Monday, July 16, 2018

Idstein

The food at the Burg Eltz cafe didn't appeal to me so I decided to stop somewhere on my way home. I had heard Idstein was a pretty city to visit so had it in mind. Hadn't really thought through that it's an hour away from Burg Eltz and I only left there close to 2pm ... suffice it to say I was hungry and grumpy when I got to town.

Most of the restaurants were closed in mid-afternoon but I found one that was open and not too far from where I parked and I tried a potato-and-bean-pancake (like a latke but with some kind of small white bean among the potato, presumably to protein it up). It was very tasty and the radler I had with it was refreshing so I was ready to hit the town after I ate.

The main sight in Idstein is the "Hexenturm" or Witch's Tower. Unless my German is way worse than I think it is, you can go to the tourist info center and ask for the key to go inside. When I wandered past the building there was a tour guide just closing up, but I plan to visit the town again so it wasn't a big deal not to get inside.
The town is filled well amazingly well preserved, colorfully painted half-timber housed. I may have mentioned this before but I am beyond charmed by half-timbered houses.
 It looks like it's falling down, because of the angle of the timbers.
That is not a real cat on the side of the house

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Burg Eltz

Nothing gets me moving like the recognition that things are soon changing. After essentially hibernating for a year, I'm going sightseeing. Burg Eltz was spectacular and beautiful but it was also a bit of schlepp to get to and I don't think Terry and the kids will care that much if they miss it.

Burg Eltz is still owned by the Eltz family - more than 850 years after the first part of the complex was built!  To get to the Burg*  from the parking lot you can take a shuttlebus or wander for about 15 minutes through the forest. Obviously, I walked.

The only way into the castle is with the tour, and they do tours about every 15 minutes. I probably missed or misunderstood some of what the tour guide was saying;  between impatience and wanting to use the German I've learned, I opted for the German language tour although there was an English speaking one 15 minutes later.

No photos are allowed inside the building, so 95% of what would be interesting to see is not captured. Although the first part of the burg was built in the 1100s, most of the items they had on display dated from no further back than the 1500s. There was a lot of original furniture, armament, and other household items ranging from about the 16th century up through the present day - in one room, along with 16th century portraits, is a photo of the family that could not have been taken more than 10 years ago. One portrait from an ancient patriarch noted that he lived to 94 years of age - in the 1500s! Another two rooms contain the hunting trophies, including antlers from deer, moose and elk, two enormous bear rugs with heads still attached, and pelts that had to have been wolves.
The inner courtyard, where we waited for the tour to begin

The admission ticket also includes entry to the "Treasure Room". One entire wall was covered in beautiful shotguns, many with the owner's name carved or engraved in metal and with other ornamental metalwork. There was a case of swords, and one of hunting implements. Another case held a variety of small clocks, and another held various objet d'art. I guess when one family holds the old homestead for more than 800 years, it isn't too hard to go searching for antiques in the attic.

The building is beautiful and well preserved

* I had to look this up and was fascinated by the explanation. "Schloss" is the commonly understood word for "castle" in German, and this was clearly a castle, so why "Burg"? Apparently, a "burg" is a castle wherein defense is a, if not the, purpose of the building - as opposed to a "schloss" where defense was less important and a nice, solid fancy building is sought. Learning new things every day.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Sunday Hiking

On Sundays in Germany nearly all establishments are closed. Restaurants are largely open, museums of course, but little else. Many folks go to church. Nearly everyone (seemingly) goes hiking.

A friend found this fabulous-looking magazine last week that mapped out 60 hikes in the Frankfurt area. We chose one and set off. Just getting to the starting point was an adventure, as it had us traveling to a town about 40 minutes away where we had never been before. We drove through horse country and spent time on tiny roads where two cars could come nowhere near abreast each other. Happily there was just field to either side so nobody had to drive backwards for a half mile, as could happen on the Maltese goat roads.

The magazine rated each hike based on how much time was spent in forest vs. field vs. road, how long each hike was in terms of kilometers and expected length of time (at either relaxed or sporty paces). The descriptions were as detailed as "and then there are three wooden benches to your left...". It seemed we could not go wrong.

And yet.

My legendary lack-of-sense-of-direction did not fail. Within 5 minutes of our hike nothing matched the map or the written out description. We asked a fellow passing hiker for help. We learned we were looking at the wrong map - rather than have written directions on the page facing the map, the magazine set them on the same page as the map on the other side, the better to tear out the one perforated page and carry with you.

Turned out that didn't help us orient ourselves.

In the end, we picked a landmark located at a point around the far corner of the hike, used Google Maps to get there, then set the return course for our starting point. We hiked through very pretty woods, had a lovely conversation, then got wurst at the restaurant that was the starting point.
 
Terry needs to build one of these at the cabin.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Porto

Waaay back, in 2017 (barely), Terry and the kids came to Germany for holiday. They spent almost a week in Frankfurt, getting over jet lag, celebrating Christmas, and hanging out. Then on my birthday we got on a plane and visited a country that had been on my must-visit list for a long time - Portugal.

Recognizing that we'd have a holiday and a Sunday in our first weekend in the country, we opted for an air-b-n-b in Porto for our first stop. The apartment was wonderful, one of the bigger places we've stayed, and the hostess left a bowl of fruit, Oreos and milk for us :-)

Unfortunately, the market where we planned to stock our shelves closed a few hours before we got there, so that was a downer. After our fascinating and delicious experience in Barcelona's La Boqueria, the visit was a planned high point. oops.

Gate closed, no vendors inside. This market is closed.

The plethora of intricately tiled homes and narrow, windy, twisty streets makes a stroll around Porto one of the best ways of spending a day, and that is exactly what we did.


The Dom Luis bridge connects the northern side of Porto (where we stayed) with the southern side (where all the wineries are).  Below, the barges full of barrels of port.

In the midst of the wandering, we found a playground for the kids to burn off some energy.  They will probably report back that the playground was their highlight of Porto.




There was a huge street festival with music and entertainment for new year's eve, right around the corner from where we were staying. We told the kids if they wanted they could stay up for it, and we'd go out to to ring in the new year.  By 11:00pm they said they were ready to go home and go to bed. Turns out we could see a bit of the fireworks from one of the windows, so Terry and I still got a taste of celebration.

On New Year's Day, again, there was little open so we spend the day outdoors wandering through the city. The cable car was one of the few operational tourist happenings, and we took a ride.

In front of the train station they even tiled the rocks!  It was fun for the kids to take a little break and get off their feet for a few.

Terry doesn't like port, and the kids are kids, so in the end I didn't even taste a drop of port while in Porto. Leaving something for the next time!

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Spargelsaison

I have written about paying $10 for a small bunch of asparagus in winter in St Petersburg so that I could consume vegetables other than carrots or cabbage; my cred as a non-hater shall be considered well established.  Spargelsaison ("asparagus season") in Germany is a real thing, and it is incredible to me that people will pay 20 Euros for a serving of asparagus in a restaurant at the height of the season. In a normal restaurant. Supply vs. demand anyone?

Asparagus is tasty.  White asparagus does have a milder, more delicate flavor. No arguments here. But ...

The thing is, during the Spargelzeit ("asparagus time") it is mid-to-late-spring. There's something else going on too, something that should be the queen of the season and somehow, bewilderingly, is not.

Strawberries.

I have been tragically and pathetically lazy. Next spring will be different. 

The field I visited this morning was a 10 minute drive from my apartment. You can buy a box there, or bring whatever kind of container you like and they weigh it before you start picking, so that you are only paying for the fruit. The prices were excellent too, with reduced cost the more you pick. We may go back to jam making next year!

Today was my first and only (for this season) strawberry-picking day. Sadly, many of the berries on the vine were already moldy or half-eaten by the bugs. Unfortunate for the fruit seekers, although it is a great sign of little or no pesticide use.  It took about 40 minutes to gather about 1.5 kilos of fruit. While picking, I only snacked on the ones that were so close to being bad nobody would have taken them. They tasted like honey, they were so tooth-achingly sweet.

Monday, April 23, 2018

One Sentence Book Review: The Power

The Power by Naomi Alderman

When girls in the modern-day world suddenly gain the power to electrocute through their fingertips, their actions repudiate most gender stereotypes and set civilization on a crash course that, five thousand years later, looks starting similar to our own with one small exception...

Buy, borrow or don't bother: Borrow.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

One Sentence Book Review: Journey

(full title) Journey: Based on the True Story of OR7, the Most Famous Wolf in the West by Emma Bland Smith (Author),‎ Robin James (Illustrator)

This almost non-fiction book charmingly tracks the adventures of OR-7, the first wolf to cross into California in almost a century, and the campaign to protect him from aggressive farmers and other humans.

Buy, borrow, or don't bother:  Buy.  This would delight your favorite five-, six-, or seven-year-old paired with a stuffed animal wolf! 

Monday, April 16, 2018

One Sentence Book Review: Beyond Sleep

Beyond Sleep by Willem Frederik Hermans
 
Overly self-conscious and self-important young geologist, carrying the weight of his father's too-early death and resultant failure to achieve greatness, goes on remote site visit critical to his thesis completion yet is painfully unprepared for any aspect of his journey.

Buy, borrow, or don't bother: Don't bother

Thursday, April 12, 2018

One Sentence Book Review: New York 2140

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

This book will delight anyone who has ever wondered just how will the world look in about 120 years when no entity on Earth seems willing or able to do anything to slow the pace of climate change;  the author fits in descriptions of extreme weather, human scientific and social ingenuity, and political showdowns in between the stories of the small group of fellow megalithic-city-within-an-apartment dwellers who change the world.

Buy, borrow or don't bother: Buy - and keep checking back over the next 120 years to see which predictions come true!

Monday, April 9, 2018

One Sentence Book Review: The Graveyard Book

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

This children's book first appears as a thriller - the protagonist's entire family is murdered in the first few pages - but instead turns into an adventuresome coming-of-age story (albeit under unusual circumstances) that has both children and adults constantly wanting to know what happens next.

Buy, borrow or don't bother:  Buy

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

One Sentence Book Review: A Gentleman in Moscow

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Imagine your favorite Russian writer got himself a good editor:  reminiscences about the scent of lilacs in the Alexander Gardens or waxing philosophic about why Russians took to duels so quickly still happen, but within one rather than 20 pages.

Buy, borrow or don't bother: Buy

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Köln

I took myself to Köln for the day today (Cologne, for the not-German-speaking).  It is well known for its totally crazy Carnival celebrations, and for some reason the train ticket was unnervingly inexpensive. Admittedly, several museums, and the Cathedral, were closed. I was saving the Chocolate and Mustard museums for when the whole family was here anyway, so not such a big problem.

Although the inside of the cathedral was closed, the outside obviously wasn't. I took a lot of photos. Here's just one:
 
My first order of business was to figure out what was going on and when and where. I basically accidentally found the "Battle of the Bands, 1790's style"





Around the corner was this delight:
Apparently, all the marching bands end up in one large park where there's a stage and the redcoats got to play more modern music (ABBA, among other things, no joke). I should have taken photos but in addition to the tents where one could buy food or beer, there were people with their own little beer-keg-on-red-wagon looking contraptions, most of which had signs proclaiming "PRIVAT"

Most of the spectators also had costumes, and if one came unprepared there were plenty of stores and kiosks ready to kit you out.  It was raining, and the city actually has quite a few good looking museums.  I hit an art museum that was actually open today and that nobody in my family would be interested in visiting - although they did have a decent program for keeping kids engaged, with certain artworks hosting extra signage especially for kids, some commentary and jokes, and a room with enormous bean bag chairs to hang out and chill out before venturing back into the art. Unusual for me, I spent more than 2 hours in the museum.

Another order of business was to find Kölsch to drink, as that is Köln's special beer.  I had been reading up on Carnival in the city and kept reading about having a "Früh" beer was an important part, and I kept thinking "OK, they drink beer early in the day, it's Carnival, that makes sense."  Nope. Früh, which means early in German, is also the name of the brand of beer. D'oh. So I had one. It was OK. All the Brauhauses were full past capacity with lines out the doors, so I got mine from an outdoor stand.  This was nearby. I liked the colorful houses on a gray day.
I had some time, so hit another museum that was right by the train station before heading out. It was interesting, but I was heading toward exhausted so didn't absorb as much as I might have.  As I headed back to the train station, there was this. I have no idea why:


And last but not least, in honor of my husband who adores everything pig, in the train station was this cafe: