a part of it.

Yesterday was cool. I baked awesome muffins and then just painted the rest of the day. In the afternoon Phil and I went for a walk. It was refreshing to get out in the chilly evening air and enjoy the last bit of the day’s sun. When we returned from our walk our neighbors were outside. Our landlord was flying his pigeons. He invited us into his yard to have a look. What he showed us were his new baby pigeons. It was great. He showed us the eggs, a baby chick on it’s way out of an egg, a day old bird, and a two day old bird. In addition to this we got to watch the birds that he is training in action. He wistles and they fly away. He whistles and they fly back. It’s that simple. He showed us the food he gives the pigeons. It’s seeds with uncooked rice in it. Weird, right? I think the rice is to fill the birds up so they don’t eat too much seeds. He said if the birds eat too much, and get too heavy, they won’t fly so much. (I guess that is a universal law of nature.) Hans also had a big bucket of eggs. We asked him what they were for. He explained that they were the birds he didn’t want. So he sacrifices them, literally. There is a predator bird that hangs around the pigeon house. Hans fears for his birds so he walks out into the woods with these bad eggs. This lures the predator out and away from the house and keeps him fed so he doesn’t need to eat the good pigeons. Knowing information like this makes me feel like I’m really getting in the know. Our other neighbor, Katarina was telling me that someone rented the house before and moved because they said the pigeons stunk. I found this really funny, and ironic. Our entire street, neighborhood, town, city, etc. absolutely wreaks right now, and has for weeks, from all the manure they are enriching the fields with. There is absolutely no way the birds compete with this. That tenant must have been crazy.

This whole time Phil and I have been thinking that it is cow poo we smell. However Katarina has informed us that it is pig poo. Apparently there is a pig farm somewhere near hear with 6,000 swine. Whoa. They fertilize with pig poo. I find this interesting. I don’t know why, but it makes me think of Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction. “A pig is a filthy animal…” And I wonder if someone doesn’t eat pork, would they eat a vegetable that was grown out of pig fertilizer. And further more, do vegans have an issue with animal byproducts coming into contact with their vegetables? Does manure make vegetables not vegan?

After the bird show we got into a conversation with Hans about the fruit trees in our yard. Mind you, Hans doesn’t really speak English, so it is a miracle that we hung out for as long as we did. Anyway, he proceded to tell us, show us, and give us a tasting of his liquor he makes from the fruit in our yard. How incredible is this guy? I love him. He’s retired as a landlord with a gorgeous property, full of fruiting trees and gardens which he tends, he is a champion pigeon trainer, and he makes schnapps. ( think in America we’d call this moonshine.) No wonder the guy is always smiling. Even better yet, he’s good clean livin’. He doesn’t drink the alcohol he makes. He gave us two small bottles as a gift, cherry and plum. But he also makes apple schnapps. Is there nothing these Germans don’t enjoy doing? Too cool.

After our visit with Hans we spent some time with our upstairs neighbors. We chatted with them for a good long time. The wife speaks great English, thus helping our conversations to fully make sense. Every time we talk to them we find out really great information. I have four plants in my house. Each one of them has a layer of white stuff over the soil. This whole time I was thinking it was mold and I was hesitant to water them. I was thinking maybe our house was too humid, something. Nope, Katarina said it is just lime from the water. What she does is water her plants with water that has been boiled. In fact, she saves her potato water and waters her plants with that. Genious. I gotta hang out with these two more often.

There are bird pictures on the FB, and hopefully video too. But I am having trouble loading that stuff. You know, the internet issue thing. And I also appologize because I can’t load any pictures here for the same reason.

4/8/2012
We’ve got a long weekend here, in Ansbach. It’s Easter of course. Or, as we Germans say, Oster. (this comment may seem ironic later) Monday is also another holiday. Isn’t that lovely? To me it seems the Germans have a lot of holidays, more than us. I like the extra time to relax. Once I become more familiar with the holidays maybe I will actually celebrate.

We’re hanging home this weekend again. I’ve got this painting that I am still working on. I’m right in the thick of it now, and it is hard to turn myself away. Friday, as I was in hour four, I must have been ferociously painting. Phil was on the couch reading (napping) and said the brush strokes were so loud he thought I was going to put the brush through the canvas. Oh no, he thought, here comes the part where she gets frustrated, thinks it looks ugly, whites it out, and starts again. I have been known to get mad and react that way in the past. I wasn’t about to resort to that on Friday, but I did take Saturday off.

Saturday was, again, not my best day in Germany. I feel as though I say, and think, that more often. Life is a rollercoaster though, right? And you got to have ups with your downs. What I am learning, or trying to learn, is how to embrace the downs and use them as fuel to improve my situation. To me this seems like a better option than turning the downs into excuses as to why I am unhappy or can’t do things.

Our Internet has been really slow for the past couple of days. Yesterday I got an email from the company saying that our bandwidth usage (or something) had been exhausted for this billing period and it would resume as normal on the 22. In short, I don’t know how this could have happened. I had trouble researching it on my own. I tried to go the store and get help, but it’s Saturday and you can’t call head quarters, everything is closed on Sunday and Monday is a holiday….bad timing. Phil also brought up that a lot of people have issues with Internet poaching here, maybe especially Americans. I don’t know, but if someone is poaching our Internet I am going to be so annoyed. This is on top of the fact that my computer is giving up in general. I can’t use the SHIFT key to capitolize letters. (how simply aggravating is that?) As a reader, you are fortunate to see capitalization where it should be, it’s an extra effort on my part. And did I mention that my sewing machine is broken and in the repair shop too? I feel like I’m falling apart.

OK, so that was part of Saturday. The other part of Saturday consisted of Phil and I taking a trip to a local brewery, or so we thought. Phil’s friend had recommended it to him, and I found some positive reviews for it online. So we went. To best describe it, I would say don’t picture anything similar to a brewery in the States. It’s much more common and less of an attraction. If I understand correctly, most towns brew a local beer. They use a simple, fresh, five ingredient recipe that hasn’t changed since 1516. Pretty cool. Anyway, this particular brewery, in Vestenberg, is noted for its bock, or dark beer, or so we thought. I called ahead to make sure they were open. This was one of my usual phone conversations where I pretend I am speaking German and can understand exactly what the person on the other end is saying. For the record, just because I understand the individual words being said does not mean that I understand them in their sentence form. When we arrived at said brewery, that I thought was open until four, it was closed. It had a restaurant across the street that didn’t open for dinner until five. Huh? We, disappointedly, went home.

As a side note, I will say that we had an additional substandard moment in our day. We had to go to post and get gas before we went to the brewery. Upon entering we were greeted by German protestors. I’ve never really experienced something like that before. And by this I mean, I’ve never been face-to-face with a crowd saying they didn’t like me, or my husband, or the work he is doing, or our occupancy of their town, and asking us to go home. It made me feel self concious, dumb, and like any effort I have made to join the surrounding community was in vain. It was most troublesome to me because I also couldn’t really understand what they were doing, or what they were saying. Their signs were in German, and the leader of the protest was speaking German. I like living here. It’s sad to think there are people that don’t want me here. (Not to digress, but this makes me think of all the peoples, in many parts of the world, that live in a situation where they are not wanted, with more severity than my situation. I feel sorry for them, and the people that dislike them. What a waste of energy.) Apparently this is a pretty common occurance around here. There are a lot of locals that don’t like the American occupancy of this, once German, base. But I think I may stop my description here, as I do not know enough about the history or local opinion to go in depth. I only know, very superficially what I experience. And sometimes it is a buzz kill.

So despite these two assimilation set backs Phil and I had a nice afternoon. We went to the Saturday market downtown, bought our produce, and I accidentally purchased some really expensive chicken. I’m sure it will be great, and flavorful, and all natural, and all that business. But I am still really bad at thinking on my toes when ordering in German. I am slow to understand the price of something per gram as opposed to pounds. (Maybe if I ever sold drugs I could have been better at this. Oh well, not a good enough trade off for me) And let’s say this chicken was $8 per pound, ouch, and leave it at that.

We also bought some great olives and artichokes from the Greek guy, and guess what. We bought Doners! I had my first Doner lunch yesterday. It was quite good. A Doner is a turkish dish that comes in many forms. Essentially it is shaved turkey meat, very similar to the meat in a Gyro, but not lamb.

We decided that the whole brewery situation shouldn’t be a total loss, so we went back at five, to the open restaurant, to see what the deal was. We were the only two people in the joint; us and the lady running it. She was so nice, but didn’t speak any English. From what we could deduce the brewery is kaput and her husband now works at a different brewery in a different town. Bummer dude. We sat down and tried the beer anyway. It was good beer and Phil and I had a brief chuckle about our “happy hour” because it was pretty lonely and quite. We didn’t laugh too long though, because more people started coming in. Our table was soon full of locals, as were a couple of other tables. Everyone was greeting one another, and us, and we were all smiling, and that is where it stopped. The nice fellas around kept trying to make small talk, as did we, but alas, we didn’t know enough German and they didn’t know any English. I don’t want to say they didn’t know enough English, because it is not their job to know English.

I am pretty good at asking someone their name in German, so that was my angle. When I asked the gentleman to my right, his answer, in so many words, was, ”Karl Wagner.” And when he said it he was kind-of laughing. I couldn’t understand why. I thought he was teasing me. I said, “Like the Opera guy?” He stopped laughing and became confused. Our conversation was saved by a wonderful gentleman, to our far left who must have been evesdropping. But he translated for Karl and said, “Yes the Opera composer from Bayreuth.” That was the end of that conversation. Phil and I stuck out this odd happy hour for two beers. We wanted to stay, but were having mixed feelings. There were a lot of awkward silences. And these may, or may not have been followed by questions about the Army, or the bases. And it was hard to tell if they were just trying to make small talk, or bring up a topic for which they had distaste. Phil and I didn’t want to jump to negative conclusions, but I think we were a bit self concious from earlier events of the day. And then I would try to talk about something else, like Easter, and Easter Egg Hunts, and everything would get all lost in translation and we would all give up. I had my Germish dictionary with me and Karl Wagner told me to just put it away. He said it isn’t worth a lick for translating the Bavarian German. When we left the guys stood up, everyone was all smiles, and we were, of course, invited back. So despite our lack of language knowledge I’m guessing we didn’t do that bad.

We were exhausted when we got home. Assimilating can take a lot out of you. Our remedy? A huge, homemade meatball parm dinner, featuring fresh mozzarella and fresh bakery rolls, one more beer, and a double feature of really crappy movies. This combo put us in a really deep sleep. This morning we are ready for another day. I’m baking mixed fruit muffins for Easter breakfast and we will explore more options for German language schools. And we are determined to not give up. We’re going to go to happy hour until the pain of miscommunication disappears, darn it.
Happy Holiday Everyone.

4/4/2012
Sometimes  have days to myself where I am thinking, "This can't possibly be my life because it is too fabulous." I am working on a painting, in the sun, and waiting for my laundry. When the wash is done I will hang it in the sun to dry. Soon I will ride my bike to the hair dresser. I want to pinch myself...hard. There are a ton of birds flying around me. They are pigeons. They live in my backyard. My landlord trains them to fly away and come back, Carrier Pigeons. It's beautiful to be a part of. I hope this new appreciation for life, my life, never goes away. I want to take full advantage of every day.
I am deep in the trenches of this newest painting. I am anxious to share with you, it's outcome. As you may, or may not know, I always start with a layer of spray paint. I completed this phase of my work in the middle of my backyard. My upstairs neighbors came out for a peak. Just before I started to spray, Ludwig asked me why I was going to spray so much product in my hair. It looked perfectly fine to him. Of course, he said this all in German. His wife laughed, and then translated it for me. I laughed. I had no idea Ludwig knew so much about girls from New Jersey.....we do love our hair product :)
Anyway, I explained to them that I was applying paint to the canvas in a stamp-like fashion. I explained how I love the techniques of graffiti, but not on public property. They found this interesting. I guess they didn't know I was a painter.
We also had a chat about our gardens. Apparently a lot of the flora came from Ludwig's hunting trips. He hunts in our local forests, and has for years. When he's got down-time (if that's what hunters call it) he picks flowers and berries. He brings it all back and replants it in our yard. Or, like with the berries, his wife makes jam. She gave me a jar of raspberry jam. It's amazing. I think they are a great couple. I love that they are my neighbors.
I love them for adding a new element to my painting process too. I build the canvas, which takes an afternoon. Then I sketch out the composition, which takes two minutes. Then I build a stencil on the canvas from masking tape. This takes 3-4 hours. But then, when I spray the stencil it only takes fifteen seconds. With my new neighbors, this spray paint process is now a solid 45 minutes. As neighbors, when we are outside it is impossible to not have a super-sized small chat with one another. I think it's great....

4/2/2012
Breakfast.

I tried to write this last night. My computer froze just as I was finishing. I lost it. I really lost it. I threw this computer through a wall. I excavated it this morning and began again. Here was our weekend:
We never actually made a plan for what to do, so last minute we found a great deal on a flight to Sicily, we figured, why not?…Just kidding.
Actually we spent the weekend relaxing, we watched movies, did some cleaning, Phil wrapped my hair in curlers, I painted his toe nails….Just kidding.
But Seriously, we did stay home and it was nice. Saturday morning Phil ran a team 10K with some of his coworkers. I came along as the professional photographer. Despite the weather being kinda junky, it was really fun. There was a lot of prerace hello-ing and how-you-do-ing. I got some fun pictures of the team warm-up. The DJ played The Humpty Dance, and after that everyone was pumped and ready to race. I got some pictures of the team on the starting line, and then they were off. Once the race had begun I was thinking I’d like to get some shots of them at different obstacles. As I was asking around to see what my best course of action would be for meeting up with them and making it back to the finish line, one of my buddies from Outdoor Rec suggested I just borrow one of the mountain bikes they brought. “Great idea”, I said, “thanks a lot.”
“Don’t forget a helmet”, he said. I obviously gave him a funny look. Do I really need a helmet to casually bike a mile and back? He mocked the look on my face, did a wiggle and said, “do I have to wear a helmet, their so uncool?” I laughed, because he was totally right, grabbed a helmet, and was off. For the record, this was my first time on a mountain bike, in like, 10 years, maybe more. They are awful to sit on. It’s the most uncomfortable bike in the world. It is no wonder to me that I’m not into the sport. I think my sit bones are thankful for it. I hadn’t biked more than ¾ of a mile on my way to find an obstacle to photograph from and (out of nowhere and for no reason) I absolutely fell off the bike. I was just riding and not paying very good attention, I guess, because the bike went left and I went straight. The bike stopped and I continued moving, right over the handle bars, hands first. Oh wait, not hands first, camera first. Yup, I never put my camera back in the case. Like a lazy fart, I was riding with it dangling from my neck. I think this regard for my camera and my safety is what prompted the stars to align to teach me a lesson. I couldn’t believe it. Slow motion, I have this vision of myself falling and holding my head as far back as possible hoping that that would keep the camera from smacking on the ground. Nope. It smacked the ground. Oddly enough, despite a few scratches it is completely fine. I’m so glad. I would have had to punch myself in the face if I had broken my camera by falling off a bike. I think I must have used my one get out of jail free card with the camera. I hope here is no next time.

Phil’s team didn’t win, but they stuck together and had a great time. This is a lot more than can be said for many of the other teams. I think this speaks highly of the relationship between him and his coworkers. I’m glad he found such a great group of people. After the race there was more chatting, classic rap, and free beer. We stayed as long as my frigid body would allow.

Saturday night we went out around town, dinner and a cover band. We decided to walk. The evening was pretty nice and we thought it wasn’t that far. Half of our brain also thought we might find a cab and not actually have to walk the whole way. This was not the case. We walked 5.5K to the restaurant. So Phil put in 15K, total, that day. He is such a champion. And to top it off, after dinner we walked to the bar with the band. The bar was cool, the cover band was not. But I give them credit for not trying not cover any Bruce Springsteen or Michael Jackson. I have had a difficult time in Germany, so far, finding some great live music. I think I may not be looking in the right places.

Phil has the hardest time getting Germans to understand him. At the bar he tried to order our beers. He said, “Ein Beck’s und ein dunkel, bitte.” The waitress said, “OK, Beck’s..and what?” Phil said, “dunkel.” “what?” “dunkel.”…..”Ooohhh, dunkel.” “Yea, dunkel, that’s what I said.” In his contemplation of what just happened Phil realized it’s not dunkel, like a slam dunk-el. It’s dunkel like sand dune-kle. Sometimes you just can’t catch a break.

On Sunday I went back to visit the town of Rothenburg ob der Tauber. It is so lovely there. This time it was made so, even more by some great weather that included lots of sunshine. In a place where the sun can be far between, it makes everything so gorgeous when it is actually out. A new German friend of mine met me there, showed me around, we had lunch, I got some great photos, and climbed the tower.
She lives near there, so she knows all the great spots. We had lunch at a potato restaurant. It was awesome. All of the entrees are done with potato, potato pizza, potato cordon bleu. Yea, they actually make a dough out of potato and stuff it with cheese and ham and fry it. As is customary it is served with a delightful selection of German greens. I can’t wait to take Phil back to this spot. It was really cute, and the food was too fun. After lunch, because I was in Rothenburg, I had to get a couple of schneeballs. This time we went to Diller’s. It’s the best spot for a schneeball. It’s all they do there. They have, like 15 different kinds. It’s hard to choose. I got apple cinnamon and nutella. Next time, who knows? At Diller’s they even have a guy who talks to you and you can watch him making the balls. It’s fun. We walked through a nice park after we picked up the schneeballs, and also went to a beautiful bridge. I scored some more really awesome pictures of the town. They are all from different views, high and low. I feel fortunate to have had the inside scoop on these spots.

When I got home, Phil and I shared some of the schneeballs for an appetizer before dinner. We had the rest for breakfast with coffee. I think I like them better as breakfast than as an appetizer. Maybe if they made a pepperoni and olive schneeball, that would make a good appetizer. But that is probably just too out of context for the lovely ball of goodness.

3/29/2012
Recently, we've needed an oil change on the car and Phil has just been too busy to do it. I'd like to say I did it, but I don't have any idea how to change the oil in a car. Vehicle maintenance doesn't light my fire. In order to get it done successfully I did a bit of research. The obvious choice is to get it done on post. At Katterbach, we have one small auto shop for thousands of people. As one might imagine, they are swamped. The pricing for simple services is the same as in the States and they speak English. For these two important reasons people go no further in their quest for car care. I found this situation to be frustrating. I want better customer service than I thought I might get here. How much can you really care about me, or my car, when you tell me that in order to get any service I have to show up at 7:30 and wait. And you, as the mechanic/shop worker can not give me any information beyond that because you have no idea how long the line is going to be. Am I going to wait for three hours and then you are going to tell me you just used the last new filter and aren't getting another shipment for three weeks? (Just kidding. I'm sure it isn't that dramatic.) I decided better of scheduling a drop-off. Instead I filled the car with gas, got my complimentary Twix bar (to put in Phil's lunch) and got outta there.
In an attempt to obtain better piece of mind I called around town. I looked up all the Subaru Dealers in my area online. I called all the numbers, asked if anyone there spoke English, inquired about services and prices, and made a decision. To you it may sound complicated, or it may sound simple. I feel like many people wouldn't go to this effort, but it is part of my adventure. For me it was satisfying. I weighed all my options and decided to take our car to a Subaru Dealer located less than 5 miles from the house. This location offered the best price, but it was by no means inexpensive. In fact, it was probably around twice the price it would have been on post. But that was not what was most important to me. On the way to the shop however, I was saying a mini prayer in order to not regret the decision I had made. I wanted to do the German-thing, and be stoked on it.
My prayer was answered. The Subaru dealership was the cutest little thing I have ever seen, tiny, and located smack-in-the-middle of a neighborhood. It was a bright sunny day, and the air had its, now consistent, smell of manure. (On a side note...the smell of poop and pee is unbelievably pungent around here this time of year. I had no idea...I try to pretend I don't notice it, but it is worse than anything imaginable. I could never be a farmer. We have been fortunate enough to see the manure spraying machine in action. It's pretty funny) I could have farted in the car on the way to the shop and the mechanic would probably not have known the difference. (Always blame it on the animals around here.)
They did an awesome job on our car. I know it's just an oil change, but still...They were super friendly. I felt at home, which is challenging in a foreign country. The service was pretty quick and I got to read a magazine in German while I waited. I understood more of it than I thought I was going to. It helps that I always carry a dictionary with me. While in the waiting area, with my magazine, I was fantasizing in my head that I was totally normal. It was one of my best days so far. The best part is that I'm now no longer intimidated by what to do if I need help with my car.
The magazine was pretty interesting, by the way. There were a lot of older people in it. I found it really refreshing. I am more drawn to an ad with a middle aged woman using products than a teenager. No offense, but I trust the older woman's opinion more. The older I get, the less I am attracted to youthfulness. Does that sound crazy?
On the topics of German services and youthfulness, I would also like to report that I got my hair done for the first time in Germnay! Yay! As you know, I really wanted to go to that salon in Wurzburg that I embarassed myself at, but it was just too far and I couldn't squeeze it in. I decided to just go somewhere local. What I found was salon WHITE. It occured to me later that I chose the salon with the name in English, although prior to going I hadn't noticed. The girls in there were great, although they didn't speak much English. Luckily for me, the word blonde is universal. My experience was wonderful enough that I am looking forward to my trim and touch-up. It's funny though, you realize how long an afternoon in the salon actually is when you aren't gossiping the whole time. I actually read while in the salon, a book. Unlike the price for an oil change, the price for a cut and highlights is significantly cheaper than I found it to be in America. This is of course, unless you know Bethany Cannon. Ah, how I do miss my old stylist. She is in Savanah now. The Army does that to you. Somehow, I learn to survive.
It was funny. I hadn't thought about bringing my own reading material to the salon with me. When I realized I was going to need to entertain myself I dug through my purse and found a little book I have previously mentioned, The Xenophobe's Guide to Germans. Anew friend had given it to me and I hadn't finished reading it yet. I, self-conciously, read it while getting my hair colored. I was very careful not to let the cover show. I didn't want to give anyone in the salon the wrong impression. Is that weird? Either way, I have developed some new thoughts about myself and Germans, based on my findings in this book. But I will save that for another day....

3/24/2012

Today I am hanging up the snowboards to dry out for the summer. I am throwing the boots in the basement to collect spiderwebs and mouse droppings, and I am washing our outerwear with over priced Tech Wash. Yup, our Winter is over. As easily as we could convince ourselves we should ski one last time, we won't. This past weekend we said good-bye to this season of snowboarding. We feel like we've had an epic Winter. It's been years since we've gotten a week's worth of amazing mountain shredding. And that's about what our collective time this year amounts to, 7 days. We're so lucky though, these 7 days have been spent in the Alps. (I never thought I'd ever say that.)
On a whim we decided to go back to the same place we went snowboarding the weekend before, Soelden, Austria. We stayed at the same accommodations in Nederthai, Austria. Why not? We already had the car pass for Austria. We couldn't let it go unused. That would be like not buying another bag of tortilla chips to finish the open jar of salsa.
Phil's buddy came with us and we drove up Friday night. They were chatting up a storm in the front, I was twiddling my thumbs in the back. When Phil stopped for gas I decided to buy a beer to entertain myself for the rest of the drive. I sat in the back, drank my beer, and played Boggle on the ipad. I was really having a good time until I made myself car sick. I guess playing Boggle in the backseat is similar to trying to read in the car. They both make me want to ralf. Now I know. I couldn't even finish my beer. By the time we got to the Ambiente Austria, I had to go right upstairs and go to bed. Phil and his buddy went to the town hang out to say hello to everyone. They had fun and I missed out. Let that be a lesson to me.
The skiing Saturday was great. Apparently it had snowed a couple of times last week. And here, I thought it was going to be straight-up Spring Skiing. Wrong. It was Spring Skiing with Sugar on Top. I love Spring Skiing, not because the conditions are always the best, but because it is such a fashion show. When your main concern isn't staying warm, you can focus your attention on more fun things. I wore a Florida Scarf both days, and Phil let loose too. We remembered the sunscreen this weekend. So our goggle tans aren't as dark as they could be. This is for the better. I don't need to be the bearded girl in the neighborhood.
On Saturday we rode an apparatus that I have never seen before. I call it a Tramola. For those of you that ski, it looks like a cross between a Tram and a Gondola. For those of you that don't ski, I took a picture. It's an efficient way to get a lot of people over 9,000 feet, quickly. At Soelden they have three peaks over 9,000 feet. To get to the other peaks you have to take a couple of gondolas and a couple of chair lifts. It can take a while.
I also took a picture of something I forgot to mention last weekend. At Soelden they have, what looks like, a church at the top of one of the peaks. It's very tiny. You can't ski to it. But it's great to look at, and make jokes on Sunday about how you're at church, even though your not at church. Nonetheless, the structure peaked my curiosity. I did a bit of quick research on it, and found nothing. But I did find that Soelden, and the surrounding region, have a rich history. This history includes the remains of a man believed to be from 3200 BC. Crazy. Imagine how many years people were skiing over this man before they found him. What else are we skiing over?
I tell you one thing I skied over this weekend..... Four Euros...that's right. I found Four Euros, on the ground, in the snow, right when I got off the lift. Awesome. I have a couple of stories about finding money on the ground, but this is the first in Europe. You wanna know what I bought with it? Chocolate. In Austria they have a delicious chocolate wafer thing. It is light, creamy, delicious, and until recently I thought could only be found in Austria. The people we ski with buy the gas station out before they leave Austria every time. This time, I did it too. Anyway, the candy is called Kagi Fretli, and if anyone ever offers you some, do not pass it up. This might sound like kooky advice coming from me. If you know me, you know I'm not big on sweets. But I am now, sweet on, Kagli Fretli. Thanks to the Google Monster I found out that Kagli Fret is actually Swiss. And you can buy it on Ebay if you're so inclined.
Pictures on the FB

3/23/2012

People love to give you their opinion about what sights are a must-see when you are visiting a place they are familiar with. (Obviously, Frommer made a career out of it. There is even a TV channel for it.) Of course, what I try to do is find places to go that no one has told me to go. A couple of weeks ago, for Phil's mom and I, that place was Bayreuth. Bayreuth, Germany, is not "undiscovered" by any means. The likes of Wagner and Liszt have contributed to its notoriety long ago. But before our visit, no one had mentioned the town to me. Army Wives even have a guide book they put together, and Bayreuth is barely mentioned. Let me tell you, it was fabulous. And I will go back, and it will be equally as fabulous.
Seeing how (wealthy) people lived 260 years ago fascinates me. The differences, and the similarities, are astounding. Experiencing the care they took to express themselves in dress and decor, inspires me for my own life. I realize I will never wear a dress that is 6 feet wide, but I won't hesitate to wear a blue sequin skirt with red shoes and a neck tie. And when I need to decorate a house. I shall not be afraid of bright colors, texture, and pattern everywhere. It's my life. I live in it, and I want to celebrate every second of it. In the process, it is delightful entertaining those around you. 
This town had a lot of tempting sites. There is only enough time in one day, and one brain, to see a few. We chose the Opera House and the New Castle. The Opernhaus was extremely ornate. It was built in the 1740's entirely of wood. The amount of carving is unbelievable, and the painting and gilding are of equal measure. What's interesting is that this Opera House, is like, the J.V. Opera House. Wagner had the Big-Dog-Festspielhaus built in 1876. I have yet to see it. I reserved that for next trip.
The next site we toured was the Neues Schloss. (New Castle) It was a great tour. The guide was really knowledgeable, and spoke killer English. I never thought about how influential those characteristics can be, until now. A Tour is not a tour. This castle had many rooms renovated, plenty of light, and lots of style and personality. Again, all very important details in sightseeing. I loved the inside of this Rococo Era home so much that I definitely (did not) ask to take pictures. At the guides request, I (did not) take pictures when she wasn't looking. Don't worry, when I (wasn't) taking pictures I didn't use a flash. You (can not) see these pictures in the FB album. The rooms were absolutely amazing. They had sculpted flowers all over the walls, and butterfly wallpaper. The wallpaper was silk, and it matched the curtains and chair coverings. Some of the chandeliers were even sculpted porcelain, like the flowers on the walls and ceilings. It was just breathtaking. As the guide explained, the goal in this day was to show wealth, but also to bring the outdoors in. They wanted to bring man closer back to nature, not be so removed. One of the most interesting points of the tour was the Grotto. When the guide introduced it I said, "The only grotto I'm very familiar with, is that of Hugh Heffner." And she said, "Exactly. These grotto's were built for cooling off, but inside things definitely got hot." We all laughed. I lament. I could not photograph the grotto. And to describe it could not do it justice, but I'll try.....It was a room with no windows, all the walls, ceiling, and floor were decorated in a mosaic style, like a kitschy, tchotchky of seashells hot glued together as a paperweight you'd buy at a beach dollar-store-gift shop. It was awesome. The amount of shells in there, and crystals, and limestone, was pretty impressive given our geographic location. The designer and builder were true visionaries.
Which brings me to another important lesson of the trip. This one is a bit of history. Wherever you have a town full of fabulous art, I'm finding you have a large female influence. Bayreuth is very much acclaimed for its arts. And this is solely due to the importance of the Arts in the life of the Magravine Wilhelmine, sister of Frederick the Great. The reign of she and her husband Magrave Frederick was from 1735-1758. It's been a second since I got the lecture, so excuse me if my details aren't exactly correct. But she was Frederick's second wife. His first wife, her niece, died two years after their wedding. Then eight years after Wilhelmine married Frederick, he died. She remained single and was able to travel and do all this cool art and charity work. Some of the other rooms in the Castle were insanely artistically decorated. A few had a lot of Asian influence. I found this particularly interesting, as I've never known Germans to be particularly interested in the Orient.
I could go on about how cool I thought she was, and how great that castle was, but I won't. But I will plug Women and the Arts one more time. I got an article in the mail yesterday from my mother-in-law. It was about the National Museum of Women in the Arts, in Washington D.C. This museum was begun by a women named Wilhelmina also, Wilhelmina Holladay. Coincidence?
If you are interested this museum has a website, blog, and FB page, and a lot of great programming.

3/21/2012

We have had an incredible number of sunny days in a row here. Where ever you are, I hope it is the same. It's been three days now since we've been on our snowboards and Phil is starting to get the shakes. He says we must go again this weekend, while there is still snow. I agree. I think this is why we get along so well. I remembered a few more anecdotes from the trip I'd like to share.
The first of which, is that I baked cookies to share with our group this past weekend. This is no surprise. I made the recipe up in my head. (also no surprise) Of equal unamazement, I used half the normal amount of butter and substituted peanut butter. Guess what. Germans don't like peanut butter. It makes their face scrunch up. It's so funny to me. I guess they've been eating Nutella so long, that the peanut is just not gourmet enough. This fact aside, they did like my cookies. I think that was mainly due to the fact that I substituted chocolate chips with a chopped up white chocolate Toblerone. I recommend this to anyone baking for Europeans.
The house that we stayed at had it's own kitchen, so we ate at home a few times. One night, an American in the group cooked. He made ribs. Americans love ribs, unless they are a vegetarian. Germans love ribs too, more than Americans. There aren't many German Vegetarians. However, they apparently don't do ribs in Germany. Isn't that funny? All that swine, and you don't see ribs anywhere. Maybe that's because they don't really do the grilling thing, or BBQ sauce thing, or peanut thing for that matter. I will be exploring this in further detail. And I will also not be encouraging Germans to visit the American South, as they may not be too keen on it :)
This weekend was the first time I have spent an extended period of time with some locals. And by locals, I mean Germans. I love them. I am so glad I live here. The opportunity to live with another culture is priceless. I love sharing things, and breaking down social boundaries. I just wish I could speak their language. Luckily, they can speak mine. One of the girls I met this weekend has already mailed me a gift, The Xenophobes Guide to Germans. This was quite thoughtful of her. I am halfway through the book already, and learning a lot. Obviously, the book is a joke. Although, I hope I didn't actually give her the impression that I am afraid of foreigners.
One night in Austria we went out to eat. The restaurant was called Don Camillo's, Biker House and Pizza. The name was too curious, we chose it for this reason. That, and there wasn't a single motorcycle outside of it. The food was awesome. Phil and I split a Caesar salad, which wasn't a Caesar salad at all. It had multiple kinds of fine lettuce in it, no romaine. It was topped with bacon, and tomatoes, and a delicious light and creamy garlic dressing. I think the Italian-Austrians might rival the Germans for best salad in Europe, so far. This restaurant was the first time I have experienced actual European wait service. I guess since they are not working for tips, they really do take their time. Dinner was unbelievably slow, but delicious. So when all is said and done, I should just get used to it. The restaurant had a bunch of great frescoes painted everywhere. As we were admiring them all, one of the girls told us who Don Camillo actually was...
Don Camillo was a character created by an Italian writer and journalist. He is based on the historical Roman Catholic priest, WW II partisan and detainee of the concentration camps of Dachau and Mauthausen, Don Camillo Valota. Don Camillo is one of two protagonists, the other being the communist mayor of the town, known to everyone as Peppone. Their stories are a representation of what rural Italy was like after the second world war. Most of the Don Camillo stories came out in the weekly magazine Candido, founded by the author and his friend. These "Little World" ("Mondo Piccolo") stories amounted to 347 in total and were put together and published in eight books. What is also funny to me is that our favorite restaurant here in town is Piccolo Mundo.  have written about it before.

3/18/2012
I can't believe a whole week has gone by already again. Actually, I can believe it. So much has happened. I still haven't reported on my Bayreuth trip and that was like, 3/9. Good thing I took notes and I just need to post them.
Now, however, I am much more excited to announce that we just got back from skiing in Austria. As is typical of Phil and I, we had a blast. It was Spring skiing, for sure, but still killer. The town we stayed in was called Nederthai. It's like, smaller than my town I currently live in. The people there were incredibly friendly. We stayed at The Ambient Austria and went snowboarding at Soelden. Our accommodations were great. We were with a large group of friends in a house. It was a really fun setting and the people that ran the house were unbelievably cool. They also ran the watering hole in town. Needless to say, there was some apres ski going on, nightly.
The highlight of the trip for me was when Phil clocked his speed on one of our runs. Are you ready for this? 123.31 km/hr. Absolutely. Not a lie. We were laughing because Phil doesn't even drive that fast on the autobahn. (and neither do I) To make this true story a bit more unbelievable...we got home and Phil realised he had mounted his bindings on the board backwards, and so he had actually been riding the board backwards! That crazy fool! Imagine what he could have clocked had his snowboard been facing the right way.
One of Phil's buddies put the trip together. We all drove separately and met in Austria at the house Thursday night. In order to drive there, Phil and I got International driver's licenses. Cool, huh? Now I have two passports, one ID, three driver's licenses, and a partridge in a pear tree. Phil drove there. I was relieved. Winding mountain roads are no joke in a foreign country in the middle of the night. I don't know how he did it. Oh wait, he's a helicopter pilot :) Luckily, it's a pretty quick drive, 4 hours.
Thursday night we slept like peacefully, and woke up Friday morning as eager as ever, only to realize that I had sabotaged Phil. To keep it short, let's just say that I accidentally forgot to pack the base plates that hold his bindings on to his board. So when we got to the mountain, before we could ski, Phil had to go to a shop and buy some replacement parts to mount his board and bindings. What a process. I felt like a jerk, but at least I remembered everything else. I think he was in such a hurry, mounting Friday morning, that he must have mounted his bindings backwards, and then not noticed all weekend. Phil is excellent at riding switch, but this puts him on another level. He jokes that he could go down the mountian on a lunch tray if he had to. I don't doubt it.
Friday and Saturday were both super sunny days. It was gorgeous. As is typical of the Alps, the views were amazing. We skied all day, both of those days. Today, we were exhausted. I am actually surprised I am still awake. Luckily, the beds at The Ambient Austria were comfortable and we got a solid night's sleep every time.
I don't know if I mentioned this before, but, no one uses top sheets in Europe. (or at least not in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria) I must say I find the situation to be slightly lacking. You know? For those times when you just want to kick the blanket around your bottom half and have the sheet over the top? It's obviously an option not afforded to you. But who am I kidding? It's a small price to pay. I'll just start packing my own.
The lift tickets at Soelden were more reasonable than back home. It cracks me up that world class skiing is cheaper than the Poconos. I think maybe the resorts can keep the price of the tickets down, because they make so much damn money off the Europeans on booze sales. I'm not kidding. European skiers waste no time hitting the bar. We stopped to have coffee at ten. We were at an awesome outside set up. We parked right next to two chicks drinking beers, doing shots, smoking, and eating brats. Already! In Austria they call  a Jaeger-bomb a Flying Hirsch. And, not that I had one, but they serve them as an airline bottle of Jaeger, sitting in a high ball glass half full of Red Bull. They looked fun, for someone with a rock-gut. I kept it social, with coffee. Coffee at 9,000 feet is plenty of party for me.
I was fortunate enough to drive home today. In the sunshine, those winding mountain roads are fun to drive. I really enjoy the European countryside. Before we left town we stopped at a cafe and got some more incredible coffee. Phil pointed out that (Austrians are so into skiing) even their coffee cups are shaped with a corduroy pattern. It's true. I've never seen a cup like it in my life.
On the way home Phil and I discussed where we will be going on our next trip. Since it looks like we'll be packing away the ski gear, our next destination is still a mystery. The suspense is killing me. It's a tough life I live. How do I do it?
We took a bunch of amazing photos again. They'll be in the FB album soon.

3/11/2012
We learned about an interesting fruit-veggie-thing last night. It's called a physalis. It's popular in Germany, more served as a fruit than vegetable. It's in the tomato family. I think it's similar to a tomatillo, but it is orange, the size of a cherry, and sweet. It is lovely. I tasted the apple strudel of my life, last night, and this edible, decorative gem was on the top. The Germans got this plant species from South Africa. If it wasn't in my plans to get to South Africa before, it is now.
The restaurant we ate at last night is called the Windmuhle. It is located in a hotel, down the street from the actual city of Ansbach. It was great. Although, I must say, I was sceptical at first. At 7:30 pm, on a Saturday night, we were the only table in the place. Despite this interesting dining environment, we stayed. And boy, were we rewarded. The Windmill serves typical German fare, but it's the best I've had here so far. And the service can't be beat. The woman, who was our waitress, must be the owner. She must be 80. She is tiny, and German. She is all business at her customers' tables, but there is something so warm about her. I think when I miss my own grandma, who is across the ocean, I will visit this restaurant to get my fix.
As I said, dessert and dinner were great. The beer is always good. The place is traditionally decorated. The waitress wears the cutest handmade apron, takes her time shuffling back and forth from the tables to the kitchen, but you eat in a timely fashion. But I would like to also take this time to highlight the German Salad. I believe this portion of the meal doesn't get enough credit. It is always served with entrees, but never mentioned on any menus. The lettuce in Germany is fabulous. In particular, they have a leaf called feld salat. It's marvelous. And if you aren't served feld salat, it is something equally as refreshing and buttery. The salad is always handmade, and fresh. They don't premake 100 of them on a weekend evening to be served crushed and brown, as is what so often happens at an American restaurant. And I'm not sure what they make their dressing from. It seems to me to be, maybe, a ketchup-mayo deal, similar to 1000 Island or Catalina. Anyway, my point is I like vegetables and the Germans need as much credit for their salads as they do for their brotchen, pork, and apple desserts.

3/9/2012
We've been pretty busy recently, and I have a lot of great things to write about. But I've got to keep it a bit short today, I have the Spring Bazaar. I went running this morning to burn off some energy. Yes, it was freezing. While I was running I passed by some road kill. Unlike Alabama, it was not an armadillo. They are disgusting. Here, it was a fat white bunny. It was cute, even though it was still disgusting. I like passing by road kill that I wouldn't mind keeping as a pet. (if it were alive) It is so much more pleasant. Likewise, our house has a slight bug infestation. No, it isn't cockroaches, or millions of tiny ants. It's ladybugs. Isn't that so darling? I think I will miss them, come Spring and Summer, when they go back outside.

3/6/2012

Having family in town, and not a whole lot of time, is a great excuse for exploring more of your local town. Lucia and I saw a few more sights around Ansbach today. For starters, we met a couple of other ladies for coffee. We've got a small chain of bakeries in Ansbach, called The Brothaus. I like to compare them to Starbucks. Yea, Brothaus is like Starbucks, except the pastries are fresh and the coffee is better. I say the coffee is better because it's frothy on the top. The Brothaus coffee, is so bangin', I drink it black. They've got a crazy pastry there I am sooo tempted to try, but haven't yet. It's called a Spiegelei. It looks like a danish with a sunny-side-up egg on top and a candy glaze. I am wondering if they egg is real. It must be, and if it is, will it ooze when you slice into the danish? One day, but not today...and I will bring a bib.
After brunch we went and toured the historical residence of my city. It's called The Residenz, but I think they're all called that. We had fun. It's got over 300 rooms, but you only see about fifteen. Again, like the churches, it was freezing. What I found most impressive was the keys the tour guide used to open and close the locks on the doors. She was still wielding the original keys, 700 years old. Isn't that wacky? They were, like, big skeleton keys. Too cool. Also, some of the rooms, that were more decorative, had original silk still on the walls. Awesome. I want silky walls...to match my sheets. Just kidding. I don't have silk sheets. I'm going to tell Phil to work on the silk walls though...and matching chairs...and a chandelier.
The other thing I saw that I really liked, were these two deer head trophies mounted on the walls. Someone must have shot a huge deer, a couple of them. They saved the antlers and mounted them on a new head carved from wood. It looked to me like a horse head. I tried to ask the tour guide about them, but she didn't have a great answer for me. After a minor Google search on the topic, I am (pretty sure) the carved heads are supposed to be deer. They just looked like a horse head to me, and Lucia. I don't think the guide ever contemplated the idea that the heads looked like horses. She didn't really strike me as much of a contemplator. Oh well. There was a lot of amazing porcelain in a couple of the rooms. In particular I saw a chandelier of porcelain, from the Rococo period, really unique.
After the Residenz, we took two mini trips to the dueling churches on either side of the old city. Lucia hadn't seen the inside of them, and I felt like she needed to. I mean, going to Europe is about history and churches. I'm sure these will not be the last two churches she will see on the trip. Tomorrow is another day.
After the tourism, we went back to real life. I came home and started preparing Florida Scarf for the Army Bazaar coming up this weekend. And Lucia did the mom thing, with an-in-Europe-with-Phil-and-Sarah-twist. This means that she rode a bicycle to the local grocery store, bought fruits and vegetables, cheap wine, then biked home and cooked an amazing dinner.
We've got some serious travel plans for tomorrow. I hope it's sunny.

3/4/2012

So we made it to Rothenberg ob der Tauber on Saturday. (Obviously, this means I got my chores done in a timely manner.) What a great city. We all loved it. Every street in town is still cobblestone. There were horse-drawn carriages. The entire city is still surrounded by a wall. This is the kind of architecture that is common place in my new life, but yesterday, I felt like a time traveler.

The walls are huge. You can still walk along them. And there are shops, restaurants, and even houses and garages built directly into them. One can be completely satisfied by simply walking around the town, but a highlight for me was St. Jacob’s Church. It’s got stained glass dating back to 1350. It’s the oldest, original stained glass in Europe. The only reason it survived WWII was because they removed it until the end of the war. Interestingly, they’ve recently had to cover it’s outer face in a layer of glass to preserve it from pollution. It’s color was inspiring.

That was not the only wonder housed in this place. When we arrived at the church, we were just in time for the English speaking tour. Without it we would have missed out on some fabulous information regarding the art in the church. For instance, there is a sculpture of the Trinity. This is a rarity, but considering the dates of origin of the church, not surprising. Due to illiteracy, everything had to be illustrated. The church had two alters. I think this was due to additions being built through the years. My favorite one, was the alter carved out of wood. I believe the guide said it was lime wood. The carving depicted the Last Supper. But it wasn’t the typical dinner scene. The artist chose instead, to represent the moment when Jesus told Judas that he would betray him. So, the center figure wasn’t Jesus, it was Judas. Jesus was like, in the back. To enhance this unique depiction, the artist carved the left side of the table out of one piece of wood, and he carved the right side out of another. But Judas was carved alone. In order to close the doors on this alter, Judas has to be removed. Creative, right? I wish you could have seen what we saw.  I don’t think my description could do it justice. The way this artist carved the facial expressions out of wood was amazing. It made me question what his tools were like. I mean, it was the 15th century. He probably had to forge the tools before starting the sculpture. Equally as impressive were the folds in everyone’s robes and the angel wings. The alter was situated in front of a window. To take advantage of the natural light, the artist gave this alter a glass background. It gave the entire scene a beautiful back light. I could have stared at the scene all day, but the tour pressed on.

Luckily the alter was followed by a sweet organ. I actually liked it better that the organ in my town, sorry to say. This organ had 5,000 pipes. Does that sound right? Maybe I am exaggerating. I’ll have to confirm that with Phil.

 I will say this though. For all of the gratifying things in this church, there was one very important thing missing. Heat! It was freezing in there. It was, no lie, colder than outside. We could see our breath! I would have gladly paid an extra Euro for a bit of warmth.

In describing all the work that had been done in building the church, our tour guide explained some history for deeper explanation. She claimed that St. Jacob’s was quite a large church for a town with a smaller population. The long end of the short is that the monks of the church built it up into a pilgrimage site to bring money to the town, and church. I call them some Sneaky Petes. That’s like tourism of the Dark Ages. Those guys were obviously onto something because it is a tradition still carried out today. Imagine…South-Of-The-Border is a modern version of a church, containing a relic, on a Pilgrimage route. Only the relic, is like, an over sized sombrero.

To balance the church tour, and the toy museum, there is also a torture museum in Rothenberg.  To the disappointment of Phil, we did not have enough time for this. We’ll have to start there first, next time in Rothenberg.

We ate lunch right in the Marktplatz. It’s basically the town center. Our restaurant was pretty kitschy and we all ordered local fare, and beer of course. This meant we all ate pork products again. During lunch, Phil commented on how much pig is served in Germany. It’s everywhere. He notes, that you see a lot of pork product, but no pigs. Where are they? I plan on exploring this in the future. I want to find the pig farm.

After our lunch that was so traditional, we continued the trend. We went to a coffee shop, had a hot beverage and shared a schneeball. Schnee means Snow. I had heard mixed reviews on the schneeball, but we couldn’t resist deciding for ourselves. Besides that, you can’t walk through the streets of Rothenberg without tripping over all the schneeball dealers. They’ve got them in every flavor, in every shop. We split the vanilla sugar schneeball, and found it delightful. It was way better than I thought it was going to be, especially when dipped in my coffee.  I would say it is a cross between biscotti and funnel cake, if you can imagine that. And it looks like a Christmas tree ornament.

While we were in the coffee shop, the clock tower struck 4:00. This clock has figures that pop out, on the hour, in celebration of an event that saved the town from destruction. Legend has it that Rothenberg sided with the Swedes during the Thirty Years War. Unfortunately for the town, it was occupied by the Catholics and General Tilly in 1631. Apparently, Tilly agreed to not destroy the town if a councilor could down a 5 pint tankard of wine in one gulp. This guy did it, he tackled 3.25 liters in one swallow, to save the town. They celebrate the event to this day.  Feel sorry for whoever has to do the reenactment.

3/1/2012
What could have been....

My mother-in-law is in town. I know for many this is a dreaded event, but for me, not so much. I am one of the lucky few with a fabulous set of in-laws.
Lucia arrived two days ago, and she's been a real champ. With the time change I mean, she hasn't skipped a beat. I think sleeping during the overnight flight is the key.
Anyway, yesterday was her second day in town. I showed her our local sites on her first day, so I thought we could venture out for day two. A friend of mine suggested we go to a castle in Nuremberg. She said it is a nice day trek, not too far, and there is a great church across the street. Making this idea even more perfect in my head, was the fact that I had two items to return at Ikea, which is also in Nuremberg. Lucia is up for anything, so she was down with my plan. We would go to Ikea, return my items, then site see.
The poor woman obviously had no idea what she was getting herself into. You can't just go into a store like that without looking around. She hadn't been in an Ikea in years, since she lived in Europe in fact. So we thought it would be fun to just cruise through, since we were there. Bad idea. It turned into us getting the last few odds and ends I needed to complete a functioning house. Three hours later we were outta there; after the return,  the browsing, the collecting, the paying,  the VAT form refund, and trek to the car. Needless to say, after that it was pretty late in the day and we needed to get back to pick Phil up from work. So we had to skip the pretty castle and church, in exchange for a traffic filled journey back to Ansbach.
 I felt guilty, like I had tricked her...Hey! Wanna go see some great architectural history?! OK. All we have to do is run one little errand first.....Know what I mean?
It's reminds me of when I was a kid. On weekends my uncle Dan would be like, "Want to go to Six Flags today?" And would be like, "yeah!" And he would say, "OK. We just gotta go into Philly first. You can help me tidy up my wood shop, and then we'll go." Very often, we conveniently, ended up without enough time to go to Six Flags.
I totally pulled an Uncle Dan on Lu.
The funny thing is we are talking about going to Rothenberg today. I hope to make up for yesterday. But it's my week, and I just have to clean the stairs, the foyer, and the basement of our house before we go.....
2/29/2012

I went to an antique store and a thrift store, for the first time, here in Ansbach. It was a beautiful drive, 45 minutes through woods and fields. We drove through a few small towns, each as charming as the next. I love the little firehouses in every town, and small hotels (Gasthaus). Every building is painted in cheerful colors. It almost reminds me of the Caribbean in a way. Some houses even have frescoes on the outside. And just so you understand, these towns I speak of are really no larger than a neighborhood in the US. Oh, and there is a cigarette vending machine, outside, in every village. It cracks me up. Especially the ones that sell the "Johnny Player Specials." Really? Who are they convincing?
The antique store was a big to-do, three barns. They even have their own website. I learned a few things about German collectibles. For starters, people collect, and sell, the tables from Oktoberfest. Great idea, right? Who wouldn't want to own a beat up wooden table and benches, with iron legs that fold, that a bunch of people partied at for days, ate rotisserie chicken and brats on, and maybe (if your lucky) relieved themselves on/near? Did I mention they are stamped for authenticity? I need a set. Also, in Germany, you can get old sugar molds that people now use for candle holders. It is a nice farm-chic look for your dining table. Until yesterday I never knew what a sugar mold was. It sounds like too much extra work for a hostess, but something I may attempt since I like to "wow" my guests. You can see a photo of a sugar mold on the website. Also, in Germany, not a lot of things are built into houses. Especially in older houses, rooms are just rooms. So this place had a ton of shranks, (stand alone closets) standing sinks, standing stoves, ovens, you name it. Some of it was so cool. There was also a lot of kitchen utensils and irons, and farm equipment. A collector could really go nuts...and empty their wallet in the process. I thought this place was a bit pricey, but I don't know a lick about old treasures. I just like a deal.
Oh man. I saw one treasure though, that I wanted so bad...yup...not exactly like the picture above..but similar...only a lot cooler. The dealer had a wood carved viking-merman-thing that looked like it came off a ship. It was still painted and almost as tall as I am. I inquired about the price, 400 Euros. Too rich for my blood, but I went home and told Phil about it anyway. He was not as appalled as I thought he was going to be. I'll keep that in mind for the future.
 Rest assured, I did buy some interesting treasures. The likes of which will have to remain nameless, as I am giving them to my mother as a gift soon. You will, hopefully, hear more about them once she uses them.
After shopping we went to the coffee shop for lunch. As you know, I LOVE the coffee in Europe. One thing I'm not on board with in Europe, is their excessive use of butter. I ordered a cheese sandwich, on a delightful seeded roll. It was buttered on both sides, had four slices of brie, and lettuce and 1/2 a slice of tomato. I was a bit disappointed. I would have gladly traded the 1/2 stick of butter on the sandwich for the other 1/2 of the slice of tomato. I can't wait until I know enough about Germans to politely ask for no butter on my sandwiches, so I may begin to experience the rest of the ingredients my future sandwiches will have to offer.
Dude, I was even in the market the other day and I saw butterkase. This translates to butter cheese. Who needs butter, in their cheese? I think cheese is creamy enough. Maybe it isn't supposed to be a literal translation. I may never know. But I can't lie. I tried it, and honestly, it tasted like American.

2/26/2012

I'm still uploading pictures of Switzerland. And still dreaming about snowboarding every night. Good thing we have another trip coming.
This is one of Phil's photos. Isn't it great? This will definitely be a painting soon. There are a few more pictures in the FB album too.
Since living in Germany, I write a lot. Before this I wasn't much of a writer. I find myself experiencing life as if everything I do is noteworthy, or not. It is an entertaining perspective, for sure. I am constantly trying to remember things to fill in my "Germany Diary". Sometimes this causes me to actually forget great instances. (Isn't that, so, backwards?) Anyway, yesterday I remembered one of the funniest things we did in Switzerland...We hitch-hiked. Isn't that wicked? I never thought I would do that. But somehow it seems safer in a ski town in Europe. Is that crazy?
I feel like I should actually segue this with describing some of our, more recent, trials with public transportation in unfamiliar cities. First, there was New Orleans. (my favorite place until I went to Switzerland) One night in New Orleans, after lots of amazing music and fun crowds, it took us four hours to score a cab back to our hotel. Apparently, after 11:00 pm, no cabbie wants to drive 15 minutes away from Frenchman St. (so obnoxious, but helpful in inspiring you to wander around and find late night pizza) But hitchhiking here, absolutely not! Then, there was Ansbach, Germany. Similarly to New Orleans, no cabbie can be reached to drive you back to the Army base at midnight. You are going to have to wait, and it is going to be pricey. You may have to contemplate eating at Mcdonalds while you wait. You may try to walk home, get 1/2 mile into it, and turn around because your shoes are hurting your feet, and contemplate eating at McDonalds again. But hitchhike, still, no. And finally, in Switzerland, it happened our last night. We had such a great two days of skiing we wanted to celebrate with a little Apres Ski. After a two hour apres ski, however, you need to eat dinner. And after dinner you will need to indulge in a flaming dessert. Unfortunately this is going to force you to take the last train out of town, which will force you to miss the last bus back to camp. So, once back down the mountain we came to terms with the fact that, we were going to have to hoof it. A two mile walk at night isn't a big deal for someone in snowboard boots. But we had a skier in-tow. The poor guy had had his ski boots on since 8:00 am. That is a long day in rental ski boots, schlepping your skis and poles around too. So when the first car came upon us Phil stuck his thumb out. The car stopped. Some friendly Irishmen hopped out, opened the trunk for our gear, and we all piled in. They drove us to our campsite, no problem. It was a 45 second drive, up hill, that would have taken us eons to walk. I was so grateful to not have to walk, that I didn't think twice about getting in the car with a stranger. I would not recommend this type of solution for every problem. But it seems to me that Europe has been bringing out (of me) certain personalities I never knew I had. 

2/22/2012

Switzer Land
The land of the Switzer. It was everything we dreamed it would be...and more.
All I really heard about Switzerland, before we went, was how expensive it is. What people should actually be spreading the word about is how amazing it is. I can't imagine that there is anywhere more majestic and enchanting than this glorious land of winter sports.
We stayed at a campground. This is a smart way to do Switzerland if you're on a budget. It was rustic, but well kempt. I'd never been "camping" in the winter time. I was lovin it, until I took a luke warm shower and realized my hair dryer wouldn't plug in. Being outside with a wet head in winter was a new experience for me. It wasn't as difficult as I thought. Also not as difficult as I thought, waking up in the middle of the night and going for a stroll to the bathroom. I didn't even have to put my coat on. 
We started every morning with gorgeous pastries and $5.00 coffees. It was, hands down, the best coffee I've ever had. Charging $10.00 would have made sense to me. Breakfast was followed by a sweet train ride, up the mountain side, to the Ski Resort. Where we were located, the passes gave you access to four resorts. We visited two, Murren and Wengen. But included in the passes is the ability to ride any mode of public transportation you want, for free. You can even ride a train up to the highest point in Europe.
The snowboarding was killer. We rode our faces off! I think I actually rode until my thigh muscles fell off. There was a lot of snow. And the groomed trails led us through some pretty incredible views. One time we were skiing, and it like, went through some one's farm. Phil stopped to photograph some sheep. They were just hangin' out, wearing their traditional Swiss Bells, watching skiers. Another time, Phil stopped at the bottom of a chairlift. An older gentleman skied up next to him and just started to yodel. He was a real yodeler. It was great. There was a lot of traditional music being played throughout the resort. We heard it a lot while we were riding. It made our experience, just a bit more, enchanting. On Sunday, it was actually snowing all day. This made the visibility tough, but not any less enjoyable.
On Sunday we stopped for lunch at a restaurant/hotel called Aspen. We skied right to it, my favorite. I thought the name was funny. You can kill two birds with one stone by going to Switzerland and stopping to eat in Aspen. Our food was simple, and delicious. The presentation was so perfect I had to take a picture of it.
The Aspen restaurant was located on one of the longest trails I've ever skied in my life. The whole route took 40 minutes to complete. There were quite a few trails like that. It was so much fun, but pretty exhausting. You can only make the most of a trip to Switzerland by being in shape. Some of the lifts and gondolas took just as long to ride. We were lucky in that it was very easy to negotiate your way around the mountain. We never wasted time getting lost or traversing where we needed to be. And that is always good, more time on the slopes.
The most interesting fact I learned while in Switzerland: Fondue tastes a million times better than it smells. (this statement is not intended to offend anyone) I had no idea. They never tell you that. The first restaurant we went into I thought to myself, "What is that smell?" And I wasn't the only one. I heard a few other people on the trip saying the same thing. Phil was the one who pointed out it was the fondue. It almost made me not want to order any, but when in Rome.....
Order Fondue! It was very delicious. Our waitress was kind enough to point out that the best cheese bits are the ones that are crusted to the bottom of the crock. You have to scrape at them with your fork. Those cheese bits were burnt, greasy yumminess. A perfect accompaniment to my beer.
Of course we didn't leave Switzerland without buying some chocolate. No, I didn't buy the Lindt out of the vending machine. Although, I was tempted. Instead we bought Villars, by Swiss for Swiss. Of course there is a bar in the mail for my mom. I wanted to go crazy and buy some cheese to take home to. But it is always good to practice self control. And now I have an excuse to go back.
I think I'll go back in spring or summer. The hiking looks amazing. There are trails everywhere, with plenty of places to stop. It would be the most luxurious hiking trip one could have. So who wouldn't want to have.
Put Switzer Land on your bucket list.
I keep saying Switzer Land because there was this funny, little kid on our bus who pronounced it like that. And for Phil and I, it has stuck.
P.S. We did the trip with the Army Outdoor Recreation Team. It was totally reasonably priced and fun. It was my first group trip. I would definitely do another, with any group. It has been my experience that people that like to travel are cool.
You can see all our pictures in the FB Album.

2/16/2012
Last weekend I baked for the first time in Germany. It's hard to find motivation to bake here. One doesn't want to bother because there is an awesome bakery on every corner. One thing the bakeries are lacking is cookies. I don't think cookies are very German. Waffles, dark bread, and pretzels are German baked goods. So this weekend past, I baked peanut butter cookies. And since there was a holiday approaching, and Phil and I are new here, I shared them with our neighbors. I even hand wrote a sweet note in German and attached it to the treats.
It wasn't much, but a nice gesture, and our neighbors loved it. Lug (that is apparently short for Ludwig) thanked me the very next day. He said the note was perfect German. I just saw his wife Katarina today. She thanked me too. She politely scolded me for not knocking on the door and coming in to drop off the cookies. She would have liked a sit-and-chat apparently. So now we have a coffee date next Friday. She also said she had something for me. She went upstairs and came back down with a plate of dessert for me and Phil. It looked awesome. It was a plum cake that she baked with frozen plums from our backyard. I was honestly excited, that despite a language barrier, I seem to be developing a positive relationship with my neighbors.
This afternoon's lovely incident comes on the heels of me sabotaging Lug yesterday. I thought I was on their naughty-list, but maybe I am mistaken. It's been snowing quite a bit here lately. Each apartment rotates weeks to sweep and shovel. This week is Lug's week. Well, yesterday he got up bright and early to shovel, for the first time. He came down his steps to realize that I had left the house door unlocked and it swung open in the middle of the night. Snow had been blowing in our foyer for hours. Not to mention, the heat was blowing out. I didn't know what to say except, Es tut mir leid, which is German for sorry. I'm sure Lug was pretty aggravated about the extra cleaning. Who wouldn't be? But he obviously wasn't aggravated enough to not allow his wife to share her baked goodness with me. And to top it off we have a date. I'm going to go up and have coffee. Of course I'll have to bake. But what? How do I top the home-grown plum cake?
When Phil got home from work I showed him. He laughed and said, "She totally one-up'd you."
I almost forgot. I totally took pictures. Mine. And Katarina's.



My excuse is that she is older, and thus better at this kind of thing than me :)

2/15/2012
You know that workout video "Insanity"? It's actually not a workout video, at all. It's a video of me trying to shop for furniture....
So Ikea is like, the best, right? Totally. If you want inexpensive, modernish-looking furniture that you get to build yourself, it rocks. In Germany, many houses have very odd spaces for you to live/work in. Ikea is ideal for finding the perfect furniture to fit your crazy space. Armed with this information Phil and I went to Ikea on Saturday. This was mistake #1. As you know, the entire world has off on Saturday and they are looking to do some home improvement. Phil and I found some cool stuff, but couldn't commit to buy anything, as we were on overload.
So I ventured back, alone, yesterday. My plan was to run in , buy everything that we saw that we wanted on Saturday, and run out. It seemed so simple in my head.
I must preface my story with an explanation of a few details. In Germany everything is taxed 19%. From the Army, we can purchase Tax Exemption forms to avoid the 19%. At Ikea, you buy everything first, then take your receipt to Customer Service to get a voucher to get the paid tax refunded, then get back in line at the register to get the voucher redeemed. Then you can leave the store with your items and your money. Also, you have to buy everything in cash.
OK. So, even though I was there on a weekday, knew exactly what I wanted, had exactly the right amount of money, and had been briefed on how the Ikea system works, I still had the shopping day from hell.
(Please keep in mind, although this excursion was insane, I still think Ikea is great and would recommend it to everyone I know. I especially recommend it to anyone living in this area. If you need an Ikea Guide, I could be for hire.)
I left for Ikea at 10:30. I got there at 11:00. I had all my items picked out by 12:00. Some of them I had in a cart, others I had order forms for. Some of the items that had order forms, I had to find in a warehouse before I went to the cashier. Other items that had order forms, I had to pay for and then pick up from a different warehouse. One of my items was too large so I had to buy it, pick it up, then drop it off at another desk to order delivery. In figuring out all of this, I had spoken to two sales people who were polite enough to help me, in the best English they could. Their assistance was prompted by something I call Germish. Germish is the hideous term I use to describe the act of me attempting to speak German. It is down-right awful, especially because I normally deliver it with a scrunched face.
So armed with a vague idea of where I needed to go, and what I needed to do, I headed to the warehouse. That was another 30 minutes of me fumbling around, trying to use a computer that only speaks German, entering item numbers, trying to score help from sales associates, and piling heavy boxes onto my cart.
I got to the cashier. She didn't speak any English. Luckily, that went smoothly anyway.
Then I waited in line at Customer Service. I had to get a voucher to get back the sales tax I had paid.
Then I went back to the cashier and got my money.
Then I went to the warehouse to get my items I couldn't get myself.
Then I went to Delivery to schedule the drop off of the large item.
Then I hauled everything else out to the car.
I packed it all quite successfully. It was 1:30. I was pumped, thinking I'd be home by 2:00.
NOPE!
As I was packing the car it occurred to me that one of my items may not be correct. To keep this story as concise as possible, let's just say, it looked too small to be what I needed. Against my better judgement (because I just wanted to be done) I went back inside to inquire. Going back inside means walking a 1/4 mile back to the building, going in, upstairs, and then another 1/4 mile to the kitchen department. I waited for a free sales associate. In Germish I explained to her that my large item I just bought was missing a part. After quite sometime we came to the confirmation that I WAS missing something that I needed. At the very end of trying to convey the problem to me she says, "How do you say it in English?".....
And out of nowhere this man behind me says, "Sold Out!"
And the woman says, "Yes, that's it."
I went into a state of shock. I had just spent 3 hours conquering this mission (plus our time on Saturday) and I was being told I couldn't get my goods. I just stood there, frozen. The woman got on the phone and talked to someone. She told me something about going downstairs to a room, to the right of the cashier and getting what I needed.
This was another 1/2 mile trek through Ikea. I got to the room, didn't see what I need, but found a doorbell on a wall. I rang it. More Germish ensued. Finally this sales associate said, "Ah!" Thank God, she knew what I needed. And there is was, the piece I needed to complete my order. My trip was not in vein.
I will summarize the rest of the afternoon. The sales associate had to hold the piece for me. I had to hike back out to the car, get the pieces I didn't need, (because my new piece was a complete package) wait in line at customer service, make the return, go back and get the new piece, buy it, go back to customer service, use a tax form, go back to the cashier, get my tax back again, and get my new piece to the car. Mind you, this new piece is 120cm x 90 cm x 60 cm and made of stainless steal. I'm guessing it weighed as much as I did. I was confident (but not sure) that it was going to fit in the car. I had to take everything else in the car out. I got that piece in. (I'll just say that it was extremely difficult, but I did it, and I didn't scratch my car) Then it was like Tetris trying to get the rest of the goods in around it. Some of the items I had to remove from their boxes to fit in. That meant another trip, this time to the recycling bins at the center of the parking lots.
But I did it. I was done. And I, quite successfully, had managed to get everything I wanted. It was 3:30.
In leaving Ikea and driving home, I got stuck in what is called a "stau." That German for traffic jam. My drive took forever. I almost cried. The GPS actually asked me if I wanted to switch to pedestrian mode! My saving grace was a German classic rock radio station I found. There is nothing more amusing than a German radio announcer's banter followed by some awesome 80's and 90's music.
By the time I got home last night I was fried. Another good thing is that I had bought new wine glasses at Ikea and had a $2 bottle of slammin' French wine to help me forget how stressed my day was.
And the Moral: Nothing is easy. Nothing is cheap. It all comes at a price. and it is a price that I will happily pay. I'm proud to have completed this mission. If I was at home, in the US, this day would have just been aggravating, not noteworthy. But being a foreigner makes every extreme. You know. I may not work a 9-5 and bring in a paycheck. And I may not be a soldier. But I do my part for my country by making sure my husband and I have a cool house to live in with cool furniture, damn it! And it isn't easy.
And the jokes on me because Phil and I decided we still need some more furniture. So it will not be the last time I go to Ikea this week. Yikes! I'm wearing a mouth guard next time :)
P.S. I have no idea what that sign means. I found it on the Internet. Google translates it into "Men need to work. Women on the changing table." And I find that amusing. To further complicate the translation, the sign is in the style of our town signs and the road.

2/10/2012

Oh man, what a day yesterday. In the event that you are pressed for time, I'll begin with the most significant event...Me and the Polizei! This picture is obviously a dramatization. I don't dress that much like a boy anymore.
I spent a portion of the day touring my new city on foot. It was blistery cold and snowing, very beautiful. I snapped some photos with my phone. check them out on the FB. I'm walking to my destination, eyes to the sky, looking around, day dreaming...and all of a sudden a police van whips in front of me and stops. I was stunned. My brain said, "Are they pulling you, a pedestrian, over?"
The answer to that question was, "Ja!"
The cop jumped out of the van and started yelling at me in German. I probably had the stupidest look on my face. In German, I told him that I didn't understand him. At first he looked at me like he wasn't buying it. He asked me where I was from. I thought it was a trick question. I didn't want to sound sarcastic in my answer, but I was like, "Uh, America?" I didn't know what answer he was looking for, like maybe he meant to ask where I was coming from. Anyway he scolded me for crossing the street at a red light. In Germany, when the light is red you DO NOT cross the street, even if there are no cars coming. I had no idea. To make matters worse, I have a horrible habit of walking out into the street whenever I want. Phil yells at me all the time. But Phil has never scolded me as severely as this officer. The way the cop spoke to me, it was like he was personally insulted by my action. He said, "Right there! Right in front of me! You are seeing the red light and walking anyway! You force me to drive over here! You can not just be walking whenever you want! I should be making you pay for this right now!"
Unfortunately for me, I have another bad habit of smiling when I'm nervous. I try to hide it so it comes out more like a smurk. I was fighting, with all my might, to hold it back. I didn't even know what he was talking about. I looked back at the light and asked, "That light?"
"Ja.", he said as he looked at me like I was a jerk. It was the only light, but I was confused because it wasn't a big intersection so I didn't see what the big deal was. Luckily, I pulled myself together in enough time to apologize, call him Sir a million times, and thank him for not taking any Euros from me on the spot. I promised to never do it again. I hope I wasn't lying. It's just that I zone out, and go auto-pilot so easily when I'm walking. But the last thing I want to do is be insulting and irresponsible. So I'll mind the law at all times.
Geez! And before that I was having such a good day too. I translated more paperwork and got a few things taken care of. I even had a successful post office trip. German post offices are nice. In another comparison of Germany and America, our paper is shorter and our envelopes are longer. Isn't that silly? Pricing at the German post office was pretty similar to America. I am glad for this. It won't be too debilitating to my US market.
I went shopping and bought the popular local coffee. I ordered it in half-German. It's hard to speak German when I'm really bad at it, and the clerks know broken English. I wish more of them would force me to sink or swim. This coffee store was weird. In fact, I find a lot of stores around here weird. Most of them don't just sell one thing. They sell a bunch of random items. It's like, you never know what you're going to get. In addition to coffee, this store sold kitchen items, bras and underwear, hair electronics, soap dishes, waffles, cellular phones, and ski pants. Huh? It's called Tchivo, and apparently they have a catalog. You can shop them online, www.tchivo.de.  The only reason you would be interested is because it'll remind you of SkyMall.

2/8/2012

This is the kind of night we are having tonight. I think it's full. Even if it isn't, it's still breathtaking. Nature's beauty is not shy in Germany, day or night. I could stare into my new landscape forever.
But there just isn't time for that :) Our world just keeps on spinning.
There is never a dull moment for us here at our new home. I feel like I am insanely busy. I think one of the reasons is because even the smallest task takes so much extra effort when you're in a new country. (I will now share the small tasks I have completed that have enabled me to breathe easier.)
In our house there are three apartments. We share some chores. There are two signs posted about cleaning and garbage. Today it took me an hour and a half to translate them into English. It's a good thing I did, because today was yellow sack day. I'm glad I didn't miss it. In the winter time it is only twice a month. The yellow sack is the one that contains your plastic. (and by plastic Germans mean anything that isn't biodegradable, glass, metal, a hazmat, or a dirty bandaid, or a light bulb) Even Styrofoam goes in your yellow! I hope they actually know how to recycle Styrofoam. I don't. But I do know how to put the bag out all by myself. (check that box please)
My glass, metal, and old shoes don't get picked up. So I walked them to my neighborhood recycling pods and disposed of them. I had a brisk jog down the steep hill I live on to get there. I'm fortunate not to have had a run-in with any black ice. (check that box please) On my way back up the hill I found my neighborhood mailbox. In Germany they are little and yellow with a horn symbol on them. I dropped a request to my phone company in there. (check that box too) The funny thing is I left myself 45 minutes to complete those tasks. I guess I thought they were going to be impossible. I was done in ten minutes. I gave myself bonus points for that. Lastly, I decided to work on our phone. We got it free from the phone company. The screen and the voice were all in German. I was (35 minutes) into translating every word on it until I translated the words that lead to you switching the language of the phone from German to English. "Hot Dog!", I thought, "I'm really on a roll!"
Since I got my phone to go English I almost decided to skip my evening activity, but then decided better of it. I had my first German lesson tonight. Phil is taking the class with me. He's a real champ for doing it because his work days are pretty long. The last thing I think anyone wants to add to a long work week is an extended hump-day. We both had fun at class. And there was free pizza! One down, nine to go! The classes are free with the Army. It's a hidden bonus. You have to be willing to look.
Side note: The pizza in Germany isn't very impressive. Luckily, that's not what I'm here for. I think when Germans want good pizza they go to Italy. I bet the 'kraut in Italy is horrible.
The other thing that I think is really funny about this Army base is how spread out it is. You got a library 20 minutes from the commissary, that's right next to the gym, but the theater is on the other side of the highway (through a different gate that you can drive through but if you walk you have to show ID again) and if you're an Apache pilot your 45 minutes away. I haven't seen a campus this disjointed since I attended NYU. Too bad there aren't any subway stops connecting all of our Kasernes. (Isn't that cute? They call the bases Kasernes. I'm guessing it's a German word, but I haven't looked it up.)

2/6/2012
As I was unable to get a great shot of Phil or me on a T-bar, I found a substitute on a blog called Tara in Bamberg. Here's the link for credit.
It has been quite an exhausting five days, but in a good way for sure. On Friday all of our possesions arrived. Unloading and sorting took all day. The moving men were great. I bought them donuts. (I don't know what they're called in German) Friday was so long. The thought of doing this every three years is enough to make me never buy anything, ever again. I don't want to have to keep packing and unpacking it. But it was nice to sleep in my own bed, for the first time in two months.
We were barely unpacked and off to snowboard early Saturday morning. It was a great trip to Oberjach, Germany. The resort was pretty small. The lift ticket only cost E 29,0. (that's $38) If anyone is a skier you know in America the average lift ticket is $70. The resort was cute. There was only one six pack lift and the rest were T-bars. T-bars are fine, if you ski. They are a snowboarders nightmare though. I have a bruise on my hip from riding it. At one point, Phil tried to take my picture riding the T-bar. For show, I decided to ride it like I was playing it as a guitar. Of course, I fell off. We were only halfway up and I had to ride down to start all over again. I found it quite amusing, so did the people behind me. It wasn't the biggest mountain we've ever skied, but the snow was great. The bus ride back was fun. We got to chatting more with the other people on the trip. They were all Army or DoD civilian workers. The trip was hosted by our outdoor recreation club. It was reasonably priced and stress free. I would say it was the perfect experience for our first in Europe. We will go on many of these Outdoor Rec. trips in the future. I hope some of the folks we met do the same thing. One of the highlights on the drive for us was the rest stop. The bathroom was packed! And, as I have said before, you have to pay to use it. This time it was 70 cents. But with this trip to the bathroom came a voucher for 50 cents to spend on rest stop refreshments. I thought it was a nice idea. Phil was like, "What am I going to do? Buy a cup of coffee so I have to pee again? This vicious cycle will never end."
P.S. When I say packed, I mean PACKED. You literally cram in, and out, of the same turnstiles. What is funny is that we noted later this is the same procedure the Germans use for getting on the lift. It's a real Charlie-Foxtrot. The bathrooms were crazy clean though. When you are finished there is a sanitizer machine that protrudes out and cleans the seat for the next person. I like it.
That was it for our R&R this weekend. On Sunday it was back to the grind of unpacking, sorting, and cleaning. I tried my hand at laundry. It sucked. As excited as we were about our new washer and dryer, it isn't as easy as it looks. It is highly efficient (which is great) but it takes forever. Literally, one load took me 4 hours to wash and dry. Needless to say, I will not be a clean-freak in Germany. Nor will Phil and I be using cloth napkins like we did at home.
We are still working on figuring out the trash/recycle system here. There are some items I just don't know what to do with. We also have no idea when the stuff gets picked up, and what we are responsible for dropping off. It'll all come in good time I'm sure.
The good news is our phone and Internet are fabulous.
According to our neighbor upstairs Germans don't warm up their cars before they drive. They don't like letting out the extra pollution. Phil is not down with this, but we don't want to offend the neighborhood. So, we will comply for now. I will say though, that a cold car does not get into gear easily. Nor is the power steering stoked to get moving when it is super cold. I'm sure we will come across many nuances like this in our new life. Thankfully, the bottom line is that we are still lovin' it. It is such a super opportunity to be able to engross ourselves in a new culture and lifestyle. It is so different than what we've been used to. It really is like putting your shoe on the opposite foot.

2/1/2012

My new house is the best. Here's the view from my kitchen door. Check this out: It's -7 degrees Celsius, and I am eating a snack here, and I'm not cold at all! How's that for insulation? This is definitely a first for me. Usually, in the winter, I avoid doors and windows. If this joint wasn't so sealed it would be a buzz kill because we've got a lot of windows and doors.
I'm a day late here. Yesterday was spent with me cleaning every nook and cranny of my kitchen. Really, it took me all day. I was exhausted, and ran out of time, so I bagged any computer stuff. In case your interested, you could definitely sip champagne out of my trash collector. You could store your toothbrush in my drawers or eat sushi off my oven door. No nasties anywhere. We'll see how long it stays that way. Luckily, there are plenty of cool eateries to try in town.
A small shipment of goods came yesterday. Unpacking that was fun too. Check out the tape ball I made. I placed the canteen there for size reference. This is the packing tape that came with 400 lbs of stuff. I plan on saving it to have to compare to the 4000 lbs of inventory coming on Friday.


I also saved the wrapping paper everything came in. Of course Phil wants to recycle it (to get it out of the house) and I want to reuse it. My vision is that I will make lots of paintings, and sell them, thus making this packaging a must keep. If only I could reuse tape. I plan on photographing my enormous pile of paper when I'm done too. I need to show everyone. I think you will find it as incredible as I do. As I was neatly folding it all I couldn't help but multiply in my head. It was 400 lbs. The maximum weight allowed is 12,000 lbs. Let's just say that's the average weight of goods on a move. (really it's probably a lot more) 12,000 lbs of property gets wrapped, for every family, every three years. Then, I'm assuming, the paper gets thrown away. Who ever owns this packaging paper company, that sells to Covan, loves the Army. And other people move a lot too, so I'm sure they love them just as much.

1/30/2012

The yogurt here is freakin' awesome! I love it. It's rich, and creamy, and sweet. (without tasting like sugar) Most of the dairy seems to come from Denmark. In my nightly prayers I have been thanking ?God for Danish cows. Now I wouldn't cook with it, but the Danish yogurt would crush Greek yogurt in a throwdown any day. It's truly like desert. If I was blindfolded and you told me I was eating melting Ben and Jerry's I might believe you, especially if you read me the nutrition facts :)    
In other news, I spent the better part of the day cleaning my new house. Half of our goods are coming tomorrow, and the rest on Friday. I figured I should give the house a good scrubbin' before all that goes down. Because doing it after 4000 lbs of stuff arrives would just be more complicated. Our kitchen cabinets and drawers are crazy. I've never seen anything like them. They are an organizer's dream. Our neighbors were bustling around the house today too. We all had a chat. (as best as we could have) Katarina and Ludwig live upstairs, and Ava lives downstairs. Isn't that classic?
Our washer and dryer come tomorrow too. They are Army issue. Sweet, huh? They also issue us closets, because German rooms don't have them. Some people that live on the economy don't have a real kitchen. The Army sort-of issues them one. I don't know if I could deal with that.

1/29/2012
Yesterday Phil and I shopped our butts off. We got actual snow, that stuck to the ground and stayed there. It was beautiful. It’s the first snowy day we’ve had in a while. Unlike most people who stay inside when it snows, we ventured out. Mostly we traveled on heavily trafficked roads, but twice we detoured on some back roads to explore more of the countryside. It was lovely. And it was also really fun to take the Subaru around on some white roads.

Our first stop was the local chain coffee shop. The coffee at the hotel was really starting to get us down. I know that we are snobs about our coffee, but this hotel’s coffee is pretty pitiful. The coffee shop is called the Brothaus. It’s a bakery and coffee place. Of course you know we had to have some bread with our coffee too. Fruhstuckescroissants to be precise.

After breakfast we hit the stores. Since we were so pumped about our snowboard trip next weekend, and it was actually snowing, we headed straight for the ski shop. We have one at our mall called InterSport. I guess they are pretty big in Germany. They have their own line of ski equipment, a store brand, if you will. The equipment is actually manufactured by a legit ski company that allows Inter Sport to put their name on it. If you’re thinking that Phil bought a new snowboard you are wrong. We bought cross country skis. Isn’t that a riot? (and by riot I mean a bit out of character  for us) Part of me was thinking that it was a bit fogey of us, but the other part of me was excited for a new sport. It’s a sport that we can enjoy in our own backyard. We’ve got these dreamy ideas of leaving our house with the skis on, cruising to the next town, getting lunch, and cruisin’ back home. Whether or not this comes to fruition will be dependant on us actually getting enough snow. Where we are geographically located isn’t necessarily known for its snowfall. Most likely we will end up driving a bit south to enjoy our new toys. But it’ll still be cheaper than a lift ticket. There remains a fighting chance however, that the tail end of winter could pick up in the snow department. You just never know.

I would recommend Inter Sport to anyone here interested in getting some sports equipment. The staff there was great. In particular, our salesman’s name was Barry and he was kind enough to speak English to us. He also gave us a bunch of great tips on where to go to enjoy our equipment.

After our unextreme-sports-equipment purchase we headed out to get some necessities for the house. Discovering the many home improvement store options here was great. In Germany it’s a lot like America. They’ve got a Lowe’s. It’s called Praktiker. It’s signature color is blue. It is attached to the mall. This makes it the easiest one to go to, but not the best. Germans also have a Home Depot. It is called Obi. And you guessed it, their signature color is orange. They have a bunch of items that Praktiker doesn’t have. But the store that really takes itself seriously is the BGU. BGU stands for something but I can’t pronounce it or spell it. This store was like the gourmet store of tool shops. It was huge, and located in an industrial complex. It is where serious German craftsmen and farmers get their fix. The store was wonderful, and it smelled like wood, not plastic. In addition to the normal hardware store department, they also have a framing and arts & crafts department.  I was in heaven. Luckily for us BGU has a staff member that speaks English. His name was Herr Stokes, but he let us call him Carl. He gave us a tour, complete with a description of their massive splitters. Like Inter Sport, BGU has its own line of equipment and they are very proud of it. Machines that cut down trees, split logs, and gather them, are amazing. The number of Germans that cut down their own trees was surprising to Phil and I. So many people here still burn a lot of wood. I think it is lovely and I wish Phil and I had a fireplace or wood burning stove. But alas we do not. We bought some candles at BGU instead.

We ended the day with dinner at Piccolo Mundo. I think it is our favorite restaurant in Ansbach, not that we’ve really been to that many. The waiter, Dino, is incredibly nice. He smiles a lot. He lets me talk in German. He lets Phil talk in French. And he speaks back to us in English, German, and French. The three of us were having trouble communicating about seafood. So Dino just brought out all of the options, in the flesh. For me he chose a whole fish and had the kitchen fillet it and serve it in a light lemon and tomato sauce. Phil got spaghetti and clams, Dino’s favorite.

By the end of dinner and the end of the day, our bellies were full and Phil’s wallet was empty. He had nothing more than a few cents in his new coin purse. We slept like rocks.

1/27/2012
One of the toughest decisions we've made, so far here, has been who to get Internet and phone from. In Germany there are a lot of competitors, plans, contracts, clauses, and inopportunity based on location. Throw the Army into the mix and you don't know who to believe. We've had to decide between going with the government contracted TKS and choosing our own. We get the option to decide since we live off post. In trying to get opinions from folks around here you get a million answers..."don't do this...do that...my friend did this and got screwed." The only thing you can be sure of is your own research. And I did it, to find that there is no one great answer. But I did find an extremely helpful and friendly salesman at Kabel Deutschland. So we went with them. We're confident that we made the right choice. Our Internet should be as fast as our location would allow. We're not under contract for the Internet. We're under contract for the phone, which is funny. Germans apparently love contracts, and they don't translate them into English. But our contract has a military clause. Our phone plan covers calls to US landlines and cell phones, but not German ones. Funny, right? I could go on, but there is no need to bore you. I was just serving it up as another slice of our life.
If you find this topic interesting I will go on to describe how Germans don't call land line to cell phone or vise-versa. They only call handy to handy, and land line to land line. And with cell phones (handies) you don't get a plan with minutes. You get a plan based on which cell phone providers' customers you are calling. Could it be more confusing?
Needless to say, I do not have a cell phone yet. I may not get around to getting one. Phil has one. He got it with TKS so he can talk to everyone to/from work. The plan isn't bad and the phone was $1.
Everything seems OK so far, but I can't wait for the first month's bills to come in. I'm planning on buying a couple of biers for that day!

1/24/2012
Yesterday was the first difficult day Phil and I had here so far, and really it was not that bad. I think it felt worse because I have been on Cloud 9 since my first day. So it was good to be brought back to reality.
When you move in the military there are a million bases you need to make sure you cover. This is not only at the place you just left, but the place where you are. And forget about it, if there is anything in between. And by this I mean, you're screwed if there's a 29 day holiday in between. I think it is impossible to keep track of all of your paperwork and such.
As many of you know, when you move you pay for it up front and the Army reimburses you for most of it on the back end. Without getting into it, this was our snafu yesterday. A Personally Procured Move is not for the faint of heart. Trying to handle this DPS business, and license plates, and registration, and medical records, and dental, and Internet, and phone, and furniture rental, and UB drop off, and finance, and trying to feed ourselves was a bit much for me to handle. Good thing for me I found a new theme song. You might know it. It is called Be So Happy by The Heartless Bastards. The Album is called The Mountain. I don't love it, but I do love this song. I memorized the words from the first time I heard it. I had to sing them to myself yesterday in order to keep a smile on my face. They are as follows:

I could be so happy
If I just quit being sad
I could be so happy
If I just quit being a drag
I could be so sweet
If I just quit being sour
I could do all these things
Oh, I have the power

I'm going to see what tomorrow brings
I'm gonna make it to the midnight train
I'm going to see what tomorrow brings
I'm gonna take it to the world outside

So I took off running
I ran over the hills
My oddessey through concrete and steel
Gonna keep on going
I don't want to stand still
Gonna keep on going
I don't want to stand still

I'm going to see what tomorrow brings
I'm gonna make it to the midnight train
I'm going to see what tomorrow brings
I'm gonna take it to the world outside

I think it is absolutely normal to get overwhelmed with life. It is messy and intimidating. But one thing I refuse to do is let it prevent me from living it. I definitely hate standing still. So pick up a few of these song lyrics the next time you need encouragement. It's these little things that can work wonders.

Today was a much better day. I actually tackled everything that got messed up yesterday. And it has been my experience thus far that as long as you are pleasant in dealing with people, they are pleasant back. I 100% enjoyed everyone I dealt with today. This especially includes the guys from Outdoor Recreation who signed me and Phil up for our first trip to ski Oberjoch. Woo-Hoo!

1/23/2012
So, I've noticed something about all of the public restrooms in Germany. Each stall has a toilet bowl scrubber in it. It took me a second to catch on. But then I realised it is there for each individual to clean out the bowl, should they need to, after they use it. (hopefully you know what I mean) What a great idea. Keeping the public restrooms clean is everyones responsibility. Imagine that. Caring about other people is caring about yourself. I love Germany.


Since I'm on the toilet topic I will also add that I love the double-setting on the flusher. Unfortunately it did not make my photo's composition. Anyway, it's got a big flush (hopefully you know what I mean) and a little flush. Too cute.

1/22/2012
So I thought Germany's weather was pretty similar to the Northeast. I was a bit off in that assumption. It's definitely colder. It is so cold, and wet, that your car doors will freeze shut. When you try to open them the foam around seal rips. In order to prevent this from happening you've got to lube it up. Isn't that funny? The other day Phil had to buy a tub of Vaseline and rub it all down. Oh yea.

Recently there have been many (alternative) habits that Phil has to get into. One of my favorites is carrying around, what I like to call, a man purse. It is necessary to carry around a lot of coinage here. And it doesn't fit in a wallet so men must carry a bag of change. So Phil and I went out and actually shopped to find him a change bag he could relate to. In addition I bought my first umbrella ever. I'm not used to needing an umbrella. Normally I just choose to suffer. But here it rains too much, and I'm outside too much, not to have one.

And since we don't know the language it is a must to carry around a German-English dictionary. Phil and I actually have a couple. I have found one to be much more useful than the other. In fact, the latter sucks. I recommend to anyone traveling/living in a different country to be smart when choosing a language dictionary. And get yourself comfortable with using it prior to needing to do so. It can save you a lot of aggravation.


Lastly. Don't forget. Nothing in Germany is open on Sunday. Actually, I bet Europe is closed on Sundays. Unless you are a baker, working is against the law. We made the mistake of trying to shop today, figuring they made an exception to this rule for the mall. Boy, were we wrong. This isn't Kansas Toto.

1/21/2012


































1/19/2012
I learned how to ride the Deutsche Bahn today! And Phil got his license and a house for us! We pick up our car tomorrow (via train) and sign a lease this weekend. We're still waiting for our household goods to arrive. So it'll be a hot second before we're out of the hotel.

Today my train ride was to Wurzburg. It was awesome, with the exception of the torrential down pour all day. The city is beautiful, and full of vineyards. We saw a couple of landmarks, including the oldest wine cellar in Germany. It also appears that there is killer shopping and salons around those parts. No kidding, Germans love shoes. There are shoe stores everywhere... and bakeries. Germans love shoes and bread. I'm excited to go back to Wurzburg with Phil when the weather is better.

1/18/2012
It has been a busy couple of days. We are still living in the Army hotel, but are actively seeking housing. Actually, Phil is doing most of the house hunting. He's doing a great job. We've got one in particular that we really like, but I'm keeping the cat in the bag until things are for sure.

I've been attending something called the "Newcomer's Orientation." It's been in credibly informative. It is a three day crash course to learn all about the installation and the surrounding area. We got a private tour of the commissary on post. We got a long lecture about recycling in Germany. Recycling here is awesome. It is exactly like the trash sorting at Whole Foods, except the entire country does it. Today we rode the bus downtown. I learned how to ask for a ticket in German. We stopped in a Bauernladen. Literally that means "farm store." It was like a gourmet grocery without crazy prices. Wednesdays is also the outdoor farmer's market. I would have taken a picture of it, but my hands were too cold. We also went to the local mall for window shopping and lunch. I had Turkish food, that I ordered in German! After lunch we got a tour of the Ansbach Hospital and the swimming center. I was glad to tour the hospital. I'll be more comfortable if one of us ever ends up there.

While I was doing all of this Phil was continuing to "in-process." There are many people he needs to see upon arriving here. He also got a phone today. Yay! It only cost him one Euro. Sweet deal.

Tomorrow I will be riding the train to Wurzburg. Hopefully I will get some pictures to share. If my hands aren't too cold :)
I’m happy to report that it’s been another couple of days in paradise for Phil and I. Yesterday, in particular, was an awesome day. I’ll take you through it. As I said, Phil got his license on Thursday. Our main objective was to get the car Friday. In order to get to our car in Schwienfurt we had to catch a shuttle to the bus stop, catch the bus to the train, to another train, and finally hop in a cab to get to the lot where our vehicle was shipped. Luckily I had attended the Newcomer’s Orientation, so I knew how to ride all these modes of public transportation.

Schweinfurt is an hour and a half drive from our Hotel. We figured this out on our drive home. Our journey up there took five hours. We boarded the shuttle at 5:52. We caught the bus at 6:57. This part was pretty funny. It was dark, and freezing, windy, and snowing. There were no buildings open on post to wait in, so we stood outside the whole time. As you know, I was freezing. While waiting for the bus Phil mentions how he heard German public transportation is very punctual. As the bus pulls up to the stop Phil tested this theory. He was cracking up, and so was I. The bus was exactly on time, not a second late or early. And we know this to be true because Phil’s watch is set to the atomic clock. We boarded the bus to notice that we were the only ones on it over the age of eighteen. It seems German children ride the public bus to school. I felt really silly. The children were probably wondering what the heck we were doing. It worked out fine and we got to the train station in plenty of time to get a tasse kaffee and use the toiletten for fifty cents before boarding. In Germany you have to pay to use the public restrooms, but they are very clean.

The train and taxi ride were wonderfully easy, no problems. But we were ecstatic to be reunited with our car. Of course Phil vacuumed it out immediately. And, lucky for him, they give you a coupon for a free cleaning at the local car wash. The car didn’t need it, but we took advantage of it anyway.



On the way home Phil got to drive on the mini autobahn. It was only two lanes and had a speed limit. (I apologize if you were expecting something more exciting. We stopped in Wurzburg for lunch before heading home. I have a book titled Backroads of Germany. In it the author recommends a restaurant named The Ratskeller. We used our Euro GPS to find it and ate there. The atmosphere was amazing. You can check it out yourself at http://www.ratskeller-wuerzburg.de/. It was the best meal we’ve had in Germany yet. This was my first time using any recommendations from this book. I’m so pleased by the experience I will surely use this book a lot in the future.

Walking back to the car after lunch we passed an Aveda Salon. Any one who knows me knows how I love to get my hair done, especially at an Aveda salon. Even Phil was excited that we found it and suggested we go in to inquire about their services for me. It is at this point that I did the most embarrassing thing I’ve done in Germany yet. As we walk into the salon the woman says, “Hello. May I help you with something?” I was wearing a hat with two hoods over it. I didn’t really hear what she said. Assuming she said something in German I replied, “Hallo. Sprechen Sie Englisch? Phil started cracking up. She laughed too. It was so funny. I had to laugh at myself too. Thankfully she was nice about it and I’m sure I will go back to get my hair done soon.

With that idiotic situation under my belt I am full of confidence to continue to explore my opportunities to make use of my tiny knowledge of the local language. I believe it couldn’t get much worse than that.


It snowed our entire drive home. We were in heaven. Since we had the car we took it upon ourselves to drive by our new house. We were excited to sign our lease today.
1/16/2012
Here's who Phil will be working with:
12th Combat Aviation Brigade
Wings of Victory
1/16/2012
It is the morning of our fourth day in Germany. We are, still, so excited to be here. Thanks to a couple of friends, we got our first tour of the city of Ansbach yesterday. It's a quaint city with cobblestone streets, neat shops, cozy coffee houses, and beautiful restaurants. In between the monuments of history still alive, we were able to uncover some modern art too. I'm going to love it here. 




In a few of our former towns of residence, Phil and I were privy to extrememly fresh seafood. In St. Augustine we had a market two blocks from our house. I could walk there in my bare feet, order a fish, and have it freshly fileted while I went next door and bought some produce and fresh bread. In Manasquan I was acustomed to eating seafood right off the boats, literally. A scallop could go from ocean, to boat, outta shell, and into my mouth in less than an hour. I didn’t even need it cooked. I miss those culinary treats. I never thought we’d have anything like that in Germany. We aren’t exactly living on the water. But we do live near water, lakes and rivers that is. And I am fortunate enough to have a neighbor that loves to fish. (and hunt…and pick berries…and drink beer)

Yesterday evening Phil and I were preparing for a normal Monday night. I was going to steam vegetables, dress them, and we would eat them with rice. That’s when our door bell rang. It was the neighbor. She had a casserole dish with a big ‘ol fish in it. She asked us if we wanted it. Her husband had just gone fishing and they had six, so they thought they’d share one with us. Jack Pot! “Sure,” we said, “but what do we do with it?”

As much as I love fish, I’ve never fileted my own fish. So Katarina proceeded to come inside and show us how she prepares Rainbow Trout. She demonstrated the fileting, the scraping of the scales, the dressing, and her cooking time. It was cool. She left and Phil got down to work. I wasn’t ready to chop the head off a fish. It was still moving! I snapped a photo of it.             We cooked the fish like she said and had a blast eating it. It reminds me of eating crabs, or something. It’s not easy. There is much work to be done getting out the little bones in between each bite. I wish I had had a savvy way to remove them before hand. Anyway, thanks to the neighbors, dinner went from drab to fab. It was neat to enjoy the fresh offerings. And by that I mean a fish caught with a man’s hands, not farmed.

It’s like everyday, that I am getting new surprises from life. I can’t wait for what the future has in store.


THE DRIVE:
We decided to drive instead of taking a plane or a train. In retrospect I’m not sure this was the best idea. But, at the very least, we can say that we have a European Cross Country under our belt. It is over 1000 km from our home in Ansbach to Biscarrosse Plage. It is easy for a foreign driver to be comfortable in France. They don’t drive nearly as fast as they do in Germany, which is a relief. But I wouldn’t say they have any less issues. Between the two countries we hit a healthy amount of traffic and saw more than one accident. We never got lost, which was nice, but we did have to take a few detours. It was good to have a GPS as well as an atlas. Gas costs a bomb in France. Not including filling up at Army posts we spent 504.00 Euros. ( $650.00, Yikes!) The tolls were a bit over the top also, 135.00 Euros. ($175.00) On the way to our destination we hung north in France and on the way home we hung a bit south. I think we encurred less tolls on the way home because of this.
The views out the car window were marvelous. We saw everything you could imagine; quaint villlages, lush green fields, electric yellow crop fields, windmills, farms, cows, rolling hills, snow capped mountains, vineyards, beautiful skies, churches, clock towers, castles…the list could go on for pages. The gorgeous scenery was worth the price of admission. There is something so romantic about driving. Aside from having a new world out the window to entertain us, we also had language learning CD’s I got from the library. On the way to France we practised French, and on the way home we practised our German.

ORLEANS:
The drive from Ansbach, with stops, was about 7 hours. As I mentioned, it was easy enough. Our hotel in Orleans was great, St. Martin. (www.hotel-st-martin.fr) It was small, clean, reasonably priced, and had free parking. The door attendants were lovely. This is crazy though…the hotel had no elevator. We were four flights up! Luckily, Phil and I enjoy a bit of extra exercise.
Orleans is a great weekend city. They have just the perfect amount of things to see, as well as entertainment to be enjoyed. Navigating the city is easy and safe. It’s the perfect walking city. We found a new favorite beer in Orleans, Pelforth Brune. (www.pelforth.fr) One of my guide books recommended an awesome restaurant with a ton of charm, Brin de Zinc. We shared some escargot for an appetizer. It was Phil’s first time, my second. They were served on a slate. We both had a huge pot of mussels for dinner. Mine were topped with a huge slice of blue cheese. Marvelous. It was also nice to have a selection of beers from different countries on the menu. In Germany you, usually, only get the local beer. In France you get French, German, and Belgian selections. Rue de Borgogne was a fun street in Orleans. It’s like the main drag. Phil and I made a mini bar crawl out of it. We were looking for some jazz mentioned in the guide book. We never found it. The guide books are interesting company. Sometimes they are spot-on, and sometimes they’re spot-off.

BISCARROSSE:
This was the main event in our voyage. We chose Biscarrosse because it is known for its waves. After too much great skiing, Phil and I thought we’d plan an early surf trip. Great idea, right?…Keep the good times rollin’ in ol’ Europe….Mmmm…maybe not. Let’s just say the cosmos were lined against us on this trip. They were lined up against us like the starting defensive line of the Packers. Faced with this situation, knowing there was fun to be had somewhere behind this defense, we grabbed our guide book and scurried right between their legs. In other words, despite terrible weather, no surf, and a less than desirable rental (for five days) we had a blast.
Biscarrosse is a great beach town; very quaint. If you are familiar, it is a lot like Mannasquan, NJ. There are a few hotels, but more visitors stay in small houses. Our house was nice, but it didn’t have heat. Yikes! And because of the hellacious weather  we were forced to make constant use of the space heaters provided by the owner. It was a bit like camping…in a house. I needed to stay close to the heat source.
As I said, Biscarrosse is one of the best places to surf in France. This is the reason we went. And as can happen on any ski or surf vacation, we got skunked. The waves in Biscarrosse are some of the most consistent in the world. Unfortunately for us (more unfortunate for Phil, the actual surfer) the weather made it imposssible to surf. The weather made it practically impossible to do anything. This region of France, Arcachon, is known for its outdoor activities. 45 knot winds and pouring rain don’t necessarily allow one to enjoy being outside.
Needless to say, our first day there, my birthday, we sought alternative means of entertainment. Our first priority was to reach the beach and see where the water was meeting the sand, at any cost. We quickly retreated back to town though. We found a nice spot for happy hour on the beach front road, La Friterie Belge, and the sun came out a bit. The owner, his daughter, and his brother-in-law, were terribly welcoming to us. We talked to them for a while, in English and a bit of French. This was the first time Phil realised he remembered way more French than he thought. In chatting with these people I was amazed at how many different cultures and languages Europeans can be familiar with. This is obviously due to the proximity of so many countires to one another. But it also seems that people have had to move to find work, or escape war and persecution. As an American, I am jealous of the rich cultures and traditions these people understand. But I also feel quite fortunate to never have had to run from anything, or look too far to find something. The differences I shared with the family of this restaurant were intriguing. Nando, the brother-in-law, makes a killer french frie. Of course, he has a secret ingredient which I will not share. But I will say, vegetarians beware. He has also invented a nifty carton to hold the fries and your dipping sauce. He is currently awaiting a patten.
For dinner we ended up at the hippest pizza joint in town. The owner, Lu Lu, is a former flight attendant, artist, gallery owner, and restauranteur. It seemed to me that his spot was a bit of a hang out for local artists. (And really I should say grafitti artists.) There is a lot of grafitti in Biscarrosse, and in Frnace in general. Unfortunatley, much of it is really good. Phil and I were really turned on to the art of the town. Lu Lu introduced us to a few of the artists and we bought a painting. The painting was like a second birthday present for me.
My birthday didn’t stop there. After dinner we went to the town casino, for giggles. I’ve never been to such a mini casino. We played a couple of rounds of French Roulette (It’s different than American Roulette. They use a huge bouncy ball that looks like a Hand Ball) We were up 10 Euros and left the table because we got scared. We obviously aren’t gamblers. After roulette the manager of the casino (had recognized it was my birthday on my ID) and brought us a bottle of Moet & Chandon to celebrate. How sweet is that? Apparently it is the custom in France. Fancy. This night we got home at a typical European hour J
But so as not to waste any of our vacation, we were up bright and early. To really kick start my day, I ran and jumped in the ocean. This would be the only time either one of us was in the ocean all week. I love the ocean. It was awesome. (And for those of you that know me, I did not stay in long enough to get an allergic reaction.) Continuing with customary behavior we had coffee in a bar. This struck us as too funny to pass up. Most of the bars were open. They were aired out, bright, squeezing fresh orange juice, perkin’ some killer coffee, serving croissants, and playing the latest music videos on TV. It was ridiculous. No, we did not order any alcohol.
Our afternoon entertainment that day consisted of the Musee de l’Hydraviation. There is a huge lake in Biscarrosse. Historically it is known as the birthplace of European Sea Planes. It was neat. (for Phil)
Back in town that night we had the most awesome Paella and home made ice cream ever, at La Casa Luis.
The next day the clouds parted long enough for us to visit Arcachon. It is a town just north of us, known for its enormous sand dune, Dune de Pilat. You wouldn’t believe it. The thing is over 300 ft tall. It is still growing too, 4ft per year. It swallows everything in its path…trees…even a hotel! We had fun climbing up and down this dune, taking some photos and video, and splashing in the water again. I am glad I had rubber boots.
That night we had dinner at the fanciest seafood joint in town. Surprisingly, we didn’t love it. The menu boasted Calamari Romaine, fried calamari. It was nothing like in America. We were so disappointed. To describe it I would say it was calamari fried in funnel cake batter and served without marinara. We also ordered some local oysters. We love oysters. However, the French do not serve their oysters with cocktail, crackers, lemon, and extra horseradish. (I don’t know why I thought they would.) Instead they serve them, in the shell, in a pool of ocean water. They were so small, and sooo salty. I ate one and couldn’t go back for more. Despite not loving dinner, we enjoyed the restaurant. The people who worked there were great. We had a funny conversation with them that consisted trying to understand a French quote. They found it impossible to explain due to their  lack of English, and our minimal French. The matron actually called a friend of hers and put her on the phone with Phil. It didn’t help, but we all had a good laugh. The quote is Changez la thon, Iodonez vo la vie. This restaurant also had great wetnaps that looked like mints. Phil and I would have tried to eat them if the waitor had not demonstrated the procedure. They put the “mint” in a dish and pour water on it and it grows into a large wetnap. Genious.

BORDEAUX:
Wednesday we rode the train to the city of Bordeaux, and proceeded to do a ton of walking. As is typical we saw a couple of churches and an Opera House, but only from the outside. We weren’t having any luck with getting in. We did however, have some great coffee at the cute café of the Opera House and bought some amazing chocolate across the street at Maison Larnicol. (www.vosges.com used to be my favorite chocolate. Now it is www.larnicol.com) We saw the bridge and their famous outdoor sculpture, Mirror D’eau. The funny thing is this sculpture is a small layer of water that reflects the historic city buildings. Since it was so rainy and windy, the sculpture wasn’t at its prime. (Pretty standard for our trip.) We also saw La Marche des Capucines, this is a market really similar to the Reading Terminal Market. We almost felt at home. My favorite site in Bordeaux was the Musee d’art Contemporain. It’s a beautiful old salt factory turned contemporary art house. We didn’t love any of the current shows, but it was amazing to tour the building. They are in the process of building a huge half pipe on the ground level. They will paint it and throughout the summer you can go and watch skateboarding in the museum…trendy!
Something they don’t allude to in the guide books is how seedy the city actually is. On your walk to the center city from the train you pass a bunch of adult shops and skeevy stores. A couple of times we found ourselves in neighborhoods that were less than awesome. In trying to find the main catherdral of the city, we walked into a bad neighborhood and found the abandoned catherdral (I’m guessing) and were a bit confused. The guide book said the catherdral wasn’t known for its beauty, but the one we stood in front of was really awful. We renegotiated the map and righted the situation. Another time, against my better judgement, I bought a crepe from a stand in a park. It turned out to be the crepe of my life. I guess you never know. 

THE MEDOC:
Thursday we took the train to Bordeaux again. This time it was to join a tour of wine country. Group tours aren’t necessarily our bag, but considering the luck we’d had on our excursions we figured better safe in wine country than sorry. ( For a number of reasons) The train to Bordeaux leaves from  a cute little town called Gujan Mestras. It’s a fishing town. We were a bit early for the train so we strolled around and took some pictures. I love photographing boat docks and big gnarley fishing boats. We also had a cup of coffee and croissant in a bar. (I really can’t understand why this is the deal…in every town.)
There are many a chateau, in many a region surrounding Bordeaux to visit. Our bus went to two chateaus in the Medoc. I was happy to not have to decide where to go. The bus wasn’t bad, and we got a lot of history about the wine industry from the guide. A Bordeaux wine is never made of only one grape. It will always be a blend, usually cabernet and merlot. The grapes of the regions have many different characteristics. The wines of the Medoc have characteristics of the mountains, as opposed to others which can have characteristics of the sea. Our first winery was in the Margot Appalacians, Chateau La Laudey. The guy that owns this winery is the guy who produces all the wire nets that go around certain brands of wine. Random, right? (Like…this winery is owned by the guy that invented pliable erasers…or whatever.) At La Laudey we were served three wines and given a complete description of the process from grape to bottle. (I will not bore you with the details now, but I will suggest you go on a wine tour of your own someday.) They were all good, but surprisingly we liked the Rose the best. It was the dryest rose I’ve ever had. Who knew? On our way to the second winery the bus stopped at a winery that you are not allowed to enter. The guide suggested that we all get out and snap photos from the gate. I was a bit appauled, but everyone else was into it. (They all probably read tabloids too, and have been on the tour bus that goes to all the famous people’s houses in Beverly Hills.) Anyway, the second winery was Las Combes. It was fabulous; charming, enchanting, everything you’d expect from an 18th Century vineyard. It’s currently owned by the doctors and dentists association of France. We had two wines there. The second wine was worth 86 Euros a bottle…and we didn’t finish it all! Phil and I joked about sneaking it back with us in his bookbag. (typical Americans!)
After the wine tour we had dinner in the city. We ate at Café de Arts. We tried duck for the first time. It was amazing. Phil now calls ducks, flying cows. I couldn’t believe how unlike chicken, duck actually is. Marvelous! Café de Arts was one of the bonus dinners on the trip. The restaurant had great charm, friendly service, and reasonably priced wine.

PARAY LE MONIAL:
And that brings us to Friday Morning, our last few hours in Biscarrosse. It was sunny, of course, and the ocean was perfect. We got up, grabbed coffee, pastries, bread for the drive, and checked the beach. By this time there were already five surfers in the water…practically getting barrelled. I felt so sorry for Phil. I’m not the best surfer, so I didn’t mind our inability to surf. But I know he was really bummed about it.
Our drive back through France was awesome. As I said earlier, we started in on our German Language Learning. It was so funny to hear Phil speaking German after hearing him speak so much French. (I don’t know if I stressed this enough, but Phil spoke a ton of French while we were in France. I don’t think we would have had as great a time as we did, were it not for his language abilities.) At 4:30 we hit stopped traffic. We literally had to turn our car off and get out and wait. It was so weird, that’s never happened to me before. I hung out in the highway, for like, an hour. When we started moving again it was to be turned around and led off the highway. There was slow traffic on every mini-town-road we went down. In the town of Diou we stopped in a Tabac (French convenience store) and the gentleman working directed us to the town of Paray Le Monial, to stop for the night. What a great town it was! We really lucked out with this unplanned stop. We stayed at a lovely hotel called 3 Pigeons, which we found terribly amusing on multiple levels. We had a fabulous Italian dinner on the riverfront and tasted some of the local Burgundy wine. I was surprised to note how different it actually was from Bordeaux wine. We walked the town after dinner, which was complete with many darling shops , a romantically lit clock tower, and an 11th Century church. As is standard procedure, on our walk we found the one bar in town. It was called Palace of Beer. (What a funny name.) We met a couple of really great people at the bar, who are now (obviously) my friends on the FB. It was perfect because Phil got one last chance to use his French speaking skills. He actually made a joke that night. He was failing in an attempt to ask our new friends if he could buy them a drink. He asked how one says it in French. Very innocently the frenchman replies to Phil and says it. Phil realised the door he just opened, and said in French, “I’d love a drink! Thank you for asking!” (note to self: this joke could work in any language, in any country) We all laughed and Phil bought the drinks.
The next morning we were up bright and early. We visited the French bakery one last time and were back on the road.

WALDENBURG, GERMANY:
On our way back to Germany I had many an interesting thought. My first thought was that I’m good on wine, and cheese, and croissants, and rain, and European traffic for a while. I was beginning to look forward to my house, German Spring sun, my blooming yard, and maybe some dark bread. I was looking forward to recycling again. We didn’t recycle once in France. I realised that hotel breakfast is always a rip off. I was glad we took some extra fruit and cheese for the road. I also recounted all the new sayings we learned in French and I hope I never forget them.
While in France we learned so much about the language, the history, and daily life. We didn’t get to surf, but we had great adventures in the supermarket, at the gas station, and at the dinner table. In a week’s time Phil and I grew to feel quite at home in France. But there was something so relieving about crossing the border into Germany. We both cheered on our way back in. I realised that Germany is beginning to become familiar to us too. It was an exciting feeling.
Dinner time rolled around and we were still in the car. We had about an hour to Ansbach, but just felt like we couldn’t make it. We pulled off the highway and set the GPS to the nearest restaurant. This was to be our last adventure of the trip. To our wonderful amazement the GPS toured us around a charming road, that led up a mountain to a quaint town called Waldenburg. I couldn’t believe we had lucked out again. It was gorgeous. We ate a fresh, delicious dinner on the terrace of La Pietra, overlooking the countryside at sundown, across the street from a castle. It couldn’t have been more unbelieveable. To really put icing on our cake, the waitress was nice and let us practice our new German language knowledge with her. The poor woman; our German isn’t nearly as charming as Phil’s French. But we’ll get there I think. Waldenburg was so incredible we plan on going back again. If you’re in the area, I strongly recommend it.
Based on this vacation I have redefined the word adventure for myself. An adventure is a potentially miserable, stressful situation that you turn into a enjoyable situation with the powers of your mind and its possitivity. Thank you for checking in with me, and Phil, and our European adventures.

8 comments:

  1. I'm so glad you guys made it. You're going to love it, especially since you guys are the type of people that are actually going to go out and do stuff!

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  2. Yay!! I LOVE it! I can't wait to read more about your adventures!! Keep on keepin' on my friend! :-D

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  3. Beautifully written! Sounds like lots of fun. Love you both

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  4. You are keeping good track of your adventures - good for you! I was born in Wuerzburg! So our time in Germany was a very cool excuse to spend a weekend there. So glad to hear you are doing well.

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  5. Great job on keeping us updated on your adventures!

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  6. I am German And I Love BBQ Rips and peanutbutter (-:
    And we got a lot of vegetarians (-:

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  7. Hey, this is your friend from the Space-A terminal in Ramstein! Just letting you know, we did not break down in Bangor (thank goodness!) AND I was able to catch a flight home from Dover without spending the night! Sorry to hear you had such a hard time. :( But I hope you have a great vacation in the USA. Thanks again for driving me into town :)

    - Britta

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