Friday, October 31, 2014

October Highs and Lows


  • walking with M from his mum's place to the Grabkapelle Rotenberg.

  • meeting my Schwiegermutter in Tübingen for a nice 10 km walk to the Neuer Botanische Garten and seeing the geographical center of Baden-Württemberg.

  • I can't really explain this one publicly, but Udo, this has to do with your email and phone call and what you've asked me to do! I'm thrilled to continue this project and I'll have it finished by the time I return to Wisconsin. J

  • deciding on a new cooking plan - to cook one new recipe each week (we otherwise keep slipping back to our usual favorites). However...(see Low #3)

  • taking a nice drive with M through the Schwarzwald on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to find fall colors (of which there were basically none - leaves went from green to dried-up this year) and not getting into a single accident with the maniacal motorcyclists darting in and out of all lanes, passing in curves, and speeding.

  • our weekend in Breisach and a side trip to Gunsbach, a town in the Elsass where Albert Schweitzer lived when he wasn't in Africa.
  • Gunsbach, France

  • applying for a freelance translation job. I have no idea if I'll hear from them because it wasn't a position or project being advertised, but I saw a need and it feels pretty good and productive to have an updated resume.

  • Remembering last year's pretty fall colors.
    This pretty little bush is right outside our kitchen window.


  • failing at trying to add an image gallery into a Blogger post to make my posts shorter and leave the photos only for those who want to click on and see them. Apparently this is not possible with Blogger...??

  • downloading Picasa thinking I could put a few photos into a folder and make a link from my blog, and watching Picasa scan every file on my computer looking for photos and sucking them into itself. I didn't realize Google now owns Picasa and therefore can gain access to all my photos in my computer's memory. Uninstalled Picasa. I don't have any sketchy photos, but I want to decide which photos leave my computer and when.

  • trying a new recipe with all the right ingredients - potatoes, ground beef & pork, kohlrabi, onions, Pfifferlinge (chanterelles) - and it was not good. Unfortunately the sauce was mainly soy sauce, which overwhelmed every other delicious taste in the dish.

  • grabbing a towel to smack a fly with vengeance worthy of the Wrath of Khan only to slam my hand into the corner of a wall, sheer off a chunk of skin that still hasn't healed yet, and bruise my knuckle. And I missed the damn fly.

  • spotting a large spider on a wall in the basement, cringing but ignoring it, and then on the way past it again seeing it scurry inside its hiding place - one of my winter boots!

  • realizing I need new winter boots.

Fun Quotes of the Month

"I hate donkeys." ~M

"It would be easier if she spread her legs more." ~M*
  *He was commenting on a woman on TV trying to balance while kneeling on an exercise ball and only realized what 
   he'd said after I shot him a wry look.

B: "Do you consider yourself a Swabian?"
M: "Oh, absolutely. And I'm even proud of it sometimes." 

After choking down a disappointing new meal:
 B: "We can't keep making the same meals all the time!" 
 M: "Oh yes, we can. We absolutely can."

"I can speak proper German, but I'm Swabian nonetheless."  ~M

B: "Oh my God, I just read an article...Do you know what they do with the body when a person dies on a flight?!"
M: "Well, sure. They put 'em in first class and cover 'em up with a blanket."
B: "Oh. My. God. That's exactly what I just read. What the...?!"

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Scotland: Isle of Mull

I'm cheating a little bit with this post because we haven't been to Scotland recently. Our last trip there was in 2010, and before that we were there in 2007 and 2006 (the year we got married). However since we are considering another trip there next year, I wanted to reminisce a bit.

As I've written before, we got married on the Isle of Mull at Glengorm Castle in 2006. It was a beautiful clear day and so we had the ceremony outside on the lawn next to the castle. We had no guests at the wedding except for our two witnesses - M's mother's cousin from Edinburgh and his Austrian wife, who drove across Scotland and took the ferry from Oban to the island for the ceremony.

We stayed in a room in the castle, and this was the view from one of our windows:

M's ancestors on his mother's side were Scottish (McDougal), and he wore the clan tartan - and wore it well, I must say!

The next summer we returned to Scotland with my two children and M's mother for an unforgetable two weeks. We spent a week on the Isle of Mull in a rustic self-catering cottage on the castle grounds, followed by a week in the highlands. While on Mull M's mother's cousin and his wife (K & B) joined us for a few days and we explored as much of the island as we had time for.

This is Sorne cottage, and we stayed in the half closest to the camera.
It sleeps six, but since we were already five, K & B pitched a tent in the yard.
living room of Sorne cottage

Northern coastline of Mull with mainland Scotland
in the background
Tobermory from the hill above

My son touches the ocean for the first time

In 2010 my son decided not to join us, so it was M, his mother, my daughter, and I who spent two weeks on the isle. The weeks were filled with hikes, shopping in Tobermory and cooking in the cottage, pony trekking - an unforgetable beach ride for my daughter and me - more hikes, tons of photography, a boat trip to the isle of Iona, where Christianity came to Scotland with Saint Columba, and Staffa, an island inhabited only by a population of adorable Puffins and other wild birds.
Duart Castle on Mull

the abbey on Iona

waterfall on a hike from Tobermory



Isle of Staffa - basalt cliffs
These sheep were queuing up at an open gate. We are not sure
what that was all about.

"Hamish. Hamish! Get back here right NOW and pick up your coat!"

Mull is a small island with roughly 2800 inhabitants and a coastline of 300 miles. There are three castles on the island, one of which is open for tours (Duart - seen in the film Entrapment with Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta-Jones). Glengorm is privately owned and a B&B with self-catering cottages as well. Torosay Castle used to be open for tours and we saw it in 2008, but it was sold in 2012 and is now privately owned and closed to the public.

There is much more of Scotland still to see, but we keep coming back to Mull. If you like vacations consisting of being close to nature, hiking, biking, running, or riding, don't need constant action and aren't daunted by fickle weather, I can highly recommend a week or two on Mull. There are plenty of tourists there in the summer, but we had our peace and quiet, especially while hiking.

Don't miss the Glengorm Coffee Shop for lunch, where you'll find their own lamb, beef, and produce on the menu. Check opening times, because the drive out there from Tobermory is several miles on a windy single-track dirt road which can be full of potholes. After lunch take a hike out to the coast.
"Yeah, you with the camera...take another step closer."
We are on the verge of booking our stay on Mull for next year, and I'm already getting excited. Our only remaining question is whether we'll stay for one week or two.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Weekend in Breisach

Last weekend M, his mother, and I drove (and you know who did the driving!) to Breisach on the Rhein to 1.) visit relatives and 2.) pop into France to see the Albert-Schweitzer-Haus in Gunsbach. This was a wonderful trip!

Breisach is a border town in the Baden region of Baden-Württemberg. To get there we drove through the Black Forest into the Rhein valley. Just across the Rhein to the west is the Elsass/Alsace area of France with the Vogesen Mountains beyond, and to the east and north is the Kaiserstuhl, one of the well-known wine regions of Germany. It is not far from Freiburg in Germany or Colmar in France. The town's history begins with a Celtic prince who had his seat on the volcanic hill upon which the cathedral now stands, then the Romans had a castle there (ca. 260 A.D.), and finally the Staufer (House of Hohenstaufen) founded the town in about the 11th century. It has always been an important town for crossing over the Rhein between Germany and France.
Breisach with Kaiserstuhl in the background

The relatives we visited are M's father's cousin (Helga) and her husband, children, and grandchildren, whom I have never met and M has not seen for about 15 years. As long as I have known M I have heard about "the Breisach clan" - mainly about M's uncle and aunt, who have since passed away - how warm and welcoming they are/were, how much fun the families had together when they visited, and so on. M learned from his great uncle how important it is never to waste food (he had been a prisoner in a Russian camp at the end of WWII), and he said no matter how busy his great aunt was, she always made time for the kids and put up with all their shenanigans without scolding.

The whole family - from the oldest (83) to the youngest grandchild (10, I think) and his two brothers (12 and 14) - were so warm, kind, interesting, and hospitable! Really genuine, caring people. One of the reasons I was looking forward to meeting them is that Helga is from the Sudetenland, as was M's father, and since she was 11 when the more than three million Sudeten Germans were forced to leave the only homes they'd ever known and relocate to Germany (1945-1948), she remembers her family's situation and journey. I asked if she would share her memories with me, and she did. I can't tell you how many times I got Gänsehaut (goose bumps) during her story, and I felt very honored that she was willing to talk with me about her past.

Helga also guided us through Breisach's Münster (Cathedral), which sits atop the hill overlooking the town of Breisach and the Rhein. A church visit is always in order when my Schwiegermutter and I travel together, especially when someone familiar with the church and its history can tell us about it. The magnificent carved wooden high altar is quite a sight.

High altar - carved from linden wood

On Saturday the three of us drove into France to Gunsbach in the Elsass, where Albert Schweitzer grew up and had a home. His rooms in the house have been turned into a small museum and we joined a small tour led by a young woman with a beautiful French accent as she spoke German. I became interested in Albert Schweitzer's life and work about a year ago when I met a now-retired doctor who worked with Schweitzer at his hospital in Lambarene, Gabon in the 1960s. Taking a tour through Schweitzer's former home and walking the Albert-Schweitzer-Weg on the hill above Gunsbach was quite a treat for me.
Albert Schweitzer Haus

Schweitzer's writing desk

Schweitzer was an accomplished organist.
This organ was a gift to him from the Paris Bach Society
and was delivered to his hospital by canoe!

Schweitzer monument on a hill above Gunsbach

Gunsbach - view from the Albert-Schweitzer-Weg

I thought the highlight of this trip was going to be the stop in Gunsbach - and I am very glad we did that! - but honestly it was spending time every day from Friday to Sunday with M's extended family. I loved listening to M and his mum sharing memories with the rest of them and I never once felt out of connection or like a fifth wheel being the only stranger in the bunch. They welcomed me whole-heartedly, and I hope it won't be too long before we see them again. I think I got on the grandsons' good side right away because I had baked Nestle Tollhouse chocolate chip cookies to bring for Helga, and she gave some to the boys when they arrived on Saturday afternoon. The first thing they said to me after a handshake and proper greeting was, "Danke für die Kekse!" (Thank you for the cookies!) I even earned bonus points for including some without nuts. They weren't shy at all meeting their mother's second cousin (M), whom they'd never met before, and his strange American wife. We had a great conversation with these three boys during dinner on Saturday - they discussed computers with M, and my Schwiegermutter and I taught them some differences between US-English and proper English! :-)

It was a thoroughly enjoyable weekend with great people, I didn't have any serious language issues, and I learned plenty! We look forward to our next trip to Breisach and the Elsass.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Liebster Award

I've been nominated for the Liebster Award (danke, Bev at Confuzzledom!). Don't get too excited, M - there's no monitary prize that accompanies this award. Feel free to take me out to dinner to celebrate, though!  ;-)

Quoting from another nominee whose blog I read, Dubliner in Deutschland: "A Liebster Award is a way for smaller blogs to get some recognition in the blogging sphere. It's also a little like chain mail - someone nominates you and at least 4 others, and they each answer questions made up by the initiator and then nominate at least 5 more bloggers in turn sending them new questions to answer and on and on it goes around the internet world! Liebster actually comes from the German word for 'beloved'."

Although I never could stand chain mail and always threw caution to the wind and tempted fate as I tossed the letter into the trash, I think this Liebster Award is a nice idea within the blogger community. So here we go...

Confuzzledom's Questions and my Answers:

1. What is the best book you've read so far in 2014?

I love questions about reading! Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett is my favorite of the year, though one I'm reading now, die Zarentochter, is fixing to challenge it.

2. What is your favourite food to eat in autumn/winter?

Well...I don't like pumpkin at all, though it seems Germans love it as much as the springtime weißer Spargel. I'd have to go with anything in the "Wild" category - venison or wild boar, typically. Alternatively Lamb Stew.

Kitzrücken - yum!

3. Where was the last place you travelled to?

The last place that required more than an hour's drive was a fabulous trip to Vienna with my Schwiegermutter, and if I waited until Monday to post this, I could say it was France (the Elsass/Alsace).

4. What is your favourite snack food?

Leftover Schnitzel, string cheese (in Wisconsin), yogurt, Jacob's cream crackers with butter or cheese or even plain, ice cream, cheese and apples, bagel and cream cheese, clementines, Emmentaler cheese... Oh wait. Just one favorite? Then cheese.

5. If you could learn any language (and were guaranteed to actually manage it), which would it be?

Italian. If I could throw in a second one it would be Swahili.

Now for my nominations:

Sara at A Different Piece of Sky (though she's on holiday at the moment - no rush!)
Claire at World Traveler in Training
Around the Wherever
Traveling Hopefully
Courtney at Welcome to Germerica

And my 5 to 10 questions:

1. What is your next planned travel destination?
2. In what way/s do you see your home country differently than before you became an expat?
3. Which book that you've read still sticks in your mind as one that left a deep impression on you?
4. What are two of your favorite natural scents or smells (so no perfume or cologne)?
5. What is the funniest thing someone has said to you lately? (provide context if needed)
6. When you look to your right as you're reading this, what do you see?
7. What would you tell your 15-year-old self if you could send a message back in time?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The trouble with planning ahead

I've been traveling overseas since 1986, though my trips only became relatively frequent in 2000. The first time I flew internationally (that was back when there was still a smoking section in the back of the plane!) I thought air travel was FABULOUS! The feeling of taking off, landing in a different country just nine hours later, soaring above the clouds... It was like magic. I've hated flying just a little bit more each time after that, aided by several airplane disaster movies and some article I read that explained that the two most dangerous times during a flight guessed it - take off and landing. Now I hold my breath and squeeze my arm rests into squishy limpness during both phases, trying to convince myself of what everyone else says - that I have a better chance of surviving this flight than the drive from the airport to my parents' house.

Yep, I hate flying. It's not the crying babies (I'd cry too, if it wouldn't make me look like a dork), it's not the food (I've cooked and eaten worse at home than what I've been served in coach), it's not the incredibly annoying other passengers ("Can I put my Bloody Mary on your tray during this turbulence since my tray is filled up with my laptop?"), it's not the horrific ick in the bathrooms or the fact that I can't sleep on planes (not even in business class). It's mainly that I never took physics in school and can't wrap my brain around how this steel beast can actually defy logic and fly rather than plummeting to the earth or ocean floor because the wind shifted.

I unpried my fists from my armrests long enough to shoot a picture of clouds
during one of my favorite moves - the sharp turn.

But hey, when you're an expat, you gotta go back every now and then. This June while I was chatting with a friend in Wisconsin about the World Cup soccer game going on, I decided on a whim to consider booking a trip back to Wisconsin to see my friends and family. The last time I was there was August 2013. I got the green light from M - though believe it or not he is not the type who gets fired up about his wife being gone for a stretch of time (and it's not just about having to fold his own laundry) - and booked a two-week trip for November.
I chose November to avoid this.
(That's my daughter's car in my parents' driveway, Feb. 2013)
I always book trips months - even up to a year -  in advance because I like to get my plans in the calendar and I think prices are usually cheaper months in advance rather than last minute. I suck at spontaneity anyway. I always have.

In June there was not much talk about the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and there were no major strikes going on in the train and plane world in Germany. Fast forward to today, and I'm starting to think that maybe I should embrace last-minute travel after all. My mom asked me yesterday if I'm going to wear a mask on the plane. I probably won't, since doing so won't keep the plane in flight anyway. And doesn't everyone have to remove the masks to eat? So...during those 20 minutes of dinner, do the spores or droplets just hang out in the bathrooms waiting for us all to put our masks back on?  We are exposed to all kinds of deadly filth on planes, and I have to say I'm not more worried about Ebola than other diseases people bring on board. As I understand it, this strain of Ebola is not yet airborne anyway, which makes masks useless.

And then there are the strikes in Germany. I haven't actually been keeping track, but I think the train engineers have striked (struck?) three times in the last 3 weeks and Lufthansa pilots have been on strike twice in two weeks, including right now. They started with the short-stretch flights, but I read last night that the long-haul pilots will walk out today. Of course each individual strike is short term and won't last until November, but since the engineers and pilots seem to be playing leap-frog with their strikes (Thursday pilots, Friday through Sunday engineers, Monday short-flight pilots, Tuesday long-flight pilots...), heaven knows whose turn it will be when it's my time to fly back or return. When I fly home, I'll be flying from Chicago to Frankfurt with my daughter and then we're taking the train from there to Stuttgart. So I'm already wondering whether hitch-hiking is a viable option.

If I could have foreseen what is going on these days I would not have booked a trip back to Wisconsin in November. But this trip is about spending time with friends and family without any other obligations, stocking up on affordable clothes (everything except for Nutella and Gummibärchen is cheaper in the U.S.), and getting my hair trimmed (for a "trim" I pay at least €40/$50 here, and that's just not ok). It will be nice to be in Wisconsin to visit my kids and family and have some girlfriend time, but I'm already dreading the actual travel. 

Here's hoping the flights will be tolerable, the pilots will be well-rested, and the unions will schedule their strikes around my travel plans.

Monday, October 13, 2014

I had nothing on, so...

Damn prepositions...

Anyone who has studied a second or third language knows that prepositions are killers. They usually cannot be directly translated, and there are multiple meanings for each one in every language. Just think for a moment how many different usages there are for the preposition "up" in English.
   look up (and even that has several meanings!)
   throw up
   give up
   wake up...

A few days ago I was talking to a German friend of mine and telling her about another friend asking me to fill in for her with our volunteer work because she had an unexpected conflict. I was explaining to Friend 1 why I had shown up instead of Friend 2.

So here's what I said along with the translation:
"Sie hat mich gefragt, ob ich einspringen könnte weil sie zum Arzt gehen musste, ja, ich hatte nichts an, also warum nicht?"
"She asked if I could fill in for her because she had to go to the doctor, and since I had nothing on, there was no reason I couldn't help out." 

Right. What I meant to say was "Ich hatte nichts vor," which would have meant I had nothing going on.

The worst part was that I heard and recognized the mistake as it was coming out of my mouth - kind of like how you see a glass vase falling in slow motion as you make several desperate attempts to grab it on its (seemingly) 5-minute fall to the unforgiving floor. "Nooooooooooo!"

These teeny tiny little words have such tremendous power...

I've been learning, studying, speaking, hearing, reading, and trying to improve (my) German for 33 years, and this shit still happens to me. At least they make for fun stories.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Eating Wild

This post started out as a brief description of a wonderful meal we ate yesterday, and it became a long "I LOVE this restaurant!" post instead. 

For M's birthday this month I of course made a reservation at our favorite local restaurant, where the Chef/cook/boss/owner and his wife know us well. He greeted us before we sat down and said he had something special to prepare for us if we were interested, and it was "Wild." Wild means it is either venison or wild boar, and M told the chef a while ago that he should let us know anytime he has Wild, and we'll come if we can. The chef knows a hunter in this area, and so the Wild that comes to the table here is local.
Straub's Krone

(If you are a vegetarian or vegan for moral reasons, you may want to skip the next few paragraphs, but for more about the restaurant, start again at the paragraph just above the buffet photo.)

M and I indicated our interest, and the Chef (which appropriately means "boss" in German, but he's also the chef) said when he saw we were coming he saved for us a Kitzrücken. I know that Rücken means "back" (tenderloin, usually), but I didn't know the word "Kitz." I looked quizzically at M, and both he and the Chef said at the same time, "Bambi". I've heard people jokingly refer to venison as "Bambi," but I know the German word for venison. It starts with Reh- or Hirsch- normally. So I realized right away that they meant young deer, or fawn. Without hesitation and without hearing the accompanying side dishes, we told him we'd be happy to have that. He said he would get it started because it needed time to rest in the oven.

We sat down and ordered a bottle of water as we always do and two glasses of Sekt (champagne, for simplicity's sake) to toast M's birthday. We told the hostess (the Chef's wife) we didn't need menus. We each had a salad following some slices of baguette with their homemade herbed olive oil.

The Chef brought out the cooked piece of Bambi Kitz on a platter with a sprig of rosemary garnish to show us before he plated it. It looked and smelled divine.

This is the delicious little devil:

What you see is Rehkitzrücken mit zweierlei Pastinaken und Maronenkartoffeln, or young venison tenderloin with parsnips prepared in two different ways with chestnut potatoes. The parsnips were 1.) pureed and served in a ring around the edge of the plate and 2.) the crispy chips on the top. Both delicious. There were pieces of potatoes next to cooked chestnuts nestled under the slices of venison. The dish was topped with an edible flower, which we also ate!

The combination of everything was simply amazing, and this was such a wonderful treat for Martin's birthday dinner. What I didn't realize until later was that the evening's special was leg of Kitz. The Chef cooked the tenderloin just for us!

I wondered what the English translation of "Kitz" is, but there isn't one. We don't eat fawn in America. It's not even legal to kill them. I told the Chef that after the meal, and he said, "Na, der Jäger hat ihn erlegt, und ich hab' ihn genommen." ("Well, the hunter got him, so I decided to take him.") I don't even feel guilty saying we're glad he did! I don't think it's common here to shoot fawns, but perhaps official hunters have special permission when the deer population gets too numerous.

I found this through a google search:
"There is no [English] term for fawn meat. This is likely because people do not generally eat it: In most countries, the US included, it is illegal to hunt dear under a certain age... From a culinary standpoint, deer meat is rather mild, given its lack of fat, so there isn't a strong reason to seek out baby deer."
~Robert Love, Software Engineer at Google

Well, Robert, not so much. I would admit that the guilt factor would dissuade me from seeking out baby deer meat, but Kitz prepared like this was darn delicious.  This young Chef is a Zauberer - a magician - in the kitchen and we are so fortunate that he grew up here and returned to establish his Stüble after his training and apprenticeships under top chefs in other fine restaurants. We feel a wee bit spoiled having a place like this within walking distance of our home!

We truly appreciate having a restaurant in our town where the talented Chef knows us, knows what we love to eat, and conjures wonderful meals from every piece of meat he brings into his kitchen. He does vegetarian dishes, too! On Sundays they offer a buffet lunch with seasonal salads and starters, a choice of one of three main dishes (a vegetarian dish is always one of the choices), and a dessert buffet with delicacies served in small portions so that one can try several without feeling overfull.

Sunday salad and starter buffet

A sample of the dessert offerings

The Krone has an open concept, meaning that the main parts of the dishes are cooked in an open kitchen that the guests can see while they dine. The messy, loud, and background work is done in the back kitchen. Since the Chef is right there in his cooking space when people walk in, he always greets everyone personally. He usually comes over to each table to wish diners a Guten Appetit!" and thanks guests and bids them a good evening as they leave. Since he cooks on a Präsentierteller (on display), he has somehow learned to never look frazzled even when the restaurant is full - I can't even manage to appear calm when I'm cooking for just the two of us!

This is a casual family restaurant which serves fancy and delicious dishes, and I highly recommend it in the unlikely event that you find yourself in our tiny village. Is it worth a drive from, for instance, Stuttgart? Absolutely! I'd call for a reservation, though, just to be safe. The menu, which changes seasonally and yearly though the specialties always remain, is on their website.

We have brought almost all of our visitors here, we dine here together at least once a month, and we have never once had a bite of anything we didn't like. I try a spoon-size portion of almost everything on the Sunday starter buffet and have therefore tried dishes I wouldn't have ordered otherwise. They come up with such interesting combinations, foods I'd never heard of (Quitten, for instance, which are quinces - I'd never heard of them in either language), and delicious recipes for the popular seasonal foods like weißer Spargel (white asparagus) and Pfifferlinge (chanterelles).

If you have special dietary needs, that's no problem, of course. A guest at a neighboring table one Sunday said she really wanted a certain dish but was lactose intolerant so the sauce wouldn't work. The Chef prepared a different sauce for her. Their decor is simple, elegant, and personal, and the paintings on the walls were created by a local artist. Well-behaved dogs - even large ones - are welcome. We once had a Weimaraner lying under the table next to us.

I have no connection to the restaurant, they didn't ask me to advertise for them, and they don't even know yet that I'm writing this post. I'm just telling you about a restaurant we love and hope will stay forever in our little village!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Public Transportation in Germany: the good and the bad

Having lived in Smalltown, Wisconsin until moving to Germany, I don't have much experience with public transportation in the U.S.. In three of the four Smalltowns I lived in there were city buses, but they didn't connect neighboring towns and I don't know anyone who ever rode the city buses as an adult.

There is a train that cuts through Wisconsin, but you need a car to get to the train stop (it was an hour's drive [72 km] from my town). We have taken several groups of German exchange students by train to Chicago, but that requires first a one-hour drive from Sheboygan to downtown Milwaukee to get the train.

Basically if you don't have a car in the U.S. (except in the big cities - I have to assume public transportation is good enough there), you're stuck in the town where you live. My children attend college in Appleton, WI and Green Bay, and my parents live in Sheboygan. That is roughly 60 miles or 96 kilometers from either college and takes an hour or more by car, but there is no way for them to visit my parents without a car or hitching a ride with someone who has one.

I have mentioned many times that one of the wonderful things about life in Germany is that I can get anywhere I want to go by train or bus. I've been pondering the good and bad of train and bus travel for a while and decided that today would be the perfect day to write about it since the Deutsche Bahn engineers are going on strike tonight.

The executive summary of this post is that with public transportation, someone else does the driving, and there is not a single negative aspect of train and bus travel that can trump that one advantage (for me).

For those who want to read on, I'll start with the negatives so that I can end with the positives.

What's not so great about traveling by train and bus

  1. You have to reckon with delays for various reasons - construction, accident, downed trees after a storm, stupid people pulling the emergency stop as a prank which causes a domino-effect of delays on multiple tracks, strikes... If you're lucky you find out about these delays before you travel, but sometimes you just get stuck in a station somewhere, on a train, or at a stop. It has not happened often to me, but it happens.

  2. Travel by train takes longer than by car in many cases. Add the usual two to four traffic jams on the Autobahn, though, on a one-hour drive, and the difference really isn't that significant.

  3. You spend time waiting, which is why I always have a book with me when I travel. You get off your train and then may have to wait 20 minutes for the bus to your neighborhood. If I have to wait longer than it would take me to walk home, I walk - 2.5 miles, uphill all the way; only takes about 45 minutes, 75 if the day is hot and I stop for a beer along the way.

  4. You will, on occasion, encounter loud, obnoxious fellow passengers, which is something you don't have to deal with if you're driving alone in your car. I once had a guy opposite me sucking and slurping loudly on one piece of hard candy after another, and I was tempting to reach over and slap him repeatedly. I finally got up and changed cars.

  5. The temperature is out of your control. It can get pretty stuffy on buses or train cars on hot days, though many have air conditioning.

  6. Germs. Most people probably wouldn't think about this, but I can practically feel the filth climbing onto my skin when I have to touch anything on a train or bus, such as a bar to steady myself as the vehicle starts or stops. This probably comes partly from teaching high school students for 16 years and having to remind kids to cover their mouths when they sneeze. Seriously, kids, I have to tell you that??

  7. Stinky passengers. Some people apparently don't feel the need to clean themselves or don't have the means to, and it's possible you'll have someone sit down next to you who smells unpleasant. You always have the option of pretending you're getting out at the next stop, and just picking a new seat in an adjoining car.

  8. It is crowded at times, which may mean that you'll have to stand for a bit and wait for an open seat. This is really not the end of the world, but compared to the comfort of sitting in your own car, I have to acknowledge it as a drawback.

Then again, I once got on an empty S-Bahn headed to Herrenberg through Stuttgart.

What's GREAT about traveling by train and bus

  1. As I've said, you can get pretty much everywhere in Germany by bus and/or train. If I want to visit and explore a town for a day, I check the schedule online, buy a ticket, and go. If I drive myself to the Bahnhof instead of taking the bus, it costs me only €1,50 to park in the Bahnhof lot for 24 hours (a benefit of living in a small community - in Esslingen I think parking is €1,50 per hour!).

  2. NO STRESS! Driving here is terribly stressful (for me) at best. Parking is a royal pain in that you're unlikely to find a spot on a street, and the parking garages are tight and narrow for the kind of car we have (I think it would qualify as a mid-size car). When I take the train I don't have to worry about any of the things that make me panic while driving, and I'm not endangering others.

  3. No winter weather worries! Even in Wisconsin I was nervous as hell whenever the roads were snowy or icy, which was pretty much all winter long. Snow or ice would mean a cancelled trip if it weren't for the buses and trains.
    Yes, even that would make me cancel a car trip.
    Who knows how long it will keep snowing??

  4. I can enjoy the scenery from the train. Even the stretch from Horb to Stuttgart and back, which I take most frequently, never gets old. I can't enjoy anything when I'm driving - most definitely not the scenery.

  5. I can also enjoy a glass of wine with lunch. That may sound strange to American readers, but having a glass of wine or beer with lunch is not uncommon here. I can do without it, too, but it's nice to have the option. I would not dare touch a drop of alcohol at lunch if I needed to be driving on German roads three hours later.

  6. Although I have to allow for the possibility of delays, I can say with relative certainty when I will arrive somewhere to meet someone. The train I'm taking to Tübingen on Friday is scheduled to leave Horb at 11:24 and arrive in Tübingen at 11:54. If I were ballsy enough to drive there, I wouldn't have any idea how long it would take to get there and then find a parking place. I don't even have to think about that - I can leave my house at 11:00 and I'll be at the Bahnhof in Tübingen less than an hour later.

  7. It's more environmentally friendly than driving by car. The way I see it, the trains and buses are running anyway whether I'm on them or not. Every car on the road is using one type of energy resource or another, and if I drive instead of go with the train that's already scheduled to drive that stretch (Horb to Esslingen, for instance), I'm doing more harm to the environment than good.

  8. There is a WC (restroom) on most trains. I don't like to use them, but in case of urgent need, it's there. There's no WC in the car.

  9. I can read, sleep, plan my day, make a shopping list, eat and drink, write a blog post, and meet people (this is highly unlikely in my case but might appeal to others) while traveling by train. None of that works behind the wheel.

This bus stop is a four-minute walk from home,
and I'm down at the Bahnhof in nine minutes..
All told, I'll take public transportation over driving any day.

What did I miss?

Sunday, October 5, 2014

A Walk through the Vineyards

On October 3rd - Tag der Deutschen Einheit, or the Day of German Unity - M and I drove to Esslingen to take a walk from his mother's place over hills and through vineyards to the Grabkapelle Rotenberg, which you can see from the train shortly before you pull into the Hauptbahnhof in Stuttgart. This is a walk I have wanted to take for a long time because I remember doing this with my host family back in 1986. It was lovely weather - sunny and warm enough with a wonderful breeze that kept us from sweating too much.

This is the perfect type of outing, I think, and a common way for Germans to spend a Sunday or a holiday when all the stores are closed. Families often drive an hour or so from home, park the car, and take a long and leisurely walk. Other than the gas to get there, it doesn't have to cost anything. My host family usually stopped somewhere for a meal, but an alternative is to pack a light lunch in Papa's backpack and fuel up at the halfway point. On our walk on Friday we also paid the €2,50 admission to go inside the chapel and bought two ice cream cones for €3,00. Pretty inexpensive entertainment, and exercise enough for us to feel it in our muscles the next day!

the Rotenberg Kapelle is on the hilltop

It's harvest time.

Grabkapelle Rotenberg
Memory is a funny thing, though. I kept saying to Martin that I remembered walking through a forest on a dirt path for quite a bit of the walk back in 1986. The most direct route was through the vineyards, though, which is the path we took. There were forests all around us, so perhaps my family had taken us on a scenic route. That walk stuck in my mind so long because, I think, that was the first time I'd ever just gone on a long walk as a family activity. Even as a stupid teenager I was able to appreciate the walk, the exercise, the fresh air, the scenery... And I really wanted some forest time on this walk with M. But first we checked out the chapel.

"Love never ends"

I still have a photograph of their sarcophagus from 1986.

König Wilhelm I of Württemberg had this chapel built for his second wife, Katharina Pawlowna, Grand Duchess of Russia and sister of Tsars Alexander I and Nikolaus I, and they are entombed there together along with one of their daughters. The connections between the kingdom of Württemberg and the Romanovs of Russia were important in both countries' histories, and although Katharina was only queen for three years before she died, she made many significant reforms and instituted social programs, a girls' school, and a hospital in Stuttgart which is still in operation today.

In the above picture on the hill farthest to the right in the background is the Katharinenlinde. If you could zoom in and knew what you were looking for, you could see the top of the outlook tour there. My Schwiegermutter's home is over that hill and down the other side. We walked from there, and it only took about 50 minutes. The whole walk was 10,5 km (6.5 miles).

The Neckar Valley is known for its wine, and the landscape around Esslingen is rich with vineyards.

On the way back we came to a point where M said we could head into the woods for a detour and to lengthen our walk. Perfect!

THIS is what I remembered! Yes, it's just a forest, but it was a significant part of my memory for reasons I probably can't sufficiently explain. This probably wasn't the same path we walked back then, but it doesn't matter. I'm glad we added this detour to our walk.

As I said, I love day trips like this. There are places like this to walk for hours in Wisconsin - especially in the woods. There's one big difference, though, that makes the prospect decidely less appealing - the bugs. Mosquitoes, deer flies, horse flies, all kinds of nasty biting demons. If I have to spray up with that horrible-smelling bug spray and know I'm still going to itch for days afterwards, I'm less likely to get excited about a long walk. There were no bugs that bothered us on this walk. We just had beautiful natural smells, a birdsong that was new to me, fresh air, a nice breeze, and good company.

It was a really nice day, and even my sore muscles agree.